November 7, 2011

Kel-Tec P32PK 32 ACP

When a shooter asks, "Which is the best gun for deep concealment?", or "Is there a good self-defense gun out there with limited recoil?", minds often turn to guns chambered for 32 Auto (32 ACP).

Many, or most, would wonder about the 32’s power, or lack of same. Gun Tests magazine addressed that concern in one part of a recent test. Beside bench-shooting for accuracy, they also created an action test that focused on what these guns would most likely be used for—that is, rapid fire at little more than contact distance.

In formulating the procedure, they took several factors into account. In close quarters there may be little or no opportunity to apply a support hand. Indeed, the hand opposite of the one holding the gun may be busy fending off a blow, the slash of a knife or, pushing back on the body of the assailant. Therefore, they decided to shoot this drill strong hand only.

The target was placed 9 feet away, and they relied primarily upon point shooting. Three strings were attempted, making note of accuracy and the elapsed time between shots (split times). The target was an IDPA-style cardboard silhouette featuring an 8-inch-diameter circle in the upper "chest" area. They aimed for the middle of the circle.

Start position was with the gun held in the right hand of the test shooter just below the point of aim with finger off the trigger. They decided that each string of fire should require that they empty a full magazine into the target. This speaks to the lower available power of 32 ACP, which in most cases produced less than 100 foot-pounds of muzzle energy.

Gun Tests May 2008

A good choice for deep concealment; anyone trained on a double-action-only handgun will find the P32PK to be a most suitable backup.

The test gun in this and other assessments included the $361 Kel-Tec P32PK, an extremely lightweight Parkerized unit. The Kel-Tec was the small and could be carried in a pocket holster.

The gun was tested for accuracy from a sandbag rest. Test ammunition was American Eagle 71-grain TMJs, 60-grain Winchester Silvertip HP, and Speer Gold Dot 60-grain GDHP rounds. They intended to limit testing of the Kel-Tec to a distance of 7 yards. But when they saw it print sub-1-inch groups, they decided to shoot the P32PK from 15 yards as well.

Here’s what they found:

The P32PK weighed in at just 7 ounces. This is a locked-breech semiautomatic with a flush-fitting seven-round magazine. Measuring just 0.8 inches wide, the P32PK was flat enough and light enough to be carried without detection—it could even be dropped naked into a pocket. But they thought choosing one of the sheath-like holsters that protect its mechanism from lint or the trigger from loose objects such as coins was a better idea. There are even holsters, such as those from, that disguise its profile as a wallet.

The PK suffix stood for Parkerized, which is the black, glare-killing finish found on the top end. The P32PK is Kel-Tec’s medium-priced model. Fit with a blue steel slide, the P32 sells for a suggested retail price of $318. Topped with a stainless steel slide, the price was $377. All three guns are the same size, not quite big enough to fill the open hand of an average-sized man. With the magazine in place, the base pad completed the front of the grip, measuring only about 1.3 inches from the bottom of the trigger guard. This meant gripping the P32 only required the middle and ring fingers. The sides of the narrow 0.7-inch grip were covered with checkering cleanly molded into the polymer. The 1.8-inch-long backstrap featured vertical lines and a brief palm swell. The magazine release was found at the lower rear corner of the trigger guard on the left side. It operated in the traditional pushbutton manner. Inside the body of the grip was an aluminum sub-frame containing the trigger mechanism and the frame rails. The top of the slide offered enough of a front sight blade to be indexed through the sighting notch at the rear of the slide.

Gun Tests May 2008

The only tool necessary to remove the top end of the P32 design was a case rim.

Aside from its small size and light weight, they felt several other characteristics were worth mentioning. They liked the way the magazine clearly showed how many rounds were loaded. The extractor was mounted externally. Double-action ignition was driven by a hammer that stayed nearly out of sight. The trigger would drive back the hammer only after movement of the slide, denying second-strike capability. The pistol was kept narrow by the absence of levers such as a slide release. Locking back the slide was possible only with an empty magazine in place. Removing the top end required the use of a case rim to pry the slide stop pin from the left side of the frame. The owner’s manual showed someone using the rim of a live round, but they used a spent shell.

From the 7-yard line, the tightest groups (measuring about 0.75 inches on average) were produced with the Winchester Silvertip HP hollowpoints. Second were the American Eagle total metal jackets, followed by the Gold Dot ammunition. From the 15-yard bench the difference in accuracy they achieved shooting these three loads did not seem as pronounced. They concluded that a careful marksman should be able to print five-shot groups that measure about 2.25 inches across with the P32PK.

