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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.

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Comments (35)

Displaying 1 - 35 of 35

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.

Frank @ 12/2/2014 5:35 PM

I have troubles every time I clean my Beretta tomcat and try to replace the safety back. when you remove the safety, the Safety Plunger comes loose and it is very, but very difficult to put it back as you try to install the safety. Its virtually impossible. Does any one have any suggestions on how to put the safety and plunger combination back?

CWR @ 12/15/2014 1:08 PM

Have had a Tomcat for 4 years. It took approx. 300 rounds to fully break in with infrequent jams during that period. One complaint is trigger design. Sharp, sharp edge which has since been filed down, and tendency to pinch finger. Now confident to carry concealed. Just purchased PX 4 Sub compact 9mm. No experience yet, but if the hype pans out, it will become my carry weapon.

PeteDub @ 12/21/2014 3:34 PM


I just had that very problem myself, an hour ago.

The first thing I learned is that it is really tough to re-install the Safety with the plunger and spring in place. What eventually worked for me was to put the Safety in part way, with the plunger and spring in place, with the Hammer in the forward Double Action position. The Safety could not go in all the way at that point. But when I moved the Hammer rearward to the Single Action position, it was possible to push the Safety in place and the plunger went into the right position.

The second thing I learned is that the problem only happens with the hammer in the rearward Single Action position. In that position, the Safety can come loose out of the frame. In the forward Double Action position, though, the Safety cannot come loose. So, keep the Hammer forward in the Double Action position when removing the Left Grip.

Todd @ 1/21/2015 8:10 AM

Had the 3032 Tomcat since 2004 and the only problem I've encountered is a broken firing pin ($25 to repair). I've put about 500 rounds through it with no jams and the frame has not cracked yet. Maybe I just got lucky?

Dan @ 1/23/2015 8:36 PM

I bought my tomcat 2 years ago, and I love it! when I went to get the training you are required to have in California to have your CCW permit. they require you to run 75 rounds through your secondary weapon and are allowed 3 jams/ malfunctions or the gun does not qualify. I ran over 100 round of different ammo through it,( all good ammo) and had 1 malfunction- it hit the target every time! no problem and this is why I will carry mine as a second back up to my Glock 26

Dave @ 1/24/2015 7:42 PM

I have been reading the comments on the Tomcat. I purchased mine shortly after they were released for sale. There had been a delay due to the magazine failing to feed reliably. Beretta had supposedly contracted them to an outside supplier and it didn't work out. One thing I do remember was the ammo. Winchester silver tip was the recommended food for this pistol. It's all I ever use and it never fails.

Ira Schoen @ 2/28/2015 11:21 PM

I also purchased my Tomcat in the late 1990s as a back-up weapon to my standard-issue sidearm. It is a hefty, very well-balanced pistol with sufficient stopping power at close range. I've only used Sellier and Bellot ammo with no failures to date. Do not use reloads, hollow points, loose rounds, and keep the weapon clean. Now retired, I continue to carry the Tomcat as a concealed weapon under most circumstances, with confidence.

Gene Korte @ 6/10/2015 12:07 PM

I loved my Tomcat too until the frame cracked. After going round and round w/Beretta it was tagged as "unsafe to fire". I asked for a replacement and was denied as the "gun is past its warranty period." Warranty schmaranty, this gun is one of those carried a lot and shot a little guns. The "warranty" shouldn't matter in these cases. I now own a gun I can't use in self defense. Beretta should be ashamed of itself. No more Beretta ANYTHING for me!!!! ..... AND, they're making guns for our armed forces. I just don't trust them.

sonya g moore @ 7/17/2015 5:38 PM

My husband just bought me a Beretta Tomcat with tip up barrel. I haven't had a chance to shoot it yet but my question is regarding the mag. It is soooo hard to load. I have ordered a loader and that might help. Is there one that has a way of pushing the spring down to make it easier to load?

Lee @ 10/9/2015 8:59 AM

I just bought three Tomcat 3032's. All are used and after reading some of the messages posted here, I am wondering if I made a mistake. I purchased them for me and my two daughters. I hope it works out.

Steve Sarasky @ 11/7/2015 10:42 PM

My carry permit instructor in TN ex marine told us self defense situations are almost always up close any caliber is good shoot in the throat severe the spinal cord they will be paralyzed

Bob @ 11/8/2015 7:11 PM

I own a Beretta 3032. I purchased a Crimson Trace laser and it does not fit. Anyone know why?

