Ruger LCP and holster

Best .380 ACP Pistols [Hands-On Reviewed]

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Here’s a conversation from a gun shop about the .380 ACP pistol:

“What’s that in your pocket?”

“A .380 ACP pistol in a pocket holster.”

“Don’t you know you might as well throw rocks as shoot somebody with a .380?”

“Well, if it’s so ineffective, will you volunteer to hold the target at the far end of the pistol range? HA! Didn’t think so!”

Many shooters think a .380 isn’t nearly enough gun to carry on a regular basis. Let’s face it ― the .380 is meant to be a deep-concealment “get-off-me” self-protection round. But, it can be so much more.

Allow me to fudge just a bit with gun size — I say “pocket” pistol, but some of these are pushing that. If you’re old enough to remember Captain Kangaroo, we’re talking pockets like his coat had. That is, big enough to carry his lunch in — and he was not a skinny fellow. So, “pocket” is an approximate word in terms of gun size.

Quick summary of the best .380 ACP pistols

Top Pick
Taurus Spectrum
  • H: 3.80 inches
  • L: 5.4 inches
  • W: 10 ounces
  • Barrel: 2.8 inches
  • 6 or 7 rounds
$302 Shop NowClick to read my review
Best Budget Buy
Kel-Tec P3AT
  • H: 3.5 inches
  • L: 5.2 inches
  • W: 7.7 ounces
  • Barrel: 2.7 inches
  • 6 rounds
$299 Shop NowClick to read my review
Ruger LCP II
  • H: 3.6 inches
  • L: 5.16 inches
  • W: 9.6 ounces
  • Barrel: 2.75 inches
  • 6 rounds
$237 Shop NowClick to read my review
Kahr CW380
  • H: 3.9 inches
  • L: 4.96 inches
  • W: 10.2 ounces
  • Barrel: 2.58 inches
  • 6 rounds
$311 Shop NowClick to read my review
Remington RM380 Micro
  • H: 3.86 inches
  • L: 5.27 inches
  • W: 12.2 ounces
  • Barrel: 2.9 inches
  • 6 rounds
$417 Shop NowClick to read my review
Bersa Thunder
  • H: 4.7 inches
  • L: 6.6 inches
  • W: 20 ounces
  • Barrel: 3.5 inches
  • 8 rounds
$299 Shop NowClick to read my review
Glock 42 Gen 4
  • H: 4.13 inches
  • L: 5.94 inches
  • W: 13.76 ounces
  • Barrel: 3.25 inches
  • 6 rounds
$419 Shop NowClick to read my review
Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard 380
  • H: 3.78 inches
  • L: 5.25 inches
  • W: 12.0 ounces
  • Barrel: 2.75 inches
  • 6 rounds
$369 Shop NowClick to read my review
The S&W Shield 380 EZ
  • H: 4.98 inches
  • L: 6.7 inches
  • W: 18.5 ounces
  • Barrel: 3.7 inches
  • 8 rounds
$379 Shop NowClick to read my review

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A Little History About the .380 ACP

Best .380 ACP Pistol American Eagle Ammo
American Eagle .380 Auto/ACP 95gr FMJ Ammunition (from Palmetto State Armory)

Colt developed the .380 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) to chamber its Colt Model 1908. That was in 1908 and since then, the round has been popular for self-defense and pocket pistols. It saw worldwide use in many handguns, typically smaller, pocketable weapons. Another popular name for it is the 9mm Kurz ― if you’re not up on your German, that means 9mm Short.

The .380 ACP uses the same bullet diameter as the 9mm- .355- just in a lighter format (95 to 105 grains). Another moniker for this round is the 9X17, which is not to be confused with the 9X18 Makarov or the 9X19 Luger. Some pistols for this cartridge are of a blowback design, not unlike a .22 LR. Usually, it doesn’t generate enough pressure to need a locked-breech (1911-style) action. Although, many newer .380s utilize such an action.

Best .380 ACP Pistol Gavrilo Princip
Gavrilo Princip in color photography. Princip shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand with a .380, an event that sparked World War I.

In case you think the .380 is a totally anemic cartridge, think again as it started World War I. Gavrilo Princip used a .380 ACP to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand of the Austria-Hungary Empire. That got the ball rolling in 1914. Considered a fairly powerful cartridge at that time, and replacing the .32 Auto, the rise of the 9mm Luger eventually knocked the .380 into the pocket-pistol category. 

Fast-forward to today. The advent of modern self-defense rounds brings the lowly .380 out of obscurity. With modern defensive ammo, the .380 proves to be a viable self-defense cartridge. Some equate its stopping power with the 158-grain .38 Special lead round-nose cartridge. To be sure, it isn’t as lethal as a 9mm — even out of a short barrel. But with modern ammo, a lot of people carry it as their main concealed carry weapon (CCW).

Why Go With .380 ACP Pistols?

Best .380 ACP Pistol Kel-Tec P3AT .380
Kel-Tec P3AT .380 by Jimmy Smith from Flickr

A more powerful cartridge means more stopping power. However, because of size, they aren’t the most convenient guns to carry around. The .380 ACP may be underpowered but it does the job of protecting you when you need it. Plus, guns of this round have concealability as their specialty.

Now, let’s consider some pros and cons of this round. First, we need to remember that most .380 pistols are about the same size as your palm. If you have large hands, gripping will need some getting used to. In most cases, your pinky will be off the grip.