Gun Tests May 2008

The action and the support rails of the Kel-Tec pistol were housed in an aluminum sub-frame held inside the narrow lightweight grip.

After the benchrest session they went about hammering targets from close range. Their average elapsed time for emptying the seven-round magazine was 2.24 seconds. The average elapsed time between shots was just less than 0.20 seconds. Fully half of the shots landed inside the desired circle. Another 30 percent were grouped high and to the right. They also saw some shots spread out high and low, mostly to the right. They believed their wild shots during the action test were likely the result of not working the long trigger consistently in an even manner. In some instances we might also have been applying too much grip upon the little gun or simply trying too hard to go fast.

The magazine staff concluded that if they chose the P32PK as a backup gun, their recommendation would be that it be paired with a primary gun that also demanded that the shooter manipulate a long trigger stroke.

Comments (23)

People die from a .22lr because they don't go to the hospital, usually because they want to avoid us law enforcement (criminals). Or because they are shot 9 or 10 times & bullets are bare lead. Very rarely do any of these low powered cartridges produce DRT results.
FYI, don't bother with JHP's, the velovity is so low out of these miniscule barrel lengths, hollow points will NOT expand. Get something like hard casts from Buffalo Bore (or similar) that are non expanding & you will almost certainly attain more damage from deeper penetration.

Posted by: Myk9noseKnows | February 1, 2012 6:36 PM    Report this comment

Retired NYPD
Own 2 Kel-Tecs 9mm and .380.
Both excellent weapons.
Sold my 2 revolvers Heavy Barrel Smith and 5 shot off duty quite a few years ago.

Posted by: Mort C | November 12, 2011 8:16 PM    Report this comment

I've had my P32 for a number of years and not had an issue with it at all . I have since added a PF9 to my collection as it's not much larger than the P32 and offers more in the way of firepower.

Posted by: zoso68 | November 11, 2011 11:56 PM    Report this comment

PoundMutt, I am a strong advocate of all stainless guns. I replaced the two stolen .22's my Dad gave me with their stainless editions - beautiful & they'll never rust. That said, the matte black, parkerized, hard chrome, & even matte stainless finishes have much less reflection which is a benefit for concealment. As for caliber, our instructor (police firearms trainer) heavily endorsed the .38 special as the best all-around self defense caliber. No doubt the 9mm is better than .32, but I've become very consistent with the .32 ACP. They all have their +/- .

Posted by: blue88 | November 11, 2011 6:59 PM    Report this comment

I carry a Kahr MK9 2000 Elite in 9mm in a De Santis Gunhide pocket holster. This ALL stainless steel gun weighs in at 24 ounces loaded with 7 rounds and as I sit here typing I don't even know it's in the pocket of my jeans. My carry round is Winchester White Box 147 grain Hollow Points which have been chronographed @ 930 feet per second out of the 3 inch barrel. I see no need for a .32 or .380.

Posted by: PoundMutt | November 11, 2011 5:06 PM    Report this comment

@ bear1 With your last couple of sentences...Now your taliking. I totally agree with your ideas ! I have often felt that the U.N. is a massive waste of money.

Posted by: Muzzlepuncher 7 | November 11, 2011 11:47 AM    Report this comment

I purchased my 1st gen P32 after a serious needs assessment for an Every Day Carry gun. Here in NYS, concealment is paramount and the P32 in a DeSantis Nemisis pocket holster meets that criteria without an issue. I carry with Win. Silvertip 32 ACP and also a spare magazine. Perfect, no. I'd rather carry my Kimber CDP Compact in 45 ACP (or another 5 in. 45 or my Hi-Power 9mm), but practacality intrudes on that concept.

The advantages of the Kel-Tec are this:
1. Feeds all 32 ACP's. I can practice with my 71 gr. FMJ handloads. Seecamps won't feed them.
2. I already own 2 Colt 1903 Model M's. Since I reload for the 32 ACP, I can practice inexpensivley with it.
3. My most likley need for a hangun will be in ECQB circumstances. I have no illusions about the Kel-Tec, it is mostly good at about 3 - 4 arms length. But as stated above, it's better than a rock or sharp object.
4. It conceals very well. Unless you can dress around the gun, and I can't always do that, it is the most practical choice I have.
5. It likes hot ammo. Silvertip or Gold Dot factory shoots better than mild 71 gr FMJ handloads. Accuracy at 15 yd is at least headshot good, and that will get you out of a bad spot if you do your part.

