The current crop of popular locked-breech, ultra-micro .380 pistols emanated from one handgun — the .32 ACP Kel-Tec P32.
Prior to the P32’s introduction in 1999, micro semi-automatic pistols were rare. If you wanted a pistol in this size range, you were limited to blowback-operated guns such as the relatively expensive and scarce Seecamp .32 ACP. Or you could go with a larger and heavier gun like the unreliable AMT .380 Backup.
A Lighter Load
Kel-Tec founder George Kellgren decided to use a locked-breech operating system to create the P32 micro pistol. The use of a locked breech instead of blowback operation accomplished several things. First, it kept the overall size and width of the P32 to an absolute minimum. Second, a polymer frame dropped the P32’s weight to half that of the Seecamp — 6.6 ounces to be exact. This also greatly reduced manufacturing costs. Third, the .32 ACP chambering made Kellgren’s first micro pistol easier to shoot than a .380 ACP.
I have been dealing with back pain for two years now. While not debilitating, the pain has caused me to lighten my police gun belt as much as possible. I gave up carrying my .38 Super 1911 in favor of the lighter SIG Sauer P320 M17. I also reconsidered the Smith and Wesson .38 Special M&P Bodyguard as my backup revolver. Weighing in at 14.4 ounces, the .38 Bodyguard is lightweight but still almost a pound when loaded. I considered my .380 ACP Bodyguard as a substitute but realized its 12.3-ounce weight was not enough reduction. I decided to evaluate the Kel-Tec P32 as the optimal weight- and space-saving option.
The P32 is the ultimate in operational simplicity. Because it utilizes an internal hammer block safety and long but lightweight 5-pound, double-action trigger pull, the P32 requires no trigger safety mechanism or a manual safety lever. There is also no slide/lock release lever. However, the P32’s slide does lock back on an empty magazine and is released by using a rearward “slingshot” pull on the slide. The result is a pistol that is about as snag-free as it gets. The .32 ACP chambering allows a seven-shot magazine capacity rather than the six-shot capacity of similar .380 ACP pistols. I purchased a spare magazine since my sample only shipped with one.
Kel-Tec P32 Specs
Caliber .32 ACP
Weight 6.6 ounces
Overall Length 5.1 inches
Barrel Length 2.7 inches
Height 3.5 inches
Width .75 inches
Trigger Pull Weight 5 pounds
Shooting the Kel-Tec P32
I went to the range with 60-grain Hornady XTP ammo for testing. While the XTP bullet is not the newest in the Hornady lineup, it is still an excellent hollow-point in its own right. From a 4-inch barrel, the .32 XTP has a muzzle velocity of 1,000 feet per second and muzzle energy of 133 foot-pounds. The P32 is no “hand-cannon,” but it is certainly more powerful than a .22.
I don’t believe in 5- to 10-foot tests for small guns so I tested from 20 feet. I don’t want to let a deadly threat get any closer than 20 feet from me before using force. The P32 proved surprisingly pleasant to shoot. I was able to fire groups in the 2.5-inch range thanks to the reasonably light trigger pull and despite the minuscule sights. Reliability was flawless and I was highly impressed.
I’ve been carrying the P32 as a backup gun in a TUFF Products Size 12 Jr. Pocket-Roo holster. This holster allows the carry of the spare magazine I purchased. By switching to the P32 and the Jr. Pocket-Roo, I now have 15 rounds of .32 ACP ammo on tap with less weight and bulk. Overall carry comfort increased exponentially, and I’ve started packing the P32 as an off-duty gun in specialized situations as well! The P32 can be carried deeply concealed for hours in total comfort.
The P32 is a phenomenal arm for everyday carry, especially for those that find the bark of micro .380s too much to handle. The MSRP of the original basic blued is $325.45. Ten additional color/finish combinations are currently available. Watch for some more in-depth ballistic testing in a future report.
About Scott W. Wagner
Scott W. Wagner is a criminal justice professor and police academy commander from Columbus, Ohio. He has been a police officer since 1980, working as an undercover liquor investigator, undercover narcotics investigator, patrol officer, SWAT team member, sniper and assistant team leader. Scott is currently a patrol sergeant with the Village of Baltimore, Ohio, Police Department. He has been a police firearms instructor since 1986 and is certified to instruct revolver, semi-automatic pistol, shotgun, semi- and fully automatic patrol rifle, and submachine gun.