Gun Review: Cobra CA380 – The Cheapest Handgun in America!

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The natural human right of self-defense has no minimum income requirement. Nor does the natural, civil, and Constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms. Few things bother me on such a deep level as laws and measures intended at doing nothing more than making gun ownership more expensive and, therefore, pricing it out of the grasp of certain classes of citizens. It’s racist, classist disenfranchisement, pure and simple. Worse, the very same politicians telling us that requiring ID to vote is somehow a “poll tax” and an infringement on peoples’ rights are the same people who then turn right around and push for new transfer fees, annual registration renewals, mandatory safety classes, special taxes, insurance and safe storage requirements for firearms. Laws and regulations banning firearms based on their (low) price – so-called “Saturday Night Specials” – are nothing new. It is due to my intense disgust at these sorts of regulations that I spent an hour browsing all of the firearms retailers and auction sites I could think of to find the cheapest handgun you can buy new in the U.S. today…the Cobra Firearms .380 . . .

The result of my search was that Cobra’s CA380 and FS380 were the least expensive handguns available from any retailer. And yes, I looked at derringers and revolvers, also. The absolute lowest price on the Cobra was found at Lanbo’s Armory, where the full-sized and compact versions were the same price — $103.95. I chose the compact.

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In The Box

Your Cobra will come in a cardboard box, nestled in a nicely-cut piece of foam. In that box you will find an owner’s manual, warranty card and one magazine (and probably a cable-style gun lock). The warranty is for life, regardless of whether you are the original owner or not. Typically I like to have a few magazines for each gun and it looks like these 5-rounders are available on Cobra’s site for just $16 each. Taking the surprisingly-heavy-for-its-size pistol out of the package for initial inspection and to snap the first photos you see in this post, I get the first hints of what I’m in for:

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From what I can tell, the barrel is press-fit into the frame. After it’s in, the feed ramp is milled. This makes great sense because it will mean perfect continuity of the ramp up the frame and into the barrel every time. But…is it too much to ask for a hit of compressed air afterwards to get rid of the metal shavings? For a little more than a Benjamin, it apparently is.

I’m not sure my example would have cycled well had I not noticed this and cleaned the gun before shooting it. Also note the little dents in the frame to the left and right of the extractor notch (top of chamber). These were caused by the slide contacting the frame there, despite the fact that this gun had not yet been fired. My final gripe on fit and finish is also visible in the same photo above — what’s up with the left side of the barrel being flush with the frame and the right side having a lip? Not really confidence-inspiring.

Look, I didn’t have high expectations for fit and finish. No love lost on the dents and the tolerance on barrel/frame fitment there. I really didn’t care. But leaving the swarf behind is just lazy. My second point of concern came when I looked at the slide:

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Are those hairline cracks? I have no idea. I just decided to operate on the assumption that those are “features.” Well…relics of an inexpensive casting or machining process at least. You see what I’m talking about. I added a red arrow in the video above in case the YouTube audience doesn’t have the same eye as members of the AI do here. [EDIT: it struck me later that the slide is made by casting the zinc alloy around a steel breech block, and the 'cracks' are actually just where the two meet. If you look closely enough at the photo above, you can see the rear of the insert as well. See torture test video #1 for more details on this and the "magnet test."]

As much as I didn’t want to start this review off on a negative foot — because it’s not exactly a negative review — the above were my first impressions of the pistol when it came out of the box. With that out of the way…

A manual thumb safety graces the left side of the CA380 at the top of the grip panel. Up for “safe,” down for “fire.” No surprises here, and from the feel of it the safety lever physically blocks the trigger mechanism somewhere and also locks the slide.

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The Cobra uses a heel magazine release lever which is something we aren’t really accustomed to here in the U.S. of A. While a lot of folks would immediately complain, I actually don’t mind a heel release and I have become fairly used to them and proficient with them thanks to my Kel-Tec PMR-30 and H&K P7.

Unfortunately, the CA380′s version isn’t quite as user-friendly, requiring significantly more effort to release. It also tends to get in the way of new mag insertion. You have to come at it from an angle and use the back of the magazine to push the release out of the way and then rock the mag up and into the frame. Mags do not drop free, so removing one means pushing back on the mag release while simultaneously stripping out the magazine by the small baseplate lip that sticks out the front. I can do these things somewhat quickly in practice, but under stress? Oy.

There are no other external controls. There’s no slide lock, either manual or on empty.

Field stripping is accomplished by pushing the “thingie” in on the back of the slide. This striker spring retention cup, which feels like aluminum, is also what keeps the slide down on the frame, and you’ll want the striker to be forward (fired) to take it down. If you have a narrow enough finger you can do it by hand, but I found it easier to use a pen or something similar (.303 Brit bullet in the video). Anyway, push that in a few millimeters and then you can lift the back of the slide up and pull the slide forwards off of the frame.

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From this angle it looks a bit similar to a lot of fixed-barrel, straight-blowback designs with the barrel doing double duty as the guide rod for the recoil spring.

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When the slide comes back, the “thingie” stays behind, of course, and the striker spring is compressed against it. The post-like striker catch (sear) in the frame clicks over the rear ring on the striker and keeps it cocked until a trigger pull drops that catch and the striker shoots forwards. It seems simple enough to be reliable.

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Also worth noting, there are no slide rails. The tall skirts on either side of the slide keep it centered, the barrel keeps the front of the slide in check and the “thingie” keeps the back attached to the frame. Overall, it’s an efficient and simple design. I felt confident enough that the slide wouldn’t leave the frame and embed itself into my face.

