The history of the .32 Automatic Colt Pistol is a rich one, filled with ups and downs, assassinations, suicides, and even iconic heroes. Its beginnings date back to 1899, when John Browning created his first successful commercial automatic pistol, and its legacy continues through today with most American and all European ammunition companies still manufacturing rounds in .32 caliber ammunition.
The .32 Automatic Colt Pistol, more commonly referred to as the .32 ACP or .32 Auto in the United States and the 7.65mm Browning in Europe, features a lightweight lead bullet that measures between .308 and .3125 inch in a semi-rimmed, straight-walled casing that measures .680 inch in length. At .984, the whole cartridge comes in just under an inch. This low-power ammunition has a wide variety of semi-automatic handguns chambered for it due its low recoil and lightweight concealability.
Since its 100-plus years of popularity, the .32 ACP has been chambered in more handguns than any other cartridge throughout history.
Development of the .32 ACP
John Moses Browning designed the .32 ACP cartridge in for the Fabrique Nationale 1900 blowback pistol in 1899. The cartridge, which is known in Europe as the 7.65mm Browning, saw great success. In 1903, the ammunition hit the U.S. market with the release of the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Pistol. Soon after, other firearm manufacturers followed suit and released their own semi-automatic pistols chambered for .32 Auto ammunition.
In the early decades of the 20th century, the .32 ACP was one of the most popular ammunitions, and was carried by law enforcement and armed forces around the world, as well as civilians looking for a reliable and easy-to-use self-defense weapon.
The .32 Auto’s Role in History
As .32 ACP ammo and the pistols that were chambered for it became more popular, these firearms started to play a role in history. On September 6, 1901, William McKinley, the 25th president of the United States, was shot twice, point blank, in the abdomen by an anarchist from New York named Leon Czolgsz. Czolgsz was carrying a .32 Iver Johnson revolver, which he concealed with a handkerchief as he pretended to shake the President’s hand. Eight days later, McKinley died of gangrene from the bullet wounds.
In 1914, a young Bosnian Serb named Gavrilo Princip used an FN Browning Model 1910 chambered in .32 Auto to assassinate Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie, taking part in the chain of events that pushed the world into World War I. Nicknamed the Gun that Shook the World, this culture-changing weapon was found in 2004, in an Austrian Jesuit community house that had inherited it from a close friend of the royal couple.
Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany, used another pistol chambered for the .32 ACP to commit suicide. On April 30, 1945, Hitler and his wife of two days, Eva Braun, killed themselves in his underground bunker in Berlin – Hitler with his Walther PPK and Braun by taking cyanide. Just a few days later on May 8th, the German forces surrendered to the Allies unconditionally.
When talking about .32 Auto-toting figures from the past, British Secret Agent 007, James Bond, must be mentioned. Bond’s character reigned in the 1950s, when .32 ACP pistols would have been readily available throughout the world. Although it’s not the only pistol Bond carries in the books and movies, this fictional hero often carried a Walther PPK.
Uses for the .32 Auto
When first released, .32 ACP ammo and the pistols that were chambered for it quickly rose in popularity. And even today, this caliber remains one of the more popular ammunition cartridges worldwide. Its light recoil, low noise threshold, and easy concealability make it an option for a variety of people and helps to keep the .32 ACP ammo price affordable.
The cartridge was used by European police and military personnel until the 9mm Parabellum replaced it in the late 1980s. Even after the larger round became the standard, many officers continued to wear pistols in this cartridge as both a backup weapon and badge of station.
The .32 Auto is a little too weak for hunting most game, but is still effective for small animals and varmint. Remember, although the round is strong enough, most modern pistols chambered for .32 caliber ACP ammo are designed for self-defense and close-range shooting, making them less accurate than other options for small-game handguns.
Another common function of the .32 ACP is for humane kills. From both the veterinary and the farm point of view, this cartridge provides more than enough impact to quickly and effectively kill an animal for butchering or when it’s injured, without causing unnecessary pain or discomfort. When the muzzle is placed on contact, .32 ACP bullets can even humanely dispatch large farm animals like horses and cows.
The .32 ACP is also popular among handloaders. Due to its small size and easy shooting, this round becomes versatile and can be loaded to different specs to improve ballistics. Handloading allows shooters to customize the way the round shoots and can help save some money when it comes to .32 ACP price.
