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.38 Special vs. .380 Auto: What's the Difference?

Edited by Aimie Carlson || By Janet White || Published on February 25, 2024
The .38 Special is a larger and more powerful revolver cartridge, while the .380 Auto is a smaller, semi-automatic pistol cartridge.

Key Differences

The .38 Special, developed in the late 19th century, is a revolver cartridge known for its accuracy and moderate recoil. The .380 Auto, also known as the 9mm short, was developed later and is used in semi-automatic pistols, noted for its compact size and lower recoil.
In terms of size, the .38 Special cartridge is larger and has a longer case, resulting in a higher bullet weight and velocity. The .380 Auto is shorter and lighter, making it suitable for smaller, concealable handguns.
The .38 Special is often used in revolvers for personal defense, target shooting, and law enforcement. The .380 Auto, due to its smaller size, is popular in compact pistols for concealed carry and self-defense.
The .38 Special can be loaded to higher pressures in a +P variant for increased power, which is not an option for the .380 Auto. The .380 Auto, however, is more manageable in terms of recoil, making it easier for rapid successive shots.
Ammunition cost and availability vary, with the .38 Special often being more readily available and less expensive than the .380 Auto. The choice between the two often depends on the intended use, firearm type, and shooter preference.

Comparison Chart

Cartridge Size

Larger, longer case
Shorter, lighter

Firearm Type

Used in revolvers
Used in semi-automatic pistols

Common Use

Personal defense, target shooting
Concealed carry, self-defense

Recoil and Power

Moderate recoil, option for higher power
Lower recoil, less power

Ammunition Cost

Generally more affordable and available
Can be more expensive and less available

.38 Special and .380 Auto Definitions

.38 Special

It offers a variety of ammunition types, including +P for more power.
For enhanced self-defense, he uses .38 Special +P rounds.

.380 Auto

The .380 Auto is a compact semi-automatic pistol cartridge.
Her concealed carry weapon of choice is a .380 Auto pistol.

.38 Special

The .38 Special has been a staple in law enforcement and civilian use.
The .38 Special has a long history of use in law enforcement.

.380 Auto

It's less powerful than larger calibers but effective at close range.
The .380 Auto is effective for self-defense at close range.

.38 Special

It's known for its balance of power and manageable recoil.
The .38 Special’s manageable recoil makes it a favorite at the shooting range.

.380 Auto

Ideal for concealed carry due to its small size and effective performance.
For discreet self-defense, he carries a .380 Auto.

.38 Special

A .38 Special is a versatile revolver cartridge popular for self-defense.
He chose a .38 Special for its reliability and accuracy.

.380 Auto

The .380 Auto is a common choice for new shooters and self-defense.
Many first-time gun owners opt for the .380 Auto.

.38 Special

The .38 Special is suitable for both target shooting and personal defense.
She practices target shooting with her .38 Special revolver.

.380 Auto

Known for its low recoil, making it suitable for smaller handguns.
The .380 Auto is popular due to its easy handling and low recoil.


What is a .38 Special?

A revolver cartridge known for accuracy and moderate recoil.

What's the main use of .38 Special?

For personal defense, target shooting, and law enforcement.

Is .38 Special good for beginners?

Yes, its manageable recoil makes it suitable for beginners.

Can beginners use .380 Auto?

Yes, its low recoil and compact size are beginner-friendly.

What is a .380 Auto?

A compact cartridge used in semi-automatic pistols.

What's the main use of .380 Auto?

Primarily for concealed carry and personal defense.

Is .38 Special ammo more expensive than .380 Auto?

Generally, .38 Special is more affordable than .380 Auto.

What's the effective range of a .380 Auto?

Best used within short ranges, typically under 50 yards.

Can .38 Special be used in semi-automatic pistols?

It's designed for revolvers, not semi-automatic pistols.

Can .380 Auto be used in revolvers?

It's specifically designed for semi-automatic pistols.

Can .38 Special be used for concealed carry?

Yes, but the revolver size might limit concealability.

Do police still use .38 Special?

It's less common now but was historically a standard police cartridge.

Is .380 Auto powerful enough for self-defense?

Yes, when used correctly and at appropriate distances.

Are .38 Special bullets larger than .380 Auto?

Yes, .38 Special bullets are generally larger.

What's the effective range of a .38 Special?

Effective up to about 100 yards.

Are .38 Special revolvers easy to maintain?

Yes, they are known for their simplicity and reliability.

Is maintaining a .380 Auto pistol complex?

Maintenance is straightforward, similar to other semi-automatic pistols.

Is .380 Auto suitable for home defense?

Yes, especially within the confines of close quarters.

Can .38 Special be used in a rifle?

There are rifles chambered for .38 Special.

What's the recoil like for a .380 Auto?

It has low recoil, which is manageable for most shooters.
About Author
Written by
Janet White
Janet White has been an esteemed writer and blogger for Difference Wiki. Holding a Master's degree in Science and Medical Journalism from the prestigious Boston University, she has consistently demonstrated her expertise and passion for her field. When she's not immersed in her work, Janet relishes her time exercising, delving into a good book, and cherishing moments with friends and family.
Edited by
Aimie Carlson
Aimie Carlson, holding a master's degree in English literature, is a fervent English language enthusiast. She lends her writing talents to Difference Wiki, a prominent website that specializes in comparisons, offering readers insightful analyses that both captivate and inform.

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