.22 pistol

Concealed Carry With A .22 Pistol?! It's More Tenable Than You'd Think…

Believe it or not, a .22 pistol can be a more tenable choice for self-defense than you might think...with careful selection of gun and carry ammunition. It's definitely the case that a 9mm or other typical pistol cartridge is a better choice and always will be.

However, some people carry a .22 or think about it for a few reasons. It might be easier to shoot well or operate, or you might have an easily-concealed .22 caliber revolver or something that's more comfortable to carry.

Then you have people who actually believe that ".22 bounces around" malarkey. If that's you...you need to stop it right now, because it's hogwash.

So, let's talk about carrying a .22 or .22 Magnum.

Why A .22 Pistol?

.22 pistol, magazine, and bullets

Why would a person consider carrying a .22 pistol of any sort? After all, 9mm pistols are so proliferated and it's not like they're that bad to shoot for most people.

A .22 pistol might be easier to shoot, easier to carry and/or conceal, or it might be the only gun you have and you want/need to make it work. A .22 pistol might also be more tenable for people with arthritic or otherwise less than fully functional hands; semi-auto .22 pistols require a lot less tension in the recoil spring (less mass, less recoil spring needed) and are easier to manipulate.

There's some validity there; you're much better off with a gun you can shoot accurately than the one you can't. After all, the bulk of what you need to do in a defensive shooting is to get hits, because that's what counts more than anything else.

One of the most popular types of .22 pistol for concealed carry is a .22 LR or .22 WMR snubbie, which some people will carry as a backup or as a deep concealment or Rule One gun (Rule One Of Gunfighting: Have A Gun) when they don't want to carry a larger pistol.

Choosing a .22 has some validity there, as .38 Special in a snubbie is pretty snappy, and the tiny grips of a J-frame, LCR or Colt Cobra are harder to grasp firmly enough to control the gun. They can be small and light enough to be easily carried and concealed, and easily controlled by the shooter. 

Those are actually huge positives, especially with a micro pistol. 

So, there are some actual good reasons to carry a .22 pistol for defense. That begs the question of whether or not a .22 LR or .22 WMR is effective enough to actually stop someone that's trying to kill you.

Are they?

Can A .22 Pistol Be Effective For Defense?

.22 pistol and holster

Bear in mind also that most stops are psychological; the bullet wound registers with the person whose been shot and they think "oh god! I've been shot!" and stop whatever they're doing. After all, most people who are shot with a handgun survive.

A lot of people frankly believe myths about wounding. Wound diameter is a non-factor; penetration of vital structures is all that really matters, which has nothing to do with bullet design (i.e. hollow point, whatever) or the size of the projectile. 

The efficacy of any cartridge in a defensive context is a question of whether it can penetrate deeply enough through the human body to put a hole in a vital structure. Specifically, it has to deliver trauma to the brain, the heart/ventricles, or to be able to sever the spinal cord. Those are the only wounds that reliably incapacitate vertebrate life, including humans. 

Heck, look up WDM Bell; he harvested something like 800 elephants with a 7mm Mauser (less powerful than a .270) and he did it by carefully placing shots to the brain. Penetration + Placement = Efficacy.

So...can a .22 LR or .22 WMR do those things? 

Greg Ellifritz, a nationally respected firearms trainer, created a caliber study looking at the efficacy of various pistol calibers using more than 10 years of records of shootings.

What he found was .22 rimfire rounds achieved a one-shot-stop (suspect hit once and stopped) frequency of 31 percent, and 60 percent incapacitation rate when hit once to the torso or head meaning the first hit that actually struck the head or torso caused the suspect to stop. .22 rimfire had a 34 percent fatality rate, but also a 31 percent failure rate, meaning people who were hit but weren't incapacitated.

So it has worked in the real world. As well as a 9mm, .45, 10mm or .40? Not quite, but very close. 

By contrast, 9mm Luger had a 13 percent failure rate, though a similar (34 percent) one-shot-stop rate, but a lower percentage of people (47 percent vs 60 percent) who were incapacitated by one shot to the torso or head. However, Ellifritz also notes that his data includes people shot by 9mm ball.

Figures for .40 S&W, .45 ACP, and .38 Special were similar to 9mm. 

In other words, .22 rimfire rounds have worked, but don't have as a good track record as 9mm and other typical defensive cartridges all things considered. 

Lucky Gunner Labs gel tests reveal that .22 LR generally falls a bit short of satisfying the FBI's standard of penetrating 12 to 18 inches in 10 percent gelatin through four layers of denim, but some loadings come very close. Their testing also found it was velocity-dependent; a number of loadings were insufficient through a 2-inch barrel but met the 12-to-18-inch standard through a 4-inch barrel. Their gel tests of .22 WMR (aka .22 Magnum) revealed far more potential of .22 Magnum as a defensive cartridge than .22 Long Rifle (and certainly .22 Long and .22 Short) as almost all .22 WMR tested by them satisfied the 12 to 18-inch penetration standard.

