Hard as may seem to believe, .30-caliber handgun cartridges were once considered perfectly adequate for self defense. You’ll see that especially in Europe, where handguns chambered in .32 ACP were once standard sidearms for police officers. And here in the US cartridges such as the .32 S&W Long were once de rigueur for police agencies.
In fact, the .32 S&W Long was once the standard cartridge of the NYPD, back when Teddy Roosevelt was New York’s police commissioner. At the time, it was chambered in the Colt New Police revolver and was known as the .32 Colt New Police.
As time has progressed, however, the .32 S&W Long and other .30-caliber handgun cartridges have fallen out of favor both for police use and for personal defense. They were replaced first by revolver cartridges such as the .38 Special and .357 Magnum, and later by pistol cartridges such as the .45 ACP, 9mm Luger, and .40 S&W.
By modern standards the .32 S&W Long is anemic. Like most .32 cartridges, its bullet is actually .312” wide, making it a “fat” .30-caliber cartridge, like the 7.62x39, .303 British, and other European .30-caliber cartridges. The .32 S&W Long operates at very low pressures, in deference to the older, weaker revolvers in which it is normally chambered.
The most powerful handloading data for the .32 S&W Long indicates that it can push a 98-grain lead bullet to 860 feet per second, for about 160 foot-pounds of muzzle energy. More typical loads for jacketed bullets can push an 85-grain bullet to 865 feed per second, for about 140 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.
Those energy levels are about the same as a .22 LR fired from a Ruger 10/22 rifle. Compare them to the 90 foot-pounds of .22 LR fired from a pistol and you’ll see that the .32 S&W Long isn’t much more powerful than its smaller rimfire brother. Compare it to the 300-400 foot-pounds of muzzle energy that you’ll get from a 9mm Luger or +P cartridge and you can see why the .32 S&W Long has a reputation for being anemic.
The cartridge has a good reputation for accuracy, however, which is one reason it was valued as a police cartridge in the early 20th century. In all likelihood, though, if you own a revolver chambered in .32 S&W Long, you’re probably not going to do much high volume shooting with it.
Where the .32 S&W Long can shine, however, is in use as a practice round for revolvers chambered in more powerful cartridges such as .32 H&R Magnum or .327 Federal Magnum. It’s also cheaper than its bigger brothers. Right now, .32 S&W Long ammunition can be found for about 63 cents per round, versus 98 cents for the .32 H&R Magnum and nearly $3 for the .327 Federal.
Reloading supplies are going to be hard to come by at the moment due to the prioritization of more popular cartridges such as 9mm Luger and .223 Remington, but cases and bullets can be found. And both handloading and bullet casting can certainly help cut down on your cost of shooting.
There’s no doubt that shooting the .32 S&W Long can be enjoyable. And if you’ve saved up a stock of ammo and supplies for your revolver, you can certainly use it in a survival situation. But if you’re in a real pickle, the .32 S&W Long isn’t going to be your best option, and you may be better served by a handgun chambered in a more common caliber such as 9mm Luger or .45 ACP.
Image: Everett Walker