Thursday, October 14, 2010

Pocket .380 Pistols

They’re one of the hottest items in the gun industry today. As more and more states pass laws allowing the concealed carry of a pistol, millions of people have sought out this firearm. Lightweight and easily concealed, they are still powerful enough to stop a determined attacker.

I speak of course about the pocket .380 pistol. Lambasted in the past as a “Saturday Night Special” these inexpensive yet easily concealable shooters are perfect for the law abiding gun owner who seeks a convenient concealed carry pistol. Their small size makes wardrobe selection easy. Many people find that the double action polymer framed models are so light and slim that they can be simply slipped into a pocket sans holster.

Often considered to be a weak and underpowered cartridge, the .380 ACP caliber round is definitely lacking the knock-down power found in a larger cartridge like the .45 ACP or .40 S&W. With proper shot placement however, it is still possible to stop an attacker with one or more shots of .380. With shot placement being so important with a caliber of this size, it’s difficult to consider a pocket sized .380 pistol with a short barrel and equally short sight radius anything but a point blank distance firearm. This is not to say that you cannot employ one at a distance, only that they are much more difficult to aim properly at long ranges, particularly given the heavy double action trigger found on most of these guns.

Here we evaluate the most popular of these tiny shooters and lay out the facts on each one. Whether you are looking for an ultralight polymer framed pistol or a more traditional but still easily pocketable Bersa or Walther, you’re sure to find a .380 that suits you.

Based off of the PPK, the Walther PPK/S was one of the original pocket .380 pistols.

Walther PPK and PPK/S Easily recognizable as one of the preferred pistols of James Bond, the Walther PPK and it’s slightly larger cousin, the PPK/S, are both easily concealable pocket .380s. The smooth rounded slide and frame make it easy to slip this small handgun into a pocket or draw it quickly without snagging.

Based off of the PPK, the PPK/S was designed after the Gun Control Act of 1968 was passed in the US, forcing Walther to design a slightly heavier pistol in order to be in compliance with the “sporting” requirements of GCA-68. In order to continue being able to import the pistol, Walther took the frame of the PP pistol and paired it up with the PPK slide and barrel to create a pistol weighing 1.5 ounces more and carried one more round of ammunition.

Later, in 1978, Walther licensed production of the original PPK in the United States to Smith & Wesson who added a slightly longer grip tang to protect the shooter’s hand from slide bite.

Bersa Thunder The Bersa Thunder is another one of the original pocket .380 pistols. Though it has an all metal frame, the Bersa Thunder in .380weighs in at just over a pound. It has a number of features normally only found on larger handguns such as a loaded chamber indicator and slide lock. The slightly larger grip also allows it to carry an extra round, giving it a capacity of 7+1 compared to the 6+1 found on most pocket .380 pistols.

Taurus 738 TCP Announced in 2009 and released for sale in 2010, the Taurus 738 TCP is the Brazilian gun manufacturer’s entry into the pocket .380 market. With a slim single stack grip and lightweight polymer frame, the 738 is comparable to Kel-Tec’s P-3AT and Ruger’s LCP. Unlike the P-3AT and LCP, the 738 has a last round hold-open feature so that the slide is locked back on an empty magazine. Taurus also added another feature normally only found on larger pistols: a loaded chamber indicator can be found just above the extractor.

Kel-Tec P-3AT Kel-Tec set the standard a number of years ago for ultra-light polymer framed pocket pistols with their P-32 pistol. Later, Kel-Tec engineers created the P-3AT, a pistol that is the same size as the P-32 but chambered in the significantly more powerful .380 ACP. This tiny shooter was a runaway success, so much so that retailers still have difficulty keeping it in stock.

Based off of the Kel-Tec P3AT, the Ruger LCP is a slim and easily concealable pocket .380.

