State Your Case: 9mm vs. .38 Special

When we look at different cartridges there is often a focus on the disembodied numbers that describe them. All too often there’s a mental disconnect between the numbers and reality, and in many cases the numbers are skewed to make one cartridge look “better” than another it ostensibly competes against.

Reality is far different than what’s printed on the ammo box and a great example of this is our topic for today’s State Your Case: the .38 Special and 9mm Parabellum.

The interesting part of this debate is that there isn’t a very clear way to look at these rounds next to each other without talking about their host guns. The .38 Special is, almost universally, a revolver cartridge (though it can be used successfully in some lever action rifles). The 9x19mm, on the other hand, is primarily found in semi-automatics. A clear exception to this are guns like the Ruger LCR in 9mm, which is the same size as Ruger’s .38 Special version of the same gun.

For the purposes of this article, we’re going to talk about these calibers in a concealed carry context, as that’s where these two rounds intersect the most and the playing field is far more level. It would be somewhat unfair to look at a specialized GLOCK 19 with an RMR and mag extensions and say that it’s easier to shoot at 50 yards when compared to a hammerless J-Frame. On the other end, we could say that a little P938 isn’t as precise or versatile as a Model 686 Plus from S&W’s Performance Center.

It isn’t really possible to avoid the revolver vs. semi-auto thing in this discussion. The .38 Special is probably the most common revolver cartridge in use today, and is certainly the most carried, frequently in pistols that will accommodate .357 Magnum rounds. Carrying a revolver makes a great deal of sense for a large number of people who don’t want to or physically can’t use a semiautomatic.

On the whole, revolvers are substantially more reliable than semi-automatics. Yes, I know that modern autos are great, but the revolver doesn’t need recoil to operate and instead is powered by your finger. There’s no slide to pull back, which helps people with weak hands, and they can’t stovepipe or accidentally drop their magazine when fumbled.

Many people who want a gun with decent stopping power to load and forget about choose a small, reliable .38 Special. Unless something is mechanically wrong with the gun — which can happen with any man-made device — it’s almost guaranteed to fire when you pull the trigger. The simple nature of the revolver means that if a dud primer is struck, you can just pull the trigger again and move to the next round.

A semiauto has its own advantages and they are very widely carried. One of those advantages is greater capacity and spare magazines (i.e. quicker reloads). Revolvers can be loaded with speedloaders, but they aren’t nearly as fast and easy as magazines. A disadvantage to automatics is that they can have more complicated stoppages that require both hands to clear. This can be difficult for some people to master.

According to some surveys I conducted and ran here on TTAG a while ago while researching people with physical disabilities who carry, most people only carry what they can load into their gun. That means for a majority of people out there, they’re only carrying between five and eight rounds in either .38 Special or 9mm. Of course there are exceptions like the SIG P365, which holds a staggering 10+1 rounds in a gun hardly larger than an LCR. 9mm rounds gain points there which can’t be denied.

Looking at the ammo itself presents a challenge as well. The .38 Special in a compact snub-nose carry gun is coming out of a barrel that’s usually less than two inches, where many small 9mm pistols have barrel lengths up to an inch longer for a gun of similar size. In general, a 9mm pistol will be able to fire similar sized bullets slightly faster.

As an example, both standard pressure 9mm rounds and .38 are typically found with 124/125gr bullet weights. In a .38 SPL S&W 64, a typical 125gr bullet will leave the 1 7/8-inch barrel at around 850fps, where a typical 124gr 9mm coming from a GLOCK 43’s 3.4” barrel (or, say a Smith & Wesson M&P Shield) will fly at about 1,000fps. There are many, many variations of this, as both cartridges have a wide projectile weight range and velocities. Bullets for the longer case length .38 are .357” diameter, while those for 9mm are .355”.

These two cartridges are, for the most part, more similar than they are different. Granted, 9mm has a wider range of guns that chamber it to choose from and it’s more popular in general, but it isn’t exactly superior to the .38 Special in compact carry guns. The .38 Special (or .38 Special +P) JHP is no slouch by any standard, and very capable for its intended roles as standard FBI ballistic tests reveal. It would have faded a long time ago if it was no longer effective.

I believe that the 9mm vs. 38 Special argument is settled not by the cartridges, but rather the guns. I think the .38 Special is still very relevant today, despite the fact that the 9mm easily dominates virtually every single field of the market from pocket pistols to duty guns. Snub-nose revolvers are very popular for the fact that they’re so simple and many people go that route regardless of what’s available in semiautomatics.

Unlike the other articles in the State Your Case series, I can’t really pick a “winner” on this one. To have a winner, I would need to make it so that the cartridges have some real and discernible differences in a similar field. 9mm vs. .40 S&W is a real discussion because the two offer very different things in a guns that are externally identical, like the G19/G23.

If we were to look at five-shot compact revolvers only — the only true place that 9mm and .38 intersect — we’d have to look at Ruger’s LCR series or the like and it would be a toss-up in that case. The two are so close that there’s no real advantage unless you own other guns in one cartridge or another, which makes it a battle of logistics, not ballistics.

At the end of the day, both the .38 Special and 9mm have a place in the modern carry scene. I think the .38 is outclassed on a broader scale by the 9mm, but it will never really be replaced in self-defense guns. Pick what’s best for you and get comfortable with it, be it a GLOCK 43 or a Smith & Wesson 642.


