Handguns > Semi-Auto

.32 ACP Pocket Pistols

Kel-Tec and North American Arms both provide truly pocketable .32 ACP autos for use as back-up guns and for deep concealment.


Pocket pistols fill an important niche in the defensive firearms market. As a group, these little semi-autos fit comfortably between the more powerful handguns that get left at home because of weight and size, and the fist full of thin air that comes with having no defensive firearm at all. Pocket autos also serve nicely as back-up guns, when having a second, or even a third, gun makes sense for the situation.

Pocket pistols chambered for .32 ACP, also known as the 7.65 mm Browning, have been a popular carry option for quite some time. The .32 offers an improvement in stopping power compared to pistols chambered in .22 LR or .25 ACP. But the cartridge can be chambered in guns that are measurably smaller and lighter than the current run of .380 and 9 mm pocket pistols.

It's important to note here that when shopping for deep concealment pistols it's prudent to compare apples to apples. Whatever caliber they may be chambered in, all pocket guns have been designed from the ground up, or from the chop-shop down, to be as small as possible while still providing at least some gun for the shooter to hold on to. Getting the gun to be small often means giving up the weight, size, sights and controls that make handguns comfortable to shoot and operate. As a result, pocket pistols are not generally considered "fun" to shoot. But ultra compact semi-autos are working guns with the specific purpose of easy concealment in mind. And some designs and ammunition combinations have been more successful than others. Two pocket pistols that have stayed on top of the little gun heap are the North American Arms Guardian and the Kel-Tec P-32.

North American Arms Guardian .32 ACP
The first of these two guns to hit the market was the NAA Guardian, which launched in 1997. Since NAA was known for mini revolvers chambered in .22, this pistol was a break from the company’s usual product line. The Guardian shows a lineage influenced by the Seecamp pistol design, which includes a fixed barrel and direct blowback action. The slide, frame and fixed barrel are all machined from 17-4 PH stainless steel. This just happens to be the same metal found in a subtle little revolver called the Freedom Arms .454 Casull. The all-steel construction gives the Guardian an unloaded weight of 18.73 ounces, which is a bit on the heavy side when compared to some of the competition, but it's hard to argue with the strength and durability that steel construction has to offer.

Kel-Tec P-32
The P-32, a locked-breach semi-auto pistol, arrived on the self-defense scene in 1999. The barrel and slide are made of SAE 4140 ordinance steel, with an internal frame made of 7075-T6 aluminum. The external frame, checkered grip and trigger are made of an ultra-high-impact polymer. This blend of materials gives the P-32 an exceptionally low unloaded weight of just 6.6 ounces. The pistol is so light, in fact, that Kel-Tec offers a lanyard kit that allows the pistol to be carried around your neck. The P-32 does have a slide lock, which will hold the slide open after the last shot in the magazine is fired. This pistol does not feature any external safeties, instead relying on a long double-action trigger pull and internal hammer block for safe operation.

Side By Side
Having shot and carried both the Guardian and P-32 at various times, it was interesting to compare them side-by-side and note the differences. The P-32's polymer frame provides about a 1 1/2-finger grip with its seven-round magazine. The Guardian has an abbreviated one-finger grip with a six-shot magazine. As a result, the all-steel Guardian has the smallest profile, but the P-32 has a lower weight. The Guardian can be upgraded with a variety of in-house customizations, including hardwood grips and slide engraving, while the P-32 can be had in a variety of frame colors and slide finishes.

The sights of both pistols are minimal, if not almost decorative. The P-32's are slightly better out of the box, but the Guardian can be fitted with larger sights at the factory. The P-32 sits a little lower in the hand to help manage recoil, while the Guardian sits a little higher in the hand with the extra weight in the frame working to reduce the recoil. The Guardian has a smooth 10-pound trigger pull. This may sound heavy to practice with, but the heavier trigger is intended to act as a safety feature for pocket carry and is not hard to learn to work with. The P-32, on the other hand, has a smooth 5-pound trigger. It's easier to practice with, but may seem a bit light to some shooters for safe pocket carry.

At the Range
Since some .32 ACP pistols will only reliably feed ball ammunition, and a few will only function with hollow points, I chose to mix things up a bit with the accuracy testing. Both pistols were fired using two full-metal-jacket rounds—Fiocchi 73-grain and Winchester 71-grain—and two hollow points—Fiocchi 60-grain XTP and Winchester 60-grain Silver Tips. Since these guns are intended for, and perform best at, close range, the five-shot groups were fired from the bench at 7 yards.

Both guns performed consistently with all four loads tested, producing no single group larger than 2.50 inches. The Guardian yielded its best results using Winchester Silver Tips, with an average of 1.75 inches, and a best group of 1.5 inches. The Fiocchi XTP was a very close second in the Guardian with an average of 1.83 inches and a best group of 1.5 inches. For all intents and purposes, both loads performed at the same level of accuracy.

