Why Were Little Cartridges Ever Good Enough?

Colt 1908. The kinship to the FN 1906 is obvious. Image: Adams Guns via wikipedia.

Colt 1908. The kinship to the FN 1906 is obvious (Both are Browning designs). Image: Adams Guns via wikipedia.

Today the defensive caliber argument seems to have devolved into two warring camps: those who like a small .380 or 9mm, and those who sniff at anything whose Imperial measurement does not begin at .4. So the older pocket pistols of the 20th Century, and even the police revolvers and some military pistols of the early 20th, seem inexplicable to a modern shooter.

Sure, they’re small, but so is a Seecamp .380 or a Micro Desert Eagle (both of which, completely off topic, have Czech antecedents. We’ll get back on topic, now). And the standing joke, which we believe may have originated with .45 aficionado and 10mm impresario Jeff Cooper, is, “Never shoot a man with a .32. It might make him angry, and then he’ll want to fight.”

Millions of .32s like this Iver Johnson were sold in the 20th Century. Why?

Millions of .32s like this Iver Johnson were sold in the 20th Century, mostly for defense. Why?

Yet, who ever thought it was okay for cops to walk the mean streets of New York and Chicago with a .32 Police Positive, Official Police, or M&P? Why did European cops cling to the .32 ACP well into the 1980s? Why did the Wehrmacht, of all things, reopen a conscientious objector’s closed factory so that his product, a tiny .25, could be produced — 117,000 of them — for sale to German officials?

More generally, why were micro .25s and compact .32s made and sold in the tens of millions worldwide?

First, the small size of these firearms (and their ammunition) is not just a disadvantage. Ninety-nine percent of the time, it is a boon: you carry a gun a lot more than you shoot it. In this nation of 330 million citizens and probably 3 million legitimately armed law officers and everyday concealed carriers, there are almost certainly under 300 police officers and Federal Agents who have fired their guns at suspects in more than one situation. (There wouldn’t be that many, if not for the emergence of tactical teams). The civilian who’s been involved in two defensive shootings is rare enough that we can’t think of an example — maybe you can.

Second, a small gun encourages carry. A gun that’s small and light inclines you to include it in your pocket litter or slip its holster onto your belt or waistband. Remember the first rule of gunfights: bring a gun. A small gun is, ceteris paribus, more likely to “get brung” than a big hogleg.

Third, for ex officio gun carriers, if not constrained by regulations, any gun will do. That’s why the Germans wanted all those .25s and .32s. Most cops were never going to shoot anybody, but the pistol in its flap holster was a mark of authority, like the badge. While that’s true for the National Railway Police riding the trains under Hitler, it’s also true for the large amount of American and worldwide cops who have a house-mouse assignment or are promoted to management rank.

Likewise, an officer of the vaunted German General Staff was supposed to have a pistol, but he had no serious plans to go down guns blazing like a Karl May hero, in front of a Red Army assault. The gun was a badge of office. It’s possible more officers killed themselves with their small pistols than killed a Russian, Brit or American enemy.

Fourth, there was historical precedent for small guns. As far back as a before the Civil War, Colt made its revolvers available in small and large caliber (.36 and .45). Others made .32s at this time. When Colt came out with its cartridge .32 in the 1890s, it had actually made a small, spur-trigger .22 some 20 years before that. Some people wanted a big gun, some wanted to trade off that gun’s advantages for the advantages of a small gun, and the market responded.

Fifth, the small guns were thought adequate at the time. The advent of the much more powerful smokeless powders in the late 19th Century made it possible to pack more power into a smaller gun. The NYPD did not adopt the Colt .32 at the behest of some berk ignorant of guns: Commissioner Theodore Roosevelt, a lifelong gun enthusiast, drove the 1896 adoption of the New Police, a longer-barreled and square-butt version of the 1893 New Pocket revolver chambered for the .32 Colt. (Later, an improved version became the .32 Police Positive, chambered for the slightly less awful .32 S&W Long, which Colt called “.32 Police” because they wouldn’t say the two initials of their despised competitor upriver).

Colt New Pocket 32Why was a .32 adequate in 1896 but not by 1996? Certainly there have been many improvements in firearms since those beautiful little Colts left Hartford 120 years ago. Some of it may just be that more powerful handguns are available.

But another possibility is that human beings have changed. Anyone who has observed collections, for instance, of WWII uniforms notes that, compared to modern soldiers, midcentury guys were small. They were shorter and much leaner. Statistics bear this out.

The Union Army in the Civil War:

The average height of the Federal soldier was put at 5 feet, 8¼ inches.  …  Incomplete records indicate the average weight was 143¼ pounds.

That’s definitely a lot leaner (and a little shorter) than today’s median GI.

And here’s a table showing the gradual but real growth of the American soldier to 1984. (The Civil War numbers here are better supported than those in the link above). We submit that this growth has accelerated since (and note the small of the 1984 study suggests it may produce a less reliable mean than the earlier ones). Also, the Civil War measurements were taken clothed, WWI and up naked, so the differences were probably greater. Source.

