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If you read my last article, Why There is No Such Thing as a “Cheap Gun” for Self-Defense, I promised a review of my little Kel-Tec P32 pocket popgun that I bought on an impulse. I’ve taken it on three range trips now and fired three different types of ammunition through it. I did not perform a torture test by any means, or even enough to really make a judgment on reliability. But it has been more than enough for me to draw my necessary conclusions.
Kel-Tec P32 Features
The Kel-Tec P32 is a .32 ACP, locked-breech semi-automatic pistol with a double-action-only trigger pull. However, it is not a true double-action-only in that it doesn’t have second-strike capability. It makes use of a hammer, but the slide partially cocks the hammer.
The P32 has a capacity of 7+1 and weighs a mere 6.6 ounces unloaded. There are no manual safeties, nor are there any slide stop or slide release levers. There is only a trigger and a magazine release as far as controls. However, the pistol does feature an internal slide stop and will stay open on an empty magazine. You must remove the magazine to reclose the slide, though, as there is no slide release lever.
The gun has sights, kind of. They are very tiny and low on the slide, just a short black nub of a front sight with a shallow groove for a rear. There are no dots, and the sights are pretty hard to acquire (or even see) depending on the situation.
Shooting the Kel-Tec P32
I was pleasantly surprised, even impressed, with how well this cheap little pistol shot. The trigger pull is long but is actually very smooth. The partially cocked hammer makes for a reasonably light double-action pull. My only other experience with pocket pistols like this, outside of snub-nosed revolvers, is with a Ruger LCP. I found the P32 trigger to be better than the LCP’s, even though it is not “as nice” of a gun. I can’t speak for the LCP II, which I understand made significant improvements over the original LCP trigger, but I have absolutely no complaints about the P32’s trigger.
That decent trigger also lent itself to good accuracy. Again, I was surprised that I was able to shoot this gun just as well as any other small gun, even with the nearly nonexistent sights. While firing slowly at seven yards, the tiny sights were surprisingly usable, and I was able to shoot a group of about two inches on the first magazine.
Aside from the much-better-than-expected accuracy with aimed fire, rapid fire was also fairly easy. The locked-breech design, uncommon for .32s, helps tame recoil. While the recoil of the cartridge is low, to begin with, the locked-breech design allows the gun to be as light as it is, and super light pistols can have more recoil than expected, even with relatively weak cartridges. The P32’s recoil would be manageable by anyone, even with the gun’s tiny grip.
Kel-Tec P32 Recoil
While the recoil was manageable, it was still enough to present particular challenges with rapid fire. The small, hard-to-see sights are harder to reacquire quickly. It was basically impossible for me to regain anything like a “sight picture” during rapid-fire. That being said, I was easily able to keep shots on target center-of-mass at self-defense distances by simple point-shooting. You would likely deploy a gun like this anyway, and one reason that tiny guns like this don’t feature much in the way of sights. Some small .32s don’t even have sights at all.
Kel-Tec P32 Bite
One downside about the way this little gun shoots is the fit and finish. The polymer frame is much rougher than your average pistol. The hammer block axis pin near the rear of the gun was especially problematic for me in this regard. It is rough around the edges and sits right on the metacarpal joint of my thumb. After a box or so of ammo, it had worn away a neat hole in my skin precisely the size of the pin.
This, of course, made for an unpleasant shooting experience. Shooting a small amount of ammo wasn’t a problem, and I didn’t realize it was rubbing at me this badly until it was too late. Still, as pleasant as this little gun was to shoot at first, these rough edges ensured that I couldn’t have fun for too long. While these edges could be smoothed out, you shouldn’t have to take a file to a new gun. And as much practice as it takes to learn to shoot a small gun like this, something that prevents shooting more than a box at a time comfortably can be a pretty big negative.
Overall, by my third range trip, I wasn’t getting torn up by this pin as badly and knowing that it was there allowed me to change my grip slightly to avoid bloodshed. But I’ll still probably try to smooth it out with a file because changing your grip to deal with one specific gun is not proper training.
Keltec P32 Reliability
Reliability is where I had my biggest concerns with a pistol like this. While the accuracy and shootability were much better than expected, I had low expectations for a reason. Guns like this are not designed for target shooting, but rather getting shots on an attacker at what is usually contact distance. As such, reliability is really the more pressing concern when it comes to the practicality of small, cheap guns. That’s also where most cheap guns experience the most issues.
My P32 was about as reliable as I expected, if not a little more. I tried two different types of FMJ ammo – one box of Winchester White Box (71gr flat-pointed round nose) and two boxes of GECO (73gr round nose). I also tried out what would pass for a “defense load” in this cartridge – the Buffalo Bore 75gr hard cast +P flat point. As explained in my last article, .32 ACP doesn’t have enough power for hollow points to work correctly, so flat pointed bullets are the next best thing.
P32 Winchester White Box Results
With the Winchester White Box, I had one failure to feed early on in my shooting. I’m hesitant to say it was an issue with the gun, though I haven’t ruled it out, as it was so early in my shooting and did not occur again. It may have been that I didn’t seat the magazine all the way, or it may have been a very brief “break-in” period. I didn’t have any other reliability issues with the Winchester ammo after that.
P32 GECO Results
With the two boxes of GECO ammo, I had no problems whatsoever. This was a welcome finding, as this is the cheapest .32 ACP I could find anywhere. I bought it on sale for $8.48 per box, but it hovers around $10, on par with 9mm. The GECO ammo was not only reliable, but it also shot pretty clean and was just as accurate as the rest.
