Ammunition

.32 ACP: Worthless or a Good Defense Caliber?

.32 ACP Pistols

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.

There are other similar handgun calibers, such as the .44 Special and the .45 Colt, and of course, the .357 SIG and 10mm Auto are viable.

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.

When it comes to the .32 ACP, I find a cartridge with much greater merit than the .22s and the .25.

I find little difference between the .32 ACP, the .380 ACP and most .32 H&R Magnum loads in the real world.

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 and other Handgun cartridges
Left to right: .22 LR, .38 Special, 9mm Luger, .32 ACP

.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.

The Walther PP was first chambered in .32 ACP. The little Kel-Tel P32 set the concealed carry world on its nose when first introduced.

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 Pistol
The Dreyse was an odd design in some ways to the modern eye, but extremely well made.

.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.

Colt 1903 Pistol
A top-rated combat pistol, the light and flat Colt 1903 was a favorite of the OSS and resistance fighters alike.

Colt 1903

I have explored several ammunition choices during this time of shortage and panic.

PPU is fine and Sellier & Bellot is especially accurate in my vintage Colt pistol.

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.

What do you think of the .32 ACP? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

Bob Campbell

Bob Campbell’s primary qualification is a lifelong love of firearms, writing, and scholarship. He holds a degree in Criminal Justice but is an autodidact in matters important to his readers. Campbell considers unarmed skills the first line of defense and the handgun the last resort. (He gets it honest- his uncle Jerry Campbell is in the Boxer’s Hall of Fame.)

Campbell has authored well over 6,000 articles columns and reviews and fourteen books for major publishers including Gun Digest, Skyhorse and Paladin Press. Campbell served as a peace officer and security professional and has made hundreds of arrests and been injured on the job more than once.

He has written curriculum on the university level, served as a lead missionary, and is desperately in love with Joyce. He is training his grandchildren not to be snowflakes. At an age when many are thinking of retirement, Bob is working a 60-hour week and awaits being taken up in a whirlwind many years in the future.


Published in
Black Belt Magazine
Combat Handguns
Handloader
Rifle Magazine
Handguns
Gun Digest
Gun World
Tactical World
SWAT Magazine
American Gunsmith
Gun Tests Magazine
Women and Guns
The Journal Voice of American Law Enforcement
Police Magazine
Law Enforcement Technology
The Firearms Instructor
Tactical World
Concealed Carry Magazine
Concealed Carry Handguns



Books published

Holsters for Combat and Concealed Carry
The 1911 Automatic Pistol
The Handgun in Personal Defense
The Illustrated Guide to Handgun Skills
The Hunter and the Hunted
The Gun Digest Book of Personal Defense
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911
The Gun Digest Book of the 1911 second edition
Dealing with the Great Ammunition Shortage
Commando Gunsmithing
The Ultimate Book of Gunfighting
Preppers Guide to Rifles
Preppers Guide to Shotguns
The Accurate Handgun
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (55)

  1. @Ed, you were NOT paying attention. You are so worked up about the message that I am delivering that you are missing much of that message. What I said was, “I have been shot at with much larger calibers…” not I had been shot with any of them. I have seen many people who were shot with those calibers and most of them died or were seriously injured. What I did say was I have been shot with BB guns and it hurt. I was just saying I don’t want to get shot with anything, even if it will not be lethal. I don’t care to put myself through that. The rest of that statement regarding being shot in the arm makes no sense at all.

    As an aside, I will continue to carry my choice of caliber because I have seen it work too many times for me to discount it. But I do not believe it is the best caliber for everyone and I will not recommend a specific caliber others should carry, but I will loudly discourage the use of calibers that have a long history of not being able to deliver the hoped for protection. In other words, I believe I must speak out against what I have seen to be more dangerous to the shooter than the shootee, I mean, what else should I do, say something and possibly save a life, or be silent and let others die?

    You discount what I say about what I have seen in the ER, but you make guesses about what calibers they are seeing now, are you clairvoyant? Uh, I don’t think so. Those were ramblings that had nothing to do with what I have been trying to say, a distraction as it were. I do have ADHD, but in this topic, I am focused and will not be distracted.

    I have already stated here in this thread, and other places, that the .32 ACP CAN kill people and it has. I have never said it can’t. But, I would say, in my experience, more times than not, the people shot with this caliber DID NOT die. And, as far as pissing off the attacker, that is the truth and not garbage; I have seen so many times over that too many people who were shot with this round went on to kill the person who shot them BEFORE they died. I also said, in my experience working in ER, many people who had been shot with this round, not only killed the shooter, but survived and went to prison for murder after they got out of the hospital. I have seen both of these last two scenarios multiple times over as have many police officers, hence the designation of this round by the cops I mentioned as the last bad choice of dead people everywhere. That would indicate that in the minds of multiple police officers, it is a bad choice.

    Look at the comment by DR. JEFF made on JULY 15, 2021, AT 11:02 AM. Is that garbage? In other posts on other threads, I have also related about people shot in the head with a .32 ACP who were not killed and were discharged from the hospital. This round is capable of killing someone, IF the stars are all aligned against that person AND it is ordained that it is his day to die, there is nothing that can stop it.

    Talking to a police detective is gathering real data, as he can tell you what he has seen as a professional. That is the kind of data used by the FBI. If you deny that it is data, you do not understand the concept of gathering data. The only reason you would have to not talk to someone who may have seen what I have been saying is you do not want to have your fantasy bubble burst. That is fear keeping you from investigating on your own because you do not want to hear what they may say. And talking about the 9 mm is changing the subject and therefore a non sequitur to this conversation.

    I am relating what I have seen at least a couple dozen times, maybe into the scores of times (A score is 20). I am giving you what I have seen as an ER Nurse in my professional career spanning more than 30 years in ER. That is data. Each one of those cases were entered into the police logs and eventually reported to the FBI. If you do not count that as data, what do you consider to be data? Oh, anything that you agree with is data, it is not data if you don’t like it, is that it?

    Reading your responses to me… it makes me wonder. Let me guess, if you went to a doc for a medical problem and he (or she) suggested a course of treatment that disagreed with your grandma and her home remedy, would you call that treatment and diagnosis garbage? Further, would you tell him he was totally wrong if he were to tell you the possible outcomes if you forego entering his suggested course of therapy? BTW, that is what you have done to me. You are speaking of things for which you have no experience and are deaf to anything contrary to what you want to believe. You have never seen anyone who has been shot or you would have said so before now. I have seen hundreds but that means nothing in your world.

    My point in this is I have seen too many people use this caliber and die as a direct result. They all believed, like you do now, that since they could shoot that gun, they would be good. You are acting much like a drowning man who will grasp at straws or anything to save themselves. But you are grasping at a nebulous hope that has a long history of disappointing those who rely on it and faith in that caliber is all too often is completely without substance.

