A major trend in pistols today is toward increased stopping power — the bigger the bullet, the better. This thinking, however, leaves a number of smaller cartridges and some otherwise good handguns sitting on the shelf.
The .32 ACP is one of those calibers which has been gathering dust, especially in the United States. Although it is still fairly popular in Europe, it has nearly been replaced by the more powerful .380 ACP in this country.
A minor comeback seems to be in progress for the .32 cartridge, as a number of handgun manufacturers have started offering pistols to exploit its capabilities. One of the few advantages the .32 ACP has over the .380 ACP is that it can be fired in smaller pistols. Such guns are about the same size as a .25 ACP or .22 LR pocket pistol.
For this test, we tried three of the most popular .32 ACP pocket pistols. They were the Seecamp LWS-32, the North American Arms Guardian and the Beretta Model 3032 Tomcat. All of these handguns were blowback operated and had fixed barrels.
The Test Pistols
For many years, the Seecamp LWS-32 was the smallest pistol chambered for the .32 ACP cartridge. It was originally designed to fire only Winchester Silvertips, but currently-made guns are supposed to be able to also handle ball ammunition. This stainless steel pistol has numerous hand-fitted parts and a reputation for being very well made. The manufacturer’s priority is quality, not quantity, so a limited number of guns are made each year. High demand and low supply has driven the asking price for LWS-32 up to two or three times its suggested retail price of $425.
Although North American Arms (NAA) of Provo, Utah is best known for its line of tiny .22 single-action revolvers, the company also started offering a stainless steel .32 ACP pistol, called the Guardian, last year. This pocket pistol’s appearance and styling is much like that of the LWS-32, and the NAA has the same suggested retail price of $425. However, it has a number of updated features, such as an American-type magazine release, that are more convenient than those of the Seecamp. The Guardian is designed to work with all kinds of .32 ACP ammunition, as is this next pistol.[PDFCAP(2)].
Introduced in 1996, the Model 3032 Tomcat is styled like Beretta’s smaller-caliber pocket pistols. It features a tip-up barrel and an alloy frame. Unlike the LWS-32 and the Guardian, which have double-action-only triggers and no external safeties, the Tomcat has a traditional double-action/single-action trigger and a frame-mounted manual safety. This model retails for $317 with a matte black finish, or $346 with a blued finish.[PDFCAP(3)].
We were impressed with the quality of the metal work on the Seecamp LWS-32. Its stainless slide, frame and barrel had an even, lightly polished finish. No sharp edges or tool marks were found. The trigger guard was undercut to improve handling. Gripping serrations on the back portion of the slide were functional. There was a slight amount of movement in the slide-to-frame fit, while other moving parts had a minor amount of play.
Both of the six-round magazines furnished with the Seecamp were made entirely of stainless steel. They had flat followers and removable floorplates. Each magazine was carefully constructed. However, neither had enough interior room to accomodate ball ammunition, which was longer than Winchester Silvertips. The textured black plastic grip panels were securely fastened to the frame with one screw each. Grip-to-metal mating was faultless.
In our opinion, the NAA Guardian’s fit and finish was average to above average. Except for the polished sides of the slide, all stainless surfaces had a good low-glare finish. A few minor tool marks were noted on the interior of the frame. The rear portion of the slide had ample gripping serrations. There was no horizonal movement between the slide and frame, but there was considerable vertical movement. Other moving parts had a modest amount of play.
The NAA came with two 6-round all-stainless steel magazines. Like the Seecamp, they also had removable floorplates and flat followers. Both magazines were well constructed, and had large enough interiors to accomodate ball and Silvertip ammunition. The black plastic grip panels had fairly slip-resistant texturing and were cleanly molded. The front edge of each panel was relieved to provide good access to the trigger guard and the magazine release. Mating of the grips to the frame was satisfactory, but both panels shot loose after 75 rounds.
Overall, we considered the fit and finish of the Beretta Tomcat to be average. Its aluminum alloy frame and steel parts had a uniform matte black finish. No cosmetic flaws or sharp edges were found. However, the tip-up barrel pivoted stiffly. Consequently, when the barrel release was activated, the barrel would not open all the way. We had to push the barrel with our thumb to fully open it. This was a minor shortcoming that will probably correct itself with use.
One 7-round magazine was furnished with this Beretta. It had a steel body, a steel follower and a removable black plastic floorplate. The shiny blued magazine was well constructed. Both of the black plastic grip panels were cleanly made. The left panel was relieved to accomodate the safety lever and the magazine release button, and both grips had sharp molded checkering. Each panel was carefully mated to the frame, but both grips shot loose and had to be tightened midway through the test.
Like most pocket pistols, none of these .32 ACPs had a slide catch or any other provision for locking the slide open. This made the Seecamp and the NAA less convenient to operate, but the Beretta’s tip-up barrel made a slide catch unnecessary.
In our opinion, the Seecamp LWS-32 was the least convenient to manipulate. It had a European-style magazine catch at the rear of the butt, which unlocked the magazine when pushed rearward. This control could only be operated with the fingers of the support hand. In keeping with its double-action-only design, this pistol didn’t have an external safety. It did have a magazine disconnect device, which prevented firing when the magazine was removed. However, this device also locked the slide, so the slide could only be retracted when there was a magazine in the gun.
