When the Ruger LCP was first launched on the market, web searches for “Kel-Tec sues Ruger” suddenly took an upward turn. Anyone with two eyes can see they look astonishingly similar. They are, for all practical purposes, the same gun. But there won’t be any lawsuit, because we later found out that Ruger had licensed the design. [UPDATE: This seems to be a matter of dispute. I can’t find my original source for this, but there is other speculation that Kel-Tec simply failed to protect it’s design through patents.] So it would seem odd that I’d decide to do a comparison of what are essentially, the same gun. But are they the same gun? Same design, largely, but there are differences. In my opinion, the differences probably add up to being enough to justify the extra cost of the Ruger over the Kel-Tec.
Fit, Finish & Quality
It’s no surprise that the Ruger easily takes the prize in terms of fit and finish. It looks and feels like a well made gun. While both the frames of the Ruger and the Kel-Tec are injection molded, on the Ruger it’s hardly noticeable, whereas on the Kel-Tec, the seams are apparent. With the Ruger you also get their quality control. When I bought my Kel-Tec, I couldn’t shoot it for a month because the gun I bought had a defective barrel. While Kel-Tec replaced it, no questioned asked, the Ruger came ready to shoot out of the box. Ruger’s finish looks like it will be a bit more durable. The Kel-Tec slide is just a fairly standard blue, which has all but worn off the top part of my pistol because of carry. This has made rusting a real issue with the Kel-Tec, which is partly what prompted me to try the LCP.
One disappointment between the two guns is that the magazines aren’t interchangeable, though they could have easily been made so. For all practical purposes, they are identical, except for the catch on the LCP magazine being a few millimeters lower. This prevents the Kel-Tec magazine from working in the Ruger, forcing me to order another spare Ruger factory mag. From Ruger’s point of view, this was probably the whole point. Both magazine bodies appear to be made by the same Italian manufacturer. One difference of note is that Ruger does put round indicator holes on both sides of the magazine, whereas Kel-Tec only has them on one side.
As I mentioned, there are slight design changes between the P3AT and the LCP. For one, Ruger redesigned the extractor.The P3AT has a flat spring bolted to the face of the slide which provides tension for the extractor. Ruger altered this to be a more conventional extractor with force provided by an internally housed coil spring. The Kel-Tec P3AT has a slightly lighter trigger pull than the LCP, which seems to be a full two pounds heavier by my measure. One other design change that I find quite welcome is the ability to lock back the slide on the LCP, something that the Kel-Tec lacks. Being able to lock back a slide is a basic safety indicator, as far as I’m concerned, so I like having that ability on a gun. The slide doesn’t lock back empty on either gun, however.
Any pocket pistol is going to be fairly brutal to shoot, even with .380 ACP. You’ll be hard pressed to get more than a hundred rounds through either gun in a single range session. Nonetheless, the Ruger feels better to shoot, I think because of two factors. One, Ruger ships the LCP with a separate magazine floor plate that has a finger groove. This makes the gun feel much better in the hands. While there is a finger groove floor plate you can get for the Kel-Tec, it didn’t come with my gun, and from what I’ve seen, it looks more like an afterthought. The second factor that makes the LCP feel better to shoot is the lack of injection molding seams on the LCP. I had to file these down on the inside of the Kel-Tec trigger guard, since they’d catch my trigger finger and rub it raw after about 25 rounds. While the Ruger still bangs my trigger finger a bit when it recoils, I can get through many more rounds due to them not catching on seams. I believe because the Ruger feels better in my hands, I tend to shoot a bit better with it.
Personally, I’d pay the extra money for the LCP. It’s just a better made gun, and I think will hold up better to daily carry. About the only area I think the Kel-Tec beats Ruger, is that I can easily completely disassemble the slide on the Kel-Tec. Ruger, keeping with its tradition often found in their other products, made the decision that there are just certain places on the gun you don’t need to be messing with. Ruger uses roll pins to retain the firing pin and extractor. For someone who likes to do a thorough cleaning every once in a while, I find this obnoxious. But overall, I think the LCP just oozes better execution on the design, if you’re wavering between which gun to buy.