.32 ACP pocket pistols
Courtesy Dan Baum
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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. My wife and I just spent some time camping 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 & Wesson .45 ACP revolver I usually take into the woods, and that got me thinking.

But first, the testing. The Austro-Hungarian Dreyse 1907 (above left) went bang, smoothly ejected the spent shell and chambered a fresh round. It did not, however, re-cock. The Dreyse is so ugly it’s charming, and has some over-engineered features that were quite revolutionary in 1907. Features 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 & Richardson .32 Autoloading Pistol (above 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 (above right), ran like champ, magazine after magazine.

So come nightfall, I put the 1910 beside the sleeping bag where I usually put that big S&W .45, in the unlikely event that the modern version of 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 jaded that I consider anything less than a 9mm a “mouse gun?” Haven’t 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 now to defend ourselves?


Dan Baum is the author of Gun Guys: A Road Trip.

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  1. Rule number one. Have a gun. Rule number two. Caliber wars are retarded.

    I’ve owned 2 pistols in .32 acp. A Colt 1903. Which was just about the slickest carry gun ever. And a surplus West German police PP.

    I regret giving both up.

  2. “So come nightfall, I put the 1910 beside the sleeping bag where I usually put that big S&W .45, in the unlikely event that the modern version of the Manson family, or a meth-making crew, or a rabid beast shows up.”


    In bed, with me. Occasionally under the pillow.

    The cat was smart enough not to mess with it… 🙂

  3. re James Bond – he’s a fictional character and so is his gun’s performance, as in it’s whatever the director or writer says it is.

    Is it enough gun for today? Perhaps, if we’re talking about humans. Bigger questions for me would be round count, reliability and how accurate I am with any given pistol. Capacity x fraction of rounds on target = hits.

    If we’re talking bears, then even your .45 was probably on the light side.

    • “If we’re talking bears, then even your .45 was probably on the light side.”

      That’s what I was thinking too. Carrying a 32 in the city is fine (ish), deep concealment being worth it sometimes, but I pack a magnum out in the woods.

      • Read Dean Weingarten’s Bear Defense articles on Ammoland. ANY handgun caliber has about a 97% RECORD of success in defending against bears. He has been compiling actual documented reports of real bear defense shootings and that is the math for everything from .22 up to 10mm.

        If it could stop those baby eating huns then a bear will be no problem 😉

        • That also reminds me that the (at the time) world record grizzly bear was taken by a woman with a single-shot 22. I’ll still stick to a magnum, though, and admit she was more of a badass than me. 🙂

  4. the .32 acp
    provides about 100 ft lbs less energy
    than the .380 acp
    and the price per round
    is about twice as much as .380 acp
    so to me
    i see no advantage to it
    but if its all you have to defend your life
    by all means use it
    but at the same time
    just try to save some money
    to have something bigger and better

  5. …shot placement is king. If you put it in exactly the right place it’ll get the job done.

    With that said, the more penetration a round is capable of, the more ‘right places’ there are to choose from, especially if we’re talking about 4-legged critters.

    • If shot placement was all that mattered then everyone would carry the Kel-Tec PMR loaded in .22lr witha 30 round mag. Then everyone could place everyshot in the eye.

      • Except rim-fire will never be as reliable as center-fire ammo.

        I think shot placement is by far the most important before anything else. I would rather hit someone in the middle of the face with a 32 acp then hit them in arm with a 45 acp.

        Next I think penetration is almost equally important. Bird shot loaded in shotguns for self defense have proven that penetration is equally as important. You need about 12″ minimum of penetration in ballistic gel. If you use Hornady XTP hollow points in 32 acp, they expand slightly, even when shot through denim, and penetrate right at about 13″ in ballistic gel. There is almost no recoil from my Keltec P32, meaning very fast follow up shots.

        Lastly I always remind people, if I have to shoot someone in self defense, I’m going to shoot until the threat stops. This means they are going to take 9 rounds of 32 acp from me if need be.

