Ammunition

The Rise and Fall of the .25 ACP

.25 ACP

By the standards of 1905, the 6.35x16mmSR (AKA .25 ACP) was a tiny miracle. Using a semi-rimmed case, this cartridge could fit both revolvers and semi-auto handguns.

History of the .25 ACP

Loaded from the start with smokeless powder, it duplicated the ballistic performance of .22 LR rimfire and 5.75mm Velo-Dog loads while improving on both in substantive ways.

Compared to unjacketed . 22LR, it was more reliable in semi-auto pistols and produced less muzzle flash, being optimized for two-inch barrels. Compared to the centerfire Velo-Dog case, it was more compact.

While 50-grain FMJ is rightly considered marginal for self-defense, at least the high-quality 1905 FN Vest Pocket (1908 Colt Vest Pocket in the U.S.) was reliable, reasonably accurate and carried 6+1, again improving on the Velo-Dog revolvers.

At the time, no comparably small .22 semi-auto pistols even existed. In England, Webley began production of 25s in 1906.

.25 ACP

Tiny Pistol, Big Reputation

While larger .25 ACP pistols have been made since, like the 1910 Mauser with a 3.3-inch barrel and the Soviet Korovin with 2.7-inch barrel, the subcompact form was the reason for the very existence of the .25 ACP.

Almost all major gun makers have produced something in that caliber. With the chamber pressure barely above that of rimfire and a stronger centerfire case designed for optimal extraction, this was an easy cartridge to make reliable in small carry weapons.

Magazines for .25 ACP are more efficient than for .22 LR, usually holding one more cartridge in the same-sized box.

Due to the diminutive size and weight, the Vest Pocket Pistol and its even smaller 1927 Baby Browning successor were informally known as “Ladies’ Browning.”

Besides the defensive uses, it received some notoriety in 1918 when a woman representing a competing socialist group tried to assassinate Lenin with one, scoring three hits and achieving a reliable stop (but failing to kill the target).

Although the . 25 ACP was never seriously considered for military use, a few countries issued pistols in that caliber to officers who used the guns more as badges of rank than as weapons.

That said, numerous American soldiers carried these tiny pistols as backups, with several reporting successful during the Korean War.

Used to larger guns, Chinese and North Korean soldiers failed to inspect boot tops and small pockets, allowing captured GIs to shoot their way out of brief captivity.

.25 ACP in hand

Beginning of the End

The first blow to the popularity of .25 ACP came in 1968, when the U.S. banned most small pistols from import.

Domestic manufacturing eventually filled the need, but not all American-made 25s were of high quality, leading to the perception that it was a bad choice.

Jennings, Raven and other similar low-grade cast zink designs were often so loosely made as to make them unsafe due to striker slipping off the sear. The double-action Budischowsky TP-70 improved on those designs considerably.

The benchmark Browning Baby was eventually cloned, first by Bauer, then by Precision Small Arms—the latter still in production. Taurus and Beretta both produce tip-barrel models. Seecamp continues to produce a tiny .25 as well.

However, after the mid-1990s, the .25 ACP had been relegated to a niche-within-a-niche for several reasons.

.25 ACP

Why the .25 ACP Ultimately Failed

The first reason is the price of ammunition, which was around five times higher than that of comparable-quality rimfire ammo.

While centerfire primers are more reliable, the price makes extensive practice more costly, as well as makes the lower-priced 25s less attractive than budget 22s.

The second is the growing perception of the cartridge as not merely marginal, but as inadequate.

The size of a typical criminal has grown steadily as nutrition improves, so the bullet that was slightly effective against a skinny 120-pounder lacks penetration for stopping a thug twice that size.

There’s also a greater awareness of the anecdotal failures to stop, leading to .32 ACP and .380 ACP, becoming the preferred choices for the pocket pistol. And that leads us to the third reason: Kel-Tec pistols.

Starting with the P-32 and followed by P-3AT, Kel-Tec invented locked-breech pocket pistols. The P-32 is actually lighter than many blowback 25s, and its slightly larger size makes it easier to control.

Ruger, S&W and others have followed with their own clones and original designs, giving consumers plenty of options in the subcompact category.

Tilt-barrel locked-breech spreads recoil over a much longer period than blowback, producing softer recoil with less weight.

