Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pocket 380 Pistols

This post was meant to be more of an observation than a side by side comparison. To do a correct side by side comparison, you would need to have all the guns in front of you. In addition the pocket guns have both followers and detractors, some love 'em some hate 'em, so a reliable, unbiased review is difficult. Add to this the compact size which makes them difficult for those with larger paws to shoot, you get a difficult task. 
I'm not going to tell you what I think of these guns, there are experts with opinions everywhere you look. Lord knows that we have plenty of those.
The only thing I will say is that all of these guns are made by reputable manufacturers.

I limited this post to 380 pistols as they seem to be ubiquitous as of late. The options wary wildly, in fact about the only thing the following guns have in common is the caliber and their magazine capacity. Thanks to the Gun Control Act of 1968, all of these guns are made here in the USA (perhaps the ONLY good thing about that law). 
There has been considerable debate on the lethality of the .380 ACP cartridge, I will discuss that topic on another post. 

To start with the idea of a pocket gun is not new, ever since the invention of the hand held firearm, makers have been trying to make them smaller. An example would be the gun that killed President Lincoln. John Wilkes Booth used a Derringer cap and ball pistol, the pocket gun of its day, to assassinate Lincoln.

Many compact 380 pistols have been manufactured by small manufacturing companies like Lorcin, Jennings, Bryco. We will not include them here, I don't feel that they are worth staking your life on. 
I'll have another post later on to discuss the importance of those guns.

We'll start with the one of the oldest (yet still currently manufactured) 380 pocket pistols. The Walther PPK is the smaller brother of the orginal PP (PP stands for Police Pistol in German, Kurtz or Kriminalmodell (depending on who you ask), Kurtz meaning short and Kriminalmodell meaning "Investigator or Detective", perhaps indicating that the PPK was designed as the "undercover" gun.
The private sector saw how handy a small caliber, pocket pistol can be. Of course many of you know the PPK as the sidearm of Agent 007, James Bond (although Bond's original PPK was in .32ACP).
The PPK has a 6+1 capacity, a 3.3" barrel and due to its steel construction weighs in at a hefty 23 ounces. The dimensions are 6.1"L x 3.8"H x 1"W. 
The PPK is a double action/single action design.

I actually own one of these (a PPK/S) and have shot it on occasion, while I would trust my life to the gun, it is not my 1st choice for a carry gun. It is not quite small enough to be a true "pocket pistol".


 The next gun on the list was the one that started (or restarted?) the pocket pistol race. The Kel-Tec P3AT (say that 3x fast and you'll understand why they gave it that name).
Kel-Tec's George Kellgren designed a very simple, very light gun. No safety, no de-cocker, no hammer, just the magazine release. While not the prettiest of the lot, it is one of the most affordable, and who cares what it looks like when it is going to be in your pocket?
Like the PPK, the Kel-Tec holds 6 rounds in its magazine. The P3AT is the lightest of the lot at just 8.3oz. The polymer frame and steel slide make it top heavy when empty, but that comes with the territory. At 5.2"L x 3.5"H x .77"W the P3AT is also one of the smallest. So in conclusion, smallest, lightest, most affordable......what is not to love?

Ruger immediately saw the opportunity in the next big market and in 2008 they introduced their own version of the P3AT, called the LCP (for Lightweight, Compact Pistol). Again this one has a 6+1 capacity (although a 7 round magazine is now available), polymer frame and DAO hammer less design. The LCP does have cleaner lines and does include a slide release.
9.4oz, 2.75" barrel, 5.16"L x 3.6"H x .82"W, the LCP comes in close to the P3AT's price point, a good value for the money considering it includes a lifetime warranty.
I have also shot an LCP, I can tell you that the recoil is surprisingly snappy, probably due to the lightweight and the 2 finger grip. Before moving to the next gun I have to mention that the LCP has and is currently offered in a shade of pink or purple. http://tincanbandit.blogspot.com/2013/07/pink-guns.html
Since its introduction it has been offered in a variety of colors, see my post here 

The next gun on the list is the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard. You know if it is good enough for Ruger, the folks from Springfield will soon follow. The Bodyguard is unique in that it includes a built in laser. The Bodyguard also holds many features you would find on a full size gun. A safety, slide release, take down lever and mag release. The gun also has some of the best sights of the bunch, not that you would use them with an on board laser.