Overall machining and finish quality are pretty much what I expected. Seems fair for my $104 outlay. In my professional estimation, the gun is painted black.

On the Range

This may be the first gun I have ever handled where I wished the beaver tail area was lower. Those slide skirts go so low that if you take a proper grip, you’re going to get some nasty slide bite. I had to consciously hold my hand a bit farther down on the frame than I wanted to.

I’m sure this also contributed to more felt recoil than I was expecting. Maybe the 23.5 oz weight (unloaded) had me thinking it was going to shoot softly compared to my 10.2 oz Taurus TCP, which is perfectly comfortable to shoot all day. This wasn’t the case, though – the little Cobra bucks hard.

It’s a blowback design, which will almost always have more felt recoil than a locked breech arrangement, but what actually bothered me a bit was the trigger rather than the recoil of the frame. You see, it’s a rather simple, thin piece of metal with only slightly rounded edges. With the required ~10.5 lbs. of pull followed up immediately by a solid buck of the gun upon firing, the trigger applies some mild abuse to my finger. I still shot 100 rounds in one sitting so I don’t mean to imply that it’s all that bad, I just found it surprising so it stuck in my head.

Also surprising, the little Cobra shot pretty straight:

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That’s a 5-shot group on the top two chickens from about seven yards (between 21 and 23 feet). I was pretty happy with that considering the heavy trigger – which does have a bit of creep – and the sharp recoil plus my general fear of the slide escaping the frame and ruining my male model good looks. Also, while the sights are actually kind of large, they aren’t especially easy to see.

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Both the front and the rear sights are black — the same black as the frame — and have no dots. This makes it awfully hard to focus on the front sight and just to pick up in general. The front sight is also fairly wide, so you don’t see light on either side of it inside of the rear notch. Which, by the way, is oddly shallow considering how tall the sights are. They’re like little towers sticking up on top of the slide. I really can’t explain why that is, since they could be much sleeker and flusher without reducing their visibility at all.

Anyway, this isn’t a bullseye pistol and I was fully happy with its accuracy.

Getting back to that trigger, it really isn’t bad. There’s almost no slack (pretravel/takeup) at all. Pull on it and it’s rock solid until you get up to the 10.5 lbs of pressure range. Then it creeps for, I’d say, a 2-3 millimeters and breaks cleanly. Short travel and short reset. If the creep were reduced or the weight was lower, which would make the creep smoother in this case, I’d go so far as to say I definitely like the trigger. As-is, no complaints other than the physical feel of it (thin with somewhat abrupt edges).

Now for the pressing question… does a $100 gun work? Is it reliable? Can you actually defend yourself or your home with it? In 106 rounds I had about 6 stoppages (and zero breakages). They’re all shown in the shooting review video above. The extractor and ejection port on the top led to some brass to the head, as it tends to eject more or less straight up and back. I mention this because I think all of my stoppages were failures to eject. These jams are also harder to clear since the ejection port is on top, as it requires more than just a slight tilt to one side to put gravity in your favor.

It appears as though the striker also acts as the ejector when it’s forced back through the breech face when the slide moves fully rearward. I think my failures were due to the striker popping the case out of the extractor’s grasp too early, and I now see a common “mod” is to grind off the rear point of the striker since it’s believed to catch on the spring and cause premature ejection. I do believe that modification and some feed ramp and chamber polishing could turn this into a more reliable gat. Speaking of gats, it was 100% reliable when held sideways gansta style. Just FYI.

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Conclusions

I think my opening paragraphs should make it fairly obvious that I wanted to like this gun. The truth is, I don’t hate it. It isn’t my cup of tea but I actually enjoyed shooting it more than I thought I would. If I had to attribute that to something, it would be that I was actually hitting what I was aiming at with no special effort, and I didn’t come into this expecting the thing to shoot straight. I’m very happy to report that it is a viable option for someone on a tight budget who specifically wants a pistol to protect home and family. It does work. I would trust it to scare off most ne’er-do-wells. I would trust it to fire the first shot every time. I would trust it to run through all 5+1 rounds most of the time. Most.

Yes, in conclusion I’m very happy to be able to say that the cheapest handgun in America does function, does shoot straight, and didn’t explode in my hand. When I asked one of the employees at my local shooting range if he would buy this, the cheapest gun in America, I think he summed it up perfectly when he said, “if I had to.”

But…

The Taurus PT 738 TCP (<<< click for review) can be had for $199. I actually think it’s the best .380 mouse gun on the market at any price. It’s less than half the weight of the Cobra and it’s 2/3 the thickness. Yet it holds one more round. It has an amazing trigger, has a slide lock and a standard mag release. It’s a great shooter and is as reliable as it gets — both in terms of cycling just about any ammo there is and in long-term durability. Watch the tabletop review video above for my full thoughts on the comparison, but the bottom line is that I think it’s ten times the gun for less than twice the price. If you can scrape up the extra dough to make up the difference, it’s money very well spent. If not, the Cobra works, too.

Specifications:

Length:  5.4”
Barrel Length:  2.8″
Height:  4.0”
Width:  1.05”
Weight:  22 oz. 23.5 oz with empty magazine
Capacity: 5 rounds of .380 ACP
Trigger Pull Weight: 10.5 lbs
MSRP: $129 to $139.

Ratings (out of 5 stars):

Accuracy: * * * 
Totally acceptable, but not above average. With easier-to-see sights I’m sure I would have fared better.