.25 ACP

Why Haven’t Gun Makers Fixed the .25 ACP?

For one, the grip size of the Baby Browning and similar pistols is actually too small for most people’s hands. For another, the .25 ACP simply lacks the energy to even penetrate (much less produce deep-enough wounds) with expanding ammunition.

A notable suicide case involving a .25 ACP Velo-Dog revolver had the victim shoot herself twice in the temple before getting through the skull.

The only better-performing cartridge with a truncated cone 35-grain brass bullet was banned by ATF as “armor-piercing.”

Ultimately, the .25 ACP was, historically, a caliber of last resort. Today, the .25 ACP remains viable for deep cover or as a backup, but better choices exist for most tasks in the same weight and price range.

.25 ACP
Have you used .25 ACP? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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Comments (30)

  1. I have several .25 acp pistols. My favorite is a 1913 Walther model 5. It is wonderfully made, and small enough to carry invisibly in the summer when wearing shorts and a t-shirt.
    Of course it has very limited stopping power, but it allows me to always follow the first law of unarmed combat, which of course is- Never be unarmed.

    And of course in an emergency, a .25 in your waistband is much more useful than a .45 back home in the vault.

  2. To Badge 211,
    I am glad you survived. I have not seen many, if any, survive a chest shot from a .45. None come to mind. Fortunately for you, no major vessels were struck. I agree with you on shot placement, but in my comment to S Walls below, I point out that for the majority of people, it is difficult, if not nearly impossible, to maintain focus on the objective when there is a live fire crisis; not to mention that statistically, most shots in most shootings are misses, because adrenaline is seldom our friend in this type of crisis.

    No, I don’t believe in any magic bullet. For me, it is about the size of the bullet and the energy transfer that can enlarge the hole the bullet makes. Larger bullets create larger holes. Larger holes allow more blood loss. More blood loss means increased lethality from exsanguination. Smaller bullets, while having the potential to be fatal, create smaller holes, which allows the victim more time to act before they bleed out. That is great if the victim is a good guy; but, it is not so great if it is a bad guy intent on evil.
    Again, I am glad you survived.

    To Steven Walls,
    I have always been amazed how people who have never seen a real gunshot wound victim, or have never been shot at, know so much about what it is like. I have been in both those situations. Most of what people think about a shooting goes out the window when the reality of the situation rears its ugly head. It is seldom, even remotely so, as portrayed on television. It is traumatic to all involved, sometimes even for family members of the shooter.

    There is a reason that Police officers who are involved in shootings fire so many rounds. In an article entitled “NYPD GUNFIGHT STATISTICS 1990-2000”, the results of an 11 year study showed only a mean hit percentage of 15% for the period. 1998 had the highest at 25% and 2000, the lowest at 9%. (Source: http://www.theppsc.org/Staff_Views/Aveni/OIS.pdf) See, page 4.

    About twenty to twenty five years ago, in Oklahoma City, (I knew all the officers involved) there was a shooting involving several officers who entered a restaurant and encountered a suspect who was wanted for murder. He was not going to be taken alive and he wasn’t. BUT, even though all shots were at close range, (at least forty rounds were fired,) well fewer than half the shots fired by the officers struck the dude. This was at a distance of between five to seven yards. Fewer than half! Let that sink in.

    People who talk about shot placement in a crisis when they have never been there are talking out of their nether regions. When you draw a gun in a real life crisis for the first time, you get tunnel vision, time slows down, and your reality is completely altered. Even seeing the target and the sights to get a decent bead or thinking about what you are doing is a challenge. Unless you have spent hours and hours (and even more hours) practicing with your weapon, you will go back to default behavior and it will probably be all the wrong behaviors that appear. And hitting a moving target…? Give me a break! It’s not like television. Be prepared to toss your cookies when it is all over.

    There have been two Police shootings in the Oklahoma City area in just the last couple of years, (one was this month) where no one was injured. Can you do better at shot placement than trained Police officers? Probably not!

    That being said, when you mention the .357 for personal protection, you are not taking into consideration that the reason that most Police Departments moved away from that caliber years ago is there is too much overpenetration and there were too many collateral damage casualties. If you shoot at someone and an innocent bystander dies or is injured because of overpenetration, you will probably be sued and lose everything. That is, IF you are not charged with at least manslaughter and go to prison. You may experience both.

