Let’s Get Small: The Case for the Pocket Pistol

Editor’s Note: The following is a syndicated article by author Ed Combs that first appeared in USCCA’s Concealed Carry Magazine Volume 13, Issue 6, August/September 2016 under the title, “Let’s Get Small: The Case for the Pocket Pistol.” 

I recently got into the “small gun/no gun” conversation with an individual who was serious when he said that pocket guns have no place in his defensive battery. They’re harder to shoot, have a lower capacity and why spend almost as much on a small gun when you can save a little longer and buy another big gun?

The punch line for me was that, earlier in the conversation, when I’d asked if he was carrying, he said no. He had to go somewhere later that didn’t allow guns and reholstering with his IWB was a bear.

As I’m certain you can imagine, I had to swallow what I really wanted to say.

Dig It

Guns are tools, much like many others. For those who don’t immediately get the connection between the two items pictured here, consider this:

Implausible as it might be, imagine yourself in a circumstance under which you have to dig a hole. Like, immediately. If you don’t at least start digging a hole right now, there will be dire consequences, up to and including death or worse. What would you prefer to use to accomplish that?

Well, ideally, you’d use a bucket excavator, but almost no one has one of those just hanging around. Real-world ideally, you’d prefer to use a shovel; you know, spade blade with a place to put your foot for extra punch, 48-inch handle for leverage, nice big scoop for nice big scooping action, the works. But those are usually inconvenient to just toss in your vehicle unless you’re either very committed or regularly use one in the course of your day.

Would you rather start digging that life-saving hole with this folding shovel — which, if you ask anyone who’s used one, is no great shakes when compared to the aforementioned spade or even a fixed-handle folding shovel ­— or with your hands?

When everything’s bad enough, a shovel’s a shovel’s a shovel, and shovel beats hand like rock beats scissors.

I am a strong proponent of pocket pistols, because they lead to a higher number of responsibly armed Americans actually having a gun on their person during deadly force incidents. Are they the perfect self-defense tool from a projection of force standpoint? No. The rifle is still Queen of Battle, bested only by her old man Artillery, who is King. But just as a shovel’s a shovel’s a shovel when you need to dig a hole, a gun’s a gun’s a gun when a predator is closing in on you and it’s time to start shooting or start punching.

One Small Problem

This is not to say that there aren’t any challenges presented by single-stack micros. For the average concealed carrier, the biggest issue with shooting a micro pistol is that the shooter is probably accustomed to a two-handed grip. Now, there’s nothing wrong with using a two-handed grip on a tiny pistol; that’s exactly how I employ them. However, serious safety issues can arise if you’re not careful, especially if you have gorilla mitts like I do.

When holding a small pistol in the modern two-handed grip, the same off-hand thumb that normally extends onto the non-dominant side of the frame suddenly sneaks dangerously close to the muzzle. I’ve accidentally done this myself; say what you will about the .380 ACP as a defensive cartridge, but it’s certainly a solid training aid when a 90-grain jacketed hollow-point whips past your thumb close enough to leave you with what some of the old-timers call a “coal miner’s tattoo.”

The solution for this issue is, like the solution for all other issues in firearms handling, training. In order to employ a two-handed grip on a tiny handgun, we have to go back in history a little bit and re-examine a style that has fallen out of fashion since the auto-loader swept the revolver out of the law enforcement duty market.

When taking up the tiny gun in question, grip it in your dexterous hand as you would grip any sidearm. When placing your support hand, though, you’ll need to train so as to reliably curl your thumb and fingers down and around your shooting hand enough to keep all of your moving parts away from the muzzle. (This was one of the common law enforcement grips back in the revolver days.)

I understand that some of you are scoffing as you read this, but stop and think for a moment about how many times you’ve acquired a firing grip on your full-size gun; now picture yourself grabbing a micro pistol during an immediate life-or-death struggle. If you’ve trained properly, you’ll be incapable of doing it wrong, which might mean extending your off-thumb up onto that slide and removing the tip of it.

Now, were you actually facing said deadly threat, the tip of your off-thumb might not be all that important and its absence might even make for an interesting conversation piece over the following years. Even better, though, would be to train consistently with how to handle a micro pistol. If you do, your hand will immediately recognize it as such and keep all of the little piggies where they belong.

