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Thread: The .32 S&W Long as a man-stopper

  1. #1
    Moderator Emeritus/Boolit Master in Heavens Range
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    The .32 S&W Long as a man-stopper

    WARNING! Long Post!!

    We all know that shooters, particularly enthusiasts of the cast boolit, are calm, dispassionate and impartial individuals for the most part, never given to playing favorites or giving way to wild emotional reactions. They can generally be counted on to review the evidence for or against a given argument, and render a carefully considered judgment. (Huh? What’s getting deep? Anyhow, on with the show!)

    I would like to present arguments for and against the .32 S&W Long as a defensive man-stopping round, and invite discussion on these points, as well as points that you might wish to bring up that I have overlooked.

    The first point is that the .32 S&W Long has a fairly respectable history as a police round, particularly in the form of the flat-nosed .32 Colt New Police. The flat nosed bullet is generally credited with superior stopping power over the round nose bullet.

    The next point of course is that the .32 S&W Long was found deficient as a police round, and was replaced by larger, more powerful rounds. While true, this is a rather curious turn of events, as the typical rational person who finds himself wounded with even a .22 finds that obtaining medical attention quickly takes precedent over whatever had occupied his attention prior to the wounding. Unfortunately, events and personal reactions typical of police encounters and shootings are frequently not well described as rational. High levels of adrenalin and excitement can sometimes even preclude the victim being aware of having been shot until blood loss results in incapacity. Larger and more powerful rounds are the usually recommended means to deal with this phenomenon.

    But are larger and more powerful rounds the only or even the best approach to the problem of adrenalin and excitement induced lack of reaction to being wounded? There is good reason to think that is not the case. Few arenas can produce higher levels of excitement and adrenalin than military combat. Yet some very ‘anemic’ rounds have been found effective in such situations. The US employed the .30 Carbine with considerable satisfaction in both WWII and later in Viet Nam, where the smaller carbine was much favored by the Vietnamese troops who were of typically smaller stature.

    The French have long used such pipsqueaks as the 32 Lebel in their revolvers, and found it sufficiently satisfactory that they reproduced it in the .32 French Long as their favored military auto pistol round. The .32 French is so like the .32 S&W Long that cases for it can be made by nothing more than turning the rim off and making an extractor groove. The French military has a LOT of combat experience!! In fact, very similar rounds were almost standard military issue throughout Europe up to and including WWII. And some of them were notably less powerful than the .32 S&W Long factory loading. I wonder why the combined military expertese of so many nations over so many years, and with so much combat experience could have been so woefully wrong as to think such rounds could be effective man-stoppers? Or could it be that we Americans are just a trifle big-bore crazy?

    Once I got to thinking about it, I realized that most of the power of rounds like the 45 ACP (which I dearly love) and even the Dirty Harry 44 Mag invariably waste most of their power on whatever is on the far side of whoever gets hit by them. I couldn’t say how much power is necessary for their unquestionable effectiveness, but it’s pretty obvious that it’s only a small fraction of what they deliver at the muzzle.

    “Triggernometry - Home Bullet Penetration Tests” is the title of an article in the free e-zine GunsAmerica Magazine. You can access it here: http://www.gunsamerica.com/blog/trig...t-penetration/. The author recommends using penetration in / through jugs of water – specifically two liter pop bottles and milk jugs – as a way to gauge the effectiveness of a given round. In his tests, a standard 45 ACP just did make it through the length of one bottle.

    Today, I took a milk jug full of water to the range with me. I laid it on its side, and shot through the bottom at a measured range of 25 yards with a .32 S&W Long handload. The load was 7.0g of H-110 under a hard cast 115g Lyman 311008, sized to 0.313” and seated to crimp in the top lube groove. Primer was CCI small pistol. Fired primers were flattened, but not excessively, and extraction from my S&W M30-1 was easy. It did shoot about 2" high from the fixed sights, and required a 6 o'clock hold, but it grouped well: ~ 2" at 25 yards.

