I’m not sure you know this about me, but I have a strange fascination with .32 caliber handguns, both auto and revolver. Though some consider them to be underpowered and obsolete, these firearms still embody a class and elegance that hearkens back to the turn of the century… the 20th Century, I mean. It’s the caliber that James Bond’s creator insisted on for his iconic character, a Walther PPK chambered for the .32 ACP.
Many people don’t realize that more handguns have been chambered for this round than any other. In Europe, where ammunition caliber limitations are more common, its reputation is much greater than in the US. In fact, Heckler and Koch’s first handgun, the HK 4, was originally produced exclusively for the German police and German agencies. For another historical tidbit, many believe that Adolph Hitler committed suicide with a .32 ACP as he simultaneously bit down on a cyanide capsule.
The long production history of the .32 stretches from the antiquated .32 S&W, in 1878, to the release of the .32 NAA in 2002. Handgun enthusiasts are still buying .32s, and they’re still being manufactured. It’s still possible to purchase revolvers along with autos, and used guns can be found chambered for the modern .32 H&R Magnum as well as the .32 S&W Long, originally introduced in 1896.
We’re going to hone in on the .32 ACP for autopistols, and the .327 Federal Magnum for revolvers. For defensive purposes, both are extremely capable. The hard-hitting .327 actually has ballistics similar to the .357 Magnum, and can be legitimately considered for your ever day carry gun. A number of popular firearm manufacturers still produce revolvers chambered for the round, although Smith and Wesson recently stopped production. While this round may not be the most popular one, it’s still readily available. A notable advantage of weapons chambered for the .327 is that they can also chamber and fire three other .32 caliber cartridges: the S&W, the S&W Long, and the H&R Magnum.
Smith & Wesson’s Model 632, built on their very popular J-frame, is a compact and easy to carry revolver that carries six rounds, compared to many others that carry five. An extra round could very well be the difference in an armed altercation. While the Model 632 is no longer being produced, many dealers still have some in inventory. -- Think about it for a moment. Near 357 Magnum performance, in a smaller package, with an additional round. Sounds good to me.
Many argue that the preference should be to carry a compact 9mm or .40 caliber auto with more magazine capacity. This is not always an option, as several jurisdictions in the U.S. have magazine capacity limitations - New York is a great example. If you’re making a choice for concealed carry between six rounds of 9mm, or six rounds of .327 Magnum, I’d recommend the .327… every time.
Looking for a true pocket gun in .32 caliber? The .32 ACP is what you seek. Eight years prior to Browning’s innovative Colt 1911, he unveiled the Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless. It has a similar look and feel to the younger 1911. The lines are smooth and clean, perfect for a pistol that was meant for a pocket. It’s certainly no longer cutting edge technology, but is a landmark on the road to today’s subcompacts. Nearly 600,000 of these beauties made in down the production line in a number of variants.
Let’s fast-forward back to modern times and take a look at three small caliber guns.
3) The Kel-Tec P-32. At $325 MSRP, it’s the least expensive pistol on my list. It’s also the lightest on my list, with an unloaded weight of 6.6 ounces. The light weight is accomplished by using a polymer frame. This reduces the weight, but the tradeoff is a little increase in bulk. The additional bulk does make it slightly harder to hide, but also makes for a more comfortable grip. Capacity: 7+1.
2) The Beretta 3032 Tomcat. Produced for the better part of two decades, the Tomcat weighs in just under a pound and has barrel length of just less than 2.5 inches. It’s is perfectly sized for carrying in a front pocket. Beretta aims for high quality, and you pay for it. The MSRP on this pocket pistol is $390. It’s not cheap, but if you believe you get what you pay for, it’s not a horrible price point. Capacity: 7+1.
1) The North American Arms Guardian 32. The MSRP of $402 is the highest of the pistols on my list. It also has a barrel of less than 2.5 inches and weighs less than a pound. There’s one main difference - the capacity is one round less than the other two. It’s a great looking gun, but looks probably don’t make up for the price and capacity differences.
No caliber works for everyone in every situation. This is one I happen to like a lot and think is very versatile. There are those that insist on a larger weapon. My thought is that a .32 available in my pocket always beats a .45 that I had to leave at home.
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