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https://www.usconcealedcarry.com/head-to-head-32-acp-vs-380-acp/

By Scott W. Wagner // 08/01/2018



For those who are new to the game, “ACP” stands for “Automatic Colt Pistol.” The .32 ACP was developed by John Moses Browning — the greatest firearms inventor of all time — in 1899 for use in the M1900 and later the M1903 semi-automatic “pocket pistol.” It became popular in the United States but was most popular in Europe, where it’s known as the “7.65mm Browning.”



If you already have a .32 ACP pistol in good condition and are considering it for self-defense, test it with some Hornady .32 XTP ammunition. A .32 ACP self-defense pistol may be worth considering after all.



It was adapted to a wide variety of pistols over the years, including the Walther PP and PPK. Although it is considered low-powered by American standards, the .32 ACP found service with European law enforcement agencies and armies through the 20th century, including Hitler’s armies. It was only taken out of service as the threat from heavily armed and armored Islamic terrorists arose in Europe and government forces realized they needed a more powerful service weapon to counter them.

Lest we think that the Europeans were foolish to use such a puny caliber for their service weapons, remember that when Theodore Roosevelt was Commissioner of the New York City Police Department, he opted for Colt New Police Revolvers chambered in .32 Long Colt as the first standard-issue revolvers.

Pocket Options
Arms chambered for the .32 ACP came and went over the years, with the Colt M1903 and Walther PPK being among the more popular. I remember how the new sheriff of Licking County, Ohio, after winning his first election in 1980, carried a Walther PP in .32 ACP even in uniform. I was a brand-new auxiliary deputy then and asked him about it. He told me he could “at least keep their heads down with it.” He never had to fire that gun in the line of duty.

The popularity of the .32 ACP waned amid stiff competition from the .380 ACP until 1996, when the Beretta Tomcat, a slightly enlarged version of the .22 LR/.25 ACP Bobcat, was introduced in .32 ACP. It was a very compact and lightweight pistol with a unique “tip-up” barrel system that allowed easy loading of an additional eighth round of ammo. While the .32 ACP Seecamp pistol had been available since 1981, it was very hard to come by and very expensive. (I never actually held one in my hand until two years ago.) Conversely, the Beretta Tomcat was readily available and relatively inexpensive. About that time, there were a number of different hollow-point rounds on the market as well, thus making the .32 ACP more appealing for those seeking a compact and easy-to-shoot defensive handgun.

The .32 ACP got another boost in popularity in 1999 with the introduction of the Kel-Tec P-32, a micro-sized pistol designed to be carried and hidden anywhere on the body. Weighing in at only 8 ounces unloaded, the P-32 was the hot backup and holdout gun to have for a while, as it was very reasonably priced and held eight rounds. Unlike the Beretta Tomcat, Walther PP and Seecamp .32, the P-32 was a locked-breech design, which was what allowed the designers to make it so small and thin.



The .32 ACP got another boost in popularity in 1999 with the introduction of the Kel-Tec P-32, a micro-sized pistol designed to be carried and hidden anywhere on the body.



Ironically, the success of the locked-breech design of the Kel-Tec P-32 is what indirectly led to yet another decline in the .32 ACP’s popularity: In 2003, Kel-Tec used the same design for the only slightly larger P-3AT in .380 ACP. While many people felt that the .32 ACP was too underpowered (even with hollow-point ammunition) to be adequate for close-range self-defense, they considered a properly loaded .380 pistol as the minimum acceptable self-defense caliber. Now they could have a pistol of the almost same micro size (8.3 ounces in weight) as the P-32 that was chambered for a more-powerful caliber, although magazine capacity was reduced by one round. The P-3AT began flying off the shelves. My testing proved the P-3AT to be reliable and more than accurate enough for any reasonable self-defense distance.

The Kel-Tec locked-breech system was soon adopted by other manufacturers for their versions of a micro .380 self-defense pistol. Since the more-powerful and widely accepted .380 could be chambered in small guns like the Ruger LCP, newcomers to the locked-breech micro-pistol game did not bother with a .32 ACP chambering.