Pistols Chambered in .32 Caliber
Many .32 caliber pistols have become popular throughout the last 115 years. These popular pistols are manufactured by Beretta, Colt, Fabrique Nationale, Kel-Tec, Smith & Wesson (S&W), and others. In the U.S., many firearm manufacturers continue to make .32 ACP pistols, including Colt, Remington, Harrington and Richardson (H&R), S&W, and Savage. In Europe, where the .32 Auto remains a favorite, every gun manufacturer that makes semi-automatic pistols has at least one chambered in .32 ACP.
When looking for one of these small-caliber semi-automatics, consider trying one of the following:
- Kel-Tec P32: The Kel-Tec P32 measures 5.1 inches in overall length, weighs 6.6 ounces, and has a magazine capacity of seven-plus-one. With a light trigger pull and small grip, it’s a great CCW for even the smallest-framed concealed carriers.
- Sig Sauer P230: Although it went off production in 1996, the Sig Sauer P230 can still be found second-hand in gun shops across America. It came chambered in both .32 ACP and .380 Auto and can be used as a single or double-action firing mechanism. It features an eight-plus-one magazine capacity, compared to seven-plus-one for the same gun chambered in .380.
- Beretta 3032 Tomcat Inox: With the tip-up design common among Beretta small-framed pistols, the Tomcat Inox is easy to load and operate with one hand. It’s designed for deep concealment and measures under five inches in total length, making it smaller than many of today’s smartphones. Some of the gun’s highlights include a seven-plus-one magazine capacity and an adjustable rear site.
Types of .32 ACP Ammo
Like other modern ammunition, the .32 ACP commonly comes in a variety of styles and types. The .32 Auto bullet is made of lead and typically weighs between 60 and 73 grain (gr) and features muzzle velocities ranging between 600 and 1,000 feet per second (fps).
From traditional full metal jacket bullets to those designed specifically for self defense, there’s a full range of .32 Auto ammo for sale.
- Full Metal Jacket (FMJ): FMJ bullets are lead bullets encased in a harder metal, typically copper, to help the projectile keep its shape through the firing and traveling process. These bullets don’t expand on impact and cause less damage than .32 ACP ammo that’s designed for self defense.
- Jacketed Hollow Point (JHP): JHP bullets are lead projectiles coated in a harder metal, like copper. Instead of being round, like cheap .32 ACP ammo in FMJ, these bullets have a hollow point leading to the center of the bullet. This allows the projectile to mushroom on impact, creating bigger wounds and reducing the risk of over-penetration. JHPs are often recommended for self-defense rounds and for shooting varmint.
- +P: .32 handgun ammo that’s labeled +P is loaded under a higher pressure than standard ammunition. These bullets create more stopping power and are effective self defense rounds. Only use this type of .32 ACP ammo in modern pistols that are rated for +P loads.
- Solid Copper: These specialty cartridges feature a solid copper bullet that doesn’t deform on impact, leading to a deeper penetration. Although the projectile keeps its odd shape, it creates energy that enlarges the wound, making these an interesting option for self defense.
Is .32 Auto Ammo Good for Self Defense?
When it comes to self defense, there’s not a solid consensus with the .32 ACP cartridge. To many, .32 Auto ammo is the benchmark for the minimally acceptable caliber for self defense, yet many firearms enthusiasts disagree, saying it lacks sufficient impact and stopping power.
To determine a firearm’s potential for self defense, the FBI has set the standard through rigorous field testing. Although .32 ACP bullets don’t make the FBI’s cut for law enforcement, some .32 Auto ammo does meet FBI’s standard for penetration, which is reaching a depth of 12 to 18 inches in 10 percent ballistics gel. For instance, Hornady’s XTP ammunition averages between 13.8 and 18.75 inches, making it meet the qualifications.
Notes on .32 ACP Ballistics
.32 ACP ammunition features some key advantages over the competition of small pistols, including light recoil, low noise, and easy concealment. Average ballistics on a standard round of .32 ACP features a 71 grain (gr) bullet that travels at 900 feet per second (fps) and has 128 foot-pound energy (ft·lbs). Scroll down to the bottom of this section for a complete .32 ACP ammo ballistics chart.
Rapidly expanding hollow point bullets traveling at high speed are on the leading edge of ammo technology for self defense, and the .32 ACP is on the list for many ammunition manufacturers. Hornady, for example, manufactures self-defense loads for the .32 ACP using its XTP bullet, and Federal tops a cartridge with its famous Hydra-Shok bullet.
Popular Names for the .32 ACP
Just like other ammo types, the .32 ACP is known by a range of other names, some of them correct and some of them not so correct. While the cartridge is officially known as the .32 Automatic Colt Pistol, it’s rarely called such, with people taking the abbreviated .32 ACP instead.
