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From the History Books Historical

The Deadliest Handgun in History?

by Garry James   |  November 3rd, 2011 44

1910 FNWith a total of 35 million casualties, there is little doubt that the First World War was one of the costliest conflicts in history — and it was all started by just two well-placed  7.65mm (.32 ACP) rounds from a John Browning-designed auto pistol.

This is not to say that the Great War wasn’t imminent, anyway — it had almost begun almost a decade earlier for other reasons — but when Bosnian nationalist Gavril Princip assassinated heir to the Austro-Hungarian throne Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Sophie, with just two shots from his Model 1910 FN Browning (pictured here), the juggernaut towards war began its irrepressible journey.

In brief, it happened like this:

On June 28, 1914, Princip and five other conspirators placed themselves along the rout of Ferdinand’s motorcade in Sarajevo, Bosnia. The Austrian archduke was attending the opening of a hospital in that city.

As the royal car and its entourage proceeded, one conspirator threw a hand grenade towards the archduke’s car. The driver, seeing the threat, sped up and the bomb went off beneath the third vehicle in the procession, gravely wounding the occupants.

After a delay, Ferdinand decided to continue on to the hospital using a different rout. Unfortunately, his driver mistakenly turned up the wrong street, where Princip just happened to be standing. Thinking the plot was ruined, he had given up and wandered towards a café.

PrincipUpon seeing the royals’ car, Princip pulled out his pistol and at a range of about five feet and fired at the Archduke, hitting him in the neck. Sophie threw herself across her husband and was hit in the stomach with the second shot. They were substantial people, but still the relatively anemic 7.65mm round had done the job. Both died after a short time.

Princip was captured, tried and because he was under 20 — the age at which he could be executed — ultimately sentenced to 20 years in prison, where he died on April 28, 1918.

Today, Princip’s 1910 FN, serial number 19074, is on display at the Heeresgeschichtliches Museum in Vienna, along with Ferdinand’s  Graf und Stift touring car and the couch on which he died.

The 1910 FN was an excellent pistol — one that was made for a number of years and then improved in 1922. Many thousands were sold for military and civilian use. Too bad it was such a great design. If it hadn’t been, perhaps things might have turned out quite differently.

OK, so we can’t exactly state this handgun is the deadliest ever, but we can say it indirectly led to over 35 million casualties.

  • Chuck

    And it was a pop-gun- my wife and daughter both carry KelTec P-32s. Absolutely no fun to shoot more than 3 times in a row, but better than throwing rocks. One last comment- John Browning was a genius.

    • Sam

      Thanks. I learned some new info in your story. By the way, Ferdinand and his two brothers had pocket knives with copper engraved scales on each side. Each brother had his own likeness on one side and both brothers on the other side. I have one of the knives, but not Ferdinand's. After many years of searching information, I have given up. I believe Ferdinand's and the other brother's knife have been lost to history.

      • J. S.

        How neat! Where in the world did you get it? Any idea what kind of steel the blade is made of? Have you found the history of what occasion they were made for, or were they just gifts to all the brothers from a knife maker? I would think that photos and a story on it would be welcome by some of the knife mags.

    • MrK

      How about a 22-250?
      There is a little bullet with a dang freight train pushing it. {Hits quarters at 400 yards and then some.)
      I digress……
      Like many said below, dead is dead, especially when hit in the head.
      The vast majority of ER Doctors and nurses will tell you a small caliber
      bullet does a lot of damage as it bounces thru organs and off bones and hits more organs
      even twice or more. Many victims can be worked on for hours a still die do to 'bleeding out" with so many holes that cannot be patched quick enough.
      A .44 mag or .357 will blow your arm off, but the same shot with a .22 can travel up your arm, to your chest and take an unbelievable trip of hole making.
      BTW: That .22 mag is a knockdown shot that IS very much overlooked.
      There is a palm sized 5 shot revolver, .22mag, that has a kick close to many of its big brothers. (I own one)
      In the hollow point version, it will shatter its target massively, much to the surprise of many.

      • J.S

        Are you talking about the NAA 22lr/22mag or is there another that I don;t know about?

        • E.B.

          Smith and Wesson, and Taurus both make nice "snubby" .22 mag revolvers

          • MrK

            What is the model of the S&W you are referring to?

    • different Chuck

      I like the kel-tec, particularly with the laser grips. If I am going to shoot more than one mag, I wear a glove, and I handload some lighter practice ammo.