Table 3-1Comparison of Some Anthropometric Characteristics of Male Soldiers in 1864, 1919, 1946, and 1984
Year of Study (n)*
Anthropometric Characteristic 1864 (23,624) 1919 (99,449) 1946 (85,000) 1984 (869)
Height (inches) 67.2 67.7 68.4 68.6
Weight (pounds) 141.4 144.9 154.8 166.8
Age (years) 25.7 24.9 24.3 26.3
Neck girth (inches) 13.6 14.2 14.5 14.5
Chest girth (inches) 34.5 34.9 36.4† 35.5
Waist girth (inches) 31.5 31.4‡ 31.3‡ 32.7
Estimated body fat (percent) 16.9 15.7 14.4 17.3
Fat-free mass (pounds) 117 122 133 138

Source: Table 3-1 at https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK235960/

As you see, not only the overall mass of the soldier had increased by over 25 lbs, but also, over 20 of that was fat-free mass — presumably, stronger bones and thicker muscle. A 15% or more increase in musculature on the average young man makes him harder to stop and to kill, once again all other things being equal. Scientists ascribe this in part to improved nutrition as civilization’s benefits came to include refrigeration, rail transport and industrial-scale farming.

The people police may engage with, criminals, are also likely to be obese, unlike soldiers.

In Conclusion

In the last 120 years, more powerful cartridges (and more of them) have been a trend in pistols. We identify several possible reasons for this trend. But when you break it down, they basically fall into two categories:

  1. More powerful pistols are possible now, given technology’s advances in powder chemistry, metallurgy, etc.
  2. More powerful pistols are necessary now, given the increased robustness of the mean and median human target.

In addition, there’s a third factor that may outweigh these two practicalities: fashion. We won’t raise it with reference to the present time — we’ll just point out that Roosevelt’s adoption of the .32 New Police for his New York coppers in 1896 set off a preference cascade that led many big cities to .32 Colt and Smith & Wesson revolvers within 10-20 years.

No sooner had the .32s graced police holsters than clamor for more powerful cartridges would set in. This led to a step up to .38, until S&W were finally convinced they had put the police firepower issue to rest for all time with the new .38 S&W Special cartridge.

But that’s another story.

73 thoughts on “Why Were Little Cartridges Ever Good Enough?

  1. Josh

    The civilian who’s been involved in two defensive shootings is rare enough that we can’t think of an example — maybe you can.

    I can. Only one in the last couple decades. Lance Thomas-four separate incidents in three years with eleven individuals. Shot six, five of them died.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Thanks, I’d forgotten him. He finally sold the store. Probably tired of being the top crimefighter in the City of Angels.

  2. JoeFour

    WeaponsMan, I don’t know how you do it — one excellent post after another! Thanks!

  3. Loren

    “the first rule of gunfights: bring a gun. ” Absolutely spot on.
    I spend most of my time here in sandals, shorts, and a tee shirt. Lucky me but nowhere to put a decent ranch knife much less a gun. My little .380 fits in a pocket when out and about in the big city.
    Not real sure how bad guy effective it is, but since I can’t hit anything farther than a few feet I figure it’s a belly gun or noise maker. Either way caliber doesn’t matter much.

  4. Arsenal762

    Wasn’t George Zimmerman in 2 shootings and even pulled his gun on his ex on one occasion?

    1. Hognose Post author

      Zimmerman shot and killed incipient career criminal Trayvon Martin, and he was shot at himself by a mentally ill guy obsessed with him after reading the slanted press coverage. George was hit by glass from his car window, IIRC, not the bullet. He did not engage the shooter in that instance, but called 911.

      The press reported it as if George initiated the shooting, not their boy.

  5. James F.

    Lance Thomas (owned a Rolex store that gunmen REPEATEDLY tried and failed to rob) was the first civilian I thought of, the other is Harry Beckwith.

    Massad Ayoob wrote

    At 68, Harry admits that his recollection is a bit cloudy, but he figures that in his 35 years in the retail gun business he has experienced right at 35 robberies and burglaries. He proudly notes that in all those rip-offs and heist attempts, only two firearms were not recovered.

    He also remembers the only three times when the thieves were unfortunate enough to face him. Each time, it evolved into a gun battle. Each time, he shot them and they didn’t get to shoot him.

    The first was a pure pistol fight. Harry drew and shot the robber, who lost all interest in carrying on the fight. This saved his life; when the wounded gunman surrendered, Harry Beckwith, a moral man, didn’t shoot him again.

    In the second shootout, the gun dealer interrupted a felon about to drive off with guns he’d heisted from the store. Though not a Class III weapons dealer, Beckwith was federally licensed to possess such arms for his own use. When the thug raised a .45 auto pistol at Harry, Beckwith trumped his ace with a burst of full automatic fire from a Smith & Wesson Model 76 9mm submachine gun. Struck in the forehead, the gunman dropped his pistol and screamed, “I’m hit!”

    “Get out of the car,” Beckwith roared back. The man did, and realizing he was still alive despite a gunshot wound in the forehead, he ran. Once more, Beckwith held fire.

    The man was captured later and treated for an ugly but minor head injury from a flattened- out 9mm hollowpoint round that had lost most of it’s energy piercing the safety glass of the windshield.