    The stages of grief are not cute; they are serious and you are proving them to be true in your grasping to hold on to your denial and anger. I do not want you to die trusting in that weapon, as I have seen so many do.

    My fear for you, is IF you ever need to use that .32 ACP to shoot someone in self-defense, one of the last thoughts you will have as that attacker is brutally attacking you will be “Maybe, I should have listened…” Or “I need a bigger gun…” The sad thing is it will be too late then. It will do no good for anyone to say, “I told you so” and as for me, if I hear of it, I will shake my head in sadness that one more person died because they put their faith in something that could not fulfill the expectations of the bearer of that weapon.

  2. I just retired as a Public Defender after 36 years, During that time, I represented people charged with murder who used 22LR, 25 ACP, 380 ACP, 38 Special, 9mm, 40 S&W and 357 Mag. I also represented people charged with assault with a deadly weapon with intent to kill inflicting serious injury who used all the same calibers. The difference in every case was whether or not the bullet hit a vital organ or blood vessel.

    I’m no medical expert (or even a firearms expert) but seems pretty clear to me that any caliber, even the lowly 32 ACP, is capable of causing death or grievous body injury if it is placed properly. On the other hand, shoot your assailant in the toe with your 454 Casull and they might just get pissed off and keep coming.

  3. Bo, you say that you were shot with larger caliber handguns. Does that mean that if you were shot in the upper arm by a 45ACP that it no longer is a round you would carry.
    You ask for empirical data. There is none on any round. Talking to a detective is not actually real data. The 32ACP was never big here. Just how many people do you think were shot herein a small city of approximately 150,000, none. The 9mm has taken over. Data from time the 32ACP was big in Europe is not around. To be honest I believe anyone working an ER today would see a 1000 times more 9mm people with gunshots for every 32ACP. Guess that would make the 9mm a bad choice.
    The stages of grief are cute and allows you to fill a lot of space.
    My point is use what you can. If you can effectively use something better than the 32ACP DO so. Please stop this garbage that your just going to piss off your attacker. Where is all your data showing this to be the case. All those scenarios have happened with other calibers.

    Your right no one wants to step in front of any bullet, why, because it can kill you.

  4. Ed, I consider your statement ” I haven’t seen a lot a people who say the 32ACP is under powered willing to step in front of it.” to be a non sequitur, if you ask me. But since you asked the question, no, I don’t want to be shot at with any weapon of any caliber and I have been shot at with much larger calibers, I did not like it and I would not be willing to step in front of even a BB gun. That is because I have been shot with BB guns and I know it hurts, it will not cause major damage, but it can hurt like a big dog, depending on the BB gun used. Any GSW regardless of caliber carries an inherent risk of infection or even disability in the long term, even if that is not the immediate outcome. Rehab can take months or years. Even a non-fatal GSW can lead to long term sequelae.

    One thing I notice when people defending the .32 ACP, they always bring up what the shooter can handle and do not address the issue of reliability or of efficacy of their chosen caliber. “There is no data to be found, etc…” I would ask that you go to your local PD and try to talk to a street cop, or even better, a homicide detective and ask him about the efficacy of the .32.

    I say that because I have known many officers on a number of municipal PD’s who stated that they almost cringed when they saw people carrying any of the .22’s, .25 ACP’s, or .32 ACP. It was a cop who I first heard use the expression “The last bad choice of dead people everywhere” in reference to those calibers. He had seen too many people who made that last bad choice and died.

    From what I have seen, people who want to believe the .32 will save their life are not unlike the people who came into the ER just feeling bad and wanting something right now to make them feel better, you know, give them some energy back. We would do tests and the doc would go in and tell them something like, “Well, Mr. Smith, we got the test results back and the reason you feel so bad is you have cancer. Your chest x-rays showed multiple lesions and we are going to admit you so you can see the surgeon and the oncologist in the morning.”

    More times than I can count, people would look at the doc and say, “No, that can’t be right. I have too many things to do, there’s gotta be a mistake…” It goes downhill from there.

    There is a medical definition for that response. It is called Denial. It is one of the stages of Grief, not just for death and dying, but for personal loss in general. Many people are in denial that their choice of weapon will get them killed or at minimum fail to really protect them or their family. I have seen many people who can’t come to grips with the fact that the weapon they chose is more dangerous to themselves than it is to whomever they might be aiming at. It is there I see the statement to the effect of “Would you want to be shot with it?” As I said, to me, that is a non sequitur. Again, no, I don’t want to be shot with any weapon of any caliber as I have been shot at, I did not like it.

    The next step is Anger. That is where people get angry at anyone who dares to try to bring reality into the fantasy world where that weapon works. If you get angry that I called it a fantasy world, you are proving my point.

    The third stage is Bargaining. People here say, yeah, but I am using the top of the line ammo and the numbers are really good… They think by buying more expensive ammo, they will do better.

    If you ever progress beyond that point, you may experience Depression. That is the fourth stage of grieving for your lost weapon. It is hard to have to surrender the esteemed place that the primary self-defense weapon to something else.

    The last step is Acceptance. That is where people go talk to those homicide detectives who have seen multiple people killed by a variety of weapons and the detective can give real case, scenario-based advice on what works and what doesn’t. If you don’t pursue that, it tells me you are stuck in denial and you do not want reality to burst your bubble of fantasy. Do I perceive anger again?

    To paraphrase your statement, you know this one, “Bottom line, I haven’t seen a lot a people who say the 32ACP is under powered willing to step in front of it…” Well for me I would say… Bottom line, I haven’t seen a lot a people who say the 32ACP is adequate willing to do real research by talking to people who might be experts in what does and does not work.

    In fact, that statement makes me wonder, how many gunshot victims have you actually laid eyes on immediately after they were shot? How many of those victims have you watched die? For me, that number would be in the hundreds. Have you ever drawn your weapon with the thought of “$#!+, this is it” and felt the anxiety that precedes that kind of event? Me, been there, done that. Truth be told, I would rather not go through that again, but, in the past, when push came to shove, I rose to meet that challenge and I will do it again or die trying.

    My reason for trying to dissuade people from using a .32 is it has a less than dismal record when it comes to doing the job that people choose it for. I have seen too many cases where people who wielded that weapon died as a result of trusting it. I have spent more than 50 years trying to save people’s lives, this is just an extension of that.

