The .32 ACP pistol cartridge has a long and storied history. It was the first handgun cartridge designed by John Moses Browning, the later designer of the 1911 pistol, and quickly became one of the most popular handgun cartridges in the world. Long a standard cartridge for police forces throughout Europe, handguns chambered in .32 ACP became the favorite of secret agent James Bond, were used by Adolf Hitler to kill himself, and were said to have been used by Gavrilo Princip to assassinate Crown Prince Franz Ferdinand and usher in the events leading to the beginning of World War I.
Unlike later handgun cartridges such as the 9mm Luger or the .45 ACP, the .32 ACP (Automatic Colt Pistol) cartridge has a slight rim in order to allow for more reliable extraction of its small case. The cartridge was originally designed in 1899 and chambered in numerous small pocket pistols. Its small size and limited power made it a natural choice for small, easily concealed blowback operated pistols.
Most loads for the .32 ACP feature a .312”-diameter 71-73 grain bullet traveling at about 1,000 feet per second, for about 160 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. That’s about 25-30% more than .22 LR, yet still only about half of that of 9mm Luger. That makes shooting a .32 ACP pistol much easier for women and those with smaller hands, as the recoil is far more manageable.
That light recoil and ability to be chambered in a small pistol has long made .32 ACP a favorite cartridge for concealed carry pistols. The fact that those small blowback pistols have fixed barrels means that pistols chambered for .32 ACP are often very accurate.
While the cartridge is of marginal stopping power, proper bullet selection can make it an effective cartridge for self defense. It can also be used to take small game, and chamber inserts are available to fire .32 ACP from rifles chambered in cartridges such as .30-06 Springfield, .308 Winchester, and 7.62x39.
Because of its long history and worldwide popularity, ammunition for the .32 ACP can be found just about anywhere. In Europe the cartridge is more popularly known as the 7.65 Browning or 7.65x17mm. If you’re looking for a pistol cartridge that can be used effectively for self defense, is available just about everywhere, and that can be used for other purposes as well, you might want to give the .32 ACP a look.
Image: Michael E. Cumpston