Ergonomics: * * 
Nothing is particularly ergonomic about this gun. The shape and thickness of the grip is pleasant enough. Otherwise, the low slide skirts and poor trigger design knock it down a couple notches. The mag release knocks it down still more.

Reliability: * * *
I was afraid it would be a total mess. Six stoppages in 106 rounds ain’t so horrible, all things considered. I’ll try a couple other brands of ammo eventually just to be totally fair.

Customize This: * 
As far as I can tell, there’s no aftermarket support for the gun at all and there are no factory options. Just replacement parts.

Fun Factor: * * 1/2
It’s a gun and I like shooting guns, so it’s fun almost no matter what. Compared to other guns, though, I have to dock the Cobra due to somewhat hard-to-clear jams and for it being just a bit unpleasant to shoot in terms of comfort/recoil and ergos. But this thing is for close-up personal defense, not fun at the range.

Overall: * * 1/2
I have my doubts about long-term reliability. But the lifetime warranty could make up for that. Loss of stars here due to jams, overall quality, magazine release, sights, ergos, shooting experience. Brownie points for extremely low price point and the fact that you do actually get a functional gun for your $105.

93 Responses to Gun Review: Cobra CA380 – The Cheapest Handgun in America!

  1. avatarensitue says:

    My $69 dollar J-22 is much funner

    • avatarWilliam Burke says:

      I had a J-22. Don’t know what I did with it. I might have thrown it away, actually. This looks like its big brother, and, adjusted for inflation, I think the Cobra might be cheaper.

    • avatarJason706 says:

      I don’t have a cobra but do have quite the collection of zamak pot metal pistols. Raven mp-25, Jennings J22, Jimenez JA 380, and a Hi point C9 (all are safe queens).
      My experiences with the Raven are always usually pretty terrible. Like most you come across today the magazines are 30+ years old with a weak spring leading to a certain stove pipe or failure to feed. I used to shoot it maybe once every year but have now retired it altogether. Its just old and worn out.

      I picked up the Jennings J22 for a whooping 40 dollars not even 2 years ago. When I first took it out I was shooting some kind of Federal bulk pack ammo. No lie, it jammed 95 percent of the time. typical cycle was bang, bang, jam, bang, jam, click, rack, bang. I did a little research online and found that for the most part the J22 only likes CCI or Remington gold. I had some bulk pack Remington at the time. After a complete fluff and buff on the J22 and if you keep it soaked with oil its actually pretty reliable now. last time out I put 48 rounds through it with only one stove pipe jam.

      No complaints far as reliability with the Hi point. The accuracy is also pretty respectable. You can also adjust the sights and the mag release in my opinion is far better than a heel release. My only complaint is that its bulky. Its an all around good pistol for a utility purpose.

      If all your looking for is an affordable home defense gun and your really on a tight budget. I’d just go with an old used 12 gauge 3 inch mod thumb buster. Can be found at almost any pawnshop for around 70 bucks. I just like buying cheap pistols to tinker with. Parts are common and cheap. Gunsmithing is just a hobby of mine.

  2. avatarThayneT says:

    Looks like a reincarnation of the Jennings J-22, but I think the Jennings was made better than this POS.

    • avatarHobbez says:

      I believe that Jennings became Jimenez then became Cobra. Maybe even a few more changes of hand in there I’m not sure of. I have a small collection of these things dating back to my very first handgun purchase in 94 of a $55 Jennings J-22. Whcih I still shoot at least once a week and is dead-balls realiable with the right ammo. Too bad good 22lr is so damned hard to find right now.

      • avatarJeremy S says:

        The Phoenix Arms .22 is a very inexpensive gun and was usually the runner-up to the Cobra. I would have bought that or whatever else if it were cheaper. But, alas, in terms of brand new, current production handguns you can buy today, the Cobra is consistently the least expensive.

        • avatarMr Terry Calhoon says:

          thank the g-o-d that my EX wanted the phoenix POS !! I bought her ,By Very far the most inaccurate pistol i have shot , Ya want the diaphram? ..aim for the head . wouldn’t yas know,fixed position sights as well I think thats what all the bad guys in the movies shoot !!!!!

      • I’m trying to get me one but can’t pay over 300

      • avatarFlowmaster says:

        Jennings became Calwestco, then Bryco. When Bryco got sued out of business, the shop foreman named Paul Jimenez bought the company and called it Jimenez Arms. Cobra is a completely separate company. Cobra went around and bought up Republic Arms, Talon, Lorcin, and Davis designs. Similar guns, very different companies.

  3. avatarNickS says:

    That pic of the pistol from the rear reminds me of wartime production Mosins.

  4. avatarVhyrus says:

    I have heard that these particular pistols malfunction less when exposed to specific noise patterns from the operator. Next time, try shouting ‘BREAK YOSELF, FOOL!’ repeatedly as you fire it.

    • avatarAndrew says:

      I think also the use of the tactical phrase “BRRAAAP!” while flinging the non-shooting hand forward at an angle has been found to decrease grouping sizes.

      • avatarJeremy S says:

        I think the ejection port is on top because you’re supposed to hold the gun sideways, thereby putting the port on the side where it belongs. No joke, it ran like a clock when held sideways. If I was shooting in the woods, as usual, where there are no concerns for shooting walls or ceiling baffles I would have added a punching motion every time I pulled the trigger hahaha. No joke, though, it LIKES being fired one-handed and sideways.

