A TTAG reader writes: “I enjoyed your article on the Colt 1903 automatic.  I have a 1903 Colt .32 cal., serial number 518xxx, which I think is from the 1930’s. It hasn’t been fired in many years, though it seems to be in good mechanical condition. My father was a police officer and this was one of the guns I inherited. I have my NC Concealed Carry permit, and my daughter (age 38) just completed hers. I was going to fire it first, then let her become familiar with and have her carry it until she finds exactly the right gun for her. Right now, she’s kind of likes a Sig, but can’t afford one. What would be your advice about firing it, and maybe having it as a “carry gun”.  It’s not NIB or even excellent so should we “use it” or find something else? If I fire it, what kind of ammo should I look for that might be readily available? What would spare magazine sell for? By the way, I joined the Colt Collectors assn. Not sure why, but I have 5 Colts, so I guess I’m a reluctant collector. Thanks!”

7 Responses to Ask the Armed Intelligentsia: 1903 Colt .32 As a Carry Gun?

  1. I was curious, so I punched the numbers. 65-gr bullet @ 925 ft/sec = 123 ft-lbs of force. The weight of the 1903 is approx 14,444.7-gr. If you can throw the pistol at 35 MPH, you’d have 83 ft-lbs of force. If your daughter played softball or baseball growing up, my guess is that she can at least manage 50 MPH out of a determined throw. A 50 MPH throw brings the energy up to 172 ft-lbs! I don’t know if I would trust my life to something I can cause more damage with by throwing than shooting!

    It is a great looking Colt with “family value”. It may not be in “excellent” shape, but if it were, I bet you wouldn’t consider even shooting or carrying it. This should be well oiled and placed in a safe place to be handed down to her and future generations. I shoot all my guns – antique or not, but I certainly wouldn’t take many of them out into the field, nor would I trust my life to them.

    The gun itself would be a fine piece, but the .32 Auto is a weak round. If she must carry this piece, then I would suggest a FMJ bullet (are .32 JHPs even available?) in order to ensure adequate penetration.

    What kind of SIG is she looking at?

    • So given the choice you are saying you would rather be shot by a .32 than have your daughter throw the gun at you? Of course not. The hurled gun would leave a bruise where it bounced off you while a .32 bullet at close range would create a penetrating wound that would potentially kill you.

      Plenty of people have been killed .25 ACP, .22 LR, and .32 ACPs. Adolph Hitler committed suicide with a .32 PPK. Israeli Mossad notoriously assassinated members of Black September with .22s. Soviet Union assassins are also said to have favored these smaller rounds for close-up "mokroye delo" (wet jobs).

      That said, I'd want something with more umph as a self-defense weapon. I consider a good .380 ACP to be the minimum recommendable cartridge, and that's subject to a lot of debate.

      Your 1903 Colt is a nice gun. I'd keep it as a functioning collector's item and enjoy it at the shooting range.

  2. Another thing to consider. If, God forbid, she should actually have to use it in self-defense, it may end up in the police evidence room. Good luck getting it back after that. Even for a justified shooting, the police have a habit of taking things and not giving them back. If this piece has sentimental value, carry something else.

  3. I think my sarcasm was missed…

    Would it just leave a bruise? I guess it depends on where I get hit, who threw it, how far away I was, etc. I guess the same applies to the .32 Auto. Of course anyone can get killed with a .22LR – as a matter of fact, I still remember from my Hunter Safety Course in PA that for a long time, one of the largest bucks on record was taken out-of-season by a .22LR. The guy just thought he was going to “spook” the deer. Any projectile is dangerous, including air-powered pellet guns. Even with .45 ACP rounds, shot placement is key to stopping a threat. Larger caliber or higher velocity rounds just give you more “leeway”.

    I agree that RF should keep this as a nice collector (or sell it to me) and get something more modern as $$ becomes more abundant. I just literally got back from the gun store and they had a used S&W M36 J-frame in nice shape for $209, and a used Ruger SP101 3″ .357 for $299. There are other options that are more effective than a .32 Auto, that are also inexpensive. A SIG is my favorite “go to” sidearm, but certainly isn’t the cheapest gun I own (and I doubt it will ever be!).

  4. It would not be my first choice.

    However, if the gun works, and it’s all you’ve got, it is better than nothing at all.

    There is some evidence that .32 hollow points may not actually move fast enough to cause the hollow points to expand when they hit a soft target, so some folks advocate using full metal jacket .32 bullets.

    I’ve taught CCW classes for eight years now.

    I’ve seen a few folks come to the class with 1903 Colts they inherited from Grandpa.

    I’ve even seen one .32 HSC pistol that was allegedly collected by a great uncle from a German officer who didn’t need it anymore “somewhere in the woods near Bastogne” according to the present owner.

    That pistol was not the student’s primary carry gun, but a curiosity he brought mainly to show off. And yes, he did let me take it out of the original misshapen black leather holster and fire it a few times. Talk about holding history in your hands……

    But I digress.

    I have also seen a ton of Beretta Tomcats, Kel-Tec .32’s, Walthers, even a Seecamp or two come through the class.

    If it goes “bang” when you pull the trigger, and you can hit with it, it’s at least marginally better than a big rock or the sharp pointy stick.

    But if you can get even a used, decent-quality .380 that works (even one of those .380 Bersas that can be found for under $300), that would be better.

    I’d say save all the cash possible, then stretch that budget another $100 or so (sell some plasma? Pick up aluminum cans on the roadside?) and get that Sig.

  5. I'd recommend a Hi-Point C9 if you're on a budget. Top-heavy and ungainly, but it goes "bang" when you pull the trigger and a 9mm hollowpoint will ruin the average badguy's day. Plus, they have a lifetime warranty (for the life of the firearm) and superb customer service. And where else are you going to get a brand new 9mm for about $150?

    Keep the Colt as a nice heirloom. 🙂

  6. Hi, I'm the letter writer's daughter — he just forwarded me the link to this reply. Thanks for all the info, guys! I got a good laugh about how I could do some serious damage by throwing the 1903 at somebody.

    The SIG i love is the new P226 E2. It fits in my hand like it was made for it. Too bad it's almost $1,000, but i'm saving up. I was going to use it for competition (i've been bitten by the shooting bug and want to enter some Steel Challenge or other practical shooting matches), so i want a bigger gun (w/longer barrel, bigger grip) for that. Do you think that SIG would be okay for concealed carry or would i be better off getting something smaller that would fit in my purse?

    I'm sort of backing into the self-defense aspect of shooting. I started shooting because it was fun, not to protect myself (my boyfriend is a Marine and took me to the range last year just for kicks). But recently i decided i'd be really mad at myself if something happened and i didn't have a gun with me, now that i actually know how to shoot and handle a gun reasonably well.

    So, it sounds like my dad should leave me the Colt in his will, right? 🙂

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