Because of size, these panic pistols can get really snappy. But that is also their greatest strength — concealability. After all, having a small gun in your pocket is better than having nothing at all. Many of us swear by it and with practice and familiarity, these little ones can be your ultimate lifesaver.

Best .380 ACP Pistols in 2021

Most .380s are, at least in the United States, considered pocket pistols. If you lived in Central America or other areas, your .380 would most likely be a pistol the size of our 9mms. Those countries outlaw the possession of a pistol that fires a military round. With that, the 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45ACP are removed from consideration.

We can carry a full-size pistol in mostly any caliber we want in the good ol’ U.S. With that, the .380 ACP pistol here can be made smaller. Some folks will carry a compact or duty-size pistol for their primary CCW. They’ll also have a small .380 in deep concealment if something goes wrong with the larger gun. Most .380 pistols will fit in a pocket holster. Now let’s take a closer look at the best .380 ACP pistols out there.

Taurus Spectrum

Best .380 ACP Pistol Taurus Spectrum

The Taurus Spectrum is my personal carry .380. There are several features that make it the one I don’t leave home without.

Announced at the 2017 SHOT Show, delivery was delayed for almost a year as bugs were worked out. As is the case with most new guns, the Spectrum suffered its share of troubles. It earned a mixed reputation as there are shooters who regularly carry them and others who won’t own one.

My Spectrum runs like a top, so its initial “new-modelitis” problems seem to have been resolved. As for finishes, the gun is available in two models. One is an all-black version while the other has a stainless-steel slide with a black frame.

My gun is an older model. It consists of a gray frame with a black slide and dark gray panels. At one time, Taurus offered the gun in several different color schemes. By that, the frame, slide, and panels had different colors.

I imagine managing an inventory of rainbow-colored guns became a nightmare, so they cut it back to two. This doesn’t bother me at all. It isn’t what a gun looks like that counts. It’s how it shoots and mine shoots great.

Why I Carry the Spectrum

Best .380 ACP Pistol Taurus Spectrum

I carry the Spectrum simply because mine works. It’s very reliable, no matter what I feed it, including my cast reloads. It fires Critical Defense and other similar rounds with no problem.

I’d earlier had a .380 that wouldn’t hold the slide open after I fired the last round — the Spectrum will do that. It’s got a small slide lock lever that doesn’t protrude much. It isn’t a slide release. It holds the slide back, not letting it go forward.

The Taurus Spectrum is snag-free and doesn’t have any parts that stick out. Aside from concealability, I like the simple yet superb design of this little gun. The seven-round extended magazine has a pinky rest on it to assure proper grip. Aside from that, the concave design on the rear of the slide ensures an easy pull.

Another plus is capacity. I carry it with the flush six-round magazine in place with one in the chamber. For backup, the included extended floorplate seven-rounder stays in my pocket. That’s 14 rounds in a gun of a caliber that’s a whole lot more potent now than it was 30 years ago.

I heard a lot of people complain about the trigger. Yes, it’s rather big and not the best-looking out there. Also, the long travel of the trigger might annoy some but it was designed for safety. Still, it does the job and that’s all that matters.

Verdict

If you’re looking for an affordable .380 ACP pistol that rides unnoticed in your pocket, give the Spectrum a look. This isn’t a “carry-much-shoot-seldom” type of gun. The ruptured bottles and the beaten steel targets at my backyard range will testify to that.

Pros
  • Very reliable
  • Small and easy to conceal
  • Great capacity (6+7 rounds)
  • Slide lock lever feature
  • Excellent design and ergonomics
Cons
  • Trigger is a bit big for the overall size of the Spectrum

Kel-Tec P3AT

Best .380 ACP Pistol P3AT
Source: Joe Salter

The P3AT is a bare-bones pocket pistol. Manufactured in Florida, Kel-Tecs are very popular with shooters. Besides the .380, Kel-Tec also makes a nice .32 ACP and two small 9mm pistols worth checking out.

I owned a PF9 9mm and the P3AT .380 for a while and carried both of them. Considering the price, the quality of the guns was impressive.

Kel-Tec’s customer service is very good as I discovered when I had a problem with my .380 and had to send it back. They basically replaced most of the parts and sent the gun back to me. It worked fine after the return. I kept it for a while then sold it.

Best .380 ACP Pistol Kel-Tec P3AT
Kel-Tec P3AT

Why did I sell it? One of my criteria for any semi-automatic pistol is that the slide locks back on an empty magazine. The P3AT’s slide doesn’t do that. I would fire six rounds from the magazine and then pull the trigger the next time, with the slide forward in the battery.

Nothing. Click. Of course, I didn’t count my shots. That’s why all my semi-autos lock the slide back when they run dry. Did I know that the P3AT wouldn’t lock back on an empty magazine? Yep, I ignored my own criteria.

I thought I could overlook that due to the minuscule size of the piece and the attendant ease of carry. The small size initially won over the nonlocking slide, in essence. However, after shooting it a lot, I couldn’t get used to it. So, I sold it.

Below is a good video review of the P3AT, although it was posted more than five years ago already.

Verdict

So, was the Kel-Tec P3AT reliable? You bet — it would run no matter what I put through it, factory loads or my hand loads. I am one of those strange people who are left-handed AND who reload a .380 ACP. It digested my loads, factory ball, defense loads — whatever I fed it.

The P3AT has an external extractor, attached with a Torx-type screw. This makes it easy to replace the extractor if you break one. There’s no thumb safety, which I appreciate on pocket-type pistols. They’re sometimes swiped off accidentally as the gun goes in or out of your pocket. The trigger pull is fairly long and stiff, which is in itself a form of safety. Mine was around nine pounds. 