    I consider this a top load. It is well over factory load pressures and velocities, and definitely is NOT for older 32 pistols, particularly breaktop revolvers. The load data is for your information only. It is NOT a recomendation. It may well be execssive in your gun, with your components, and in warmer environments, and if you use it, it will be entirely at your own risk.

    But the bullet not only penetrated the full length of the water column in the jug, it had sufficient pizzazz left at the far end to generate ruptures in the jug as it exited that were up to an inch and a half long. I don't think it would have any problem fully transiting a torso, and the 45 ACP wouldn't do a whole lot more.

    Now I know very well that some men have taken torso hits with 45's and 44 mags and continuted to fight. NOTHING is 100 % reliable / effective. In particular, I know that .32 S&W Long factory loadings will not produce such results. It takes a special handload like the one I described above. But we bullet casters put up special combinations all the time, and we seldom restrict ourselves to factory ballistics. So the question I would like to put up for discussion is this: Do you think that the .32 S&W Long – suitably handloaded – can be a reasonable choice for a CCW gun that may well be required to stop a man full of excitement and adrenalin? If so, I’d be interested in why. If not, I’d be even more interested in why not.
    Last edited by Molly; 12-28-2010 at 11:55 PM.
    Regards,

    Molly

    "The remedy for evil men is not the abrogation of the rights of law abiding citizens. The remedy for evil men is the gallows." Thomas Jefferson

  2. #2
    Boolit Master Landric's Avatar
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    I don't think this is one of those questions that really has an answer, or if it does, the answer is "it depends". There really is no way to determine with 100% accuracy whether or not a .32 S&W Long or a .30-06 Springfield, or anything in between, will be effective against a specific target.

    Would I feel comfortable carrying a .32 S&W Long with a heavy handload? Probably not, but that isn't because I know something you don't, I'm just guessing on what will be effective and what won't be. I have been known to carry a .32 H&R Magnum revolver from time to time, but I'm not nearly as sure of it as I am of the .38 Special +P out of a revolver of the same size.

    I can't see any reason not to carry a .32 S&W Long with high end handloads if that makes one comfortable. I'm sure it can be effective if the shooter does his job, just as the .50 AE can be ineffective if the shooter doesn't do his job.
    "The Engine could still smile...it seemed to scare them" -Felix

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  3. #3
    bhn22
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    I think it could be a reasonable choice if you followed the usual "small caliber enhancement protocols". I just made that up, so feel free to use it. First of all, you need a properly designed bullet profile. Perhaps something like an LBT LFN, or a really maximized Keith style SWC. You'll need something with sharp corners, and clean lines. And of course- no hollowpoint. For a mouse gun, I'd prefer to see something that with maximum penetration capabilities. Hollowpoints lose a lot of energy deforming the bullet. I think this energy would be better utilized in penetration. Remember, we're not talking about 1500 FPS velocities here, closer to half that. I'd like to see that bullet a bit on the heavy side. To use this on a full-size man under normal conditions would be optimistic. To use it on someone on drugs would be nearly futile unless you can make a solid hit on the central nervous system. However, I would rate such a load as a better choice that the current rimfires, 32 ACP, or possibly 380 ball. Personally, I'd only do this if I had no better choice available.

  4. #4
    Boolit Master S.R.Custom's Avatar
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    I can say with certainty that the .32 would be better than a .25...

    That said, adequate man-stopping ability is in the eye of the beholder. Some men are of such confidence and self-assuredness (or should I say, lack thereof) in their own ability that they have to have a .45, and anything else is lacking. On the other hand, some men are effective at dropping an enemy combatant armed with no more than a sharp stick. Fortunately, there are enough of both to go around.
    “If your only tool is a hammer, then all your problems start to look like people who need to be beaten with a hammer.”

  5. #5
    Boolit Master Guesser's Avatar
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    I carry revolvers chambered in 32 Long from time to time. I have confidence in them and in the ammunition in them, they are my guns that I have become proficient with and loads that I have developed. I like the little revolvers, they are light and very accurate, if accuracy matters at clothes closet ranges. I sometimes carry a 38, Detective Special or S&W 37 but never with +P, just my preference. I also have a 50 year old Walther PP in 32 Auto that I have confidence in. All in all; 32 is good.