        For comparison, 00 buckshot is 30 caliber BBs and there are typically 9 of them. So assuming you get all 9 hits on someone with a 32 acp, it would do very similar damage as being hit with a 12 gauge load of 00 buckshot. Actually with hollow point expansion it would be slightly worse.

      • The Kel Tec PMR 30 is .22 Mag NOT .22 LR. Granted both are .22 but there’s a large difference and boost in power with the .22 Mag.

    • The .327 Federal and .327 H&R are a different ballgame than the .32acp. By the way, there is a 9 shot .22lr version of your NEF revolver (very fun gun).

      For me personally, I don’t like going below .380 (and even the .380 is questionable). I’d prefer to just run a .22lr than a .25 or .32acp. At least I can afford to practice with the .22lr. My Ruger SR22 wouldn’t be a horrible carry gun.

      Funky old European .32 pistols are a novelty as far as I’m concerned. If I had to go old, European, and funky, I’d probably roll with a Makarov or CZ82.

      I use to have an old 1917 .45acp revolver (mine was the Colt). Sadly, I sold it. 🥺

      • I consider the Makarov, CZ82, p64 and the like to be newer, European, and funky. The pre WWII handguns are the interesting ones that were overbuilt.

  6. NO!!! The market has spoken. When Kel-tec crammed a 380 into a .32 acp sized pistol it was over. The cheapest. 32 acp is $0.38/rd. 380 acp is $0.21 and 9mm is $0.17. And your lucky something didn’t eat you and your wife! 🤨

    • Talking about 7.62 handguns, I assume he isn’t including the Obrez in 7.62*54R. That would leave a mark.

    • before COVID, I picked up Geco 32 acp for almost the same price as 9mm ammo. It’s a popular caliber in Europe and European manufacturers sell it much cheaper. Sometimes you have to look it up by the metric size as that’s how some of them list it, but it’s still 32 acp. Funny thing is, most European manufacturers make hotter rounds too.

  7. I’ve have my grandfather’s 1903 Colt. Based on the serial number, it’s 102 years old. It’s goes bang every time I pull the trigger. It’s accurate, too. Thirty-five years ago, those little sights were easy to see. Not so much now because my eyesight isn’t what it used to be. I shoot it about once a year. Beautiful firearm.

    • No, they consider themselves to be Imperial British, and superior to all. I thought we beat that thinking out of them about 250 years ago, but Albert is proof that it isn’t so. It would help if Canada, Australia, Nezzeland, etc. would remember that they are FORMER holdings, but old bonds are hard to break.

      • Because our political classes are Anglophiles who, despite over a century of independence and full legal separation since 1986 when appeals to the UK Privy Council were abolished, still consider themselves “British to their bootstraps”.

  8. I own several 7.65 handguns……..all are 7.65×21 (aka, 7.65 Para, aka 30 Luger). It’s a 93gr projectile traveling at over 1200 fps. Super flat trajectory, zeroed @25 yds will have a drop around 1.5″ @50 yds. It’s a popular target round in Europe due to the laser like trajectory. 7.65×21 is a stepped case similar to .357 SIG, only 1.2 mm smaller in diameter.

    As for .32acp, I think it’s a good defense round if all your other handgun are .25.

  9. You buy these pistols because they’re old and collectible, in spite of – not because – they’re in .32 caliber. Why the Europeans were so enamored of this chambering for so long is a mystery.

  10. .32 ACP is great when you consider the average European is 150 lbs and the average American used to be similarly sized.

    These days the average American is 200+ lbs.

    I go by the FBI test – if you’ve got a .32 load that will go 12-16″ AND expand 50%; go for it. I have yet to see a .32 load that can achieve both – hollow points fail to meet penetration standards and round nose fails to expand (and usually over-penetrates).

    An interesting 32 caliber round is the wadcutter from revolvers – Buffalo Bore makes a nice 900 fps wadcutter that has impressive wound paths AND goes 16″+ in gel.