Aside from the nonlocking slide, one thing I’d want to improve on this pistol is the sights. They’re way too small, clearly compromised for the smaller gun profile. Aside from that, it worked perfectly. So, if you’re looking for an inexpensive pocket .380 ACP pistol that’s made in the U.S., then the P3AT is one to consider.

Pros
  • Impressively reliable
  • Small, light, and handy
  • No thumb safety
  • Great value at an affordable price
Cons
  • Nonlocking slide
  • Sights are next to nonexistent

Ruger LCP/LCP II

Ruger LCP American Flag Cerakote
The original Ruger LCP

The Ruger LCP (lightweight compact pistol) is a pocket-type pistol that reminds me of the Kel-Tec in the way it looks and handles. It’s very close in size to the P3AT but feels a bit different in the hand but in a good way. The grip has a different type of texture than the Kel-Tec and it sits very comfortably in my hands.

As with most small .380s, the LCP’s sights are wart-like protuberances milled into the slide. They’re definitely not adjustable. However, given the purpose of the gun, they suffice.

Best .380 ACP Pistol Ruger LCP American Flag Cerakote
https://o.snipercountry.com/c/2240Ruger LCP American Flag Cerakote from Palmetto State Armory

Another shared feature with the P3AT is that the slide won’t lock open after you fire the last round. But it’s a Ruger, and Ruger has a reputation for building guns that last. Also, Ruger has shown some artistic initiative in its design of the LCP. Some available models are of different color frames and uniquely styled slides.

All in the Family: The LCP II

Best .380 ACP Pistol Ruger LCP II
Ruger LCP II from Sportman’s Warehouse

If you like the LCP but wish it were just a bit more ergonomic, look at its first cousin, the LCP II. Ruger, as it usually does, listened to its customers and dealers and brought out the LCP II. This gun is very similar to the LCP, but it has some significant differences:

  • It’s just slightly wider as some folks complained the LCP was too skinny for a good grip
  • Slide is a bit longer with forward and rear serrations
  • Trigger is much improved and utilizes a Glock-style bladed safety
  • Grip has new, textured areas that resemble those of the American and Security 9 pistols
  • Sights are easier to pick up
  • Front of the trigger guard has texture
  • The slide locks open after the last round is fired

A note about triggers. The LCP II’s trigger is pre-cocked partially by racking the slide. Pulling the trigger finishes cycling it and fires the gun. The pull weight is lighter than the LCP’s which is more like a double-action-only revolver. Still, it’s long and slightly heavier on purpose.

For those who pocket-carry, this is an important point as it takes a dedicated pull of the trigger to get the gun to fire. Unless you carry change or other objects are in the same pocket as your holster, which is a no-no, you needn’t worry about a negligent discharge with a nine-pound trigger.

Below is a table-top comparison of the two:

Aside from the LCP II, the LCP Custom also addresses the common complaints on the original LCP. One noticeable difference is the skeletonized aluminum trigger of the Custom model. This trigger system greatly improved on the original. Aside from that, the sights are also better.

Verdict

As of this writing, Ruger has no intention of stopping the production of the original LCP. This little gun has garnered its fair share of enthusiasts. You can’t go wrong with either of the two. The LCP started it and the LCP II, its more refined cousin, are both excellent choices for concealed carry. 

Expect to find the LCP with a starting price of $309 while the LCP II is around $409. Those prices may be a bit higher than the previously mentioned .380 ACP pistols. However, if it’s a durable gun you’re looking for, then the Rugers are made for that.

Pros
  • Comfortable to use (both)
  • Reliable and easy to conceal (both)
  • Has lots of improved features (LCP II)
  • Has many varieties to choose from (both)
Cons
  • Nonslide-locking (LCP)
  • A bit bigger and bulkier (LCP II)

Kahr CW380

Best .380 ACP Pistol Kahr CW380
Photo: thefirearmblog.com

I’ve owned two Kahrs so far. Both of them were the lesser-expensive “CW” series. Although not easily obvious at first look, these are different from Kahr’s P series.

I owned the CW9 and CW45. I liked the guns, for the most part. What I liked was how small, light, and easy-to-carry they were. They didn’t weigh much at all. Plus, the slide locks at the last round. 

Kahrs are single-stack, so they weren’t very wide, either. Both slipped into a front pocket, but the CW9 was more comfortable there. Being small, they had some snappy recoil depending upon the ammunition you shot but I got used to it. The only thing I didn’t like was the takedown procedure, but that’s strictly my opinion.

My guns were reliable and accurate. They were fun to shoot with my hand loads. Defensive ammo was a bit stronger in the recoil department. Unlike other pistols of the round, the CW380 sights are easy to pick up. 

I know of at least one internet gun expert who carries a Kahr. If you carried the CW380, I think you might be carrying the thinnest, lightest .380ACP pistol you could find.

Verdict

I can’t swear to it, as we never know what may be coming out. However, at less than an inch wide and a weight of about 10 ounces, this is one gun that would go with you pretty much wherever you go. 

It’s one of the smallest and lightest guns on the market, if not the most. The fact that I can protect my life with a CCW this small makes me want to always have a CW380 with me. If you can find one at a dealer’s, check it. It’s a nice gun for the money.