Posted by: Tom from WNY | November 11, 2011 11:41 AM    Report this comment

As for myself I haven't had much experiance with the .32 cal. But I did know a couple of other tunnel rats in Nam that used them in the tunnels and kept thier 1911 .45's for back ups, incase the fit hit the shan. I liked my .22 mag. and then the .45 for the last resort because we liked to keep our ear drums in tact. Because firing a .45 in a tunnel would be like firing one while your sitting in a 55 gallon drum or in a colvert, and we didn't have ear protection either.

God Bless America and Our Troops Past Present and Future.
Keeping to My Oath Locked Loaded and Keeping My Powder Dry.
Get the US Out of the UN and the UN Out of the US

Posted by: bear1 | November 10, 2011 8:45 PM    Report this comment

A slight correction to the article: Top line Kel-Tec's are available in hard chrome, not stainless steel. Hard chrome (as opposed to bright chrome) finish is very well suited for high temperature & corrosion resistance.

Posted by: blue88 | November 10, 2011 4:41 PM    Report this comment

Ps I forgot to mention that I regurally shoot water jugs from 10 to 40 yards. The longer shots are a little slower, but I still hit them almost every shot. (No one is perfect.)

Only modification I have done to them is to polish the barrell and feed ramp and to also shorten the heigth of the Mag release. I do that on many of my guns, because I had a mag drop out once in what could have been a very bad situation---now I'm a little paranoid, but I have never had that happen on a Kel-Tec. I just wanted to make sure.

Posted by: Ridge Runner | November 10, 2011 3:39 PM    Report this comment

I have a P32. 1st for 2nd generation. (older hex shaped slide) I polished the barell and feed ramp to a mirror polish when I first got it. That was even before the first shot. I have fired several thousand rounds through it. I've had to replace the springs, but I've never had a jam of any sort. I love it.

I did supplement it with a P380T, which i polished in the same way. No jams there either, but so far only about 2,000 rounds through it.

P11 the same. and I fired more than 8,000 rounds through it before I sadly let my friend trade me out of it. He still has it, but carries it more than shoots it.

I shoot quite a lot. Kel Tecs have been great guns for me. I have and shoot other guns, from Glocks to Colts, but I usually have a Kel Tec as a backup. Sometimes, I have 2 Kel Tecs as backups----Depending on the situation. Properly maintained with a "Fluff and Buff" at the start and keep good recoil springs (Depends on how much you shoot) in them and you will rarely have a problem.

Posted by: Ridge Runner | November 10, 2011 3:30 PM    Report this comment

I bought my P32 10 years ago and with several hundred rounds through it (both HP and FMJ) no problems. Very easy to conceal. My wife decided it was her carry gun as it is light and easy to conceal. I bought us each a PF9 but it kicked too hard for her and she limp-wristed it. I loved the PF9s as well but when my agency came out with a list of approved backups and that wasn't one of them I had to sell them and get the Kahr PM9.

Posted by: SCOTT K | November 10, 2011 3:28 PM    Report this comment

I got a P32 when Ruger LCP's couldn't be found (or .380 ammo, for that matter). I was doubtful at first, but the P32 earned my respect after 1000 rounds.

Posted by: blue88 | November 10, 2011 1:05 PM    Report this comment

I don't have a P32 (not CA approved) but do have a Kahr which is a little bigger. For most of us the caliber issue is pretty moot because in our day to day lives we don't really face any danger. A big rock in your pocket is better than a shotgun at home! The 32 has a valuable role in protecting people who don't want a heavy weapon.

Posted by: TOM M | November 10, 2011 12:50 PM    Report this comment

My wife has carried a P32 for years and I can assure you that she'll put your eye out within the 30ft range with or without the Crimson Trace. The .32 is more controllable than the 380 and therefore, IMHO a better choice for most women. The P32 is especially ideal in south Florida where lightweight clothing is worn most of the year. She can easily carry on her person at 5'5", 130lbs (IWB, pocket, Flashbang or other)as opposed to in the purse. There is also an extended 10rd magazine available which gives even more control.
I personnaly have carried a PF9 (Kel-Tec) for several years with no issues, but recently replaced it with a Ruger LC9. Like others have stated, it's better than a .22 or a .25 and way better than nothing.

Posted by: jgrove73 | November 10, 2011 12:32 PM    Report this comment

I love my little KelTec 32. I carry it when I don't think I need anything, like around the house or driving down the road. It's never even acted like it didn't want to perform. I've put a couple thousand rounds thru it without failure. I've become a big fan of the KelTec's. A good quality firearm at an affordable price.
FWIW my normal carry is a Kahr 45.