    • Underwood’s screwdriver tips show promise in 32 but unless you are really going for small and light recoil it is a solution seeking a problem with a higher price. Glad they are available though.

    • I came to express the same sentiment that busybeef stated: people were a lot shorter and lighter in the early 1900s. I think .32 ACP was a fine cartridge in that context.

      Today, you could easily come face-to-face with a crazed/stoned 270 pound attacker and .32 ACP may not be adequate to stop him or her. Of course .45 ACP may not do the job either in such cases.

      The only way that I would carry a .32 ACP pistol for self-defense today is if I carried the Underwood Extreme Penetrator cartridges which look like Philips screwdriver tips. Those achieve decent penetration AND a decent wound channel.

    • That is the perfect gun for people in India (where .32 is one of the few calibers they are allowed to own).

      • There are few countries like that, where military calibers are verboten for the people…

  11. The key difference between them and now is obesity.
    Back in the day, the average adult male weighed about 150# and the average adult female weighed barely 100#. Now the average weight of an adult male is about 200# and many women, especially Trannies, resemble sporting ladies from Fort Smith who would dress out at 290#.
    It takes a lot more gun to penetratrate all of that lard.

    • I found a link to the line from Rooster Cogburn.

      Rooster, pulling out a gun to show the Indian boy Wolf: “I got me a .22 pepperbox here. This thing shoots five times, sometimes all at once. It is called a lady’s companion, and that is what I intend it be used for when I leave you two off. Back in Fort Smith, there is a sporting lady named Big Faye. She was shot twice with this thing. But she dresses out at about 290, so none of the bullets found there way to any of the vitals. ‘gainst ordinary people, this provides good service. Now I want you to protect sister with it.”

  12. The difference is now you’re up against todays modern super criminals, as opposed to the criminals of yesteryear.

    Today, children and young criminals, through combination of poor nutrition from birth, vast arrays of chemical consumption, lack of any parental guidance, hormones in food and drink, brainwashing, and mutations, have lead the younger generation to be fatter, dumber, smellier, greasier, have dense layers of thick bone, longer matted hair, and a thick hide.

    Smaller calibers that worked on smaller people with larger brains won’t work well today. Criminals today are dumber and in poor physical shape compared to old criminals, but the modern ones are much physically larger with mutations that have made them more resistant to small calibers. I’d start with the hottest 9 and go up from there.

    • We don’t carry because of the odds, we carry because of the stakes.


      In 2008 an Illinois cop named Grammins found himself up against a gangbanger who really, really wanted to kill him, who soaked up seventeen rounds of .45 ACP hollowpoints, most to the body cavity, and did not stop trying to kill him until Grammins made a brain shot.

      There was an incident in Ohio around 2015 in which an individual, while murdering a police officer and trying to kill others, absorbed thirty-one .40 caliber hollowpoints, two thirds of them to the body cavity, then ran twelve blocks with several officers in pursuit. He was still fighting when they put the cuffs on him, still fighting in the ambulance, and still fighting when he got to the operating room, though he died of multiple organ failure three days after surgery. You’d have thought all that lead would have weighed him down, but apparently not.

      Handguns are already marginal tools. I understand the appeal of a weapon that is thin and flat, but you can get thin and flat in more effective calibers. And the semi-rimmed .32 ACP case is more prone to magazine problems, like rimlock, than true rimless cases like .380 and 9mm. “Muh stoppan powah” is a meme, but some cartridges are objectively better than others at shattering bone and destroying soft tissue.

  13. If you can hit what you aim at, even a .22 LR is enough but hitting the central nervous system in a gunfight is very difficult. Most stops are psychological or the defender puts enough holes in the aggressor that the latter bleeds out.

  14. I now it’s a newer caliber, but what about the .327 magnum? judging from ballistics I’ve seen, it does an adequate job, but I’m not sure about the cost.

