Little Guns

I love that old saying about “what goes around, comes around.” It means that history runs in cycles and what was once popular might be popular once again. We went through a long cycle of interest in larger, more powerful handguns for just about every use, including personal defense and concealed carry. The present conventional wisdom holds that the concealed-carry handgun must be small and light, but adequately powerful. To accomplish this, gunmakers have evolved both the conventional pistol and the even older revolver designs to new guns that fill the bill. All three of the major wheelgun makers now offer a light powerful snubnosed revolver with a polymer frame—Ruger LCR, S&W Bodyguard, Taurus 85PLYB2. The new designed automatics are so numerous as to be hard to enumerate. 

But there is another older design that has yet to be dragged into the modern materials and new styles era. The derringer was originally described as a one-shot caplock named after the first maker, Henry Deringer of Pennsylvania. This was once a popular gun, and when the cartridge era came about during the Civil War era, the simple derringer was one of the first types of guns to be used for this new cartridge. Generally speaking, the derringer was a small, light, short pistol with up to four barrels. They were popular enough to have been made by dozens of makers, including both Colt and Remington. 

Arguably the best known derringer was the Remington over-under in .41 Rimfire. This gun was in the Remington catalog from its inception in 1866 until 1935. Hollywood would have us believe that this gun was used by everyone from riverboat gamblers to working girls. Paladin routinely produced one from behind his gunbelt buckle and John Wayne, as J. B. Books, had one alongside his wallet, so there is considerable justification for picturing the gun as what was used on the Frontier. Are we about to see a renaissance of interest in the stackbarrel handgun with modern calibers and materials?

I have no great insight for such a thing on the horizon, but I recall an all-steel derringer coming from a California distributor in the mid-80's. It had a DAO trigger system like the even earlier High-Standard .22 Win. Mag. gun, and was chambered for the.38 Spl. Several ammo manufacturers have developed short-barrel loads in popular pistol and revolver calibers. A modernized and lightweight (alloy? polymer?) twin-barrel gun in 9 mm Luger or the venerable .38 Spl. sure seems workable to me. It would not be competitive with revolvers or semi-autos, but it would be much easier to hide and carry. Most personal attacks involve a single attacker and our hypothetical little gun would get it done when used skillfully. Anyway you look at it, it's better than nothing, and it could be pretty inexpensive.

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6 Responses to Little Guns

Jerry in AZ wrote:
March 27, 2012

There's absolutely nothing wrong with these little over/under guns. I've been carrying one on and off since 1962 depending on what I'm wearing. The only down side is that the action needs to be kept clean to ensure that the mechanism properly alternates between the chambers.

Dan wrote:
March 15, 2012

If you are interested in one of these little guns you can't go wrong with either one by Cobra or Bond Arms. I have a .38 from Cobra and a .410/.45 from Bond. Both are very well made with the Bond Arms product probably the absolute top of the current line of modern derringers. Well worth a serious look.

Gary wrote:
March 14, 2012

Forget that puny 2-shot derringer. I have found the ultimate two-shooter that will solve all your self-defense problems. Maybe not as small and light as you would prefer but here is the perfect example of giving up some comfort in carrying for a truly comforting companion. Bring on those bad guys, they will make your day.

Woodroez wrote:
March 14, 2012

To specify on Gary's post, the maker of the DoubleTap is Heizer Defense. Their website is and they are from the St. Louis area. One other thing Gary didn't note: In addition to the two barrels, the grip has space for two spare rounds. It seems like a neat device.

percynjpn wrote:
March 08, 2012

Bond Arms makes high-quality, traditinal style derringers that seem quite popular; another maker is Cobra.

Gary wrote:
March 07, 2012

The derringer you are wanting is available now and is called the DoubleTap. It is available in 9mm or .45 ACP, aluminum or titanium, and ported or non-ported. We are all waiting for you to review this revolutionary new product and give us your opinion on how useful it is. Probably the most important information you can pass on to us is if the optional porting is necessary to control the recoil. And when you run the ballistic tests, could you please include both ported and non-ported barrels so we can see if any velocity is lost to the porting. The three-inch barrels can't afford to give up too much velocity if the bullet is to expand and penetrate. Do you have any ballistic gelatin that you need to use up? Hopefully, they come out with a side-by-side model that is four-shot. While two rounds are good, four rounds would be better. Thanks for a timely article, looking forward to your review.