I often get asked by people what gun they should buy to carry. My answer is always the same. “Buy the gun that you will actually carry.” For most people that means a gun that fits into your front pocket. I would argue that for every one person who carries on the belt, that are at least ten who carry in the front pocket. The same thing goes for women when you compare on the body carry vs. purse carry. If you carry on the belt, all the power to you, but most of us find to be a giant pain in the butt, or waist, or armpit, or wherever else you might carry a firearm besides your pocket or purse. The problem with both pocket and purse, though, is that neither of them are good at distributing weight. And in the pocket, the thinner you are and the more form fitting your pants, the more the gun tends to stick out. Also, though a gun may be small and light, the cartridge may be too powerful to shoot the gun confidently.
So what are we left with?
1. I don’t want to belt carry because the gun sticks into me and I always find myself worried if it is showing.
2. I don’t want to pocket carry because the gun is too big and I think people will notice.
3. I don’t want to pocket carry because the gun is too heavy and it pulls my pants down.
4. I don’t want to purse carry because my bag is already heavy enough and this just puts it over the top.
5. A gun that I may want to carry because it is small is too overwhelming to shoot because of the recoil and muzzle flash.
The P-32 from Kel-Tec, MSRP $318, was created to solve all of these problems. Almost the same size as the Kel-Tec .380ACP P-3AT, the P-32 weighs only about 6 ounces, and it kicks significantly less in the somewhat underpowered .32ACP cartridge. It is tiny and light, and even with 7 rounds in its magazine and one in the chamber, the P-32 weighs much less than a steel revolver empty. It is only 3/4 of an inch thick, so even with the tightest jeans, using a pocket holster, the gun doesn’t print hardly at all. In a purse, it is like carrying an extra package of tissues.
But is it enough gun? How much gun is enough gun to begin with? Again, it goes back to which gun will you carry, and which gun will you be able to shoot accurately, with accurate follow up shots. More deaths occur each year from the tiny .22 Long Rifle cartridge than from any other caliber. Killing isn’t the issue. A .22 can kill. The issue is ending the gunfight, and in order to end a gunfight you have to hit the central nervous system, regardless of the caliber you choose. This is detailed in our now famous article from FBI trainer Jim Higginbotham, “The Center Mass Myth and Ending a Gunfight.”
Calculating the “energy” of a specific load is fairly simple. But I found an entertaining note about the real world relationship between foot pounds and knock down while calculating the numbers for this gun. Winchester 71 grain white box (Wal-Mart) measured 700 feet per second on my chronograph out of the P-32. That equals of 77 foot pounds of energy. But when I first plugged the numbers into a ballistic calculator, I did it backwards, so that it was a 700 grain bullet traveling at 71 feet per second. It comes out to 8 foot pounds of energy. Now I’m certainly not going to let you shoot an ounce plus of lead at me with a wrist rocket slingshot. That has some knock down power. This is because the foot pounds calculator squares velocity in the equation, so lighter bullets traveling faster come out with more energy. That is why the hollow point bullets like the Hornady XTP have over 100 foot pounds.
The .380ACP has a similar muzzle velocity of a slightly heavier bullet, in the 90 grain range, and the foot pounds come out to 200 with carry ammunition“. With more bang for the bullet, however, comes more bang that accompanies the bullet, and more muzzle flip and recoil. Most people find that shooting even the steel Walther PPK unpleasant, let alone these tiny little plastic guns. The Kel-Tec P-32 is pleasant to shoot and won’t make even the most squeamish shooter flinch.
If you notice, I didn’t test the gun with “carry rounds” for the .32ACP. If you want to stop a gunfight, you have to either hit the head or reach the central nervous system inside the spine. Both of these require as much penetration as possible, so I elect to not carry hollow points in the .32ACP when I carry it. The tiny cartridge doesn’t have a ton of umph behind it, so you want every advantage possible to shut down your attacker.
The performance of the P-32 is actually pretty good considering that you can find them at street prices in the mid $200s. I shot two boxes through this review gun and had no failures at all. At 10 yards, my “across the living room” distance, I was able to easily keep the whole magazine inside what would be chest shots. Aimed and held with two hands, with a slow trigger pull, again offhand, I was able to cap the forehead shot on the zombie target you see here very easily. The P-32 is accurate enough for self defense. It is an inexpensive gun, not a cheap gun. There is a huge difference.
I was never a fan of these small Kel-Tecs when they came out, mostly because I heard people say that they were unreliable. From what I have seen in forums and online comments, those days are long gone for Kel-Tec. The P-32 is now an old product that has been refined for decades, and they work great. If you are among those of us who actually carry a gun every day (as opposed to those who are licensed to do so which is a much larger number), you probably have gotten used to carrying a bigger gun with more power. I personally carry a .45ACP XD-S most days, but if I am wearing shorts and I want something lighter, I’ll grab the P-32 before I’ll grab one of my small .380s. The guns is just so unobtrusive and shoots so well. Hopefully I’ll never need to fire a shot in anger, but there are worse guns I could put my fate in than the P-32. Is it truly enough gun in your estimation? Let us know in the comments below.