View Full Version : .22 LR vs. 32 ACP for Self-Defense

March 23, 2001, 08:19 PM
I am familiar with the literature on what ammo is best for self-defense (I have and carry from time to time 9 mm, 38 special, 357 mag, and 45 acp). But I was wondering which of the small calibres, .22 LR or 32 ACP, would be more effective against a bad guy. I know that a bigger slug would be first choice, but if you were carrying one of the small guns, which would you use for self-defence? The 32 is bigger, but the 22 LR has quite a bit of speed.


Stephen A. Camp
March 23, 2001, 09:31 PM
Hello. I THINK, but am not sure that if the .22lr beats the velocity of the .32ACP from small handguns, the difference is not much. I could be wrong as I don't remember quoted figures and have not chronographed these two.

That said, I suspect that the .32 in today's expanding loads would be a bit more "potent" than the .22 as some of the .32 ACP JHPs do expand. The bullet's already a bit larger and heavier out the bbl. How much real world difference there truly is, I'm not sure. Placement is the key with either as it is in all handgun calibers, but especially the smaller ones.

I would likely choose the more-expensive-to-feed thirty-two over the rimfire for another reason: reliability. I have had more failures to fire with rimfire than centerfire ammunition. The number's not great, but it is more.


Doc Hudson
March 23, 2001, 11:47 PM

I tried to post earlier, but my computer crashed, so here goes again.

We could probably argue and discuss which caliber is "better" until the cows go home, and not change anyone's mind. I won't make a judgment call on which is "better", all I can do is tell which I chose and why.

When faced with a choice of using a .22 LR or a .32 ACP as a carry gun, I chose to go with my Iver Johnson TP-22, for several reasons.

(1) My Iver Johnson was 100% reliable with a wide variety of .22 LR ammo, and my .32 ACP was not 100% reliable even with FMJ.

(2) The TP-22 had better accuracy than my .32 ACP. I could easily pop beer cans out to fifty yards with the little IJ. I was lucky to keep a magazine full in a head sized group at twenty-five yards with the .32 ACP.

(3) The TP-22 is far more concealable than my .32 ACP. The TP-22 is a cosmetic copy of the Walther THP (Lots of mechanical differences though) and the .32 ACP is the size of a Walther PP.

Maybe I am just lucky, for a change, but in over thirty years of shooting, I don't remember ever having a .22 LR cartridge fail to fire.

If you can find a vest-pocket sized .32 ACP that is fairly accurate and is 100% feed reliable, go for it! And if you can find an Iver Johnson TP-22, buy it, you will like it.

Doc Hudson

Alex Johnson
March 24, 2001, 01:59 AM
Given the wide variety of ammunition available for the .22 and the inexpensiveness of it the .22 has a decided advantage. It is true that a lot of the .22 pocket pistols are not reliable, but than again, a lot of .32's aren't either. The .22 rimfire is still probably more prone to a missfire than centerfire rounds are. I've shot competition for years, both rimfire and centerfire, to know that the .22 seems to have more missfires than the centerfire ever did. On the other hand that's thousands of .22's that I've shot and only a handfull have been defective, the odds of getting one bad one at the wrong time are probably worse than ever encountering a situation that you need them for in the first place. Shot placement, in my mind, is more important and unless your rich, shooting the .32's enough to get good with them, if you don't handload, is more difficult because of cost. If you have the money I'd probably go for the .32, it's more potent and probably a bit more reliable. On the other hand, poor graduate students like myself appreciate the low cost of the .22's.

Big Al
March 24, 2001, 02:06 PM
Look at a Kel-Tec P32.

7+1 capacity (or 8+1 with a mag extension), roughly the same size as a Jennings J-22. Extremely concealable, 6# trigger. In my opinion, the 32ACP would be more potent than any 22LR (and I'm a BIG 22LR fan), especially FMJ. Expect to pay more for ammo, naturally, but practice ammo can be had for around 75$/1000 - which isn't too bad compared to 9mm Luger and 9mm Makarov.

As far as stopping goes, IMHO the bigger the better. Technically a 220 Swift has more kinetic energy at the muzzle than a 45/70 Government, but which would you rather use to bring down a charging buffalo? The 32ACP isn't "Zeus's Lightningbolt" by any means, but I think the heavier bullet stands a better chance of hitting vitals than a relatively fragile 22LR bullet.

But those are just my personal thoughts - I'm no expert.