Curtis @ 11/15/2015 7:44 AM

Are these 30/32's leagal in mass?

Mark @ 11/23/2015 6:33 PM

Last pre-ban, owned in MA, year of manufacture and sale that can FTF or FFL transfer legitimately here MA I believe is is '97. That said, not many to be found in the great Commonwealth. A nice alternative might be the LWS .32 Seecamp.

Richard p. Chapman @ 2/25/2016 8:47 PM

I have everything from a p229 357 sig and 40cal 9mm, 357 mag 38 special 22lr. 22mag mini gun, 380 rugar lcp. 9mm pt111 taurus. In the end I have the 32 tomcat on me 90% of the time. The 9mm is close by. My 22 is also bereta. Had tense situation once approached by 5 thugs and I did not feel armed. With the 32 I feel a lot better knowing I am Takeing somebody with me for God to sort out. All in all I have lived in Detroit most of my life and have never needed to draw a weapon. Couple close calls I 60 years old. Bottom line be aware understand a gun is just a small part of defensr. I have 4 black belts very handy in a fight with a tomcat as your reverse punch. Freedom for all , free speech and concealed carry for all law abiding citizens. WHAT GOOD IS A SIGN THAT SAYS ABSOLUTELY NO WEAPONS ALLOWED IN THE BUILDING. UNLESS YOU ARE CHECKED LUKE A COURT HOUSE. I DO NOT BELIEVE THAT SIGN DETERS SOMEONE BENT ON MURDER. PLEASE NOTE THAT IS ALREADY ILLEGAL WITH THE HIGHEST PENALTIES OF ALL CRIMES. ARE WE NUTS OR NOT. VOTE FOR CARSON. IF YOU MUST RUBIO OR KASICK AND TRUMP IF KNOW OTHER CHOICE BUT PLEASE FREE US FROM THE TYRANY OF HILLARY OR GOD FORBID SANDERS MIGHT AS WELL MOVE TO CHINA

Thom Hillson @ 12/12/2016 9:39 PM

Hello, just purchased a Tomcat for CCW. Have been shooting for 40 years but my hands have become arthritic enough that a really small-frame .380 is no longer an option due to too much muzzle-flip. We have two mid-sized 9mms for home defense and those are fine. That Tomcat's a great gun; they do still make 'em in "inox", which is Beretta's name for stainless. Haven't had a problem with this one, and there's no need to rack the slide unless you're cleaning it. You tilt the barrel up and load one round in it, plus 6 or 7 in the mag. The blowback from the first round loads the second one for you, and so on.

Emil Sapere Jr @ 1/7/2017 4:31 PM

I have finally purchased the Beretta Tomcat 3032 Inox (very hard to find). Have not taken it to the range as yet, but with the reviews said - I'm sure it will be what I expect it to be. A couple of important thoughts: 1. The ammo. As its a .32 acp, I have found the best review of defense tested ammo to be the Lehigh 32 Auto 50gr Xtreme Cavitator Ammunition, (see FBI Gelitan tests on youtube, which give a 1.5" wound cavity (big hurt) and a 14" penetration!! Can't get better than that. Also ck out Underwood Ammo, who make the same with a Nickel Plated casing. I believe this ammo will do what its intended to do in self-defense. The only missing add-on is a laser with Instant ON. I feel this is really needed as this type of gun is used in the 2 to 5 yd. range (which is the distance where most gunfight encounters occur. You will not have time to get the gun to line-of-sight and will be shooting from your hip. NEED to get that red dot on his body quickly as you fire the "life saving shot

Bob Baffa @ 2/7/2017 4:49 PM

I have the Crimson Trace Laser installed on my Tomcat and it fits perfectly.

pat Laino @ 2/22/2017 4:07 PM

it seems all you guys can buy the 3032 I been all over the country nothing //I have a new inoxcheetah brand new in box cant even trade it for a 3032? no logic

Robert Jennings @ 3/16/2017 5:14 PM

I bought a tomcat the other day at h and H gun range in Oklahoma city. Nice pocket pistol, only complaint is the trigger pull is kind of stiff. I can do a 6 inch grouping at 50 ft with a bench rest. They had 4 tomcats for sale when I bought mine.

michael guerrini @ 3/4/2018 7:25 PM

i have owned my tomcat 3032 for quite a few years and love it. very reliable pistol & it has never misfired or jammed on me. i bought mine slightly used with the old school crimson trace grips, which i sighted at about 5 yards out.

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