Why are .380s suddenly so popular? Well, why not? There are probably more than 10 times as many people who have a concealed carry permit now than a couple of decades ago before the change to “shall issue” carry laws. And all those new people have gone through the same learning curve that we old-timers went through, from “Carry enough gun” to “How am I going to pack this thing on a hot summer day?”

Carrying a gun can be a real hassle. If you’re going to do it seriously and not be a ballistic dilettante, you have to do it all the time. Which means you need a comfortable holster and a handgun compact enough that it stays hidden. Which means, despite the sneer some direct at “mouseguns,” you pack a really small 9mm or .380.

In an ultra-compact, a full-power 9mm load can be tough to practice with. And those .40 and .45 ultra-compacts are more like work (or torture) to shoot than enjoyable practice. So the .380 wins by default. And realistically, there’s nothing you can hold in your hands that will guarantee a 100 percent stop with one hit. Once you realize that accuracy matters, a small gun is OK and a big one is sometimes not worth the extra hassle of packing it.

If, however, you go much smaller than the .380, you really fall down the slope of terminal ballistics, and you also end up with handguns that are so small you can’t shoot them comfortably. Nothing gets smaller than a Baby Browning, but you have to go through hand contortions to shoot one, and for all that trouble, all you get is a .25 Auto.

A .380 in general—and the P238 in particular—is as small as you can still shoot comfortably and still have enough power to make it a useful tool in an emergency.