  1. avatar OmnivorousBeorn says:

    9mm has mags. For me, that’s enough.

    1. avatar Art out West says:

      Revolvers can’t be limp wristed. They can’t be pushed out of battery. The can be fired from inside a pocket. A hammerless J-frame pocket carries much easier than one would think.

      For civilian defensive use, I think we have to consider that our gun might be used up close and personal (some dude on top of you smashing your head into the pavement – Zimmerman style). Zimmerman’s 9mm jammed after the first shot (granted it was a PF9 not a Shield or G43).

      The J-frame makes a good “get the hell off me” belly gun. Defensive shootings usually take place at a 3 ft distance and are over in three rounds, and three seconds. Revolvers in .38sp work pretty well for that.

      I love 9s too😊, but realize that snubbies have their place.
      A snubby puts you light years ahead of an unarmed person. A double stack 9 is better if you actually carry it..

      1. avatar jwtaylor says:

        “Defensive shootings usually take place at a 3 ft distance and are over in three rounds, and three seconds. ”
        There are no national statistics for non-law enforcement personnel to back this statement up. It is a often promulgated myth.

        1. avatar Art out West says:

          Maybe true – but I don’t see you giving any official statistics showing that the typical civilian shooting involved 25 rounds, at 25 yards, against an attacker with an AK47 either😉

          The snubby works most of the time, and most of us will probably never need to use our carry gun anyway. Of course I’ll step up my gun if the world goes Mad Max on me.😄

        2. avatar jwtaylor says:

          It might be 25 yards and 25 rounds in half an hour, but we don’t know, because those statistics don’t actually exist.
          Lots of people have built their carry and training based on the 3X3X3 rule, when it’s a myth. That’s a mistake.

        3. avatar Vlad Tepes says:

          I remember reading years and years ago a study the FBI did that proved that yes indeed their were usually less than 3 rounds fired in a one on one gun fight. On the other hand I saw on TV in Columbus Ohio a cop and a man trying to get away in a traffic stop unload on each other and they fired so many bullets I lost count. Neither cop nor escapee was harmed as they missed each other at about 6 feet despite a hail of gun fire that sounded like the WWI opening battle of the Somme. And the escapee jumped in his truck and drove away.

  2. avatar Hoddy Snitch says:

    I love the .9, I shoot the .9, I’ve carried .9’s but I carry my 642 more often than any .9 I own. I can’t explain it. I’m very comfortable with my 642 I guess that’s it.

    1. avatar Achmed says:

      Wow small caliber

      1. avatar Anonymous says:

        He was measuring in centimeters. He’s a centimeter man.

    2. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

      r.i.p. donny hay. the exit ramp from hell.

  3. avatar Sam I Am says:

    How is it that TV cops are smarter than real cops? TV cops can identify a caliber by looking at the entrance wound (TV cop shows always have technical advisors who are real cops, to keep it real). And TV forensics folks can identify the exact model of the gun that fired the bullet, even if several guns have the same rifling.

    Maybe we should recruit some to of the TV cops to assist real police departments.

    1. avatar Button Gwinnett says:

      Hell, the forensic examiners in Jack Reacher can tell the model of the gun by the entrance wound and determine it was a green on green attack.

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “Hell, the forensic examiners in Jack Reacher can tell the model of the gun by the entrance wound and determine it was a green on green attack.”

        I’ve read all the novels, and don’t remember Reacher ever encountering that capability. Gotta re-read those book.


    2. avatar dd says:

      Are you going to do them all, seriously? What’s next?

      1. avatar Craig in IA says:

        How about .45 ACP v .45 Win Mag? I love my ACPs but my Grizzly is fun to shoot as well and make a pretty big bang and hole. Or .45 Colt v .454 Casull? Mine are all single actions…

      2. avatar Jake says:

        .357 mag vs .327 mag?

        1. avatar Montesa_VR says:

          Yeah baby.

  4. avatar S.Crock says:

    9mm has superior velocity/ FPE and out of short barrels it’s not even close. 9mm is cheaper and more plentiful. Out of identical guns such as the LCR 9mm and LCR .38, the 9mm has less recoil. Revolvers are seeming more and more outdated as very reliable semis with more capacity and cost less flood the market.

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      The LCR in 9mm and .38 special are not identical guns, the .38 weighs nearly a quarter less than the 9.

      As far as being outdated, that certainly hasn’t stopped millions of people from buying and carrying .38 snubbies, and the semis are a long way from matching the magnum revolvers.

      1. avatar Accur81 says:

        The 9mm just flat out smokes the .38 Special in terms of firepower. I’ve been carrying my Sig P365 with the 12 round mag lately. More power, velocity, and faster reloads than the .38. And it’s thinner. I don’t hate the .38 Special, I just respect that the 9mm is much more tactically efficient.

    2. avatar Logan says:

      A hardcast 38 wadcutters at 158gr or larger gives full penetration and light recoil, with a superior and deeper wound than a 9mm that doesn’t expand. Superior by a long shot. 9mm can fire 500000 bullets at a single guy and it doesnt matter about performance. That is the real reason 9mm is popular.

      It is a debate about use. Are you going to unload your gun into a person, reload and keep going, or are you going to use an efficient weapon that gets the job done?