  • broncobetty

    Who says 32 ACP and 22 LR rifle won't kill you and are not good for close quarters self defense in a hurry. They are both better then a rock and easier to aim. Why do some of the worlds greates murders use 22 LR rifle bullets and 32 to get up close and personal if they don't work. Dead is Dead no matter what he caliber.

  • Richard

    It's always funny to read that the 7.65mm is an anemic cartridge. Anemic compared to what? A slingshot? I agree with Broncobetty, smaller calibers can be as deadly asbigger ones if you know how to " optimize " their performance. The 22lr is a fantastic round at close quarters and can be as deadly. I also agree with Chuck, J.M. Browning was a genius, most of his designs and patents are well over 100 years old, yet, nothing new under the sun, it's these very designs that are copied and used, re-used, over, and over and over again.

  • Jim Rankin

    Gotta agree! Another neglected caliber is the .22 mag. No plug intended, but if you can get one of the Kel-Tec PMR 30's DO IT! What an option to have 30 rounds of such an overlooked caliber in a lightweight handgun. They work well, won't drag your pants down (<20 oz loaded) and are really accurate.

    • J.S.

      What did you think of the review done on them that was all praise except claimed that they could do no better than a 4 inch group, from rest, at 15 yards? That included several shooters, one of them a supposed top shot. Don't get me wrong, I'm a big fan of Keltec – have 2 PF9s I swear by – but just wanted for different perspective on the PMR 30. Please elaborate. Also, does drastic change in wieght as shells are expended from grip throw off? I have long been fan of 22 mag. and hard to beat a whole handfull of them.

  • terz81

    When Theodore Roosevelt was New York City Police Comish, he had ordered and purchased Colt Revolvers
    in .32 long colt, it had low recoil and officers could recover faster if needd to get off additional rounds if needed,
    in fact a number of police officers carried them for many years een after the various .38 calibers became popular

  • HumbertoD

    The 1910 FN 7.65 mm was wildely used in Europe and Latin America as a police and military gun.
    Several decades ago, the weapon of choice for police use in all america was the 32 and 38 revolver.
    The 7.65 mm caliber was a police service cartridge, even Italy isued 7.65 Berrettas as sidearms in WWII.
    For nearly more than half a century it was a good gun and cartridge for self defense.
    Technology has offered much better guns and calibers for that purpose, but that dosen´t mean the 1910 FN is not deadly!

  • Randy

    Those that don't think a .32 or a .22 is not deadly, Then please come to my neck of the woods and let me target practice with you for a bit.. Only need one well placed shot…

    I personally don't want to get shot with any thing… But all ammo is deadly and dangerous…

    • Jack

      How about you let me stab you in the eye with a small screwdriver? Great logic there, bub.

  • E. Zach Lee-Wright

    I grew up in a small north Missouri town that featured a meat locker and slaughterhouse. The 1200 pound steers were led onto the kill floor and shot in the head with a bolt action .22 single shot rifle. I don't recall any requiring a second shot of the hundreds I watched meet their end. Shot placement is everything.

  • Neto

    Here in Brazil, before the law liberate the 380 ACP, in the 80s, just the 22Lr, 25 ACP, 32S&W, 38SPL and of course 32 ACP ( 7.65mm ) was allowed!
    So, the 7.65mmm was the largest semi automatic caliber in those times and it helps a lot of people meet the death!
    There are a lot of Whalthers PP/PPK , Manurhins, Berettas 34, FN 1900, 1910, 1922, CZs, Colts here in use yet!
    The precision and low recoil is very well regard in this caliber!
    I don't think so!

  • Qwikdraw45

    People scoff at the .32acp, but a Kel-Tec P32 is easy to carry everywhere. If the recoil bothers you, add some slip on rubber grips. 2 to center mass and a head shot at 7-10 yards is easy enough to do with it IF you practice with it!

  • Chuck

    Just a few thoughts – when I was stationed in Bremerhaven, Germany in the mid-60s the German police carried walther PPs in 7.65 mm, even tho .380 was available in the same gun. They considered it adequate, despite we MPs assuring them our 1911 .45s were better. After watching the majority of our guys struggle through qualifications, often having to re-shoot, I wonder now if they would have been better served with something a little smaller, with less recoil. Just saying–.continued on page 2

  • Chuck

    I am a retired cop, 40 years, and have carried some "mouseguns" as back-up and off duty weapons. I have a kel-tec .32 full of hornady critical defense ammo, with a CTC laser grip, and feel I could defend myself well enough with it, tho I usually carry something a little more substantial. Of course, if I knew there was going to be a gunfight, I would (A) Not go there. or (B) take a rifle and/or shotgun and some back-up. But if something came up, and the .32 is what I had, I think I would be OK. The winchester .32 silvertips in the original tiny little .32, the seecamp, had a one shot stop rate of 65%, according to the latest Marshall/Sanow info, and I feel that the ammo has improved since then. continued page 3???