    • Cost, availability, options for firearms that chamber it, and somewhat limited options for reloading re bullet type and a availability. With that in mind it was a great design years ago and still is a great design now it just never took off.

      • Finding a Ruger LCR chambered in 327 is typically pretty easy and it is a mix of new and used. Finding on the shelf ammo on the other hand can be a chore unless your shop also stocks 45gap and 357sig in meaningful quantities. Finding a Ruger sp101 can also be done but Gunbroker or similar will likely be involved for any other revolver…………good luck I know they exist but it is random availability and oddball offerings.

        • The Ruger LCRx (LCR with exposed hammer) also chambers the .327 Fed Mag, which is a greatly overlooked round. Taurus has also come out, again, with a revolver chambered for it. And, of course, Henry’s got a lever gun in .327 Fed Mag.

  15. Few people know that the reason the German Army rejected the .380 acp is simply because it would not penetrate a military helmet BUT THE .32ACP DID. Yet American ignorant Hill Jacks still carry the .380 and still buy them and refuse to carry the .32acp.

    Remember it is bullet placement and penetration that incapacitates NOT CALIBER. How else do you think WDM Bell slaughtered over 1,000 elephants with the 6.5 mm and 7mm rifles. He did not use the .577 Nitro Express or the .600 either.

    The .32acp recoils far less than the sharp unpleasant, uncomfortable recoil of the average .380 pistol which enables the .32 acp to be shot much more accurately by the average user.

    And before you condemn even the .22 rimfire just watch the attempted assassination of the Great Satan Ronald Reagan (who banned machine guns) . Three large grown men hit the pavement as if hit by lightning when hit with nothing more than the .22 l.r. Seeing is believing.

    I might add for years I passed up fantastic deals on .32 auto pistols mainly because I did not want to start loading for yet another pistol caliber and I too had believed the gun writer moronic babblings that a .32 “was not much of a gun”. I could have bought surplus Walther PP .32 acp pistols for around the paltry sum of only $200 and later in time when they were gone ended up paying $600 for one. Of course right now you will pay anywhere from $800 to $1,500 for one. Even some of the less well known surplus and G.I. bring back European .32 acp pistols often bring fantastic sums of money. The days of gun collecting for the working man have now passed into oblivion simply because no one wants the plasticky garbage that is being made today and that drives up wildly the price of the old fashioned blued steel quality pistols of yesteryear.

    I might add few people know that Europe in the early 1900’s had dozens and dozens of .32 acp pistols and some were even very weird and offbeat .32 acp pistols which were back in the day a collectors dream come true and they often sold for little more than a song and a dance. I saw one garden variety FN 1906 go for only $3.00 back in the day

    As a recently passed away buddy of mine once told me “Those days are gone forever and will never come again”.

    Just a few of my favorite pocket pistols:

    Beretta Model 950 Jetfire (Italian made) not U.S. made. U.S. made guns had faulty designed safeties that soon wore out and would active under recoil.

    Baby Browning .25 Acp

    Colt and FN 1905 and FN 1906 .25 acp

    Colt 1908 .32/.380 pistol Favorite Hollywood movie gangster pistol. Made most famous in movie Key Largo when Humphrey Bogart blasts Edward G. Robinson with one.

    FN 1910/1955 .32 acp/380 acp. Its straight inline feed makes it totally reliable even with flying ashtray expanding ammo, it was decades ahead of its time. The big downside is that it had minuscule impossible to see sights. The slide rather had a trough and in the bottom of the trough were the miniscule sights.

    FN 1922 in .32/380 Acp. For many years collectors shunned this excellent and totally reliable weapon but that has changed in recent years. It is an ugly duckling which probably accounted for its unpopularity. Its straight in line feed will handle even modern flying ashtray expanding bullets. It was decades ahead of its time.