Pros
  • Reliable and accurate
  • Small and lightweight
  • Easy to conceal
  • Useable sights
  • Slide locks at the last shot
Cons
  • Snappier recoil
  • Can be tough to disassemble

Remington RM380

Best .380 ACP Pistol Remington RM380

Rohrbaugh —that’s a name that means a lot to die-hard pocket pistol devotees. Rohrbaugh was a player in the high-end pocket pistol niche market until 2014.

Remington Outdoor bought Rohrbaugh and stopped producing the latter’s $1,200 R9 pocket pistol. After appropriating the design, Remington then introduced their version of the R9. They called it RM380.

The RM380 is almost identical to the Rohrbaugh but with a few differences. The goal was to take a fairly expensive pocket pistol and model a less-expensive version of it. It has succeeded in that endeavor as the mass market received it well.

Best .380 ACP Pistol Remington RM380
Source: Remington

One of the first things Remington changed was the magazine release. On the R9, it was in the European position, at the heel of the grip. Remington put it whereas the saying goes: “God and John Browning intended it to be.” That is, behind the trigger guard in the grip. It’s ambidextrous as well.

The grip saw the addition of some checkering. A slide stop was fitted — the R9 wouldn’t lock back on an empty magazine but the RM380 does. It also got rid of the infamous Rohrbaugh spring, which you had to replace about every 200 rounds. Add in the nested recoil springs, and you get an improved version that could be sold for less.

While I don’t have much experience with the RM380, I do know that it sits very nicely in my average-size hand. Obviously, the attention to ergonomic details that the R9 employed was maintained.

Verdict

I’ve had no bad experience with the Remington RM380, and I do recommend you look at one. The real-world price hovers around the $300 to $330 mark. If you want something fancier, check out the Executive model. It uses a two-tone slide and frame with very fancy hardwood grips. It cost a bit more than the regular model but sure is nice to look at.

As of this date, Remington as a company has pretty much ceased to exist. Sold off into seven buyers in 2020, we can only hope to see more of the Big Green in the coming years.

I included the RM 380 from this list because they’re still out there, for sale. It was a decent gun, so if you like Rohrbaugh’s design, go for it. The gun seems well-built and should give you years of service.

Pros
  • Great ergonomics
  • Slide stop/release
  • Extra magazine
  • Ambidextrous magazine release
Cons
  • Small integral sights

Bersa Thunder

Best .380 ACP Pistol Bersa Thunder

At least Bersa doesn’t hide the price.

Pocket-carry disclaimer: this round-up is of pocket-sized .380s. The Bersa, like the Smith & Wesson below, pushes that size limitation. Still, it’s pocketable in pants with larger pockets, or put it on or inside your belt.

The Bersa Thunder series is very popular. I know one former county deputy who carries one regularly. Built-in Argentina, Bersa’s guns tend to be reliable and affordable.

The gun incorporates several design features that help to make it a safe bet for concealed carry. First of all, it’s not striker-fired as the gun is in the traditional double-action/single-action (DA/SA) pattern.

One long pull with the hammer down fires the gun before the slide is racked or after using the decocker lever. A note about that decocker is that it doesn’t pop back up automatically to “fire” after you decock the hammer. You need to push it up manually or it will stay on “safe.” That could be embarrassing, or worse, if you need the gun in a hurry. 

Once the slide is back, the trigger moves toward the rear of the trigger guard. Subsequent shots fire in single action until the slide locks back empty. Many great gun manufacturers use this system in some of their production like CZ and Beretta.

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Bersa Thunder
Pink Bersa Thunder from behind by Rezz Guns (AZ GUNS-R-US) from Flickr

One advantage that I always appreciated in a hammer-fired gun is that you can see if the gun is cocked or not. Of course, this would come into play more with a single-action pistol like the 1911 as opposed to a DA/SA gun. Still, the same principle applies.

The Bersa Thunder has sights dovetailed into the slide, which makes them replaceable. Meprolight and others make sights for Bersas. The slide release and safety are easy to use, even if the safety is on the slide.

The only change I’d make to this gun is to move the magazine release button to its “normal” position. It’s more convenient if it were at the lower end of the trigger guard, not the upper where it’s now. However, like all things, this higher position is something we can all get used to.

I like that Bersa puts a takedown lever on its guns, not a pin that you have to remove to separate the slide from the frame. There are no parts to lose with the swinging lever. Also, if you’re one of those shooters who like gun locks integrated into the gun itself, you’re in luck. You can find a keyed lock just above the trigger. I, for one, don’t care for such an item, but then again, everyone is different.

Other Bersa Versions

Best .380 ACP Pistol Bersa Thunder Combat
Bersa Thunder Combat from Guns.com

What if you wanted to have more than 8+1 .380 rounds available in your magazine? Go with the Thunder Pro. That gun carries 15 in its double-stack magazine, all while not being too bulky. It’s exactly .5 of an ounce more, and it’s .2 of an inch wider than the single-stack Thunder. Length and height are the same. Kind of a no-brainer, for about $67 higher than the manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP).

At any rate, give the Bersas a look. One model that got my attention was what they call a “Combat” Thunder. For a few dollars over the base $303 MSRP, you get a single-stack gun with sharp edges removed. It also has a rear-fixed “U-notch” sight. The “Combat Plus” gives you the 15+1 capacity of the Thunder Pro.

Bersa makes 10 different models of pistols, with many variations of each model. Indeed, there’s always something for everyone. For those who are into striker-fired guns with Glock- and SIG Sauer-compatible sights, check out the BPCC series.