The P-32 liked the Fiocchi XTP best of all with an average of 1.75 inches, and a best group of 1.5 inches. The Kel-Tec gun did not get along as well with the Winchester Silver tips. The average group size stretched out a bit to 2.25 inches, with a best group of 2 inches. Both pistols worked reliably with all four loads tested.

The single event that might be called a malfunction was a stovepiped cartridge case. It was the last round of Winchester ball ammunition fired from the Guardian pistol. Just so you know, this occasional piping of a last spent case is a known factor for the Guardian. However, the process of dropping the empty magazine, loading a fresh magazine and racking the slide to reload, causes the spent case to clear the gun without any additional actions than the usual reloading process requires. Technically, it must be noted as a malfunction, but from a practical standpoint, it doesn’t interfere with the normal operation of the Guardian.

Final Thoughts
You won't find many shooters who will argue that .32 ACP pocket pistols are the ultimate man stoppers for self-defense. Bigger calibers are available, but they’re not necessarily better if the larger guns they inhabit get left at home and leave the shooter unarmed. After running the Guardian and P-32 in a comparative review, which one to pick really comes down to your personal preferences. The three most important aspects of a defensive pocket pistol are reliability, reasonable accuracy and pocketability. Both of these pistols meet, and exceed, all three requirements. For those who want or need compact pocket protection, the Kel-Tec P-32 and the North American Arms Guardian pistols are well worth your consideration.

Manufacturer: Kel-Tec; keltecweapons.com
Model: P32
Action: Double-Action Only
Caliber: .32 ACP
Finish: Polymer Frame; Blued, Parkerized or Hard Chrome Slide
Sights: Fixed
Barrel Length: 2.70”
Overall Length: 5.10”
Height: 3.50”
Width: 0.75”
Weight: 6.6 ozsn
Capacity: 7 + 1 Rounds
Twist: 1:16” RH
Suggested Retail Price: $318-$377

Manufacturer: North American Arms; northamericanarms.com
Model: Guardian
Action: Double-Action Only
Caliber: .32 ACP
Finish: Stainless Steel
Sights: Fixed
Barrel Length: 2.49”
Overall Length: 4.75”
Height: 3.53”
Width: 0.930”
Weight: 18.72 ozs.
Capacity: 6 + 1 Rounds
Rifling: 1:15” RH 
Suggested Retail Price: $402

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28 Responses to .32 ACP Pocket Pistols

Robert Van Elsberg wrote:
May 28, 2014

It is worth considering that more handguns were produced during the 20th Century chambering the 7.65 mm Browning or .32 ACP, as we call it, than any other chambering. These handguns were popular with civilians around the world and were used extensively in Europe by both police and military forces. In fact is was the need to produce large number of .32 ACP pistols based roughly on the Brown 1910 that gave birth to the firearms industry in the Basque area of Spain. I have read accounts of how these handguns were used by special squads who, armed with a .32 ACP pistol and a trench knife, would sneak into the German trenches to wreak havoc. Having personally tested the .32 ACP with high-quality German ammunition against the .380 ACP with American ammunition (FMJ in both cases), the .32 was the clear winner. Not only did it penetrate roughly 25 percent deeper in my test media (a stack of old encyclopedias) it also tumbled, doing more damage in the process. Private citizens, police and military forces don't buy something that doesn't work. May carry gun is an FEG AP 7.65 mm (Hungarian clone of the Walther PP). It is rock-solid, reliable, accurate and easy to shoot. I'm glad I bought one while they were still available.

John W,Hawkins wrote:
July 05, 2013

Can you get a larger clip than the six shot clip for the guardian 32 ACP

Sanjay bhakat wrote:
June 06, 2013

I want to buy light weight pistol .32' P-32.what will be the total cost including delivery in India.and how will I get it in India.please reply.

Old Cop wrote:
May 02, 2013

Someone posted about the Keltec FTF problem and "lying through your teeth." All I can say is my Keltec P32 has never malfunctioned while others, noteably most of the .380's, have chocked sooner or later.

mike cantele wrote:
December 25, 2012

32acp ammo feeds and fires normally in the Ortgies pocket pistol

Mercedes Dave wrote:
December 02, 2012

Thudflyer has not been shot by a "mouse gun" or he may change his attitude. What is the smallest dog you would like to be bitten by? My kel tec saved my life because the SOB would rather get his dope money elesewhere than be shot (I gave him the option).

Old Cop wrote:
October 15, 2012

I retired from active LE in 1997 and have carried a small .38 most of the time. For those times when something smaller & lighter is called for my Keltec .32 fills the bill nicely. I carry it loaded with Winchester FMJ & always have a spare mag handy.

022402 wrote:
September 01, 2012

i am 10 years old i love this gun this gun is good for a starter hunting gun for a kid

frank wrote:
May 28, 2012

I found the Sig P238 to be the best back pocket pistol.