        • avatarAndrew says:

          Hilarious! And fun.

          I wonder if its because it has a weak ejector/extractor and the lesser gravity working against the casing is better?

          Also, BRRRAP!

  5. avatarSertorius says:

    Guns are pretty durable products. If that’s all someone had to spend, and he/she couldn’t save some more for a Taurus TCP, wouldn’t a used gun be a better option?

    • avatarJeremy S says:

      Yes anybody who has been around guns for a long time will almost certainly recommend getting a quality, used gun instead of a cheap gun if you only have $X to spend. Many will also say that a pistol of any sort and especially a sub-compact one is a poor HD choice, and you’d be better off with a $105 used shotgun. No arguments on any of this from me! IF you want a pistol and you want or need to buy a new one for whatever reason, and you want to spend as little as possible, this is the cheapest handgun on the market. I really don’t think you could find a quality used gun for $105 anyway. Firearms in good working condition just don’t depreciate that much!

      …or if you want something to bury in the backyard with a couple boxes of ammo, throw in a tackle box, keep in a glove compartment, or otherwise abuse then this may be an option.

  6. avatarSteveInCO says:

    Too bad Makarovs are not a hundred bucks any more. (Are they even being imported?) They are, so far as I know, utterly reliable and were available both in .380 and 9×18 (which isn’t much more powerful–it is certainly not halfway between the .380 and the 9×19 as was claimed at the time.

    • avatarJeff says:

      you missed the boat on the $180-200 CZ-82 9×18 last year. I bought two and love ‘em, great carry guns, and they will handle without issue +P 9×18 (e.g. Buffalo Bore or your own handloads) with similar characteristics to 9×19 – the Czech 9×18 was a slightly hotter load than other combloc 9×18 and thus they are just fine with it.

      plus they are balls-on accurate at pretty respectable ranges.

      only downside is my wife can’t handle the heavy slide spring, and thus the second one that I intended to be for her is now a spare. wait, is that a downside? I’m not sure.

      • avatarSteveInCO says:

        Yep, I sure did miss the boat on that. I saw two of them, well used and for a much higher price than that, at the gun show this last weekend. And not a *single* retail CZ handgun of any model. (Is it really a gun show without a CZ in it?) I’ve been thinking about a CZ-75 compact to go with my full size; a nearby LGS has one but they want *well* over MSRP for it.

    • avatarWilliam Burke says:

      Yep, Makarovs do seem to be still being imported. Whenever I look on GUNBROKER, there’s a half-dozen or more, seems like. They seem to be in the $300-$350 range. Some have looked really clean, nearly new-looking. The .380s seem to outnumber the nines, though. I’m still thinking about getting one.

    • avatarjwm says:

      My Mak is as reliable as any Glock I’ve seen.. And during the ammo drought I was able to get ammo for the Mak. I had to sideline my 9×19 for a time as I got to my minimum ammo level that I didn’t want to go below for it.

      The only real downside to the Mak is the mag availibility. I only have 7 for mine. The good news is that the mags are near as murphy proof as the gun.

  7. avatarShaunL says:

    It’s identical to the Jennings/Bryco model.

    My advice is to STOP SHOOTING IT NOW! I owned the Jennings variant which broke (almost catastrophically!) and have seen a friends Bryco variant break in the exact same place. The barrel band will crack and the barrel will come loose while shooting. If you’re lucky it will jam up or fail to fire like the Jennings did. The loose barrel slid forward just enough that when the trigger was pulled the striker barely scuffed the primer and the barrel rattled. The Bryco my buddy owned had a crack in the exact same place that I caught before he fired it anymore.

    If I had to guess I’d say that I had around 300-400 rounds downrange with mine over a period of at least 5 years. I bought it as a truck gun and played with it at the range, it was NEVER abused in any way and I never used high power loads.

    The .22 versions seem to hold up fine but .380 is a bad idea for that design IMO. I still have the frame/parts somewhere in a ziplock bag(I never throw stuff away).

  8. avatarggrimes2 says:

    Jennings, Raven, Lorcin all are the same and used the identical design for function and operation. I had a Lorcin I used as a door stop for years was not good for much else. The same poor quality made of mostly “pot Metal” and poorly fit/finish. I know some of these actually work but I would never want to depend on one for my life or lively-hood.

    • avatarJus Bill says:

      I’m sorry, but that thing looks like it was made in a North Korean labor camp. Just sayin’

      • avatarStinkeye says:

        I agree. I’m starting to understand hoplophobes a bit better now, because the thought of holding that thing and firing it terrifies me…

  9. avatarPaul W says:

    A Lorcin is the only gun I’ve ever actually destroyed; it was so scary to shoot (in an “oh god is it going to blow up/falll apart way) that I didn’t feel like it’d be ethical to sell it.

    • avatarChris Dumm says:

      They’re great guns to dump at buybacks. That’s where my J-22 went, 20+ years ago.

      • avatarWilliam Burke says:

        You made a gun-grabber feel REAL GOOD when you turned it in. Hope it was one of those $100, no-questions-asked kinds. Or more.

    • avatarJeremy S says:

      I thought about selling mine after the review. Just putting it up on the local forum for $50 and getting rid of it. Then I realized that, while I obviously have strong feelings about everybody having the right to own a firearm, if I’m honest with myself I do not want to meet the person who wants to buy a $50 gun in a parking lot somewhere to do a private sale. I think I’ll either try to blow it up by [remotely] shooting super hot +P through it, do some other form of torture testing (drag it behind the truck on the road into the woods, deep fry it in batter, shoot it underwater, etc), or just give it to my local gunshop to sell on consignment for me haha

      • avatarPaul W says:

        I had a friend with a torch cut mine into 3-4 pieces.