  5. As with many cartridges of European origin for handguns, the main markets for the pistol and cartridge was military and government (police, security, border agents, etc. ). In the thinking of the military, these were ultimate defensive pistols. Carried easily and used for personal self defense. As said, no one wants to get shot by any type and caliber! It wasn’t for the “attack”. There were larger pistols when that was the case, but European military has not, in times past (other than possible mounted troops) considered the pistol as the offensive weapon.
    A .32 would put most person out of action if hit in a vital area. Weather they were down for the count wasn’t the largest concern. A wounded soldier requires more attention than a dead one any way! I’m not a larger person, and can’t conceal a full size service type pistol. I carry what I can comfortably conceal and bring to action very quickly. I carried a .45, .357 or 9mm when I worked in law enforcement. A .38 spl. in a 2″ revolver was usually stashed somewhere on me, as I wasn’t allowed others, unless off duty.
    But for modern self defense, as a carry gun, this is a situation of last ditch emergency. I would not expect the carry pistol to fire more than a few rounds in those situations. Preparing for a home invasion, I certainly have the full house .45 or a higher capacity 9mm in prep for multiple persons or a defense of the family.

  6. I have a 32 Llama and a WWI Ruby. If you studied the Bolos who carried a Bolo knife and a Ruby, they’d sneak into the trenches of their enemies, and while their enemy was concentrating on down range, the Bolos would cut and shoot, cut and shoot. Wipe out an entire trench. My grandfather, who was a Polar Bear in WWI confirmed this. He brought back my Ruby. I am USMC trained and what I carry does not have to be a canon. Most encounters are at arms length distance…not five yards or 20. One shot to the head and one to the heart in either order in close combat, they’re done. My Ruby, WWI after all these years…fires every time I squeeze the trigger.

  7. Bo, asking for empirical data is a non starter. Do you have that for the 38, or 357, 40 or 45. Yeah, a person can be hurt after having shot someone with a 45. A hit to the upper arm didn’t stop the guy from getting stabbed. You see the fails at the ER. How many times that it didn’t fail, can go straight to the morgue. My point is the variables are just all so numerous. Was he wearing a heavy coat? Was the shot placed in a spot to kill someone? Was your guy in the ER shot with a 32 and it end the attack so the man protecting his family didn’t need to feel the need to keep shooting? How about was it a 32ACP? The other 32’s being much less formidable.

    The closest data I’ve seen to being a real comparison were from the Thompson–LaGarde Tests. Even those weren’t quite apples to apples. They had different type bullets lead vs. jacketed, shot placement issues. Don’t get me wrong, I believe there are many more effective rounds out there than the .32ACP. Unfortunately it will not do any good to carry something you can’t shoot. My grandmother couldn’t handle a S&W 4″ model 29 or use it. She couldn’t jack a round in on a 45 1911. Not to mention she would probably limp wrist the first shot, if she even could get the gun up to shoot. She did carry a Walther PP and was still able to work the action. The best handgun is the one you can use effectivly.

    Bottom line, I haven’t seen a lot a people who say the 32ACP is under powered willing to step in front of it.

  8. BO. We are Brothers and our hearts reach out across time and different conflicts to echo the same thoughts. We have also lost too many close friends because of those “memories.” I agree wholeheartedly that the knife is the last weapon grabbed and requires the knowledge that being cut is a given. It is messy, it is cruel, and it must be respected as it is up front and personal. Mind set. The authors you mention are all first rate as well. Training should never stop, and avoidance along with awareness need be among the sharpest of the weapons in your kit. Focus and self control have to be there as well. No one survives unscathed from a fight of any kind at any level. The best and most competent fighters will do everything they can to avoid it. But when it cannot be avoided, they do not hesitate. Like you said, quick to get on target with my weapon of choice. I have seen fights end quickly as soon as an eye is damaged.
    Thank you for your service as well. Thank you for reaching out over space and time. You have added excellent words of wisdom. Guns, knives, hands and feet the mind controls them all. I forget who said it, but I usually fall back on Col. Cooper when that happens as he had great influence on me. When the fight begins, we fall back to our lowest level of training. Mostly because it is the only level we have mastered. We just have to make sure that our lowest level of mastery is higher than that of our opponent.
    My companion is a Gerber Mark II. My workhorse is a Gerber Multi-tool. Of course the old Colt Series 70 Gold Cup is never far from my reach either. Again, thanks for the kind words. May the Good Lord comfort you in these last days. I wish for a peaceful sleep empty of those memories for you sir. You have earned it. With deepest respect; /Dr. T

  9. I have a serious question for MAZ2331, LAZRBEAM, JERRY, KENT MIANO, LEWIS, and any others who may have verbalized that the .32 ACP is an effective self-defense weapon. Did you come to that conclusion based on numbers compiled from a ballistics chart or was their any empirical data gleaned from records of persons who were either killed or disabled by being shot with that round.

    Ideas that sounded really good on paper were things like the Theranos Minilab, a multi-billion dollar medtech startup that was supposed to replace many other medtech devices for a fraction of the cost but was actually an utterly nonfunctional medical device that only produced broken dreams for its investors. But, Doggone it, it sure looked good on paper.

    Or, how about Jibo, which was an expensive tech-optimist social robot companion, and its company raised $2.5 million, was named by Time Magazine as one of 2017’s “best innovations of the year.” It was another creation that sure looked good on paper. Does anyone here even remember it? Probably not, google both of them. They both had really good numbers on paper. But wait, there’s more… Have you ever heard that before?

    I say all this because good numbers on paper do not translate to being a viable investment. Investing in a weapon that has good numbers on paper as far as ballistics, but no empirical data regarding its effectiveness in real life self-defense situations seems to me to be very short-sighted. I have had this conversation with more than one person on this blog and others. I have asked for that data and no one has been able to provide it. I have suggested people contact the local police force and ask them if they have seen any evidence that a weapon chambered in .32 ACP has proven to be an effective deterrent as far as for self-defense. All I have heard in response is crickets.

    Would someone please explain their choice for this caliber as something other than it is concealable and I can shoot it? Does anyone have any data, anything to show that it is effective (other than I hope so, I believe it will, I can shoot it, it is the only gun I have) enough to be carried as a real self-defense weapon?
    I have seen more people who died shooting someone with it than I have seen those who died being shot in the commission of a crime with one. I do not want anyone to get killed because they chose a weapon that was more dangerous to them than it was to the criminal who killed them. I’m just saying…

  10. @DR. DANIEL R THOMAS: First, and foremost, thank you for your service. I have related that I was also a medic in the Army, doing SAR/Recon almost 20 years before you went in and I can relate to what you are saying. I fully understand, and have tried many times to convey to many people the point you made about the sequelae of traumatic times and decisions that are made which come back to haunt us in our dreams, possibly many years after the fact. And, like you, I spent many years in busy ER’s, (starting back when Trauma Centers was just a proposed concept on paper.) As I have said on several occasions, I have no idea how many GSW patients we saw (but it was well into triple digits) or chests we cracked as a result of those GSW’s.

    I think the most important thing you said was about the mindset and having the mentality to make rational decisions when accosted. There is a time to fight, and a time to retreat. As far as using edged weapons, I would like to add to what you have said.

