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The case for the 32 Magnum revolver

As the token revolver nerd around here, sometimes I feel compelled to discuss niche topics that perhaps 100 people will read. For example, the case for the .32 caliber defensive revolver, specifically small revolvers firing 32 H&R Magnum. If that's not your cup of tea, check out this great article on picking your first handgun for the COVID-19 Apocalypse.

Alright, now that the casuals left let's get down to business. Assuming you've made the choice to use a small revolver, as exemplified by the Ruger LCR and Smith & Wesson J-frame, you've also probably settled on 38 Special, perhaps out of a 357 Magnum chambered gun, as your choice. To be fair, that is a solid choice and one that will serve you well forever, with plentiful ammo and ample options for self defense rounds. But bear with me for a moment, because there's a powerful case to made for the humble 32 Magnum. To be crystal clear, this applies to 32 Magnum, not 327 Federal. 327 Federal jumps back up into unacceptable levels of recoil and muzzle blast making it not ideal out of little guns like an LCR, but 32 Magnum is perfect. Thankfully, you can shoot 32 Magnum out of any gun chambered in 327 Federal, just like 38 Specials out of a 357 Magnum. Now that's established, let's make our case for 32 Mag.

The first point for a 32 Magnum revolver in this debate is terminal performance. It's generally accepted that 38 Special does not offer reliable expansion out of small revolvers, and while Federal's relatively new 130 grain HST Micro shows promise, it's pretty much the only one. Many reputable revolver experts recommend carrying 148 grain full wadcutters in the gun. Full wadcutters, in independent ballistic testing, will defeat four layer denim and meet the FBI's penetration guidelines. They also offer minimal recoil and muzzle blast, maximizing the shooter's chances of getting a fight-stopping hit.

If all that makes sense, good. We're on the same page. Now what if I told you that 32 Magnum, when fired from the same size guns, has a similar recoil impulse to light 38 Special loads, will also defeat four layer denim and meet the FBI's standards, but you get a sixth round? Well that seems pretty cool, right? Good news, because that's all true. And that sixth round is important, because if we're dealing with averages here, it gives you the ability to engage one more “average” attacker. If you're carrying a small wheelgun, you've accepted (or are hoping) that your defensive encounter isn't a running gun battle with cartel members. It's probably going to look more like the “Rule of 3” defensive gun use: 3 shots, 3 yards, under 3 seconds. With that in mind, if you can squeeze another round into that wonderfully compact revolver package, you've increased your firepower by 20%. 6 shots suddenly seems a lot more reasonable, even when compared to small semi-autos. And since the 32 Magnum meets the FBI's standards for penetration, you're not losing anything over a 38 Special.

Charter Arms .32 Magnum Professional

Image courtesy Charter Arms

There are two arguments against a 32 Magnum revolver. The first is ammo availability. Ammo is not as readily available for 32 Magnum as it is for 38 Special, and it never will be. It's also more expensive, so if you're going to commit to the 32 Hipster life, you need to be willing to buy a lot of ammo when it's available. Although the counterpoint to that argument is that, right now, the first week of April in 2020, and we're in the COVID-19 ammo crisis, I was able to find 32 Magnum for sale online. But in general, it's more expensive and harder to find than .38. The second argument against 32 Magnum is that gun selection is limited. Ruger makes the LCR and SP101 in 327 Federal, and Charter Arms makes 3 guns in 32 Magnum. Smith & Wesson no longer offers the 432PD 32 Magnum J-frame, and a used one was on Armslist today for $800. The best choice does seem to be the LCR with a 2-inch barrel, which unfortunately has crappy sights. But if you were going to buy an LCR anyway…might as well get another round in the gun.

There are a lot of “ifs” and assumptions in this article, obviously. Revolvers are a niche choice for personal defense these days, and a 32 Magnum revolver even more so. But if you've decided a wheelgun is the right choice, suddenly a 32 Magnum revolver starts to make a lot of sense.

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2 responses to “The case for the 32 Magnum revolver”

  1. anwat sadat says:

    Excellent article. I have found myself carrying my S&W .32 H&R more and more frequently. I have several Glock 23’s that were my primary concealed carry, but often find them too large to conceal effectively. The ballistics on the .32 H&R are pretty impressive for such a small round, I am surprised it hasn’t caught on more. I don’t like the tiny semi-autos, they are too hard to operate in a high stress environment, but this is an effective round in a tiny package that is pretty hard not to be able to manipulate. Thanks for making me feel like I’m not the only one who has ever heard of this round!

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