 The Bodyguard follows the 6+1 capacity rule and has a weight of 11.85oz., which is a bit on the heavy side, but considering it comes with a laser, that number seems right. The gun is 5.2" long with a 2.75" barrel. As with all S&Ws the Bodyguard also comes with a lifetime repair policy.
I have also shot one of these guns, it was comfortable to shoot, but the recoil (like the LCP) is "snappy".


Our next gun comes from Miami. Taurus USA introduced their TCP 738 pistol (TCP is for Taurus Compact Pistol), not just as a "Me too", but as a compliment to their existing pocket pistols, the PT22 & PT25.
As with the last two guns, this one features a polymer frame and 6+1 capacity. This gun is also available in a multitude of colors: http://tincanbandit.blogspot.com/2013/07/pink-guns.html

 The 738 weighs in at 10.2oz, with a 2.84" barrel. Taurus doesn't list the dimensions, from what I have seen it is slightly larger than the Kel-Tec and Ruger.
Beretta has had a long tradition in making pocket pistols. Their Jetfire, Bobcat and Tomcat have been popular sellers (I own a Bobcat myself).
Following the introduction of their Nano subcompact pistol, Beretta introduced the Pico in 2013. The design allows for easy takedown and cleaning as well as swapping the frame for other colors which include: Black, White, Flat Dark Earth, Purple and Pink. The gun can also be changed to a .32 ACP with little difficulty.
The specs fall in line with the rest of the group: 6+1 capacity, 11.5oz, 2.7" barrel, 5.1"L x 4.0"H x .725"W. Beretta advertises that the Pico is the slimmest 380 pistol made, by a millimeter.
 
 Kahr Arms has built quite a reputation for making high quality pistols. Their price reflects that dedication to quality. The P380 pistol has very clean lines, a top notch DA trigger, match grade barrel (not sure why, when the distances these guns are to be used at is less than 50ft) and very comparable stats: polymer frame,  6+1 capacity, 2.53" barrel, 4.9"L x 3.9"H x .75"W and 9.97oz.

Perhaps Kahr recognized the need for a more affordable 380 pocket pistol and introduced a "value priced" gun. The Kahr CW380 shares most of the same stats as its brother the P380, except for weight, the CW weighs in at 10.2oz. The CW380 features a standard barrel (as opposed to the "match grade" on the P380) and MIM parts. This brings down the price to mid range in the market and is a viable competitor to the lower priced guns.

The next gun has been given the nickname "Baby Glock", although I think that name will disappear with the introduction of the Glock 42.
Diamond Back Arms no doubt used the Glock silhouette and design as their inspiration for their DB380 pistol. 
The internals are a different story, in a lawsuit settled in 2011, Diamondback was found guilty of infringing on a patented trigger design by Kahr Arms.
The gun features a polymer frame with a Glock style take down, and a mag release. The DAO trigger and 6+1 capacity also put it on par with the rest of the crowd.
The DB380 is only 8.8oz, the second lightest of the group and just .75" wide.
This pistol is also available in Pink and other colors.
A bit of a divergent from the crowd is the Desert Eagle Micro Eagle pistol. It has a 6+1 capacity and a DAO trigger, what it doesn't have is a polymer frame. The frame of the Micro Eagle is made of steel. The gun also features a gas assisted blow-back system. At 14oz it is one of the heavier guns, but it also has the shortest barrel at 2.22".