Verdict

While not totally phenomenal, the Bersa Thunder does what it needs to do. I like many of its features, and it was reliable when put into action. It is one of those guns you’ll regret not having, given the price and performance. 

One other thing, since the grips are separate and screw-on, you can replace them. If you’re handy with tools, I could see making a set of nicely figured walnut grips for these guns. Sort of old-school, you know, like me.

Pros
  • Double-action/single-action mechanism
  • Useable dovetailed sights
  • Takedown lever feature
  • Screw-on grips
Cons
  • Comes with only one magazine
  • Magazine release button position

Glock 42 Gen 4

Glock 42 Gen 4
Source: Guns, Gear & On Target Training

Glock was a little late to the single-stack .380 game. But once involved, they produced a very popular gun in the CCW world and law enforcement.

Police tend to carry it as a backup along with its more powerful stablemate, the 9mm G43. Meanwhile, many concealed weapon carriers use it as their primary weapon. It’s small ― some even pocket-carry it ― but most put it in a belt or ankle holster.

Best .380 ACP Pistol Glock 42 Gen 4

One of the main reasons this little guy is so popular is ― you guessed it ― it’s a Glock.

  • All controls are in the “right” places
  • Takedown is the same
  • Trigger is pretty much the same, so no having to adjust to a new system
  • Sights are standard Glock outline/dot

Verdict

Since the G42 has the standard Glock “cup-and-ball” sights, it shoots like most any other Glock.

The gun’s weight is enough to control all but the wildest .380 rounds. It’ll also allow you to settle back on the target fast. The ergonomics are familiar to Glock owners, so again, nothing new there. It’s your standard Glock but with a skinnier frame and fewer rounds at your fingertips. If you’re a Glock lover, this is for you.

For the rest of us who only own a Glock or two, this would certainly work for its intended purpose and deserves a look. The larger size seems to be a mini-trend in the .380 game — see below for the Smith & Wesson 380 EZ and you’ll see what I mean.

Expect a real-world price of around $400 to $470 for the Glock 42. Although this .30 ACP pistol is pricier than other similar caliber guns, it has the Glock name and promise, which it impressively lives up to. 

Pros
  • Familiar Glock system
  • Great and very visible sights
  • Finger extension magazine
  • Accurate and reliable
Cons
  • Larger profile
  • More expensive

Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard 380

Best .380 ACP Pistol Smith & Wesson M&P Bodyguard 380

The S&W M&P Bodyguard 380 began in 2011 without the “M&P” in its moniker. It was the plain Bodyguard 380. You could get one with an Insight laser. In 2014, S&W upgraded the gun by:

  • Ditching the Insight laser and going with Crimson Trace for those guns so equipped
  • Roughing up the texturing on the grip
  • Refining the trigger
  • Etching “M&P” on the slide

Otherwise, it’s pretty much the same gun as the preM&P version.

M&P Bodyguard 380 grip
M&P Bodyguard 380 grip. Source: S&W

It’s All About Controls

M&P Bodyguard 380 controls
M&P Bodyguard 380 controls from Sportsman’s Warehouse

The controls on the M&P Bodyguard 380 are pretty much like those you’d find on any M&P semi-auto pistol. There’s the small thumb safety and slide lock that works as a slide release. Also, the magazine release sits behind the trigger guard.

The control that’s missing is the takedown lever. The Bodyguard uses a rotating push-through pin that you line up with the slot to release. The push-through pin takedown system is fairly common on many 380s and even some 9mm pistols. Still, it isn’t a captive takedown lever, so don’t lose it.

Shooting the Bodyguard

This gun shoots pretty much like other small, two-fingers-on-the-grip .380s. The grip texturing is OK. Although, I prefer grips that feel like somebody glued 100-grit sandpaper to the gun. I use stair-step no-slip tape from the hardware store or stipple my plastic grips if that gives you an idea of the traction I prefer. The Bodyguard isn’t quite there, but it’s not bad.

The laser is a bit hard to use much past about five yards due to the bounce it gets from the recoil, but at least it’s included. Once sighted in, it’s useful. You just have to gorilla-grip the little gun to hold the red dot on the target.

As with lasers on any handgun, there’s more sight picture “jumpiness” than if you were using iron sights. With that, practice is the key. As a concealed carry gun, the long trigger pull is more of a safety feature than an annoyance. After all, it wouldn’t seem that long a pull when you’re in a fight-or-flight situation.

Verdict

The M&P Bodyguard works well as intended. Except for the push-through pin, I wouldn’t change anything about it. The sights aren’t the best, but it’s understandable for the size and purpose of the gun.

It’s backed by the S&W warranty, one of the best in the industry. Another M&P feature is that you can get one with or without a thumb safety. For this .380 ACP pistol, expect a real-world price of around $340 without the laser and $400 with it.

Pros
  • Comes with Crimson Trace laser
  • Easy to carry and conceal
  • Ambidextrous magazine release
  • Comes with two magazines
  • Covered by S&W warranty
Cons
  • Has no takedown lever
  • Not very usable sights

The S&W Shield 380 EZ

Best .380 ACP Pistol The S&W Shield 380 EZ

I saved the newest for last. The new Shield 380 EZ is a true paradigm shift in gun design. We “seasoned” shooters who have been around the block a time or two tend not to get excited about a gun made for newbies. But this gun is different.

I can see long-time shooters buying this because of the easy-rack slide. The “wings” at the rear of the slide also help in racking that slide. The grip safety and loaded chamber indicator may or may not be useful to some shooters. Still, I would appreciate having them.