    In Oklahoma, we have the ‘Make My Day’ and ‘Stand your Ground’ laws. IF you are JUSTIFIED in drawing your weapon and kill someone who is a threat, you will not be charged, nor can you be sued by the family of that person. If you are not, be prepared to do some time and be sued by the victim or his family.

    For those who have never been there, consider the hunter who gets his very first shot at a deer. There is adrenaline flowing at that time. Frequently, adrenaline will make one miss or get a less than perfect shot placement. In a life or death encounter, it is worse.

    As I said in the beginning, I am amazed at how many people know so much about things they have never seen or been through. It is not something to be desired. To quote from the movie, Unforgiven, “It’s a hell of a thing, killing a man. You take all he’s got, and all he’s ever gonna have.” It also takes a part of you, an innocence that will never be reclaimed. That is but one reason why so many of the veterans among us have PTSD.

  3. I own a TP-70 that was mentioned above. As much as it’s a novelty type gun for me I do like taking it out plinking every so often. Even when I’m out and about it makes for a great summer gun when I’m not able to conceal a larger weapon. I will probably keep it in my collection unless I come across something I really like.

  4. Why do you show a .25 ACP pistol and an M1 enblock clip loaded with .30 – 06 ammo? Is someone going to attempt to load that clip into that tiny pistol? BAAAAAAAAAAAAAWAAAAAAHAHAHAAAAAAAAAAAA!

  5. We have, among other caliber pistols, a Beretta Jetfire. I have only fired it once it is pretty accurate at 15 yards or less. What I have read about .25 ACP is it’s an assassin’s weapon. You shoot the victim in the head and, similar to a .22 LR, it can penetrate penetrate the skull going in and then does not exit. It ricochets around inside your cranium doing catastrophic damage to your brain. I don’t like the weapon, but as a last resort? Also, it was a gift, so…

  6. I’ve had several pocket guns from time to time, when I was between.357’s. I’ve had mixed success with them on the range. Of the two I’d rather have a .25 than a .22 due to an incident I had once with the extractor of the gun deciding to become the firing pin and it blew a hole in my table. I confirmed it in a controlled environment where the gun would empty the magazine with a single trigger pull due to the extractor setting off the rimfire primers.

  7. Al Capone had a son named Sonny Francis. He lived away from the limelight, and he was well-liked. He worked as a union man for the Longshoreman’s Union at the Port of Miami.
    I was managing a gun store he frequented. One night he brought in this old Colt .25ACP and said it belonged to his father. The blueing was gone, but it was in very good condition. He wanted to reblue it, and I advised him it was a collector’s piece and should leave it alone.
    I also remember the day he came into the store and told us he had been a victim of a home burglary and all of his guns were stolen. Somebody stole a piece of history.

  8. My wife has been fond of the Raven .25 as a plinker. Stupid auto spell check changed my earlier comment from plinker to plunger.

  9. In 1983 I purchased my first handgun. It was advertised as regular price $79 on sale for $39. It was a Raven .25 ACP nickel finish with white plastic grips. My wife has been fond of it as a plunger. It has never had a malfunction other than the cheap cast metal firing pin breaking after 100s of rounds. I was surprised that a local gun shop had replacements available for this cheap pistol decades later.

  10. My father carried a WWII era FN in .25 that found its way back with him in ’47. Not being a gun guy he would seldom shoot with us so I never saw this one in action. Rarely he would fire a few rounds for function and have a trusted neighbor test a few more and clean the piece for him. Working in a rough area he would often have that .25 in his pocket. In 1984 Pop used his to avoid a mugging; two hits center mass at 5 feet. The would be robber ran away. The key is ran away; not towards the weapon. Man stopping power: None. Robbery stopping power? This time enough. I have no idea what happened to that piece, suspect he never tried to get it back after the investigation. Years later I became friends with man who had been shot with a .25. Kevin had one round bouncing around inside his ribs doing much damage. Multiple surgeries over 18 month’s time. He always said that hit did not stop him from fighting in the moment but did stop his desire to start the next one.

  11. I have a ‘44 CZ Duo that I absolutely enjoy. It’s not something I’d daily carry by any means but it’s easy to handle and fun to shoot. I would use it as a backup, no questions asked.