The other and essentially important option is to train shooting your micro pistol one-handed. Not only is it a good idea to train shooting one-handed with any sidearm you own, but strictly defensive firearms are far more likely to be fired one-handed than the competition 1911 you had built for your husband last Christmas. With pocket guns, the chances of being forced to shoot before you’ve achieved a “proper” grip are very high, as your other hand might be occupied fending off an attack that is already underway.

Ladies’ Choice

Another unpleasant reality a lot of micro-pistol shooters face is the fact that helpful souls often think, “Well, since she’s a woman, she should carry a little tiny gun.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard someone recommend a sidearm to a lady based on size alone. I’m not talking about the size of the woman, let alone her level of hand strength, age, training capabilities or anything else. I’m talking about the size of the gun.

This is the kind of man who, when told that a woman is looking for a defensive sidearm, immediately hands her a snub-nosed revolver or a tiny auto. In his mind, a gun is a gun is a gun: He’ll look at the size of the hand it’ll go in and then select a gun that would look proportional in that hand to his own gun in his own hand. Though such a man is not always incorrect with regard to a Smith & Wesson Model 36 (and is often actually right on the money), there’s a reason I call tiny polymer .380s “borderline experts’ guns.” For starters, the combination of a very small grip and extremely short sight radius makes for a difficult shot. Moreover, many of the newer micros hardly have any sights at all, so atop battling the diminutive stature of the gun itself, now this new shooter is being asked to shoot basically instinctively, be it with the Applegate Method, the C.A.R. system or some other permutation of unsighted fire that almost certainly wasn’t covered in her permit class.

All of that said, anyone could train to use any sidearm. I hate to bring her up, as she was a scumbag and a murderer, but never forget that Bonnie Parker could gunfight because she trained. She was barely 5 feet tall and never once in her life weighed more than 100 pounds, but she could hip-fire a chopped M1918 BAR while moving and taking the fight to her opponents. That’s an 18-pound fully automatic rifle chambered in .30-06 that her boyfriend, notorious cop murderer and generally trashy specimen Clyde Barrow, cut down to about the size of a modern home defense shotgun. It’s a weapons system that would tire out most rookie cops in one or two magazines, but she was adept in its use because she trained.

Built for Speed, Not Comfort

I’ve met very few women who out-and-out prefer a Ruger LCP, Kel-Tec P3AT or Taurus TCP. Like men, women generally prefer guns that are easy to shoot: Glock 19s, CZ 75s, Walther PPQs and Smith & Wesson M&Ps. With extremely rare exceptions, we own and train with tiny guns because we have to … not because we like to.

True though that might be, we carry tiny guns specifically because they’re not Glock 19s, CZ 75s, Walther PPQs or Smith & Wesson M&Ps. We carry them because we can drop them into a pocket rather than rig them into a pair of pants. We carry them because they’re small enough to sneak into a wardrobe that might not include a sweater, suit coat, fleece pullover or jacket. We carry them even though it can be painful to discharge them, and we understand that micro pistols and snub-nosed revolvers are a lot like punching an attacker in the nose as hard as you can: You’re not doing it because it’s fun; you’re doing it because if you don’t, you will likely die.

So take it easy on tiny guns. You don’t have to love shooting them, and you don’t have to love training with them. You don’t even have to own one, but I would ask that you understand why some do.

Discover how you can join nearly 300,000 responsibly armed Americans who already rely on the USCCA to protect their families, futures and freedoms: USCCA.com/gunsamerica.

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{ 42 comments… add one }
  • Sam Buchanan October 25, 2019, 9:03 pm

    I’d be interested in buying a smallish pocket pistol, but I need to be told how to go about buying one from you.

