rise of the featherweight

Becoming hugely popular again, more .380 ACP handguns appear every year.

The .380 Automatic Colt Pistol I (9mm Kurz/9mm Corto/9mm Short) is undergoing a big resurgence in popularity today. This is due in large part to a new generation of 21st Century super-small pistols chambered for this century-old cartridge.

In 2000, Seecamp introduced their tiny LWS pistol chambered for this cartridge. It created a new genre: a .380 ACP in an envelope previously considered ".25 ACP-size." A true pocket auto, it evinced a snappy recoil ... and an equally snappy public demand. Charlie Petty's test of the gun that year found it to be totally reliable only with Winchester Silvertip ammo, but Seecamp has tweaked the design over the years and reports of reliability are better now. These guns are hard to find and in short supply. The LWS-380's 10-ounce benchmark seems to have defined this new "weight class" of pistols in its caliber, though factory spec weight according to the manufacturer is actually 10-1/2 ounces unloaded. In the company tradition established by Louis Seecamp, this pistol has no sights. Manufacturer's suggested retail is $795.

Along about 2003, Seecamp's lock on the ultra-light .380 market was

Seecamp 380

broken with a vengeance by Kel-Tec. They were able to chamber their tiny, wafer-thin .32 ACP pocket auto for the .380. Dubbed the P3AT, this little pistol created instant demand. As with the Seecamp, there were growing pains. The first one I shot was not reliable at all, even with ball ammo, and others had similar experiences. The company listened, and soon came up with a second generation that works much better. Many Kel-Tec fans swear by what they call a "fluff and buff," in which the parts get an extra polish, rather like the "reliability package" popular among 1911 and Browning Hi-Power fans for tuning mil-spec service pistols.

The Kel-Tec P3AT brought the weight bar down to a factory-listed 8.3 ounces unloaded. This remains the lightest .380 pistol currently available.

The Ruger LCP, shown here with Crimson Trace laser sight, has gotten the lion's share of attention in this market segment.

Kahr CEO Justin Moon, center, shows the tiny new .380 to Steve Denney, (left) and Mas.

It has vestigial sights, which allow adequate accuracy for a "vest pocket pistol." Current suggested retail is a very affordable $324 with blue finish. Demand is currently huge, and dealers tell me they are substantially back-ordered.

Ruger Revolution

In early 2008, the featherweight .380 market got a huge injection of adrenalin when Ruger introduced its LCP at the SHOT Show. Until now, only small manufacturers had been producing these guns. Ruger became the first giant gun company to introduce one. Their Lightweight Compact Pistol strongly resembled the Kel-Tec .380, but had behind it a big name, with a big reputation for high reliability, and a big advertising budget. By the end of the SHOT Show, it was reported that Ruger had taken orders for an unprecedented 87,000 units.

Its tremendous sales momentum was interrupted by manufacturer callback: there proved to be trigger system breakage issues, and it was reported the gun could go off if dropped. The recall continues at this writing, but demand for the LCP continues unabated. You can still expect a waiting list at the gun shop.

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