John Moses Browning’s .380 ACP, developed for the Colt Model 1908 Pocket Hammerless, has soldiered on for more than a century. It’s been used mostly in underperforming full-metal-jacket (FMJ) form until about the past 20 years—and with much ho-hummery among defensive handgun buyers. Pistols chambered for it tended to be comparatively sizable and almost as heavy as some smaller 9mm handguns. The caliber has been an also-ran largely for those reasons. With advances in effective bullet designs and tiny pistols, however, it’s catching up. Balancing an efficient JHP bullet with moderate power and low recoil in a light gun that carries extremely well in a pocket or purse, the combo is not intimidating to shoot. It’s small enough to actually carry instead of being left at home because of weight or bulk.
It’s difficult to say which drives what—smaller pistols driving ammunition makers to higher performance levels, or high-performance ammunition driving gun makers to smaller pistols. Either way, the race in premium defensive ammunition development has positioned the humble .380 ACP well. Some of the better loads rivaling standard 158-grain .38 Special lead round nose (LRN) ammo in terminal effectiveness. And that’s from a thin pistol no longer than 5 inches stem to stern, weighing less than a pound fully loaded.
To see how modern .380s have evolved to keep pace with the defensive ammo they’re chambered for, I’ve tested three of the best on the market from Ruger, Smith & Wesson and Remington.
The oldest and smallest of the three pistols tested here—and the lightest at just less than 10 ounces empty—the Ruger LCP was introduced in 2008. It was Ruger’s first entry into the subcompact market. A polymer-framed seven-shooter when fully loaded, the Ruger LCP instantly attracted heavy interest among Ruger fans. It remains one of the company’s best sellers. Not that much bigger than some .25 ACPs available, the pistol is extremely concealable as a primary carry or backup gun. Its popularity has increased to the point where Ruger offers a number of variants. This includes one with a laser, those with carbon or stainless steel slides, and a variety of color schemes.
The standard Ruger LCP features fixed sights; MIM hammer; short extractor; slide-lock lever; 2.75-inch barrel; textured grip surfaces, and no manual safety. It also features a reinforced plastic trigger; pull-out takedown pin; left-side magazine-release button, and a partially cocked double-action firing mechanism. Rounding out the features are a loaded-chamber window above the extractor; dual recoil spring with a steel guide rod; black-oxide slide finish above a black polymer frame and a six-round, blued-steel magazine. The Ruger pistol ships in a cardboard box with one magazine, a manual, a padlock, a black nylon zipper case and two magazine baseplates. One baseplate is flat and the other has an extended finger rest.
M&P Bodyguard 380
In 2010, Smith & Wesson took a leap onto the polymer pocket-gun bandwagon by introducing two new Bodyguard models—one a five-shot .38 Special revolver and the other a subcompact seven-shot .380 ACP pistol. Of the two, the .380 rode that wagon the hardest. The current M&P Bodyguard 380 line comes in any color you want, provided you want basic black, but you have a choice of six variants, including those with iron sights, red or green Crimson Trace lasers, a natural stainless slide or a darkened stainless slide, and a thumb safety or no thumb safety.
The base model, at almost 12 ounces unloaded, has a stainless slide on top of a polymer frame. It comes with a long extractor; alloy trigger; MIM hammer; slide-lock lever; 2.75-inch barrel; manual safety (or not); double-action-only (DAO) setup; two stainless six-round magazines; swivel-pull takedown pin; left-side magazine release button; windage-adjustable sights made of steel; a dual recoil spring with a steel guide rod; textured grip surfaces with one-and-a-half finger grooves; and two loaded-chamber indicators with a hole in the barrel hood and a window above the extractor. This S&W pistol ships in a cardboard box with a manual; padlock; black nylon zipper case and two magazines—one with a flat baseplate and one with an extended finger rest.