  12. Have a titan .25 had for 35 yrs I knew its limits and that it is required to be shot to a very specific spot to down people of todays size,the spine and the throat are two and the eyes another this shows this as old sayings is a belly botton gun meaning very close and as defense. I still keep this as that is a real possibilty today as punks jump people. to the 1911 and gun in 4- are the only killer modern ammo makes that untrue and a.357 will hit and damage right with the .4- .Many graves are filled with the proof that the round is fatal but to survive the shotee to hit back is clearly bullet placement not caliber to think body hits mean down and out is the last mistake you make.Just be aware todays fine legal practioners and laws make the fatal shot in defense is treated just like initiating a murder not defending yourself muliple rounds are considered too much defense and used agianst you make one work be prepared or don’t do it.

  13. I can’t believe the bad rap these guns are getting! Some 25s might be unreliable but you cannot paint all of these 25s with the same brush.
    I have a nice collection of Colt 25 hammerless. All of the 25s in my collection were manufactured in 1920s and 30s. These guns are reliable, safe with Colts grip safety and concealable. Spend some time at the range and you will become proficient with these Colts.
    A well placed 25acp round will kill an intruder just as dead as a 9mm. The Colt 25 is reliable, smooth and concealable. Vest pocket Colts are well made Colts with excellent pedigree. They deserve a pat on the back instead of a kick in the butt.

  14. In the early 90s I obtained a Raven 25 and smoothed our the edges and its run fine ever since. My mother still carries it to this day. She refused to let me upgrade her.

  15. To Bo, above…
    Your observations are yours and I’m not saying you didn’t see what you saw. Here is my experience. I’ve worked in Law Enforcement since 1974 and am still active duty. I’ve been a firearms instructor since 1989.

    I was a patrol sergeant, on duty, at 0200 hrs of July 4, 1992. I was shot in the chest under my right nipple. Accorde to my surgeon, Dr. Joel Hendrix, the bullet traveled an oblique angle and stopped in the top of my liver, an inch from my spine. It entered my lung cavity and passed between two lobes of the lung, doing no damage to the lungs. It passed through the diaphragm and came to rest in the top of the liver near my spine. The Doctor told me, after the surgery, that the bullet did Little damage and there wasn’t much internal bleeding. The bullet had entered between my ribs..

    Dr. Hendrix told me that had he known for certain how little damage the bullet had done he could have put two stitches in the bullet hole, put a Bandaid on it and sent me home. He said his surgery did more damage to me than the bullet. The bullet is still in my liver because the Doc could feel it but observed so little bleeding from the wound path in the liver that he decided to leave it in—the liver is a Ph neutral organ and the scar tissue has insulated it so that no lead leaches out. Blood tests over the years have confirmed this.

    I was shot by one of my officers. He was armed with a 5” barreled Colt 1911 Government model in .45 ACP. His ammunition was Federal Hydra-Shok, 230 grain. My officer missed the bad guy and hit me. I, was using the same ammo, the same lot number and all. My shot hit the bad guy in the chest, passing through his 5th rib, destroying the right atrium of his heart, and exited his body through the 8th rib in back. He was armed with a Savage 12 gauge pump. He died at the scene.

    There you are, two folks, at similar distances, shot by the same ammo—.45 ACP, 230 grain. According to statistics at that time, folks shot in the chest cavity with .45ACP Federal 230 grain Hydra Shok are stopped 92.78% of the time. It didn’t stop me. As soon as I felt the bullet hit, I covered it with my palm in case it was a sucking lung wound (it wasn’t but I had no way of knowing at the time). It never knocked me off my feet. I backed out of my position and remained in control of the officers at the scene. I called for an ambulance and directed the officers with specific assignments. I then asked one of the officers who had come from an assisting agency to take me to the hospital and passed command to one of the senior officers at the scene. I walked in to the ER on my own.

    My observation: I like 45 caliber ammo but there is NO magic bullet that is 100% effective. None. I’ve seen one man die from a leg wound from a 9mm ball round—his artery severed. I was surprised when I found a guy still alive from an execution style gunshot wound to the back of the head from a .357 magnum where the muzzle was placed at the back of his head—the skull was never penetrated! Imagine his headache the next day.