    That incident took place in 1976, the Bicentennial of our nation’s independence. A Class III weapons owner had delivered a splendidly appropriate demonstration of the independence our nation was celebrating. In the “the spirit of “76,” he stopped a violent criminal with a Model 76.

    But neither of these had prepared Harry Beckwith, then 63, old enough to collect Social Security and qualify as a Senior Citizen, for the incident that left his place of business bearing the distinctive scars you can see there to this day.

    That involved a LOT of rounds, an AR-15, a Smith & Wesson Model 76, a Remington 1100, and a Charter Arms .44 Bulldog. The bad guys also brought guns. Link to High Volume Shootout: The Harry Beckwith Incident, The Ayoob Files, American Handgunner, September/October 1995 in the nickname.

    1. Boat Guy

      I remember Cooper speaking/writing about a”family member” who’d had a jewelry store and gotten into several gunfights but I don’t think it was Lance Thomas.

  6. 10x25mm

    Before antibiotics, almost all center mass gun shot wounds were fatal. Peripheral wounds were usually fixed by amputations, but also commonly resulted in death. Bigger calibers only sped up the process. There was a different ethos then.

    1. Hognose Post author

      John, I hadn’t considered that at all, but you’ve got a real point. A lot of the “decrease” in homicide over the last 20-30 years is simply Emergency Departments stepping up their A game, too.

      1. Aesop


        Bear in mind not only general infections, but also life prior to even tetanus vaccinations, which didn’t exist pre-1924 and weren’t commonplace in the US until the 1940s. The tetanus vaccine cut wound mortality roughly in half, by itself.

        The likelihood that any deep puncture wound (like a GSW) was going to become septic was extremely high.
        This would be doubly so in a world of weekly baths, largely absent of indoor plumbing, nor possessing the plethora of personal hygiene products, let alone any such things as trauma medicine, which didn’t really make an appearance until midway through the VN War era, and was essentially non-existent prior to that time. We also didn’t have purpose-trained paramedics for pre-hospital response and care until the 1970s either. Before then, most ambulance service was either policemen dragooned into accident response, hospital-based, or the local mortuary hearse driver(s) moonlighting, because they had the only car in any town (think Ghostbusters Cadillac station wagon hearse) long enough to hold a stretcher.

        For reference to life pre-antibiotics, President Coolidge’s 16 y.o. son died from an open toe blister acquired playing tennis at the White House court, which rapidly got infected, and he died of sepsis from the resultant staph infection shortly afterwards, in 1924.

        Currently, other than CNS or heart/great vessel shots, a pistol wound is almost universally survived.
        Anytime before 1945, and probably as late as 1965, surviving any gunshot wound at all would be a crap shoot at best.
        So, historically, .22s, .25s, &c. killed a lot of their victims; they just took a week or so to do it, which isn’t exactly germane to a discussion on immediate stopping power, but still a not inconsequential result of being wounded by one.

        1. staghounds

          And every one knew that statistic, so getting shot by anything probably meant unpleasant death. If it were 1894, I’d run away from any gun.

    2. Mark R. Holcomb

      Actually, the medicine of the WWI era meant that most wounded lived. Only 2.8% of wounded German soldiers died from wound infections in WWI. Antiseptics, clean surgery, X-rays, and tetanus antitoxin were all available. What lead people away from from small caliber pistols for self defense in actuality was multi-fold. A. The drug epidemic and its resultant panic, beginning in the latter 1950s. B. The coming of the Wonder Nine pistols with up to thirty round magazine capacity. C. The development in the 1980s of effective and affordable JHP[jacketed hollowpoint]ammo made 9mm and .45 both wise choices. D. A side effect of the 1968 Gun Control Act was that small caliber revolvers now cost the same as full sized pistols. E. In revolvers, A .44 special can be fired in a .44 magnum. Because of this same revolver’s extra weight, it is actually more comfortable and controllable to fire a .44 special from a four inch barrel .44 magnum revolver; and versus a snub nosed Charter Arms, too. F. Fiber optic sights, improved grips, better shooting stances, painted sights, and lasers mean that it is far easier now to hit well consistently with larger calibers like 9mm, .357 magnum, and .45 acp, too. G. The coming of compact and subcompact 9mms mean that even small-sized hands can fit larger calibers, too. Train like it’s 2016, not 1916!

  7. John M.

    I’ll add another reason why the mouse gun cartridges were so popular into the middle of the 20th century: antibiotics, or lack thereof. (I’ll h/t Handgun Radio for making me wise to this one.) In an era when what we’d consider to be relatively minor cuts and scrapes regularly turned into pus-oozing, blackened limbs accompanied by raging fevers ending in death, the idea of collecting a mouse gun pill through the intestines was pretty unappealing–much less appealing than it is today. As far as I understand, antibiotics didn’t become widely available to civilians until after WWII.

    I’ll also submit that there was a classic arms race afoot. You could as well ask, “why were six-shot revolvers good enough for our grandfathers, but we need 15, 18 or 19(!)-round wondernines? Well, because our grandfathers weren’t going to encounter people attacking them with 15, 18 or 19(!)-round wondernines, and we might. Nobody wants to be outgunned.