The newest of the three pistols, Remington introduced the RM380 in 2015. It’s a much-modified version of the design acquired when the company bought Rohrbaugh Firearms and its small 9mm R9 pocket pistol design in 2014. The original Rohrbaugh was an expensive, almost-handmade pistol with a short-lived recoil spring. Remington’s redo retained the concealability and adapted the gun to mass production methods. It also extended the life of the recoil assembly and decreased the caliber and manufacturing costs. As of this writing, only one version of the RM380 is currently available, but if market demand supports it, I’d expect to see at least a couple of others down the road.
The 12.2-ounce Remington is also the heaviest of the three test pistols. This is because of its wider aluminum frame and thicker, heavier stainless steel slide. It comes with fixed sights; 2.9-inch barrel; long extractor; steel trigger; MIM hammer; no manual safety; ambidextrous magazine release; slide-lock lever; textured grip; DAO trigger pull; push-out takedown pin; dual recoil spring with a steel guide rod; two steel six-round magazines and two loaded-chamber indicators with a hole in the barrel hood and a thin window above the extractor. There is no manual safety. This .380 ACP also ships in a cardboard box with a manual, a padlock and two magazines—one with a flat baseplate and one with a finger rest.
The Bodyguard and the RM380 use true DAO triggers, which means the hammers are never cocked, and they need a deliberate trigger pull to fire. Some carriers consider that a form of safety device, similar to a double-action revolver. I’m among the group that believes no manual safety is needed with a DAO model. As a beneficial side function of the DAO trigger, the design includes a double-strike capability. This lets you keep clicking after a misfire without having to do a “tap-rack-bang” drill to clear or re-cock a tiny pistol. That’s not very easy to accomplish.
The Ruger LCP uses something of a semi-DAO action. Racking the slide leaves the hammer half-cocked, with the shortest trigger travel of the three. It has a shorter pull than a true DAO model but a longer pull than a single-action pistol. That means it has no double-strike capability, though. If it clicks, you must use the tap-rack-bang to get back in the game, and that takes time, two hands and some fiddling.
At the range, the Ruger LCP was easiest to work with trigger-wise. The Bodyguard came in second, and the extremely long, stacking pull of the RM380 made it difficult to deal with for accuracy testing. And it was the slowest of the three by far in rapid-fire speed dumps. With light .380 bullets, and correspondingly lower energy figures compared to more powerful pistols and calibers, one theory of close-in defensive use with these pocket pistols is to smartly empty the gun on target. If that’s your plan, the Remington’s trigger is a definite handicap. Overall, the LCP is the quickest for speed and the best for accurate aimed fire. The Remington trails the pack in both areas.
Does anybody care about sights on pocket pistols? I mean, it’s point and pull, right? Wrong. For most scenarios in which these pistols would be considered useful, target sights on such distinctly non-target guns are not absolute requirements. But as the Tueller drill taught us more than 30 years ago, a determined man with a knife at 7 yards can be standing on your toes in 1.5 seconds. You can’t wait until he’s within hip-shooting range to commence firing. Sights—even small sights—have a place, and they matter.
Although none of these pistols shot precisely to the point of aim out of the box, the S&W’s windage-adjustable sights provide at least some room to center a preferred load, and they’re the tallest and most visible of the three. Conversely, the fixed sights of the Remington and Ruger can’t be knocked out of alignment, and they’ll stay where they came forever. They’re also snag-free, and the back of the rear S&W sight is sharp enough to potentially grab a covering pocket holster or lining during a draw. The winner? It depends on your preferences.
These models have small grip areas, and they’re not one-size-fits-all deals. Larger hands won’t like the smallest, the Ruger LCP, and the flat magazine floorplate allows only a one-finger hold on the abbreviated pistol, even with smaller mitts. The M&P Bodyguard 380’s grip extends down almost a quarter-inch farther, but even there, with its finger groove, it’s still pretty much a one-finger proposition, unless you have the skinny digits of a 4-year-old. The largest grip, the RM380’s, adds another eighth of an inch in length, and with its undercut triggerguard I can get two fingers wrapped around it using the flat floorplate (three using the extended floorplate).