Jeff wrote:
April 13, 2012

@ Gary on 3/10/2012. I'm sure you already found this out, but 7.65 is 32 ACP or 32 auto.

Thudflyer wrote:
March 17, 2012

Mouse guns....useless. Too many 9mm sub compacts available today to carry a mouse gun.

Gary wrote:
March 10, 2012

Does anyone know if the 32acp will work in the German Ortgies 7,65 semi-auto pistol? A collector's pistol with a reputation for accuracy?

Eric wrote:
January 09, 2012

I carry everyday a 1903 colt 32 acp. I have had it stripped parkerized black and added checkered wood grips and I stoned all the and smoothed all internal parts and polished the feed ramp. This this will feed an empty case no problem. For those our there that bad mouth a 32 let me shoot you with all 9 shots of my 1903 colt.

LEL wrote:
December 27, 2011

I have a Seecamp .32 - truly a functional work of art and precision, and it IS fun to shoot. Only a few brands of ammo will fit the magazine. I also have the NAA 380 because it is more durable than the Seecamp 380. It too is finely crafted and reliable, but painful to shoot (finger slap). You'd probably never notice the pain while firing under stress.

IJL wrote:
December 18, 2011

Funny how the Guardian is falted for stovepiping. the P-series Kel Tecs are a FTE-athon. Anybody who says otherwise is 99% likely lying through their teeth

K Wilson wrote:
December 04, 2011

Have carried the Kel-tec .32acp for yesrs both on duty and as a carry gun in a pocket holster. Never a bauble and shoots the Federal Hydra-shok round very well. Has less felt recaoil than the .380 of the same vintage, but must remeber NO +P ammo. Also, Seecamp is SUPPOSEDLY a great gun but I've yet to see or hold one in my hand. Kel-tec you can find.

Tom W from WNY wrote:
December 01, 2011

A Kel-Tec P32 (1st model) is my every day carry gun; it's in my pocket now as I type. I own Colt 1903's, Model M, as well. Here, in NYS where concealed carry means concealed, the Kel-Tec rides in a pocket well and the weight is not noticed. After a careful assessment of needs, I determined that the 32 ACP Kel-Tec, while not ideal, suited the situations I may encounter on a daily basis where a self-defense firearm would be needed. Should I believe ttrouble was at hand, I will upgrade to one of my 1911's in 45 ACP or my Hi-PPower.

D Hopson wrote:
December 01, 2011

I have the KelTech in 32 and 380. The 32 is more controllable, making it my choice for a summertime pocket gun. I owned a Seecamp 32, but sold it after getting the KelTech in 1999. While 380 has always been a caliber of choice for me - Walther PPKs. Beretta - the 32 has established a place in my collection. It's even better with the newer premium ammo available. I also keep looking for a tiny 9pm, but was very disappointed in the Kahr PM9. the search continues.

Randy Brostean wrote:
December 01, 2011

I forgot my last name earlier.

Randy wrote:
December 01, 2011

My primary carry weapon is a .380, but my P -32 makes a excellent Backup gun. It's reliable and lightweight , I love it. P-32, s are perfect for me. I carry it with me religiously !!!

Lt Col Richard Vaught, USAF, Ret wrote:
December 01, 2011

My backup gun in war zones was always the PP-32 but since retirement, I have gone to the Kel-Tec 32 and it is a amazing pistol and have had no problems with it regardless of type of ammo shot from it. Highly recommend it to anyone but get the extended clip and pocket holster for it.

Don Miller wrote:
November 30, 2011

Comments...The NA Guardian seems to fit the bill very well for a truly concealed carry pistol. I too was concerned with the last round not ejecting completely, but you've got 6 rounds. This pistol is not intended for a prolonged firefight. It will serve its purpose quite well with 6 rounds.

jim trockman wrote:
November 30, 2011

John is 100% correct...go shop for some .32 caliber ammo if you don't agree...its scarce and expensive...favoring the P3AT is a no-brainer..

Craig R. wrote:
November 30, 2011

I have many carry guns to include my grandfather's 1903 Colt in .32 ACP. It is totally reliable. Al Capone's pistol of choice. It would be nice to have seen it used in your tests and featured in your review. Cheers & best wishes.

Bill Miller wrote:
November 30, 2011

What about the old timers like the 1903 Colt Pocket Pistol in .32 caliber --- small but not too small.

W. Pate wrote:
November 30, 2011

Got the Guardian and it is beyond a doubt better than the rest out there. I also have the Baretta in .32....remarkable guns

John Dickson wrote:
November 29, 2011

For the little difference in size and weight I think the Kel-Tec P3AT in .380 is a better choice.

Ken wrote:
November 29, 2011

How do you write an article about 32ACP pocket pistols and leave out Seecamp?