Ask Difference

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

By Tayyaba Rehman — Published on January 27, 2024
The .38 Special is a revolver cartridge known for moderate recoil and effectiveness, while the .380 Auto is a shorter, less powerful cartridge typically used in semi-automatic pistols.
38 Special vs. 380 Auto — What's the Difference?

Difference Between 38 Special and 380 Auto


Key Differences

The .38 Special is a rimmed, centerfire cartridge historically used in revolvers and known for its accuracy and manageable recoil. The .380 Auto, also known as 9mm Short, is a rimless cartridge designed for semi-automatic pistols, offering less power and recoil.
In terms of size, the .38 Special has a larger case and typically carries more gunpowder, resulting in higher velocity and energy. The .380 Auto, being shorter and smaller in diameter, is suited for smaller, more concealable firearms.
The .38 Special is often used in self-defense, target shooting, and law enforcement. The .380 Auto is popular for concealed carry due to its compact size and lower recoil, making it easier to handle.
The .38 Special can be loaded to different power levels, allowing versatility for users. The .380 Auto is generally limited to standard pressures, focusing on reliable performance in small-sized handguns.
Both cartridges are well-regarded for personal defense, with the .38 Special offering more stopping power, and the .380 Auto providing ease of carry and use.

Comparison Chart

Cartridge Type

Rimmed, for revolvers
Rimless, for semi-automatic pistols

Size and Power

Larger, more powerful
Shorter, less powerful


Self-defense, law enforcement, target shooting
Concealed carry, self-defense


Moderate recoil
Lower recoil


Can be loaded to different power levels
Generally used at standard pressures

Compare with Definitions

38 Special

Widely used in self-defense and law enforcement.
Many police officers carried .38 Special revolvers in the past.

380 Auto

A rimless cartridge often used in compact semi-automatic pistols.
Her concealed carry pistol is chambered in .380 Auto for its compact size.

38 Special

Offers versatility in loading for different power levels.
Custom .38 Special loads are available for various shooting needs.

380 Auto

Generally used at standard pressures in handguns.
Standard pressure .380 Auto rounds are reliable for self-defense.

38 Special

A rimmed, centerfire cartridge primarily used in revolvers.
The .38 Special is a popular choice for home defense revolvers.

380 Auto

Also known as 9mm Short, offering less power and recoil.
The .380 Auto, or 9mm Short, is ideal for shooters who prefer less recoil.

38 Special

Known for accuracy and moderate recoil.
I prefer shooting the .38 Special at the range because of its manageable recoil.

380 Auto

Popular for concealed carry due to its smaller size.
The .380 Auto is a favorite among concealed carry permit holders.

38 Special

Larger and more powerful than the .380 Auto.
The .38 Special offers more stopping power compared to the .380 Auto.

380 Auto

Suited for smaller, more concealable firearms.
I bought a .380 Auto pistol because it's easy to conceal and carry.

Common Curiosities

Are .38 Special revolvers still used by law enforcement?

They're less common now, with many agencies preferring semi-automatic pistols.

Is .380 Auto adequate for self-defense?

Yes, it's considered effective for self-defense, especially at close distances.

What is the main difference between .38 Special and .380 Auto?

The .38 Special is larger and more powerful, used in revolvers, while .380 Auto is smaller, used in semi-automatic pistols.

Is .38 Special good for beginners?

Yes, its moderate recoil makes it suitable for beginners.

Can .380 Auto be used for home defense?

Yes, it's effective for self-defense, especially in close-range situations.

Which has more recoil, .38 Special or .380 Auto?

The .38 Special typically has more recoil due to its larger size and higher power.

Can I use .38 Special ammunition in a .380 Auto pistol?

No, they are not interchangeable due to size and design differences.

Can .380 Auto be used for target shooting?

Yes, it's suitable for target practice, especially for those who carry .380 Auto for self-defense.

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

The price can vary, but generally, .38 Special ammo is similarly priced or slightly more expensive than .380 Auto.

Is the .38 Special effective at long range?

It's more effective at short to medium range due to its ballistic characteristics.

Are .380 Auto pistols easier to conceal than .38 Special revolvers?

Generally, yes, due to their smaller size and slimmer profile.

How does the stopping power of .380 Auto compare to .38 Special?

The .38 Special typically has more stopping power due to its larger size and higher energy.

What type of firearms are best suited for .38 Special?

It's best suited for revolvers, both double-action and single-action.

Is the .38 Special a good choice for concealed carry?

Yes, it's a good option, especially in snub-nose revolvers, though some may prefer the more compact .380 Auto.

Are there different bullet types available for .38 Special and .380 Auto?

Yes, both cartridges come in various bullet types, including FMJ, hollow point, and more.

Share Your Discovery

Share via Social Media
Embed This Content
Embed Code
Share Directly via Messenger
Previous Comparison
RJ50 vs. RJ45

Author Spotlight

Written by
Tayyaba Rehman
Tayyaba Rehman is a distinguished writer, currently serving as a primary contributor to As a researcher in semantics and etymology, Tayyaba's passion for the complexity of languages and their distinctions has found a perfect home on the platform. Tayyaba delves into the intricacies of language, distinguishing between commonly confused words and phrases, thereby providing clarity for readers worldwide.

Popular Comparisons

Trending Comparisons

New Comparisons

Trending Terms