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THE MINI REVOLVER
A QUESTION OF WHY
LEGALLY ARMED CITIZEN IT’S JUST THE LAW | BALLISTIC BASICS | RETURN FIRE | CITY LIMITS
‘I SUPPOSE YOU COULD,BUT WHY WOULD YOU?’
Sure, full-sized “fighting pistols” are the bread and butter of the defensive handgunning world. But where do truly miniature guns like these fit into the equation?
I have often said that the best thing about small guns is that they’re small and that the worst thing about small guns is that they’re small. Their size is both their greatest blessing and their deepest curse.
Without their diminutive dimensions, they’d never be able to fulfill the needs of those who require them for truly deep concealment. But that concealability comes at a steep cost:
For most shooters — especially new shooters — these are borderline experts’ guns. Between the very minimalistic sights; a short sight radius; how they sit in most shooters’ hands; what are often very long, heavy trigger pulls; and the work that goes into pairing the most accurate load to a sub-3-inch barrel, landing “minute-of-bad-guy” shots much beyond 7 yards requires a level of work that a lot of gun owners just aren’t willing to invest.
Complicating matters further, some of the more recent entries to the market have blurred the lines between a “belt gun” and a “pocket gun” — specifically 9mm pistols such as the Springfield Hellcat, the SIG P365, the Mossberg MC2sc and the rest of the double-stack “micro-9” offerings. They’re certainly jacket-pocket guns, but unless you wear the same style of trousers as the film-noir detectives Humphrey Bogart played, they’re a bit much for a pants pocket.
Nope, to a lot of folks, a “pocket gun” is a single-stack semi-auto, narrower than an inch and small and light enough that — let’s all be honest here — you won’t look forward to running even a full box of ammo through it.
But where does that leave revolvers? Isn’t a snub-nosed .38 v
Special a pocket gun?
Well, this again brings us back to the Bogart question: Just how big a pocket are we talking about here? The quintessential American snubnose, the Smith & Wesson Model 36, is over an inch and a half wide and sports a hammer spur that pretty much guarantees snags unless it is fitted with something like the shrouds from
Even when you bump over to something like a Smith & Wesson 442, with an internal hammer, you’re still dealing with a far larger, thicker footprint than you are with something like a KelTec P3AT — and you’re launching rounds that aren’t going to hit all that much harder without bumping up to +P stuff (which most people hate shooting out of a small gun). This war’s raged for over a century, whether a small revolver or a small auto is “better” for concealed carry, but there is no denying that a small centerfire revolver is just plain more difficult to conceal in a standard 2022 pocket than is a small centerfire semi-auto.
Certain rimfire revolvers, however, are another matter entirely.
‘A LITTLE INSURANCE’
Since their (re)popularization in the 1970s and ‘80s, tiny little .22-cal single-actions have occupied one of the oddest niches in the handgunning market: the revolver that appears to exist simply as proof of concept. Like Magnum Research’s BFR (“Biggest, Finest Revolver”) chambered in straight-walled rifle rounds like .45-70, these wheelies seem to be an exercise in merely proving that something is possible: Sure, you could build a revolver that takes long-action rifle rounds; and sure, you could make a single-action chambered in .22 Short that could be fitted into a custom belt buckle.
But what would the point be?
Well, there might be an even better argument for the tiny little revolver than for the great big revolver.
Enormous revolvers exist primarily for big-game hunting. This is a popular (or at least semi-popular) activity because it’s basically always easier to hunt big game with a rifle than with a handgun, and hunting with a handgun increases the challenge. But as with every activity that is “all about the challenge,” the next step after adopting it as a hobby is to purchase every last advantage to make the “challenge” as meetable as possible.
This is how we end up with 10-inch-barreled revolvers chambered in rifle cartridges sporting Picatinny rails from which hunters can mount and hang optics, sling swivels and bipods.
Tiny revolvers, however, meet a different set of needs, and they’re nothing new. Smith & Wesson was manufacturing a palm-sized unit back before the Civil War, and the idea of a small, concealable revolver, even in a cartridge that would normally be considered too diminutive for defensive use, is one of addition rather than replacement. As a North American Arms marketing representative once told me at one of our expos, “USCCA Members understand our guns better than any other group of people. They understand that you’re carrying one of these revolvers not instead of your normal gun, but in addition to your normal gun.”
