January 04, 2023
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My task from my editor was to do a round-up of “pocket pistols.” However, there is no technical definition of the term. In this modern era, the number of small and “subcompact” pistols is huge, and covering all of them would fill all the pages of this magazine. And then some. Ultimately, I decided to cover only some pistols on the market. For a guideline, I decided to only cover handguns chambered in .380 ACP and less powerful cartridges, in guns with barrels less than three-inches long, that weigh less than a pound unloaded, and are currently being manufactured. That’s a longer list than you might think — and I’m sure I missed at least one.
First, a little bit of history, because pocket pistols are far from a modern phenomenon: Ever since firearms were first invented we’ve been trying to make them smaller and more portable (in addition to being more powerful). Guns for personal protection that were small enough to conceal have been around for quite some time. The first handgun small enough to conceal and described as a “pocket pistol” was the Queen Anne Pistol, a small flintlock first seen around the mid 1600s but which didn’t become popular until the reign of Queen Anne in the early 1700s. The now usually misspelled term “derringer” originates from the Philadelphia Deringer of 1852, designed by Henry Deringer. This small short-barreled handgun was designed for concealed carry and used a percussion cap to ignite its black powder. John Wilkes Booth used one to assassinate Abraham Lincoln.
Most people, when they think of a “derringer,” think of the double-barrel vest pocket pistols, the first of which was probably the Remingon Model 95, introduced in 1865. Chambered in .41 Short, this pistol threw 130-grain slugs around 600 feet per second, which while not impressive numbers, are enough to kill you. Snubnose revolvers were introduced in the late 1800s, and after the turn of the century there were a number of compact semi-autos introduced —the Colt Model 1903 Pocket Hammerless and the FN Model 1905 among others. Right now there are so many types of handguns that fit into the “pocket pistol” category that figuring out how to organize them is challenging. I decided to do it by brand rather than pistol type or caliber, and we might as well go in alphabetical order.
A few decades ago, the number of small semi-autos made by reputable manufacturers was very low. Perhaps the best known were the Beretta .22 and .25 autos Beretta is still making these tiny guns. Currently available is the Beretta 21 A Bobcat in .22 LR or .25 ACP and the 3032 Tomcat in .32 ACP. The Bobcat is a DA/SA semi-auto with an aluminum frame, 2.4-inch barrel, and a seven-round magazine, available in black or silver (with an “Inox” finish that consists of a stainless steel barrel and slide). These little guns have an interesting tip-up barrel, so you can load the chamber without having to work the slide if you want. Weight is just 11.8 ounces. Suggested retail on the Bobcat is $410.
I personally owned a Beretta .25 ACP back in the early ‘90s. Someone I trusted told me that the centerfire .25 ACP was inherently more reliable than the rimfire .22 (in feeding and ignition), and even to this day I don’t know that he’s wrong. The Tomcat is very similar to the Bobcat in appearance, just slightly sized-up for the .32 ACP cartridge. It sports a 2.4-inch barrel, seven-round magazine capacity, and is currently only available in the Inox finish. Weight is 14.5 ounces, and MSRP is $485. Beretta’s newest pistol to qualify for the “pocket pistol” moniker is the Pico, introduced in 2013. Personally I think this pistol looks just as weird as it feels in the hand, but some people love it. This six-shot DAO .380 ACP has a polymer grip and a stainless steel slide. It has a 2.7-inch barrel and weighs 11.5 ounces. This is a modular pistol, which means the serialized frame is actually a stainless steel insert inside the replaceable polymer grip. Currently the Pico is available with black, FDE, or lavender frames, with an MSRP of $300.
Charter Arms Pathfinder
Charter Arms is known for making compact revolvers intended for personal defense. Perhaps their most well-known model is the Bulldog, chambered in .44 Special — I owned one back in the day, but being small and chambered in .44, it was not pleasant to shoot. The Charter Arms Pathfinder has a two-inch barrel and black rubber grips. Offered in .22 LR or .22 Magnum, it is available in both stainless steel and aluminum. In aluminum this snubbie weighs an even pound, making it perfect for the pocket or for the trail. Prices start at $365.
The Colt Government Model .380 was introduced in the 1980s, and the smaller Mustang version of it meets our informal pocket pistol specs. With the Mustang, you have two choices — the polymer-framed Mustang Lite, or the aluminum-framed Mustang Pocketlite. The Mustangs offer a 6+1 capacity, have 2.75-inch barrels, and just like their big brother the 1911 are single action autos with thumb safeties, although you won’t spot a grip safety. The Lite pairs a checkered black polymer frame with a stainless steel slide, the Pocketlite is an all-silver pistol with a stainless steel slide and barrel paired with an aluminum frame. The Pocketlite weighs just 12.5 ounces and the Lite is even less than that, but these guns are surprisingly comfortable to shoot. Suggested retail on the Mustang Lite is $599, and $699 for the Mustang Pocketlite.
The Colt 1903 doesn’t meet my specs as it is too heavy and its barrel is too long at 3.75 inches but considering it is considered one of the original “pocket guns,” and Colt is (at least for a while) offering newly manufactured versions of this pistol, I thought I would mention it. This is an 8+1 all-steel hammerless single action .32 ACP designed by John Browning before he moved on to that other gun you might have heard of, the 1911. Offered in blued, Parkerized, or nickel finishes, these collector-grade pistols start at $1,211 and go up from there. While Colt is selling them, they are being made by U.S. Armament Corp for Colt.