Here is a gun manufactured to be controlled and operated easily by new shooters. Hence the “EZ” in its name.

The M&P Shield EZ Pistol

What’s So “EZ” About It?

The single-stack Shield family of autoloaders comes in 9mm, .40 S&W, and even .45ACP. Recently, the second generation of M&Ps hit the market with many improvements. Suffice it to say that the EZ is definitely one of the M&P family. Now, the EZ part. Here’s Lucky Gunner’s video review to give you an idea about it.

The Shield 380 EZ has most of the controls of the regular Shield line. It includes a takedown lever and optional thumb safety but has some new features:

  • The slide is much easier to rack: Many first-time shooters are older folks ― don’t make fun of us. With that, many may not have the strength to pull back a slide pushing against a 20-pound recoil spring. I couldn’t find specifics on the weight of the spring used in the EZ but it’s very “soft.” I racked the slide and was shocked at how easy it was to do that.
  • Loaded chamber indicator: This lever-type chamber indicator is standard and a bit larger than similar levers.
  • ”Wings” on the rear of the slide: Sprouting from the rear edge of the slide serrations are a pair of protruding “wings.” It allows the user to grab the slide with wet hands and not have it slip. S&W didn’t originate the idea as the Taurus TCP 738 and the H&K VP9 both use the same type of feature. But they do help with slide traction!
  • Grip safety: The EZ uses a grip safety similar to that of a 1911, except that it’s hinged at the bottom. This feature alone distinguishes the EZ, at a glance, from other Shields.
  • The EZ is slightly larger: It has a bigger profile than the other .380 ACP pistols listed here — more ideal for a belt holster. But by being so, it allows newbies to have more fingers on the grip. It increases the likelihood of hitting the target and hence more confidence. It also helps better control the soft recoil.

Verdict

The S&W Shield 380 lives up to its EZ name. It’s easy to rack and shoot and is very manageable on recoil. A big part of it’s due to its larger frame, which might make it not as ideal for deep concealment as other .380 pistols.

Another thing to note about this gun is the light trigger. While it makes shooting easier, it can be a disadvantage when it comes to safety. That’s especially if it’s intended for concealed carry. Still, that largely depends on your preference and purpose. On the whole, this is one .380 buddy that’s as reliable as it is premium-looking.

Pros
  • Very easy to rack
  • Has several safety features
  • Loaded chamber indicator
  • Less recoil
  • Premium-looking
Cons
  • Larger than other .380s
  • Light trigger pull/short travel

Honorable Mentions

The guns above are ones that I have had experience with and are solid buys. The .380 ACP Pitol is, to many, a marginal self-defense round to begin with. With that, the gun you choose to carry it in must be reliable and accurate as these guns fulfill those criteria. But here are a few others that are also capable CCWs.


Conclusion

No matter which gun you choose, get some decent ammo and practice a lot before you take the gun with you to town. The .380 may not be a .44 Magnum in stopping power, but a .380 ACP in your hand is much better than the 1911 in your nightstand. 

With modern ammunition, you won’t be undergunned for most purposes. So, have fun, go out, and shoot.

If you’re looking for your new CCW partner, be sure to read the best concealed carry guns in 2021. Interested in other caliber pistols? Then, check out the best 1911 pistols for the money.

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40 comments
  1. I feared I was a loner in the wilderness; I chose the RM 380 after carefully weeding out the chaff from the hate spewers. While nearly indistinguishable at a glance, from Rugers et al, its aluminum body give it a serious feel, not a bar of soap. It’s design greatly reduces slide pull and recoil, ambidextrous mag release for us lefties, and it fired the first of over 200 rounds just fine. Total of one jam, misfeeding a Hydro-Shok with the steep front edge hanging up; same shell fed later in the session. Only a couple incomplete seatings of rounds, fixed by rapping the slide into place. The DAO trigger I cleaned up with a lighter spring kit, and polished rough spots that made the pull drag unevenly. Long, hence safe pull around 7 lb. and the hammer sits flush when not moving to fire. No misfires, with lighter pin spring either. Sights are typical steel, dabbed with bright paint helps a lot, to realize they aren’t aligned that great, but shot consistent 5″ groups at ten yards. What the gun does is just feed bullets reliably, no major issues at all. Lehigh Xtreme Defenders or Federal HST fed perfectly, unlike other touted guns, and the only flaw is the tight trigger area and rubbing on the lower outside of my trigger finger, with the long pull, after 200 rounds. Clean, concealable, reliable. Don’t care for gimmicks or trade-offs.

    1. Old Goose (great handle!), my friend Duane has one in his gun case. I’ve handled the RM 380 and was torn between it and the Spectrum – it could’ve gone either way, except that the Spectrum just fit my pocket a bit easier. That Rohrbaugh design is really a good one. I’m glad you are enjoying owning one. Sounds like you’ve gotten the reliability issue down pat. Thanks for writing! (Also – have you seen the Executive version of the RM 380? Fancy grips, stainless slide. Very nice!)

    2. Count me in as a fellow traveler wandering the wilderness. I as well own the RM 380 and carry it daily in a DeSantis Apache Rig on my left ankle. It’s my backup for one of my EDCs which is currently the R51. I have about 500 rounds of range ammo through it and have experienced zero malfunctions. I carry it with Hornady 90gr Critical Defense loads which it digests easily.

      The sights on this gun are of little importance to me. This is a point and shoot weapon at close range but, as you point out, it does group very respectably for me at 25 feet.

