A decade or so ago, the use of polymers and high-tech manufacturing gave new life to the .380 ACP and redefined the deep-concealment handgun. Since then there has been a revolution in subcompact and compact pistols. Manufacturers like North American Arms (NAA), Kel-Tec and Kahr reintroduced shooters to subcompact pistols, but it was the old-school manufacturers like Ruger, Beretta and Smith & Wesson that made deep-concealment pistols legit and helped change the way people carry concealed. Advanced .380s The .380 ACP cartridge was developed for the Colt Model 1908 pistol, which 100 years ago was what was meant by the words “compact pistol.” The Model 1908 weighed about 24 ounces, was 7 inches long and carried 7+1 rounds of ammunition. Compare that to a Ruger LCP, which weighs 9.4 ounces, has an overall length of 5.16 inches and holds 6+1 rounds. Sure, there existed other, smaller pistols manufactured by Beretta and Walther, to name just two, but in the 20th century, subcompact pistols meant anemic calibers—.25 ACP and .22 LR. Today’s compact pistols can literally be carried in a pocket since they weigh as much as a cell phone, and if you like larger-caliber guns, you have today numerous big-bore choices, from 9mm and .40 S&W to .45 ACP, which are easy to carry discreetly in a holster.

The Kel-Tec P-3AT helped reignite the popularity of the .380 ACP pistol. It is a locked-breech, double-action-only (DAO) pistol with a polymer frame. Stripped of a slide stop to streamline the design, the P-3AT is a pure backup pistol that can be hidden in the back pocket of your girlfriend’s skinny jeans. Recognizing the popularity of pocket .380s, Ruger designed the LCP, a 0.82-inch-thick DAO .380 ACP built on a glass-filled nylon grip frame and a blued, hardened-steel slide, which holds a blued, alloy steel barrel measuring 2.75 inches. Accommodating a variety of laser units, the LCP with its finger grip extension is a natural pointer, and, though slight, is easy to handle and shoot quickly and accurately.
Kahr opened shop with the goal of designing and manufacturing reliable compact pistols. The Kahr P380 features a smooth-shooting, trigger-cocking DAO trigger, and its stainless steel slide, premium Lothar match-grade barrel and polymer frame combine to make it accurate. A more traditional design is the NAA Guardian with its 17-4 stainless steel frame. Like the Kel-Tec and Ruger, the NAA Guardian is DAO and has an ammo capacity of 6+1 rounds. These three pistols have minimal sights—basically a tiny ramp front and a notch in the rear that make the pistols snag free.

S&W’s entry into the subcompact .380 market is the Bodyguard, and what sets this pistol apart from the others is the integral red laser sight embedded in the dust cover of the frame. Laser activation is ambidextrous, and the on button falls directly under the shooter’s trigger finger. Kel-Tec, Kahr and Ruger also offer models with bolted-on laser sights, which ably do the job in dim to no light. But, when the sun is out, the dot can be hard to see, so train with the iron sights as often as you do with the laser…


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A decade or so ago, the use of polymers and high-tech manufacturing gave new…