The State of California (CA) has plenty to offer the outdoor enthusiast. Those areas which have been left in their naturally occurring conditions are some of the most beautiful places in the United States to visit. I'll never forget the time my wife and I spent together in the Sequoia National Forest a few summers before our children began to arrive.
Unfortunately, this lovely State's elected officials take a dim view of Californians owning firearms. As a result, the shooting enthusiasts living there are burdened with some of the most onerous gun restrictions and regulations in the country. One particular handgun that has been barred from sale in California until now is the Bond Arms series of double-barrel pistols.
This is because the wording of a particular California regulation makes it illegal to own a handgun capable of chambering shotgun shells. The Bond Arms pistols feature a modular design which allows a variety of accessory barrels in several different calibers and lengths to be swapped out with any of the company's pistol frames. Among their most popular barrels are those chambered to fire .45 Colt and .410 shells. Because these pistols have been capable of firing (or being modified to fire) shotgun ammunition, they were blocked from the California market.
But as the popularity of Bond Arms' big-bore derringers has continued to grow nationwide, the demand for pistols that could be sold in The Golden State has only increased. To meet this customer request, Bond Arms has released a new series of California-compliant models for 2015.
The company had to jump through a set of regulatory hoops in order to meet the California requirements. First they had to re-design the pistol so that it could not accept the existing barrels chambered for .410. The earliest CA models (marked with serial numbers under 1000) were shipped from the factory with fixed barrels that cannot be swapped out.
Recognizing that the option to change calibers is one of their product's most popular features, Bond quickly followed the fixed-barrel models with removable-barrel models (serial numbers over 1000) featuring frames manufactured with modified hinge assemblies that only accept barrels specifically built to be CA compliant. The new pistols also had to pass California's stringent safety requirements and drop test, which they did with flying colors.
The initial offerings for Californians are, of necessity, not as diverse as the extensive main product line. But Bond Arms is starting out with no fewer than six different models. To further differentiate these pistols from the company’s other offerings, the guns will feature names and custom grips inspired by the state animal, namely, the California grizzly bear. Interchangeable accessory barrels are stamped on the right side with the letters CA in front of the caliber designation.
I had the opportunity to take a closer look at four of the new CA pistols. The Brown Bear takes its cues from Bond's USA Defender model. The barrel, frame, and appointments are all constructed of brushed stainless steel. The 3" barrel is chambered in .45 Colt with a fixed front sight blade paired with a rear sight notch. The bird’s head grip has been modified to accept a removable trigger guard. The extended laminated rosewood grip sports a grizzly bear logo and checkering along the sides of the panels for improved in-hand traction. This particular model arrives with a brown leather Bond Arms Driving (BAD) holster, which is designed to comfortably ride in a cross-draw position to provide easy access to the grip when seated.
The Mama Bear is derived from Bond's Mini line. It has a natural stainless steel finish and removable trigger guard like the Brown Bear. However, the compact 2.5" barrel (the shortest that Bond offers) is chambered for 9mm and the grip is fitted with a standard sized set of pink laminated wood grips.
Not too long, ago Bond Arms responded to customer requests for a stealthier defensive version of its gun with a two-tone finish that first appeared on the Backup models. The stainless steel frame is treated with a matte black crinkle powder coating. The rest of the gun, including the stainless barrel, controls, appointments, and removable trigger guard, are all bead blasted to provide non-reflective surfaces. Instead of the usual wood grip panels, soft black rubber grips are installed. This tactically friendly finish is available to California customers on the 3" barrel, extended rubber grip .45 Colt Big Bear model and the 2.5" barrel, standard rubber grip 9 mm CA Backup model.
The California pistols all ship with the same safety features found on other Bond Arms pistols as well as an improved trigger assembly. Because these are single-action pistols, the hammer must be cocked for every shot. The rebounding hammer automatically locks into a half-cock position, away from the frame and firing pins, to prevent the gun from going off if it is bumped or dropped while loaded. A push button cross-bolt safety, commonly found on rifle and shotgun triggers, can be engaged to block the hammer from striking the firing pins.
The cross bolt can be locked in the Safe position for storage by tightening a small (almost hidden) frame mounted Allen head screw with the included wrench. This little screw can also be used to adjust the tension of the cross bolt, increasing or decreasing the amount of pressure required to move it back and forth to meet the user’s preferences. A patented safety feature, unique to the Bond configuration, is a retention hook on the trigger that locks the barrel release lever into the closed position as the trigger is pulled. This prevents the barrel (if the release is accidentally bumped by the shooter’s thumb during recoil) from swinging open as the pistol fires.
Since 2013, the company has been installing an upgraded hammer and trigger in all new production pistols. The new hammer is shorter and wider, making it more compact and easier to cock. The trigger has been skeletonized and reshaped to give it a lighter, easier pull. The old triggers, while not bad, required around 5 lbs. 12-ozs. of trigger pull to fire. The new trigger’s pull is a full pound lighter at around 4 lbs. 12 ozs.
I’ve enjoyed shooting Bond Arms derringers in various configurations for several years now. So I’m pleased to report that the new California compliant models demonstrated the same level of fit, finish, and tank-like solidity as the .410-compatible compatriots. Those shooters who buy one of the interchangeable barrel CA models will probably be wondering what accessory barrels are going to be available. As of this writing, Bond Arms is planning to provide 2.5" and 3" barrels in 9 mm, .45 ACP, and .357 Mag./.38 Spl. to match both the brushed stainless and two-tone finishes. Suggested retail prices will range from $435 to $545 depending on the model you choose.