        It was seriously scary. It’d double feed, it’d somehow reverse rounds while feeding (so the bullet was facing backwards), it slam fired during racking once or twice, etc. Just terrifying. And the times it did shoot…well, if minutes of angle are the normal method of measuring accuracy, this one would be *hours* of angle it was so bad. I did one box and in hindsight I was relieved to not have it blow up in my hands

        • avatarMarcus Aurelius says:

          “Hour” of angle would be one degree. Which is pretty bad for a firearms accuracy.

        • avatarPaul W. says:

          at about 10 feet the groups were over 6″ for five shots.

          I’m not a great pistol shot but I’m not that crappy.

  10. avatarOddux says:

    Worked at Cobra Enterprises of Utah for over a year. Saw two derringers explode (the barrel assemblies are pot metal cast around a barrel insert, which aren’t inspected before or after casting), and dozens of CA380s and FS380s disassemble themselves, and a couple of them run off and empty the whole mag when the sear didn’t re-engage. I stayed the hell away from the test firing room when I could. And one last note: though are not actually ALL test fired as they claim, it depends how busy they are.

    I didn’t buy one when I could get them for dealer price, and I certainly wouldn’t now or ever. If you have only a hundred bucks and a need to defend yourself, go buy a knife or sharpen a stick if you can’t find a surplus Russian or Czech pistol.

    • avatarJeremy S says:

      Hahaha. Good to know. I think it’s pretty clear that mine was not test fired, as I don’t think you could do that and still leave all of the metal filings behind on the feed ramp and in the chamber and such.

  11. avatarJeff says:

    the “cracks” you see on the slide are likely casting flashes. the slide is probably a zinc alloy, and I doubt it’s that strong. don’t drop it on pavement.

  12. avatarIdahoPete says:

    SAFETY TIP: For those who might be reviewing doubtful firearms in the future, I would strongly recommend a full-face shield such as those used by machinists and loggers. You can get them with solid shatter-resistant plastic or screen mesh, with or without a hard hat and hearing protection.

    They might not completely stop a slide that blows back into your face, but they will certainly slow it down. and they cover a lot more of your face/neck than a pair of safety glasses.

    • avatarJeremy S says:

      I actually have one (lexan shield kind), and have used it for similar purposes. For the first 10 or so shots with this gun I literally held my head off to the side. I sighted through the sights and then held the gun as still as possible while moving my head away, then pulled the trigger ;-)

  13. avatarRockOnHellChild says:

    You know what’s funny, I’ve personally seen a friend of mine bitch and moan about dropping $325, out the door, on a brand new XD 9mm.

    This friend has a new truck every couple yrs, boat, jeep, motorcycle, big, awesome home- name the toy, he probably has it. But, thought it was absolutely absurd to spend more than $300 on a pistol, carry pistol no less. In turn, I’ve never owned a brand new truck and see boats as a huge waste of money, but consider $300 on a defensive pistol, pretty much, chump change.

    I tell you this story to point out the differences in personal priorities, if all you can afford is a Cobra, or Hi- Point, good on yah and vaya con dios.

    But, if you’re rockin ‘ all the newest toys, keep in mind there ‘s a big difference between just cheapin’ out and actually being broke.

  14. avatarRokurota says:

    Great review, Jeremy! I am surprised by the accuracy, but the effort it takes to rack the slide (and the false “stop” that occurs during said rack) is worrying. That sounds like a deathtrap for any owner who doesn’t train on it or is older or weaker — in other words, probably the intended target market.

    My dad had a Raven which was nigh impossible to rack. If that didn’t kill you during a home invasion, the ultrastiff trigger would prevent you from firing the stupid thing. If you did manage to shoot a round, it would probably miss anyhow and hit your dog, which is okay since it shot a .25.

  15. avatarjwm says:

    If all I had to defend my home with was 125 bucks I’d buy a used shotgun, .22 or Mosin. No way would I trust one of these pot metal pistols with my life.

    • avatarAnonymous says:

      Agreed. Jamamatics. The price you pay for this cheap garbage – with those dollars better spent on a used rifle or shotgun. They have a tremendously heavy trigger pull and are completely unreliable. They serve their purpose well I guess (convenience store throw away gun used for intimidation during robbery).

      The bitter taste of poor quality remains long after the sweet taste of low price is forgotten.
      John David Stanhope

  16. avatarSteveInCO says:

    I agree in principle, guns (and gun owneship) should not be deliberately made more expensive. The second amendment is for everyone or it’s for no one.

    That having been said: Based on a lot of the comments I am reading here, it sounds like you might be better off without one of these things. You take your life into your hands firing one. Still, if I were alone in a locked room with a knife or club wielding assailant and one of these was on the table, I’d pick it up and hope it hurts him more than it hurts me. But to buy one new? There are better options out there.

  17. avatarChris Dumm says:

    The saga of these dreadful guns could easily be an entire post all by itself, and it all starts with the passage of the federal Gun Control Act of 1968. When GCA ’68 cut off the importation of .32 European snubnose revolvers and zinc-framed $25 pocket automatics (usually in .22 or .25 caliber), California machinist George Jennings started designing and selling miserable-quality blowback pistols to fill that market niche.

