Friday, June 22, 2012

Mr. Bond would be Proud - Self Defense With the Sig P232

In the library there is a book, within reach, with something inside should a bad guy appear in the door as I'm sitting with something to read and a Martini.  OK, more likely a cup of the herb tea with the bear that looks like he's stoned on the box, but you get the idea.

The Sig P232

Before there was the Sig Sauer 232 there was a 230. That was before I starting shooting pistols but it was said to have quality and simplicity of use.  So when I had a chance to get a hold of a P232 I said "sure". With my P220 being my favorite .45, I've always been  a fan of Sig quality.

Chambered in .380 (9mm Kurz/9mm short), with a fixed barrel blowback action, I couldn't help but compare it in feel to the Bersa I bought for myself four years ago, then sold. I was quite pleased with it for the price, and have recommended it to women wanting a small caliber for $500 or less,  but I was wanting something a little nicer for personal carry.  There was something about the design  of the P232 I liked and the quality of Sig Sauer has always impressed me.  It's "vintage", if that word fits, and handling the piece brought me back to old black and white movies or classic James Bond films.  Silly perhaps, but I like that in many things, the quality of items used to protect or defend or build in generations gone by, meticulessly crafted and cherished by only discerning people.

Like many small handguns, it comes with a large polymer case with an instruction manual full of the obligatory safety warnings and all the info you need on the basics of care.  There are models with a stainless steel slide and  black plastic grips that in bulkier weapons make me think "Holstein" but in this model it's pure sports car.  There's models in all black and all stainless steel as well.

The P232 is advertised as Sig's second smallest and their lightest pistol, only the subcompact P238 being smaller.  I wouldn't call the 232 a subcompact though, being more the size of the Walther PP. It's not a tiny gun, and wouldn't be ideal for a vest or snug pants pocket but  it would work well most everywhere else (including fitting nicely into an Uncle Mike's size 2 pocket holster as the perfect garage accessory).

Like the original Walther PP (or the Russian Makarov copy of the PP) it's a SA/DA double action blowback operated fixed barrel autoloading firearm.  It also has a nice single stack magazine that is retained by a little heel clip. One of only two operation controls other than the trigger, the magazine release is at the bottom of the grip frame behind the magazine. It's pressed rearward with thumb pressure using the non-shooting hand and once released, the magazine must be pulled from the grip frame.  I rather prefer a Colt style magazine that drops the magazine in one clean motion, but I'm sure that  with time it will seem more natural.  Certainly, dropping a magazine to the ground by accidentwould be a rare event.

It might be argued that this type of release makes for slower reloads in an emergency.  It might and is definitely something you should practice with more than once.  But frankly for the typical self defense scenario, not a TV style shoot out, you may not need to. It's just my opinion, but if you can't disable/stop a thug with 7 rounds you have more to worry about then your magazine release

Just a note - unlike other weapons in it's class, the P232 doesn't have a magazine safety or disconnect and remains quite functional with the magazine removed.

In trying it out for the first time,  I'd say I like it more than the Walther PP, even if they share the same basic design.  For starters, the slide mounted dual function safety/decocker has been replaced with a single purpose decocker that's located at the top front of the left side grip panel.  No manual safety to fumble with, especially in times of having to defend under high stress load (flat edged  weapon equipped evil clowns, etc.).  The shape is smooth, rounded, nothing to really snag on anything.  With the decocking lever the only external operating control, you can pretty much draw this from any type of holster or pocket "snag free".  The "snag free" extends to the hammer, which is easy as pie to cock with your thumb and it doesn't have that exposed burr you see in the PP (and the Mak). 

This pistol has not had a trigger job. I concur that out of the box, it really didn't need one.  It's smooth faced and even with fairly large hands, I was able to fire quite comfortably. The double-action trigger is reasonably smooth and easy to use, as well. There is some takeup and over-travel, but the single-action trigger breaks like a piece of glass, making repeating fire a pleasure.. Sig advertises a automatic firing pin block and a rebounding hammer for safety.  I'm not sure if it made me a lot more safe than what's between my ears, but I'd say, given the quality I saw already in the piece, I'd take their word on that.

To shoot it at contact distance I just pulled the trigger through it's double action stroke to fire.  This is definitely a true double action, trigger cocking mechanism and rest assured there is double strike capability in the event of a misfire. Id' say the DA trigger pull is a bit stout but fairly smooth.  The long heavy trigger pull does make it harder to hold the pistol nice and steady during the firing stroke, impacting practical accuracy.  But you're going to use the DA function for immediate self defense and it has the accuracy you need for that. 

After  my first DA  shot, the pistol self cocked and subsequent shots fired single action. the trigger pull after the initial negligible takeup being short and the break at a manageable weight.  This was the way to fire this gun while taking advantage of it's engineered accuracy.