  • Donald Smith September 25, 2019, 9:30 am

    Also the CZ class of pistols in 9mm are small and have stake mag,s 10,14,19 etc. To much clip,I,very read they have great act——– 50yrs. It is all about the s hotter and it’s said lift recoral,,if you are buying a 22 get them in the mag clase, usa arms, have fun

  • Donald Smith September 25, 2019, 9:19 am

    There’s a lot of pocket guns,in 9mm even some has high capacity mags. 14+1 ,,and is good up to 100 ft. With a 3 inch br. Now if that’s not enough firepower,you either can’t shout,,but keep in mind 15 bullets has a little Wt. But uder are, ore inside pants.

  • Willie-O September 22, 2019, 4:32 pm

    Former LE officer and have ALOT more flexibility now regarding what I can carry. Department reg’s were strict. I have several “pocket” or “micro” guns to pick from – Bond Arms .45LC/.410 (heavy as hell, solid), NAA .22mag, PRELOCK S&W snubs, Glock 26, 27, etc etc. And the one I always come back to, Beretta 950BS. Yep, it’s .25acp, so all you ballistics “experts” start talk’n shit. It holds (9) rounds, I’ve put several hundred rounds thru it in 32 years with ZERO malfunctions and you won’t even know I have it until it’s too late. And it’s a lot better than the S&W model 29 “Dirty Harry” .44mag at home in its presentation case.

  • Pete B September 21, 2019, 5:02 pm

    Also a retired big-city LEO, I’ll be the third here to give a shout-out to the NAA .22mag. My wife gave me a NAA Black Widow to carry as a back-up, over 30 years ago, when my department outlawed back-ups; characterized back-ups as throw-downs.

    NAA .22mag Black Widow, grips replaced with birds-head grips, carried in a Thad Rybka pocket holster. Used to carry it in my strong-side pocket under my holster. We were often randomly searched leaving roll-call for back-ups (which were not authorized); on two occasions I was patted-down by a Sergeant who missed the Black Widow every time.

    Like many of you I have more than I need, fewer than I want, and a trunk with every conceivable holster to go with them. That NAA Black Widow is probably the most carried of mine over the long term; small enough that even when I’m carrying a mid-size, I’ll also throw it in my pocket.

    My philosophy is to carry tailored to the situation (so that you will have a firearm regardless). 1911 CDR/Glock 19 in the truck or house is of no use when the temperature makes it too difficult/uncomfortable to carry and you are in the store, or the situation makes it a real challenge as when you are in church.

    Find what works for multiple carry scenarios, practice (continuously) with each, carry (both weapon and carry system) tailored to the situation.

  • Mike S. September 20, 2019, 7:28 pm

    I am quite comfortable carrying the 9MM Ruger LCRx. Small and powerful using Hornady Critical Defense.

  • Home Team Crowd September 20, 2019, 11:55 am

    Beretta Minx .22 short.

    • jrkmt1 September 20, 2019, 11:59 pm

      Beretta 3032 Tomcat and Jimenez JA380.

  • Norm Fishler September 20, 2019, 11:46 am

    A Smith & Wesson 642 has nestled in my pocket for about 25 years. Yes, it only holds five rounds, but it’s always there. I carry five rounds in a speed strip in my back pocket in the unlikely event I’ll need more. Art Jewel ‘Boot Grips’ complete the picture. I have tried other weapons, but there is absolutely nothing else that comes close to my little Centennial for compactness, ease of carry and power.

  • Big Al September 20, 2019, 11:27 am

    Mine is a Kahr CM40. Comfortable enough to practice while being quite comforting. Pocket holster, Federal HST 180’s. Yes, it is a bit “snappy” on the sending end. A hell of a lot snappier on the receiving end.

  • LL September 20, 2019, 11:26 am

    I easily pocket carry a G-43 in a sticky. Doesn’t print one iota either.

  • Mike in a Truck September 20, 2019, 10:46 am

    Blah,blah,blah. Another article all fluff and no stuff.My EDC range from a NAA 22 mag mini revolver, lcp,or bobcat, or 351PD. I have larger full size battle pistols/ revolvers but I dont go into battle much these days.It amazes me that these “experts” that have never been in a real fight write drivel to sell magazines. I fight like I grew up- use whatever firearm suits the mission and then close and finish with the blade.Dont forget the most important items,tourniquet and chest seals.You drill em ya gotta patch em.