March 24, 2001, 04:09 PM
It is no contest between a .32 and .22. I have had many .22 cartridges fail to fire recently with good primer stikes.
Here are some sites which provide good info regarding performance of the >32 and various cartridges.

March 24, 2001, 04:26 PM
Here is another vote for the .32 for personal defense. I restrict the .22 to target shooting and plinking.

Blue Duck357
March 24, 2001, 06:41 PM
If 32 acp were $9 for 500 rounds I'd pick it hands down. JMHO but I'd much rather have the gun I'd put a thousand rounds through (even if it was just plinking and such) as have a slightly more effective round.

I can not afford or even be inclined to do much more than shoot a box to test reliability with the .32 then stick it in pocket till I needed it. I think most folks if they are honest with themselves are in the same boat with me on this. I would rather have something I was very familiar and practiced with in stressful situation.

Regards, Blue Duck

March 24, 2001, 06:54 PM
<Junior Member>

<The 32 is bigger, but the 22 LR has quite a bit of speed. >

You'll find that the 22LR has speed but out of a rifle barrel and not out of a short barrelled pocket pistol.
Also, one of the reasons for the development of the .25 was the lack of sufficient reliability of a rimfire cartridge. Reconsider the .32 but with ammo loaded to European spec, such as Fiocchi or Geco. They both feel discernibly hotter out of both my generic Spanish .32 and a CZ-50. The American .32 seems underloaded, I believe it is so as not to break those cheap potmetal pistols out there.
Winston Churchill's bodyguard carried a .32, but then he could snap a headshot at 50 feet reliably.

March 24, 2001, 09:04 PM
I always thought that I would want a 22 in that situation, until I recently bought a Kel-tek P32 and after I made a few changes in the gun so it would feed reliably I would go with the 32. You can not beat 6.6 ounces of weight.
I have NEVER had a 22 misfire in all of my 51 years.

Walt Sherrill
March 24, 2001, 09:34 PM
The problem with the .22, in addition to potential unreliability -- and I've had a lot of that over the years shooting .22s -- is that in a personal defense situation you just about have to go for a eye or mouth shot.

While I've never had to use a gun in anger, I have shot a bit of IDPA competition, and I know its hard to hit a small target in a stressful situation -- especially if you or the target are moving.

While the .32 is no great earth-shaker, I wouldn't make a .22 my gun of choice for self-defense. (My personal carry gun is a small 9mm with Golden Sabers...)

(Note: I have two friends, one a pathologist, the second an EMT. Both of talked about seeing people shot in the head with .22s, where the round went under the skin, but did not penetrate the skull, and went half-way around the head, leaving the "victim" with little more than a sore head. Miss that eye socket shot, and what do you have? Someone with their hands around your throat.)

This will probably NOT dissuade anyone. I've found that folks fond of the .22 for self-defense are even more convinced of their choices, than are Glock or SIG shooters about their choice of weapons. And that's CONVINCED!

Blue Duck357
March 24, 2001, 10:15 PM
Walt if it makes you feel any better my carry gun is a model 65 loaded with .357's (policy) my home gun is 1991A1 loaded with 230 grain Gold dot's. :D

You make good points on the .22's shortcommnigs, of which thier are many. If you could practice equally sure you'd be better off with the .32 but like I said I'm in the market for one and am going to order the .22 just because I know I'll shoot it a lot more (never had a .22 I did not shoot much).

Gotta know the 22's limitations and make your choice, but like you said the guy may get hold of my throat, if so thats the perfect range to start puttin'em through the eye socket :)

Cheers, Blue Duck

March 25, 2001, 01:43 AM
If given a choice I would rather use the .32 ACP for defense. A slightly higher bullet weight would be beneficial, but I wouldn't expect expansion in either caliber from the smallest pistols available.

As for misfires, I do not believe that I have had a misfire due to bad ammo in the .22. I have had failures to fire due to a weak primer strike and the round always fired when rechambered. This is usually due to the numbers of rounds we typically fire through our .22 rifles without cleaning them. Shooting 100 to 500 rounds per session is easy to do, and often done.

I believe if this arguement were would you choose the .22 WMR or the .32 ACP, we might have more people tipping their hats to the .22 WMR.

Good Shooting

March 25, 2001, 01:43 AM
Hey, Blue Duck, I'm one of a few who thinks that
.22LR is just fine for self-defence or whatever, if
a right choice of gun and ammo is considered.
Some .22 LR ammo can indeed misfire. Remington .22 ammo seems to have more problems than the other brands. Federal
and Winchester seems to be a bit better overall.
In my personal experience, CCI Stingers are totally reliable, nicely sealed against moisture by design and pack quite a bit of power, if I recall correctly, 38 gr. bullet is launched at 1,600 ft/sec. Shot a lot of them in Ruger MKII, never a misfire or any other problem.