The .380 ACP is a mild caliber to shoot, but it produces some muzzle rise in these tiny pistols. You’ll have to choose between comfort and concealability. The flat-bottomed magazines are fractionally more compact, but not enough to outweigh the control added by the extended finger rest versions—at least for me.
All of the triggers are smooth-faced, and all the grip areas are well textured and hold still under recoil. The S&W slide lock sticks out enough from the slide to function as a slide release, if you insist. The Remington and Ruger levers are far too small and inaccessible to use as a slide release under pressure (don’t even bother), and the Ruger can be manually locked open via that miniscule lever. However, the Ruger slide does not lock open after the last round is fired. The other two do, and that Ruger feature might be a no-go for some potential buyers.
The Remington’s ambidextrous magazine release button and larger grip dimensions would probably tip the scale for others. It fits more hand sizes, and it’s altogether a more lefty-friendly package, using that button and over-handing the slide instead of trying to thumb the slide release on loading or tap-rack-banging. Advantage: Remington.
Most of these pistols will live in the carry-lot/shoot-little category, but eventually you’ll at least need to evict spiders and dust bunnies, and the takedown process is similar on each but not equally convenient.
The M&P Bodyguard 380 uses essentially the same swiveling pin as its full-sized M&P cousins. You manually lock the slide open and swivel the pin down about 95 degrees. You then pull it out and slide the top half forward off the frame rails—no tools are required. The LCP has a mushroom-headed pin that has to be pried out with something like a screwdriver, with its slide locked open. I’ve never been able to get one out with just a thumbnail.
The RM380’s straight-shafted pin is hidden inside the slide, and it can’t be accessed through its holes without some sort of tool, such as a paper clip, to push it out through the left side. It also takes some back and forth on the frame to line up the holes, and you have to manually keep those holes aligned with the frame and slide under recoil spring pressure while you poke the pin in or out. Locking the slide leaves them well separated. For simplicity and ease of disassembly, the S&W takes the cake.
I know. These guns are not built for counting points on paper targets. But like the sight issue, accuracy can be a factor. If you’re considering a tiny gun as your only CCW, would you not want to know what it’s capable of if you must push the distance envelope?
Most print reviews hold this class of gun to a 7- or 15-yard standard, but I wanted to see what the test samples might accomplish during controlled situations at 25 yards. That meant shooting each of the guns off a rest during bright sunlight, with six .380 ACP loads that ran from FMJs to one of the newest bullet designs. Firing five-shot groups of each load through each pistol, I was surprised at what they managed with the loads they liked.
The 100-grain FMJ load from Black Hills was a disappointing washout at that distance in the Remington and Ruger, with the results spreading out more than a foot and not worth recording. That load performed best—8 inches—with the S&W. However, Black Hills’ new 60-grain, all-copper Xtreme Defense ammunition produced the best group of the day through the Remington RM380, at 2.25 inches. Winchester’s 95-grain PDX1 JHPs came in second, at 4 inches through the S&W M&P Bodyguard 380, and the other loads ran from 4 to 9 inches in their best groups.
Remember, a sample of one is not binding across the board, and these results came from my samples, my hands and my eyes. Your mileage might vary, good or bad. Just remember that these little pocket pistols can handle human-sized silhouette situations farther than many people believe. Also note that all of the pistols shot high at 25 yards, with many rounds going higher than 12 inches above the point of aim. Straightest shooter? Too close to call.
These guns were reliable with all of the test loads. The only misfeed stoppages occurred while trying to chamber rounds using the Remington slide lock as a release and not sling-shotting the Ruger’s slide hard enough. Also, I had two misfires with a Sig Sauer load in the S&W, one of which lit up on a second strike. Ejection ran from mild and consistent in the Bodyguard and RM380 at 2 to 10 feet to wild and inconsistent (as expected) in the Ruger LCP at up to 30 feet. That doesn’t affect dependability and only matters when it’s time to chase the brass. The Remington has an annoyingly sharp edge above the trigger on the right side, and the S&W typically needs its magazine release depressed to fully seat a magazine.