    Jennings founded Raven Arms, and his family or associates also founded the Jennings, Bryco, Lorcin, Davis and Phoenix, Jimenez and Cobra arms companies. They all used the Jennings/Raven design, and they all feature zinc-alloy frames, horrible triggers, useless sights and cheap stamped magazines. Accuracy from these guns is poor; reliability is worse. The fact that your Cobra can manage to fire an entire magazine without failure *slightly more than half the time* is better than average for these guns.

    The Cobra is an enlarged version of the Raven MP-25 which Jennings designed in 1970. It can’t be sold in any state with any kind of handgun safety requirements, because it’s just a 1970′s Saturday Night Special. I owned a .22 predecessor once, a Jennings J-22 which worked perfectly for all of 50 rounds before giving up any pretense of functionality. Luckily I got all my money back from the $45 POS by selling it to the San Diego Police Department in a 1992 ‘Gun Buyback.’

    Most firearms which become more reliable as they break in, with a failure rate that may start out high but which usually trends asymptotically toward a very low rate of predictable FTFs and FTEs. Unless they’re Glocks, which start at about zero and stay at about zero for tens of thousands of rounds.

    I digress, but Jennings blowbacks have a U-shaped failure graph. They start out miserable like this one or even worse, and sometimes they barely work at all. Firing a few magazines through them usually blows out the metal shavings and laps the soft steel of the barrel against the even softer Zamak zinc alloy of the slide and frame. Reliability quickly improves and the failure curve dips, sometimes to an almost-acceptable level where you might even fire several magazines through the gun without a malfunction.

    But then, almost always within 200 rounds (and usually much less) the soft metal wears itself out of engagement. The failure curve rises steeply through the last few frustrating magazines, and then goes vertical when the gun completely ceases to function. Extraction and ejection is usually the first thing to fail, although .22 rimfire Jennings sometimes die from soft primer strikes first.

    High-Point actually uses a similar basic design for their blowback centerfire pistols, but they seem to do a much better job of it. A Hi-Point 9mm is only about $50 more than a Cobra .380, and (as has been mentioned here in the comments) a CZ or Makarov .380 or 9×19 is a more refined and 100% reliable alternative for less than $250.

    • avatarJeremy S says:

      I do not doubt a word you said. But, my particular example really does not have that bad of a trigger, and it has been significantly more reliable than ‘slightly more than half the time.’ Not all rounds I fired were on video, but all of the failures were. It was like 6 or so stoppages in 106 rounds. It didn’t exactly start out ‘miserable,’ either, with a ‘few frustrating magazines’ to begin with. The first round didn’t eject but it ran right through the rest of the first mag and then through a couple magazines after that before having another stovepipe and then running through a few mags w/out issue again, which is basically how it continued functioning the whole time.

      Unfortunately .380 is too dang expensive right now for me to put another 100+ rounds through it and see when it starts to break down. Maybe I’ll shoot some hot loaded (buffalo bore, etc) +P through it and try to test its limits.

      • avatarAlphaGeek says:

        If you do decide to put some hot 380 loads through it, for the love of Odin please use some form of bench rest and pull the trigger with a cord from at least 5-6 feet away. And don’t stand in a direct line behind the slide.

        I really enjoyed this review, BTW. It was an interesting read and I learned more than a few things reading it.

        • avatarJeremy S says:

          Haha yes, I will definitely be standing to the side and firing the gun remotely somehow.

          I was a bit afraid that nobody would care about a Cobra review whatsoever, as I’m sure many TTAG’ers have no actual interest in it past, present, or future and wouldn’t put one on their shopping list no matter what, so I’m happy to see your positive comments!

        • avatarAdub says:

          This was a great review because it led me to the Taurus 738, which would be a great carry gun.

        • avatarJeremy S says:

          I am really no Taurus fan and you certainly get no cachet for being seen with one. BUT… the 738 is best of breed in the micro compact / sub-compact / mouse gun .380 category. No question.

    • RE your comment about Glocks, I recent had the chance to fire a brand new Glock 19…and it had 4 FTE stovepipes in the first 3 mags. Three were for the owner, who is a petite 5’1″ and at most 110, but one of them happened when I tried shooting it, and I’m 5’11″ and 250 and I’m sure I didn’t limpwrist it. However, after the first 3 mags, not a one occured through the next 200 rounds. I thought it was strange, I don’t own a Glock but I had never seen an FTE ever in one.

    • avatarAlphaGeek says:

      Unless they’re Glocks, which start at about zero and stay at about zero for tens of thousands of rounds.

      Actually, no. The recent Glock issues with extractors and ejectors show up after the gun has fired 1000-1500 rounds. M&Ps have issues with ejection and 25yd accuracy, but those show up right away. Consensus among the subject-matter experts is that the only sure bet right now is HK, though SIG seems to be getting their recent quality issues under control.

  18. avatarTTACer says:

    The ejection port is on the top because they expect the operator to hold it sideways. Might help with the FTE problem.

  19. avatarJoshuaS says:

    You know the frightening thing? This cheapo guns (Raven Arms, Phoenix, etc etc) were at least originally all manufactured around Los Angeles and were the impetus that started the damn roster here.

    Yet Cobra, Phoenix, and Hi-Point handguns are on the roster in California. SO THEY MUST BE SAFE! Much safer than those Glock Gen4′s….