March 25, 2001, 02:21 AM
Given that with the new wave of micro-.32's, we're probably talking about guns of roughly similar size, I'd go with the stouter round.

Beretta 21A Bobcat .22LR 32gr CCI Stinger: 987fps/69fpe
Beretta 3032 Tomcat .32ACP 60gr Gold Dot: 827fps/91fpe

(Just for giggles, "Taylor Knockout Values" are 1.01 and 2.20, respectively, should you be called upon to make headshots on a charging elephant with these titans of the handgun world...;))

There are some guns even smaller than the new-generation micro-.32's (Jetfire, NAA Mini) that still have their specialized niches, but all-in-all I try and make sure that if I have to trust my life to a mouse (like my Tomcat) I try and make it the meanest mouse I can stash under the circumstances. :)

RH Factor
March 25, 2001, 10:32 AM
OK..here's my 2 cents.....I carry my Sig 239 40cal every day in either a shoulder holster or a IWB but that's because I wear a suit or sports coat every day. BUT when I go home and change, I have a Guardian .32 that goes into the back pocket of my jeans or dockers. My shirt is tucked in most of the time so I can't wear a IWB and be truly concealed. Yes I have a Phoenix HP-22 and have a great time with it plinking. But I like the feel and the look of my guardian when I need it for defense, and let's face it, if I'm pulling it for use I'll probably be very close to the bad guy.

Red Label
March 25, 2001, 10:37 AM
For over 8 years, the only self-defense weapon I had was a S&W 422. I was confident. Do I like having a .45 ACP now with 165 gr. Fed Hydrashoks for that purpose? Sure. But I wouldn't think twice if called upon to use my trusty .22 LR. I have also used thousands of CCI Stingers through my 22's with nary a misfire. They are also a little higher velocity than the average 22 catridge.

I always take the .22 to the range when I go with friends. Invariably, the .22 gets shot a lot more. Not just because it's cheaper. But because everyone enjoys shooting it more and is more accurate with it.

If I can't get 13 rounds to do the number on a BG, then I probably ain't gonna get the job done with much besides a 12 ga. And because there is so little recoil with the .22, then I can put that many rounds through it in the same amount of time I could do 7 in my .45.

So a .22 isn't the greatest choice for defense, but it'll do for me quite nicely...

March 25, 2001, 10:54 AM
Sometimes these threads seem like a squad meeting (chaotic group discussion) and at the end I always want to ask... so what did we decide?
I carry a Beretta 22 only as a last resort. It not as good as my full size guns, but it is better than nothing.

March 25, 2001, 01:37 PM
I carry a Keltec P32 as a last resort, since it's lighter than most .22 choices. I also feel a bit more confident in the ability of the .32ACP to accomplish the task if it's needed.

FWIW, I normally carry the Keltec P11 9mm, which is also light and concealable, but fires a round I have a lot more confidence in...

Jody Hudson
March 25, 2001, 01:45 PM
The Stinger tends to be more reliable and faster for more consistent expansion in my experience.

The Quick-Shok which is sold by Blount/CCI who also sells the Stinger -- has proven for me, in the same large batch of .22 pistols and rifles -- to be even more reliable, more accurate, much faster, and absolutely tremendous in expansion. The Quick-Shok is by far the best round I've ever shot into moist material.

NO ONE I've ever met can come close to believing the explosive nature of this little .22 Quick-Shok when it hits something moist or wet. It tends to penetrate four to eight inches and then expand into the three pre-fragmented pieces quite rapidly. If you search under Quick-Shock here you will find where I've gone on and on about our tests on this miraculous little bullet.

I also agree that the Iver Johnson TP-22 is in the top three for size, weight, dependability, accuracy, etc. I like the little Walther TPH better as it is smaller and lighter and more accurate. However the TPH is NOT reliable until it has gone back to the factory a few times for the quality control Walter is famous for NOT having. Now that the TPH is no longer made there is no place to send it back and no parts available as far as I know. When my remaining TPHs break, two are down now, I will have to return to the TP-22 again.

I have tried every small .32 made and for all the reasons that are important to me -- I choose a small .22 and Quick-Shocks. In fact I no longer buy any other ammo in .22 other than Quick-Shocks as nothing else I've ever found compares.