These subcompacts are good buys as candidates for their intended role. If you’re in the market for a pocket .380, there’s no best among them. It’s just a matter of choosing the features you consider most important for your needs and finding a load that plays well with it. My choice? The S&W, but that’s just because it works best in my hand, and I prefer its trigger over the other two. Your choice is up to you, and I wouldn’t consider any of the three a bad one.
Ruger LCP, S&W M&P Bodyguard 380 and Remington RM380 Specs
|Manufacturer||Ruger LCP||S&W M&P Bodyguard 380||Remington RM380|
|Caliber||.380 ACP||.380 ACP||.380 ACP|
|Barrel||2.75 inches||2.75 inches||2.9 inches|
|OA Length||5.16 inches||5.3 inches||5.27 inches|
|Weight||9.6 ounces (empty)||12 ounces (empty)||12.2 ounces (empty)|
|Grip||Glass-filled nylon||Polymer||Glass-filled nylon|
|Finish||Blued||Matte black||Matte black|
This article was originally published in “Concealed Carry Handguns” 2017. To order a copy, visit outdoorgroupstore.com.
Among available pistol calibers, the .380 is the minimum recommended for personal protection. It’s not the best caliber for carry, but pistols chambered in .380 have the advantage of generally being smaller and lighter than pistols chambered in the more effective 9mm caliber. This characteristic makes them good choices for formal-dress situations and non-permissive environments. Therefore, the smaller.380 pistols often fit into the “pocket pistol” category.
By Andy Rutledge
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I spent this past few weeks getting acquainted with three such pocket pistols: the M&P Bodyguard, the Ruger LCP II, and (reacquainted with) the Glock 42. Having put a few hundred rounds through them, I’ve learned some things and have formed some opinions, which I’ll share with you in this comparative review.
Why Consider a Pocket Pistol
A pocket pistol is a tool with a narrow focus of purpose and advantage. The low capacity and short barrel size of these subcompact pistols make them ill suited to prolonged or long-range engagements. Instead, they are best used for very-close-range, last-resort defense. Typically one handed. A pocket pistol is a comparatively limited tool.
The upside of a pocket .380 is that it’s going to be more easily concealed than a larger-caliber option. All three of the pistols I’m comparing here are less than 1” thick and two of them are only ¾” thick. Used with a good Kydex or fabric pocket holster they’ll be near invisible in a front pocket and, if visible, won’t present an obvious firearm outline. By the way, never carry a pistol in a pocket without a holster.
Given these limitations and advantages, there are plenty of contexts for which you might consider a subcompact .380 pocket pistol. My focus in this article, though, is mostly concerned with shooting them. We’ll get to my observations in a moment, but first a physical comparison:
|Model||M&P Bodyguard||Ruger LCP II||Glock 42|
|Chambering:||.380 Auto||.380 Auto||.380 Auto|
|Trigger:||9.5-10 lb.||~5.5 lb.||~5.5-6 lb.|
|Action:||Double Action Only||Single Action||Single Action|
|Sights:||Steel, drift adjustable||Integral to the slide||Polymer w/a U-marked rear|
|Weight:||12 oz.||10.6 oz.||13.76 oz.|
|Slide:||Black Armornite®||Blued||Black Melonite|
Shooting These Pocket Pistols
Each time I shot for this review, I lined all three pistols up on the bench and shot them in succession; usually 2 mag loads at a time, then onto the next pistol, repeat in a different order, etc… In this way I was able to get a good feel for each one, but also got a very good comparison between them.