  • Chuck

    With the crimson trace grips, the kel tec is deadly accurate, and does carry 8 rounds. I think the .32 ACP served a lot of cops, soldiers and civilians very well for a long time, and surely don't care to get shot with one. One last thought, based on 28 yrs on the street, before I got chained to a desk, nobody wants to get shot with anything!! If displaying the weapon, then lighting up the laser on a goblins chest doesn't end the problem, I suspect the 7.65 mm slugs will. Stay safe, support the 2nd amendment. There, I'm finished, did not realize, when I started this novel, that you couldn't put that much in one message.

  • Hersfelder

    Like my grandfather was fond of saying: "A hit with a .32 beats a miss with a .45"

  • Gil

    Shot placement is 90%, the other 10% is caliber and type of bullet. When I was in the Navy some 60 years ago, I saw a big man shot 6 times in the chest with 38s. The cop was backing up and spilling his reloads as the big guy got with in arms reach of the cop. A Navy SP, who was about 15 to 20 yards from them, placed one 45 to this guys chest and he just dropped straight down, Previously I had shot about a 100 rounds thru the 45 while I was in the Illinois State Militia Co D, without impressing me. After witnessing that SP shot and the result formed my absolute love of the 1911 & 45 ACP. It became my off-duty carry for over 50 years. I'm old and weak now and I finally had to admit it is too heavy and too much gun for me now.
    Life member NRA
    Life member Ca Rifle & Pistol Assoc
    Life member Ca Peace Officers Assoc
    Life member Law Enforcement Alliance of America

  • Don

    There are always those that feel nothing less then .41 Mag, .44 Mag or .45 ACP were jokes. We issued Glock 9mm and I never felt under gunned. There was a string of fatal shootings in the county. Five people died with single shots fried from Raven .25 ACP pistols. Two were head shots, the others torso hits. There was no lingering on their way out of this world. But, then again I know a few cases where the .25 and .32 S&W bounced off ribs and skulls. A case in a neighboring town, now 50 years ago, had a husband shoot his wife between the eyes, leaving a set of black eyes. The arresting officer set the gun down on the desk near the radio operator. So, naturally the next officer through the door picked it up, squeezed the trigger, and left a dent in the radio face. It meant the both officers were in the dog house.

  • Joe

    In Viet Nam we were issued Hi Standard 22 WMR suppressed pistols for pest control. Extremely effective and quiet. Small caliber pistols are a tool of choice for many professional hitters. Not the common mafia soldiers tasked with a hit but the pros. As said before I don't want to be hit with any caliber and I speak from experience…it hurts!


  • Joe Cat

    I carried a Beretta Tomcat until I was forced to sell it needing the money. I wish I still had it , easy to carry and very accurate. At close range, common for most defensive encounters, the 32 ACP will do quite well.

  • Fernando Tejero

    Any gun is very dangerous and packs real killing ( not stopping power). However, a well-placed head shot is all that's needed to stop a perp in its tracks. Mouseguns with FMJ bullets are excellent in penetrating head bones; even a .25 ACP. However,nowadays there are excellent and very pocketable .380 ACP, 9mm and even 40 S&W pistols that have more flexibility to adapt to a wide range of possible fighting scenarios. But in a pinch I 'd feel confident even with a .22 short. It's better that the fists; at least mine!

  • Mak-Attack

    When I 1st saw the picture of this gun I swore it was a 9mm Russian Makarov. There are many different things that are the same design.

  • Jess Stone

    Fran Ferdinand of Austria bled to death because in his vanity he was sewn into his clothing daily and he refused to have his clothing cut so that the bleeding could be stopped. For this millions died for their countries.

  • bhp9

    Have you read the book "The Inglis Diamond"? In the book it reviews secret U.S. military pistol trials after WWII using the 9×19 Ingles High Power v/s the U.S. 1911 in 45acp. Although the .45 was adopted in 1911 it took the neanderthals of the U.S. military 35 years to actually test it. Results? The .45 acp was a massive failure as a combat pistol. The G.I. ball ammo bounced off of a WWII helmet at a very close range of 35 yards. The 9×19 penetrated the helmet at an astonishing 125 yards. The 9×19's low recoil, high capacity, flat trajectory and high velocity and high penetration made it the superior pistol and sub-machine gun cartridge of both WWI and WWII. This is the reason most nations adapted the 9×19.