      Very comfortable gun to shoot and carry and I have complete confidence in it if I ever need it to save my skin.

      1. Wetdog, glad yours is working out for you. I agree about the ammo – Critical Defense is good stuff and feeds in most guns. Thanks for writing!

    1. James, the Seecamp was a great little gun…I just haven’t seen it anywhere around here for several years. It was well-built, for sure. Thanks for the comment.

    1. Glenn, here’s a quote from the owner’s manual:
      “Plus-P” (+P) ammunition generates pressures in excess of the pressures associated with standard ammunition. Such pressures may affect the wear characteristics and may result in the need for more frequent service.”
      The problem is that the EZ already employs a lighter recoil spring to aid in racking the slide with ease. If you are going to shoot a steady diet of +P ammo, I’d put a slightly stouter spring in to keep the pistol from battering itself. I’m not sure how much you’d gain by going with +P stuff…the .380 is not going to be a 9mm. I have a .380 and I usually carry standard-pressure FMJ rounds, as I haven’t seen any good evidence of reliable expansion with the caliber. Check out my article elsewhere on this site that compares different types of .380 ammo.

      Hope you figure it out…just bear in mind that most any smaller pistol will wear more quickly with the use of +P ammo and might need a tune-up sooner rather than later, and that S&W says to not use +P+ ammo at all in the EZ. At least look into a stiffer recoil spring. Thanks for writing!

  2. You didn’t mention the Browning 1911 .380 auto. This is the best small pistol I have owned and what I carry now. My wife has even started carrying one as she prefers it over Colt, Ruger and the other pistols she has fired.

    1. Dr. Bill, Yep, the Browning is a great gun, no doubt. I just had to draw the line somewhere. I just don’t see those pistols around here as much as I do some others, but it’s out there and is a great buy. Thanks for writing!

      1. I will agree with Bill and Mike. As a retired police chief, I own a number of fine handguns, but the Browning 1911 Black Label is my daily concealed carry favorite. Its size fits my hand better than any other 380 I have ever held, shoots great, and is a fine looking gun. Maybe not the pocket gun the smaller ones are, I use a inside the pants holster which works very well. If I were headed into a situation that I thought would likely involve gun play, I likely would grab something in a larger caliber, but for daily self defense carry the Browning is a great weapon.

        1. Eddie, first, thanks for your service – I’ve never been employed in law enforcement but I have several close friends who are and I have great respect for you. Now, the Black Label 1911 – that IS a really nice gun! I’ve not shot the .380 but have handled the .22 version. It is 85% the size of a full-size 1911 and felt really good in the hand. I can see why you carry it – it’s a quality piece. Thanks for writing, and stay safe!

  3. Hey Mike- Very informative, excellent writing & pictures. Thanks! Any thoughts on a much older model- Walther PPK.
    Jeff, in not gun friendly upstate NY.

    1. Jeff, the PPK is one of the original CCW pistols – Walther’s current ad brings that out. I would love to have one, if for no other reason than it is such an iconic pistol, instantly recognizable by gun folks and also by non-gun folks as the gun James Bond carried early on. A great gun. Thanks for writing!

  4. I really like the Taurus Spectrum but, the non captive guide rod and and spring are too difficult to re install.. Arthritis is a partial culprit here..Followed the manual finally got back together. Now i wonder if it will shoot. Wish there was a Aftermarket Captive Guide Rod Spring assy available…This is a very
    ergonomic nice to shoot Tool..But only if you can get it back together Properly without bending the Spring….

    1. Brian, I feel your pain, literally. I had my Spectrum spring jump out, hit something hard and then be lost (until after I’d sent the gun back to the mothership for a new spring/rod, after which I promptly found it. Now I have an extra). A captive spring would be great. All I could find, 3rd party, is a stainless guide rod: https://lakelinellc.com/shop/stainless-steel-guide-rod-for-the-taurus-spectrum/.
      Too bad nobody makes a captive spring. It IS a royal pain to get back in place. Thanks for writing!

      1. Hey Mike, thanks for the feedback. I am developing a three sided channel type Guide Rod and Spring installation tool. I came up with the idea realizing that the spring wants to bow out when compressed. This tool will keep the assembly in place as it is compressed.
        Love this gun and i know the M&P 380EZ would be a great option, but i love this Taurus
        Spectrum….

        1. Brian, great idea! Once you get it, patent it and then approach companies like Brownells to sell it (provided you get it produced). I’d buy one! Thanks again.

  5. Another really good .380 not mentioned is the Micro Desert Eagle which I own and is extremely reliable and shoots anything and everything I put through it -there are no safeties however it has a very strong trigger pull for such a small gun which is a sort of safety. I could fit in a pair shorts front pocket or uncle Mike’s tiny #10 holster. It’s all steel (14 oz) and probably smaller than all the rest. I like it. Whenever I read about .380s it’s never mentioned and I believe it to be better than most.

    1. John, I agree with you that’s it’s a quality gun. I have to go with either what companies will send me to test or guns that I’ve had experience with. The Desert Eagle family is highly regarded, and I’m glad you like your Micro – it’s a solid gun that should last for many years. Thanks for writing!

  6. I’m wearing a Ruger LCP .380 as we speak. Unlike a HiPoint, I can’t use this in hand to hand… lol

    1. John, yeah, the LCP’s just not as big or heavy. That IS one advantage of the blow-back .380 Hi=Point. It also helps with recoil. Thanks for the comment – it was funny!