    Browning 10-71 .380 (Most people have never even heard of it) It had fully adjustable sights and its slide was only slightly longer than the Walther PP pistol. Is excellent adjustable sights and long sighting radius made it shoot with pinpoint accuracy out shooting many bigger 9mm pistols.

    German or French made Walther PP/PPK/s .32 or .380 acp

    Ortgies .25acp/ .32 acp

    Beretta Model 90 in .32acp This was patterned somewhat like the Walther PP and is rare. Unlike the Walther the Beretta M90 can be carried “locked and cocked” as well as fired in double action too. No finer or more useful .32 auto was ever made. I mourn its passing.

    French MAB in .32 Model D

    • Great cut and paste from a person that is constantly screeching to ban firearms and tighten down on gun laws.

      • Wonder what gun forum it was taken from ………….and when I don’t think I have seen 25acp brought up in any context outside of a crime gun/police buyback in 15 years unless it is to state how it is essentially as effective as a 22lr as a centerfire. As to 32 vs 380 there is a penetration advantage in 32 if not using hollow point and a availability/price/actually existing advantage for 380. I am sure there are other points that can be made but its about all that registers as relevant on my end.

        • I was collecting .25 acp pre WWII handguns, but then I was always offered “ring of fire” clones(which do not use the same steel, are not machined as well and do not have the character of the originals). Also, Ca law made it much more expensive to buy these.

        • Can’t imagine the dwindling numbers of working/available pieces in that chambering is helping much either?

    • And your idol Vasily Blokhin, Stalin’s personal executioner, used .25 and .32 Walther pistols to personally execute the captured Polish officers.

      An act you hope to emulate in the post-rev0lutionary purges.

    • You are an idiot. Modern .380 rounds are not the same as what was carried some 50 years ago. I can cut and paste too:
      Federal Premium Hydra-Shok Deep’s bullet design brings the 380 Auto cartridge to all-new heights—or in this case, depths. This new micro-handgun ammunition offering is the first expanding 380 Auto load to consistently penetrate beyond the FBI-recommended 12-inch minimum in bare gel and through heavy clothing.

    • “Few people know that the reason the German Army rejected the .380 acp is simply because it would not penetrate a military helmet BUT THE .32ACP DID. Yet American ignorant Hill Jacks still carry the .380 and still buy them and refuse to carry the .32acp.”

      Where is little tidbit of history found? Do you even know what the purpose of a steel helmet was in warfare?

    • I am having a hard time believing that. Those numbers don’t add up. While I have never attempted to shoot holes in steel helmets with pocket pistols, I have to observe that, if we assume both cartridges have their real-world velocities and other specs as measured from real handguns, either the 71gr .32 or the 95gr .380 is going to leave the muzzle doing about 850 ft/sec. Manufacturers’ claimed specs for SAAMI spec ammo actually grant the .380 a 6-7% velocity advantage over the .32 but for purposes of this thought experiment we will give the li’l guy a mulligan, because it needs all the help it can get.

      And using that figure of 850 ft/sec velocity for both, the .380 has a third more momentum and a third more kinetic energy than the .32. Furthermore, when we multiply mass by velocity to get momentum, and divide by projectile frontal area, which gives good predictions of penetration in soft targets, the .380 beats the .32 by a bit over 3%. If we calculate kinetic energy for each one and divide by frontal area, the .380 again beats the .32 by a bit over 3%. I don’t understand what kind of magic is allowing the .32 to do anything whatsoever that the .380 doesn’t do better.

      For that matter I have grave doubts about the ability of either of those calibers to penetrate the typical WWI-era steel helmet reliably. The .45 ACP with milspec 230gr FMJ reliably glances off an American M1942 “steel pot,” though it usually makes impressive dents that depending on location might be pretty bad for the health of the wearer. .45 ACP ball has triple the kinetic energy, a third more energy divided by frontal area, more than double the momentum, and 40% more momentum divided by frontal area. .45 ACP doesn’t work worth very well against steel helmets. This isn’t greatly surprising. .45 ACP with full metal jacket isn’t great against things like heavy prewar car doors, either, though it’s better than .38 Special with the prewar roundnose lead bullets. This is why a lot of Depression-era gunslingers liked the .38 Super with FMJ if they believed they were going to be dealing with individuals in a vehicle. .357 Magnum came to law enforcement use after the war because so many state highway patrol guys were complaining about .38 Special failing to penetrate car doors and car windshields.