Here are some other common terms that people use for the .32 ACP round:
- .32 Automatic
- .32 Auto
- .32 Rimless Smokeless
- .32 Browning Auto
- 7.65mm Browning
- 7.65 Walther
Sometimes, people refer to the .32 ACP in the wrong fashion. They may omit the decimal point, as in 32 ACP ammo or 32 Auto, but this is incorrect, as the decimal point and number represent an actual measurement (the diameter of the bullet) and must both be included.
Other times, the ammo is written without the space between the caliber and the rest of the ammunition name, such as .32ACP ammo. While the meaning remains the same, when it’s written this way, it’s grammatically wrong. And lastly, sometimes it’s written with both of these aspects wrong, like 32Auto or 32ACP ammo.
Also, because ACP is an acronym of the ammunition's proper name (Automatic Colt Pistol), it should always be capitalized, as in .32 ACP, not .32 acp. In this same manner, because Auto in is an abbreviation of the proper name, it, too, should remain capitalized in .32 Auto.
Other Types of .32 Bullets and Ammo
While Browning designed the .32 ACP in 1899, the .32 bullet size hit the market over two decades earlier. In 1873, Colt released the first .32 firing pistol with the Colt New Line Pocket Pistols. At the time, .32 handgun ammo came in both centerfire and rimfire. As time went on, Colt chambered multiple single-action and double-action revolvers in .32 caliber.
Over the last 125 years, the .32 bullet has had many variations and some of the most popular include:
- .32 Single Action Army
- .32 S&W
- .32 S&W Long
- .32 S&W Gallery
- .32 Magnum
- .327 Federal
- .32 Colt
- .32 Short Colt
- .32 Long Colt
- .32 New Police
- .32-20 Winchester, also known as .32 Winchester Centerfire (WCF)
- .32 Winchester Special (WS)
- .32 H&R Magnum
- .32 North American Arms (NAA)
- .32 Federal Magnum
- .320 Revolver
Regardless what a shooter thinks of the .32 ACP, it’s hard to deny that the cartridge has its role in both history and today’s world. It may not offer the best self-defense options available, but it’s easy to shoot, easy to carry, and has one of the richest histories the world of ammunition has seen.
What does .32 ACP mean?
The term “.32 ACP” represents a bullet cartridge designed by John Moses Browning, the .32 Automatic Colt Pistol. Designed in 1899, it’s a low-power ammunition that’s often seen in pocket pistols and other subcompact self-defense handguns.
How effective is .32 ACP ammo?
The .32 ACP can have fatal ballistics, but many do not consider it powerful enough to use for self defense. It does not meet the FBI’s criteria for law enforcement due to limited stopping power and penetration. Yet it is deadly. For best results, opt for a round labeled jacketed hollow point (JHP) or +P.
What countries use 32 ACP ammo?
Countries throughout the world use .32 ACP ammo. This round was extremely popular in the first half of the 20th century, especially in Europe, and more handguns have been chambered in .32 ACP than any other caliber. It is almost universally available wherever handguns are.
What is the difference between .32 ACP and .380 Auto ammo?
While the .32 ACP and .380 ACP measure the same length, the .380 Auto is a much more powerful cartridge. It features a larger bullet, both in diameter and weight, and has a higher velocity and more energy.
Is 32 ACP good for self-defense?
Some gun enthusiasts say the .32 ACP is the smallest caliber acceptable for self defense, while others say that it does not have the stopping power nor penetration to be effective. These people often recommend the .380 ACP or even the 9mm as the minimally acceptable cartridge. In FBI field testing, the .32 ACP did not meet their standards. If you do opt for a .32 ACP for self defense, consider using jacketed hollow points (JHP) or +P rounds.
Who makes the best 32 ACP pistol?
The best .32 ACP pistol depends on your needs. Most quality firearms manufacturers make a pistol in .32 ACP and some of the most popular include the Kel-Tec P32, Sig Sauer P230, and the Beretta 3032 Tomcat Inox. The Walther PPK is considered one of the most popular .32 ACP pistols of all time.
32 ACP Ballistics: Chart of Average 32 ACP Ballistics
Note: This information comes from the manufacturer and is for informational purposes only. The actual ballistics obtained with your firearm can vary considerably from the advertised ballistics. Also, ballistics can vary from lot to lot with the same brand and type load.
|32 ACP Bullet WEIGHT
||Muzzle VELOCITY (fps)
||Muzzle ENERGY (ft. lbs.)
||Mid-Range TRAJECTORY (in.)
||Barrel Length (in.)
|60 Grain JHP
|71 Grain FMJ
|71 Grain FMJ
|71 Grain FMJ