Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Tamara Keel that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 15, Issue 7 October 2018 under the title, “Mouse Guns: Myths, Mysteries & History.”
This being a column about mouse guns, let’s open it with a definition of what, exactly, constitutes a “mouse gun.”
Broadly speaking, it refers to a handgun that fits in a pocket and is chambered for cartridges smaller and less potent than standard service handgun rounds. It usually (but not always) means a self-loading pistol, since derringers and snubby revolvers sort of fall into categories of their own. Back in the early days of the smokeless powder era, cartridges such as Browning’s 6.35mm and 7.65mm pocket-pistol rounds (known as the .25 ACP and .32 ACP on this side of the pond) were seen as high-tech innovations, with their metal-jacketed bullets and velocities that seemed very speedy given the diminutive size of their cartridge cases. In fact, .32 ACP was seen as a suitable round for law enforcement and military service in some parts of the world.
A third Browning-designed round, the .380 ACP or 9x17mm, shortly joined these cartridges. In the interwar period, the .32 and .380 found a home in what was seen for many years as the pinnacle of the mouse gun: the Walther PPK.
In the years following World War II, with restrictions clamping down on the ownership and carrying of firearms by private citizens in many countries, the little guns seemed to become less prolific. The USA was one of the last big markets for them, but laws were tightening here too.
The passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968 marked a definitive end to that first golden age. In an attempt to control what anti-gunners called “Saturday night specials,” restrictions were placed on imported handguns that weighed heavily against small size, light weight, small calibers, blowback operation and a host of other features that defined the pocket pistol.
Ironically, domestic companies sprang up to fill the void at the bottom of the market, but it would take time for domestically produced variants of the nicer mouse guns, like those from Beretta and Walther, to reappear.
The spread of concealed carry reform in the 1990s brought a resurgence of interest in these little guns. The next watershed was the introduction of the inexpensive, polymer-framed Kel-Tec P32 around the turn of the millennium. Hot on the heels of that gun came a variant in .380, followed by a host of clones and similar pistols.
Popular to the point of ubiquity among concealed carry permit holders, the mouse gun has only recently started to wane in popularity in the face of increased sales of new single-stack subcompact autos in service calibers, such as the Shield from Smith & Wesson and Glock’s Model 43, that are only marginally harder to conceal than their .32 and .380 kin.
With pocket pistols and their associated cartridges come a number of myths. The most persistent is the idea that the cartridges for which they’re chambered are somehow not worth being taken seriously as defensive rounds. Make no mistake about it: Even the lowly .22 LR and .32 ACP are absolutely capable of penetrating deep enough to hit vital structures in the human body. These are not just jumped-up BB guns with delusions of relevance.
The biggest drawback to mouse-gun rounds is that they have very little to spare in the way of energy and momentum. They are more easily deflected off bone or hard obstacles than service-caliber handgun rounds. Further, some manufacturers offer hollow-point loadings for these smaller cartridges, which, in the unlikely event they expand, reduce the chances of the bullets penetrating deeply enough to reach the vitals. Penetration and expansion are great, but if I am forced to pick between one or the other, I’ll be loading a mouse gun with FMJ and hoping for enough of the latter.
Last among the mouse-gun myths are the weird street legends of extraordinary lethality attributed to the .22 LR round. Yes, .22 probably kills as many or more people every year than any other chambering, but only because it’s far and away the most common round in use. There’s also a popular bit of ballistic lore that claims a .22 bullet will penetrate one side of a bad guy and then, lacking the energy to make it out the other side, ricochet around the inside and puree the innards into something like a felon-flavored Jamba Juice smoothie. Stop spreading that myth. Bullets don’t work that way.
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