      If you want to punch through steel helmets reliably with a handgun cartridge, you have to go to smaller calibers and higher velocities, to greater levels of kinetic energy and then concentrate that energy on a smaller area. 7.62 Tokarev is pretty good against steel helmets, especially when you shoot it out of an SMG. 9mm “submachinegun ammo” with 124gr FMJ bullets will generally do it from a handgun but even then if you’re not at powder burn distance its performance against that kind of hard barrier falls off very rapidly. A 124gr 9mm FMJ bullet at around 1200 feet per second has two and a half times the kinetic energy of that .380, 40% more velocity, two and a half times the kinetic energy per unit area, and more than 80% more momentum per unit area–and its loss of power and lethality a hundred meters away, even fired from an SMG with an 8″ barrel that boosts its velocity by 10% or more, is pretty alarming. In tests done just after the war, the Swedes were finding that 9mm FMJ bullets only had about a 50-50 chance of getting through Russian steel helmets or Russian load bearing gear that was loaded up with PPS43 mags at 100m. They created m/39B steel core 9mm SMG ammo to try to get it off its knees and onto its feet before deciding that the HK G3 with the happy switch was the answer they were looking for.

      So I’m calling shenanigans on this claim of magical .32 ACP bullets that can penetrate steel helmets that more powerful calibers won’t. What were these .32 bullets made of? Depleted uranium? Kryptonite? Antimatter?

  16. Pretty sure I don’t want to be shot with a .32ACP, on the other hand if I have to shoot something/someone I would choose something bigger. Like Rosignol said “the more penetration a round is capable of, the more ‘right places’ there are to choose from, especially if we’re talking about 4-legged critters.”

  17. I see what part of the problem is here. The majority of the comments are from peope that only view guns as self defense weapons.

    No fun or recreational or history buff shooters here.

      • Well given the events of the last few years, recent critical ammo shortages, and collapse of affordable milsurp market/largely unaffordable gun show deals that is an unfortunate but understandable mindset.

    • My Grandfather had a JP Sauer & Sohn Model 1913 in .32 acp he brought back. The first pistol I fired, and I am now the caretaker of it. I shoot it a few times a year.

      It is my connection to my Grandfather and I am proud he chose me to be the caretaker.

  18. Back to the poor Kaiserlich und Koniglich soldier armed with a Dreyse during the battles of Isonzo… that’s some serious caliber war, given that the Italians had the 10.4mm Bodeo, aka “The revolver that loves you.” (Othais)

  19. Had a Beretta Tomcat and a Cheetah in .32ACP. Really enjoyed shooting them but finding the ammo was a pain in the ass and cost too much. Decided to sell them, got incredible prices well above my cost and bought a Ruger LCP Max for my pocket pistol.

    • I still have a Beretta Model 81 Cheetah, Italian police turn-in. I really like to shoot it, it’s all steel and solid as a rock. Flawless shooter. Yet, I don’t think I’d want to carry it; way heavier than say my 19x with 19 rounds of 9.

  20. I have a Beretta Model 1934 in 9mm Corto (.380) that my great uncle (WW2 82nd Airborne/jumped on D-Day) brought back after the war. My dad somehow ended up with it. I shot it some when I was a teenager.

    Dad passed away a few years ago, and I have it now. It’s now my family history safe queen. It’s not beautiful but it has a family history. I like to get it out and look at it, brings back memories.

    I’d carry it if nothing else was available, but I have better carry guns, so that won’t ever happen.


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