    • Agent Orange September 20, 2019, 12:32 pm

      Hey Rambo, obviously you’ve “been in the shit”, but I noticed you contradicted yourself. You said that you “close and finish with the blade” like Col. Trautman taught you. But in the next sentence you advise everybody to carry first aid to”patch’em up”. Why would you need to patch up the enemy if you already “laid waste to their souls”? I’m sure a warrior like you doesn’t leave anybody alive. By any chance, do you have a “Kill’em All And Let GOD Sort’em Out” tattoo? P.S. I’m going to see your new movie today.

  • Mad Mac September 20, 2019, 9:28 am

    The only rig I’ve been able to carry all day, every day for weeks at a time is my Seecamp .32 in a Bearcreek convertible holster. Tiny enough to disappear into the hip pocket of my jeans, the Tiffany of pocket pistols.

  • Zupglick September 20, 2019, 8:41 am

    I’ve got a Bond Arms Bullpup 9. It’s easy to carry and has a bit longer barrel due to the design. With the DA trigger I had to do a bit of practice to learn to shoot properly but I don’t have to worry about fumbling with safeties.

  • mike September 20, 2019, 7:58 am

    S&W Bodyguard 380 is my pocket gun. small light reliable.

  • Robert Sikes September 20, 2019, 7:54 am

    I bought a Taurus TCP from my daughter. She needed the money and I could give her a good deal
    I am not a fan of micro pistols. But I find this gun a real convenience. Put in pocket and go. It fires when I pull the trigger. Accurate to 5-6 yards. What you need in a defense sitution

    • jrkmt1 September 21, 2019, 12:06 am

      My Beretta Tomcat and Jimenez JA380 will both do 3″ to 4″ groups at ten yards. Closer distances provide better groupings.

  • Oliver September 20, 2019, 4:58 am

    There was no mention of the crown jewel of micro pistols, the North American Arms revolver in .22 mag. I have been carrying mine daily for the past 28 years. It’s about half the size of a small .380 pistol, yet it packs the same punch. A .22 mag. will penetrate 11 inches of ballistic jell. The average human body is 9.9 inches thick.
    The pistol prints about like a double pack of chewing gum, or basically not at all. I am retired now but I even carried it to work with me every day for more than 20 years, and nobody knew. I was a high school teacher.

  • Kelly September 20, 2019, 4:44 am

    If people’s hands hurt from shooting pocket guns, then they should get a P938 or a P365. I have a P938, and my hand feels just fine after 300 rounds in one range session. It is a wonderfully shootable little pocket gun, and it goes into the pockets of any of my pants with no problems. It’s a great pistol.

    I rented a P365, once, and it was even better to shoot, but I am pretty set with my P938, now, which I bought before the P365 came onto the market.

  • SuperG September 19, 2019, 10:28 am

    I have no choice but to carry a pocket pistol, as I crawl around a lot, and a IWB would show. I first bought an LCP, which hurts after 50 rounds at the range, but my Taurus Spectrum is a joy to shoot. Having something is way better than having nothing!

    • Mike S. September 20, 2019, 7:24 pm

      I’ve have an LCP-II. They’re well made and reliable, but also a little snappy. Shooting 50 rounds from one is going to hurt a bit, but one doesn’t really need to practice shooting that many rounds because it’s a “close-up” piece. From three yards in, you’re good to go. Doesn’t take a lot of practice to hit something from that distance.

  • Rob C September 19, 2019, 12:23 am

    I love my pocket pistols for sheer convenience. And I know I’ll have one on me at all times and hopefully if I never need it but if I do god forbid af least I’ll have something. I have a NAA .32 that I love, very well made pistol.

  • Fred September 18, 2019, 11:36 pm

    Old retired big city cop here and my go-to pocket pistol is a S&W 5-shot 442. Yeah it’s only a .38 but it’s also labeled for +P loads, and that’s more than enough firepower to get my sorry butt outta trouble on most occasions… I’m not looking for trouble but if it comes I at least have a good chance of holding my own without gearing up for war.

