The usual suspects - lcp / P3AT / 238 / TCP etc.


February 12, 2010, 08:29 AM
Disclaimer: This is just my experience and observations, not gospel. Donít take it as anything else.

So Iíve been looking at the .380 tiny gun lineup for a while, all the normal suspects (even the tiny 9mmís would be great, but only if they were really pocket small). I am not brand loyal and I donít listen to stupid internet chatter praising or bashing particular brands based uponÖ..well, many times nothing discernable other then silly personal babbling and repeating what youíve heard or justification of what you spent your money on.

My criteria: Iím looking for a super light, super small, reliable, concealable weapon for a reasonable price. .380 has enough power, not interested in that silly debate so please donít start it. I was simply looking at the 9mmís so I could keep ammo cost lower (and actually find ammo easily).

From all the information on the internet and all the spec comparisons, etc, I was pretty sure that I had it narrowed down to the LCP or the P3AT (for the right price). Tried designs, decent track records, reasonable prices, initial bugs fixed.

Iíll just say, Iím not a local dealer fan. Around me (NYC suburbs, most of the dealers are price gouging (every get quoted $100-150 for transfers?). Many are now pricing OVER msrp on every model (like $450-$500 for a base LCP, then fixing the transfer charges so it works out the same!). But thatís a whole different storyÖall you folks with reasonable dealers, count your blessings.

But, with perseverance, I got lucky. I was able to find a new local dealer and they had just about every model in stock to hold and use. Good news. And decent prices to boot. Not the best Iíve seen online, just decent. But, weíll take it!

So, hereís where I was very surprised. Now please, Iím not bashing any gun, I think in reality they are all fine, I just think there are personal preferences that I had previously under-appreciated. So, Iím going to share my impressions:

The Kel Tec PF9, Kahr PM9 , Taurus slim 9mm Ė I looked at these because I couldnít tell on the internet if they were a tiny bit bigger or significantly bigger relative to the .380 category. Given ammo cost, Iíd LOVE to stick with the 9mm. But in the end, they are much bigger and in my opinion are not in the same ďpocketĒ category. They are just too wide and heavy. If you can do it, great. I just couldnít see wanting to carry them the same way as the little .380ís.

The Kahr 380 - Iím not a ďitís more expensive so it MUST be better guyĒ. If itís really better, and you have to price it higher because of it, thatís fine. So Iíll be honest, I donít understand the Kahr. Itís more expensive by a lot, but I truly donít understand from a design perspective what Iím getting for that expense. I did like the better sights, but for double the price? And before you flame me for this comment, the Kahr has a track record no more or less reliable then some of the other models in the lineup, so please donít tell me something stupid like ďbecause itís a KahrĒ. I donít care if you love Kahr, Iím brand indifferent.

The Sig 238Ė On the other hand, I absolutely understand what you are paying for on the sig. Great fit/finish. Uniquely different design in the category. Very solid. Hard to convey on the internet, but the gun is really attractive in real life and has a WONDERFUL trigger setup and sights. You hold it and you can really see yourself loving it for the aesthetics and for the hours youíd shoot it at the range. But thereís the rub on the sig. Thatís NOT what Iím looking for. I completely understand all the folks that fall in love with this little gun, but for me, the extra weight and slightly extra bulk really make no sense. I donít want a target shooting delight. I want something reliable that I can most easily conceal. The Sigís extra weight and slight extra bulk is real and you can feel it. So, I couldnít see paying the price premium for a gun that does a much better job being something Iím not looking for.

Kel Tec P3AT / Ruger LCP Ė These are not what I expected. First, Kel Tecís price has gone up! Maybe itís my dealer, but there was only a $20 difference. Now, itís easy to see how to justify the $20. The Ruger has a much cleaner and nicer fit and finish. But hereís the thing that I couldnít appreciate on the internet. I guess I have large fat fingers. I could NOT get my second finger on the grip of either, and as a result, I felt like I was STRUGGLING to hold on to these guns. I was completely uncomfortable with both every time I picked them up. I was not expecting that. In addition, the sights on both of these guns are terrible and as far as I can tell, almost useless in most situations. They are so hard to see. As a side note, one Kel Tec had a crimson trace on it. I figured that would help a lot. Man, it was hard enough to hold the darn thing without that extra button. But the one with it made it even harder. Worse, I couldnít push the button for the crimson trace! The button falls in the crease of my finger, very UN-NATURAL for me to hit it. Wow, was all I could think. Started wondering if I really wanted one of these little guns anymore.

