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.