There's a common complaint that blowback pistols have slides that are hard to pull back. as only the mass/inertia of the slide and the power of the recoil spring keep the breech closed when the gun is fired, so the spring ends up being heavy. There's truth to that.  If this was going to be the personal piece for the woman in your life,  have her try it first. That feature of most blowback pistols would not deter me from purchasing one, but I'm 5' 8 and quite strong (well except when involving willpower and a piece of apple pie).

The sights are typical of Sig configuration and designed with a dot on the front sight and a rectangle on the rear.  Simply aligh the dot over the rectable.  That's it.

I had only one complaint with the firearm, and with more use, it might not bother me so much. The magazine follower automatically activates the slide stop after the last shot, holding the slide open. When you clear the pistol by removing the magazine and rack the slide to eject the chambered cartridge, there's no manual lever to keep the slide open which seemed odd as I normally hand back the cleared firearm to someone for them to shoot it with the slide locked open. Also, if you rack the slide with an empty magazine in place there's no way to close the slide short of removing the magazine. I understand Sig nixed the manual lock slide to reduce operating controls and contribute to the whole "snag free" effect, and it certainly makes that aspect of the firearm easy to use, I just missed the manual control a little bit.

To carry for conceal or not.  I will always be a fan of a bigger round for concealed carry.  That being said, there are times that due to your build, your clothing or other reasons, that's not always practical. A .380 is certainly more effective than the proverbial sharp retort, but the .380 cartridge often is not capable of getting past that 200 FP of instrument energy you need, and some loads don't even get close.

If you are carrying the .380 as your only personal protection, pay very close attention to what you use as ammo.  For my firearm, I'd use frangible ammo from a  reputable manufacturer.  If I really wanted to get serious, there's some great  Cor-Bon 90-grain +P JHP load that will exit this stubby little barrel like it's on fire.  But personal carry is NOT the time to get cheap ammo or use those reloads your neighbor Earl made for you one night after 3 cans of Schlitz. Good ammo, bullet placement  (practice practice practice) and  proper bullet expansion are all key to stopping power in a round and esssential in a smaller round.

It is not an inexpensive firearm but compared to my old Bersa there was a noticeable difference in quality.  Yes, you pay for it, but I'm willing to pay for it.  It's lightweight but not fluff, and would be easy to carry for long periods of time.

There is a reason the P232 is a very popular back up piece for off duty law enforcement officers and federal agents. My experience with it shows a reliable, extremely well made  pistol with good ergonomics of grip design, easy to use sights and a sweet little trigger, all which contribute to accuracy if you really have to use it. Because sometimes, even in the classic Bond films, the bad guy might get a  jump on you and you need a realiable backup that's withstood the test of time.


  1. I used to CC that piece's predecessor..the P230. Well made and exceptionally accurate. The P232 seems like the same piece with a slightly different grip.

    There are better loads these days but the Federal Hydrashock was as good as it got back then.

  2. An excellent and well thought out review! I concur that the .380 or 9mm Kurtz round can be lacking, but I think all of the personal defense rounds out for it now show good terminal ballistics.

    And hey. ANY Handgun in a confrontation beats a stiff word and a rolled up newspaper.

  3. A most excellent review. Now I want one!

  4. Now you make me feel like a cheapskate for buying my wife the Bersa(well, Firestorm)...but we actually tried the P230 at a rental range, and she liked the feel of the Firestorm better.

    What I really want to get my hands on to feel before buying, are one of the newer 'double-stack' Bersa .380s...

  5. I'm not a big fan of the wundernines, but there's something about the P232. Hmm.

  6. @greg, The Bersa Thunder Plus is a great Pistol! The Bersa Thunder range rental has been thoroughly abused and only requires replacement of the safety lever. It is not a problem with it, it is just it gets stuffed from safe to case a lot!

  7. I also bought a Bersa 380. And, as my handgunning skills and knowledge of ballisics has improved, my walking around carry tool has evolved as well. But..

    But...a Schlitz beer reference?...

    The fact that you worked that into a pistol review is golden. :-)

  8. I owned my share of German .380 ACP pistol's, H&K 4, Walther PPK/s and SiG P230, with the Sig P230 being the only one that never gave any problem's. In the end they all went down the road on other trades and I learned that a cheap, ugly Soviet Makarov was a better pistol than all of them. I was humbled. Your article is first class penmanship, well done.

  9. Personally, I'd lose the rubber stocks if concealed.

    PS - Do they still make Schlitz?

  10. I was fondling a pistol just like that one last month when I was in Indy.
    We were visiting with a family friend who works the fun shows throughout the midwest.

    You didn't just get that at a show did you?

    Nice gun. I almost made him an offer on the spot, but the old lady saw it coming and gave me "the look".

  11. MSgtB - a quick note than I'll be back to you all after work. I didn't make that show as the knee, though cleared for field work, still is a bit painful if I stand on a hard surface for a long period of time. It may be fall before I do the local gun show.

  12. I LOVE your reviews. They are so thorough, but also easy to understand.

    Pretty gun.

  13. Brigid,

    I have no clue how I found your website, but I love it!

    I have a quick question (couldn't find your email) that does not relate to this post, so please forgive me.

