When it comes to personal defense, my preferred calibers are .357 Magnum and .45 ACP, with a grudging nod to the .38 Special and 9mm Luger for concealed carry when I simply cannot conceal a larger handgun.
I don’t place easy shooting at the top of the list, but the handgun and caliber combination should be controllable with effort.
It may seem odd, then, that I own one small-bore I carry in certain situations. An old round that refuses to die is the .32 ACP.
That may be damning with faint praise, but the .32 ACP has a real-world history that is very extensive.
Introduced in 1899, the .32 ACP saw service in WWI and has served as a police and military cartridge in Europe for many years, even arming the Swiss Guard.
Its merits are relative, as there are better cartridges.
.32 ACP Pistols
Some of the pistols the .32 has been chambered in are interesting, and many are reliable.
The Dreyse, as an example, used a sear-moving trigger action not dissimilar to modern striker-fired pistols.
Hundreds of thousands of Ruby pistols sold to France during World War One gave Astra, Llama and Star a start in the gun world.
The cartridge was designed for reliability with a full metal jacketed bullet, smokeless powder, and a slight chambering rim not found on the later .380 ACP.
Many of these pistols saw action in the trenches during WW1.
The U.S. Military purchased 1903 Colt .32s for various uses, including issue to Generals.
Airlines issued the Colt .32 and some rode on the famous China Clipper. The Shanghai police used Colt .32 automatic pistols.
.32 ACP Loadings
The real value of these pistols is that it gives a homeowner peace of mind.
They are not powerful, but if they are accurate enough and well-aimed, they are useful.
I find an accurate fast-handling pistol such as the Colt 1903 far more useful than the micro hideouts. Accuracy is everything!
Convenience is a big reason folks purchase a .32 ACP. As for power, the .32 ACP reaches a useful level of penetration.
As an example, the common 98-grain .32 Smith and Wesson revolver cartridge breaks about 600 to 700 fps in most revolvers.
The .32 H&R Magnum, advertised at greater velocity, will exhibit about 1,080 fps from a three-inch barrel with the 85-grain JHP.
The .32 ACP with its 71-grain FMJ bullet at almost 1,000 fps is easily the most efficient cartridge. Some loads are a little slower.
The 60-grain JHP loads typically break around 1,020 fps.
If I were to carry the .32 ACP for personal defense, I think I would load the hottest FMJ load I could find, unless I were lucky enough to find some of the Buffalo Bore lead .32 ACP.
A full metal jacketed round-nose .32 ACP at an average 950 fps velocity will penetrate 16 inches of gelatin or about 18 inches of water.
This means there is enough penetration to reach vital organs under most conditions.
Most of the hollow point loads will penetrate only 10 inches or less. This just isn’t enough.
Plus, most of the older pistols will not feed modern short-nose hollow point bullets.
Interestingly enough, the original Colt 1903 model manufactured in 1920 feeds anything, including handloads.
Colt’s new model 1903 reproduction will not!
If I were to deploy a hollow point it would be the Hornady XTP, as it usually has modest expansion, but penetrates almost as much as the FMJ loads.
I would feel as (un)comfortable with the .32 ACP as the .380 ACP. In general, I find the .32 ACP slightly more accurate in similar pistols.
Feed reliability may be superior to the .380 ACP and I am not the only one that believes this.
I have explored several ammunition choices during this time of shortage and panic.
I sometimes carry this pistol under my shirt when nothing else will work.
With a slide-lock safety, grip safety and the famous ‘flipping sear’ of the 1903 design, the pistol is safe to carry fully loaded.
When the micro .32s were introduced, it was fashionable to publish an illustration of a Seecamp or Kel-Tec beside the Colt to point out how small the pistols are.
But they are much more difficult to shoot well. The Colt will place five rounds into less than three inches at 20 yards.
Few, if any, small guns will do this at five yards!
The pistol was used by resistance fighters During World War Two and has been a favorite backup for some time.
While there are better choices, don’t discount the old .32.