  6. #6
    Boolit Master
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    I'll keep an eye on this thread, Always interested in the .32 threads.
    Nozombies.com Practical Zombie Survival

    I collect all things .32. If you have something you don't need, please let me know!

  7. #7
    Boolit Master

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    Here is an opinion that I've been mulling over for a long time. It goes back to a time when I was thinking about the anemic rim fire cartridges used in vest pocket pistols in the later part of the 19th century...

    Once upon a time, medical science was not what it is today. People had a real fear of being shot and dieing from infection a month later. Any pistol had a real deterrent effect. As time moved on and medical science improved, the fear of being shot lessened and so firearms carriers began to move to cartridges that had a better chance of actually stopping a determined adversary.

    Now for sure, some serious shooters always carried as big a ball as they could find. But the general perception of "adequate" keeps drifting higher...

  8. #8
    Boolit Master
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    Interesting thread. I like Ima's text concerning the dissuasion effects of ANY pistol due to the early historical medical after-effects of gunshot wounds (hereinafter "GSW"), and consider that to be a very valid observation.

    Let's take that observation a bit further. These days, modern medicine can save many GSW victims that in past times would not have survived. This is general knowledge throughout our society, and the criminal element is keenly aware of these facts. I would submit that criminals rather stupidly believe that sustaining a GSW is not that serious an issue, assuming they consciously consider the possibility as a part of their threat assessment prior to an attack. No one said that crooks were very smart. This impression was gained from having interviewed hundreds of criminals over my 28 years of cop work, many of whom had sustained and survived GSWs.

    One other paradigm shift that has occurred during the last century goes almost unmentioned, but I believe it to be critical to the discussion of defensive shooting preparation and training. When the state laws related to use of force to stop criminal activity/attacks were initially drafted in our country, it was generally believed that the interests of justice were well served by having both private citizens and public officers fire upon fleeing suspects believed to have committed felonious acts, irrespective of the fleeing suspects' status as being armed or not. This mindset prevailed well into the 20th Century. In effect, the citizen's or officer's firearm in such instances became little more than a marking pellet launcher, which would if accurately placed label the fleeing subject as the person sought for the crime in question. It is in these sorts of circumstances that the 32 S&W Long or 38 S&W did their best work. They identified culprits (well, sort of.....), and occasionally produced disabling or fatal results. Since many--perhaps most felons engaged in this fashion were going away from the shooters, the calibers' weak stopping abilities only came to the fore in cases where the felon was in your face and pressing an armed attack. In these instances, the weak-sistered handgun rounds of the day were largely ineffective in stopping attacks.

    As times went on, the practice of firing upon fleeing unarmed felons became frowned upon by the legal system--whether the firing was done by citizens or by cops. Dead suspects don't generate revenue for lawyers, and defense attorneys hate having their rice bowls broken. What emerged is a rule of engagement that only allows citizens and cops to use deadly force when confronted with deadly force or force likely to produce great bodily harm. What this means--YOU WILL BE SQUARELY IN HARM'S WAY AT THE TIME YOU COMMENCE SELF-PROTECTIVE FIRING. Then and only then will you be justified in projecting lethal force. This means the attacker(s) will be in your face exchanging finality with you at close quarters. For these circumstances, most people want as large a caliber--as heavy a bullet--going as fast as possible--in a compact platform that carries as many rounds as can be stuffed into a cylinder or magazine. You choose what to carry, and what to feed it. Ya still think that 32 is "all that and a bag of chips?"

    This isn't fly fishing, where light tackle and prowess with same on large species is praised and rewarded. 2nd place award ceremonies for gunfights get held in churches and at gravesides. God knows I've attended enough of them.
    I don't paint bullets. I like Black Rifle Coffee. Sacred cows are always fair game. California is to the United States what Syria is to Russia and North Korea is to China/South Korea/Japan--a Hermit Kingdom detached from the real world and led by delusional maniacs, an economic and social basket case sustained by "foreign" aid so as to not lose military bases.