    Have you ever seen "The Bulletproof Mind" by Lt. Col. Grossman? Here's a link:

    It looks interesting but it's very pricey for this mama, so I was wondering if you have seen it / could recommend it?

    Also, because I know you love bacon so much:

    Didn't realize bacon had made such a comeback!! LOL!

    Enjoy your blog!

  14. I've shot a friends 230/232 and my first impressions were that it was huge for a .380. Admittedly, the .380 I owned at the time was a Colt Mustang Pocktlite.

    I was favorably impressed with the accuracy of the little Sig though.

  15. Picked up a new P-290 at a local show, with laser and tritium night sights...I've shot and carried several .380's, including an old Colt, a North American, a Bersa and a Keltec P-3AT...actually I like the 9mm better, and the Sig has enough weight to it that the kick is not an issue...
    Nobody wants to get shot, not even with a .17, but the P-290 looks impressive from the business end...the barrel has the "slide bushing" built in as part of the barrel itself, so looks huge, like a pocket artillery piece. It's an easy carry choice, though heavier than most, fits in a trouser pocket.

  16. hodgeman - wish I could have tried a 230. Sounds nice.

    Keads, it's a nice back up.

    Greg - the bersa is very nice for the price, but you do often get better quality if you pay more, not always but certainly this time.

    A girl - thanks, I wish I had a bigger collection to review but I do what I can with what I have available.

    Dianeintexas - thanks and welcome! I don't publish my email address. There aren't enough hours in the day for the blog, work, house and family, throw in a lot of email and something would have to give. Thanks so much for the links!!!

  17. Brigid,

    Your welcome to borrow anything in my gunsafe to test and write about. I've got a Colt 357 magnum precursor to the Python that you can start with.

  18. DianeinTexas - sorry, long day and I pulled an all nighter one night this week. I didn't answer your question. No, I haven't seen it so I couldn't recommend it.

  19. Sport Pilot - that's awful sweet of you. I've friends with a lot of guns, I'm just always hesitant to ask to borrow one for a review.

  20. Oh Nohs! You outed your book safe! I hate to do that to any book, but if you pick one that you just can't believe anyone would ever open, they are just great..
    Loved the review, the missus is a big .380 fangirl.

  21. A P232 was my second CC'able gun, but the first I actually carried. It's still my primary five years later.

    Yes, I know it's "only" a .380, but it carries well for me. Better than the others (which are all much heavier).

  22. I loved your post almost as much as I love my own Sig. Thanks so much for this excellent review.

  23. mikelaforge - every drawer and surface in my homes is occupied by books, it'd take a burglar a long time to find this one while the alarm is going off.

    Janeof Virginia - welcome!!! Which model do you have?

  24. Where on earth did you get that red "Keep Calm" poster? Or is it a huge fridge magnet?

    Their home base is just up the street from me, in their art / framing shop, and I recently bought some for visiting friends.

    Bit of a history there.

  25. I am gun poor right now but trying to save for a few. One is a used
    Makarov 9x18 pistol....I have heard it is the AK in reliability of pistols. I have also heard (have not counted) that is has the least amount of parts in a pistol. Anyway, I just want one.

    Glad to hear your up and about - get 100% soon!

  26. Superb review,andI'll be checking one out within the next day or two. Thank you.

  27. Excellent review. I have a Sig 232 that is a favorite of mine. Some may call it a "girl's gun" but I disagree. While I may sometimes carry full frame .45 when the weather and clothing permit, I never feel underarmed when carrying the 232. If bad things happen, the gun you HAVE is better than the one left at home in the safe..

  28. Corsair - welcome to the Range, and thanks for the kind comment. I'm with you, .45 Sig 220 or a 1911 when I can, but this is a great little piece for lighter wear and puttering around the shop.

  29. Great review. I have one and use it for CC. I will definitely use your ammo suggestion.

  30. Beware: The newer Sigs have junk MIM cast parts that are noted for early failure. Find and use the older model Sigs only.

  31. I have two P232's. The accuracy
    on these .380's is as good as it
    gets. Almost like shooting a 22.

    I bought one for my wife to carry and ended up getting a second one for myself.

    This is as good as it gets in a 380. I have many pistols, this is by far my favorite.

  32. My P230 is my CC, because everything else I own are S&W J-frame revolvers! :-) Since I can't CC a revolver, my brother the gunsmith found it for me about six years ago. Love this gun, and so do the guys at the range when they put down their plastic Glocks to try my beautiful firearm. :-)

  33. hi, i'm new....have to say that is about as good as it gets on a firearms review, well done. i have the stainless 232, i love it. it has a tendency to jam right at the mouth to the barrel. when it does, i have to remove the barrel to fix it. it doesn't happen often, just enough to make me a little crazy. any ideas?

    1. Thomas - I'm not sure from a firearms standpoint - have you tried using another brand of ammo (my Sig .45 hates truncated cones with the home loads). Thanks for stopping and for your kind comment. B.


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