    -John M.

    1. jfre

      What changed between WW1 and WW2

      Availability of Antibiotics
      Use of Sterile technique
      Ability to transfuse blood
      Widely available Anesthesia

      These gave surgeons the time necessary to deal with complex wounds and the body time to repair itself. Remove these elements and trauma medicine today reverts to that of the civil war.

      1. Hognose Post author

        And now that you guys mention it, even in WWII antibiotics were very new. At the outbreak of the war, penicillin wasn’t invented yet, and the best therapy was sulfanilomide and derivatives.

        1. jfre

          These were all new medical tech at the time and Anesthesia particularly. In my residency we had some presentations on the history of the field. It was said that when hexobarbital and thiopental were used to anesthetize the wounded at Pearl Harbor in 1941, there were so many deaths that intravenous anesthesia with these agents was later described as “an ideal method of euthanasia.” (probably Halford FJ, 1943). The quote I remember was “more were killed in the OR than were killed in battle.”

          By Viet Nam, drugs, delivery, and training had evolved to the point where medevac efforts began to be a game changer. Similar advances have now kept the black on black warriors going in the hood for at least 3 generations. The need for larger magazines and more stopping power is, in my opinion, a response to gang land battle hardened warriors. They have been shot before, they survived and have less fear than the first time.

    2. art

      yes people can have more rounds now a days. there is another reason why you want more rounds back then and now. multiple attackers. even back in the wild west they carried multiple 6 shooter for a reason. it is always better to leave the fight with ammo than not. also the increase in gangs and gang activity.. it is always just insurance. as they say it is better to have more insurance then not enough. as a back up belly gun i carry a naa 22 lr round nose in a pocket with an extra mag. i certainly would not use hollow points and it is really just a belly gun, not a gun for any distance.

  8. Cattus Borealis

    If I remember correctly, the big push from 32 Caliber Police Revolvers to 38 Caliber was influenced by use of Coca /Cocaine products by criminals in late 1890 to 1900s.

    I loath to admit it, but I saw it on a documentary on drug use on the History Channel. It makes sense, but I do not know if it is true.

  9. John M.

    And what were the “big-bore” calibers back then? .45 ACP, .45 Colt, .44 Spl, .44-40. All of those are very big cartridges chambered in very big guns. The sveltest of the lot would have probably been a Government Model, and how many people like hauling that boat anchor with them everywhere?

    Look at Browning’s early .380s. I’d call most of them “compact”–pretty comparable to the Glock 19 (or 23 for those who prefer calibers starting in “4”). The 1903 pocket hammerless weighs within an ounce of the Glock 23, and is less than an inch shorter from stem to stern. I can’t find a height or width listed for the 1903, but I’ll guess it’s a bit shorter height-wise and notably slimmer than the G23. And the 1903 is chambered in .380 ACP.

    The Colt 1900 and 1902 (.38 ACP) had six inch barrels!

    On the 9mm front, derided by the “starting with ‘4’” crowd, 100 years ago you were looking at the 40 oz. Broomhandle Mauser, or the 30 oz. Luger. I haven’t the faintest idea how available those two models were on these shores 100 years ago, either. Were there others? Maybe.

    Today we sit with an embarrassment of options for tiny nines (the Glock 43, the Nano, the XDs, the R51, the Rohrbaugh, the Kahrs, etc.), and even some very small .40s and .45s. If you wanted a small gun 100 years ago, you got a small cartridge.

    1. looserounds.com

      “The sveltest of the lot would have probably been a Government Model, and how many people like hauling that boat anchor with them everywhere?”

      I and everyone I know who is a dedicated CCWer, carries a gov model 1911 all day, every day no matter.

      1. John M.

        I’m glad it works for you. I’ve tried CCWing a Government Model–an alloy frame one, no less–and found it more challenging than I was willing to put up with.

        I submit that you and the dedicated CCWers you know are in a distinct minority. The hot sales of Shields, G43s, LC9s, etc. bear me out on this point, I think.

        -John M.

        1. DaveP.

          I carried an (all-steel) 1911 for several years… and then switched to a Glock 23 and never looked back. More rounds, faster draw, and a lot easier to carry around all day long.

  10. Ken

    Not mentioned is that most rational people don’t want to get shot. With anything. Seems rational people are in somewhat shorter supply lately.

  11. KB Dave

    99.5% of the time, I carry a Glock 19 or S&W Shield 9mm, but on those occasions when I’m venturing into territory that the carry of a firearm is “less than encouraged”, I have a Kel Tec P32 that goes in a pocket holster. It’s actually pretty accurate out to ten yards or so, considering that it’s tiny and has almost no sights.

  12. Brad

    Fashion certainly has much to do with favorite pistol cartridges. I think even today we are still too much in the thrall of fashion.

    Until fairly recently, we didn’t even have decent empirical evidence for determining what pistol cartridge might or might not be adequate. It was all anecdotal tales and crude guesswork.

    But now we have amassed a great body of evidence from repeatable experiments as well as the amassed records of medical treatment for gun shot wounds during the great crime wave of 1960-2000.

