Modern Shooter: Is .32 ACP Sufficient?

Feature | Gun with ammunition on wooden background | Modern Shooter: Is .32 ACP Sufficient?

June 4, 2019 / Comments (15)

Guns & Ammo

The .32 ACP is not the biggest cartridge you can buy, but it's a very capable round in modern shooting. Read on to know more!

RELATED: 22 Ammo Shortage | Lessons From The Recent Ammunition Shortage

In this article:

  1. A Classic Ammunition
  2. .32 ACP for Self-Defense: A Popular Choice
  3. .32 ACP Capable Round
  4. Other Things to Consider

.32 ACP Ammo | What Shooters Need to Know

A Classic Ammunition

The world of shooting is so dynamic and large. You can spend a couple of years doing these modern shooter articles breaking down everyone's favorite types of ammo.

Even then, you can only come close to finishing. This time around, I'm going to tackle the .32 ACP — a handgun round that has been around since 1899.

Always more popular in Europe, .32 ACP pistols Automatic Colt (.32 ACP, .32 auto, 7.65 Browning, 7.65X17mm, etc.) is usually found in highly concealable pocket firearms. While the .32 ACP ammo ballistics are less than ideal, it does hold a place in a self-defense shooting.

Oftentimes, these small guns make great backups. That's because they're so tiny they can sit in the palm of your hand or comfortably in your pocket.

.32 ACP for Self-Defense: A Popular Choice

Some of the more popular guns that can be found today are the Kel Tec P-32 and the Walther PP. While the projectiles are less lethal than other self-defense cartridges, the .32 ACP can still get the job done.

In fact, it finishes the job many times over the years. It's the weapon of choice for European police.

Much in the same way, a .22LR can kill a human being with correct shot placement, so can a gun in .32 caliber ammo kill with shots in the proper place. It gets even better in terms of a modern bullet and powder technology with hotter loads and bigger projectiles.

.32 ACP Capable Round

You'd always want to go with the most capable round you can accurately place on target, in a gun you can handle. Most people falsely think that just because it's a small cartridge, it mustn't produce a lot of felt recoil.

They also seem to think the biggest is always the best. Unfortunately, if you can't hit your intended target, the biggest is not the best.

Having said all of that, with a cartridge this small, you'd likely need to unload an entire magazine into your attacker to get them to back off.

Even then, they may only die from their wounds after they bleed out, and not instantly. The 25th president of the United States of America, William McKinley, died from gangrene after he was shot twice in the chest with a .32 ACP.

When you also realize just how small these little guns are, it doesn't really matter what size the projectile is because they don't have anything to hold on to in order to contain any amount of recoil.

Again, the best idea is to always go with what you can train with, that also just happens to be able to put an attacker down.

RELATED: Shooter’s Guide To Choosing The Best Self-Defense Cartridge

Other Things to Consider

Perhaps more importantly than what you're shooting or the amount of felt recoil you're getting is reliability. I've heard many .32 ACP rounds don't cycle anything but ball ammo. There are two considerations here, and I haven't made up my mind on this.

If the projectile is too small, an expanding bullet may be a waste because it won't create a deep-enough wound channel. On the other hand, FMJ (ball ammo) won't expand and will cause more penetration with a narrower wound channel.

What Is an Expanding Bullet? These are projectiles that will expand once they hit an object or surface such as a body. In that case, a living target will be incapacitated faster.

For such a small projectile, I'm not sure which is best, but I'm leaning towards deeper penetration over a limit in wound channel. Please chime in below and leave a comment containing your thoughts on the matter.

If you ever decide to purchase a gun chambered in .32 ACP, make sure you do your diligence by making sure it feeds reliably in your gun of choice.

Make sure too you're both willing and able to put more than a few rounds into your attacker to make sure the job gets done. Otherwise, what's the point?


Watch this video by The Ballistician about a .32 ACP penetration test through magazines:

The .32 ACP is borderline capable. It fits into that category of being too small but is just the right size for certain occasions and people. Some people carry them as a backup in the pocket, while it may be your primary weapon.

All that really matters is you're comfortable with its performance, and you can actually hit your target with it, and it cycles properly.

What can you say about the.32 ACP? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below!

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Editor’s Note: This post was originally published on September 8, 2016, and has been updated for quality and relevancy.

15 Responses to :
Modern Shooter: Is .32 ACP Sufficient?

  1. Jeff says:

    I think as Americans, we have the “bigger is better mentality”. I believe that the .32ACP is just fine or it would not have been used by police for so many years. I usually carry a Sig P238 .380acp on a belt holster, but for the pocket, I carry a P32. I feel comfortable enough in the round as long as I do my part on shot placement.

    1. Mark says:

      Agree 100%.

  2. Lawrence Morris says:

    I have a Walther .32 auto. While it is not my primary, nor my secondary it is the back up to my back up. Sometimes it is the only one I am able to conceal effectively for the job at hand. No it isn’t powerful like my .40, but shot placement is the need for any defensive need. I have seen “Weekend Warriors” at the range with big cannons that couldn’t hit a target 5 feet away, let alone in an emergency situation. Target placement by practice practice practice will make any hand gun a “Stopper”!