Bench Blast
While carrying micro .380s is a breeze, shooting them is a somewhat different story. They bark, especially when loaded with full-power defensive ammunition. After firing a few full magazines at the range for practice, I often find that the Kel-Tec P-3AT and the Ruger LCP exceed my “fun threshold.” I basically end up saying, “OK, I get the point! The gun shoots dead-on and cycles perfectly. I’m done.” In fact, I don’t recommend either of these otherwise fine pistols for new or inexperienced shooters.

Back when I worked retail gun sales, I found myself steering new shooters away from these models, not wanting their starting point in concealed carry or home defense to induce flinching and destroy the desire to practice. I usually moved them toward a snub revolver with light loads, or a larger .380 or even 9mm, which would not be anywhere near as punishing as the aforementioned micro .380s. Developing good shooting habits and accurate shot placement is more important for the new shooter than carrying a minuscule pistol, but after those skills are developed, the micro .380 makes great defensive company.

But did the .32 ACP really deserve to be kicked to the curb for the .380 ACP? I don’t think so and was able to confirm that when testing Colt’s newly reintroduced M1903 .32 ACP Pocket Hammerless General Officer’s Model Pistol.



After firing a few full magazines at the range for practice, I often find that the Kel-Tec P-3AT and the Ruger LCP exceed my “fun threshold.”



Made under license for Colt by U.S. Armament Corporation, this 8+1-round, 24-ounce, all-steel pistol is crafted in exacting detail. Firing it is much like shooting a .22 LR pistol in terms of recoil. Accuracy, despite the original (and small) fixed sights, is excellent, facilitated not only by the robust weight of the M1903 but also the light break of the single-action trigger.

In order to test this pistol and determine its potential as a shooter and carry piece, I ran it over my chronograph and also fired it into my standard 25-pound block of modeling clay to determine bullet performance. My load of choice was Hornady Custom .32 ACP loaded with a 60-grain XTP (Extreme Terminal Performance) jacketed hollow-point.

The XTP bullet was introduced by Hornady back in 1990 and won a Product of Merit Award from the National Association of Federally Licensed Firearms Dealers. Even though it has been eclipsed by the newer FTX polymer-tipped JHP bullet loaded in Hornady’s Critical Defense line, it is still an outstanding defensive ammunition choice. The FTX is not available in .32 ACP because there is not a high level of demand for it, but even if the FTX was loaded in .32 ACP, I seriously doubt that there would be any noticeable performance difference.

The Colt M1903 features a 3.75-inch barrel length as compared to the 2.68-inch barrel of the Kel-Tec P-32, making the M1903 capable of better ballistic performance than the Kel-Tec. Hornady rates the 60-grain XTP with a muzzle velocity of 1,000 feet per second, with corresponding muzzle energy of 133 foot-pounds. Clearly, the .32 ACP — even with these ballistics — is no giant-killer, and it produces a muzzle velocity similar to that of the .22 LR cartridge when fired from a rifle. However, it can still do the job.

Over my chronograph, I found that the actual ballistic performance was less than advertised, which is not uncommon in the ammunition world. My chronograph registered an average velocity of 932 feet per second for the .32 XTP, which produced 116 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. But how did those figures relate to performance in a bullet-testing medium? The quick answer is better than I thought.

I use 25-pound blocks of moist modeling clay purchased from Hobby Lobby for around $15 after I get hold of the weekly coupon. Moist modeling clay gives me an inexpensive and easy-to-work-with method of comparing pistol and rifle bullets to each other. The use of ballistic gelatin is expensive and messy, plus it really gives no more accurate measure of bullet performance in the human body than modeling clay does.

After all, both test mediums are homogenous lumps of material with no bones, muscle, sinews, organs or brain inside — and the ballistic gelatin must be kept at 55 degrees for proper performance. Last time I checked my body temperate, it was 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit. In the end, ballistic gelatin only provides a consistent method of comparing one cartridge to another.



Moist modeling clay gives me an inexpensive and easy-to-work-with method of comparing pistol and rifle bullets to each other. The use of ballistic gelatin is expensive and messy.



Modeling clay also provides an easy-to-measure bullet path. After the shot is made (only one per block), I cut the block in half to measure the diameter of the bullet path at various points. The effect is often very dramatic, and it’s easy to photograph. I tell you all this so you will not only understand my methodology and reasoning but so you can do your own easily conducted ballistic comparisons. Recently, I was pleased to see that NovX ammunition is now using clay blocks for testing and demonstration on their website to show their products’ ballistic performances.