    I’d say the bottom line is pistols suck, and it doesn’t matter much which caliber you choose. As long as the bullet has adequate penetration, one pistol cartridge is pretty much the same as most others. The only exception might be very high powered pistols which begin to creep into rifle power levels.

    Perhaps the most critical choice we face isn’t caliber selection, but our training goals. If the most prevalent mechanism of incapacitation for pistol wounds is just bleeding out, is that type of wound adequate for effective self-defense? Should head shots be emphasized instead?

    1. John M.

      “Should head shots be emphasized instead?”

      This is an excellent question.

      -John M.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Head shots on a non-static target are really, really difficult. (The head is highly articulated and moves partly independently of the rest of the body). And with a handgun, only certain angles/aspects/aimpoints have a payoff.

    2. looserounds.com

      Indeed fashion is a huge factor today in more ways than one

      in this instance though, people will not make a small change in their daily clothing attired to insure the ability to carry and conceal the best handgun they can get. But they do make plenty of excuses to why a keltec is enough for them ( as if they can predict the future) and stick to skinny jeans and various other metro-sexual fashion choices. Or just plain laziness and no real willingness to take CCW as a life style serious.

      1. Hognose Post author

        Funny you should mention all this, Shawn. I have a report coming at 1800 on how a tiny (sub-five-foot, sub-90-lb) gal dealt with this question. All I’ll say to tease the story is, it worked for her.

    3. art

      i learned this a long time ago, the 357 had the greatest percentage of one shot stops. the 9, 40 and the 45 can come close but only with the right ammo. my memory is old but i think the 357 was 97% 125 grain hollow point. the hollow points were not as good in those days. as the grains were dropped in other calibers and the speed increased so did the one shot stops percentage. this was before the new hollow points by i believe it is still valid. my personal belief the 357 was so good was the shock from the velocity and it caused the hollow point to fragment. the faster the better. then they came out with the strasburg tests, not sure if i even remember the name correctly or the spelling. they took different calibers and ammo and shoot goats of course this is outlawed now, we would not want to harm any animals to save humans you know. i do not remember much about the article i read but some of the goats, they were all shot in the same place, just continued to eat. so your selection is important. while i am no expert i believe velocity and a good hollow point is important. bullets were just beginning to become better. magtech and i think glacier had specialized bullets and they did very good also. sorry for the old memory but i am sure you can look up the test. corrections are welcome like i said old.

  13. Tom Stone

    A friend inherited a .32 Police Positive with a 6 inch barrel and I have had the opportunity to handle and shoot it.
    The workmanship is on a par with good custom work today, it balances very well in the hand and it was a lot more accurate than I am.
    Recoil and flash were negligible.
    Load that puppy up with silvertips and I’d be happy to have it in hand when things went south.

  14. Lt. Greyman, NVA

    Couple of thoughts. Race mixes into the resistance of being shot. A six foot 5 inch black felon who has been weightlifting is probably not going to react the same as a five foot 4 inch Frenchmen. Culture, hatred, motivation, anger, desire to escape and physical differences play into bullet reaction.

    Two, race wars; where large numbers of minorities are eager to engage in gunfights at will like the 1992 riots reflect a continued escalation in Police firepower.

    Police Weapon Evolution as a function of Demographics

    For over 70 years Gun Experts have quietly been reacting to the changing demographics of criminals and Race riots by “upping” their loads to be more effective against large blacks. While the overall population of blacks has actually dropped, the embracement of criminal culture by blacks and the near total breakdown of the black family has led to a minority population that is willing to engage police in gun battles at will. The response to this increase in criminality is plain, though unspoken, for fear of charges of “racism”. Please note I do not include the formation of special units like SWAT and Hostage Rescue Units or other specialized Entry Units but concentrate on the average police officer, nor do I discuss such exotic alternatives as the Tazer or Pepper spray, which are unsuccessful attempts to allow 120lbs female Affirmative Action hires to equal a 250 deputy in the realm of intermediate force.

    From the 1880’s up through the 1930’s officers in the USA carried the Colt single action or Smith and Wesson DA revolver and perhaps a rifle in the same caliber (45 Long Colt or the .44-40). There were no SWAT teams, Special Entry Teams, K9 units or “backup”. The motto among police was “One officer, one riot”. Police carried 6 rounds in the pistol and 12 on the belt.

    By 1935, the weak 38 Special or weaker .38 Police Positive was king for both police and civilian alike. The 9mm, 38 Super and 45 ACP were avoided because of the smooth full metal jacket ammo that at the time was required for auto pistols for smooth operation. FMJ ammo was also avoided due to over-penetration, bounce and ricochet of FMJ ammo as well as the tendency of the auto pistol to jam more frequently than the revolver without gunsmith attention and for FMJ bullets to “zip” through the human body without apparent effect. Further, Police departments considered 45’s autos to be “for War” and “too much” for civilian law enforcement against Whites. Many famous lawmen still carried the SA Colt Peacemaker in the 45 Long Colt. The .357 Magnum revolvers were not even carried in the regular S&W catalog, they were special order only for “men of exceptional physique” and used for long range target shooting or hunting. The Police standard long gun was the double barrel shotgun or pump, proven effective in WWI. The Tommy guns and high power rifles needed for take down such as Bonnie and Clyde or Pretty Boy Floyd were never adopted by average officers.