    I joined the Army in 1971 and in my Basic Combat Training, they spent no small amount of time dwelling on a variety of Hand to Hand Combat (AKA Close Quarter Combat) skills because we were in the Army and they wanted us to kill certain other people and not the other way around. I was taught that the longer that fight to the death takes, the chances of our survival went down. They told us our goal was to kill the opponent as quickly as possible. We learned that most of the knock down drag-out fights in the movies and on TV are as fake as Superman, particularly the cowboy saloon fights. You can’t break a hard liquor bottle over someone’s head, no matter how you hit them, the bottle is more sturdy than the head, the head will break before the bottle. Beer bottles are another matter, but that will result in a lot of blood, on the person who is hit, and just as frequently, on the hand that was holding it and there usually is A LOT of blood.

    Speaking of blood, I remember in one of several classes on edged weapons; there was an instructor who told my class something that has stuck with me, lo, these 50 years. He told us that if the SHTF, and we were using a knife for self-defense, the first thing we needed to do is come to grips with the fact that, if it were really a life-and-death knife fight, we were going to get cut and it would be bad. He went on to say that most people who use a knife and have not resigned himself to being cut badly will lose the fight if they are cut first. Something about if they get cut first but have not prepared themselves for that reality, well, it is traumatic and generally does not end well at all.

    A knife requires considerable training, far more so than a gun, if it is used for self-defense. We were told, more than once, that a knife is strictly a last ditch, there is nothing else to use, self-defense weapon, and a poor one, at that for most people. Using a knife is very up close and personal and most people do not really understand that until the time comes. If there has not been adequate mental preparation, well in advance of the event, outcomes are usually dismal.

    So, in a knife fight, expect a lot of blood… and pain. Knife wounds hurt… I know, I have been cut more than once to the point of needing stitches and not just one or two. If your knife is really sharp, you will not feel it, at first, but when you do… Not any fun at all, trust me. And some people really start freaking out when they see blood. After the Army and 30 plus years in the ER, I really don’t mind blood, particularly when it is not mine.

    I have carried a knife since my Army days and even today, as I write this, sitting in my chair, I have an Emerson CQC-7 that I have had since ’91 or ’92. It was made by Benchmade before Emerson went out on his own. I do not use it for routine things, it is reserved for tactical expediency. For the routine tasks requiring a knife, I have a small Kershaw, with a 2″ blade that I also carry every day.

    I have observed many people who carry “tactical” knives, and I have asked more than a few about their knives. None of them had read any books on knife fighting or bothered to obtain any tactical training. Many of those people carried guns, and were adamant that everyone who carried a gun should have training in its use, but did not think they needed any training in the use of a knife. I have treated too many people in the ER who bled out because they drew a knife, got cut, and the fight was over as their assailant was more prepared mentally to continue what they had started.

    If anyone carries a knife to use for self-defense, they need to understand that not having some training in its use, is just as irresponsible as carrying a gun without having been trained in its use. I have talked to too many people who carry knives but don’t believe they CAN be cut if they deploy it. I have also been there when people who did not believe they could be cut were pronounced dead in our ER.

    All that being said, I highly recommend everyone who carries do some research. W. E. Fairbairn wrote several excellent treatises on the subject, to include “All in Fighting”, “Scientific Self-Defense”, “Get Tough!” and others. Another author to consider is John Styers. I consider his book “Cold Steel” to be a must-read for anyone who carries a knife. Then there is Col. Rex Applegate, who was universally recognized as America’s foremost authority on close combat with or without weapons.

    I believe everyone who carries, be it a gun or a knife should be prepared, physically AND mentally, before they ever deploy their weapon. I also cringe when I hear people talk about it like it is something to lust after, to have as a goal in life. That is one thing that once one has walked that path, they are forever changed and can NEVER regain that lost innocence. There is a reason that 22 veterans take their own life every day.

  11. First off, the .32 ACP is much more like the .380 and 9mm than it is the .22s and .25 ACP. Somehow, a 73 grain 30-caliber FMJ at 1000 fps is so incredibly behind a .35 caliber 115 grain FMJ at 1200 fps from a 9mm, or a .35 caliber 90 grain at 900 fps from a .380, as to be useless? Really? All will punch a hole that nobody can differentiate through a body.

    Many compare the .32 ACP to the old .32 S&W short and long, and they are very different. While the ACP is about the same length as the S&W short, it runs a lot hotter than the S&W Long with a lighter bullet. The Long doesn’t break 800 FPS with a 98-grain round nosed lead slug. The ACP easily hits 1000 fps with a 73 grain bullet. The added mass of the Long doesn’t equate to more damage to flesh than the faster ACP bullet. And the .32 H&R Magnum only manages to push out 90 grains at 1200 fps. The ACP and the H&R Mag aren’t really that far apart.

    Handloading really opens up a few possibilities with the 32 ACP too. I have loads with 85 grain XTPs that clock 970 FPS out of a Beretta Cheetah (and 850 out of a pocket Tomcat), and really cool ones with 55 grain Lehigh Extreme Defender slugs that hit almost 1200 out of the Cheetah and 1000 out of the little tiny Tomcat.

    The .32 ACP can do the job, especially because it has very little recoil and can be “mag dump” speed fired such that the 4th round of .32 is in the target before the 9mm is on round 2 or 3.

  12. How about Lehigh, Underwood, and Honey Badger type projectiles? Do they up the ante in effectiveness for .32 ACP? I hope so because that’s what I carry in my Keltec and, if carried occasionally, either of my CZ-70’s. In truth, I usually carry a 9mm (or no less than .380) but, sometimes not

  13. Hello everyone. On regards to the .32 my dad left me aColt .32 he brought back WW2. He had 2 but someone else wanted the other one. But anyhow, it’s interesting to hear all these comments about such gun. I have shot this and the recoil is moderately nice and I think if I needed it to stop someone I would keep pulling the trigger and see who is still standing. I mean a lot of the gangsters used these. I mean I didn’t know a lot of the different bullet types. Any and all comments are appreciated!!!

  14. There are situations when you absolutely cannot let anyone know you are carrying. My KelTec P32 sits in a front pocket holster with less bulge than my wallet. It weighs only 6 ounces! I can hit a sheet of paper every time at 25 yards (about a 7 inch group). Forget the Seacamp. I only hit that sheet twice (out of 6) at 10 feet (it has no sights, for good reason.). My friend has a Walther PPK/s he says is his most accurate pistol. I usually carry a 9mm G43 or a G19 w/light at night, but if I’m expecting trouble, I would definitely go to my G40 10mm with 15 rounds. The best gun is the one you have with you??? I think so. God bless and stay safe!