Taurus 738 TCP Ė This one surprised me. On paper, maybe the slide hold and chamber indicator are nice to have benefits, but nothing necessarily jumped out about this gun on the internet. In fact, when you look on the internet it seems like it might be ďbiggerĒ. It was priced between the LCP and P3AT, and in reality itís pretty much the same size. On paper, they say itís a tiny bit different, but if it is, I couldnít tell. I held them all together, itís the same category. ButÖThe ergonomics were so much better for me! The grip is fractionally longer and I could solidly get my fingers on the grip and felt like I had a grip. The sights are tiny, but a little bigger then the LCP/P3AT. They are a better balance to me, I could see them and use them. This gun felt 100% right in my hands. It fit right and I could easily see using it and yet it stayed tiny and light. In my opinion, the thing you canít really understand or appreciate on the intent with this gun is the ergonomics. THATíS where Taurus made improvements in the tiny .380 design. If you have larger fingers, make sure you at least hold this one, I think youíll like the way it feels. I really liked this gun.

Bottom line: Know what you are ACTUALLY looking to accomplish in this segment before you go to the store, otherwise itís hard to understand/analyze the tradeoffs. Also, stop looking at the internet and ďassumingĒ based on numbers that you know what you want. As I learned on this trip, thereís a lot to be learned from actually holding these little guns for yourself. The subtle design differences really do translate to significant differences in how they feel/function.

Good luck!

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February 12, 2010, 09:25 AM
All that text and no mention of the diamondback
Or Micro Desert Eagle!

February 12, 2010, 09:30 AM
cskny,I have been mulling over these little pocket pistols too and after handling the Diamondback last night I bought one.
At least give it some thought before you make your move.

February 12, 2010, 10:06 AM
Yes, excellent point. However, no one has them around me so I couldn't get my hands on them. With transfer fees that I spoke of, it's not really realistic to buy one and ship it in up here either.

Glad it was right for you!

February 12, 2010, 10:15 AM
While it would be nice for them to have the 2 you mentioned, I gotta give them some credit. In one visit I was able to see, hold, and dry fire the:

Kahr 380
Kahr PM9
Kel Tec PF9
Kel Tec P32
Kel Tec P3AT
Ruger LCP
Taurus 738 TCP
Sig 238

Not too bad for the dealer selection typical around here (read:not great).

February 12, 2010, 10:29 AM
From money spent I can tell you dry fire doesn't translate into live fire. Live fire aP3AT or LCP, and then live fire a P380 and see which one gets back on target the easiest and with the less recoil. The Micro on the other hand is a blowback and much less pleasant to fire (but it's a well made little devil). The Diamondback looks promising although I have read and talked to some owners that have had problems that were corrected by the factory. Whatever you do don't by an AMT. Good luck.

February 12, 2010, 10:29 AM
I have the Kel tec P3AT limited edition with laser.. And you correct about tight trigger finger, and ammo. AS a result tempted to sell my P3AT and get the PF9 if i can ever find one in a store. Have never seen one.

only thing i consider that you did not mention is the pocket test . How does the pistol feel and print if at all.

Just One Shot
February 12, 2010, 10:32 AM
Good write up with many good points! I'm glad you found one you like.

Here's just a few notes on the one I have. This is not meant to undermine your choice, only to highlight a couple of the problems you mentioned.

Kel Tec P3AT / Ruger LCP-I guess I have large fat fingers. I could NOT get my second finger on the grip of either, and as a result, I felt like I was STRUGGLING to hold on to these guns.
I have the same problem which I fix with a finger extension.

the sights on both of these guns are terrible and as far as I can tell, almost useless in most situations. They are so hard to see.

I thought this as well until I got it to the range. I have no problem at the ranges most self defense situations occur (up to 15 yards I can keep all 6 rds. on an 8" target).

There is a company that will machine the slide and put regular sights on it but then you may as well spend the extra money up front for one with better sights.

Over all, I think you covered the bases pretty well. Your opinions seemed honest without bias. Maybe these words of wisdom will help someone else who is considering the same type of purchase.

Be sure and follow up with a range report when you get a chance.

