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Dead for Defense

Why some cartridges didn't survive the future.

Dead for Defense
(Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

Through the years, a number of cartridges meant for personal defense have come — and gone. None of them were inherently bad, but the varied reasons why they ultimately failed — or at least failed to thrive — is what I find fascinating. This subject comes to mind because the 2022 G&A Ammo of the Year winner, the .30 Super Carry (SC), is still struggling to find an audience. In no particular order:

.357 SIG

The .357 SIG is an interesting cartridge introduced in 1994 and originally chambered for the P229 and offered in .357 SIG/.40 S&W caliber-convertible kits. It was popular for a while, and even famously adopted by the U.S. Secret Service, and adopted by some law enforcement agencies such as Virginia’s Richmond Police Department. The .357 SIG cartridge is basically a .40 S&W necked down to 9mm. Performance is equivalent to a 9mm +P+. With the .357 SIG, mid-­ and some heavyweight 9mm bullets would scream downrange very fast; 125 ­grainers would clock more than 1,300 feet per second (fps), while 147s would go beyond 1,200 fps. The bottleneck design seemed to feed reliably from most pistols, too.

The downsides to the .357 SIG? Excessive muzzleblast and recoil. It’s darn near a .357 Magnum, but chambered in pistols smaller and lighter than most .357 Mag. revolvers! The cartridge was always more expensive than either 9mm or 40 S&W. So, users got the same reduced magazine capacity as a .40 S&W — compared to the 9mm — and between the cost and felt recoil, the .357 SIG remained more popular with law enforcement than private citizens. Improvements to 9mm bullets within the past 10 years — combined with the fact that most federal agencies switched to using 9mm pistols — killed the .357 SIG.

Performance-­wise, the .357 SIG seemed to be the perfect cartridge for a submachine gun. In fact, SIG Sauer was originally going to chamber its MPX in it, as well as .40 S&W, but that’s likely never going to happen now unless it experiences the same weird resurgence as the 10mm has.

.327 Federal Magnum

The rimmed .327 Federal cartridge was introduced in 2008 in the Ruger LCR. It did two things: It provided six-­shot capacity in cylinders only big enough for five .38s, and it offered magnum performance. Federal’s 100-­grain bullets would do 1,400 fps; 115s, 1,300 fps.

The revolver market has seen steady sales, but the American consumer hasn’t taken to the .327 Federal en masse, likely due to the fact that the number of companies offering guns in this caliber has dropped to a fraction of what was a decade ago. As it turned out, yes, that extra shot in the cylinder is nice, but .327 Federal Magnum ammunition was never anywhere close to being as inexpensive as the ubiquitous .38 Special. Second, those people willing to put up with the blast of a magnum in a compact revolver were not willing to switch from the .357 Mag. to the .327 Mag. Plus, Americans generally think bigger is better. “It’s only a .32,” was often said. Which brings us to ...

.32 ACP

Perhaps you weren’t expecting this one. When it comes to being used for personal defense, this cartridge — which was once popular in America and around the world — is dead. You’d be hard pressed to find new .32 ACP guns or ammo, and there is a relationship there.

Also known as the “7.65 Browning,” this cartridge was designed by John Browning and introduced in 1899. It sent bullets between 60 and 75 grains at velocities between 900 and 1,100 fps. Almost all .32 ACP ammo was loaded with FMJ bullets. While penetration could be decent, stopping power proved marginal.

Guns chambering .32 ACP were interesting back Grand-­ and Great-­Grandpa’s day because they were usually small. A Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless could be concealed in a pocket, and the .32 ACP hit harder than a .22.

The .380 ACP — another Browning invention — was always more popular in the U.S. than the .32, and .380 autos just kept getting smaller and lighter. The Ruger LCP, for example, is smaller and lighter than most of the prominent .32s, including those by Beretta, CZ, FN, and Walther. Why buy a .32 when a .380 pistol is basically the same size? Thus, the .32 ACP died.

.45 GAP

In 2003, Glock wanted to fit a .45-­caliber cartridge into its shorter 9mm/.40 S&W-frame pistols. So, Glock went to CCI, Speer and Winchester. The result was the .45 Glock Auto Pistol (GAP) cartridge. It uses standard .45 ACP bullets, provides .45 ACP performance, and has roughly a similar overall length as the 9mm and .40 S&W.

Wide, heavy bullets were still sought after for defensive pistols at that time, when the .40 S&W was still popular. However, the .45 GAP provided .45 ACP recoil, so sticking that energy in a gun small and light enough for a 9mm did not produce an enjoyable experience. 

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I was a huge fan of the .45 ACP, but I had no interest in the .45 GAP. If you were big enough to handle the recoil of the GAP, you were big enough to handle a pistol chambered in .45 ACP. Plus, the short GAP was still fat. If a shooter were to move away from the .45 ACP, they often purchased one in .40 S&W for increased capacity.

gaad-hg-dead-for-defense-02-1200x800
This lineup of cartridges were all introduced for modern times: .45 GAP (2003), .357 SIG (1994), .40 S&W (1990), and .30 SC (2022). (Photo by Michael Anschuetz)

.40 S&W

Of all the defensive cartridges now seemingly dead, the .40 S&W had the longest reign. It was introduced in 1990 on the heels of the 10mm Auto, and it ran strong for 25 years. Then, it just died. (Perhaps  it’s in a hospital on life support.) There many pistols still sold for this cartridge, including police trade-ins. However, almost no gun manufacturer is making new models in .40 S&W. All the law enforcement agencies have dumped the .40. Police trade-­in Glocks 22s, Smith & Wessons M&P40s, and various SIG Sauer models are sold at bargain basement prices. (Tip: All those guns mean it’s still easy to find .40 S&W ammo.)

Why the change? The .40 S&W grew from the FBI’s quest to develop a cartridge that would pass its ammunition testing protocol in the wake of several shootouts in the 1980s. The .40 was developed as a short 10mm producing less recoil. The most common loads featured 165-­ and 180-­grain bullets at 1,000 to ­1,100 fps. Recoil was somewhere between “snappy” and “abusive,” especially in small guns meant for concealed carry. In the past 30 years, bullet technology improved to the point that today’s best 9mm loads have passed the FBI Ammunition Testing Protocol, providing significantly less recoil than the .40 S&W and more magazine capacity. Bullet technology killed the .40 S&W. The market was already moving away from it before the FBI announced it was abandoning it and adopting the 9mm in 2015. The trickle became a flood.

.30 SC

Back to the .30 Super Carry (SC). Is it next to die? The .30 SC provides near-9mm-­level terminal performance, but with a narrower cartridge for more magazine capacity. And we get just that. The .30 SC struggles have little to do with the cartridge’s performance. Rather, the rollout was half-­botched, in my opinion.

The selling point of the .30 SC was not its performance, but Federal spent too much time defending and focusing on that aspect. Rather the fact that it provides increased magazine capacity was lost on the two guns it was introduced in. Federal should have paired it with a full-­size Smith & Wesson M&P, SIG Sauer P320, or Glock 17 with flush-fit 20-­round mags. The 13-­shot .30 SC Shield Plus sells better than full-­size M&Ps, but 20-plus-­round mags for the full-size models would have gotten more appreciation. You have to sell the sizzle, not the steak. Yet, here we are. Almost 2 years later, it still hasn’t happened. News of Hi-­Point chambering its carbines for .30 SC is the biggest boost in interest the cartridge received in 2023. 

Is the .30 Super Carry dead for defense? It’s a little too soon to tell, but if something doesn’t change it sure looks like that’s where it’s headed. 




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