    3. avatar Joel says:

      Physics dictate that it is not possible to have both more power and less recoil out of an otherwise identical gun. The 9mm LCR is actually more kin to the .357 LCR than a .38. If you shot .38’s out of a .357 LCR it will kick less than a 9mm LCR.

    4. avatar ACP_armed says:

      I’ve got the 3″ barreled LCRx .38 so it has a larger grip. But I can still shoot with a two finger grip. I’ve shot the 9mm LCR with 124 grain and my .38 LCR with 158 grain bullets, both standard pressure, and the 9mm LCR shooting 124 grains has more recoil then the .38 LCR shooting 158 grains. The only round I’ve shot that has slightly more recoil then the 9mm in my .38 is a Remington 125 grain +p SJHP.

      1. avatar LazrBeam says:

        Long live .327 Federal Magnum!!!! Do the next comparison between .327 Fed Mag and .357 Mag. A lot of people might be surprised at the results. And those calibers are both available in the LCR and LCRx so there would be comparable platforms.

        1. avatar ACP_armed says:

          Drop a .327 and .357 LCR in my lap with a case or two of ammo for both and I’ll get back to you on that.

          Wouldn’t mind having a .327 honestly.

    5. avatar uncommon_sense says:

      S. Crock,

      As someone commented above, revolvers are much more likely to give you multiple shots when you are literally in contact with your attacker. And you can fire them multiple times in a pocket which you cannot do with a semi-auto pistol. (Your pocket material will not allow the slide to completely cycle which means you only get one shot from inside a pocket.)

      I see a big value in both platforms. I believe a revolver is better at contact distance with a single attacker. And I believe a semi-auto pistol is better at intermediate distances (between three and thirty feet) regardless of how many attackers. And if we want to consider long-range shots (between 20 and 100 yards), I prefer a full-size revolver.

      Whichever platform is a better choice depends on your abilities and anticipated threat profile. Choose wisely.

  5. avatar tdiinva says:

    Sorry, revolvers are harder to shoot accurately,. They take more practice to shoot proficiently. And it is a myth that they have simpler manual arms because manual of arms includes reloading.

    There is also no such thing as a concealed carry pistol. Currently, I carry a Springfield EMP 4″ model and it doesn’t print. In a month or so I will begin carrying a Beretta APX or a Springfield XD 45 Tactical when the weather goes Arctic. And nobody will know it.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Sorry, that is just wrong. Most semis have atrocious triggers compared to revolvers, either can be found with adjustable sights but revolvers’ have been sorted out for a hundred years, from SAA to a Python, revolvers are what you want in your hand if you have to engage a killer at 100 yards+ with a handgun.

      1. avatar tdiinva says:

        I live in the real world where you won’t be engaging a target in self defense at 100 yards.
        To do so puts you in legal jeopardy. If he has a rifle and you have a revolver, you lose anyway. “When a man with a rifle meets a man with a 45…” and all that. You are not the man with no name

        A revolver trigger may be nice and smooth but they are long and heavy introducing pointing error particularly under stress. Please don’t bring up the single action shot as you won’t be using it in a self defense situation involving man or beast. Oh, and the follow up shot is going to be even less accurate because of the recoil.

        1. avatar Joel says:

          I’ve shot and carried both. With a little practice and good form/training, either will work fine. MY experience is small revolvers and little .380’s can be pocket carried unobtrusively . Small 9’s less so.

          I’m glad people out there carry glock 17’s and beretta 92’s. Good for them. I’m not one of those people. I drop my carry piece in my pocket when I put my pants on and I take it out when the pants come off at the end of the day. So what if it’s a .38, .380, or .22mag. I’m still better armed than 95% of the people around me.

        2. avatar ACP_armed says:

          “I live in the real world where you won’t be engaging a target in self defense at 100 yards.”

          (Channeling my inner Smartass.) Don’t tell Murphy that, he loves to screw with people…

          And now the real reply.

          “I live in the real world where you won’t be engaging a target in self defense at 100 yards.
          To do so puts you in legal jeopardy. If he has a rifle and you have a revolver, you lose anyway.”

          Now I know it was a cop, but in Dec of 2014 Austin, TX Police Sgt. Adam Johnson shot and hit a threat at 100 yards that had a rifle with his M&P 40. And then there’s the story of a man that lived in a trailer park that helped police that were being shot at buy a suspect (With a rifle I think. Can’t find the story) by shooting the suspect from 80 or so yards with his revolver and no repercussions against him.

          What I’m getting at is well it’s not something that happens often, it can happen and has. You can’t honestly say going against someone with a rifle at 100 yards with a pistol is a death sentence. Especially if you have shot your pistol to 100 yards and can hit the mark.

        3. avatar LarryinTX says:

          ACP, I’m in Austin, and I’m going to have to get a law passed to address incomplete citings such as yours. You should not be ALLOWED to mention our good Sgt’s feat without mentioning that he fired precisely one shot, *killing* the perp, the distance was (measured) 103 yards, *and* he was holding the reins of 2 (two) freaking HORSES at the time! Think what he could have done with a Python!

        4. avatar LarryinTX says:

          Oh, yeah, TDI, I live in the real world where if someone is shooting at me I’d like the ability to shoot back. Giving up, saying “he’s gonna kill me anyway” was never my plan of action, but then I was never an operational operator as you clearly are. And the subject was not your operating procedure, but which action was more accurate. I probably fired 10-20,000 rds out of a variety of Pythons, nearly all .357 mag, and at least 95% were fired single action, telling me that is not what I would use if engaged is really stupid. Followup shots with hot .357 125g HP ammo are seldom going to be required.