  15. .32 acp is an effective personal defense caliber but my favorites in the .32 family are the .32 HR magnum in a 7 shot Charter Arms Professional and the pinnacle of .32s to me is the .327 Federal Magnum in a Ruger 101 revolver … powerful & effective

  16. I carryed a French made Walther PP in .32 ACP as an off duty carry for many years. It was very accurate and comfortable to carry no matter the weather. The safety and mag release were easy to use. The ballistics and accuracy were good enough to be used to stop a threat.

  17. My EDC is a Beretta Tomcat 3032 with a crimson trace laser, right rear pocket. I’ll choose to flee before I fight but if it comes down to self defense, I’ll fire every round. I practice drawing, aiming and firing using the laser while bringing the gun up to use the open sights, I’ll take my chances with the .32

  18. Consider: the .36 1851 Colt Navy used by Bil Hickock fired a .357ish roundball leaving the muzzle at 850 fps and weighing 72 grains. The 32 ACP weighs 71 grains at a listed velocity of 850 fps. Their ME are virtuality the same and diff in diameter negligible. Yet Hickock killed 5 men for certain with his Colt Navies!

  19. Don’t forget the Beretta .32s I have been very happy with the tip up barrel that I have in terms of ease of shooting and decent accuracy.

  20. Personally I think a sub-compact, single stack 9mm fits my most discreet carry requirements & is capable of firing the hottest hollow points available. As for waistband carry, I use a belly band. Complete trigger cover, Velcro secured, highly concealed. I can run, jump, and fight with it and my weapon never comes loose.

  21. I have a couple of 32 caliber guns. One id a CZ Skorpion, the semi-auto version of the East German Stazi’s favorite weapon. Yes, they used full auto .32s. This is a fun, accurate gun for plinking and casual target use. The gun came as a kit, with holster, spare mags, cleaning tools, etc. It also looks cool, I love this gun.

    While my current primary carry is a Sig 9mm, for quite a while I carried a North American Arms .32. This is a tiny stainless piece, I had NAA polish the action and I smoothed all the edges on the outside. It runs impeccably now, not highly accurate, it’s more of a belly gun. I still carry it when the 9 is not appropriate.

    Fortunately, I’ve not had to use either in anger, but they are fun guns.

    Thanks for highlighting the little.32.

  22. I carry a Beretta 3032 Tomcat all the time. it is the BEST sub-caliber pistol to carry for defense. My primary carry is a Bersa Thunder 380. Both pistols afford me the opportunity to put shots on target as needed. As the old saying goes, a 22 to the brain beets a 44 to the foot every time.

  23. I would love to have a decent 1903, or 1908; Unfortunately, the current market only supports $900+ rusted, broken, missing part models. There aren’t too many left that were kept in great-grandmas sock drawer for the last 118 years. No, for $1,000, I’ll just have to be happy with my FEG PA66(Hungarian Walther PP knock-off). In fact, I see some are available right now for sub-$300(OWS).

  24. Great article. Thanks! I’ve got two 32’s. A Beretta 81 and a CZ 70. Both are well made, with the Beretta getting a slight advantage, accurate, reliable and a hoot to shoot. The CZ is a bit thinner and slightly lighter and would probably make a better carry pistol. By modern standards, however, both are a bit larger and heavier than I like. As for the 32 ACP, I’ve got no issues whatsoever with using it for self defense/home defense. The little cartridge has proven itself over many years of use. Heck, I saw James Bond drop 20 people with a Walther PP 32 ACP with a capacity of 8 rounds! ㋛

  25. Great comments. One of the quality varients in .32 that you did not mention is the Beretta Tomcat. I have the Alleycat which is the version with factory Trijicon night sites. Using Hornady Self Defence rounds, which is claimed to have the same impact as a .380 I can easily control 85%+ of my rounds inside the 9-10 ring at 20 yards or more. Grated it is not my 9mm or .45 but I consider it a pocket “get off me” gun for summer excusions where light weight clothing doesn’t conceal a larger weapon. No one ever knows it’s there wearing shorts and a t-shirt on a crowded boardwalk, mall, or other location that is not “firearms friendly”.

    Would it bring down a drugged up nut case on a rampage? Probably not, but I believe that it would be enough of a deterent in the majority of situations to allow me, or my family, time to escape, or reach another “defensive tool” to finish the job of stopping the assailant.

  26. I own a Beretta model 81BB 32acp. I use 2 different brands of ammo for self defense Underwood 55 grain Xtreme Defender 950fps and Lehigh Defense 50grain Xtreme Cavitator 925fps. For target practice I use Fiocchi 73grain FMJ 1000fps. I bought the pistol which was Italian police trade in. The gun was in pristine condition. This is my smallest caliber pistol I own. Depending on where I’m going and what I’m wearing I carry up to a 1911.

  27. The .32 ACP has served military and police around the world for over 120 years. Many fine quality European and American made .32 autos are available. Vintage , and some new. But, find that most European .32s will perform and function with European made .32 (7.65) FMJ ammo, as it is loaded hotter than the US made fodder of the same type. Most won’t function well which the recent light bullet, high velocity HP loads. But with good ammo, like Fiochi, GECO, and some others, they are very reliable and accurate!! I carry my CZ50’s without hesitation when I need a small concealed. Smaller profile than even my hamerless J frame.

  28. I used to conceal carry a 1934 Mauser in .32 ACP and also a 1934 Beretta in .380 CORTO or .38 ACP. They were basically pocket guns for a winter coat, maybe in a jeans pocket in extremis, in a bag on the beach. In my car I had a Star BM in 9mm Parabellum. If I ever had to use the Mauser or Beretta it would have been over my shoulder running like hell away from whatever, hoping the bang would lower their commitment to harming me. With the Star BM I might have actually tried to aim and hit something but probably not.

  29. I am a firearms instructor for Concealed Carry. My simple comment to all my classes is you have to feel comfortable with the weapon of choice you plan to carry.

    By that I mean can you reach the controls, rack the weapon, perform immediate action, load the magazine or speedloader, can you see the sight, can you pull the trigger repeatedly and can you make follow up shots with some degree of accuracy

    I have trained students from 21 to late 80’s male and female alike. And everyone has his or her own set of issues when selecting a proper handgun. That range from weak hands, small/large hands, vision issues etc. Example, had and elderly individual who purchased a 38 special DAO snubbie. While doing the live fire training after firing a few rounds the individual didn’t have the hand strength to pull the trigger.

    Lastly, I totally disagree with the author with respect to 380 loading issues. Numerous semi auto have break in issues or don’t like certain types of ammo or ammo manufacturers.

    Given the state of modern ammo the 380 is a responsible choice. With one note, 380 HP ammo does have a tendency to get clogged when going thru clothing, resulting in the bullet turning into an FMJ. The work around is simple, Hornaday Critical Defense round has a piece of plastic in the cavity to prevent it from clogging.