    I might add my own experience in hunting deer with both the 9×19 and .45 acp calibers also proved the .45 a massive failure. Low velocity, looping trajectory, heavy recoil, and low penetration, and low capacity makes the .45acp a poor defensive or hunting choice.

    • Sgt Jim 355 (ret)

      So Let's see, a 9mm 147 grain (standard police issue) moving at 850 feet per second or a 230 grain .45acp going the same speed. It is like being hit with a fast pebble or a just as fast boulder. Which has more knockdown power from close range out to say 15 yards? I would go with the good ol' 45. Sure it will drop more at long range, but at a normal defensive handgun range it is a proven fight stopper

  • bhp9

    I wish the Browning 1910 in .380 was still made and imported into the U.S. It had very few parts and was a simple pistol to take apart. It was well made of high quality forged steel, no modern junk castings, no modern junk stamped sheet metal and no modern junk plastic parts. Only the grips were plastic. The gun was a natural pointer and was small in size, slim and trim and light in weight. It was also super accurate. It had both a manual and a grip safety and was single action which meant you could easily hit anything out to 50 yards with it. Try that with today's lawyer proof double action only guns. Your lucky to hit anything past 3 feet. The Browning 1910 was one of the very best hide out guns ever made. It makes todays plasticy pistols nothing more than crudely made junk.

  • marten

    The only problem I have with the argument as to which gun was used to kill the Archduke and his wife, is that some historians claim it was the FN M1910 and others say it was the M1900. I don't think this bit of history is really clear however, the results of that shooting were horrendous.
    Now, when it comes to weapons of various sizes and capabilities, there are not too many designers/manufacturers who equal John Browning. His weapons have been used by both good and evil over the years with devastating results. The BAR in 30.06 quickly jumps to mind. I happen to own a Browning M1910 in .380. It is pretty cool when used with regular rounds for target practice. For home defense, I have it loaded with hollow points to back up a Remington 870.
    If there is anyone who does not believe that a .380 will stop a person, you are more than welcome to break and enter.

  • bhp9

    One word of warning. Do not shoot plus p loads or hot hand-loads out of any 1910 Browning or the 1970 model either. I did when I was a young man and I warped both of the frames on both a 1910 .380 and a model that was made in 1970 (long barrel target model with adjustable sights). Some judicious stoning of the frame rails got them working again.

  • bhp9

    Quote: "So Let's see, a 9mm 147 grain (standard police issue) moving at 850 feet per second " Quote:

    There is no standard police issue weight but the standard issue WWII was the 125 grain projectile. It was loaded very hot and was often misquoted by no nothing gun writers as submachine gun ammo but the same ammo was standard issue for both pistols and sub-machine guns. Velocity, depending on which country made it often was in the 1,200 fps range v/s the anemic and barely 850 fps range of the .45acp. Smaller projectiles traveling even at the same velocity of larger projectiles often have better ballistic coefficients which enable them to penetrate deeper. W.D.M. Bell found that the 6.5 mm traveling at 2,300 fps would shoot right through an elephants head v/s the .45 caliber and larger elephant calibers which would not.

  • CARL


  • Rich M

    The pistol in question in the Kansas City National WW I Museum is a 9mm short (.380) not a .32.

  • bhp9

    WWI did not start because of the assassination of the Archduke. Europe was a boiling point at that time period, and the assassination was just an excuse to start the war everyone knew was coming. If the assassination had not taken place another incident would have still touched off the war.

  • Garry James

    I believe I addressed that in the intro.

  • Matthew W.

    Thanks a lot Gary! Every time you write an intriguing and thoughtful piece about a weapon I've always wanted, the prices go up. While I had heard most of these facts before, it was neat to see the whole scenario laid out. Another good piece Gary.


    • Garry James

      Many thanks. Glad you found it of interest. Sorry about the price increases. Alas, it always seems as soon as I'm ready to sell something, the values plummet.

  • Zach

    So what was really the deadliest gun in all of history? As in, how many people actually perished from rounds leaving it's barrel…

  • Robert C Dare

    Id say the 7.62×39 round killed
    the most. Mainly in the AK, RPK, RPD and SKS platform. Handguns? I’m not sure. Either the .32, 7.62×25, 9×18 mak or 9×19. I mean the Hi Power is the oldest 9mm still in service

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