  9. #9
    Boolit Master



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    As I see it, the people that we need to stop, are often high on drugs. Some drugs mask nearly all pain and you need to "break bone" or hit the central nervous system regardless of what you are shooting.

    Jim Cirillo, the famous and colorful New York law man who headed up the New York Stakeout Squad had a LOT of real world experience gun fighting. I talked to Jim several times over the years and particularly remember one fight he was in that he related to me. It took place during a robbery of a Super Market. Jim and the bad guy were chasing each other around the store. They both rounded a corner and came face to face. Jim was armed with a 12 gauge shotgun loaded with Breneke slugs. Jim fired first (from the hip) and shot the armed robber in the torso at point blank range. The robber dropped his arms at the shot but did NOT drop his gun. Jim gave him a second round in the torso. This time the man dropped his gun, turned and ran for the door. When he got to the door, it was an "IN" door and he couldn't get out. As he pushed against the door, he suddenly slumped to the floor. As Jim pointed out there is NO SUCH THING as 100% stopping power, except - as he so colorfully put it, a .38 wadcutter to the left eye!

    At the time, the Stake Out Squad was armed with .38 revolvers with full power wad cutters in addition to their often preferred shot guns.

    All of that said, If I were a police officer, I would carry a 1911 with .45 ACP 230 grs Federal Hydra Shok ammo. However, as I am a civilian and hopefully have much less exposure to a "need" for self protection, my daily carry is an S&W 642 with .38 Plus P FBI load (158 gr lead hollow point). I have a snub nose .32, but see no reason to settle for less than the .38 as there is no benefit in doing so (guns are the same size, etc and I would rather have five relatively powerful rounds rather than six much less effective loads).

    One thing that MUST be said, that first shot PLACEMENT is ALL IMPORTANT. If you shoot something as small as a squirrel "around the edges" it becomes almost bullet proof. That same things applies to people. Once they get full of adrenaline, they are almost unstoppable, and a shot around the edges will certainly cause the adrenaline to flow...

    Dale53

  10. #10
    Boolit Master

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    Some great food for thought there 9.3X62AL.

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    Boolit Master
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    The .30 Carbine reference muddies the water. Most think that worked OK so a .30 cal 110 gr. bullet at 1800 fps working somehow means a .32 long with a lighter bullet at less than half the velocity will work?

    Those militaries and police gave up the .32s for a reason. Conversely the militaries of the world are holding onto their 9mms which should tell us all something. World wars are good testing grounds and the 9mm with ball has just gotten more popular.

    Unless one goes to something like a .44 mag, handgun rounds just aren't very powerful. Handguns also are not easy to shoot well. There is always a balancing act of power, gun weight, recoil, and marksmanship.
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  12. #12
    Boolit Master
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    I don't know about psychology. And nobody understands physiology completely. And that's why my defense guns go bang more than once.

    I own a lot of stuff and theorize about none anymore. The best defense gun is one that you HOPE you will have with you when the need arises. With the best ammo being that which you HOPE is in the gun.

    Beat him with the gun when you are out of shells and hope this isn't the way God means for you to go out. If it is your time, don't matter what caliber it was.
    Last edited by Bass Ackward; 12-29-2010 at 08:14 AM.
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  13. #13
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    You can shoot one BG loaded up on drugs with a 22 short from a little auto gun and he'll drop like a rock. The next one you could hit multiple times with a 500 S+W and he'll walk over and choke you to death. Nothing is certain. For 99% of us using what we're comfortable with or have handy is more important than someones elses theory.

    Personally, if I could find a nice little J frame 32 I'd be fine with it.

  14. #14
    Boolit Master

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    Quote Originally Posted by Bret4207 View Post
    You can shoot one BG loaded up on drugs with a 22 short from a little auto gun and he'll drop like a rock. The next one you could hit multiple times with a 500 S+W and he'll walk over and choke you to death. Nothing is certain. For 99% of us using what we're comfortable with or have handy is more important than someones elses theory.