    In the 1950s, lead by Ed Mcgivern, Elmer Keith and others who saw the writing on the wall, advocated for the widespread adoption of the .357 Magnum with a 158 grain soft lead Keith designed semi-wadcutter slug over the then standard police 38 Special 158 grain round nose bullet for more stopping power. Only experts adopted it as the recoil of the .357 was deemed “too heavy”.

    In the 1960’s the excellent .357 Magnum 125 grain hollow point revolver load was introduced, upping the power even more and giving excellent results for stopping (it remains the top revolver fighting load to this day). This load gradually became the police standard for the next 30 years. Revolver magnum hollow points widely appeared and the 38 Special among the police began “The Long Fade”. FMJ ammo was still the only carry ammo for automatics. “Radical” gun guys modified their revolvers by shaving the hammer, tuning the action and had quick draw holsters, which brought the six shot revolver to the high point of its development. The pump shotgun became standard over the double barrel (except in NYC) for its larger number of shells.

    In the 1970’s the .41 Magnum was introduced with a soft lead slug for experts. Though it proved to be a failure with minimally trained police officers, experts loved the big N frame .41 Magnum and some still carry it to this day. The even more powerful 44 Magnum was already in existence via Special Order and 4 month wait from the factory and was considered exclusively a hunting arm for Bear or Moose. The weapon was viscerally exposed to the public in the movie “Dirty Harry”. Ironically the first people shot with a 44 Magnum in that movie are 4 blacks. Demand for Smith and Wesson.44 Magnums far exceeded the supply for the next 15 years. The model 29 (44 Magnum) and the model 57 and 58 Smith and Wesson’s (41 Magnum) proved to be the high point in terms of the pure horsepower in the police revolver. Only one police dept (San Francisco) issued 41 Magnum as standard (San Antonio also did, but insisted that the revolvers be marked “.41 Special” for Politically Correct reasons). Later both dropped the 41 Mag as the training level necessary to control such a powerful load was deemed too expensive.

    In the late 1970’s, led by the SuperVel company, pistol cartridges came out with the first hollow points for autos that worked reliably, thus 9mm and 45 automatics were encouraged for speed of reloading and higher number of cartridges. The .357 Magnum still dominated police sales and the powerful 125 grain Jacketed hollow point was standard issue and extremely effective. Shotguns get extended magazines to 8 shots. Rifles are first considered for patrol officers, upping the number of shots from 5 to 8 in a pump shotgun to 20 for a rifle. Gone was the idea of “one officer, one riot” and the militarization of police began in earnest, first with the introduction of SWAT teams.

    In the 1980’s police still used the 357 magnum revolver almost exclusively but the pistol began to make serious inroads encouraged by weapons masters such as Massad Ayoob and Col. Jeff Cooper. Hollowpoint bullets for these weapons increased in reliability and gun manufactures began to turn out pistols that were reliable right out of the box. The 10mm Auto cartridge, equivalent to the 41 Magnum in an auto pistol, was developed and embraced by weapons masters and adopted by the FBI, but this weapon proved too powerful, especially for the female Affirmative Action hires. The FBI eventually settled on a shortened, lower pressure version of the 10mm Auto called the 40 S&W. This was considered a compromise design with more cartridges than the 45 ACP and more stopping power than the 9mm.

    In the 1990’s, in the aftermath of the 4 day 1992 L.A. riot (which marked the first filming of civilians shooting blacks with assault rifles on American soil) which made our largest city look like a war zone in Nigeria, the LAPD found themselves in over 200 firefights simultaneously, police nationwide went over completely to the auto pistol. Police abandoned the concept of the pure horsepower and reliability of the revolver so as to gain a numerical number of cartridges defense against large numbers of minorities attacking at once or extended firefights. Also there was the desire to take advantage of the faster reloading, faster shooting and excellent trigger of the auto. The concept of +P cartridge designation developed, as auto pistol owners still longed for the horsepower of the revolver. The Great Debate began between the 9mm advocates and the .45 ACP devotees. Older cartridges such as the 32 ACP, the 9mm Kurtz (380 Auto) and to some extent the 9mm were dropped for lack of power against large blacks. Each officer now carried 45 or more bullets in total in three magazines of 15 cartridges each, one in the gun and two more on the belt. Body armor is now recommended for every officer and sold by companies such as Second Chance, Inc. Military rifles in .223 are issued by request to patrol officers as SOP with 20 round magazines in L.A. as an alternative to the pump shotgun. The 9mm Sub-machinegun makes it first appearance on the 1992 L.A. streets but lacks range and striking power. Accuracy also suffers because of the difficulty of mounting optics.

    In the 2000’s it was standard for police to be issued 17 round magazines (51 Shots total on their person!) in 40 S&W. The 38 Special and 32’s are considered only for housewives or backup guns. The police long gun standard is the AR military rifle in .223, though stories of failures to stop influenced Springfield Armory to release the .308 M1A (A semi-auto version of the Army’s former Main Battle Rifle, the M14) in a shorter barreled “Scout Squad” version, directly aimed at the civilian police market. Reports are favorable and several major police departments adopted the weapon. Reliable 25 round magazines are available.