        5. avatar ACP_armed says:

          I was make a ‘meat and potatoes’ comment, not a report, okay, Larry. The Sgt. is my hero too.

          “Think what he could have done with a Python!”

          How would the result be any different.

    2. avatar S.Crock says:

      I totally agree that it is a myth that revolvers have a simpler manual of arms. I am going to be petty and count every small movement as a step in the reloading process. 1. Press cylinder release. 2. Push cylinder to the side. 3. Tilt gun back. 4. Press the extractor. 5. Insert speed loader. 6. Close cylinder. Depending on how you perform a reload it may involve transferring the revolver to the non dominant hand and back again. Also if all shells aren’t smoothly ejected it may involve picking some out individually. If a semi is still chambered a reload may be as simple as pressing the mag release and inserting a new mag. All while keeping the gun on target.

      1. avatar tdiinva says:

        I won’t claim Miculek-like progress but I practice combat reloafs at a casual pace. I probably am still back in action before a revolver guy moving at twice the space once again, there is a reason the LEAs and the military ditched there revolvers.

        1. avatar tdiinva says:

          That is supposed to be prowess.

      2. avatar LarryinTX says:

        Back when I carried a revolver, I did all that at home, relaxed and comfortable. I did not even carry reloads, and sure enough, in 30 years I never needed one. And try that same description without a spare mag loaded. If I’d thought I needed more capacity I’d have carried another revolver. Reason I finally began dicking around with hi cap semis was Clinton outlawing them, same reason I got into AR-15s.

        1. avatar Ed Schrade says:

          Years ago I had two separate occasions where I had to pull out a 357 mag Security Six with a 6 in barrel. Never had to fire it. My son says it looks like a cannon. Maybe that’s why I didn’t have to use it.

    3. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      My experience with revolvers is the exact opposite of yours.

    4. avatar Logan says:

      You personally have no idea how to shoot a revolver and speed loaders confuse you. For the reat of us, well, we laugh at you.

      1. avatar emfourty gasmask says:

        moonclips exist, the speedloader excuse isnt viable anymore

  6. avatar The Rookie says:

    I have, and have carried, both. My preferred EDC is a 9mm, but I keep a Taurus .38 snubbie as my truck gun (well sedan gun, in my case) and for my get home bag.

  7. avatar pg2 says:

    The 9 is probably a better round. The snubby .38 is probably the more practical daily carry for most people. What else?

  8. avatar TexTed says:

    9mm kicks .38’s ass in every possible way. A 9mm semi will carry more rounds, hit harder, reload faster, and cost much less to shoot, will be a smaller gun physically so it will conceal better, and will display less felt recoil.

    I love revolvers, but the .38 loses hard when compared to something like the Glock 43.

    It’s just no contest.

    Whatever you do, don’t go for the 9mm revolver, then you get the worst possible situation and compound it with crimp jump.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      You confuse the argument about the cartridges with an argument about the guns. Try comparing your silly 9mm WonderGlock with a lever action .38 Spl with a 20″ barrel! More rounds, more accuracy, more power, 9mm sucks! The discussion was about the cartridge! Without extensive study, I think 9mm and .38 Spl are very close to identical, one designed for revolvers and the other for semis. When I first got into the question, both were beanshooters, if you wanted an actual gun you went to .357 mag or better. In the 50 years since, powder and bullet tech have made them acceptable, either of them. What an entry level buyer needs to decide is whether he/she wants a revolver or a semi, which is a really valid question, and after that decide on a caliber.

      Oh, and 9mm aren’t crimped.

      1. avatar OmnivorousBeorn says:

        “. . . What an entry level buyer needs to decide is whether he/she wants a revolver or a semi, which is a really valid question”

        *comment section explodes*

      2. avatar S.Crock says:

        So you didn’t read the article where it specifically said the argument about these two calibers is unable to be separated from their host guns? It also said that for this situation carry guns were the platform in question.

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          In case you missed it, I just separated them. Saying they cannot be separated (specifically or not) is silly. And I have carried each for several decades in my life, how about you?

          If I’m a shooter who decides a hammerless revolver is my chosen carry, deciding on 9mm is dumb and nonproductive, because the .38 Spl is for all intents and purposes the same round.

      3. avatar Marty says:

        Yes 9mm are crimped. Depending on the load, they are taper crimped, just not roll crimped. You have two choices when reloading the 9mm, either no crimp or taper crimped. Look at the dies available for 9mm.

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          So solly. Last time I reloaded for .38, .357, 9mm was early ’80s, haven’t kept up. 9mm was a pain, sold the HiPower rather than continuing reloading. .357, probably reloaded 15,000, a bunch of that with a Lee Loader, as far back as the ’60s!

    2. avatar Logan says:

      9mm up has far inferior ballistics and worse recoil compared to a heavy hardcast 38 wadcutter. The purpose of wonder 9s is to shoot many many times before reloading and to not have to rely on bullet performance. Revolvers have a long history of being designed specifically around bullet performance. The hardcast wadcutters won’t feed in a 9, but a revolver doesn’t care.