The NAA Guardian didn’t have an external safety. Nor did it have a magazine disconnect device, which we considered to be a plus. The magazine release was a low-profile button at the left rear of the trigger guard. It could be depressed with the thumb of the firing (right) hand, and worked positively.
Although the Beretta Tomcat had two more controls than either of the other pistols in this test, right-handed shooters felt it was the easiest to operate. The manual safety was a two-position lever at the left rear of the frame. When moved upward to the engaged position, it prevented firing by locking the trigger and the slide.
Tipping up the Beretta’s barrel to load or unload the chamber was a simple matter of pushing forward on the barrel release, a lever at the front top of the left grip panel. The magazine release was a button located in the left grip panel, toward the bottom. We had to depress this control with the fingers of our support hand, but the Tomcat’s other controls could be operated with the thumb of the firing (right) hand.
All of these pocket pistols had grips that were so short they could be grasped with only about 1-1/2 mid-size fingers. So, none of them were very well suited for people with large hands.
In our opinion, the Seecamp LWS-32 did not sit in the hand very well. Consequently, pointing and target acquisition were the least natural of the test. The grip’s shorter depth (from front to back) made it difficult to grasp securely, especially for those with very large hands. The trigger reach (the distance from the middle of the frame’s frontstrap to the middle of the backstrap) was the shortest, and most shooters said it was too short for good trigger control. There wasn’t much of a tang (the protruding top back portion of the frame) to separate the web of the shooter’s hand from the slide during its rearward movement, but slide bite wasn’t a problem.
We found the NAA Guardian’s handling qualities to be a little better than those of the Seecamp. Balance and pointing were a bit more natural. The grip’s greater depth filled the hand better, making it easier to establish and maintain a solid grasp. This, in turn, improved the shooter’s ability to control the pistol during recoil. The slightly longer trigger reach allowed a more favorable finger position. The frame’s tang was large enough to prevent the slide and the spurless hammer from biting the web of the shooter’s hand.
The Beretta Tomcat was the largest and the heaviest pistol of this test. Although this made it the least compact by a small margin, the gun handled the best. Pointing was good for a pocket pistol, as was target acquisition. The longer and wider grip was not only the most comfortable, it also afforded the securest hold and best control. None of our shooters could fault the trigger reach, which was the longest of the test. The relatively small tang worked well for our shooters, but those with extremely large hands may have to watch where they place the web of their hand to prevent it from coming into contact with the slide during recoil.
The Seecamp LWS-32’s best feature was the movement of its trigger. The long double-action-only pull was unusually smooth. Although it released at 9-1/4 pounds on our self-recording gauge, we thought the pull felt at least a pound lighter.
All of our shooters agreed that trigger movement was the NAA Guardian’s worst feature. Its long double-action-only pull released at 15 pounds. This, in our opinion, was around five pounds too heavy for a pistol of this size and type. Movement of the Beretta Tomcat’s trigger was adequate, but not what we would call satisfactory. After a small amount of creep, the single-action pull released at heavy 6 pounds. The long double-action stage felt gritty, but released at a reasonable 10-1/2 pounds.
Pocket pistols are intended to be used at very close range. So, they typically don’t have good sighting systems, and this groups of handguns were no exception. The Seecamp wasn’t equipped with sights. We aimed the LWS-32 by sighting down the top of the slide.
We found the NAA Guardian’s fixed sights hard to use. The front sight was a very thin 1/16-inch-wide blade with an angled face, while the rear sight was a small raised blade with a 1/16-inch-wide notch. Both sights were integral with the stainless steel slide, so they didn’t stand out from the rest of the gun well enough to be readily acquired.
Although the Beretta Tomcat’s fixed sights were nothing special, they were better than the others in this test. The front sight was a 3/32-inch-wide post that was integral with the front of the barrel. The small rear sight had a 3/32-inch-wide notch. It was dovetailed to the back of the slide, and could be drifted for windage (only) adjustments. This matte black setup provided an adequate sight picture.
At The Range
Our Seecamp LWS-32’s instruction manual stated that only Winchester Silvertips should be used in this pistol. To verify this, we tried firing the gun with three different brands of ammunition. It functioned flawlessly with Winchester 60-grain Silvertips. Winchester 71-grain full metal jackets constantly failed to feed, and the slightly longer Remington 71-grain metal case rounds always jammed in the magazine.
Since the Seecamp didn’t have sights, accuracy testing with this pistol was done at only 3 yards. At this distance, we managed to produce five-shot groups that measured from 4 to 6 inches. It was quite obvious to us that this handgun was only intended to be used at very short range.
We considered the NAA Guardian’s functioning to be admirable. It reliably fed and fired the three kinds of commercial ammunition we used. Extraction was troublefree, as was ejection. However, in our oinion, accuracy was only adequate. Since this pistol had sights, record firing was done at 7 yards. Five-shot groups averaged from 4.00 inches with Winchester’s 71-grain full metal jacket load to 4.13 inches with Remington 71-grain metal case ammunition.
None of our shooters considered the Beretta Tomcat’s functioning to be satisfactory. It failed to feed twice with Winchester Silvertips and once with Remington ball ammunition. However, the pistol worked reliably with Winchester’s FMJ load.
The Beretta was much more accurate than the other pistols in this test. At 7 yards, groups averaged from 1.00 inch with Winchester ball ammunition to 2.25 inches with Winchester Silvertips. This was a very accurate pocket pistol.