    This increase of over seven times the firepower in the space of only 100 years represents an unacknowledged but important change in the thinking of those who carry weapons. As the demographic of felon has changed (more likely to shoot back, larger physically, less concerned with the consequences of shooting police, etc), the reaction of the defending professional has been to shoot harder, faster and more.

    1. Billybob

      Excellent article and comments.
      I will add that the number of felons who have been shot by rivals and lived due to our fine trauma units is one reason they are so willing to engage officers.
      My beat partners made fun of my extra ammo bag until the L.A. bank robbery shootout.
      I think the SWAT response to the second robbers medical needs was probably the correct one.

    2. Nynemillameetuh

      1.) How goes the Northwestern revolution?
      2.) Why do you ascribe mythical physical attributes to American negroes?

      1. Lt. Greyman, NVA

        1. Slowly but surely ourn numbers grow. Every Baltimore or Ferguson or Dallas or Autumn Pasquale or Anne Pressly or Jessica Chambers type horror feeds our ranks. Tonight they are dragging Whites out of their cars in Milwaukee.

        2. American negros have no “mythical” attributes, our medicine has gotten better and hollowpoint bullets help prevent Pneumothorax and Hemothorax, real killers that are exacerbated with bullets that pass through. It is their Cult of Madness that makes them dangerous. They are marinated in Rap Music, Hip Hop music and live in a alternative culture that glorifies the Thug, the rapist and hates the White. They are willing (at an astonishingly young age) to engage in firefights with officers and each other over the trivial matters, blowing friends, foes, bystanders and officers away in a seemingly ever growing number. Whereas my grandparents told me about the St. Valentines Day massacre in whispered tones (7 dead), last weekend Chicago racked up 100 shot and 20 or 30 dead.

        In comparison, the St Valentines Day shooting seems rather quaint.

        One last note. In my description of the increased power of police weapons, I forgot to mention that the increase violence has reinvigorated the concept of a Combat shotgun, an idea moribund since the WWI Ithaca pump, H&R’s Model 10B riot gun not withstanding..

        1. Nynemillameetuh

          1.) Most excellent.
          2.) I’ve always assumed that an earlier average age for the onset of puberty explained most of it.
          3.) Yes, I can see how the |||media||| exacerbates many existing conditions.

        2. looserounds.com

          I have seen a trend going away from the LE shotgun and more and more toward the 556 carbine. I would like to see some proof of the resurgence in combat shotgun thinking

    3. Aesop

      Point of order:
      In the ’92 riots, the LAPD largely found themselves retreating, and subsequently cowering in the metro bus yard, and engaged in few if any firefights as such until the riots were over, by orders from the top. Which was apparently the entire “plan” for post-King verdict unrest by either the feckless mayor or police chief, neither of whom could demonstrably locate his own ass with both hands and a map. I defer to those present for duty who may claim otherwise, but the likelihood is that the total number of rounds expended by the entire LAPD in anger during the riots in their entirety could be comfortably toted in one person’s butt pack without any risk of back strain.
      The LAFD was relegated to being shot at, and returning fire with water monitors, or dependant on defense by the CHP.
      It was Korean shopkeepers engaging in most of any “firefights”. How many victims they actually tallied is unknown to this day. While their diligence in protecting their property was manifest, it appears their marksmanship was roughly equivalent to their anecdotal cultural talents for operating motor vehicles.
      The bullet-free ANG units deployed were a complete joke, and it wasn’t until the deployment of combat-veteran Marine units from Camp Pendleton – with both ammo and real-world ROEs – some 4 days into the festivities, that shooting became (briefly) a two-way affair, decisively leading scores of urban yutes to assess that the lemon was no longer worth the squeeze, and thus the multi-day Free Nike Rampage ended.

      Any “official” accounts at odds with this assessment can be discounted as pure CYA fabrication by TPTB after the fact.
      One need look no farther than the TSA shooting at LAX (where authorities congratulated themselves on their 4 day response and lockdown to a shooting decisively resolved in under 5 minutes), or the Dorner experience (where LAPD opened fire on two wholly dissimilar vehicles and three unarmed non-suspects in orgies of panic-fire), to see the same institutional mentality from 1992 alive and well.

      Would that the current LAPD currently was armed with six-shot .32s, if reducing them entirely to tasers and cork pop-guns proved an unreachable object.

    4. Arsenal762

      Don’t forget about the North Hollywood Shootout, which basically guaranteed an AR-15 in every urban patrol vehicle in America.

      1. looserounds.com

        I dont think so. I think the AR15 is still not standard issue to the LA cops. I think SGTs get them and some people who go to a carbine qul course and are designated as such. there have been several articles on this in the last 5 years

  15. staghounds

    This is a good article which doesn’t presume either that our ancestors were stupid or that the current answer was always the best one. Actual historical thinking.

    Colt- not just .44 and .36. The first Patersons were .28 caliber, and the .31 caliber pocket model was the largest production percussion model- even more than the 1860 army, including wartime contracts.

