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Posted on March 16, 2023 by in Steve Moses


What might make a quality handgun sometimes referred to as a “mouse gun” chambered in .22 Long Rifle, .32 Long, or .380 ACP an acceptable defensive tool for certain students? Over my career as a defensive firearms instructor, I have worked with hundreds of students whose ages ranged from eighteen to eighty-four years. I have encountered a significant number of persons with physical infirmities or limitations. All of them believed that law enforcement would not arrive in time if they were accosted by another person in a life-threatening situation. A handgun chambered in one of the aforementioned calibers may be all that some of our students with compromised hands and wrists are able to manage. I was one of those persons for about three months following an invasive surgery in which I had three bones taken out of my wrist due to severe arthritic damage and was forced to wear a stiff brace for six weeks. Once the brace was removed, I lacked the strength in that hand to use my fingernail clippers, much less cycle the slide on my Glock 48. 

Karl Rehn has decades of experience working with a wide variety of students whose ages range from young adult to elderly. A number of those students had small hands, weak grips, or both. Rehn believes that there is a strong argument for small sub-caliber handguns chambered in rounds less powerful than 9mm or .38 Special. Karl showed me a Sig 365 in .380 caliber and then allowed me to shoot it, and I was surprised at the lack of recoil in such a small handgun. I immediately went to the Lucky Gunner website (Lucky Gunner is an excellent source of ammunition and ballistic information and Craig Baker is a skilled shooter) and  found .380 ammunition from Winchester, CCI, Sig, Magtech, and Federal that performed surprisingly well in ballistic gel tests, most especially in light of the fact that the .380 is a relatively low-pressure round. Despite the allure of the Sig 365 in .380 caliber, I purchased a Glock 42 instead as I am more familiar with the Glock platform and trigger pull. My initial motivation was to bring it to classes in the event a student was having issues with a larger and/or more powerful personal handgun, but I find myself carrying it frequently whenever I am in places like workout gyms or attending outdoor barbeques in hot weather where my cover garment is a lightweight tee shirt. It is much easier to conceal than a larger handgun.

My compromised wrist and hand still made it hard to cycle the slide on the Glock 42 largely because I had been warned by my surgeon to not exceed post-op weight restrictions. I was prepared for that to happen, which is why I purchased well before the surgery a lightweight Smith and Wesson M&P 22 Compact chambered in .22 Long Rifle caliber. It is no problem at all to rack the aluminum slide due to the pistol’s blowback operation in which the slide is held in place by its own mass and recoil spring tension. The M&P 22 Compact’s slide is easily cycled because the .22 Long Rifle is a relatively low-pressure round that fires a relatively lightweight projectile. In my opinion, this pistol makes a lot of sense for persons with chronic hand and/or wrist issues who lack the strength needed to either cycle the slide or handle the greater recoil of a larger centerfire handgun. There are other .22 caliber semi-auto pistols that like the M&P 22 Compact are similar in appearance and operation to handguns chambered in larger calibers that are commonly carried for self-defense. Examples would include the Glock 44 and Walther PPQ 22. 

There may be some students that are better off with a revolver. Some instructors take issue with this statement and contend that any student who is willing to invest a sufficient amount of time and training is capable of learning how to operate a striker-fired semi-automatic pistol, which is for the most part easier to shoot accurately than a revolver, holds more ammunition, and is quicker to reload. I agree. Having said that, there are some students who are profoundly non-mechanical that will struggle with training and are unlikely to take further classes or engage in any kind of practice after their first class. A medium-sized revolver like a S&W K-frame or Ruger GP-100 in .38 Special or .357 Magnum might make a good home-defense handgun, but there are not a lot of women who are willing to conceal carry a revolver that may weigh two pounds or more when loaded. Small-frame double-action revolvers chambered in .22 Long Rifle are much easier to carry, but the heavy trigger pull required to consistently ignite rimfire primers can be too much for persons with minimal hand strength. I recently purchased a Ruger LCR revolver chambered in .327 Federal Magnum for the sole purpose of only shooting it with .32 S&W Long 98-grain lead wadcutters. Recoil is mild and the trigger pull is long and smooth due to a friction-bearing cam. My preferred Magtech 98-grain lead wadcutter penetrated nearly 14 inches of ballistic gelatin covered by four layers of penetration (Thanks again to Lucky Gunner for providing this information and being a great source of online ammunition).

As an instructor, it causes me some distress watching a student who is willing to invest time and money learning how to better defend not only him or herself but, in many instances other family members, struggle with a compact or full-size pistol because of hand size or strength. It also gives me pleasure that money cannot buy watching them discover a defensive handgun that better suits their needs and then having good success with it. I owe a large thank you to instructors Karl Rehn, Claude Werner, Cecil Burch, Chuck Haggard, and Darryl Bolke for their writings on this subject.