A Nurse with a Gun

Friday, February 15, 2008

The KelTec P32

It's better to have a mousegun in your pocket than a cannon back home. No truer words were ever spoken. Several years back when the KelTec P32 had staked it's claim, and KelTec had just introduced the first generation P3AT, I wrote this review on my KelTec P32. Now Ruger has introduced a similar pistol, the Ruger LCP. I still carry my P32 from time to time. It is still reliable. Here's a look back to a review from the time KelTec opened a new avenue in the world of concealed carry.

When I first saw the KelTec P32, I thought it was a cheapo .22 pistol. I asked to see it, thinking some kid might mistake it for a water pistol. Indeed it was about the size and weight of a water pistol (at least the ones I had as a kid). Was I ever surprised to learn that it was a .32ACP. I was also surprised to see it was a locked breech pistol. The feed ramp is integral with the barrel, and the barrel has a hood that both locks into the slide and directs the bullet nose to enhance feed reliabilty. The barrel bushing is integrated into the slide similar to the compact 1911 design. KelTec P32 and Beretta M21AThe barrel is enlarged at the muzzle to lock into battery, but is hourglassed directly behind the muzzle to allow itself to pivot and unlock. The barrel lug is a solid block, with no linkage.

The more I studied it, the more I realized that the P32 was not a miniaturized rehash of another pistol, but a pistol that was designed from the drawing board to be concealed when nothing else could be. All corners are rounded. No sights protrude above the slide. It is snag proof, and if the slide were hard chromed, it would be sweat proof. The P32 is DAO with a trigger pull around 5 pounds. There is no manual safety. The outer grip frame is polymer with an inner frame CNC machined from solid 7075-T6 aluminum. The barrel and slide are 4140 ordnance steel. Frankly, it was more compact than my Beretta M21. My extended index finger reached the muzzle while I gripped the pistol. The P32 came with one Meggar magazine and a pouch. The price was $230.

I was still skeptical, so I went home to research the pistol on the internet. I learned the P32 had a loyal following as well as rabid detractors. Much of my research was done on the KelTec Owner's Group website. It was there that I learned about the fantastic KelTec customer service. Service so good that it should be the industry standard. I thought it was unique that KelTec provided a link to the independent KTOG forum from their own website. Now that is faith in your product and service! KelTec representatives frequently answered questions and addressed problems on the forum. At KTOG I also learned about the fluff and buff. I continued to research the pistol, and the more I read, the more I liked what I saw. I made up my mind. I went back and bought it.

I took my new KelTec P32 home and did a fluff and buff. I lubricated the little shooter and headed to the range where I bought 100 rounds of PMC 71 grain FMJ.

The sights on the KelTec P32 are rudimentary at best, with no projections above the slide. Aiming is accomplished by aligning a white dot on the front of the slide with a white dot on the rear. At 15 feet I was able to group seven shots within three inches. At 20 feet I stayed on a 3X5 index card. For those who would sneer at such accuracy, I would submit that coming from a pistol with next to no sights and a sight radius under four inches, it is pretty good. I had no failures. The plastic checkering on the P32 was pretty abrasive to my hands though.

I took the pistol home, cleaned it, and took some sandpaper to the grips to smooth the checkering a bit. I placed a belt clip, a metal guide rod, and a spare magazine on order from KelTec. Next, I set about trying to find a black pencil eraser to make into a trigger stop. I "installed" the rubber eraser trigger stop with superglue and when the parts arrived from Keltec a couple of days later, I put in the metal guide rod. Supposedly you can drift out the frame pin to install the belt clip. I had to carefully drill it out. I installed the belt clip with the supplied hardware and went back to the range.

Once there, I bought 100 more rounds of PMC 71 grain FMJ ammo. Again the pistol performed flawlessly. The grips were less abrasive, but now the head of the belt clip attaching bolt was eating into my thumb knuckle. I struck some making tape on the knuckle and continued shooting. I later touched up the bolt head with a file and a bit of cold blue. The trigger stop allowed me to stage the trigger, and then add just a bit more pressure to squeeze off the shot. This improved my follow up shot time and accuracy substantially. Again, I had no failures. Later, I also painted the front "sight" red to assist in aiming, although this pistol is a natural point and shooter.

The KelTec P32, and more recently the KelTec P3AT (.380ACP and about the same size, but one less round) are all about function. KelTec P32 Click to enlargeThey are really in a class by themselves. The only mousegun that is even close is the NAA Gaurdian, but it is twice the weight, as well as twice the price. The .32ACP is not a known manstopper by any means, but consider that seven rounds of .32ACP is roughly equivalent to a round of 00 buckshot. This is a deep cover back up gun. It was never designed to be a primary weapon, although a lot of people use it as one, or as a means to get to the larger gun if needed.

The KelTec P32 is the only pistol that I can carry concealed in my scivies. A brave man could probably conceal it at a nudist colony. Many people make wallet holsters for it, and carry it in a front pants pocket. I use the clip to carry mine inside my pants or inside a pocket.

I only have two reservations when recommending the KelTec P32.

#1 The new buyer must understand that the pistol will need to be finished by himself. Consider it a starter kit if you will. A fluff and buff really helps make it reliable out of the box. The price is low, and the design money went into research and development. Be prepared to learn a bit of gunsmithing.