So what does this mean? It means that .22 LR falls a little short of the typical defensive pistol calibers, but comes within striking distance.

The word here is tenable, though not necessarily optimal. It can work, but may not be the best. 

That also doesn't bode well for micro revolvers such as an NAA or similar micro pistol. 

When Shooting Illustrated did gel tests with an NAA gun, no .22 WMR exceeded 12 inches of penetration through clothing. Velocities from the 1-inch barrel were almost 500 fps slower than .22 Magnum from a 2-inch LCR in the same loadings. So, velocity matters when it comes to .22 LR and .22 WMR, and the only thing that gets you a faster bullet is having more barrel length. So micro pistols with a very short barrel are not going to send the bullet out of the tube fast enough to reliably penetrate vital structures in hostile personnel. 

So, what information is out there indicates that: A.) .22 rimfire cartridges can be effective B.) they aren't as capable as traditional defensive calibers, and C.) load selection matters.

Is it the best thing to have in your concealed carry holster? Maybe not...but a .22LR or .22WMR pistol is viable. 

.22 Pistols Worth Actually Carrying

.22 Revolver

Since we're on the topic, let's say you thought about carrying a .22 pistol, either as a primary gun, supplemental carry gun, or backup or something along those lines.

But the truth is that some guns are range toys, and some are serious tools. Which .22 pistols are actually worth carrying?

There are definitely some! 

Of course, we know that some pistols are worth getting before others because they have a track record of excellence, or failing that, accuracy and reliability. 

The Ruger LCR and LCRx revolvers are both offered in .22 WMR, both with 6-shot cylinders, and . The LCR in .22 WMR is only offered with a 2-inch barrel, but the LCRx (which is hammer-fired) is offered with a 2-inch barrel (basic edition) or a 3-inch target model with an adjustable rear sight. Both are available in .22 LR as well with an 8-shot cylinder, though the LCRx is only offered in .22 LR with a 3-inch barrel. 

The Ruger LCP II .22 Lite Rack has some interesting potential as a pocket .22 semi-auto pistol, but some reviewers and owners have noted ammunition sensitivity in terms of reliable ignition. There is an ignition kit from Galloway Precision that is said to improve reliability in most cases, but - again - a common thread is that the gun tends to run less reliably with cheap ammunition. 

The Beretta Bobcat is the .22 LR version of the Bobcat, with the tip-up barrel and everything, and 7+1 capacity, and unloaded weight of just 12 ounces. Taurus also produces a clone, the .22 Poly but it's known for being tempermental. 

The Smith and Wesson Model 351 revolvers are AirWeight J-frames in .22 Magnum, with 6-shot cylinders. You have your choice of the 351C (DAO, black finish, night sight) or the 351 PD, a traditional J-frame with wood grips and a fiber optic front sight. The 351PD is thought to be the thinking man's J-frame. Smith & Wesson also still makes the Model 63 and Model 317 - the old "Kit Gun" - in .22 LR as well. 

If you wanted a .22 caliber concealed carry gun, those would be the top-tier choices. Here are a few more. 

Walther Arms produces a .22 LR PPK, but it's fairly large and heavy for a small .22 pistol. Bersa also produces a .22 LR Thunder, which is (of course) a PPK clone.  

The Taurus 942 is a 2-inch snubbie with an 8-shot cylinder, chambered in .22 LR or .22 WMR. For concealed carry, the Ultra-Lite models (roughly 18 oz unloaded weight) would be the models to pick. 

Charter Arms produces a rimfire snubbie, the Pathfinder. It's a 2-inch gun with 6 cylinders of .22LR or .22 WMR. While Charter Arms' pistols in centerfire calibers are known for some durability concerns, the rimfire model will likely be much longer-lived.

Are there other guns on the market that chamber .22 WMR? Yes there are, and you can probably find them and/or sound off about them in the comments.

The problem is the alternatives you can find don't really have a track record that would suggest they're reliable enough to rely on for more than plinking. If you're going to stake your life on something, you want to stake your life on something that's proven.

A .22 Pistol Can Fill A Niche For The Right Person

If you approach concealed carry and your concealed carry gun as an emergency tool that's only used to break contact and flee to safety - say in case of the hypothetical mugger in the parking garage - there is a role for a .22 pistol. They are small and light, so they're easy to conceal and easy to carry, meaning they can be kept on you with minimal fuss. They are not, however, an offensive weapon; police departments issue high(er) capacity 9mm and .40 S&W pistols for a reason. 

A snubbie in a pocket holster or a deeply concealed belly band is also a tenable choice of carry gun in lawful but not overly permissive environments. With proper ammunition selection, .22 LR is going to be effective at what you'd call self-defense distances. With good ammunition and good placement, a .22 LR is fine inside 10 yards...but that 25-yard "movie theater shot" some people talk about is probably not as tenable.

In that niche role, a .22 LR pistol is a very tenable choice, but that's only if that's the niche you want your carry gun to occupy or perhaps carry gun that you have. Regardless, you'll still have to get out and train with it. 


About The Author

Writer sam hoober