I was surprised with how well the 60-grain XTP did, even with the 70 or so fewer feet per second than was advertised. At first, I was not so impressed with performance, as I had not sliced the block in half carefully enough and a portion of the bullet’s path was not visible. When I trimmed away more clay, I found an initial cavity that was 3 inches at its widest point, forming a tear-drop-shaped cavity. The cavity tapered down to an inch in diameter and penetrated the 10-inch block to a depth of 9 inches without exiting.

At this point, my opinion of the .32 ACP as a defensive round (at least with XTP ammo) began to rise. But how would it compare to a .380 version in testing over the chronograph and a modeling-clay shoot?

Speed Kills
Two factors were important for a valid comparison: First, both pistols had to be reasonably close in barrel length. As it turns out, the length of the barrel of my .380 test pistol — a Walther PPK/S — is 3.3 inches (as opposed to the Colt M1903’s 3.75-inch length). A half-inch is not significant enough to make a major difference in the modeling-clay test.

Second, the ammunition tested had to use the same bullet by the same manufacturer to be valid. For example, if I tested the .380 using Liberty Ammunition Civil Defense .380, which launches a 50-grain monolithic copper bullet downrange at 1,383 feet per second from the PPK/S, and compared it to the slower, heavier Hornady 32 XTP, the test would be invalid.

I purchased a box of Hornady Custom .380, which is loaded with a 90-grain XTP bullet. The muzzle velocity of this .380 load was also listed at 1,000 feet per second, with 200 foot-pounds of energy. On paper, these figures give the .380 a decided edge over the same XTP load in .32 ACP.

When fired from the PPK/S, the average velocity of the .380 XTP was 853 feet per second. This yielded muzzle energy of 145 foot-pounds, putting actual performance of these two rounds and pistols much closer than one might imagine. So how did the .380 XTP perform in the clay block? Almost exactly the same as the .32 XTP.



What was interesting was that the .380’s cavity tapered down to a half-inch in diameter as it approached the exit, as opposed to the 1-inch diameter of the .32.



One variation I do find in the clay-block test is that sometimes the blocks are not exactly the same length. Most are 10 inches long and 8 inches wide. The block I happened to use to test the .380 was about 9 inches in length rather than a full 10.

The .32 ACP’s extra 100 feet per second of muzzle velocity helped outweigh the advantage of the .380’s additional 30 grains of bullet weight. Had the ballistics that I obtained with my chronograph matched the advertised ballistics, then such would not have been the case.

The .380 XTP, or parts of it, exited the 9-inch block. The cavity at the widest point was exactly like that of the .32 ACP: 3 inches. What was interesting was that the .380’s cavity tapered down to a half-inch in diameter as it approached the exit, as opposed to the 1-inch diameter of the .32. Had the barrel length of the PPK/S been the same as the M1902, the .380’s exit path might have been a bit wider. Still in all, the performance in the clay block was pretty intriguing and has me calling the performance of these two XTP rounds — from these two pistols — a draw.

Consider the .32
Perhaps we should give modern .32 ACP more respect than it’s gotten of late. After all, it survived as a police and military cartridge in Europe for around 90 years. It is easier to shoot out of the same model gun than the .380 (the later Colt Model 1906 was chambered in .380), and it generally allows the addition of one more round in the magazine and has less recoil.

If you are looking at micro-sized pistols, have another look at the Kel-Tec P-32 or the larger Beretta .32 Tomcat and feed it the right ammo (like the Hornady XTP). North American Arms makes its fine stainless-steel Guardian pistol in .32 ACP, or you might consider a new-manufacture Colt M1903. The Walther PPK/S has not been produced in .32 ACP for many years, but you might find the occasional used specimen available. If you already have a .32 ACP pistol in good condition and are considering it for self-defense, test it with some Hornady .32 XTP ammunition. A .32 ACP self-defense pistol may be worth considering after all.

