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While some will undoubtedly scoff at the notion of carrying a .380 as their primary concealed carry gun, more people than ever are opting for the comfort, convenience and concealability of .380-caliber “pocket pistols.” Pistols like Ruger’s LCP are inexpensive, easy to carry and could help tilt the odds in your favor during a lethal force encounter. You may be thinking, “Sure a .380 is practical for concealed carry, but how effective can such a diminutive cartridge be in stopping an attacker?”

In reality, no handgun round is likely to immediately incapacitate an attacker unless your shots are well placed and when they are well placed, just about any round will do. But regardless of what you carry, your gun is only part of the solution. You’ll need to give careful consideration to holster and ammunition selection. And to ensure your safety, you’ll need to add a healthy dose of situational awareness and sound tactics to the mix.

Consider the Real World

It should come as no surprise that most shootings occur at distances much closer than we would prefer. Unfortunately, many firearms training programs focus on training from well beyond this distance, with the rationale being, “If you can hit your target from a farther distance, it will be that much easier to deliver well placed rounds at close range.” However, this is not necessarily the case. At close-quarter shooting distances, you’ll have less time to react and contact distance weapons, like knives and clubs, may come into play. From these distances, pocket pistols are more than adequate, assuming you’re well-versed in their deployment.

If you’re a fan of action movies or westerns, you might expect a single shot fired from the hip to send your attacker reeling backward and to the ground. In the real world, that’s just not going to happen regardless of the caliber handgun you’re shooting. Statistics tell us that the vast majority of handgun wounds are survivable. In fact, even multiple center mass hits are unlikely to immediately incapacitate your opponent. If you’re assailant is charging with an edged weapon or bludgeon, you better supplement your well-placed shots with movement to get off line of the attack. If you’re not familiar with the Tueller drill, you should to be.

In the 1980s, renowned police trainer Dennis Tueller published an article detailing his research related to reaction time during a deadly force encounter. Specifically, Tueller determined that the average person can close a distance of 21 feet in approximately a second and a half—roughly the same time it would take a proficient shooter to draw and fire two center mass hits. When you consider that two center mass hits probably won’t stop the attacker’s forward momentum, the need for movement becomes crystal clear. When dealing with a determined, armed attacker, a tie is unacceptable.

Get Personal!

Don’t choose your gear based solely on the latest review or advertisement. Do your own research by handling a gun before you buy it. Select a gun, holster and carry location that’s right for you based on your physical characteristics, typical attire and perceived needs. And utilize only ammunition that is specifically designed for personal protection. It would be foolish to skimp on these potentially life-saving products.

The ammunition you use is a critical factor, particularly when dealing with a smaller caliber handgun like the .380. You need to ensure whatever ammunition you select performs well in your particular gun because some pocket pistols are finicky. While you should be proficient at clearing malfunctions, choosing the right ammo will reduce your odds of having to deal with this distraction in the midst of a gun battle. Another important factor is the expansion of your round when it hits your intended target. Full metal jacket ammunition is cheaper but will probably be far less effective in stopping the threat than hollow point rounds, which are designed for optimal expansion and superior terminal ballistics.

A pocket pistol should be paired with a quality holster. There are several types of holsters on the market, including those designed to be carried in a front or rear pant pocket. As with belt-mounted holsters, pocket holsters are typically constructed of leather, Kydex, or nylon. Your holster should mask the shape of your gun in your pocket, orient the grip properly for a predictable draw and adhere to your pocket as you draw your pistol.

With regard to garment selection, make sure your pocket is large enough and loose enough to conceal your holstered .380. If you intend to carry in a pant pocket, choose pants with large pocket openings so you can easily reach in and draw your gun. Finally, make sure you wear a belt to prevent the weight of the gun from causing your pants to sag unevenly, thus telegraphing the fact that you’re armed.

Know Your Limits

Everything that makes a pocket pistol convenient to carry makes it more difficult to shoot. Typically, a .380 caliber pistol’s grip is too small to accommodate your little finger, which can be problematic from an ergonomic standpoint. The shorter sight radius and less pronounced sights make smaller pistols more difficult to shoot accurately. And drawing from your pocket holster can be cumbersome. But, when you consider the purpose of a handgun for personal defense, it should become readily apparent that you probably won’t be required to take a 25-yard head shot.

One distinct tactical advantage to pocket carry is that it enables you to preemptively grip your gun in your pocket without drawing unwanted attention. Most people won’t bat an eye at you for putting your hand in your pocket, nor will they assume a firearm would be hidden there. Of course, you’ll need to be aware of your surroundings in order to afford yourself the opportunity to discretely grip your gun because trying to “quick draw” from your pocket is easier said than done. Once you’ve established a proper grip, actually drawing your gun from your pocket is a cinch.

On a recent trip to the range, I put the Ruger LCP to the test. I found it to be a very reliable and ergonomically designed pocket pistol. Not only is it lightweight and easy to conceal, it is a formidable close-quarter weapon. While wearing fairly loose fitting jeans, I was able to easily draw the LCP from my front pant pocket using both a leather Galco holster and a Kydex Recluse holster. The Galco holster was pliable and adhered to the interior of my pant pocket thanks to the well-designed protrusion at the rear of the holster that “hooked” the pocket lining. The Recluse holster is designed to contain the muzzle and an oval-shaped rubber extension fits perfectly into the trigger guard to prevent the trigger from being pulled unintentionally. When you grip your gun, your fingers slide between the gun and interior of the Recluse holster, resulting in separation of gun and holster in the pocket. The Recluse’s Kydex exterior panel completely takes the shape of your gun.

The LCP enabled me to consistently register under 2-inch aimed fire groups off-hand from the 15-yard line—a distance considerably further than you’re likely to encounter in a gunfight. Pocket pistols like the LCP aren’t designed for precision fire. They are meant to be deployed at close-quarters and to provide rapid fire, combat effective groups. The LCP allowed me to deliver seven rounds of .380 to the upper chest of my target from five yards as fast as I could pull the trigger. While these weren’t as pretty as the aimed fire groups, they would have likely taken the fight out of an attacker who posed a deadly threat.

Good To Go Safely

Thanks to .380 pocket pistols like Ruger’s LCP, quality pocket holsters like those made by Galco and Recluse and technologically advanced ammunition such as Hornady’s Critical Defense line, you’re no longer relegated to carrying a full-sized semi-automatic pistol for personal protection. Just slip your LCP in a pocket holster and you’re good to go. You may not have the ammunition capacity or bullet size found with larger semi-autos, but you’ll be able to conveniently carry just about anywhere, which means you’ll be armed when you need to be. But remember, successfully deploying and shooting a .380 takes practice. And since your pistol is only a tool, you must supplement it with keen awareness and solid tactics.

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