At one point I.O. Inc.  was marketing a near exact copy of the Kel-Tec P3AT, called the "Hellcat". The dimensions were 5.2" long, 3.6" tall and .782" wide and 9.4oz, all nearly identical to the P3AT and oh yeah....the magazine holds 6 rounds...The guns seamed to be well made. After a couple of bankruptcies or ownership changes, I.O. has since relocated to Florida (from North Carolina) and no longer lists the pocket pistol on their website.


Next up is a gun that was not new, even on the day it was released. The Sig P238 is an updated copy of the Colt Mustang. Utilizing many of the features of a 1911 pistol, the Sig is easy for 1911 shooters to transition to when carrying concealed means a pocket pistol is required. the P238 features an aluminum alloy frame, SA trigger, exposed hammer and slide release. Everything is just where a 1911 owner would expect to find it.
Specs include a 6+1 capacity, 2.7" barrel, 15.2oz weight, 5.5"L x 3.9"H x 1.1"W and a multitude of finish and grip options.
Sig Sauer just recently announced that their P290 9mm pocket auto would be made available in 380 ACP as well. The polymer framed, double action only pistol will weigh in at 17.5oz, stand 3.9" high, 5.5" long and 1.1" wide. oh and of course will hold 6 rounds in the magazine.

The original Colt Mustang and Mustang Pocketlite, never quite caught on.
 Although they have some collector interest, not many were sold. Maybe they were just ahead of their time?
Well what a difference a decade makes, last year Colt re-introduced the Mustang, as the Mustang XSP. 
Colt traded the steel frame for a polymer one, they added a squared trigger guard and an accessory rail. The XSP has the same dimensions as the original Mustang: 5.5" long, 2.75" barrel, but weighs in a a paltry 11.8 oz. Oh and as if I need to mention it, a 6+1 round capacity. Again the controls reside where a 1911 shooter would expect to find them.
Colt still makes their original Pocketlite 380, it has the following stats: 5.5" long, 12.5oz weight, 2.75" barrel and a 6+1 capacity.

Another 1911 style .380 is the Kimber Mircro Carry. It features an aluminum frame that keeps its weight down, just 13.4oz, it has a 2.75" barrel and surprise a 6 round flush fit magazine. At 5.6" long, 4.0" high and just 1.08" wide it is right in the hunt in terms of size
 The last pistol is the newest one, released just this month at the S.H.O.T. show, the long anticipated Glock 42, turned out to be a single stack, compact 380 pocket pistol.
Looking exactly as we would expect a Glock to look, the G42 has a capacity of, (you guessed it!) 6 +1 rounds. Heavy for its class it weighs in at nearly 14oz (13.76oz). The dimensions are also slightly larger than the herd, 5.94"L x 4.13"H x .94"W and sporting the longest barrel of the new batch of pocket pistols at 3.25".
Perhaps Glock felt they could pick up some sales from loyal Glock owners, maybe they could not have found a way to make it smaller and lighter. Either way I am not sure why they bothered.
The gun will sell, like most Apple products, people buy them because Apple tells them they need them.

Update:
Taurus threw the pocket 380 market a Curve, literally and figuratively.
Their new pocket pistol is loaded with features, not the least of which is its shape.
The pistols frame is curved to match the contour for a human being, which after all is who will be attempting to conceal the gun.
Other features include an on board light and laser, rounded edges and a belt/waist band clip. What is missing are the sights, but with an built in laser and the intended defense shooting distances, I'm not sure they are required.
This is a real departure from what we are used to. Could Taurus be on the leading edge of a new trend?
The gun weighs in at 14 oz, which is a bit heavy compared to the rest of the field, but expected considering it has a light and laser built in. Height length and width are 3.75", 5.13" and .875" respectively.
Here are the pictures, you really have to see the gun from multiple angles to understand what is going on.


I probably should've included this one in the original post. This is the Accu-Tek LT-380. This is the lightweight version of the company's flagship pistol the AT-380. The pistol features an aluminum frame and stainless steel slide getting the weight down to 15 ounces. The magazine capacity is 6 rounds and is released from the gun "European style" via a catch at the bottom of the grip frame. The barrel is fixed like the Walther and the guns is 6.125" long by 4.2 inches tall.

