As I’ve mentioned in these columns before, I have an odd fascination with .32 caliber handguns, both revolver and auto.
Underpowered and obsolete though they may be, they still embody a class and elegance that hearkens back to the turn of the century … the 20th Century, that is. It’s the caliber of choice for James Bond (at least, the Bond with whom I’m most familiar), with his trusty Walther PPK chambered for the .32 ACP.
More handguns have been chambered for this round than any other. Moreover, in Europe where many countries limit the calibers of ammunition that their people can possess, it’s reputation as a defensive and police cartridge is much higher than it is in the US. From the antiquated .32 S&W, which debuted in 1878, to 2002’s .32 NAA, handgunners are still buying .32s, and manufacturers are still turning them out.
Revolvers as well as autos are available, used guns chambered for old standbys such as the .32 S&W Long, as well as new handguns made for cartridges such as the .32 H&R Magnum.
Though it’s no longer in production, the S&W Mdl. 632 was built on their very popular J-frame, a compact, easy to carry revolver that, unlike most of its similarly sized brethren, has a six-shot cylinder as opposed to five. If that additional cartridge seems inconsequential, remember that one last round might be the difference in a gunfight. .357 Magnum performance, in a small concealable package, with one more round than in a J-frame .357?
That sounds like an excellent compromise to me.
And for shooters looking for a larger carry revolver, Ruger offers their GP100 mid-size revolvers chambered for the big .32. Holding seven of the potent little cartridges, it would be particularly useful as a trail or camp gun, accurate enough to pop small game, and stout enough to deal with most predators, either two- or four-footed.
For those who say to carry a compact 9mm or .40 caliber auto, with ten or twelve rounds in the magazine, remember there are several jurisdictions across the country where high capacity magazines are banned, New York state in particular. If the options I have for concealed carry are six rounds of 9mm, or six rounds of .327 Magnum, then I’ll opt for the .327, every time.
However, if you want a true pocket gun in .32 caliber, then the .32 ACP is the ticket for you. Designed in 1899, and introduced in the Belgian-made, John M. Browning-designed FN Mdl. 1900, the .32 ACP was a success from the beginning, even if the Mdl. 1900 wasn’t. Browning’s next effort to make use of the little .32 was not only successful, it became one of the great handguns of the first half of the 20th Century—the Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless.
Introduced eight years prior to Browning’s greatest contribution to firearms history, the Colt 1911, the 1903 has a look that’s evocative of its younger brother, and the clean, rounded lines befitting a pistol that was intended to be carried in a coat pocket.
It’s not the state of the art in personal defense anymore, and hasn’t been for the better part of a century. Still, it was a landmark on the road to today’s subcompacts. More than one-half million were produced from 1903 to 1945, along with its sibling in the Colt stable, the 1908 Pocket Hammerless (chambered for the .380 ACP).
Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless .32 ACP (MSRP: $1,225)
Walther PPK .32 ACP (MSRP: $626)
Perhaps the most famous handgun chambered for the .32 ACP was made so by Ian Fleming, a former British Intelligence officer who wrote a series of novels based on his wartime exploits, featuring a former Royal Navy officer who was now known by his code number—“007.”
Fleming’s James Bond became a worldwide phenomenon, with fourteen novels, several short stories, and (so far) twenty-five movies. And Bond’s weapon of choice is the Walther PPK. The PPK, or Polizei Pistole Kriminalmodell (Police Pistol Detective Model), introduced in 1931, is compact enough for a coat pocket, with a seven-round magazine (eight-round for the PPK/S). It also rides well in a holster, where it’s light weight makes for a comfortable carry gun.
The Seecamp LWS .32 has long been popular and is my personal favorite from this short list.Seecamp has been around since 1973 with roots deep in German manufacturing quality and has only ever focused on producing and perfecting this frame.Seecamp’s production line includes three pocket pistols offered in .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and .380 ACP – and that’s it.If you’ve ever doubted the popularity of the .32 ACP pocket pistol, Seecamp’s resiliency in this product niche proves you otherwise.Their LWS .32 model is the smallest and lightest .32 ACP available on the market today.
Beretta 3032 Tomcat .32 ACP (MSRP: $380)
Not all the pistols chambered for the .32 ACP date from before World War II.Three pistols introduced in the 1990s are on my short list for a small caliber pocket gun.
The first of these is Beretta’s 3032 Tomcat.In production since 1996, the Tomcat has a seven-plus-one capacity, a loaded weight just under a pound, and with a barrel length of less than 2½ inches, is perfectly sized for carrying in a front pocket.Exhibiting Beretta’s typical high quality, the Tomcat isn’t cheap, especially for a pocket pistol, with an MSRP of $380-$390.But when deep concealment’s necessary, and your life is on the line, less than four bills isn’t too bad.
Next on the list is the Kel-Tec P-32.At $318, it’s the least expensive pistol on my list.It’s also the lightest, with a loaded (seven-plus-one) weight of 9.4 ounces.It accomplishes this with a polymer frame, which, though adding bulk, reduces weight.While the added bulk is a little harder to hide, it does make for a more comfortable grip when firing the pistol.
Kel-Tec P-32 (MSRP: $318)
NAA Guardian .32 ACP (MSRP: $402)
With aesthetics resembling that of the Seecamp or Walther, but offered at a lower price tag, this North American Arms Guardian is a solid pick if you’re not willing to pay a Seecamp or Walther price for a pocket pistol.
A .32 caliber weapon isn’t for everyone, and certainly not for every situation. But when circumstances rule out a larger weapon, a .32 in the pocket beats a .45 back home in the gun locker…
But what do YOU think?