I’ve got to start by saying I don’t think there is an answer to this question, but I’m going to explore it anyhow. I’ve heard too much banter about which one is better. Almost all of these conversations are centered on an unspoken presumption that the ballistics of these respective bullets is all that matters. It is as if we had ourselves a Thompson Contender # 1842 frame, like Guns.com writer Jim Downey and the fine gentlemen at Ballistics by the Inch, and we just had to decide which barrel to screw on that day—a three inch .380 or a three inch 9mm.
Let’s look at what their data would say about those choices. (Hang on to your hats, folks, an English major is about to attempt some math.)
The best average performance from the .380 rounds at three inches?
A Buffalo Bore JHP+P. 90 grain bullet at 1158 fps. That’s 270 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
The best average performance for a 9mm at three inches?
A Cor Bon JHP+P. 115 grain bullet at 1245 fps. That’s 400 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
There. Settled. 9mm wins.
But who wants to carry a Thompson Contender?
Before I get too deep into this, let’s make two assumptions.
- The guns I am going to be discussing will be easily concealable—barrels at or under three inches.
- You do not have a bias about caliber. (Yes the 9mm is better, yet a .357 is going to spank the 9mm—but let’s not make this too complicated).
You probably have your favorite compact or subcompact pistol already in mind. I may not mention them. Nothing personal. There are some pistols that I could pick up in the dark and still tell you the brand and caliber. I could even give you a run-down of their mechanics. There are some that I can hardly tell apart at…