  30. I bought a Beretta 81BB in .32acp for my wife because she is recoil sensitive with her 9mm subcompact. It is a very compact metal frame hammer pistol that holds 12 rounds, and can be setup as cocked and locked with the safety on. And it is reliable since it is a Beretta! After much research, I was comfortable with her carrying this in her car WITH Underwood +P ammo. From my research , JHP do not spread because of the lack of velocity, and FMJ leave a small wound channel. The solid Underwood/ Lehigh bullets leave surprisingly large wound channels in all calibers. I think this would be more important with the .32acp. Just make sure your gun cycles the round.

  31. I collect .32s and think they are cool. Self defense is obviously not the best, but better than nothing. I would NOT like to be hit with one. After being hit it might be hard to explain how it felt,,especially if I am dead.

  32. I have a couple of very nice old Savage .32s. Read you article this morning after just watching a video on the .32 acp yesterday. The video compares .25 .32 and 380 rounds from comparable ammunition and pistols. None looked like a very good round for self defense compared to the other choices of 9mm .45 .357 38 etc. If all I had was my old Savage .32s I’d sure use them but given the choice to have something else that’d sure be the choice for me.

  33. I inherited a Walther P-32 from my father. He brought it home as a trophy from WWII when that was still possible. He took it from a German junior officer. It was his sidearm. The magazine is part of the weapons handle. I would like to find another magazine for this weapon. If anyone has an idea of where I may be able to find a magazine, please let me know.

  34. Nice article on the .32ACP. I have an old CZ50 in .32ACP, I love the gun. It is small and very accurate and has mild recoil. But, I say but again – with the super small 9mm and .45ACP pistols out nowadays, I think a person would be not wise to carry a .32ACP for personal defense when these smaller larger caliber pistols are available.

  35. A little OT, and more of curiousity.
    Wasn’t it a Walther PP something in .32ACP that Hitler used on his new wife and himself back in Berlin? Admittedly, accuracy at that “range” was not a factor.

  36. Many years ago, when I was riding with evil bikers, I was asked to spend a night in jail by the local police. There was an older fellow in there who had bandages on his neck, arm, and upper thigh. He told me a man shot him 3 times before he could wrest the gun from him, place it in his mouth, and end the fight. He was sent home by the judge who thought it was self defense. Since then, I’ve never trusted the .32 to do more than slow you down.

  37. Mind Set for Self- Defense

    I was a combat medic for the U.S.Army. I served from 1990 to 2000 in many different places. I also worked in a trauma center in the midwest for many years. I have seen and treated many GSW situations. I have learned that true self-defense depends upon situational awareness. When the fight cannot be avoided, I have also learned to have more than one tool in my toolbox. I consider myself more than proficient with a handgun from many years of training from attending schools that train. But my most preferred and reliable self-defense tool when called on to use has always been my knife. Anything can be a tool, but the real weapon is the mind that uses that tool. Defending yourself in a life/death situation takes a different attitude. Coming up against the PCP freak whose only thought is to rip your face off requires a different mind set to survive. You must be equal to his level of violence to come out of the attack alive, no matter what you use. All that being said, to rely on only one tool is fool hearted. Run away first and foremost. But when it is time to stand your ground, then pull out all the stops and let loose the animal within. All that is left to do afterwards, if you survive that is, is to live with what you became and did. That is a lifetime lesson that haunts my sleep some 50 years later. You are never the same person coming out of a survival situation compared to who went in. I do not believe enough “training academies” cover that. Col. Cooper warned us. So does Massad Ayoob. Spend some time to research these men. There is more to self-defense than the size of one’s bullet. These articles are great in that they educate with real world knowledge. But to assume the responsibility of having to deal out a death sentence needs more thought than one realizes. Today, I still carry EVERYWHERE I am. I am too old and broken to run away. And to do so would rob me of whatever energy I might need to participate in one more battle. There is a story on how Mr. Fairbairn was accosted in his twilight years by several knife wielding punks intent to do him and his companion harm as well as to relieve them of their cash and valuables. The story goes that Mr. Fairbairn produced his own blade and proceeded to seriously injure all of the young assailants. Mindset is what he claimed made all the difference. The willingness to return to what he knew and used to survive in his chosen career never left him. You can see a thousand milk snakes, but when you come across your first rattle snake, you will forever know the difference. Mindset. If you are taking on the responsibility of carrying a weapon that can end someone’s life, then never stop training to get that mind set. Before putting it on, while you carry, and after firing that shot, understand exactly what you are doing and its consequences. Reading is a good start. But it is only the beginning of a lifelong journey. Be sure you can accept the consequences of your actions. It is a whole lot more than bullet size.

  38. The best carry gun is the one you carry. In summer in shorts & t-shirt, a tiny gun is about all you can pack comfortably. I carry a beretta Tomcat 32 most of the time. It’s also very accurate.
    And, yes, shot placement is far more important than bore size. Combat & Hunting for 60+ years has taught me that.
    And for the gentleman who wrote the very good dissertation above, yes I was in combat, (VN 68-9) and you’re right about the terror factor. But practice (even competition) helps you go on auto pilot in that moment of engagement.

  39. My first pistol was a Model 70 Puma Beretta, which I still have. It has been 100% reliable with round-nose ammo, but doesn’t like soft-points like the Silvertip, or hollow-points. It is very accurate to at least 25 meters, and easy to shoot. A point in its favor is its use by the Mossad, fitted with a suppressor and sub-sonic ammo. This was for close work, preferred over the light-weight .22 for better penetration. This was not for a gunfight, but rather ambush.

    That said, I prefer the old .38 special, with Buffalo Bore loads, in a 2″ revolver – Smith 36, Colt Det Special or Charter Arms. The concealed profile is nearly as good as the .32, with more punch, albeit only 5 rounds. A PPK is good, but reliability is not quite as good as the wheel gun.

  40. For Bob Smith

    Overall I prefer .38 Special to the .327. The .38 cuts a .38 caliber hole without expansion!

  41. Thanks and Your welcome, Grumpy 49. Sarcasm aside, many people forget that when Che Guevara would execute people, he would have them lined up, placed in a kneeling position, with their hands tied behind their backs, before he would walk behind them and shoot them in the one place that is guaranteed to be an instant kill, even with a .22, which is the base of the skull where the skull is joined to the atlas (the first cervical vertebrae. So, if you are planning on using your .32 for self-defense, the only guarantee you will have that it will be effective is, wait for it, you tie them up, have them kneel on the ground and shoot them in the back of their head. That is more insight for you!