  3. John hill says:

    A 32 can do the job as well as a 380 actual is 36 cal. … New ammo like leigh defense or underwood 32acp extreme defense will leave a mean larger than 1″ up to 1 1/2″ hole 8 ” deep and 15 “overall penetration in 10% ballistic gel thats s larger wound channel than most 9mm hollow points without the risk of over penetration into a by stander . 32 acp with 3 1/2″ – 4” barrels add about 150 more fps and more energy along with great accuracy and fast follow up shots 😀

  4. Tom p sproull says:

    I cannot find any info. on this. I just purchased a Beretta model 81 cheetah. Italian import weapon. Can this weapon hold up to +p ammo.? It seems to be a very sturdy gun. 32 ACP.

    1. Paul says:

      About 20 yrs ago I found a jewel of a pistol at a pawn shop – Beretta model 90, also made in Italy, double action semi-auto .32 ACP. I love that gun so much I hate to shoot it. Plenty of recoil and loud, it lets you know it means business. Great self defense piece.

    2. Mark Shippoli says:

      Tom, the hottest ammo I shoot out of my Model 81 is 73gr. S&B or Fiocchi. Both are 73gr. and at the top of the scale for 32acp.

  5. Mark says:

    I agree with the comments regarding shot placement as being a deciding factor. I own .38 specials, .32 caliber and .380’s. I typically carry a small, extremely concealable 32 double action and I am very comfortable with that for personal protection. Fact is, in a life and death situation you will likely be close to the assailant. Take a deep breath and aim carefully. Mission accomplished. Also, I have reviewed many ballistic studies and there isn’t that much difference between the .380 and .32. In fact, I would also feel comfortable carrying a .22 long. Anyway, that’ my humble opinion.

  6. Kenneth says:

    President McKinley was assassinated by a .32 S&W (short) Iver Johnson “Safety Automatic,” not a .32 ACP, which is a more powerful cartridge. History buff, sorry but had to correct that!
    I own a “Safety Automatic” myself in .32 S&W, and have to say though it is a small cartridge I would not want to be hit by it, same as the .32 ACP. Though I probably would not carry a .32 ACP it is overall better than no protection at all, and can get the job done when necessary.

  7. James Pettigrew says:

    I find the 32acp round adequate for personnel protection. The Kel Tec P32 is light weight, reliable and easy to carry. The 73 gran ammunition FMJ will do the job

  8. Rick V says:

    I own handguns in .45acp, .40, .357Sig, 9mm, 9MAK, .380, .32acp, and .25. While I think any of them could do the job needed, a Seecamp chambered in .32acp vanishes in a horsehide holster in my pocket. It has been hidden there almost daily for years. I feel very comfortable that if I had to use it, it would easily perform the self defense function required. The only bad thing is that the Seecamps made today pale in comparison to this old beauty.

  9. Bearded Conservative General says:

    .32 ACP and .380 HP’s don’t expand when fired in short barreled guns. In longer barreled guns they do tend to expand but then they don’t penetrate deep enough. The Fiocchi 7.65 ball is faster than American equivalents by an easy 100 FPS and hence they penetrate deeply. Most folks won’t argue that the .380 is significantly more powerful than .32 ACP so if using ball (like you should be) the .32 has less recoil and gives you one more round in single stack mags. Buffalo Bore makes a lead flat nose that runs as fast as Fiocchi but magazines will Possibly need to be modified to prevent rimlock.
    Practice a lot and consider the whole magazine as one round. Shoot them all. You will likely survive. Stopping power is a myth. If I had my N frame .44 Special I would advise the same. If I hand my Glock I would advise the same. I carry a Keltec P-32 loaded with Fiocchi ball everyday and have for years. I have fired over 300 rds of all brands of ball and it has never had an issue. It does not like HP. Regards

  10. Ric says:

    NOBODY seems to building 32 acp handguns now. Why not! I never cared for pocket carry compact style frames since I open carry anyways. I’ve never been a 9mm fanboy. I think if companies built 32 acp guns in both non-compact frames I’m sure they would sell well. Personally I care not for anything larger than 9mm. But I’m weird that way I suppose. 🙂

    Heck if they were smart they could even build standard frame size 25 acp with 4″ barrels. It would perform better than those old super-short barrel pocket guns back in the day. Or how bout a 25 acp with a 5″ barrel on a long slide model? That would be a very mild shooter, as I’ve always felt the short barreled guns killed the 25 acp’s potential. But like I said… I’m weird that way.

    1. Ric says:

      Sorry, meant to say “almost nobody”. hehehe….

  11. Bergara-man says:

    Tanfoglio is making a full-size 32 ACP, the FT 7 FS. It has a 4.6″ length barrel.
    The FT 7 comes in 3 different sizes/barrel lengths, a compact version gun, a full-size short barrel version, and a longer barrel full-size version.

    Look at page 37 in the 2019 Tanfoglio Catalog.

    Not sure if it is available in the U.S though…. Maybe EEA or IFG (Italian Firearms Group) can import this model….

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