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Reviews : Arsenal

Beretta 3032 Tomcat Subcompact Pistol

Chambered in .32 ACP, Beretta's venerable pocket pistol makes an excellent "get them off you" gun.

March 21, 2013  |  by Paul Scarlata - Also by this author

Photo by Butch Simpson.
Photo by Butch Simpson.

Editor's note: View our "Beretta's 3032 Tomcat Pistol" photo gallery for detailed photos of the pistol.

Fabbrica d'Armi Pietro Beretta of Gardone Val Trompia, Brescia, Italy, is one of the world's oldest privately owned firearms manufacturers. Founded by master gunsmith Bartolomeo Beretta in 1526, Beretta's product line has over the centuries included every conceivable type of firearm from the earliest matchlocks to the most modern assault rifles. But since 1915 the company has probably been best known for its handguns.

During World War I Beretta produced a line of blowback-operated 7.65mm (.32 ACP) semi-auto pistols that were widely used by the Italian and various Allied armies. The years after the war saw Beretta develop a series of 6.35mm (.25 ACP), 7.65mm, and 9mm Corto (.380 ACP) pistols that gained worldwide acceptance by civilians, police, and the military. Improved models were introduced at the end of World War II, including subcompact pistols in .22 Short and .22 LR. Then in 1951, the company produced its first locked-breech design in 9mm Parabellum, which evolved into the present day Beretta Model 92.

Today the Model 92 gets all the attention, but Beretta has not forgotten its roots and still offers a number of blowback-operated, sub-compact pistols.

In 1984 the company introduced the Model 21A Bobcat chambered in .22 LR and .25 ACP. The Bobcat was unique among the breed of so-called "mouseguns" in that it had a DA/SA trigger mechanism, but its most revolutionary feature was a tip-up barrel. Of necessity, blowback-operated pistols have rather strong recoil springs and the tip-up barrel allowed the shooter to load and unload the pistol without having to rack the slide. This was not only convenient but a major bonus for those with small or weaker hands.

While the Bobcat proved popular with both armed civilians and as a backup gun with police, there were those who wanted a similarly sized pistol that fired a more powerful cartridge. To address these requests, Beretta introduced the 3032 Tomcat chambered for the .32 ACP.

Developed in the 1890s by John Moses Browning for Fabrique Nationale's Mle. 1900 pistol, the 7.65mm Browning (.32 ACP) utilized a semi-rimmed case 17mm long with a 71-grain full-metal-jacketed (FMJ) bullet that is propelled to a muzzle velocity of approximately 900 feet per second.

The .32 ACP was well suited to blowback-operated pistols and was immediately embraced by European military and police forces. In the more turbulent 1990s most European police agencies switched to 9mm pistols, although .32 ACP handguns are still widely used by Continental undercover officers. Before WWII .32 caliber pistols produced in the U.S. by Colt, Harrington & Richardson, Savage, and Remington also saw limited use by American undercover officers.

Tip-Up Barrel

The .32 ACP Beretta Tomcat is an extremely small concealed carry pistol that some officers use for backup and off-duty carry. Features include an alloy frame and forged blue steel slide (stainless steel is optional), external hammer, tip-up barrel, and manual safety. The open top slide—a Beretta feature since 1915—reduces the likelihood of a spent case hanging up during ejection.

To load the Tomcat, you rotate a lever on the left side of the frame, releasing the barrel and allowing it to pivot up. The round is then inserted into the chamber and the barrel pushed down until it locks into the frame once again.

To unload you release the barrel and either pull the loaded cartridge out manually or tilt the muzzle up and let it fall out. The Tomcat lacks an extractor, relying upon expanding powder gases to force the spent case rearward and eject it from the pistol. This means that racking the slide will not remove either unspent or defective cartridges.

Unlike most DA/SA pistols, the Tomcat does not have a hammer drop mechanism, which means that the hammer must be lowered manually (carefully!) on a loaded chamber. An external thumb safety allows the option of cocked-and-locked carry, but Beretta does not recommend it. Note: The safety can be applied with the hammer forward, which prevents hammer and slide movement.