To be terribly frank, I would bet that a lot of NAA owners do not follow that ethos. I would be willing to bet that many of them carry those little revolvers and nothing else: no other firearm, no reloads, and not even a holster in which to secure those NAAs. Those little single-actions are their insurance policies against disaster; their aces in the hole if they’re confronted by anyone who would violently victimize them. They’re counting on the threat of getting shot and, if necessary, the reality of getting shot (even if just with a little tiny gun) to get them out of a tight scrape.
And to be honest, it’s a lot better plan than not carrying a pistol at all. Lest we forget, it’s not like no one’s ever been shot and killed with a .22 rimfire handgun. That little punk John Hinckley Jr. just about murdered President Reagan with a pot metal Rohm .22, and I’ve personally interviewed a man in Mississippi who was unfortunate enough to have to shoot (and subsequently kill) his own son to save his and his wife’s lives. And to stop that attack, he used a .22 LR revolver very similar to Hinckley’s. (The entire tragic incident is detailed in our January 2017 issue, available online through your Member Dashboard.)
So let us all dispense with the talk that a .22 isn’t enough to “do the job.” It is certainly not ideal for self-defense, but I would shoot any aggressor who pointed a .22 revolver at me. It is certainly deadly force, and it is certainly nothing with which to fiddle around.
HERE’S THE (LITERAL) CATCH
The biggest area in which the “a .22 is better than nothing BUT” crowd dings the mini revolvers on is the reloads. The original North American Arms model was defined by a single-action mechanism that required the cylinder pin and cylinder to be removed to eject empty brass and reload the gun. This was the case for many years until the introduction of the NAA Ranger series in 2017. This revolver incorporates a top-break design that makes for much easier reloading because the cylinder doesn’t have to be removed from the frame. Bear in mind, in order to eject the empties from a traditional NAA, you need one hand to hold the cylinder, one hand to run the cylinder pin through the chambers and … another hand (or pocket) to hold the barreled frame. This leads to a distinct hand shortage for a lot of shooters whose paws are not large enough to hold all of the components as the cylinder’s chambers are cleared and recharged.
If there is one aspect of the Ranger II that might trip up the shooter, it is the proximity of the action release to the hammer. In order to release the cylinder for loading and unloading, the shooter raises a lock that keeps the action closed during cycling. While this is no different from some of the other topbreak designs, the micro nature of the arm can lead some shooters to fear they may activate the release when they intend to cock the hammer back. If this feels like the kind of thing you think you should be worried about, I will steer you toward the NAA Sidewinder, pictured on Page 34, which has a swing-out cylinder that is actuated through the cylinder rod.
IT’S THE LITTLE THINGS
Though I personally find target shooting with mini revolvers to be great sport, these are as much about self-defense as the biggies are about hunting. Basically no one heads off to the range for a leisurely afternoon of sending a few boxes of $5-per-cartridge big-game loads through his or her .460 S&W Magnum, and basically no one wants to scoop up the NAAs and go shoot bullseye with me. They’re both just too far outside of what I call the “Model 10 sweet spot,” or the K-frame Smith & Wesson Model 10 that was so popular for almost all of the 20th century because it was so easy for the average man or woman to use. Both the great big revolver and the little tiny revolver are terribly no-nonsense firearms, and that can come with a price.
On the one end of the scale, the price is a revolver that weighs as much as some rifles do. And on the other end of that scale is a revolver so small that it can be difficult for some shooters to even visualize how they would properly hold it.
Mini revolvers aren’t perfect for everyone, but neither is anything else. Like a scandium-frame .44 Magnum snubbie that is so light, discharging it will make you feel as if you just landed a punch wrong, the minis are permutations of the revolver that are misunderstood, maligned and all too often bought without really understanding what’s at stake.
But unless you’re some weirdo like me who fancies an impossible challenge at the range, they’re fighting guns through and through.
Not much fighting gun, but certainly — without question — better than nothing.
North American Arms: