Is the .32 the New .380?

taurus_732Just a couple of years ago, the .380 ACP was a secondary cartridge: largely ignored by professional gun toters, eschewed in the press by gun experts, and not a big seller for dealers.  Now, it is the exact opposite thanks, in large part, to the Ruger LCP.  Since then, nearly every manufacturer introduced a .380 pistol trying to cash in on this invigorated market.

The question asked at many gun manufacturers’ marketing and design meetings has undoubtedly been “What’s the next big trend?”

Some are looking at the .32 ACP.

On the surface, the state of the .32 ACP is similar to that of the .380 ACP from three years ago.  Guns and ammo can be found in the caliber, but nothing really new, and nothing really hot.  The “old” .380 and the current .32 are considered to be underpowered for “serious” self-defense, and no one will readily admit they have one for protection.  But, one good gun could change that.

Develop a sexy gun in .32 ACP, and you might start reading articles about how the .32 makes perfect sense.  Articles that talk about the caliber/gun being a perfect combination of power and compact size with the benefits of being soft shooting for the recoil sensitive among us.  Sound familiar?

This week, MasterPiece Arms announced a .32 ACP pistol called the MPA32.  At the 2010 SHOT Show in Las Vegas, Taurus showed us the PT732, a .32 ACP version of the TCP.  Are these the first attempts to get in front of a new trend?  Maybe.

Here’s the problem as I see it.  The .32 ACP pistols don’t offer (at least yet) any real advantage over their .380 ACP counterparts.  For the most part they run the same size with the same or similar weights, with the same magazine capacity.  And, where .380 ACP ammo was considered to be “almost there” for self-defense, no one really tries to claim the .32 is nearly that effective.  So, right now, I just don’t see it.

Want to make a .32 ACP trend work?  I think you’ve got to get the gun smaller than a LCP without it getting lost in your hand, plus offer more capacity.  Without the capacity advantage, the 9mm vs. .45 debate would have been a short argument at best.

About Richard Johnson

Richard Johnson is a gun writer, police trainer and really bad joke teller. Check out his other writing in Combat Handguns, Guns & Weapons for Law Enforcement, on The Firearm Blog and at BlueSheepdog.

  • Bobby Hunter

    In my CCW classes, I keep getting little old ladies that have lost their grip strength. Combine that with small hands and you have a real issue. Simply handing her some small-gripped wonder-gun does not help, because without grip strength, she cannot control the recoil.

    I have seen this happen over and over again in my classes. The 380 has too much recoil for a pocket gun. That is where the 32 comes in. Low recoil means they can focus on accuracy and get some meaninful practice without beating up their hands.

    For these students, I usually recomend a CZ83 in 32 auto (a bit heavy, but nice grip and high capacity) or the KelTec p32 and NAA Guardian 32, both with extended grips and magazines. The extended mags on the KelTec and NAA are nice because when you have grip strength issues, getting that pinky on the grip can be the difference between shooting and not shooting.

    I am looking forward to more 32 autos.

    • Richard


      Thanks for posting. I agree the .32 has a place, and for those with significant hand strength issues, the .32 may be a good choice. And, you are definitely right that a slightly heavier gun combined with the .32 makes for an easy shooting pistol.


    • Vaughan Pederson

      How about the Beretta .32 with the tip up barrel? You don’t need to rack the slide ~ should be great for those with arthritis or poor grip strength. Wish they made it in .380.

  • scory

    Whatever happened to the .32NAA? This seems like a pretty good compromise between the .380 and the standard .32ACP. But it never seemed to really catch on and so far only Corbon is making ammo for it.

    • Richard

      I liked the potential of the .32 NAA, but it never caught on. To my knowledge, only CorBon is making ammo for it. I think someone was making a conversion kit for the P3AT, but I can’t seem to find the info now.

  • Kirk Lawson

    Correction. Kel-Tec reinvigorated the pocket .380 market. Ruger introduced their LCP, copying the design of the Kel-Tec P3AT, 5 years after Kel-Tec’s offering. Since then, nearly every manufacturer introduced a .380 pistol trying to cash in on this market that Kel-Tec reinvigorated.