    • avatarJeremy S says:

      Yeah, the reliability requirement (going a certain number of rounds with less than a certain number of malfunctions), mainly, was intended to weed out cheap guns and “Saturday Night Specials” in general. Most of the Cobras on the roster are derringers and revolvers. The CA380 and FS380 are not on the roster. They probably were incapable of meeting the reliability req. I’m surprised the Phoenix .22′s did. Hi-Point doesn’t surprise me.

      None of them would have made it onto the roster after a few years ago when the magazine disconnect safety and loaded chamber indicator both became mandatory. No gun can make it on now that microstamping is a requirement. Anything already on can renew without meeting the new requirements, though, which is why Gen 3 Glocks remain a-okay despite not having a magazine disconnect or LCI but Gen 4′s could not get on. And that’s how the Phoenix, Cobra, Hi-Point, various 1911′s, etc got on there (were added before subsequent restrictions and were grandfathered).

  20. avatarMichæl says:

    My first gun five years ago was a Hi-Point C9 for around $125 (a little more expensive now). It was ugly and heavy but at least it was safe and reliable, and somewhat accurate. It’s single-action so a decent trigger. Very sensitive to limp-wristing. I sold it but now I regret that. A few friends have owned them and been satisfied for the value. Bonus points that they’re made in my home state. You should review one of those next.

    If I see a Hi-Point 45 for less than $175 I’ll probably pick it up and keep it in the back of my Jeep as a kind of SHTF last resort.

    I had a friend who bought a Jennings JA-NINE for $100 that looked kinda similar to this piece, except it was a dark, gunmetal grey. Holding it in my hand felt like what I always expected a pistol to feel like as a child. Kinda cool actually. The rear sight popped off on the first round and then it started jamming in weird ways…. we put it away and stopped firing it out of concern for safety.

    • avatarJeremy S says:

      There’s a Hi-Point review on TTAG already: http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2011/05/benjamin-t-shotzberger/gun-review-hi-point-c9-9mm-pistol/

      Besides, it’s way too rich for my blood! …nah, seriously, the idea here was just to find the absolute cheapest handgun possible and see if it functioned, if it’s a doorstop, or if it’s a hand grenade. I did NO research into the Cobra since I didn’t want to approach it with biases or preconceived notions of the company’s reputation, etc. This is simply an honest review of the specific gun that I received.

      Although the TTAG review didn’t go very well, most accounts of the Hi-Point make it out to be surprisingly reliable.

  21. avatarJim says:

    I bought a Pheonix Arms .22 only because the guy who owns the gun shop gave it to me at his cost just to get rid of it. It pretty much sucks in every respect. Odd thing was that the only reason he had it was some joker asked him to order it and never came back. It’s the long barreled “target” version so it’s got a kind of cool look to it, but thats about the only good thing I can think to say about this waste of low quality metal. It has 3 safties, 1 of which seems to have ceased to function in any way, but had no effect on the funtioning of the pistol. It was strictly an impulse buy, kinda like when I bought a wrist rocket slingshot. Yeah at least the slingshot is reliable. In fairness, almost every malfunction was with crappy wallyworld Federal ammo, but there were a few with CCI’s too. I shoulda known better but I thought maybe I’d luck out and get a decent shooter on the cheap. Guess not.

  22. avatarBob S says:

    End consumers in the target market you describe won’t pay that full price because of the government subsidy. Just like food stamps, Section 8 housing, school lunches, and health insurance.

  23. avatarPlumbump says:

    As someone who works in precision manufacturing, I cringed many times reading this. However, you get what you pay for, and I’m kind of happy that this is available.

  24. avatarJay in Florida says:

    Back in the early 90s when this was the Davis P380 I actually bought one.
    I used to call it my duck gun.
    It shot well, weighed a ton for zinc,
    When you shot it if you didn’t duck.
    The spent case would hit you smack in the forehead.
    I think I paid 65$ for it.

  25. avatarrepeal1968guncontrolact says:

    The cobras are just continuations of two gun designs that were driven from commiefornia. I’ve fired the smaller Jimenez guns and found them to be more comfortable. The larger Jiminez gun is a heavy but reliable gun. Everyone needs a super cheap gun that works, that they can give as gifts. DON’T give ANY of these cheap semis to women, give them a comfortable gun that isn’t a heavy brick.

  26. avatarmiserylovescompany says:

    I’ve long had somewhat mixed opinions on el cheapo handguns. Like most of us, I think that there’s a bit of a certain snooty factor at work when it comes to so-called “Saturday Night Special” legislation. (Snootiness from higher-end gun owners/dealers, but IMO just plain old hatefulness on the part of the statists). But – I also absolutely believe that there should be an unfettered free market in these handguns. My recommendation is to only buy one of these if you need one NOW (for lawful self-defense and provided you have nothing else at hand. Even at minimum wage it’s possible to get a used scattergun or milsurp rifle for scarcely 20 bucks more, and what’s better is to put a TCP on layaway somewhere. Or, if you need a handgun for home defense instead of CC, then consider something like the Ruger P95 or S&W Sigma – both can be had for low 300′s, which would translate to 3 payments of a little over $100. The Ruger used to be even more affordable 10 years ago.

    I liked the review and found it to be kinda interesting. But the moral of the whole thing is simply this – think and plan ahead of time so that you can invest in something of better quality as much as reasonably possible.

    Tom

  27. avatarMOG says:

    I appreciate that you review other than gold plated firearms, but the premature ejection was too much. The life time warranty is a strong point, but, the gun or yours? Having choices is wonderful.

