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Double-action or semi-auto ...: the Ruger LCP.

The .380 ACP cartridge was designed by John Browning early in the 20th century and was always viewed by many experts over the decades since its introduction as a marginal caliber for self-defense applications. During the 1960s the thinking was changed somewhat by two completely different writers. One was Ian Fleming because he armed his fictional hero, James Bond, with a Walther PPK, and then there was the popular gunwriter Skeeter Skelton who did more than his fair share of undercover law enforcement work while armed with the same type of handgun, which was also in .380 ACP caliber.

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Among the more serious minded devotees of self-defense handguns, Skelton's recommendation obviously carried more weight than the one from the writer of popular fiction. I, like many, have tried the Walther PPK a couple of different times over the years, and although it is a sound design, I found I could never get all that excited about it.

It was a relatively thin design and that aided greatly its concealability as did its overall size and profile, but it was, to me at least, a difficult gun to manage during a lengthy range session. In short, it was painful, and I was to learn later that I was not alone in this summation.

Many a shooter has suffered hammer-bite from a Walther PPK. I personally think this is the reason many disparage the caliber because they don't particularly care for the gun most often recommended in this caliber.

A far better example in .380 ACP in my opinion is the Colt Model 1908, and a few issues back I reviewed my personal custom Colt 1908 from Wayne Novak, but to be truthful, for this class and caliber of self-defense pistol, the Colt 1908 is by most measures considered somewhat on the large side of things today. That's because the Ruger LCP and others like it are so small, light and easy to conceal.

The Ruger LCP (Lightweight Compact Pistol) was introduced in front of a large crowd at the 2008 SHOT Show. I was among those in the crowd, and the response has been overwhelming, so much so that it has taken me a while to get a sample for personal testing.

When I first saw the gun, I actually thought Ruger had purchased the patent or a license from Kel-Tee for the P3AT because the two designs look so similar. They are not the same pistol, but they do look alike in terms of size and profile.

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The Ruger LCP weighs less than 10 ounces with a glass-filled nylon frame and hardened blue steel slide. It is a recoil-operated semi-auto and therefore operates with a dropping barrel locked breech as opposed to the blowback action of the PPK. The locked breech makes for lighter weight, but like the Kel-Tec design, the Ruger LCP has a double-action-Only hammer-fired mechanism. Also like the Kel-Tec. the hammer is visible but covered by both sides of the slide at the rear.

* The main difference you'll notice between the LCP and the Kel-Tec is that the Ruger has a manual slide stop while the Kel-Tec does not. It also has a different extractor design. Some have referred to it as a "Glock-type" and there is a space on the right side of the slide at the rear of the chamber portion of the barrel that allows a visual check to determine whether the gun's chamber is loaded or empty. The LCP also employs dual recoil springs, but other than these features the two small pistols are very close.

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I have to admit I don't have a lot of experience with the Kel-Tec P3AT, but I do have a 32 cal Kel-Tec that I've shot and carried for years and I wish it would shoot as accurately as the LCP. I don't know if all the Ruger LCP pistols Shoot like the sample one. but this one was certainly a surprise. Don't get me wrong, it is not a match-grade target pistol, but small pistols in .32 or .380 cal. have never had much of a reputation for accuracy. The sample opened my eyes when shooting groups at a distance of 21 feet.

I would have tried longer distances with the little pistol, but the truth is such a task would probably have proven an exercise in futility with its tiny sights and my far-sighted eyes 'on the indoor test range. As it was I had to employ my reading glasses to get any kind of a sight picture off the top of the slide on the little gun.

Yet shooting off-hand, either one handed or with two, it became routine to put all seven shots (six rounds in the magazine plus one in the chamber) inside a group measuring 3 inches or less, sometimes much less. It didn't matter whether I shot the gun fast or slow, the bullets went where they were supposed to go, and I found that a great surprise because that hasn't always been the case with guns of this size.

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Part of this success could be attributed to the easy but lengthy trigger pull. It is smooth and light, but it is long. It seems to take forever when you are squinting through reading glasses trying to focus on the tiny bump of a front sight.

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I ran just under 200 rounds through the gun during my test session and never experienced the first bobble. The ammunition included, all of which was hollow-point, from CCI Blazer, Winchester and Federal. Surprisingly, for a .380 ACP lightweight pistol, the recoil impulse didn't seem all that much to me. I know in years past some of the .380s I've tested seem to recoil as bad as or worse than a corresponding 9x19mm pistol. So maybe one can assume the synthetic frame is absorbing some of the recoil impulse.

The only negative I can voice about the Ruger LCP concerns its abbreviated grip. It's been described as being "two fingers" long: I have small hands, and I think that's an exaggeration. For me it was about one and a half fingers of grip, and during some rapid-fire strings, I found the gun actually tried to pop out of my grip.

Maybe it's because I appreciate the Colt 1908.380 so much, but I would like another version of this same pistol with better sights and at least another finger or so of grip length.

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I don't think lengthening the grip will affect the gun's concealability all that much because it is so narrow. It would certainly add to its magazine capacity from six to maybe eight or nine rounds, and it would give everyone more to hold on to during rapid-fire segments. Probably the two greatest virtues after the Ruger LCP's reliability are its light weight and its thinness.

The gun is so light and thin I would worry about forgetting I was packing it if it were chosen as my tool of personal protection.

Right now there is a recall out on these guns as the sample gun I've got has to go back due to the recall. It seems some of the early production guns developed the problem of discharging when dropped on hard surfaces. Knowing Ruger and their reputation, I'm sure this is being rectified with great care as well as all appropriate haste.

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I'm also sure there are going to be a number of good pistolsmiths pestered by Ruger LCP owners to machine dovetail slots, in the front and rear of the slide for the installation of some proper sights. That's because with good sights one is left wondering just how tight the resulting groups could be with this little pistol.

The Walther PPK is a great old pistol, but the Ruger LCP is a step beyond and truly representative of a design from the 21st century. Once the recall improvements have been installed, this would be one of the first .380 ACP pistols I would search out for self-defense applications. It is truly an impressive little pocket pistol.
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Title Annotation:Lightweight Compact Pistol
Author:James, Frank W.
Publication:Shotgun News
Article Type:Product/service evaluation
Date:Jan 10, 2009
Words:1355
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