In this post, I will make the case for the small, discreetly carried .22 Long Rifle (22) caliber pistol.
The 22 LR is an old cartridge, introduced in 1887, For a short history of the cartridge, see this page from Smith & Wesson. Many manufacturers around the world produce ammo in this caliber.
WHY USE THE 22 AS A DEFENSIVE PISTOL
There are several reasons for using the 22 pistol as a defensive weapon. 22 ammo is relatively inexpensive. One can get it in bulk quantities for as little as 6¢ per round plus shipping in quantities of 500 rounds (as of October, 2022). This ammo has very little recoil, since it is relatively low-powered. 22 pistols are not nearly as noisy as centerfire pistols. They are easier for the novice to learn to shoot.
There are 22 handguns that range in size from pocket pistols such as the Ruger LCP II 22 and Beretta M21; to mid size pistols such as the Smith & Wesson M&P 22 compact, the Glock 44, and Ruger SR22; to various full size handguns. This discussion will focus on the smaller handguns, since our primary objective is to look at discreet carry.
WHY NOT USE THE 22 AS A DEFENSIVE PISTOL
The 22 is widely regarded as a NOT very effective defensive cartridge. People in the know in the firearms world will inform you that the 22, because it is a rimfire, has unreliable ignition. You will also be told that the 22 is not a man-stopper. As to the ignition issue, most manufacturers have proven their ability to make extremely reliable ammunition. In contrast, I have had 9 mm centerfire ammo that fed unreliably, and other 9 mm ammo that was so under-powered it would not operate the slide of the pistol. I will look at the man-stopping aspect in another section.
Any ammo of any caliber should be thoroughly tested before placing in service for defense. Reliability is the absolutely most important aspect of ammo selection. With any defensive ammo, several brands and types should be tested for reliably and practical accuracy. Then set aside and use the one that performs best.
22 PISTOL SELECTION
For the most discreet carry, there are only two good choices at this time, the Beretta M21 Bobcat 22, and the Ruger LCP II 22. Of the two, the Beretta has the advantage of a tip-up barrel for easier loading of the first round. The Ruger has the advantage of a larger capacity and a simpler operating system. Use the links below to learn more about their operation.
Let's be clear. The purpose of the defensive handgun is not to kill your assailant. The purpose is to convince the perpetrator to quit the fight. If you can't avoid the fight, the next best thing is to end the fight as quickly as possible. The psychological stop may work. If you draw your weapon, and the bad guy goes away, you've won. Then experts recommend you call 911 immediately to report the incident. Otherwise, shoot until the threat is no longer a threat. A review of the B8 target provides a good anatomical study of shot placement.
Take a look at Greg Ellefritz's An Alternate Look at Stopping Power, linked below. Read it to get his full report. This is my take on it, looking only at the average number of shots to incapacitation for several different calibers. It seems that caliber is less important than shot placement and number of hits.
- .22 1.38
- .32 1.52
- .380 1.76
- .38 Spec 1.87
- 9mm Luger 2.45
- .357 1.7
- .45 ACP 2.08
Ellefritz notes, "The results I got from the study lead me to believe that there really isn’t that much difference between most defensive handgun rounds and calibers. None is a death ray, but most work adequately…even the lowly .22s."
The Ruger LCP II 22 wins for these reasons. It is small and carries well in a pocket holster. It holds ten rounds. It has a (relatively) simple manual of operation. A laser sight enhances the ability to make a precise shot.
All firearm selection involves compromises. A rifle or shotgun would deliver more destructive energy to your attacker, but they are just too big to carry all the time. A large belt-carried revolver can be rather heavy to carry all day. Even medium sized semi-autos such as the popular Glock 19 have an unavoidable bulk that must be dealt with.
Physical limitations also come into play. Twenty years ago, arthritis was not an issue for me. It is now, and will be with me permanently. Some people have difficulty operating the slide of a 9 mm. Some can't work the long double-action trigger on a small revolver, whether it is a 22 or larger caliber.
NON-PERMISSIVE ENVIRONMENTS AND THE ADVANTAGE OF DISCREET CARRY
There are serious issues with non-permissive environments (NPE), also called Gun Free Zones.
Authorities create them, while they often go around with taxpayer funded security details.
Bad guys ignore them. They are, by definition, law-breakers. They typically ignore the signs.
Some NPE's create serious legal trouble if entered. Here is one example of what can happen to you.
Some malls may be posted, unknown to you, with signs at their doors. But you may enter the mall through a department store, which has no sign. You leave the department store to go to the food court or another store, and you have inadvertently violated the mall policy.
I do not advocate that you violate any NPE's. But if you were to unknowingly go into one, wouldn't it be preferable to leave with no one there the wiser. After all your carrying is perfectly benign. It is just malum prohibitum in that location.
The decision to carry a defensive pistol in public is a serious one. Likewise, the decision to not carry one is also serious. One way you are deciding to protect yourself and perhaps a loved one from harm. The other way, you are outsourcing your defense to some distant police officer.
If you decide to carry, you need to learn how to operate the gun well and deliver the shot to the target. You may opt for one of the plethora of 9 mm pistols of varying sizes. But, for the sake of discretion, a small 22 might serve as your primary weapon.
Civil comments are welcome and will be published. You may have reasons for agreeing or disagreeing. I would like to see them.
An alternate look at handgun stopping power
Maybe I Was Wrong About Pocket Pistols
Mouse fart rounds for self defense
Handguns for seniors (video)
The Best .22 LR Handguns for Concealed Carry (video)
Smith & Wesson M&P .22 Compact
Is the Ruger LCP II .22LR the Ultimate Underwear Gun?
I’m curious why you don’t mention any .22 revolvers such as the Ruger LCR or S&W 43C?
Those may be good choices for some. I find that the J-frame sized revolvers are not as compact; so not as easy to conceal. Their DA trigger pull is problematic for some. Thanks for asking.
I recently discovered the Walther TPH, a true "pocket pistol". A need I never thought I had, but sometimes a tiny pocket (or jockstrap) pistol can really come in handy!
.... and another reference:
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