September 19, 2013
By James Tarr
Today's firearm marketplace is in a chaotic state. As the clerk at my local gun store tried to explain to a customer angry that the store didn't have any guns on the shelves: "No, there is not a gun shortage. What we are experiencing is a customer surplus."
Any firearm manufacturer selling guns designed since 1911 could simply ramp up production on existing models and be almost guaranteed to sell as many as it could make. Ruger is one of those companies, and I have no doubt that if it had the machinery the firm could transition all of its employees to SR556 rifle production and still not be able to keep up with the demand. Instead of taking that easy route, Ruger continues to come out with new models.
One of the many new models that made its debut this year is the LC380. The Ruger LCP has been a huge hit in the modern-day concealed-carry market, but even its fans didn't think it was perfect. The frame was just too small to get all your fingers on it, and the sightsâ€¦well, some LCP owners might be surprised to hear their pistols actually have sights.
Ruger responded to some of the complaints about the LCP with the LC9, which wasn't really an upsized LCP but rather just a really small 9mm that shared some looks with the LCP. The LC9 was a success as well, and now we see the LC380.
Ruger says the new LC380 pistol combines all the popular features of the LC9 with the LCP, and while that statement is accurate, what the company really means is, "We chambered the LC9 in .380 ACP."
As near as I can determine that's the only difference between the LC9 and LC380: caliber. Visually and dimensionally they are identical, and they have all the same features, the only difference being that the LC380 actually weighs 0.1 ounce more than the LC9. This is simply because the .380 ACP cartridge takes up a little less space, so the chamber is smaller, leaving more steel in place for the extra weight.
In fact, Ruger ships the LC380 with the LC9 owner's manual, providing a one-sheet insert listing a supplemental parts list and a warning not to use +P ammunition. As far as supplemental parts go, the only ones on the LC380 that are different from the LC9 are the barrel, slide, magazine and recoil springs.
Chambering an existing pistol in a less powerful cartridge may seem counter intuitive (that's Latin for stupid) to some people, but it's been done before—and for good reasons.
While the capacity of the LC380 stays the same (7+1), recoil will be less. Being chambered in a less powerful cartridge, the recoil spring for the LC380 is lighter, so the slide is easier to rack. If you are small or weak, buying a gun whose slide you can't rack or which hurts you every time you shoot it does not encourage regular practice sessions. The .380 you have with you, and have practiced shooting, is better than the 9mm you don't.
This new gun also allows Ruger to sell a .380 ACP in certain places it couldn't before because the LC380 has more safety features than the LCP; more on that later.
The LC380 is a bit big for a .380 ACP but still small enough to fit in most pockets. It is 6.0 inches long, 4.5 inches high, and only 0.9 inch wide. It weighs 17.2 ounces unloaded.
A thumb-high hold may cause you to hit the slide lock and prevent the slide from locking back on an empty magazine.
Unlike the LCP, the LC380 has real three-dot sights that provide a great sight picture, a fact you'll appreciate even at contact distances. And they're no-snag so they won't interfere with your draw.
The pistol ships with one magazine, but Ruger throws in an extended floorplate that greatly enhances control of the gun during firing.
The extended floorplate is easily removable for deeper concealment situations.
The LC380's magazine of the LC380 appears to be a modified LC9 mag, with an internal spacer running the length of the tube to accommodate the shorter .380 ACP round.
The frame of the LC380 is long enough that most people with small hands should be able to get all their fingers on the gun using the flush magazine floorplate, and Ruger provides another floorplate with an extended finger hook.
With the larger floorplate installed, most people should be able to get all their fingers on the gun, and that extra finger means much more control over the gun. I would have preferred the gun ship with two magazines—each with a different floorplate—but you can't always get what you want.
Compared to the LCP, the LC380 holds one more round and has a barrel almost half an inch longer (3.12 inches versus 2.75 inches). That admittedly isn't a lot, but it will give you a little more velocity out of the .380 ACP. Considering the LC380 isn't rated for +P loads, having more barrel length is a good thing.
The magazine of the LC380 appears to be a modified version of the LC9 magazine. It has an internal spacer at the rear to accommodate the shorter .380 ACP round. The spacer runs the length of the magazine, and the polymer follower rides up and down in front of it.
This seems to be a simple and smart solution. While you could use an LC9 magazine stuffed with .380s in the LC380, the rounds will slop back and forth, and you might experience reliability issues.