    Personally, if I could find a nice little J frame 32 I'd be fine with it.
    I have killed a lot of deer in my life and learned early on that if you want to put them down quick to hit them in one of two places.

    The first and I think is the best is to traumatize the nerves system ie; the spine or the brain. But both are risky shots at a distance.

    Next is a shot to break down the skeletial structure of the animal, with the front shoulder being the best, because if you "Miss" you could very well hit the heart and or lungs. which may mean some tracking to retrieve the deer.

    What I'm getting at, is, if you intend to shoot a person who may be armed and is able to shoot back you need to try to disrupt his abaility to strike back at you and do it as quickly as possible.
    A quick expanding boolit at a high velocity (950-1200fps ) should help nutralize any threat.
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  15. #15
    Moderator Emeritus/Boolit Master in Heavens Range
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    Thanks for some really thoughtful responses, particularly from 9.3X62AL and Dale53. And some of the other comments suggest that I might mention that MY favorite CCW and bedside companion is a Charter Arms 'Bulldog' in 44 Special.

    I wasn't necessarily trying to espouse the .32 S&W Long as a manstopper (particularly in the factory loading, which cannot be improved on because of all the old BP and breaktop revolvers that are still around for it). But when my handload gave more penetration than the articles author got with a 45 ACP in his milk jug test, it set me to thinking.

    Dr. Martin Fackler (President of the International Wound Ballistics Assoc.) has long championed permanent cavity volume as the only reliable indicator of 'stopping power'. He has stated (words to the effect) that the temporary wound cavity so often dramaticly photographed is without value in incapacitation unless it infringes the heart or central nervous system. He has also said that expanding bullets waste a lot of energy in generating the expansion that produce the temporary wound cavity. I suspect a lot of people here will disagree with that, but I also suspect nobody here will have a tenth of the experience that Dr. Fackler brings to his opinions. He has international acclaim and respect in this field that few men can match.

    I mention this so that you will know that I was not simply trying to generate smoke and fire with my question. And so you can know that there are legitimate reasons to question the typical '.32 pipsqueak' knee-jerk reaction of many big-bore enthusiasts - a class that I consider myself member of.

    It is a simple matter of factual historical record that rounds very similar to the factory loading for the .32 S&W Long were considered satisfactory for generations in European armies and police forces. Logic suggests that anyone denigrating the .32 long for similar purposes be required to account for the huge historical record that disagrees with their opinion, if they want to be taken seriously.
    Regards,

    Molly

    "The remedy for evil men is not the abrogation of the rights of law abiding citizens. The remedy for evil men is the gallows." Thomas Jefferson

  16. #16
    Moderator Emeritus/Boolit Master in Heavens Range
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    Hi Piedmont
    >The .30 Carbine reference muddies the water. Most think that worked OK so a .30 cal 110 gr. bullet at 1800 fps working somehow means a .32 long with a lighter bullet at less than half the velocity will work?

    Actually, I have a data base of about 1500 loads for the .32 S&W Long, many of which report velocities considerably higher than 900 fps. I haven't chronographed my load (yet), but would be surprised if it isn't producing 1200 fps or more. 9.2g of 2400 has been reported as delivering ~ 1350 fps with a 313631 bullet.

    >Those militaries and police gave up the .32s for a reason. Conversely the militaries of the world are holding onto their 9mms which should tell us all something. World wars are good testing grounds and the 9mm with ball has just gotten more popular.

    You are correct in what you say, but not in your implication that they finally found out how ignorant and misled they had been. Most (if not all) of them adopted the 9mm because it was REQUIRED for compliance with treaty obligation with (IE) NATO. It is noteworthy that despite its notably higher energy, 9mm ball ammo has garnered such a poor reputation for stopping power that it touched off an arms race to improve the 9mm with expanding and truncated nose bullets.

    >Unless one goes to something like a .44 mag, handgun rounds just aren't very powerful.