Sources
Browning Ammunition: BrowningAmmo.com

Walther Arms: WaltherArms.com

Beretta: Beretta.com

Kel-Tec: KelTecWeapons.com

Ruger: Ruger.com

Colt: Colt.com

U.S. Armament Corporation: USArmamentCorp.com

Hornady: Hornady.com

Liberty Ammunition: LibertyAmmo.com
 

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USCCA member comments:

Ken Carley • 14 days ago
You might also consider the Lehigh or Underwood .32 Extreme Cavitator. I know the guys at the Seecamp Forum have used it and with the unique bullet design can cause feeding issues in some of the Seecamps. I have had no problem with it in my Beretta Tomcat and it is a formidable defensive round in a small pocket pistol with little recoil. It is my summer carry and hides well with shorts and a T-shirt.


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Katie at USCCA Mod Squad Ken Carley • 10 days ago
What type of holster do you use for your Beretta, Ken?


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Ken Carley Katie at USCCA • 10 days ago
I use the DeSantis Nemesis N38BJG2Z0 for pocket carry.
 

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The Keltec P32 is a good design and easy to carry in your pocket. No problem feeding or ejecting the Hornady 60 gr xtp ammo. I would choose the P32 over the larger P3AT or Ruger copies.

A bird in hand beats two in the bush.

:tango_face_grin:
 

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looks like it could get it done. Ive never owned a 32acp. I guess the only downside I can see is finding ammo for it. But with the internet today you can find about anything if you look enough.
 

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I started asking my LEO friends a few years back what they carry for a BUG or off duty, and the P32 is much more popular than the J frame, even the LCR/M&P poly snubbies. And some of the retired folks are liking it too, easier to operate than some of the more popular semis for old arthritic and weakening hands.

Anyone know if the PPU 73gr JHP works well in P-32?
 

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My post is a bit late ( several months late ) but I hope that is alright. Currently I own half a dozen 32 acp pistols and a couple 380s. my colt 1903 and fn 1922 will feed simi wadcutter bullets without a hitch. the colt will actually feed the lyman 313445 a modified full wadcutter, the fn will also feed it most of the time. The nice clean hole cut from a full or simi wadcutter should do a bit of damage. So far I have not run them over the chrono but when the weather clears I will get it done. I also have the savage m-1907 2 Remington m-51 32 and one in 380 plus an unknown Spanish manufactured 32 about the size of the keltec but made of steel and fairly heavy. argie1891
 

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The Keltec P32 is always with me just like a "pocket knife". Weighing 9oz there is no reason to "leave home without it". I'm not impressed with the 60gr hollow point, though. The standard 71gr FMJ will out penetrate any of the hollow points (12 to 13" that I've seen tested). It cost less to reload, more accurate (in my pistols), and has never failed to fire. I even reload for the "little feller", which can be a "pain" (literally). Loaded with 2.2gr of Bullseye in a 71FMJ or lead bullet it tends to be a "one trick pony", but my Keltec will keep all its rounds "center mast" at any range you would consider using it; which for me is when all other alternatives have "disappeared". I do shoot and carry "bigger" guns upon occasion; however, seldom does the occasion arise in my environment. It is not an "intimidating" round, but it can be terminally lethal and inflict enough pain to give pause to an attacker. My .02.
 

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jager: thank you for not being so impressed with the 60 gn hollow points for the 32 acp. They don't impress me either and I have long been a advocate of plain jane ball ammo for both the 32 and the 380. They are about on par, both about the same velocity from the same length barrel and both within a good weight for the caliber. You and I have both noticed the ball ammo in either caliber penetrates the deepest, with both going 12-13". This was also found recently in tests with the 380. My preferences for pistols in the 32 caliber are old school with Walthers and Mausers as all steel platforms for comfortable shooting. The lightest weight 380 I own and enjoy shooting is the newer Walther Pk380 as the ergonomics seem perfect for me.
Interesting fact about the 32 calibers is their penetration. Ball ammo has a tendency to penetrate more deeply than some of the newer offerings. Bullet weights in 71, 73 and 77 gns never fail to properly cycle my pistols and seem to hit just about as hard as the 380s. I would not want to step in front of one of them. I have found however that flat nosing the bullet, or using a cast slug with a flat nose has a much greater affect on target impact than even round nose slugs. I have taken full metal jacketed slugs and reversed them in their cases and have shot them accurately to about 15 yds, leaving a nice square hole in the target. I have used both the 7.65 mm Luger and the 7.62 x 25 Tokarev (both 32 caliber, actually .308) with reversed bullets and the effect on impact is quite noticeable. By the way, both those two cartridges are known for their penetration and although the slugs are a tad heavier than the 32 acp and faster, the 32s just seem to penetrate quite nicely. Just sayin'.....
 