      If your philosophy is that you will get the jump on somebody and shoot them 90 times, then get an auto. If your philosophy is that you dont know what will happen, but want your gun and bullet to work, a 38 wadcutter is the way to go. I recommend hardcast 124gr semiwadcutters in 9mm over any hollowpoint. More shot placement and less chance to miss and hit everybody behind the target.

      1. avatar JD says:

        You clearly have absolutely no idea as to what you are talking about.

      2. avatar PMinFl says:

        I’m just a novice re firearms but I don’t want to be shot by either.

  9. avatar John says:

    If you have the same barrel length, the 9mm has a slight edge as a carry gun, due to being flatter, thus easier to conceal, and often holding more rounds, and being quicker to reload. This advantage increases if the 9mm barrel is significantly longer than the .38.

    However, beyond defense, the .38 is much more versatile. Being fired from a revolver, there is no restriction on bullet shape, allowing for some specialized uses. This is further enhanced by more versatile reloading capability. For hunting and target shooting, the .38 is far superior to the 9mm, as the semi-auto load must feed and cycle reliably, which limits the acceptable bullet shapes and “power level” of the load..

    And then there is the 357. Far superior to the 9mm for defense, and the gun is capable of firing 38 as well.

    If I was to carry in an urban environment, between these two, I’d go for a 9mm (fortunately, I’m not restricted to these two rounds). If I was going to be anywhere near wilderness, it would be a 3″ or longer .357, loaded with hot 38s. I’d have a selection of 357 and 38 rounds with me to handle various wilderness situations.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Still talking about the gun.

    2. avatar kahlil says:

      if you want a “flatter” revolver try a Chiappa Rhino. Not for everyone and it has its quirks, but an overall fun and accurate gun to shoot. My 200DS in 357 is more of a range gun though I do add it to my carry rotation on occasion. Shooting 38 sp out of it is a joy and while the full 357 does still pack a punch it mitigates recoil well as the barrel is lower than most revolvers. It definitely fits better IWB than my normal carry semi auto, Px4 Compact.

  10. avatar Bob Watson says:

    When I can buy 9mm ammunition with a 200 grain swaged lead hollow point bullet, with a gas check, moving at 850 fps from a 4″ barrel, I will trade my S&W model 10 for a plastic fantastic wondergun in 9×19.

    1. avatar tdiinva says:

      Well, I guess the answer is 45 ACP. 10mm is a lot more round.

  11. avatar MyName says:

    Pretty sure the correct answer to this question is .357 Magnum.

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      Agree. Whatever the question was.

    2. avatar Michael Buley says:

      Sorta what I was thinking … lol … I carry a Ruger LCR .357 as my backup gun many days, and a Glock 23 as my main EDC. The difference between .38 and .357 is … noticeable when firing it. The .357 is like a cannon compared to the .38. I haven’t fired that many rounds in .357 from it, but enough to know what to anticipate. And I always have it loaded with .357.

      1. avatar Art out West says:

        The .357 loses too much steam from the short barrel. The .357 is awesome – from a 4″ or longer barrel.

        Personally, I like them all. I usually carry my .38sp 642, but sometimes carry the 9mm P11 or G19. I even like my .380 LCP. I don’t carry, but do love my 4″ . 357 Security Six.

        They all have their place.

      2. avatar Button Gwinnett says:

        My first revolver was a .357. I fired a couple dozen rounds of .38 at the outdoor range with no ear protection (young and dumb.) Then I loaded it with .357. I’ve had tinnitus ever since. Now I wear plugs AND Mickey Mouse ears.

    3. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      I once carried a 9 with 17+1 and I never felt undergunned, but then I started carrying a 3″ .357 with 6 Double Taps that should net at least 600ft/lbs at the muzzle and I still don’t feel undergunned. I’m not sure how I’d feel with 5 .38s and a 1-7/8″ ba rrel, but I’m pretty sure that’s more comparable to a .380 than a 9 mm.

      1. avatar TexTed says:

        Ballistically, yes, but the .380 will be much smaller and hold 7 rounds, so 40% more ammo. Given the size of the cylinder, you could carry a couple of spare mags and an LCP and still take up less room in your pocket than an LCR.

        Sure, .380 sucks, but so does pocket revolver .38. And if I was carrying one of these small guns, I’d much rather have 19 rounds of .380 on tap vs. 5 rounds of .38.

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          If that is the way we’re going to reason, there are several .22 Mag semis holding 30+1. Isn’t that clearly better?

    4. avatar Michael in AK says:

      Agreed. 38 specials are great for teaching, but for defensive carry, 357 is the way to go.

  12. avatar Aven says:

    Three if my 9mm are suitable for concealed carry and I have used them. However, only one of my 3- 38 specials are suitable for concealed carry and it is the one I normally carry. I feel better about carrying the little revolver because I feel it is far less likely to have an accidental discharge (it is hammerless) and I feel it will go bang every time I pull the trigger. I have 38 Special +P in it frequently but I also use 357 Magnum that it also shoots. I only have five shots but I feel it is adequate for my protection. I am always nervous carrying a chambered round in a semi-automatic whether it has a safety or not.

  13. avatar jwm says:

    The 9mm is the worlds go to round. No doubt about it. I have one of my own. I don’t count the mak cause it’s 9×18, which is not the worlds cartridge.

    But my go to round is the .38 special.