February 12, 2010, 11:27 AM
I own and have carried the KelTec P11, P40, P32 and P3AT and have found all to be reliable. The P40 is a handful to shoot, so it's a safe queen or maybe a safe baglady. Several years ago I bought a Kahr P9 and liked it a lot. Good trigger, sights, comfortable to carry due to light weight and thin profile. My wife compared it to her Glock 27 and and 19, and decided it should be hers. So I bought another one for myself. The P9s are our regular CCWs. Due to my work situation, however, I pocket carried the P3AT. About 6 months ago, I found a Kahr .380. Based on our postitive experience with the larger Kahrs, I bought it. I have about 350 rounds through it with no problems other than a couple of FTF in the first 20 rounds. The little Kahr has the best DA trigger pull on any semiauto I've ever fired. That includes our various Glocks, my XD .45, and a Russian Mak. Especially superior to the trigger on the KelTecs, which even after the "fluff and buff" is best characterized as resembling a staple gun (pull, pull, then Ka-ching!) The Kahr also has actual sights. I believe night sights are available. To me, the Kahr was worth the extra money.

February 12, 2010, 02:35 PM
Iím glad to see some real honest conversation about this category. It seems like there are so many post and so much stuff out there thatís so biased and just people justifying what they decided to buy for whatever their personal reasoning. Or worse, bashing other products/brands because they ďheard thingsĒ. Very little actual honest information. That was frustrating to me.

I truly try to stay non-biased and look at everything for what it is and the purpose it serves. As such, I try to honestly evaluate things that I might buy or have purchased. Itís funny, just because I bought something doesnít make it Ďthe bestí choice. Yet so many people seem to feel a necessity to defend their choice as if the item itself somehow reflects upon them.

verdun59 Ė You are correct. But unfortunately for a significant portion of us, dry firing them is about all we have an opportunity to do. My honest opinion on the triggers and pulls, I think in this class they were all comparable EXCEPT the Sig. The Sig was super smooth and light., wonderful. But we all know why that is, and itís part of the design they used. I have opinions about the other triggers but Iíd by lying if I didnít say they had some ďpreferenceĒ in there. Bottom line, they were all acceptable in my opinion and would not really drive this decision.

Back on target speed etc, youíre right, I canít comment.

As for problems with the diamondback, the internet is a powerful thing and also a deceptive thing. Iím sure in about 60 seconds I could pull you up ďtroubleĒ posts on every single one of those guns with owners that had problems and had to send it back for service. Because you hear about it, doesnít make it statistically significant and thatís a hard thing to remember with all these posts floating around.

Tackstrp Ė I do understand. I love the look of that limited edition P3at, thatís the one that they had with the laser. But in the end, I really couldnít grip it with any consistent comfort. The PF9 was nice, as was the Kahr PM9, but truthfully, they were not for your pocket. Iíd say it like this:

The 9mmís (Taurus slim, Kel Tec PF9, and Kahr PM9) were all pretty comparable in terms of PRACTICAL size. I canít really say I saw a huge advantage one had over the other in terms of their size. That said, they were too big for my pockets. They imprinted and just took up a lot more room and felt heavy. And trust me, I soooooo wanted them not to because I really just wanted to stick in the 9mm ammo world. But Iíd be lying if I said they were in the same size class. If youíre going to carry it another way, maybe youíd have an easier time, but they are not realistically for your pocket in my estimation.

The Kahr, TCP, P3AT, and LCP all had similar pocket capability. Easy to slip in, no imprinting., no weight issues. Very easy to forget they were in there. Excellent on all of them. Each had their subtleties, but youíre micro-analyzing if youíre trying to find ďshapeĒ fault with any of them.

The Sig was a little different. It worked dimensionally and would sit in my pockets pretty easily BUT honestly, itís heavier/more substantial feeling in there. You can feel it. It also wanted to imprint a little more. I know itís not a lot heavier of paper, but in real life it made a difference TO ME, in MY POCKETS.

Just One Shot - Youíre not undermining my choice, thatís my point, itís MY choice and I have to make it for me, not because a bunch of folks out there think I should. And actually, for the record, I havenít made it yet. In this class, thereís a lot of personal feel/use/perspective that I think is involved and gets lost in the endless internet reading. They are all good guns, I have nothing against any of them. I hear you on the extension and I can certainly see that as a solution that would work. I think if I were to do the LCP or P3AT I would have to do an extension otherwise Iíd be afraid it could actually come out of my hands while shooting. That might be an ďover-reactiveĒ feeling, but man, I really wasnít sure that I could hold on if that nose went up.