The single column, seven-round magazine is retained by a catch countersunk in the right-hand grip panel and is fitted with an extended base plate for positive extraction.

Really? .32 ACP?

Is a .32 ACP pistol a viable choice for a backup/off duty weapon? That's a question that is not so easy to answer. On the plus side, contemporary self-defense ammunition manufacturers such as Winchester, Speer, Federal, Cor-Bon, and Hornady offer a variety of jacketed hollow point (JHP) .32 ACP rounds that include expanding bullets at higher velocities.

But this leads us to an ammunition controversy. It is held by some that when using the .32 ACP an FMJ projectile is preferred over an expanding JHP bullet. These shooters argue that an FMJ is more likely to penetrate clothing and soft tissue with enough energy remaining to penetrate into vital organs. It has been suggested that with expanding bullets a majority of the projectile's energy will be expended as it travels through clothing and tissues, lessening its chances of damaging vital organs.

On paper the performance of the various JHP loads are similar to that of the FMJ, so it's going to be up to individual officers to decide what best serves their purposes.

Test Firing

The Tomcat I received for this evaluation was a chunky little pistol with a reassuring heft. Ergonomics were excellent, and I really liked that the thumb safety could be manipulated without moving the pistol around in your hand.

The DA trigger stroke was fairly stiff, but considering the ranges the Tomcat is likely to be used at, I do not see that as a downside. According to my RCBS trigger pull scale, the SA trigger broke crisply, after a bit of take up, at six pounds.

My pistol was fitted with the optional Trijicon front sight with a tritium insert for use in low light. The rear sight is a shallow V "express sight" with a white bar. This combination provides very fast sight acquisition and alignment for close range shooting.

Considering the pistol's size, likely use, and the style of the sights, I felt that trying to shoot tight little groups from a rest would be an exercise in futility. Accordingly, test firing consisted of running a series of drills on a combat target at a practical distance of five yards.

I fired the Tomcat in both DA and SA modes, with supported and unsupported (one-handed) grips, and was pleasantly surprised by its performance. Every single round I fired found its way into the higher scoring areas of the target. And yes, that's where I was aiming.

Despite my preconceptions, recoil was very controllable and fast, and accurate follow-up shots could be performed effortlessly. Early in the test firing I experienced two failures to chamber with the Winchester ammo, both times the last round in the magazine. After that everything else fed, fired, and ejected smoothly.

I only have two major criticisms about the Tomcat. First, the edges of the trigger are sharp, and I would suggest that Beretta bevel these to correct this problem. Second, I would like to see a finger rest magazine base plate offered as an option. It would not compromise concealability to any degree but would allow a full three-finger grip for enhanced recoil control.

All in all I found the Tomcat to be reliable, compact, easy to conceal, easy to use, and adequately accurate. It fits the bill as a backup or off-duty pistol very well, as long as you understand and accept the limitations of the .32 ACP cartridge.

Paul Scarlata has served as an auxiliary police officer and is a frequent contributor to POLICE.

Tags: Beretta, Firearms Reviews, Subcompact Pistols, Backup Guns

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Comments (14)

Displaying 1 - 14 of 14

Jerry @ 3/26/2013 6:01 PM

I've just purchased a 3032 Tomcat and I'm having a lot of feeding problems with it. It may be the ammo so as soon as I'm able to secure some other brands of defensive rounds Ill continue to test it. Until it reaches 100% reliability I will not carry it. For now my backup is either my S&W Bofyguard in .380 or my Sig 238, also .380. Both of these pistols have performed flawlessly, unlike my Tomcat I'm sorry to say.

Rob @ 3/26/2013 6:27 PM

I've got a couple of 21As that I've had for years and shot a lot. I never seemed to notice a lack of extractor until someone pointed it out to me. Nevertheless, they've always been pretty reliable as long as the chambers were kept clean. I would imagine the Tomcat is the same.