    Anything else and it is a crapshoot with the odds being in the favor of the person you just pissed off by popping him in the chest with your .32, especially if he is on drugs. You think someone who is trying to rob you just might be on drugs? What a novel idea, let me think on that. And then I will relate a little American history going back to the weapons of the Spanish American war:
    “At the time US troops were armed with either .30 caliber Krag or Springfield bolt-action rifles and .38 caliber double-action revolvers. While the .30 caliber rifles proved effective in stopping the attackers, the US troop’s handguns demonstrated an unnerving lack of stopping power, resulting in numerous reports of Moro warriors absorbing multiple pistol bullets while they continued to hack away at the Americans. Obviously the US troops’ morale suffered badly in this situation.” Direct quote taken from this site: https://www.browning.com/news/articles/history-1911-pistol.html

    The US Army was using a .38 Caliber handgun which was far more powerful, not to mention, more effective than the .32. The US military found that during the Spanish American War, the Moros would take a little opium, okay, maybe a lot of opium, and they could have the entire revolver, again, it was a .38 caliber round, emptied into them and not be aware they were going to die until they wiped out the entire machine gun nest they were attacking. That is not a good way to die, because they were hacking our soldiers to death with this edged weapon called a kris and our weapons were ineffective against them.

    Would you walk down the street and poke a pit bull with a sharp stick? I hope not, but shooting someone with a .32 is not much different, as far as what to expect from the outcome. In my experience, more people have died as a result of using the .32 for self-defense than those who were shot with it.

    I took care of one man who used a .32 to shoot an assailant in the chest. The assailant got really pi$$ed, took the gun away from the shooter put it in the shooter’s mouth and shot him once in the head. The shooter was pronounced dead in our ER, the assailant was taken to another ER where they saved his life and he went to prison. The shooter was still dead. I have more stories like this than there is space to write them.

    Another man shot an armed assailant with his .32; the assailant was holding a 9 mm. In response, the assailant shot the man and his wife to death before he ran from the scene. He was, however, arrested by authorities a short time later when he presented to the ER with a GSW. He was taken to surgery for a non-life threatening GSW to the chest. While he was in surgery, the cops searched the guy’s car, found the gun, tied him to the murders of the couple and he went to prison on two counts of First Degree Murder.
    That is more insight for you!

    You would probably be safer without a weapon if, when accosted, you just do as you are told, as opposed to pulling out a .32 and pi$$ing off an armed robber by poking him with your sharp stick. Let’s say, you do get three shots off, he will not be holding still while you are shooting, so he shoots you and a family member and your family member dies but neither you nor he does. You will have to live with the knowledge that you may be responsible for that death because you poked a pit bull (an ARMED) pit bull, with a very sharp stick.

    I would like to know if you have ever been shot at or had to shoot back at someone. Have you ever been in that situation. How many GSW’s have you actually seen, you personally? How many times have you drawn a weapon on another human being? I have and it is not like in the movies at all. When you shoot at people, they generally do not strike a pose so you can get the best shot.

    And the .32, while it has killed people, does not do an adequate job as a man stopper to prevent the shootee from wreaking his revenge on the shooter before the shootee dies, along with the shooter. That is why our entire ER staff and the cops called the .22, the .25 ACP, and the .32 ACP the last bad choice of dead people everywhere. I don’t want to see honest citizens trusting in a gun that from what I have seen will most likely get them killed. Those calibers are about as reliable for self-protection as a lead-filled life preserver is for prevention of drowning. The results are more times than not, the same. The person using them will most likely die.

  42. Thanks BO! People forget the .45 ACP was tested by Col. Thompson by shooting at dead human bodies, not just cattle. Even a shotgun is not always fatal. Had a co work shot by a VC using a PPs43, and was hit with (7) rounds of 7.62×25 FMJ. Years latter, a change in weather would cause him to be in pain. However, there is a famous Cuban who used a .32 ACP to execute numerous men, women, and even children. (No – I don’t have his Tee Shirt.)

    Sooo – If I could carry a 12 gauge, with alternate Buckshot and Slugs, then I would feel that I could get a certain level of “stopping power”. That said, unless BO could be talked into providing more insight, (Please), based on his first hand experiences, I will stick to the old rule that the .32 ACP in my pocket is better than my .45 ACP sitting at home on the dresser.

  43. Bo, thank you for your comments. I served in a public hospital psychiatric unit in New Orleans in the early 90’s. One of my favorite patients who got along well with others and I bonded well with was shot with a .32 acp in the forehead. We were talking during free time in the day area when he said “I have a bullet in my head.” He showed me a dimple almost perfectly centered in his forehead. I was a little sceptical due to other issues he said he had ie. bugs under his skin he saw moving constanly. I told the nurse of our conversation and he had been shot a few years earlier. He okayed medical records to bring up his xray and sure enough there was a perfectly shaped .32 acp fmj lodged about an inch and a half in his frontal lobe. He did not seem to have any long term issues.

  44. I have commented before on GSW’s that I have seen during more than 30 years in busy ER’s and many with calibers that were more dangerous to the shooters than to the shootee. That being said, and having seen and treated more GSW’s than I can count, (well into triple digits at minimum) I cannot resist throwing in my .02 in any discussion on the matter of Self-Defense Calibers.

    I am 70, and I was a medic on a team doing SAR/Recon in the Army long ago (starting in 1971) and far, far away. I may have seen a GSW or two, or even more, during that time and in a variety of calibers (mostly 5.56 mm and 7.62×39, oh, don’t forget .45 ACP.) While I was in the Army, I was issued a 1911A1. (Before anyone questions medics carrying weapons. Drafted Conscientious Objectors were the only soldiers who did not carry a weapon. No one on my team was a draftee, we all volunteered to join the Army.) I have commented before on my love for the 1911, .45 ACP as a caliber, and my utmost respect and admiration for the genius of John Moses Browning.

    When I got out, I began to work in civilian Emergency Department’s for the next thirty plus years, retiring from ER to end up in Nursing Education. During my time as an ER nurse, I worked in three of the busiest ER’s in my state and saw several hundred GSW patients in a variety of calibers during that time. I was present when we cracked no small number of chests in our attempts to save the patient’s life. Seeing those cases has given me real world experience in what calibers are realistic for self-defense and it is not based on numbers written on paper. These are real people who were shot and some lived and some did not.

    Now, I realize and respect the fact that my choice for a self-defense caliber, though proven in action, is not the best choice for everyone. That is not what I want to address. I want to address those who pick a caliber based on whatever reason other than it has proven to be effective many times over. I am not talking about numbers on paper but real live cases where sometimes the choice made was not the best choice for the job for which it was selected. That brings me to my list of what I call the No Way, No-How calibers. Now, these are calibers that not only did they not stop the person who was being shot, (the shootee) but the shootee shot with these calibers went on to kill or injure the person who shot them (the shooter). We worked too many such cases, where the shooter became the patient who died in our ER.

    Now, it is not true in every case, but with a frequency that is alarming as it indicates to me that these calibers are inadequate to reliably stop an attacker. On this list are all of the .22’s, .25 ACP, and .32 ACP. Have these calibers killed people? Yes, in thirty plus years in ER, I have seen people killed with almost all of these calibers, but I have seen far more who survived than died. These calibers were also referred to as the last bad choice of dead people everywhere by the ER staff and the local cops, because in each of these cases, the shooters relied on these calibers for protection and died as a result of making that choice.