Ruger LCP Ruger took Kel-Tec’s P-3AT “Keep it Simple” design and took it a step further by adding a slide lock lever. While the slide does not lock back after the last shot, the slide lock lever makes performing administrative tasks on the pistol much easier (clearing a jam or showing clear for an RO). Affectionately called the “Elsie Pea” by aficionados, the Ruger LCP has quickly gained a devoted following.

Sig P238 and Colt Mustang The Colt Mustang was a small .380 pocket pistol manufactured from 1986-1997. Ironically right as Colt ceased production of their small shooter concealed carry pistols began to see a rise in popularity. With the Mustang no longer in production prices for the Colt .380 jumped dramatically with some selling for as much as 2-3 times as much as the original MSRP. In 2009 Sig Sauer began producing their own Colt Mustang inspired design and rebranded it as the P238. Essentially a small 1911 platform pistol, the Sig P238 and the Colt Mustang are both single action pistols with a frame mounted safety. Designed to be carried “cocked and locked” with the hammer back and the safety engaged, many people dismiss the design as practical for pocket carry. With a good fitting pocket holster however, this pistol can be safely carried without concern.

On most pocket .380 pistols, the sights, or lack thereof, leave much to be desired. When Sig began the design process on their P238 one of the first things they added was a decent set of combat sights. You can even find models available with Tritium night sights which help immensely in low-light situations.

Kahr P380 The Kahr P380 is essentially a slightly smaller version of their much loved 9mm PM9. Another double action pocket .380, the Kahr P380 features a wider trigger which helps smooth out the double action pull. Small .380 caliber pocket pistols are not known for being forgiving to shoot or easily controllable, but Kahr put aggressive texturing on the grip of the little pistol give the user better control under even the hottest +P loads. Like the Sig, the Kahr P380 is available with Tritium night sights which are highly recommended.

Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 The Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 is one of the newest .380 pocket pistols to hit the market. First shown at the 2010 SHOT show, both it and it’s companion .38 Special revolver feature integral laser aiming systems. The Smith & Wesson Bodyguard has all of the controls found on a full size semiautomatic, including a safety, slide lock and release, and a generously large take-down lever. One of problems other ultra-slim .380 pistols exhibit is difficulty in field stripping due to the close fit of the take-down pin. With the large take-down lever on the Bodyguard, field stripping is very fast and extremely easy.

Pocket .380 PistolsWeightCapacityBarrel LengthOverall LengthWidthHeightActionFramePrice as of Oct. 2010
Walther PPK/S22.4 ounces7+13.35″6.1″0.98″4.3″DA/SASteel$509.31
Walther PPK20.8 ounces6+13.35″6.1″0.98″3.8″DA/SASteel$509.31
Bersa Thunder .38023 ounces7+13.5″6.6″1.4″4.75″DA/SAAluminum$239.80
Sig P23815.2 ounces6+12.7″5.5″1.1″3.9″SAAluminum$561.66
Kahr P3809.9 ounces6+12.5″4.9″0.75″3.9″DAOPolymer$522.11
Kel-Tec P3AT8.3 ounces6+12.75″5.2″0.77″3.5″DAOPolymer$228.67
Ruger LCP9.4 ounces6+12.75″5.16″0.82″3.6″DA0Polymer$272.47
Smith & Wesson Bodyguard11.85 ounces6+12.75″5.25″0.75″4.1″DAOPolymer$427.84
Taurus 738 TCP10.2 ounces6+13.3″5.25″0.75″4.1″DAOPolymer$250.16

Many people dismiss the pocket .380 pistol as inaccurate and underpowered. While I won’t contest the fact that it is indeed less accurate and less powerful than a full sized service pistol in a caliber that begins with “.4″ it bears repeating that the pistol you have is always better than one left at home. The new line of pocket sized .380 automatic pistols being produced are reliable and easily concealed no matter what your wardrobe. If the thought of lugging around a couple of pounds of full sized or even compact defensive pistol is off-putting to you, consider downsizing. You can get an easily concealable pistol for much less than $300 and have the peace of mind of being able to be armed everywhere the law allows.

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