    My grandmother had two pistol self defense incidents, one fatal, one probably so. (She shot him twice and left him for dead, but he wasn’t there when the police arrived. Given the prognosis of torso hits around 1906 or so, he probably died but there was never a report.)

    Same .38 Smith and Wesson hammerless. I have it still.

    I know someone else who has been in three encounters which would have been good self defense shootings. Let the robber have what he wanted in the first one, killed the second, shot near enough to frighten the third and he drove off.

  16. staghounds

    I refer to the original Hognose article as a good one, not that Greyman thing that appeared between the time I started writing and I hit send.

    Don’t want it thought that I considered the Greyman thing worthwhile.

    1. Lt. Greyman, NVA

      Yes, you would not want to affirm the truth and be thought of as….”racist!”

      1. staghounds

        No, I wouldn’t want it thought that I am ignorant of history, appreciated poor writing, agreed with factual error, or didn’t recognize incorrect spelling.

        As to racism, which you not I mentioned, you know your own heart best.

  17. John D

    In addition to larger physiques, there is now wide-spread availability and use of drugs which enhance strength and ability to take hits with no immediate effect.

    For the first time the Military ran into this and realized a .38 wasn’t going to cut it, see: “MORO REBELLION”

  18. Docduracoat

    The general consensus on concealed carry blogs is that .380 is the smallest effective self defense caliber.
    Many would further say that to get adequate penetration a round nose or wad cutter .380 is preferred as hollow points may not reliably expand or penetrate far enough.
    All the other usual calibers should be hollow point.
    A single .380 hit to the throat was enough to kill Archduke Franz Ferdinand and ignite the first world war.
    You could say that one single “mouse gun” with a one shot kill actually killed millions of people

  19. redc1c4

    from the lag in new postings here, it would appear that our host is on an epic bender, celebrating the conviction on all counts of his beloved Attorney General…


    1. SPEMack

      I always assume when posting lags that a Jet Ranger had landed at Hog Manor carrying a Two Star. And thus Hognose left on an epic adventure full of tits, beer, and dead Commies; preferably slain with CZ and FN weapons.

      1. Mike_C

        But not to worry, because He’ll be back!
        And in addition to the guns, one could do worse than Czech tits and beer. Though personally I tend to prefer porters and stouts over Pilsner.

    2. Hognose Post author

      I wish. Would you believe dealing with a lost wallet (recovered, thank God, would have been impossible to replace two challenge coins therein), doing PT, and a little plane work (finishing up a wingtip). I got sidetracked and with the 0600 post going up late, put the scheduled 1100 and 1400 posts back into draft status to give the small-caliber post some time to ripen.

      Then I utterly forgot about them, till I posted the Kane post tonight, and noted immediately that the previous post was not the 1400 When Guns are Outlawed but the nominal 0600 (this) post. The delayed posts have been stood in the door and kicked.

      There’s absolutely bupkus scheduled for tomorrow. And at 0700 I’m back at strength training…

        1. Hognose Post author

          Long enough to get excuse-making down to a science, evidently!

          Let’s see, I think I made SP4 around JAN 80 and SGT around MAR 81, so not that long. ISTR I couldn’t make SGT while at language school for some administrative reason; I had the points long in advance. Of course, when I made E-5, I knew nothing.

          It was E-6 where I spent a record amount of time. I wanted to make E-6 so I could go to O&I and get slotted as assistant ops (aka intel sergeant). Once I did that I was in my happy place, and unwilling to go to wall locker school for further promotion. In the end, they promoted me anyway, I never did do ANCOC. I never heard anybody confess to learning anything there (or at any other “NCO School” either). An empty ticket punch, beloved of reflective belt CSMs because they were so stupid they did learn about soldiering in these schools.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Well, for some of all y’all hornballs, I know where there’s a fifty-something soon-to-be-disbarred lawyer who’s in need of consolation tonight. I had a teammate that would have ….

      1. Aesop

        Not even using his appendages ought one to so indulge.

        Pardon me whilst I cast about, blinded, and in search of the bottle of Mental Bleach…

        Anyways, Natzsofast…the felon in question is already over-qualified for the short list for a Clinton-admin AGUS.

  20. wry762


    Why did the Wehrmacht, of all things, reopen a conscientious objector’s closed factory so that his product, a tiny .25, could be produced — 117,000 of them — for sale to German officials?

    Forgive me, but my Google-fu is weak – could you ID this .25?


    1. Hognose Post author

      The Dušek “Duo” pistol. Dušek was a pacifist who refused to supply the Austro-Hungarian army in WWI or the IIIº Reich in WWII, so the occupation authorities just ran his factory without him. Shortly after the war, it was nationalized and closed and the tooling and production moved to ČZUB.


  21. Pingback: Weekend Knowledge Dump- August 26, 2016 | Active Response Training

  22. Christopher R.

    Excellent article! One thing the article didn’t mention is the widespread modern use of drugs like PCP, meth, etc. that didn’t exist 100 years ago that give many criminals strength to carry on when a person not on high drugs would quit. From what I’ve read, that was the reason the government went to the JMB-designed Colt 1911.

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