Glad to hear that about the sights. Admittedly the store was not super well lit. Perhaps I needed to look in the daylight. And I am not in any way implying that the TCP has ďgreatĒ sights, just slightly larger and slightly easier for me to find. The Kahr and Sig beat all the others hands down (well, diamondback opinion excluded because I havenít seen it).

Coyote3855 Ė I fully understand and appreciate your decision basis. That makes sense. If you have nothing but great luck with a prior brand experience then absolutely I can see wanting to stay with them. I have no experience one way or the other with Kahr, so I donít have a personal basis to accept the price premium. As a minor note, I donít know that I agree about the importance of the trigger pull difference. While there may be technical merit to what youíre saying, I donít think any trigger was so bad that it was un-usable or a huge advantage. But that's my opinion.

Good luck picking!

February 12, 2010, 03:12 PM
Any thoughts about the NAA Guardian in .380 or .32?

Dr. Tad Hussein Winslow
February 12, 2010, 03:42 PM
Edited: Oh, OK...

The Kahr P380 gives you the best of both worlds, seems to me: Lightness of the Ruger/KelTec/Taurus, but with the quality of the Sig 238. Street price right at $600. I have one but have not shot it yet. Dry-cycles rounds just fine. Very aggressive frontstrap checkering, but that's ok by me - AFAIAC, if your fingers aren't bleeding a little bit from the frontstrap, then it ain't sharp enough!

February 12, 2010, 03:46 PM
The Kahr P380 is already in the list above and part of the conversation. Thanks!

February 12, 2010, 03:48 PM
Someone else has to talk about the NAA Guardian, not a brand/model that I could find here.

Dr. Tad Hussein Winslow
February 12, 2010, 03:51 PM
The Kel Tec PF9, Kahr PM9 , Taurus slim 9mm

Those 3 are fine and dandy for SmartCarry, and also work for "large pocket" carry (slacks, khakis, jacket pocket, etc.) - they are light enough. But when it comes to blue jeans or similar, with smaller/tighter pockets, they really don't cut the mustard - print like all get out - too big.

February 12, 2010, 04:41 PM
Here is a look at the P-3AT +1 magazine extension that gives us an extra round in the magazine and more grip area.

The two top pistols are two of my P-3AT pistols. The one on the left has the +1 magazine (7 rounds) installed and the one on the right has the standard six round magazine.

Since the P-3AT magazines work in the Diamondback, I put that pistol on the bottom with another +1 KT magazine installed in it.

February 12, 2010, 04:47 PM
Someone else has to talk about the NAA Guardian, not a brand/model that I could find here.
I had a Guardian and it was very painful to shoot and it felt like I was carrying a brick in my pocket so I checked out the P-3AT, purchased one and quickly got rid of the Guardian.

Dr. Tad Hussein Winslow
February 12, 2010, 05:12 PM
What's the street price on the diamondback - it's the best looking of the bunch.

February 12, 2010, 05:19 PM
What's the street price on the diamondback - it's the best looking of the bunch.
I paid $358 for mine.

February 12, 2010, 05:49 PM
csky, you are doing a good resarch job and the only thing I am passing on is my personal experience. Since I am apparently the only person who cannot conceal a 1911 in my front pocket, I have been on an eternal search for a reliable, comfortable (both to shoot and to carry) pocket pistol. So a lot of them have been tried and fortunately I do not see a gun as an extension of my personality so those that don't pass the test get chalked up as a mistake (that's not hard to say) and they move on. So far the P380 wins all the way around for me, although I am really interested in the Diamondback.
If you don't mine a blowback and limited range shooting the DE Micro is a well made gun. I know kokpelli seems to be pleased with his. For me I was just not pleasant to shoot, and I'm just old fashioned enough to like to practice with the gun I'm going to carry. The P380 cost more but as the old saying have to decide what your life is worth. No I don't work for Kahr. Good hunting.

February 12, 2010, 05:55 PM
Keltecs have been around a long time and have a great track record. I got rid of my 238, didn't like it and didn't trust the safety to stay on safe.

February 12, 2010, 07:16 PM
The P380 cost more but as the old saying have to decide what your life is worth.

My life is priceless (to me).

The gun that potentially protects it however simply needs to be present and reliable, NOT expensive.

So many posts seem to confuse the above.

A BRAND or PRICE does not inherently make a gun good or bad no matter how many times the implication is otherwise.

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