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Crapshoot: Davis P-32

BLUF: Don't Get a Davis

Always on the quest for a sub-$200 firearm, an interesting one came up on the local gun shop crawl: a Davis P-32.

Classified by the ATF as one of the “Ring of Fire” purveyors of paltry pistols, Davis Industries was founded in 1982 by Jim and Gail Davis. So-called “Ring of Fire” companies were all based in Southern California and were affiliated through family relationships with George Jennings — this also was the case with Davis Industries. Jim was a former office manager at Raven Arms, and Gail was the daughter of George Jennings, who founded Raven Arms; cheap pistols might’ve been in their blood.

Their target customers were low-income people who wanted inexpensive handguns for personal protection, and the primary retailers were pawnshops. Davis manufactured the P-32 and the P-380 (chambered in .380 ACP), as well as a line of Derringers that ran the gamut from .22LR to .38 Special.

Historically, the P-32 had a production cost of $15, a wholesale price of $55, a dealer price averaging $65, a retail price of $95 to $100, and an illegal street value of $150 to $600.

Ironically, the Davis P-32 passed California’s infamous drop test, which was specifically designed to prohibit the sale of pistols like this. They were initially placed on California’s dreaded roster of “safe handguns.”

Davis Industries eventually closed its doors and filed bankruptcy due to numerous lawsuits. Additional findings about the company at the time revealed that hundreds of pistols were unaccounted for due to employee theft or extremely poor record keeping. The blueprints and intellectual property were sold to Cobra Industries of Utah, which continued to produce various models, including a variant of the P-32, until they closed their doors in 2019 following numerous lawsuits.

The P-32 tips the scales at 22 ounces. It’s chambered in .32 ACP, sports walnut grip panels, and has a six-round magazine. The magazine release is a European style, inconveniently located at the base of the grip. The sights are tiny and directly part of the slide.

The construction is mostly the dreaded ZMAK (a zinc alloy), which is as heavy as steel but as soft as butter. When you build a semiautomatic handgun with it, the gun will be heavy for its size and also wear quickly.

Some shooters scoff at the .32 ACP (aka 7.65 Browning) because of its perceived low power combined with a relative lack of availability, but shooters who are choosey with ammunition like it for the penetration.

ON THE RANGE

A few boxes of Fiocchi hardball and some PMC hollow points intended for self defense would be the rounds of choice. The magazine was easy to load, and that’s the only compliment we have for it. Although the magazine ostensibly holds six rounds, the last round would consistently fail to feed when fully topped off. Downloading it to five rounds helped a bit. And, of course, there was only one magazine available, which is pretty much the way it goes with pistols like these.

Even if you can find a spare, there’s no guarantee it’ll fit. And even when Davis Industries was still in business, production magazines sometimes wouldn’t insert into the magwell.

At 25 feet, the average group size was 3 to 4 inches.

THE AWESOME

The Davis Industries P-32 is a cheap handgun that has never really cost more than $100, even when new in the box. If your budget is truly under $200, you may score a few boxes of ammunition, but don’t be surprised if the ammo costs more than the pistol.

THE OK

As with any out-of-production gun from one of the Ring of Fire companies, spare parts can be a challenge to find. Your best bet are various auction sites and shops that sell pieces from evidence lockers. Be forewarned that the parts may not drop-in and may require fitting.

The pistol has subpar sights. If you take your time, you can get a decent sight picture. This is more of a point-and-shoot handgun, if you actually need to use it for self-defense. Don’t count on the hollow points to expand reliably out of the 2.8-inch barrel — just hope for penetration by using FMJ rounds.

THE AWFUL

It’s heavy for its size. Accuracy is mediocre at best and normally terrible. The slide catch is too small. This might be one of the few pistols where it makes sense to carry without a round in the chamber, but then you’re left with only five rounds in the magazine and no quick reload unless you find a viable spare magazine.

Lastly, when the manual of arms for disassembly involves using a ballpoint pen to take down the slide, you should probably look for something else.

It’s unlikely that the death of Davis Industries was terribly bemoaned.

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