    These day I carry 9mm instead of .45, not because of anything superior about the caliber. I was involved in five deadly force incidents as a patrol sergeant and am convinced shot placement is far, far more critical than the caliber. I can qualify, and have qualified with full .44 Mag loads, so recoil isn’t an issue for me. The truth I had to face is that my shot to shot recovery is faster with 9mm and I am more accurate in a shorter time frame with it than I am with the .45 ACP. I am glad we are all free to choose our own platforms and calibers but I caution against thinking any caliber or bullet design is the One and Only.

  16. .25 acp is a cheap gun
    Under powered and immensely inaccurate is a well earned reputation.
    It’s one of those pistols that will get you into trouble but can’t get you out

  17. I see you mentioned the Raven .25 . I purchased one of these back in late 1980’s For the purpose of teaching my 2 young sons to shoot . Accuracy was within acceptable range at 25 feet and recoil was minimal enough for a 8 and 5 year old to easily handle . Well , after a divorce the Raven was put away and not used until around 1990 when I sold it to a friend. A month r 2 later the friend to me that when he was racking the slide the entire slide flew off . This never happened when I was teaching my sons . I told hm to bring it back to me and gave him his money back . I looked the pistol over inside and out , I found nothing broken at all . I tried to see if I could duplicate the problem and low and behold I could . It appears when you rack the slide if you pull it back with a upward direction the slide will fall of when moving forward to chamber a round . Like when your breaking it down for cleaning . WOW ! I don’t see how they were allowed to even be sold . I’m Glad it didn’t happen when I was teaching my sons .Moral of the story , Don’t BUY CHEAP BRAND FIREARMS !

  18. The .25ACP for the most part, needs to ride off into the sunset. It’s woefully insufficient for any task, even in a decent pocket pistol. The author mentioned the Ravens, of which I had one in .25 and one in .22LR back in the mid 80’s. The .22, call it a fluke, actually functioned better than the .25. The .25 was a Jam-o-matic new out of the box. I didn’t have the FTF and FTE issues with the 22. I fired a buddy’s wee Beretta awhile back, and although it functioned much better than the Ravens, 10-15′ was about as far away as you could go to keep any reasonable accuracy. In Ballistic Gelatin, the .25ACP and the .22LR perform about the same with an average of 9-11 inches of penetration. Which doesn’t meet the FBI’s suggested depth of a minimum of 12″ and a max of 18″ penetration. Depending on the clothing barrier you’d encounter, like denim or leather, and it would penetrate even less.
    Cost of .25ACP ammo is ridiculously high. Reloading for it is a right pain in the posterior. The only reason to keep one, is if it’s one of the turn of the century pocket pistols for a collection. I certainly wouldn’t recommend buying a Raven, Jennings or Jiminez Zinc Cast Paperweights.
    Those that want to carry one for self defense, go right ahead. I’ll stick with my PPK in .380ACP as a backup. The .25ACP finished its life in the ranks of calibers found in Saturday Night Specials.

  19. About 1958 or so I was working at a gun shop in West Los Angeles and they got in a Bernadelli 25ACP and also a 22LR version. They are much smaller and lighter than the Colt pistol and are very well made in both the fit and finish. I bought the 25ACP one, though I should have bought both of them, the 25 is much cheaper to shoot. Paid all of $21 for it. It has a 2inch barrel and came with both a 6 shot and an 8 shot magazine. I have never shot it as yet and probably never will, for me it is a novelty gun just to own. There is only one smaller 25ACP and it is a German pistol but I have forgotten the name.

  20. My folks gave me a Bauer stainless .25 (a Browning copy, mentioned above) as a graduation gift from training as a MI state trooper when I was 22 years old. I carried it as a tertiary backup every day in uniform thereafter. I found mine to be unerringly reliable and reasonably accurate, and occasionally used mine to take squirrels and rabbits while I was off duty. I am now 65, still have it, and will likely leave it to my grandson.
    I have seen some people who were hit by .25 ACP rounds shake off their discomfort, and others drop dead in their tracks. I never had reason to use mine in the course of work, but I found it to be a comfort. Say what you will, I don’t want to get hit by a .25 round. They are ‘way better than nothing.

  21. I owned a Walther ? 0 .25 German Officers Pistol.
    Despite how hard I held it with both hands. the barrel
    would up pointing up after shot so where did the bullet go ?.