I did shoot each of them 2-handed, but spent most of the rounds shooting 1-handed since that is how these guns will almost always be used in a practical situation. I shot strong hand and weak hand equally, but that was for my benefit and is not necessarily relevant to the review other than the fact that I found no limitations for either hand, short of the awkward magazine-release engagement with the left hand. Of the three, only the Glock 42 has a reversible magazine release control.
The ammo I used included ball ammo for the range, like Federal RTP, PMC Bronze, and Aguila. I also put a few defensive rounds through them, including Hornady Critical Defense and Federal Premium Hydra Shok JHP.
I must say that there is no fair comparison between all of these pistols. Two are single-action pistols and one is a double-action-only pistol. There is, therefore, no good comparison of the triggers between all of them. As this is largely a shooting review, I regret that on this point alone the Bodyguard falls into a lower echelon of carry guns.
For the uninitiated, a double-action-only trigger means a long, heavy press and hard break, with an equally long reset. I’m not an experienced shooter so I had a bit of trouble staying on target with this one, especially for the first shot of the string. We can chalk that up to my double-action inexperience, but there’s more here that is objectively problematic and I’ll get to that later.
As an LCP owner I was very much looking forward to shooting the LCP II and trying out its reportedly improved trigger. I can now report that the trigger is not just improved, it’s fantastic. Of the three pocket pistols here, I found my best and easiest accuracy shooting this one.
I have spent some time and quite a few rounds shooting the Glock 42, as a former owner. As you can see from the specs above the G42, while small, is quite a bit larger than the other two here. Going from either of the other two to this one felt like picking up a Glock 17. The trigger is nowhere near as good as the LCP II, but not bad in its own right.
Comfort and Controllability
By far the most comfortable and controllable of the three was the Glock 42. This result is not surprising, as it has a larger grip and longer slide than the others. Glock has taken hits for its less-than-ergonomic grip contour, but on the G42 the ergonomics are superior to that of the Bodyguard and LCP II.
I was surprised to find that the Bodyguard felt better in my hand than the LCP II, though the LCP II was a bit more controllable while shooting multiple-shot strings. That LCP II trigger reset is so nice that I have to believe it would greatly mitigate the common human tendency to short-stroke the trigger when one is in panic mode.
I confess that I shudder at the prospect of having to draw and accurately fire the S&W Bodyguard while under duress. For its size, it feels quite good in the hand, but the double-action trigger combined with the cramped geometry of the pistol and the snappy recoil creates a less-than-desirable combination.
Components and Features
Pocket pistols are not what you’d call feature rich. They are too small for many features and they have a limited focus, so their features are rightly limited as well. They all have minimized slide-lock levers and I found the magazine release controls on all three to be well positioned and easily engaged.
The Ruger LCP II:
Ruger’s update of the LCP has some nice changes. Among them are improved sights, which remain integrated into the slide. While more pronounced and usable, they’re still pretty minimized. Not awesome, but not bad. The updated frame is a bit more squared off, but more aesthetically pleasing than the original LCP. However, the supposedly better frame texture looks far better than it is in practice. The frame is imperceptibly larger than the original and it’s still a 2-finger grip.
The LCP II’s trigger is the standout feature of this gun. As mentioned before, it’s one of the better triggers I’ve felt on any gun and the reset is especially nice. Despite the gun’s size and geometry, the trigger is an accuracy facilitator that triumphs here.
The M&P Bodyguard:
I found the grip texture of the Bodyguard to be the best of the three pistols. While all were inadequate, the Bodyguard was the most abrasive and grippy with my dry hands. The 3-dot sights were easy to see and use; made of steel and drift adjustable, they’re better than those on both the Glock 42 and the Ruger LCP II.
I hold that a heavy double-action-only trigger is a needless and problematic compromise of a defensive weapon. So heavy a double-action trigger (heavier than the original-model LCP trigger) on such a tiny pistol creates an irresponsible compromise of advisable physics. On a full-size pistol, especially shot two handed, the double-action trigger pull can easily be prevented from negatively impacting the manual mechanics of accuracy. On a tiny pistol such as the Bodyguard, the cramped geometry and proximity of the trigger finger to the palm during the trigger press make it very difficult to maintain accuracy; especially when shooting one handed.