  28. avatarjtaylo says:

    Thanks to the Post-Dispatch( I never read unless I look at over a buds shoulder) I just discovered TTAG today. The Cobra looks a lot like my Lorcin L380-especially on the inside-springs and the thing that come out the back of the slide.
    Of course I bought my Lorcin for $99 back in 1995. It still works fine (well maybe it does) haven’t been to the range since ’96. Today I wouldn’t buy it knowing more about guns then back then. Single action without being able to have one in the chamber is not the way to go. Now if I just had that .22 H&;R 6 inch 9 shot I sold. Not a great carry gun,but did tight groups.

  29. avatarKiln says:

    A couple of comments to add to your review. The Cobra is hardly reviewed by anyone online so it was good to see an honest review.

    1. The “crack” that you noted in the underside of the slide assembly is just a casting flaw where the zamak was molded around the steel breech face block. They have a steel insert at the breech face to increase longevity and to make them safer by putting a little steel between your face and the round when it fires. Some of the other small parts are steel as well. Zamak is a pretty soft metal with a relatively short lifespan so the steel insert is necessary.

    2. The safety blocks the sear and in turn stops the trigger from being pulled. Despite this, it is not incredibly safe to carry with a round chambered because if the sear were to fail, the gun would simply fire automatically, whereas more modern striker fired designs will prevent this.

    • avatarJeremy S says:

      Thanks. I don’t know why the breech face insert didn’t occur to me right away! I realized it later when I did torture test #1 and mentioned it in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SvknAB4tssE A definite face palm instance, since inserts like that are fairly common and I actually just mentioned it in a previous review of the Walther PPK/S 22. I’m going to edit this review here to reflect why those lines are there.

  30. avatarMrLepto says:

    Lorcin became Cobra

  31. avataramber says:

    I just bought this gun the other day the only thing i dont like is the weight how hard it is to pull back the slide but tomorrow i go out to shoot it so i guess we will see how it does

  32. avatarEdward Elliott says:

    Thanks for the nice review. I noticed that your gun seemed to require less resistance to chamber than mine. Do you have a lighter spring ? My wife can’t chamber it at all and it takes all I’ve got to chamber it.

  33. avataryouzernayme says:

    I bought one for my wife last year. Never put a round through it. Picked it up unfired from a pawn shop. $130 (deep in the gun ban scare) we tried to rack the slide in the store; very difficult. Oh well, the gun fit her hand, so lets take it home and I’ll clean and lube it. it’ll loosen up. Wrong. It got worse somehow. To chamber a round required the slide to be held to the rear for a moment, then released. ? She has right arm nerve damage and simply couldn’t operate it. The pawn shop took it back, because apparently they were selling like hotcakes.
    At least one a week according to the employee. I don’t miss it.

    • avatarEdward Elliott says:

      Yeah, My wife couldn’t chamber a round in it also. The store wouldn’t take it back but I did manage to trade it for a Bursa with a little boot. I love the Bursa, if it was 9 mm mac I’d keep it for my self.

  34. avatarBob V. says:

    I bought a Davis P380 about 20 Years ago, i have put 50 rounds through it with no problems. but im scared of it now because of the problems with the slide cracking or breaking, is the cobra ca380 slide any better and will it fits on the davis P380. i love the little thing for a cheapo, and i also have a taurus pt780 witch i really like,

  35. avatarmike covelli says:

    this is the old davis industries p380 i just bought one & from what i been reading its junk cobra bought the company after davis was sued because 1 p380 exploded on someone when he fired it

  36. avatarScott says:

    I just got mine yesterday and took it to the range for the first time and found this gun to be a decent little pistol. I shot 50 rounds and had one jam and it was on the last round in the magazine. Other than that I had no problems with it. It has some recoil but nothing too bad. I found it easy to grip and hold. You do have to hold it a little low on the back or it can get you. Got a little cut on the first shot but I lowered my grip a bit and had no more problems with that. I used target ammo and have yet to use hollow points. I will try them next. I’m still breaking it in but have no complaints so far. For barely $100 It’s not a bad deal. I would definitely recommend this for someone on a tight budget.

    • avatarScott says:

      I went to the range this past weekend and tried some hollow points. They did pretty well considering the reputation and all I have heard. I shot 50 rounds, 10 mags and had 3, I believe it was, jams all on the last round. Not perfect but not terrible. Just keep it well cleaned and oiled an it should do pretty well.

      Only problems I have had at all with any kind of ammo is in the final round of the magazine but still fairly reliable on the final round. This seems to be a little worse with hollow points.

  37. avatarkevin says:

    This thing is almost an exact replica of the Davis .380. There is a bumpstop on the bottom of the slide, which cobra modified, aside from that, it seems that all the parts are interchangeable, as I have a davis with a cracked slide. My Davis is difficult to cock, but the Cobra version is “really” stiff, and I don’t think my wife could charge the weapon. My Cobra, out of the box, won’t feed ammo worth a darn, but when I put my old Davis magazine into it, it feeds just fine… All the other parts seem to interchange as well, so I’m piece-mealing the parts, to find the ones that make everything work correctly….

  38. avatarEdward Elliott says:

    Well I had to trade back, I felt guilty the guy I traded it to had nothing but trouble with it. Anyway he said it quit chambering and ejecting. I checked it out and the problem was the cheap mag. Seems the follower is cocking to the rear causing the bullet to ride too high up and it hits the top of the chamber.After being extra careful loading bullets and not letting the follower cock back I had no problem chambering or ejecting.
    Think I’ll see if I can find an after market mag for it.

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