    • Robert Lee September 20, 2019, 9:39 am

      Same here… 638 always goes in the pocket. Point and bang reliability, no saftey and a .38 leaves a plenty big hole…

      • Virgil Hollowpeter September 20, 2019, 1:39 pm

        Smith 340/Blackhawk#4 pocket holster

  • HuraKane September 18, 2019, 8:46 pm

    As a CCW licensed instructor and a competitive shooter I realized early on the ying an yang of shootability vs size and weight. It is a personal choice that changes over time depending on ones circumstances. So if you think a 380 is to tiny for self defense try getting shot with one and see if that changes your perspective.

  • Roy September 18, 2019, 7:59 pm

    Also I think everyone needs to train to keep shooting untill you run out of bullets and the gun snaps or the slide stays open, if the target is still standing, throw the gun at him and then run like hell! I use to carry an extra mag but the idea is to be light, I have no plans to get into a gun fight with a small .380 or even with a larger pistol but having the .380 with me ALL THE TIME is a great comfort to me!

    • Greg September 20, 2019, 10:35 am

      Well spoken!!

  • Colton September 18, 2019, 9:10 am

    I love my Kel-Tec P32, I have a Desantis pocket holster and no one can tell I’m carrying ever. It’s also nice in this East Texas heat to be able to wear very light clothing and have no printing.

    Full size handguns are nice, but in practically having a pocket pistol makes carrying a breeze.

    • Gary Anderson September 18, 2019, 4:10 pm

      I also have the same kel-tec model. Great gun.

  • Kenneth Michael Grant September 18, 2019, 9:03 am

    Great article. I agree with your stance on the micro-gun. For me, I have small hands so gripping the gun is no particular challenge.

  • James Beller September 18, 2019, 2:39 am

    You make a very good point those that don’t have real world or combat training need to learn life saving techniques ! I’ve carried everything from the berretta minks in 22 short to the glock 37 & alot in between it’s hard to beat a 9X18 for concealment but not having anything just makes you a target that has to depend on others that may be carrying ! Always be prepared & pray you never need it , instead of praying that you wish you had something .

  • Roy September 17, 2019, 11:44 pm

    My small .380 is always with me where as my hand canons are in the car or home! Now the big thing is so many companies are now preventing you from carrying a decent gun exposed in a holster in their places of business.
    But I can easily shoot head size groups at 15 feet rapid fire. I think I can disable any one with 7 head shots of .380 modern brand hollow points!

    • Gary Anderson September 18, 2019, 4:13 pm

      I have a Ruger .380. Great gun. Head at 15ft will stop anyone.

  • Leray September 17, 2019, 9:58 pm

    My Sig p365 is a pocket pistol that holds 10+ rounds and is easy to shoot. Feels great in the hand.

    • Saundra Billings September 18, 2019, 4:44 pm

      Thank you for the info, I have lost some strength in my left hand and was wondering if a .380 would be strong enough to protect me from harm.

  • Chuck September 17, 2019, 9:41 pm

    Great reading, Thanks for sharing.

  • George Geeseman September 17, 2019, 9:15 pm

    I live in Florida and work as a nurse. I live in scrubs and the heat and humidity means either a little gun or not at all. All I practice is one hand out to about 7 yds.worst case scenarios. A big gun for me on my day off is a j frame or a shield. I spent 40yrs in Ind.and carried whatever I wanted but those days are over.

  • Matt Dessecker September 17, 2019, 8:45 pm

    I’ll just keep carrying my Walther PPS M2. Small enough to conceal easily, but large enough for a good solid grip. Oh, and it shoots a lot softer than its size would have you believe.

  • Josh c September 17, 2019, 8:24 pm

    I have fairly large hands and I find my Sig p938 to be a dream to grip and shoot, even two handed. As long as you have the Hogue grips… And of course it’s so easy to pocket even in a fairly tight pair of jeans, with a stealth holster it doesn’t even print. I regularly put two inch groupings together from 20 yards at the range, it’s just an awesome little gun with the XS big dot sight upgrade. I imagine a bigger guy could easily use it one handed with the same degree of accuracy as well. I dunno what all the hoopla is against pocket guns, I love my 938.

    • JG September 20, 2019, 6:01 am

      I also love my Sig P938. Fantastic pocket pistol.

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