Another bad feature on the Bodyguard is the manual thumb safety. No pistol should have an external safety gadget, for there is nothing about firearm safety that a lever or gadget can imbue. A person is either safe or unsafe. An external control can only confuse the issue and lure the operator into negligence.
One positive aspect of the double-action trigger is that the Bodyguard has “second-strike capability,” which means that if a round fails to fire on the first strike of the primer, pulling the trigger again will give it another go. It’s a rare event, as most ammo will go bang when the primer is struck, but light strikes do happen!
The Glock 42:
Like all Glocks, the G42 is plain and unadorned. The grip is a bit longer than that of the other two pistols here and with the pinky-extension magazine most folks can get 3 fingers on the grip. The grip angle is again typical of a Glock pistol and more inclined than the vertical grip angle of both the LCP II and the Bodyguard. The grip texture, though, is all but useless. Stippling is required.
The trigger press and reset characteristics are fairly typical for a Glock pistol, but to me feel a bit stiffer, especially just before break. In any event, it’s a better trigger than the DAO trigger of the Bodyguard and not nearly as good as the LCP II’s trigger. The sights are Glock’s polymer model with the U mark on the rear sight.
The whole of the package is a bit larger than either of the other pistols here. While this translates into a more comfortable and larger gun to grip, it also means it’s heavier and slightly less concealable in a pocket.
Of the three pistols concerned here, I’ve carried two (sort of): the Ruger LCP (previous version of the LCP II) and the Glock 42. I carried each of these in a Kydex front-pocket holster and find them to be eminently deployable.
The M&P Bodyguard is very small and highly concealable. Its texture is superior to that of the other contenders here. Also the sights are quite good for such a tiny subcompact. The Ruger LCP II is the smallest and lightest of the three pistols and has, by far, the best trigger. The Glock 42 feels best in the hand, is the least snappy of the three when firing, and likely has the best aftermarket support. Of these pistols, the G42 is the only one with a reversible magazine release control, for left-handed shooters. Due to its comparative size, it is also the one here best suited to engagements beyond 5 yards.
All three pistols are limited by capacity and advisably effective range. The Bodyguard’s trigger is a liability to accuracy and panic response (short-stroking), especially for a shooter who doesn’t continually train with a double-action trigger. The Bodyguard’s external safety is a liability. Both the Bodyguard and the LCP II are a bit difficult to grip comfortably and they deliver quite a bit of sharp recoil to the hand. The Glock 42 has a very poor grip texture and its polymer sights are a must-replace component.
So for rating these pistols…
Glock 42 simply feels better in the hand and is easier to manipulate than either of the others here.
The Glock 42 and LCP II are fairly easy shooters, each for the different reasons already stated. I’ll give the edge to the G42 simply because of its larger size and less felt recoil.
I found easier accuracy with the Ruger LCP II, because of that great trigger press and short reset. Mechanically, the Glock 42 should be easier to shoot more accurately due to its longer sight radius and longer barrel. I’ll call this one a tie.
The Ruger LCP II is the smallest and lightest of the three. It’s the clear winner here.
With the lowest MSRP and some of the best features, the Ruger LCP II is the best value here.
As with any pistol, a pocket pistol is a very personal choice, since hand strength and size and concealability requirements will vary from person to person. There are, however, some objective measures here and I stand by my assessments, but you should try each of them and consider your carry constraints and needs before making any purchase decision. Either way, there are some good guns here, at least two of which are at or near the upper echelon of choices for pocket carry. I hope this review helped you in some small way!
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About The Author
Andy Rutledge is a design professional, competitive shooter and avid road cyclist. He trains at Eagle Gun Range and elsewhere a few days a week to hone his shooting and defensive skills.