By Dan Baum
When I can add to my collection of pre-1930 pistols for $350 or less on Gunbroker, I do so, and I’ve assembled a nice, idiosyncratic collection. Margaret and I just spent four days scouting the place we’ll hunt elk in November, and I brought along a few old .32s to try out. What I didn’t bring along, since I had so many guns in the bag, was the Model 1917 Smith and Wesson .45 ACP revolver I usually take camping, and that got me thinking . . .
But first, the testing. The Austro-Hungarian Dreyse 1907 on the left went bang, smoothly ejected the spent shell and chambered a fresh round. It did not, however, recock. The Dreyse is so ugly it’s charming, and has some over-engineered features that were quite revolutionary in 1907 — like a tip-up frame and a cocking indicator. Still, when when you’re fighting the Eleventh Battle of the Isonzo, and the Italians are attacking (again!) you want more than one shot.
Next up was the Harrington & Richards .32 Autoloading Pistol (center) of which only 40,000 were made starting in 1914 because Colt and Savage largely had the market locked up. That, and the pistol is terrifically ugly and doesn’t work. Mine made an anemic little divot on the primer but didn’t fire. (This, after replacing the firing-pin spring, so something else is afoot.) I’m happy to report that John Browning’s design, the FN 1910 on the right, ran like champ, magazine after magazine.
So come nightfall, I put it beside the sleeping bag where I usually put that big S&W .45, in the unlikely event that the Manson family, or a meth-making crew, or a rabid beast shows up. And looking at that elegant but diminutive pistol, I found myself a little uneasy. Which led me to wonder why.
Have I been so Farago-fied that I consider anything less than a 9mm a “mouse gun?” Have not generations of Europeans, including James Bond, successfully defended themselves with pistols chambered for 7.65 Browning — a.k.a. .32 ACP? This was the caliber issued to policemen and military officers of just about every nation on the continent in the 20th century — a century known for some pretty efficient bloodletting.
Over here, the .32 ACP was the pocket pistol of choice throughout Prohibition. If the 7.65 is good enough for the Europeans, and the .32 ACP was good enough for the greatest generation, why is it no longer considered powerful enough for us? Are we smarter? Or — dare I ask — are we pussies for thinking we need ever-bigger guns to defend ourselves?