Posted by: Old Fart PS | November 10, 2011 12:05 PM    Report this comment

I owned, then wife owned and now daughters owns an exceptional P32. Very accurate, easy to carry, and easy to shoot. Wife and I upgraded to the 380 for our light clothing carry but I feel the P32 will do my daughter fine until she feels more comfortable with something larger. She has shot with me on numerous occasions until she can shoot 1 1/2" groups at 7 yards. The P32 has probable seen 750 rounds through it without any problems. Well maintained (by dad) of course. Although my wife now carries the LCP 380 and I carry the Kahr P380 I feel Kel-Tec is still a reliable pistol. I purchased a new Kel-Tec 380 that had to be sent back to Kel-Tec with feeding problem. It was returned quickly and running smooth as silk afterwards. Great company, quick turnaround if needed and good people to deal with.

Posted by: MacIndy | November 10, 2011 11:59 AM    Report this comment

I purchased one of these for my wife as she wouldn't carry the 380 (to heavy) she refuses to carry the 32 as well so I'm tempted to sell it or just let it languish away covered with dust in her drawer.

Posted by: knucklehead | November 10, 2011 11:51 AM    Report this comment

Lets face it. By the time you get to less than 100 ft/lbs of energy at impact, shot placement, and empty hand skills become primary.

I carry a Kahr PM9 with an extended magazine for my chubby palms. Yes, it has more recoil than a 32. I am comfortable with subsonic prefragmented ammo and Federal Hydra-Shok.

I also keep in mind that, as a city dweller I am constantly in "Tueller Drill" range. I will be lucky if I have time to:

1. Observe the threat.
2. Properly assess the threat.
3. Decide to act. (fight or flight)
4. Draw, (from deep concealment) Acquire the target and Fire accurately until the attack stops. (all the while checking for a safe back stop and making use of motion and/or cover)

Posted by: OregonGreg | November 10, 2011 11:10 AM    Report this comment

.32 may be light, but it beats a .25 by a lot ballisticly. More people are killed by .22 than large caliber rounds, and .32 used to be the standard, years ago. Kel-Tec makes fine guns. They are unique and much copied. This gun is available as a .380 which I used to have. I decided that I'd rather have a .32 for the sake of control, but ended up with 9mm Kel-Tec PF9. Perfect.

Posted by: David G | November 10, 2011 10:50 AM    Report this comment

For a few years both my wife and I carried the P32 as a backup gun or else when conditions warranted a gun but disallowed something bigger and more noticeable. We since have transitioned to the Ruger LCP in .380 caliber for the same purpose.

I found the P32 very serviceable, acceptably accurate, and generally reliable. Unfortunately, the .32 caliber cartridge is marginal, at best, in several ways. One, it is underpowered. Two, it suffers from potential rim lock. To prevent rim lock, the cartridge must have no chance of forward or rearward movement in the magazine. That means setting up one's magazines to carry either the shorter JHPs or the longer ball ammunition. That means if one wants to carry JHP but practice with cheaper ball ammunition, one must have either two sets of magazines, or else be changing out the spacers necessary to accommodate JHP rounds. Without the spacers added, one will at some point suffer a rim lock condition. Clearing such a malfunction requires a fast magazine change because clearing the locked magazine is neither quick nor easy and therefore not possible in the middle of an incident. I transitioned to the .380 mostly because in testing I encountered rim lock more than once, and once was enough to dissuade me from depending upon the .32 caliber round. The 1st generation Kel-Tec .380 I picked up to test exhibited both feeding and extraction issues which neither I nor Kel-Tec ever were able to completely clear up. I understand that the later versions solved both problems. So far, I have found that the Ruger LCP works as expected, feeding and extracting every odd-ball, old, and crappy round with which I tested it. It also feeds well both silver tips and Federal hydra-shoks.

Posted by: JonSE | November 10, 2011 10:41 AM    Report this comment

What an absolutely perfect concealable personal defence pistol. I would love to own one except that here in Canada any pistol in .25 or .32 is a prohibited weapon. I wish I lived down your way.

Posted by: Muzzlepuncher 7 | November 10, 2011 10:38 AM    Report this comment

I carry this model and also the 380 version in pancake pocket holsters. I have never had a jam while practicing. Hopefully i will never need to use it in or for defense.

Posted by: PHIL B | November 10, 2011 10:30 AM    Report this comment

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