As I mentioned, one of the main complaints about the LCP was the sights. The LCP is so small to begin with that, when combined with its nearly nonexistent sights, snap-shooting is difficult.
In contrast, the LC380 has real three-dot dovetailed sights that won't snag, yet they provide an excellent sight picture. They are not so tiny they'll get lost when the adrenaline starts flowing. Even if you're not using your sights in a stressful situation but rather looking over the top of the gun (hey, it happens), having them there makes it much easier to point the gun in the right direction.
The slide of the LC380 locks back on an empty magazine, which was not the case with the LCP. The button for the magazine release is small and does not protrude much at all, which is what you want on a gun of this nature. The LC380 also has a loaded-chamber indicator on the top of the slide that looks identical to the one found on Ruger's SR pistol series.
One thing about the LC380 (and LC9) that I really like is that the slide has been completely dehorned, so there are no sharp edges. The bottom of the slide has been radiused to blend with the frame. Many .380s and assorted pocket guns will make you bleed at the range if you have hands larger than a 9-year-old's, and they can slice up the inside of your pockets if the guns aren't in a pocket holster.
While the LC380 does have a long trigger pull, it is not heavy. My sample had a smooth six-pound trigger pull, lighter than the seven-pound pulls found on most LC9s. It takes one full inch of movement of the trigger before it breaks.
"Pocket guns" can be found in pockets, but they are also dropped into purses, drawers, glove boxes and tool boxes. The "safety" on most pocket guns is a long, heavy trigger pull to prevent them from going off if something gets wedged inside the trigger guard, but that's not enough for some people.
Hence the LC380 is equipped with a manual safety to the left rear; up for Safe, down for Fire. It can be activated only if the pistol is ready to fire. If you can see a white oval underneath the safety the pistol is on Safe, and there's a corresponding red one above it for Fire.
If you use a thumb-high hold on a 1911's safety, you'll find your thumb will ride nicely on the LC380's safety. The only problem is that your thumb will almost definitely hit the slide stop, and in that event the slide won't lock back on an empty magazine. It's a problem I experienced, and I don't have large hands. If you don't shoot with a thumb-high hold, there's a chance your thumb knuckle will bump the safety on during firing.
To satisfy legal requirements in some jurisdictions, the LC380 has a magazine disconnect safety, which functions in atypical fashion. With the magazine out, the trigger is locked in its forward position and will not move at all. Taking apart the pistol reveals that the magazine pushes a steel plate forward. This plate rides on the bottom of the frame and has a slot cutout for the trigger. When the magazine is removed, the plate moves back under spring pressure and catches a notch on the trigger, so it cannot pivot downward and fire the gun.
I think magazine disconnect safeties are a good thing to have on the duty guns of law enforcement officers. Cops quite frequently have suspects attempt to grab their guns, which is why they wear security holsters. If you have to wrestle with a bad guy for your own gun, hitting the magazine release on a pistol thus immediately renders it useless. Outside of that kind of situation, I don't see much use for magazine release safeties, especially on the concealed guns of private citizens.
If you place a semiauto into an environment where the magazine release is going to be pressed up against your moving body or shifting items in a purse, it is only a matter of time before that magazine is going to get popped out. With the LC380 and its magazine disconnect safety, you've got nothing until you seat that magazine, which may be halfway out of the gun, at the bottom of your purse, or bouncing across the sidewalk. This is just one reason why you should always carry a spare magazine.
But the fact remains that in some jurisdictions, if you want a semiauto pistol, it has to have a magazine disconnect, so there's no avoiding it for those folks—regardless of what I or others think of it. The Ruger LC380 is also equipped with an internal safety lock which requires a key (provided) to operate, and it deactivates the trigger.
Shooting the LC380 brought no surprises. It was completely reliable and was very controllable to shoot, especially with the large magazine floorplate installed. The checkering on the grip is more functional than it looks.
As this is a pocket gun, all accuracy testing was done at 15 yards. That's a lot longer distance than the average gunfight, according to FBI statistics, but you should train for what could happen, not what might happen. I actually liked the LC380 better than the LC9 because of the reduced recoil and how easy the slide is to work. That said, I think it has two too many safeties.
One major pain when it comes to new guns is waiting until holsters and other accessories to fit them are available. The great thing about the LC380 is that all the holsters, lasers, and other accessories that fit the LC9 will fit it, so you won't have to wait to find what you need.
At a suggested retail price of $449, which is only $6 more than the LC9 when it was introduced almost three years ago, the LC380 is a good value—from an American company well-known for putting out solid products.