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Tomcat or Tomfoolery? Or, How to Break a Beretta 3032



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From 1903 until the dawn of World War II, pretty much every major American handgun manufacturer — as well as some gunmakers not known for their handguns, like Savage and Remington — made a pocket-size pistol chambered for .32ACP.

However, by the mid-to-late 1980s, the .32 Auto was very nearly a dead letter in the U.S., at least when it came to new handguns. The market for very small and inexpensive pocket pistols had gone almost entirely over to .22LR and .25ACP. Meanwhile, the slightly larger autos had drifted over to .380ACP. Since a PPK/S was the same size whether it was a .32 or a .380, the market opted for the bigger bullet. Face it, American shooters are size-obsessed.

So how did we arrive at Beretta launching a new pocket pistol chambered for the .32 Auto cartridge in 1996, when the popularity of the cartridge was theoretically at a nadir?

It all started with a book … well, actually, it started with a cartridge, and a pistol, and some old gun magazine articles that led to the book that led to the Tomcat.

In the mid ’80s, the LW Seecamp company upsized their tiny double-action-only blowback LWS-25 to take the .32ACP cartridge. To minimize the (overblown) fear of rimlock with the semi-rimmed .32 case, the magazine was deliberately just barely long enough front-to-rear to fit the only common .32ACP jacketed hollow-point cartridge on the market at the time, the 60-grain Winchester Silvertip. You literally couldn’t stuff most FMJ rounds into the mag.

This was long before modern CNC machining had become common, and the LWS-32 was largely finish-machined by hand. They were well-made, well-reviewed in gun magazines of the time, and quickly backordered as a result. Pistols with an MSRP of around $400 saw places on the waiting list being sold for $1,000 or more. The hype was easy to understand; it was the whole “smallest pistol with the biggest bullet” thing, the sort of fascination that powered the mystique that surrounded the Semmerling LM-4.

Meanwhile, Evan Marshall and Ed Sanow turned their research that had heretofore only popped up in gun magazine articles into the 1992 gun world bestseller Handgun Stopping Power: The Definitive Study. While it drew fire for questionable use of statistics and an over-reliance on shadowy anecdata, the book and its accompanying theory also drew an enormous and vocal following.

One of the stars of the book was the 60-grain .32ACP Winchester Silvertip JHP, credited by Marshall and Sanow with a “One-Shot Stop” percentage as good or better than most .38 Special rounds.

Well, when you combine the fascination of gun writers with the rare and backordered Seecamp with the breathless hype surrounding a .32 Silvertip that supposedly punched way out of its weight class in “One-Shot Stop” percentage, can you blame Beretta for not wanting to leave money on the table?

BIRTH OF THE TOMCAT

It was the mid ’90s and the “Shall Issue” movement was building steam. Beretta had the little double-action Bobcats, with their tip-up barrels and DA/SA triggers, already in the catalog. How much effort could it take to adapt them to work with .32ACP, anyway?

Don’t get us wrong, the 3032 Tomcat isn’t just a 21A Bobcat with a bigger hole in the barrel. While most of the dimensions are nearly identical, there are important changes. The most noticeable is that, while the 21A uses a spring-steel insert for a trigger guard that also tensions the tip-up barrel, the 3032 Tomcat has a trigger guard that’s an integral part of the forged aluminum frame.

Other than that, however, the Tomcat really is a slightly ballooned Bobcat.

It was a quick way to get into the suddenly lively market for tiny .32ACP pocket pistols. It exhibited typical high-quality Beretta fit and finish, but it wasn’t without its drawbacks.

DRAWBACKS

If we want to tabulate those drawbacks, we should start at the top, with the sights.

While the rear sight is your typical notch that’s slid into a dovetail mount to allow for windage adjustment with a drift punch and hammer, the front is machined in place there out at the nose of the barrel. It’s a tiny nubbin of a front sight with a bad habit of disappearing against a dark background in anything other than ideal lighting conditions. Beretta seemed to acknowledge this flaw by releasing an “Alleycat” version of the 3032 sporting a tritium-vial-loaded front sight blade from XS Sights, but those are a memory.

The response from the gunternet to the lack-of-sights issue is to point out that most firearms-oriented personal defense scenarios for private citizens happen at arm’s length (and besides, the Seecamp .32 didn’t have any sights at all), but that’s easily rebutted by noting that the rest of those scenarios happen at 5 or more yards, where sights are important.

The 3032 Tomcat doesn’t have an ambidextrous slide release. In fact, it has no slide release whatsoever. On the one hand, this isn’t important, since the slide doesn’t lock open when the magazine is empty.

On the other hand, this isn’t such a good thing, since page 10 of the owner’s manual issues dire warnings that dry-firing the pistol without a round in the chamber could cause breakage of the firing pin — and depending on how the firing pin breaks, you either have a paperweight or the world’s tiniest runaway gun.

So, you’ll want to carefully count the rounds you fire in a string to avoid that accidental dry-firing when you’re practicing at the local indoor range, but this could be hard to do in an alley at 0300.

The magazine itself is a single-stack affair, and not even slightly staggered. It’s like it’s the year 1911 up in the Tomcat’s magazine well.

