There exists a continuing debate about the effectiveness of the .380 ACP cartridge in self defense scenarios. Because I possess, and exercise, my concealed carry permit, I’ve also put a great deal of thought into the caliber of pistol I choose for CCW. My limitations to what I can effectively carry vary depending on my location and dress. As such, I have adopted more than one option for carry. There are occasions where it simply isn’t feasible to carry anything larger than a slim subcompact. While there are exceptions, it is generally easier to find small, highly concealable options in .380 ACP. In my decision of whether or not to include a .380 pistol as a concealed carry option, I considered elements of shooting in self defense scenarios, such as shot placement and “stopping power.”
I don’t have a background in ballistics, however, as a student of human biology and a tutor in anatomy and physiology, I do have a background in how the human body functions from what my professors have taught me. From that standpoint, “stopping power” has two definitions:
1. Disabled nervous system.
As the central nervous system directly controls a person’s ability to command their muscles, disabling it would effectively “stop” an attack. The application in self defense is that shots to an attacker’s brain, brain stem, or spinal cord would render the assailant physically incapable of continuing their attack.
2. Catastrophic blood pressure loss.
In the event of a catastrophic blood pressure drop, the vital blood supply to the brain is decreased so significantly that it causes unconsciousness. Rendering an attacker unconscious “stops” their ability to continue an attack. Shots to the aorta, the heart itself, the thoracic or abdominal aorta, or the femoral artery could cause a blood pressure drop considerable enough to incapacitate an assailant.
With these principals of human anatomy and physiology in mind, I took to the range to see how effective, if at all, my shots would be with a .380 pistol. I affixed an anatomical overlay over a silhouette target and fired my first shots through the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 and evaluated the target afterward. You can see how the range experience turned out by watching the video with this post.
After 6 shots, three grouped at the head (the goal being stopping an attacker through ceasing the central nervous system’s communication with the assailant’s body) and three grouped near the heart (the goal being stopping the attacker through causing a catastrophic loss in blood pressure), I came to a conclusion. While I am not implying that .380 (or any caliber, for that matter) is the best caliber for self defense, I do think it can be used effectively. However, as .380 ACP is not regarded for its penetration, I would want to put as many rounds as possible at my attacker, targeting the heart and major arteries in the area to maximize my odds of disabling their assault. It was less challenging to place shots effectively in the chest cavity, and the concern of under-penetrating the target was lessened when not attempting to cause catastrophic blood pressure loss rather than CNS deactivation.
This exercise was to closer simulate shooting in a self defense scenario and does not constitute a training exercise for my self defense shooting practice. I am also not recommending a caliber for self defense. However, as a result of this shooting “experiment,” I determined that if I feel my choice is either no firearm, or a pocket pistol like the S&W Bodyguard, I’d rather have that than nothing.