    Handgun rounds generally 'lack power' only when compared to rifle rounds or shotgun slugs. Handgun rounds from the .357 Mag and up are considered powerful enough and controlable enough for deer hunting in almost all states. This usually includes non-magnum rounds like the .45 Colt.
    Regards,

    Molly

    "The remedy for evil men is not the abrogation of the rights of law abiding citizens. The remedy for evil men is the gallows." Thomas Jefferson

  17. #17
    Moderator Emeritus/Boolit Master in Heavens Range
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    Quote Originally Posted by imashooter2 View Post
    Here is an opinion that I've been mulling over for a long time. It goes back to a time when I was thinking about the anemic rim fire cartridges used in vest pocket pistols in the later part of the 19th century...

    Once upon a time, medical science was not what it is today. People had a real fear of being shot and dieing from infection a month later. Any pistol had a real deterrent effect. As time moved on and medical science improved, the fear of being shot lessened and so firearms carriers began to move to cartridges that had a better chance of actually stopping a determined adversary.

    Now for sure, some serious shooters always carried as big a ball as they could find. But the general perception of "adequate" keeps drifting higher...
    Very true! I was always told that the major threat of the Rem. .41 Derringer was NOT the power / penetration of the bullet. (Elmer Keith said that it was barely capable of penetrating its own length into a telephone pole!) The major threat was that it would carry fragments of (unwashed) clothing into the wound. In the days before modern antibiotics, the wounds would fester and kill slowly and ungracefully.
    Regards,

    Molly

    "The remedy for evil men is not the abrogation of the rights of law abiding citizens. The remedy for evil men is the gallows." Thomas Jefferson

  18. #18
    Boolit Master

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    Good discussion so far. I will be watching also.

    I would like to mention that one of our best carry weapons is our brain. Keep that thing working and try to keep ourselves out of situations where one might need the big tools.

    Having said that, we now face a situation in our society where the bad side of town is much muddied and it may not be possible to keep ones self out of potential situations.

    and if you are in a profession that requires you to insert your self (law enforcement, military, etc...) into potentially hazardous environments, you might want to have the best tool for the job at hand. You get to choose what is the best tool for the job at hand.

  19. #19
    Boolit Master
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    Handloading improves the 32 S&W long greatly

    But in reality you are doing a little more than putting fangs on a mouse and maybe added legal issues with reloaded ammuntion. If you are carrying the gun for a situation that requires armed deadly force for one to save ones own life, be aware that mass body hits may not have any effect at close quarter combat ranges. If have chronographed factory 32 S&W long and 32 Colt New Police that gives about 700 FPS out of a 2 1/2 pocket positve Colt. That is the same energy as a 22 Long Rifle fired from a rifle. Remember that Pres. Reagan didn't even know that he was shot (22 from a pistol) Body mass hits will most likely not stop any determined attacker so you are now left with the remaining rounds hopefully causing cranial or ocular damage from head shots. Be ready to continue the fight after all six chambers are empty.

    Its important to have a gun when the situation arrives so if the size means that it will be carried, then that is so much better than being without. I say this because I too carry a mouse gun (S&W 61 escort in 22LR) mainly because its so easily carried as its always in one of my favorite jacket's inside pocket. I do pratice head shots at 10 yards or less. I am aware that the fight will most likely continue but I am carrying a gun. I would NEVER choose a 32 over a 38 especially since alloy 38 revolvers are very light..

  20. #20
    Boolit Master Jack Stanley's Avatar
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    Not that I understand the whys and wherewithalls that armies do what they do . I am curious though how many of those armies use a handgun no matter what it is as a badge of office ? I don't know as it will make a bit of difference in the outcome of the discussion .

    One thing that WILL make a difference , all you guys talking about thirty-two caliber handguns and such . Don't be a bit surprized if you see NoZombie necking down a thirty-two ACP to twenty-two caliber and chambering it in something belt-fed .

    Jack

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BR Bench Rest M Magnum RN Round Nose
BT Boat Tail PL Power-Lokt SP Soft Point
C Compressed Charge PR Primer SPCL Soft Point "Core-Lokt"
HP Hollow Point PSPCL Pointed Soft Point "Core Lokt" C.O.L. Cartridge Overall Length
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GC Gas Check