P32 Buffalo Bore Results
My greatest disappointment with reliability was with the Buffalo Bore ammunition. On my very first magazine with the stuff, I encountered the dreaded rim lock that .32 ACP can struggle with. The gun was completely locked up, and it is tricky to undo the rim lock. It was especially troubling because I was concerned with rim lock going in, and was sure to carefully seat the rounds in the magazine in an attempt to avoid it. I suspect that this is due to the shorter overall length of the flat point ammo, combined with the additional power of the +P loading.
The flat point bullet allows a little bit of empty space in the magazine forward of the bullet. I believe this, coupled with the increased recoil, might have allowed the rims to shift and lock up, or at least made it more likely. The GECO ammo, on the other hand, has a longer overall length, filling almost all of the length of the magazine. It would not be able to shift forward in the magazine very much, reducing the possibility of rim lock.
I can’t say for sure whether the issue with the Buffalo Bore was a fluke or not. It may have just been bad luck, and maybe my better results with the cheaper ammo could have just been good luck. But I’m not exactly compelled to buy hundreds of rounds of the expensive Buffalo Bore ammo to prove it one way or the other for the limited benefit the flat point +P has over the regular round nose. But then again, my only other malfunction was also with a Winchester flat nosed bullet, though it was not as severe as rim lock. So there may be something about flat pointed bullets that this gun doesn’t like.
Sticking with Round Nose Ammo
For the time being, if I carry this gun, I’ll just use the round nose ammo to make sure it at least goes bang after the first shot. Still, only trusting round nose ammo to run reliably does turn me off of carrying the gun in the first place, as the .32 needs all the help it can get in wounding.
Kel-Tek P32 for Concealed Carry
It is almost pointless to write a review of how this gun carries, even though that’s the whole point of the gun. The P32 is just ridiculously easy to carry. As I’ve already said, it is an ultra-light 6.6 ounces and is only around 9 ounces loaded. It is also very small and very slim. It makes my shield feel massive in comparison.
In the Desantis Nemesis pocket holster, the gun disappears. This is even in small pockets of relatively tight pants, where it just looks like a wallet or phone. I’ve never been able to pocket carry my LCR in pants pockets due to the bulge of the cylinder. But the P32 presents no problems. It will fit just about anywhere. Again, it is silly to talk about how this gun conceals, as I can’t even imagine any other gun on the market being easier to conceal aside from the NAA mini revolvers, which I don’t consider to be practical for self-defense in any way. Even among other tiny .32s, the Kel-Tec is lighter and flatter than most, even more so than those that are a bit “smaller.”
I did a few drills drawing the P32 from my pants pocket and point shooting at five yards. I was easily able to draw the gun from the Desantis Nemesis and get quick shots on target. The holster stayed put, and the gun came out easily, even in tight pants, showing exactly why they don’t put “real” sights on the thing. There is nothing on the P32 that can snag.
I wouldn’t usually bother with a section on maintenance. But there are a few things about the P32 worth pointing out. The takedown pin is somewhat challenging to remove. Even the manual cautions you not to break the gun while doing so. You essentially have to pry the pin out (the manual shows using a spent casing to do this), while simultaneously holding the frame down around the pin to prevent the assembly pin spring from dislodging. In addition to that, the frame flexes more than I’d like, which makes me concerned about cracking the frame as well as dislodging a spring.
When reassembling, I also keep doing it wrong. This isn’t the gun’s fault exactly, but user error. If you pull the trigger while the gun is apart, the hammer moves far enough forward that the slide will run completely over the top when reassembling, preventing the gun from working. It surprises me that the gun goes back together like this.
Again, this is my fault, and I might be breaking the thing by messing around with it too much. The manual says, “do not dry fire your P32. As with any gun, dry firing should be avoided.” I don’t know where they get this from exactly. Dry firing any centerfire gun is generally safe and even encouraged. I have tried to avoid dry-firing the P32, but I’ve still done it a few times. I’m just too big a fan of dry fire practice to avoid it altogether. I also like to make sure the thing is still working when I put it back together. But who knows, maybe next time I go to the range, it won’t work thanks to my dry firing. I sure hope not.
On the whole, the Kel-Tec P32 exceeded my expectations, though my expectations were admittedly low. The gun was easy to shoot well and is very easy to carry. The only concerns I have are with reliability. But these are more problems with the .32 ACP cartridge than with the design of the gun.
Kel-Tec P32 Pricing
For the price I paid, it is hard to go wrong with this gun. Though recall from my previous article that price is the least important consideration for a carry gun. At least not if it is your primary. However, for the usual price the P32 sells for, I think anyone would be better off with something like an LCP or the Kel-Tec P3AT, which don’t cost much more, and which use the more effective (and reliable) .380 ACP.
.32 ACP for a Carry Gun
I don’t think the P32 is necessarily a suitable primary carry gun for a lot of the same reasons. The .32 ACP has its unique reliability and performance issues that I’ve previously discussed. And there are tons of choices similar to the P32 in .380 ACP which get around these problems. While the P32 is lighter than the similar .380s, it isn’t that much lighter. It isn’t like an LCP or P3AT is in any way difficult to carry.
P32 As a Backup Gun
The P32, if anything, is best suited as a backup gun. I’m less concerned with perfect reliability when it comes to a backup gun. You’re only relying on a backup when everything has already gone wrong with your primary gun. I do not carry a backup gun. I think it is probably better to just carry another magazine. But the P32 makes a pretty decent case for it. The gun literally weighs less than a spare magazine for my Shield and can fit practically anywhere. I hope this Kel-Tec P32 review helps in your buying decisions.
As always, piece be with you!
Is a .32 ACP too small to carry? Better than nothing? Everett picked up a Kel-Tec P32 on a whim and gives us an honest review of this tiny pocket gun.