  22. The .25 has killed a lot of people. But, in my experience, as a retired ER nurse (I am 69), it was usually the person who was using it for self-protection who got killed. I cannot begin to count how many shootings I have worked, but it is well into the triple digits. And there is one case comes immediately to mind. I believe it was in 1978 or ’79, I was working in an inner city ER in Oklahoma City when AmCare, the then local EMS, brought in a guy who had been shot 5 times in the chest with a .25. There were three slugs that were stopped by the man’s sternum (One of the slugs fell out on the table as we were cutting his clothes off. The other two slugs missed the sternum and penetrated the left side of his chest between the ribs, where they ricocheted of ribs all around the inside of his chest. We discovered that fact when we cracked his chest. In the course of all that ricochet, the slugs punched holes in his aorta and his pulmonary arteries, right and left. He bled out and died, but OCPD informed us that after being shot, he beat the shooter to death with his bare hands. (He was a big dude.)
    OCPD was pleased with the outcome. Both of the decedents were know to them and had rap sheets as long as I am tall. The reason for the entire incident was a drug deal gone bad. The officer told us that this left them with two fewer former felons walking the streets of Oklahoma City, and from his perspective, it was all good.
    In the course of a 30 plus year career as an ER RN, this was not the only case where I saw first-hand that the .25 caliber (not to mention .32, .380, even some 9 mm) are about as dangerous to the shooter as they are to the intended target. I have seen multiple victims, shot with each of those calibers, who even though mortally wounded, went on to kill the shooter before they succumbed to their wounds. The 9 mm has been known to kill the attacker, but, I have taken care of more than one person who, after being shot with a 9, went on to do major damage to the shooter. About 25 years or so, ago, a man killed an OCPD officer AFTER being shot multiple times with the department issued 9 mm service weapon before being stopped by another officer at the scene.
    I have heard people talking about studies that show the ballistics of these calibers are more than adequate to kill or at least slow down the attacker. I have yet to talk to anyone who actually participated in a shooting with these calibers who said anything good about them, because most of them were in the next trauma room being treated beside the shooter. And the M.E. never told us what these guys thought about their choice for a self-defense round… because they were dead.
    I have said before, and I will say it again, I carried a 1911 when I was overseas way back in the early 70’s and I never saw anyone hit with a .45 that was able to discuss anything beyond that hit. I cannot say that for any caliber that does not start with a 4. I have owned .38’s, 9 mm’s , .357’s, and I let them all go. I now own handguns in .22 (for plinking, and varmints, such as raccoons that get into my deer corn feeders), .44, and .45, several, in fact, more than one of them bears the designation of 1911.
    In my experience, as a shooter, a hunter, a retired ER nurse, and a former Army medic on a SAR/ Recon team overseas, I have seen too many GSW’s to trust my life or the lives of my family to something that has a high probability of failing to stop an attack at the time it is needed most. I realize that I haven’t seen every gun-shot victim, but I have seen enough to get a good idea of what works and what doesn’t. Remember, the time to realize the weapon you are carrying is inadequate is days before you draw it and not after you pull the trigger. It is too late then.

  23. My deuch workerfort about 100 yrs old is so accurate my friends don’t believe my until I show them. Misfires about every 1000th round. Goes through frig and car doors

    1. Is the weapon you mentioned a rifle, pistol, or automatic? I notice I am a lot more accurate with a longer barrel.

  24. I have a WAFFENFABRIK MAUSER A.-G.OBERNDORF A. N. Mauser – 6,35 that I inherited from my dad. I missed shooting Expert by one point when I was in the Corps so I know how to shoot but with this pistol not was I not able to hit a 55 gal. drum top at 50 feet and it has jammed on a couple of occasions. After my dad and I attempted to fire the little gun and obtained the same results we decided the only thing this gun was for was to attempt suicide before capture. I say attempt in conjunction with the report stated in your article above. I do enjoy the gun despite the minor flaws stated and enjoy cleaning it often (like I have been firing it, not) I would like to get the grip replaced with an original copy since mine has a large section missing from the lower back.

  25. All that being said. I love my multiple Colt .25 ACP’s made in the early 1970’s. They are not only unique in caliber but a beautiful example of Colt manufacturing. My EDC is a .380 but I wouldn’t hesitate to trust my little Colt in a pinch.

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