With enough effort from your thumbs, you can jam seven rounds of .32ACP into the magazine. It inserts into the magwell easily enough, and then you can rotate the barrel release lever. This will cause the breech end of the barrel to pop up under the impetus of a built-in spring and allow you to slide an eighth round directly into the chamber.

This is good news for people without a lot of grip and upper-body strength since it obviates the need to cycle the slide to chamber a round. In fact, even people with an abundance of both will likely prefer using the lever, since the lightweight slide requires relatively beefy recoil springs and the serrated grasping areas are Lilliputian. Without the tip-up barrel feature, the Tomcat’s manipulations would be best suited to someone with a grip like the Incredible Hulk but a glove size like a hobbit.

The double-action trigger pull is heavy, but not really prohibitively so. It’s smooth and features minimal stacking (the pull getting heavier over the length of the trigger pull), some of which is an inevitable artifact of a coil mainspring. The trigger pull is … well, we ran out of scale before we ran out of trigger, but 12 pounds seems about right. It’s roughly the same as the typical off-the-rack snubbie revolver trigger. The single-action trigger, on the other hand, is quite nice. It measured right at 5 pounds on our scale but felt lighter due to the fairly wide trigger, breaking cleanly after minimal take-up.

As an aside, the trigger is another area where folks who buy their gloves in size L might run into problems. If you bury your trigger finger in the guard to get maximum leverage, the tip of your trigger finger might bottom out against the front of the grip frame before the sear breaks. It’s disconcerting the first time it happens, until you realize what’s going on.

ON THE RANGE

The test Tomcat, purchased out-of-pocket from Indy Arms Company, was reliable when clean and lubed. It functioned with several different varieties of jacketed hollow points — 150 rounds of Winchester 60-grain Silvertip, 50 of Hornady 60-grain XTP, and 40 of Federal 65-grain Hydra-Shok — as well as 71-grain FMJ from Magtech and PMC. It suffered some last-round failures-to-feed, one with the Hydra-Shok and two with the XTP, but only after it was dry and dirty from over 250 rounds of accumulated shooting.

It was here where the point of impact shifted a full 2 inches high and 1 inch left of point-of-aim at 5 yards, which seemed odd. But we’re not the only ones, this kind of significant shift with the Tomcat with only a couple or few hundred down the pipe has been talked about in hushed whispers in the past.

We continued the range sessions past the 400-round mark but were increasingly worried with that POI/ POA discrepancy and what it foretold–it being the precursor to a larger problem. Placing some off-the-record calls to a few folks knowledgeable about the platform confirmed that, while the heavier slide of the Inox Tomcat postponed the issue of eventual frame cracking to 500 rounds or more, it wasn’t eliminated entirely.

Five. Hundred. Whole. Rounds. Gee, thanks.

Cracked frames are the elephant in the room with this little pistol. The blowback-operated steel slide bottoms out against the frame with considerable velocity and will eventually crack it. On the other hand, Beretta is well aware that most Tomcats will get a box of ammo shot through them and then be thrown in a purse or sock drawer against potential future need. It’s not a pistol most buyers will shoot recreationally. As your humble reviewer has noted before, you could design a pistol that’d crumble to dust on the 501st shot, and only one customer in a hundred would find out about it, while the other 99 would call them a hater.

At this point, we had 402 rounds through the Tomcat. While we had plenty of .32ACP ammo left on hand, there was a hitch: all of it was either Sellier & Bellot or Fiocchi FMJ.

So?” you ask, “What’s wrong with that? Those are both quality ammo manufacturers.

Yes, they are indeed. Except that, included in the box with every Tomcat purchase, Beretta includes a card warning not to fire ammunition with a muzzle energy rating over 130 foot-pounds, a number that’s easily exceeded by either Euro ammomaker. Beretta says that doing so will accelerate wear and tear on the pistol, which must be a polite euphemism for “accelerate the inevitable frame cracking.” This is a bummer for a .32ACP, because hot S&B ball ammo is probably the best choice for personal protection in the chambering.

LOOSE ROUNDS

So, we’re left with a conundrum. The 3032 Tomcat is a well-made pistol, one of only a handful of all-metal pistols of its type. Within reasonable parameters, it’s reliable. It’ll shoot 2-inch groups at 5 to 7 yards with a little practice. It’s the only pocket .32 with a tip-up barrel as well as the only one with a traditional hammer-fired DA/SA action, if that’s your jam. It has a sweet single-action trigger for a pocket pistol.

On the other hand, it’s fatter and heavier than the whole raft of recoil-operated .32 and .380 polymer pocket pistols that came after it. It’s an historical artifact from the pre-KelTec 1990s, being sold as a defensive pistol in the 2020s.

Then, there’s the whole issue of life expectancy — you can put cases of ammo through an LCP or BG380, if you’re a masochist, while the Tomcat will likely be toast in less than one case.

It seems you pay your money and you make your choices, based on what’s important to you. We guess.

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2 Comments

  • William Thomson says:

    Thanks for the life-span warning. I guess I will stick to my Remington RM380.

  • Matt Donahue says:

    Thanks for the review, Tam. Appreciate the candor. I’ve vacillated about buying one of these for a while… but, after reading this, vacillations have landed firmly on a “no thanks.”

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  • Thanks for the review, Tam. Appreciate the candor. I've vacillated about buying one of these for a while... but, after reading this, vacillations have landed firmly on a "no thanks."

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