Kel-Tec's "High-Tech" P-32

By Charles Cutshaw

Ever since its introduction in 1999, Kel-Tec’s diminutive P-32 has been one of the “hottest” pistols for personal defense and concealed carry. We obtained one of the little pistols in trade a year ago and have been carrying and shooting it at the range ever since. We hasten to point out that a pistol like the P-32 is no substitute for a .45 ACP, a .40 S&W, or even a 9mm, but it is better than not having a firearm at all if one is ever needed. The P-32 comes into its own when carrying a larger pistol is impossible or for use as a backup pistol. Its small size and light weight makes the P-32 ideal for either of these purposes.

The P-32 is the lightest and arguably most advanced small pistol on the market today. Its concealability comes as much from its light weight and thin profile as from its small size, which is actually no less than other pistols of this type. With an empty weight of slightly over 61/2 ounces, the Kel-Tec is so light that one is scarcely aware of its presence. Our P-32 weighs only 9 ounces with a full magazine - several ounces less than the empty weight of any of its competitors. A glance at Table 1 will reveal the features that distinguish the Kel-Tec P-32 from all its competition - its weight, magazine capacity, its locked breech and its polymer construction. The Kel-Tec is by far the lightest small .32 ACP pistol on the firearms market today, thanks to the frame’s polymer construction and its modified Browning short recoil operation, which allows the slide to be lighter than those of blowback operated pistols. The Kel-Tec also has a seven round magazine capacity, only one round more than its competition, but one round sometimes can make the difference between life and death, and with a .32, you need every round you can get! We make our case for the little Kel-Tec’s advanced design kudos from the fact that the pistol is recoil operated and reduces weight to a bare minimum via its innovative engineering, which mimics that of other high quality pistols such as Glock. All the P-32’s competitors, while generally well - made, are traditional blowback operated semiautos, distinguished only by their small size. The Kel-Tec’s frame is polymer with slide rails molded in. The slide and barrel are of steel. Although the pistol is presently available only in basic black, the polymer frame will soon be offered in a variety of colors, presumably to attract those who wish to have their gun match their socks or shirt.

The trigger of the P-32 is of the double action only (DAO) type and has a smooth consistent pull of 6 pounds with a crisp “break.” The grip of the P-32 is too short for my rather large hands and half of my right ring finger and all of my pinky dangle in the breeze, so to speak. This is not a complaint, simply an observation of what one can expect with a gun this tiny. The P-32’s sights are...well... unusual, consisting of a raised triangular “bump” at the slide’s front with a small white dot. The rear “sight” consists of a larger white dot inletted into a slot at the rear of the slide. There thus are no conventional sights and about all that the P-32’s “dot sights” do when you place the little dot atop the big dot is ensure that your bullet is going to be somewhere on the target. This unusual design serves two purposes. First, the Kel-Tec has nothing to snag as you draw it. (Let’s face it - you are probably going to have this little gun in your pocket, in a fanny pack, in your purse, or concealed in a camera tote on your belt. All of these carry methods offer opportunities for snagging if there are any sharp angles as with “normal” sights.) Second, the P-32 isn’t intended for long range target shooting. To paraphrase Jeff Cooper, “Most gunfights take place at conversational distances.” That means very short ranges which normally involve little or no truly aimed fire. For the intended use of this pistol, the “dot sights” actually work pretty well. The P-32 has an internal slide stop that holds the slide open after the last round has been fired. There is no external slide release; to reload with a fresh magazine, the slide is pulled to the rear and released. The extractor serves as a loaded chamber indicator, although it is not marked as such. There is no external safety and none is required with Kel-Tec’s DAO design. The hammer does not reset until cocked by the slide as it comes to the rear.

During the time we have owned our P-32, we have never conducted formal accuracy testing. Every time we take the gun to the range for practice, we shoot at distances of no more than 10 yards, which is about the limit of effective range for a pistol like this one. At 10 yards, my P-32 will put every single shot into the kill zone of a human silhouette target. Recoil is brisk, but easily manageable, thanks to the P-32’s locked breech short recoil operation. The pistol is insensitive to the type of ammunition fed to it, unlike some of its competitors. We practice with full metal jacket ammo as a cost cutting measure, but carry the P-32 stuffed with Speer Gold Dots. The Gold Dots function reliably, are accurate and probably represent about the best one can expect in terminal ballistics from a .32 ACP.

A comment is in order regarding .32 ACP cartridges. As most readers are aware, the .32 ACP is a semi-rimmed cartridge and thus can cause malfunctions if the cartridges are not loaded properly to ensure that the rim of each cartridge in the magazine is forward of that of the cartridge below it. If one loads a cartridge with its rim behind the cartridge below it in the magazine, the slide usually will not strip it out and chamber it and the resulting stoppage is time consuming to clear. Other than a couple than user-induced stoppages of this type, we have never experienced a malfunction with our P-32. After experiencing this type of stoppage once, however, one tends to be very careful when loading the P-32’s magazine!

Our only real complaint regarding the Kel-Tec P-32 is the magazine release that we believe stands too high from the surface of the grip. During our first months with the pistol, we consistently inadvertently dropped the magazine while firing on the range because our thumb brushed against the release during recoil. The release also usually somehow became depressed while we were carrying the pistol, lowering the magazine just far enough so that the pistol would not feed. We rectified this situation by taking a pair of toenail trimmers to the small polymer release button, shortening it slightly and then smoothing the trimmed surface with a fine file. Since this minor adjustment, we have never accidentally depressed the release button while firing, nor has it been depressed during concealed carry.

In sum, we like our little Kel-Tec P-32 and can recommend it to anyone who has a need for a small, highly concealable handgun. The Kel-Tec P-32 is reliable, of good quality and affordable. We understand that it has become a favorite of undercover law enforcement personnel whose lives very likely may depend on their concealed or backup pistol. This is a tacit testimonial to the Kel-Tec’s efficacy that no amount of advertising can purchase.

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V4N7 (April 2001)
and was posted online on July 4, 2014


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