  14. avatar tdiinva says:

    For a group of people who claims caliber doesn’t matter we sure fall for it every time.

    Same for the revolver v semiauto debate. Although this one makes more sense. Suggestion. Run 100 yards to a target 10 yards farther on. Shoot five rounds with your .357 snubbie and then repeat this exercise with a 10mm or 40 Cal of the same size and weight. 99% of revolver guys will dump their revolvers for self defense

    1. avatar Gov. William J Le Petomane says:

      Uh… how about I run ten yards, take the target out with my 3″ .357, go home and drink beer while you’re running up and down the ra nge?

      1. avatar possum says:

        Ha, g damnit, I just about chocked on my coffee, spit coffee all over the floor, thank goodness I’m not married I’d have to hear about that too

      2. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

        i say we walk down and do all of ’em.

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          Boosht. I’m sitting down and waiting for ’em to come to me. SOMEONE here is an operator, but I’m pretty sure it ain’t me.

    2. avatar Michael in AK says:

      hahahaha….a lot a gun owners I have seen get winded just waddling into mcdonalds with their LCP, let alone a 1911 or a Glock 17.

      Having had a DGU while armed with a revolver, I am happy to carry a 357, YMMV.

      1. avatar Art out West says:

        Diabetes and heart disease will kill more gun owners than running out of ammo ever will. We can buy cool guns with money, but strength is bought with sweat.
        That reminds me. It is time to go down to my basement and pump iron. The .380 is still in my pocket. Home carry

        1. avatar LarryinTX says:

          I think home carry while desiring exercise should utilize a BFG 9000, because why not?

  15. avatar Mark N. says:

    When is someone going to make a .38 “short” to account for the fact that it isn’t loaded (usually) with black powder any more and doesn’t need all that case capacity? Shorter frames, shorter cylinder, longer barrel could be the result, though it would still work in the “old” guns..

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      You mean, like a rimmed 9mm? Only problem I see is that at least some of the .38/.357s I’ve played with have a necked cylinder, which is what prevents loading .357 into a .38. Backing a round even farther back from that neck than a .38 is in a .357, not sure where that might cause problems.

      1. avatar blue special says:

        Had a rifle I’m 357 Maximum. It shot old school 38 long colts very nicely.

        Does seem interesting, the possibility of a 38 short magnum revolver with a mini length cylinder and maybe a longer barrel.

        I have a 3″ LCRX in 38 special. Wonderful trigger. Weighs under a pound. No safety, just pull the trigger and it goes. Single action even better for target shooting.

        Handloads from 170 grain hard cast at 850 fps to shot shells.

    2. avatar Blue Extra says:

      If the rim was a touch larger around on the new “short 38” it would avoid use in old guns.

  16. avatar Ralph says:

    Now compare apples to oranges. It will be just as meaningful as comparing the .38Spl to the 9mm.

    1. avatar TexTed says:



      1. avatar Ralph says:


        1. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

          blueberries and tart cherry juice.

        2. avatar jwm says:

          Turnips was good enough for my great grandpa. Whippersnappers.

  17. avatar Timothy V Noecker says:

    I’d Rather Have Something Compared To Nothing, That Said My 2 Sidearms Are – Springfield Armory XD(M) 3.8in 9mm Bi-Tone, Modified With a Laser/Flashlight Combo and Talon Grips (My Home Defense Gun) and My Carry Pistol is a S&W M&P Shield 2.0 also Chambered in 9mm

    1. avatar LarryinTX says:

      One of the guns I’m playing with (not yet carrying) is the XD(M) 3.8″ compact 9mm, which as far as I know simply splits the grip in half, so that it uses a 13-rd mag with the spare being a 19-rd with the other half of the grip attached, so that with the 19-rd mag inserted, it is essentially the same as the XD(M) which you have. I haven’t figured why they make both.

  18. avatar Mad Max says:

    I don’t need to pick a winner between 9 mm and .38 Special; I carry both.

    Revolver in my left pocket and the semi-auto on my right hip. Spare mags on left hip and in my right pocket.

    1. avatar Art out West says:

      makes sense


      That is a lot of crap to carry. The J-frame in the pocket will cover most scenarios.

      You are better prepared than I.

  19. avatar SoBe says:

    “A disadvantage to automatics is that they can have more complicated stoppages that require both hands to clear. This can be difficult for some people to master.”
    Where did you get the automatic pistol for this review? Where can I get one so I too can write my own review?

  20. avatar sound awake says:

    nobody wants to get shot in the head or torso or legs or arms with either of them

    thats why i own and have carried both

    theyre both good for self defense both in the home and out

    anybody that says any different hasnt been shot with either of them and should refrain from commenting

    if you like .40 or .45 better thats fine

    it doesnt make 9mm or .38 crap

  21. avatar former water walker says:

    Meh…9mm compared to 38sp is vastly superior out of a snubby. MAC has an interestly video showing HOW superior…

  22. avatar RCC says:

    I prefer 9mm especially when the army was buying most of my ammunition and I had full auto select fire to use.

    I still use 9 mm just not the same volume.

  23. avatar Kendahl says:

    Unless you shoot +P, the .38 Special is closer to .380 ACP than 9 mm.