#2 The new buyer must understand the limitations of the .32ACP. I will not carry JHP due to the risk of rim lock. Rim lock can shut down an otherwise reliable .32 pistol. The FMJ round will have better penetration anyway. The new buyer must also understand that this is a last ditch pistol. It is not one to try to intimidate your way out of a confrontation with. The person on the recieving end is very likely to believe it is a toy until they start to leak blood. If you pull it, plan to use it. Of course, that goes for any gun, but especially this one. It has no intimidation factor.

I believe that the KelTec P32 and P3AT are on the cutting edge of handgun design. As such, there have been people who were unhappy with the pistol. Thus far, however, I have yet to see a used one for sale. Even with the new P3AT, it seems as if people are keeping the P32. If I were buying today, I might very well buy the P3AT to get the .380ACP cartridge. I have not felt the need to upgrade from the P32 though. I presently have a bit more than 1000 rounds downrange from this pistol with no failures. It still fills it's BUG role admirably.

Despite the usual criticisms, I am including "Marshall & Sanow's Street Effectiveness Figures for the .32 ACP Cartridge" for comparison.

CorBon is conspicuously absent from the data, as are Gold Dot and other "custom" or +P loads. Kel-Tec states the P-32 will manage +P ammo, but recommends not shooting it excessively. Note too, "one shot drop" statistics for this caliber vary.

Winchester Silvertip JHP 60 gr. rates 970 fps, 125 fpe, 63% drops

Winchester FMJ 71 gr. rates 905 fps, 129 fpe, 50% drops

Magsafe Defender JPF 50 gr. rates 1250 fps, 174 fpe, 57%.

Glaser Safety Slug JPF 50 gr. rates 1065 fps, 126 fpe, and 46%

KelTec P32 Specifications:
Caliber: .32ACP
Weight unloaded 6.6 oz.
Loaded magazine 2.8 oz.
Length 5.1 inches
Height 3.5 inches
Width .75 inches
Barrel 2.7 inches
Sight radius 3.8 inches
Muzzle energy max 200ftlbs
Capacity 7+1 rounds
Trigger pull 5 lbs
MSRP $300
GRP (Get Real Price) $230

P3AT Specifications:
Caliber: .380ACP
Weight unloaded: 7.2 oz
Loaded magazine: 2.8 oz
Length: 5.2 inches
Height: 3.5 inches
Width: .77 inches
Sight radius: 3.8 inches
Muzzle energy max: 250ftlbs
Capacity: 6+1 rounds
Trigger pull: 5 lbs
MSRP $305
GRP $250


Oleg Volk's review of the KelTec P32

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Blogger Sevesteen said...

Without the P3AT, my wife would rarely carry. She can handle a .40, but generally won't bother with the weight and bulk unless we are going "into the city". She will stick the Keltec in her pocket when she walks the dogs.

9:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for a very informative post. I have a friend who just purchased this firearm for his wife. I'll let him know about the fluff and buff.

9:26 PM  
Anonymous Perpster said...

I like the clever way the name spells out the caliber.

11:10 PM  
Anonymous nelson133 said...

I have a P3-AT that is a constantly carried bug. Because I shoot often, and I shoot what I carry, the P3-AT got many rounds fired through it. I wore the hole the frame pin goes into oval. I sent it back to the factory and they re stamped my serial number on another one and sent it to me. The new one had been "fluffed and buffed" at the factory. You can't ask for more.

5:27 AM  
Blogger Carteach0 said...

Good report!

Started me thinking.....

6:25 AM  
Blogger Bob said...

How does the KelTec compare with similar caliber revolvers? I have an inherited .32 S&W long Hand Ejector from the 1920's. Ammunition is hard to come by; pretty much round nose lead, but it shoots beautifully. I'm told that .32 S&W long is pretty useless, though. Is it as good as .32ACP?


p.s. It was originally blue, but it got pearl grips and was silvered in the late 1930's. Any idea if they used chrome or nickel in those days? How do you tell?

11:26 AM  
Blogger Oleg Volk said...


3:59 PM  
Anonymous Mark in AZ said...

Can someone please explain why HP ammo would be more prone to rimlock than ball? I thought rimlock was a hazard of any .32 auto ammo.

I have a Gen 2 P3-AT that has functioned flawlessly. Only thing I don't like is the lack of a last round hold open.

6:25 PM  
Blogger Xavier said...

Mark, JHP has a shorter overall length than hardball, thus it is able to shift more easily in the magazine.

8:57 PM  
Blogger Jonathan said...

when they work, they're good weapons.

My personal requirement is that a firearm works straight out of the box, 100%.

It is though, a proper assessment, to call the kel-tec a 'kit gun'.

For those willing to play amateur gunsmith, it is a good choice.

9:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I purchased a keltec p32 several years ago. Accuracy is great, bullseye at up to 40 feet. BUT!!!!
My P32 will jam at least once per mag. Keltec sent me a new mag but it just doesn't work any better than the one that came with it.
It only shoots round nose bullets and will not chamber a hollow point. When I called the company they told me this was one of the problems with the P32 and 380 Keltec handgun. I have shot about 200 rounds and it doesn't work any better. I have also noticed that after 3 or 4 shots that accuracy is way off. Does anyone else have these problems?

6:57 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

When the Kel-Tec P32 first came out in early 2000 I believe, I purchased one, and had nothing but trouble,out of several boxes of different brands of ammo I had 90% misfires and a triger pull that became impossible to pull ! I got rid of the gun and vowed I'd never buy another Kel-Tec again ! Well two years ago I purchased a used P32 at a gun show and the weapon works perfectly ! I guess the early P-32's had bugs that had to be worked out ! So just be aware of the early P32's as they had problems !

9:22 PM  

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