  7. My wife and I bought a Glock 42 for her to use. The decision was based primarily on the Glock reputation for reliability. However, during a couple of months of near weekly trips to the range, she could rarely get through a magazine without experiencing a stoppage, due mostly to failures to eject. It was obviously a “limp wrist” problem, as we didn’t experience the issue when I or one of my friends shot it.

    After she grew frustrated with the situation, she started looking for a replacement. I encouraged her to go with a 9mm, but she was concerned the recoil would be too much. She eventually choose a Sig P238. She has since put many rounds through it, and it has worked flawlessly.

    1. Chris, it’s good that she found one that works for her. It can be frustrating, trying to shoot a gun that malfunctions a lot for whatever reason. The Sig is a great choice, one I’d guess she’ll be happy with. Thanks for writing!

    1. Matt, the Kimber Micro would work. I had no specific reason for not including it – it’s a well-built gun – other than I had to draw the line somewhere. As in my comment above, if I do an update, hopefully it will go in then. I appreciate your comment!

  8. Although it’s not on your list, I carried a Walther PPK/S in .380 ACP as my CCW for 25 years. The only reason it was retired to range baby status, was entirely due to my aging eyes. The last several years I couldn’t see the sights in low light conditions, so I changed to a SIG P365.
    The Walther PP series was the first marketed DA/SA to make it back in the dirty 30’s. It’s still the most accurate gun I own (the pinned barrel is why). At rest, across the bench, it’s capable of <1" groups at 30 feet.
    The biggest drawback to the PPK is price, they're $200 or more over most of the guns on the list. They are heavier than other pocket .380's, but that's due to an all steel construction.
    Way back, Crimson Trace made Laser grips for the PPK, I waited too long on getting a set, and now the grips (when you can find them) sell for 3 – 4 times their original price. One of those "why didn't I" moments.

    1. Bemused, yeah, the PPK/S should’ve been on my list but I didn’t include it because of cost and availability. I’d love to have one but can’t swing it. The gun has a great history (James Bond, etc.) and would make a great carry piece. Maybe if I do another update I’ll include it. Thanks for writing!

      1. I figured your review probably oriented around price point and availability, both of which are issues with the PPK/S, so I fully understand its absence from the list From a readership perspective, that’s a positive. The PPK, like the higher end .380 1911’s, has a big difference in price over the pistols in your review, and for most people, that’s a big factor in their selection. I bought mine at a time when cost wasn’t a big factor for me, but now (as a retiree on a limited budget), it would be an issue.
        The .380 ACP caliber is often overlooked by many reviewers, for different reasons, but the general assumption that if a gun isn’t 9mm or bigger it isn’t worth reviewing is a mistake on their part, and one you’ve fully avoided. With the technological advances in bullets and propellants, .380 is a very viable self defense cartridge. I certainly wouldn’t want to be shot by one.
        Walter’s discontinuing of the pistol, and recent reintroduction effects its availability. As of yet, I’ve not seen one on display at any of the gun stores I frequent. Online yes, but I’ve yet to buy a gun that way. I prefer purchasing in person from a local dealer. 99% of the guns I own come from the same LGS. They’ve always treated me good, and that’s becoming rare these days.

        1. Bemused, I’m with you. I really like the PPK/S. It’s just that it’s so expensive and not available (but what is available now, eh?). I wish I owned one. For all who missed the PPK/s on my list, I only omitted it because it is very expensive and really hard to find. I do like the gun. Thanks, Bemused, for your comments again – I really appreciate them. (Did you get the “Berserker” part of your handle from Vlad Tspes? Just curious!)

  9. I inherited my father’s 1908 Colt .380 Hammerless, manufactured in 1942 and issued to him by the Navy (marked Property US Govt). He carried it throughout his career with ONI and in retirement with NIS (later NCIS). Due to its age and value, it seldom leaves the house; however, my daily carry has become a RIA “Baby Rock” .380 1911, which I would put on your list!!

    1. Max, yeah, the Rock Islands are good guns – I’ve owned a couple. I just had to draw the line somewhere. Interesting about the Colt! Thanks for writing.

  10. My wife attended a womens-only gun safety course and once-a-month shoot and was having trouble “racking” my SR9c. I started looking for an alternative home defense weapon for her. Since I had past experience with S&W (586 duty pistol), I tested the EZ and then had my wife go with me to the store to test if she could rack it with less effort. Needless to say, she had a BIG smile on her face and is now a happy EZ owner/shooter.

  11. One I’d like to get my hands on is the Beretta Pico, small in stature but has a da trigger, lr-ho and real sights…..

    1. Bobo, I’ve handled the Pico and thought about getting one but two things kept me away – it is SO skinny that it would jump around as you shot it, and the first version had almost no slide serrations to grab. I passed, but it is still a good choice for a deep-cover gun. Thanks for your comment!

  12. My ccw .380 is a Makarov in .380. A little heavy, but it always goes bang and I shoot it better than any other. Many of your mentions are rather nasty, snappy things to practice much with. With the FAB Defense Makarov grip, I can shoot all day comfortably.

    1. CWW, you are right – the heavier guns are more pleasant to shoot. I included guns that are “pocketable”, so some of the heavier guns like the Mak didn;t make it. It’s a great gun, though and I’m glad you shoot yours well. Thanks for writing!

    1. fatdaddy, I explained below why I didn’t include it. I have absolutely nothing against it – I’d love to have one – it’s just the cost and availability that have kept from my gun safe. It’s a great gun! Thanks for writing.

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