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I am a firm believer in the 32 acp also. I carried a Beretta tomcat for quite a while and trusted it completely. Even that little bugger got heavy after awhile. Especially in the hot summer here in Texas. It's weird how you start out carrying hand guns. With me it was bigger is better, then maybe a little smaller then smaller is better and finally down to my NAA 22lr. It's the only thing that don't pull my pants down. :)
 

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don't know about penetration in the 32 with hps. Don't actually know a thing about 32s and haven't even shot one to be honest. I will say though that the 25acp loaded with gold dots will punch through 3/8s plywood. So im sure it will get through human skin and maybe rib bone too. there isn't to many places in the human body that require more then 6 inches of penetration. At least none with vitals. Load mine with xtps or gold dots thank you.
 

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The profile of the 9mm ball ammo tends to allow it to penetrate deeply but without much shock. The 380 is much more rounded and to me, shooting varmit, kills quicker. However I carry gold dots in both my 9mm and 390 pistols.
 

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I carried a Tomcat in 32acp and felt confident in it. Well until I ended up in down town Richmond in a small riot . Had the people causing trouble came my way I doubt a tiny 32 would have offered enough stopping power nor would the small gun been easy to aquire targets fast enough . I sold the 32 . And there are 9mm pistols that are the size of 380s not to mention ammo is less for the 9mm. As for weight an airweight J frame can be had at 12 oz's . I live in a place where there is a shooting or stabbing almost daily at times. Home invasion is a reality way to often . I judge a gun by it's ablity to stop a threat or three along with ease of carry.
 

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As an after thought , in a class I took we we're shown a dash cam tape of a GEORGA state trooper shooting a guy in the center of his chest with a ,45 Hydra shock. The guy beat the trooper . It took three troopers to cuff him . He was on pcp. He was dead a few hours later. He did not know he was shot. It makes me wonder if a five shot 357 mag is enough.
 

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As an after thought , in a class I took we we're shown a dash cam tape of a GEORGA state trooper shooting a guy in the center of his chest with a ,45 Hydra shock. The guy beat the trooper . It took three troopers to cuff him . He was on pcp. He was dead a few hours later. He did not know he was shot. It makes me wonder if a five shot 357 mag is enough.
Unless you get lucky and hit him with a CNS shot or he gives up (psychological stop), no standard SD handgun round is going to stop a determined attacker until he bleeds out. Carry a good gun with good quality SD ammo and as much capacity as you can conceal. And may the odds be always in your favor.
 

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since I found out my colt 1903 would feed simi wadcutter ammo I have been using saeco #325 I think the nice clean hole and heavy bullet should do the job. it will also feed the lyman 311445 a wadcutter that bullet might be better. no jams with either bullet but I just trust the saeco more. hope I never have to find out if it is a stopper or not.
 

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There are a couple internet deals out there I am considering. Gun would be for my daughter to keep in her house, not carry

Used Beretta 81 in 32 acp- good condition- 12 rounds - $219
New Browning 1911-380 compact- 8 rounds- $440

I'm leaning toward the Beretta. Which would you buy?
 

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I have carried a P32 for years. I had 3 pistols in 32 acp. A Walther PP, a Walther PPK and the P32.

I am a fan.

The P32 is the same size as my bill fold and is always with me.

Cheesehead
 

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..another KelTec .32 promoter... I usually have 1-3 in the stable most of the time. I say most of the time because when I take people out shooting and bring a KelTec .32 they usually offer to buy it. "Lost" several that way.


They have to be the best deep-cover backup gun ever made. I used to carry a High Standard .22 Magnum for a third stringer but the KelTec is much better and easier to hide.


Also have a Walther PP in .32 and while a fun shooter I can hide a much more effective Kahr P380 much easier and really a PP isn't much smaller than the Colt Commander I usually carry.


Bob
 
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