    • Richard

      Hi Kirk,

      I like Kel-Tec and the products they make. No doubt the P3AT influenced or even inspired the LCP, however, in my opinion the LCP is what has caused the .380 market to catch on fire. In the years prior to the LCP, the .380 market was pretty stagnant. In the two years since the LCP was announced, all sorts of new pistols and ammo have been introduced due to overwhelming customer demand. I can’t imagine year six of the P3AT caused that. Influenced it? Sure.


  • Kirk Lawson

    Hi Richard,

    I guess we’ll just disagree on this relatively small issue. No biggie.

    • Richard


      Everyone is allowed to disagree with me!


  • Gunmart

    I bought my P32 during the Obama Gun Glut…. I decided I wanted a pocket pistol for times when I could not carry my Glock 26 and then finally narrowed it down to the Kel-Tec. It was bought at a time when you could not find any pocket pistol anywhere within 500 miles and I decided that I was going to get the first new P32/P3AT that I could find. It ended up being the P32 and I am very happy with it.

    IMO, the small trade off in 32 ACP performance from .380 is not enough to be significant. I also like the weight advantage you get (vs the P3AT and all the other .380s) as well as the extra round in the mag. I also believe that the significantly less recoil in the .32 is a huge advantage as I am a firm believer that you need to empty the whole damn mag into the bastard.

    To answer your original question: Maybe.

    I think it all will be driven by the ammo industry. Once many different manufactures come out with enough tricked out loads to do to the .32 what was done with the once sub par .380 it will catch on like wild fire….. This all of course will be driven by the gun makers who have to sell enough guns first to make it worth while for the ammo companies to do the R&D needed to supply the high performance ammo. Maybe id Ruger introduces a sexy little .32 it will happen. The Kel-Tec .32 has been out for a while, but like the .380 I dont think Kel-Tec is going to be enough to start the wild fire.

    The .32 is a good round, and like I said, it doesnt give away enough to the .380 that it really matters. You still get enough penetration and expansion to make it enough gun. Corbon already has a really nicely performing hallow point:

    … and they are now offering their DPX in .32 ACP and that thing is a monster when it comes to expansion:

    BTW- I am going to link to this over at my blog… its a really nice post.

  • Jonathan

    I agree with Kirk Lawson. It was Kel Tec’s P3AT that reinvigorated the market. It was that pistol and not the LCP that inspired ammo manufacturers to put new R&D into .380 ammo. It was largely the resulting, more effective .380 ammo that drew so many people to the .380 pocket pistol. This created a market into which Ruger stepped at the most opportune time. Without those ammo innovations – brought about by the innovations found in the P3AT – the market for the LCP likely wouldn’t have been nearly as strong. Yes, that was a few years after the P3AT first hit the market. That is because it took ammo manufacturers that long to both ‘come around’ and then develop the new, more effective .380 ammo. In other words, the LCP did not create a market. It simply came on the scene just in time to take advantage of a market that was created by the P3AT.

  • Gunfan

    There is a great handload that makes the .32 ACP stand up and “do a tap dance.”

    2.2 gr. of vv-N310 (max) haead of a 71-grain FMJ, yielding 1001 fps and 158 fpe. This substantially enhances the ability of the .32 ACP to penetrate. (This, of course, is the “long suit” of the “lesser” .32.) An added advantage to this is the elimination of the “rimlock” problem that tends to plague hollowpoint lodings for the round.

    Interesting? I thought so.

  • Counsel

    I don’t think all those kills in the wild west were mafe by 45 Coly guns. How many were made by 38 or less??

  • Matthew Carberry

    I can see Sig and Colt making the P238/Mustang in .32 and touting increased capacity and lighter recoil for that portion of the population who need it, Taurus and Beretta revising up the tip-up “Tomcat” marketing, and KelTec, Ruger and the rest of the plastic lookalikes who don’t already have a .32 version coming up with one, but that will just be reversing the trend that led to the .380 sub-compacts in the first place, the fact you can stuff a .380 almost anywhere a .32 can go.

    If there’s to be a “revolution” I think it’d go the other way, using better machining and metallurgy to put .32’s into traditional .25 ACP real “hideout”-sized guns.

    Like the Colt 1908, Baby Browning and the like, guns that make the LCR and P3AT look big. A .32 you can fit in the watch pocket of your jeans or hang off the back side of a tie-clip (or in kydex on your keychain and still put the whole shebang in your pants pocket).