    Consider this, I have seen people shot in the heart that we were able to crack their chest, our doc plugged the hole, and the patient survived with a lot of sequalae but he survived. It happened close to our ER, but we saved him. I have seen a number of patients shot in the heart who went on to kill one or more people before they collapsed. I know they were heart shot because I was there when we cracked their chest. Most of them did not survive, but they lived long enough to kill at least one other person.

    Here is where I know people will begin to talk about how it is all about shot placement, not caliber. News flash! The only guaranteed kill shot is the base of the skull where it connects with the Atlas (the first cervical vertebrae) or between the Atlas and the Axis (the second vertebrae). Most of the time it takes a trained sniper to hit that.

    Most of the people who talk shot placement are usually people who have never been in a live-fire firefight. The first firefight a person is in changes you in ways you cannot imagine. Anyone who thinks they will be different than 99% of the population who has been in a firefight is demonstrating how much they do not understand the dynamics involved in the situation or about the human psyche.

    There are dynamics at play when you draw a gun to engage someone for real that is unlike anything you have ever imagined. When you draw down on a real human being, adrenaline kicks in, your ability to perform things that you think you know how to do is markedly diminished. Your vision tunnels and your perception of time becomes very distorted. Your ability to focus on the target seems to disappear. You probably will not remember most of the details of the situation until days later or when it visits you in a dream. Most people cannot remember how many times they fired their weapon. Some vets never remembered changing all of their magazines and were surprised when there were no more in the ammo pouch.

    In the Army, there are what are called Murphy’s Rules of Combat. One very important rule that every person who carries needs to know. “NO battle plan survives initial contact.” Meaning, everything you have planned and trained for most likely will go out the window when the SHTF. That rule has been proven thousands of time which it why it is on the list. Don’t believe me? Google Murphy’s Rules of Combat. There is another Rule on Murphy’s list of which you need to be cognizant. “You are NOT Superman.”

    There have been three or four, maybe more, situations in the last couple of years in the Oklahoma City Metro where shots were fired by local cops at one or more bad guy and no one at all was hit in any of them.

    If you want to see real world numbers, see a study on how bad police officers did in NYC in an 11 year study on the HIT-RATIO in police shootings here: http://www.theppsc.org/Staff_Views/Aveni/OIS.pdf

  45. Great article! I had heard of the 32 acp but knew nothing about it. This article was great and very educational! I will know what to say now when people ask what a 32 acp is. Thanks for a great article!

  46. My CZ Mod 27 (Luftwaffe officer pistol) shoots accurately at 25 yards with a hardly noticeable recoil. I haven’t tested it any farther than that.
    It’s uglier than homemade sin, but it shoots accurately and reliably. I don’t shoot it a whole lot, ’cause it’s a WWII relic, but when I do shoot it, it is a joy.
    I would not be afraid of using it in self defense.

  47. Bob,
    I would be interested in knowing what you think of the 327magnum cartridge as a backup for self-defense and how it compares to the 32ACP. Thank you

  48. Everyone forgets that when the .25/.32/.380 ACP cartridges were created by Mr. Browning, semi auto pistols were just being developed. Now, over 100 years latter, bullet development is beginning to catch up to the years of pistol development. With that said, an updated .32 or .380 lock breech pistol, using modern bullets, could be a viable option for those times when the appearance of “I am not carrying” is required. Most folks don’t know that the .22LR was preferred by mob hitmen because it was so easy to to shoot somebody in the back of the head. (Just proved that a hit in the proper spot with a .22LR is so much better than a miss with a .45.) A pistol that you can shoot and hit a 4″ target 5 out of 5 shots, not a high power gun you can’t hit a man size target at 10 feet, should determine what is the gun/caliber you carry.

  49. I would like to see a .32 ACP with the following: Single action with a hammer and frame mounted safety, that sweeps like a 1911. Fixed barrel for accuracy like a Walther’s of approximately 4 inches. Single stack 10 round magazine, this should give the user a good grip without fingers dangling, will also help in racking when you can get a better grip on pistol. Some kind of beaver tail so I don’t get my hand bit like I do with a Walther PPK/s.
    Will it be smallest thing out there no, but with 10 rounds of easy shooting .32, that some one who grew up with 1911’s mind set can follow is an advantage. Now many women, older people and someone with arthritis that finds racking the slide harder on most other caliber guns, would have an easier time, making this a good option. Should still be easier to carry than a commander.

  50. My philosophy. If you were forced to choose the following; Mike Tyson in front of you with his very best punch, or taking a 32 acp. Iron Mike will likely smash your face, the hit could even kill you, but at the very least, you’re in trouble. I would still take that over getting shot by a 32!!!

    It’s like taking two or three Iron Mike’s best shots bare fisted. At the end of the day, my goal isn’t to kill you, but to get away from you. If the 32 lands, you should be able to get away. If not, hit him again. And again (that’s what training is for).

    However, in today’s world of drugs and 300lb street thugs, sure, I’d rather hit ya with a 45…but how often am I around a 300lb street thug? Not much.

    Regarding the 380, that’s actually my go to lil guy. I shot my 22lr out of a pistol into a 2×4 recently and it literally penetrated THROUGH the 2X4! I think there’s always too much emphasis on caliber size for every day carry people that aren’t exposed to high crime situations.

  51. As always, these articles are interesting and informative. But what I would like to see here is an article exploring when we are likely to see ammo, .32 and otherwise, back on the shelves again.

  52. A very underrated, accurate, and pleasant pistol caliber in most loadings, yet where I grew up it had a reputation for being something of a weakling in a gunfight. This may be factually true, but it did not prevent it from being about the most commonly used defensive tool in our extended community. I well remember once pleading with a dear friend of mine to buy something bigger after he had used a 32 S&W Long in a self-defense situation. Lee shot the intruder multiple times and ended the attack on somewhat favorable terms, but not before his knife-wielding assailant had inflicted several wounds on him and his wife. In the end he stuck with his 32 because he didn’t want to spend the money on a new gun, ammo, and practice. Years later he died a natural death, so who am I to argue with his logic?

  53. Using non deforming bullets becomes more useful as you use cartridges passed their most appropriate target size. Solids penetrate further and on targets large enough to contain them transfer a higher portion of their energy to the target. Not only does their frontal area not expand, none of the available energy is wasted deforming the bullet itself.
    Before you roll your eyes, understand that we tend to ignore anything we can’t measure. This is one of those things. Lay one of your fastest expanding bullets on you work bench and try to expand it! Seriously, give it a try…..I’ll wait.
    Ok, how’d that work for you? All that energy you just wasted was not available to damage your target.

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