 Another update, 
Yet another gun maker has thrown their hat into the ring. Bersa the Argentinian gun maker famous for their PPK copy has a new pistol they hope will compete with the other pocket 380s.
This one is not quite as small.  In fact I hasten to even include it in the line-up.
Due to import restrictions on small handguns imposed by the '68 GCA, they had to leave a near full size grip frame on the gun. One advantage to this is a higher magazine capacity of 8+1.
The Bersa BP380CC measures out to 6.35" long by 4.8" in height and a slim .94" in width. The barrel measures just 3.3". These measurements are close to their other single stack .380 models and the original Walther PPK.


One more to add...
Browning has introduced a compact version of the 1911 design called the Black Label 1911-380. The gun is 85% of the size of the normal Government Model (or 15% smaller if you prefer). This shrinking down barely gets the gun into the "pocket pistol" category, (it is the longest, widest, tallest and heaviest of the group) but I'll include it since it is close and one more .380 carry option.
Those familiar with the 1911 will find all the usual controls in the usual places, a "skeletonized" hammer & trigger. This gun differs from the rest of the field in that it was not designed just to be pocket gun, rather it was scaled down from a larger gun.
The gun features a polymer frame and an 8 round magazine (rather than the 6 round that seem to be standard in this class). The gun weighs in at 17.5 ounces (empty) and has the dimensions of 7.5" long x 4.75" high x 1.2" wide with a 4.25" barrel.

Another update, Remington has entered the compact 380 market by revising an existing design. The Rohrbaugh company was purchased by Remington and their engineers reworked the old R380 into the new Remington RM380. Some of you may ask why I never included the Rohrbaugh R380 in my list, the answer is simple: Price, the Rohrbaugh carried a price in excess of $1000, it is not in the same ball park. That has changed with Remington's redesign.

This little gem fits right in with the rest of the herd with a 6+1 capacity. The overall dimensions are also in the middle of the class with an overall height of 3.86", length of 5.27", thickness of .94" and a 2.9" barrel. The pistol is all metal featuring an aluminum alloy frame which keeps its weight to 12.2oz, heavier than some of the bunch, but many people thick this will help manage recoil.



Stat comparison:

Shortest by length: Desert Eagle ME380
Shortest by height: Kel-Tec P3AT
Slimmest by width: Beretta Pico (by a millimeter)
Smallest by overall dimensions: Kel-Tec P3AT 
Lightest: Kel-Tec P3AT
Price Ranges:
$250-$300 - Kel-Tec, Taurus, Hellcat, Accu-Tek
$300-$350 - Ruger, S&W, DiamondBack 
$350-$400 - Glock, Beretta, Kahr CW380, Taurus Curve, Bersa, Remington
$400-$450 - Desert Eagle
$450+ - Kahr P380, Sig, Colt, Kimber, Browning

These prices are not necessarily based on MSRP (don't get me started on that) and of course prices vary from locale to locale, your mileage may vary. 

After some judicious research I was able to compile all the specs in a spreadsheet, click on the spreadsheet to make it bigger:


I always encourage people to do their own research. This is just a primer. If at all possible go to a range (or several ranges) and shoot the guns. Feel them, put them in your pocket. This is the only way to properly choose the right gun for YOU.

In the end, a pocket pistol should do what all pistols are designed to do: Get you to safety or to a bigger gun.
The whole concept is based in the need to carry a gun in a pocket, without a holster, yet still have enough firepower to disable a bad guy.



Links/References:
Wikipedia 

Diamondback Firearms
Desert Eagle
Ruger
Colt
Beretta
Kahr Arms P380
Kahr Arms CW380
Smith & Wesson
Glock
Walther
Taurus
Kel-Tec
Kimber
Bersa 
Browning 
Remington
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