    1. avatar R D B says:

      yeah agreed
      .38 spec is more akin to .380 in the auto; while in my mind,
      .357 is more akin to the 9mm, but basically you can’t buy an auto .357 for the same money you can a 9mm.
      additionally…learn the revolver first and you can shoot anything, start with the 9mm auto and the revolver is a frustrating platform no matter the caliber.

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        I started with the K-29 Combat Masterpiece. Managed to qualify, but had to reorient the gun in my hand after each shot. Could not keep a decent hold on the grip handle. Now days, the 12lb trigger pull means shooting only single action; not a good technique for self-defense. At the range, once rented a .38 SW Model 10 with outsized rubber grip. Could manage the grip, but the trigger pull remained problematic. As you would expect, the 1911 trigger pull was so much easier to manage. Even a striker fired pistol was easier than the revolver.

  24. avatar possum says:

    Revolvers are more fun to play with.

  25. avatar Andrew Lias says:

    My angle for preferring .38 Special is probably slightly different than many; it’s a straight walled cartridge and easier to reload.

    This wouldn’t even be a conversation if .38 S&W didn’t exist or .38 Special wasn’t a relic of the black powder era; You’d have a 9mm or .38 Super length revolver cartridge with similar (or higher) pressure that would be more space efficient in the cylinder and cartridges.

    Two great cartridges in a 100+ year tradition. Shoot em both like em both.

    1. avatar tsbhoa.p.jr says:

      your point about the rimmed cartridges being leftover from the blackpowder era is exactly why i see the .327federal as viable and likely an excellent consideration. they should develop an acp analog.
      i carry 9, stash/ pack .38.

      .44mag for the win.

  26. avatar Dyspeptic Gunsmith says:

    “Revolvers can be loaded with speedloaders, but they aren’t nearly as fast and easy as magazines.”

    Some Old Dood named “Jerry” might disagree.

    Now, as to revolver accuracy and the issues some people seem to have:

    Revolvers are handguns where the choice of your grips on the gun can make a big difference in your “natural point” of the gun. Get the “natural point” correct on a revolver, and it seems difficult to miss. Have grips that are too small? You’ll fight to your your rounds up onto the target. Grips too big? You’ll be fighting to get the rounds down onto the target. And so on.

    As for accuracy? Shoot a K38 Target Masterpiece to its full potential and get back to me. Or shoot a Freedom Arms revolver, which are used quite often in handgun hunting at ranges of more than 100 yards.

    As for .38 Special in a semi-auto? It’s been done. It was called the S&W Model 52 – a target pistol of exceedingly high precision. Every Model 52 was built by the most experienced ‘smiths at S&W, and before they were shipped, they had to shoot five rounds into a two-inch (or smaller) group at 50 yards. If you’ve actually shot pistols for groups at 50 yards, you’d know that this is exceptional precision for a handgun. The load for which the Model 52 was designed was the .38 Special, pushing 148 grain wadcutters at a rather modest velocity. The 52’s magazine would hold five rounds.

    1. avatar Accur81 says:

      I’m not convinced that Jerry Miculek is human. With that said, I can reload a Glock, Smith, or Sig pistol a whole lot faster than any of my Ruger or Smith revolvers.

  27. avatar David says:

    I bought both: a Sig 225 and a S&W 642. Not surprisingly I shot the Sig better. But a surprise to me was that after awhile I realized that the ergonomics and tactile loading process of the revolver won me over. And the fact that I can leave it loaded and not fret over compressed springs etc. And the fact that with it’s rounded shape it actually carries concealed better. Probably shouldn’t have but I sold the Sig. I’m not a gun hobbyist but it’s a comfort to have the snubby handy, just in case. I know it will go bang if I need it.

  28. ….”Jaw Bone of a Jackass, Wielded by Samson!”

    1. avatar possum says:

      That’s interesting as I’ve read the Bible and wondered what’s the deal with the jaw bone of an ass. Soooo I went out to the bone pile( where we dump the dead cattle , horses, and the occasional burro) got myself one if all three and started whacking rocks. The cows jawbone busted first, the horse was second but harder to break, and the burro’s was very hard to break.

  29. avatar Neil says:

    We’re actually debating semi versus revolver in 2018?
    We are an obsessive compulsive community.

    1. avatar Craig in IA says:

      Yep! What we should be doing mostly is lauding the folks who have taken on the responsibility to carry every day for their own protection. Rather than get uppity about what they carry, we should appreciate that a non-LEO is packing at all.

      I have pals who are more in the “economy-size” that can conceal a full house 1911 on them, I know chicks that have trouble packing an LCP without someone noticing a curve that isn’t supposed to be there. I can do either a J Frame or Glock 43/Shield sized gun and no one knows, street cothes or swim trunks and a t-shirt. I also practice weekly with each of them including clearing from the belly band with various clothing situations, trying to stay familiar.

      Carry a gun first- what ever you can afford and handle. .22 LR is better than nothing.

      As for the jawbone of an ass, most of us end up dealing with the hole…

      1. avatar Sam I Am says:

        “Rather than get uppity about what they carry, we should appreciate that a non-LEO is packing at all.”


        If you’re not carrying a Government Industries .50 1911, you ain’t carrying a gun at all. Shouldn’t be protected by the Second Amendment, or allowed on the streets without a keeper. Why, I even doubt you are an American citizen if you piddle around with guns that a manly-man wouldn’t want within sight (or arm’s length). You probably even don’t like the Dallas Cowboys!