Don @ 3/26/2013 8:12 PM

I have a Tom Cat and the slide keeps coming off when fired. I won't carry it

Chris @ 3/27/2013 6:35 AM

Don - Sounds like you have a serious issue. Was it new or used when you got it? Old or new model? I have had two Tomcats, one new and one used. The used was the old model, prone to frame breaks under the slide. When the frame broke (after years of shooting), Beretta replaced it with a brand new gun. I have not had any issues with that one. It was a back-up and off-duty gun for me for a few years. I have switched to a .40 cal back-up to use the same ammo as my duty gun, and a S&W Bodyguard normally off-duty. I still think the Tomcat is a fine gun for a small gun, better that then nothing.

David @ 3/27/2013 8:01 AM

I've had both issues with the Mdl 21 in .22LR. After some experimentation and a trip back to Beretta USA no more problem. The gun is a little picky about ammo, but once I found the ammo it liked no more reliability issues. As for the slide coming off, that turned out to be a problem with the way I was holding it. Try firing it one-hand only and see if the problem continues. If not, odds are your two-handed grip is causing the catch to release during the recoil.

Rob @ 6/19/2013 8:35 AM

The 21a, and I would imagine the Tomcat, need to be broken in to be more consistent with the feeding. My Bobcat was very inconsitent for the first 400 rounds (which used to be a cheap proposition with 22LR!), but now fails very infrequently - mostly due to rimfire duds.

George Mason @ 8/26/2013 2:18 PM

I bought a used Tomcat .32 at a gun show. The thing that I have learned about this little pistol is

tom @ 10/6/2013 2:13 PM

I have owned a Tomcat for about a year now. Bought it used in excellent condition. The only time I ever had any issue is if I limp-wristed it with a full magazine. Both issues were user error. I know better than to limp wrist a semi-auto and I know enough to under load a magazine. Since I learned this firearm, it has never had another FTF/FTE issue. I've now gone through 300 rounds of ammo - ranging from PPU/Prvi to Winchester (white box) to fiocci to federal with not one single issue.

Learning your firearm is everything. I have a Mossburg 22 rifle that will FTF/FTE every single time if your hand is touching the magazine but will never FTF/FTE if you keep your hand away from the magazine. Took a bit of trial and error to learn the firearm.

Byrne @ 3/8/2014 8:15 AM

After many years of Beretta 950B and later 950BS frequent carry and usage I bought a 3032 Tomcat and can say I've had no problems what so ever with either. I find the fit, finish, and functionality of the Tomcat to be excellent and I'm confident the 32ACP is adequate to stop most normal assaults.

Sarah @ 5/23/2014 6:35 AM

I need a small semi- auto & have tried the smith & wesson bodyguard which I love the size of. I CANNOT operate the slide because I'm not strong enough. Seems the Beretta 3032 Tomcat or Tomcat Inox (a bit confused on the difference) would be perfect but apparently there not making them anymore. I've found a few online but don't want to purchase anything I can't see & touch to make sure. Did find one place that may get one for me & let me try it first. Yes- I am getting it for protection & it's small but it's important to me to really feel comfortable with whatever I get. I figure I could shoot all the bullets if I had to to stop someone. Any thoughts or advice are appreciated.

John @ 7/5/2014 6:03 AM

Sarah, good thinking. I've known several people who bought 'too much gun.' When I gave my wife a Tomcat, she loved it, for the same reasons you describe.

Will @ 7/26/2014 8:27 PM

Perhaps you could use the "double push" method of racking a heavy slide.

Holding the pistol in your strong hand. Put your weak hand on slide. Push both together at the same time about chest high. You are then using the strength of both arms. Much easier than pulling the slide back single-handedly against the stiffened strong arm

Will @ 7/26/2014 8:33 PM

But I do love my Tomcat and it is my carry weapon because it is so small, accurate, easy to shoot, and able to be concealed without a jacket in Hot Houston!

A larger caliber weapon is pretty close at hand but not in my pocket.

KMF @ 9/29/2014 4:52 PM

I've owned my TomCat for 5 years now. It is my concealed carry weapon. I've shot several dozen rounds through it, both FMJ & JHP and never had a jamb. I love the tip up barrel. And the surprising accuracy for a small framed gun at 25 feet. I love this little gun.

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