        (Just for the record, I only own a .22 Beretta Neos, but always imagine it is a hand-carried RPG)

  30. avatar bryan1980 says:

    I choose both! The .38 SPL is the ideal round for a small-frame revolver, and 9MM is the ideal round for a subcompact pistol. Get at least one of each!

  31. avatar raptor jesus says:

    .38 Special is so versatile – you can download it to be tame in practice, or get it up to 357 mag velocities with pretty devastating penetration and expansion.

    The real limitation, as mentioned, is the loss of velocity from the snubby.

  32. avatar Jr says:

    “…many small 9mm guns have barrels up to an inch longer for a gun of similar size”

    Everybody always forgets semi-auto barrels are measured including the length of the cartridge in the barrel while revolvers are measured from in front of the cylinder.

  33. avatar 0351 says:

    I’m beginning to wonder if some of the writers are sadists to incite all this discontent…

    I’m not gonna answer the question anyway. My duty gun is a 45, my carry gun is a 357 mag. Some of us like variety.

  34. avatar doug says:

    I carry a Ruger SP 101 in 9mm. It has 5 round moon clips which are loaded with RIP ammo. I have not been able to find any 38’s in the RIP round.

  35. avatar Tom says:

    I keep an old Charter Arms 38 snubby riding in the console of my truck, in a ” grip up position”.With rubber Pacmayers on it, it’s easy to grab and quick to engage. it’s not worth much dough, so it’s the perfect ” ride along ” piece.

  36. avatar DaveDetroit says:

    Revolvers are contact weapons, can be operated 1 handed (or with the off hand) and are intimidating as hell. As we are talking self defense, a revolver can be a great choice. Revolvers also will train you to be a better shooter- starting someone off shooting 38 special from a heavier revolver can develop lifetime skills. I sometimes think all the extra mags are because semi-auto shooters are lazy and their targets look more like shotgun patterns than any attempt at precision shooting. With a revolver in 38 special you have an ideal self defense combination- You can easily operate your gun while using one arm to fend off an attack, or from a pocket. Self defense isn’t the same as being a cop or a soldier. Shot placement and intimidation are key. That said, I also have a 9mm full sized semi auto which is a dream to shoot.

  37. comparing the 9mm to the 38 special should have been just comparing the rounds to each other. not guns. the 38 special is a longer round with more powder capacity then the 9x19mm. the 38 special can and has been loaded to do everything the 357mag can do. and there are factory loads available now that are loaded like that. those loads pass the 9x19mm in terms of power. and S&W m940 9x19mm ( which is no longer made) is going to kick a lot just like if someone loaded a older S&W m640 38 spec with hot loads, or even the newer m640 in 357 mag with mag loads. so the recoil point is mute. there are guns from Taurus the shoot the 9mm round in a revolver ( M692) along with the 357 mag. . and maybe you can still get a Ruger Blackhawk with the extra cylinder. and Taurus still makes the 905 ( an m85 in 9mm instead of 38 spec. and a better comparision would have been these 2 guns shot side by side with even the hot 38 spec loads that are available from like super vel, buffalo bore corbon etc. but we never see that).

  38. avatar Vlad Tepes says:

    The two calibers are so close in ballistic performance given the same barrel length and bullet weight there is no difference worth arguing about. It boils down to whether or not you like to carry a revolver or an automatic. All this got me to thinking since the 9mm has been a world standard caliber for over 100 years can we really believe the brother of the .38 Special, the .38 long colt was such a failure in the Philippine War? Well maybe it was considering modern .38 special loads are probably quite a bit more powerful. On the other hand maybe I am wrong.

    I do remember reading about a shoot out with a cop and 3 robbers coming out of a store all armed with 12 gauge shotguns. The cop ambushed the guys before they knew what was happening and killed them all with one shot a piece using lead round nose 158 grain bullets. So the question arises again was the .38 Long Colt using similarly powered ammo really that bad a caliber in the Philippians War?

  39. avatar James Banish says:

    I personally shoot a single action revolver. I have also fired SigSauer 365 and 22magnum Heritage Roughrider. It seems to me magazine capacity is overrated. The simple fact that shot placement, refined trigger form is paramount. Is anyone any better; no just what is right for you. My best advice; shoot and shoot often.

  40. avatar Scott C Keppler says:

    What’s wrong with 40 ? Seems like everyone is always bashing it. That’s what I carry all this talk is about 9s and the 45. I’ve had a 45 as well as a 9 before I’ll stick with my 40 does more damage than a 9 or a 45 ever will.

  41. avatar Kris & Kris says:

    After reading through this I kind of laugh to myself. I just switched from carrying a .45 to a 9mm for several reasons. Mainly size, weight, capacity. In an oh s**t situation say at home at night (yes I’ve had a home invasion while in bed, so a little jumpy with that situation) my wife is trained to get the gun by the bed, which was previously either a .40 or .45 and it proved too challenging as she is very petite. Moving to the 9mm w/4” barrel has proved to be much more real life for her. She can control recoil and place follow up shots much better. I carry a j frame .38 as a backup gun with +p rounds on the ankle which I like just fine, but the snubbie hammerless .38+p has proven to be too much for my wife. For those of us who have to occasionally share weapons the 9mm has got my vote, if I’m trusting my life in my wife’s hand, I’m hoping she’s holding the 9mm.

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