Diamondback might not be a company you’ve heard about before, but I’ve been seeing their pistols for a while now. They produce small guns meant for the concealed carry crowd, and it is their DB380 we’ll be covering here. This is a 6-shot striker-fired .380 with a 2.8-inch barrel. The DB380 has a polymer frame and unloaded weighs a shocking 8.8 ounces. The grip angle on DB pistols is nearly vertical, if you like that. Prices for the DB380 start at $289.99.
Technically the .380 ACP Glock 42 doesn’t make my list, as the barrel length on it isn’t under three inches, but it is shorter and/or lighter than several other pistols on this list so I’ve included it. Plus, it is small enough to fit in a pocket. But I’m mostly mentioning it here because I don’t want to get whiny hate mail from Glock fanboys. So here it is — Glock 42, a striker-fired 6+1 .380 ACP with a 3.25-inch barrel which weighs 15.87 ounces empty, MSRP $439.99.
Kahr Arms is a lot like Glock in that they only make one pistol, but in many different sizes and calibers. The Kahr pistol is a DAO striker-fired pistol. The original pistol was all metal, but Kahr has since introduced polymer-framed versions of their pistol. Currently Kahr offers two pistols which qualify as pocket pistols, the CW380 and the P380. The CW380 is a 6-shot .380 ACP with a stainless steel slide, 2.58-inch barrel, and black polymer frame. Kahr’s C-series pistols have some cost-saving features that don’t affect performance (fewer machinging operations on the slide, for instance) and as a result, the suggested retail of the CW380 is just $419. Currently on their webstore (shopkahrfirearmsgroup.com) they have several different limited edition models for sale with custom Cerakote finishes on the slide and/or frame, everything from gold to carbon fiber to Kryptek camo that are only roughly $20 more. Weight of the pistol without a magazine is 10.2 ounces.
The Kahr P380 is their top-of-the-line .380, offered either in all black or a two-tone, stainless slide over black frame. This is a polymer-framed pistol with a 2.53-inch barrel, and night sights comes standard on the P380 (compared to the stock polymer sight set found on the CW380). The barrel is a premium tube from Lothar Walther and instead of one 6-round magazine (like the CW380), the P380 is supplied with three magazines, which is why the MSRP at $710 is significantly higher. Weight of this pistol without a magazine is just 9.97 ounces.
KelTec is known for making firearms with distinctly different looks. They also like a lot of polymer in their guns, so it should be no surprise that the two pistols they make which qualify for this roundup are both polymer-framed.The KelTec P32 is a DAO hammer-fired seven-shot .32 ACP with the shockingly low weight of 7 ounces. With a 2.7-inch barrel, external extractor, and sights built into the slide, this pistol would almost look a bit old-school if it wasn’t for the polymer frame. Suggested retail is $325.45.
The KelTec P3AT is very similar to the P32 (polymer frame, 2.7-inch barrel, integral sights) except it carries 6+1 rounds of .380 onboard. The P3AT doesn’t get as much attention as maybe it should, as there are more than a few people who think Ruger used this pistol for inspiration when designing their LCP. MSRP on the P3AT is $338.18.
North American Arms
North American Arms seems to be doing everything it can to own the “pocket pistol” market. In addition to manufacturing the small or “micro” revolvers they’re best known for, they make semi-autos as well, including some chambered in two proprietary cartridges. NAA offers more than a dozen variations on their single action micro revolvers, whether you want an underlug tactical style gun (Black Widow), an old-west style micro hogleg (Sheriff) or something in-between. Depending on the model, these revolvers are offered in .22 Short, .22 Long Rifle, and/or .22 Magnum. Barrel lengths are anywhere from 11⁄8" to four inches,
although the longer wheelguns of course aren’t suitable for pocket carry.
Not only do you have to cock these revolvers for every shot, you have to remove the cylinder from the frame to reload them, so you really won’t be laying down suppressive fire — like most pocket guns, these are last ditch weapons where any gun is better than no gun. NAA also makes two versions of their Guardian DAO semi-auto as well, one model with a 2.5-inch barrel and a smaller 2.19-inch barreled model. These are very interesting. Both size Guardians have a six round capacity and are constructed of stainless steel. The larger Guardian is offered in either .380 ACP or the proprietary .32NAA cartridge. The smaller Guardian is offered in .32 ACP or the proprietary .25NAA cartridge. So what are these proprietary cartridges?
The .32NAA is a .380 ACP necked down to .32, and the .25NAA is a .32 ACP necked down to .25. Both cartridges were developed by NAA in partnership with CorBon ammunition. Check out the accompanying article on pocket pistol ammo for the specs on these two very interesting cartridges which I admit I didn’t even know existed until I started doing research for this issue. The smaller Guardian makes my weight spec at 15.6 ounces. The larger Guardian is a bit over at 20.4 ounces, but for a very small gun offered in a proprietary cartridge it’s worth a mention.
I also didn’t know that NAA had a custom shop as well. Not only can you get custom serial numbers for your mini revolver or Guardian (something I’ve only ever seen on competition pistols before), but you can get custom sights on your Guardian. NAA offers Novak sights on all their Guardian pistols, and various XS sight sets on almost all of their Guardians. NAA is also working on offering the famed “gutter snipe” sights for their Guardians as well.
Phoenix Arms is one of those companies that I wasn’t aware of until I started searching the interweb for “.25 ACP pistols,” as there aren’t too many of those still in production. Technically they don’t qualify for my list as the barrels are right at 3 inches instead of under, but considering how few .25 ACPs there are on the market I’d thought I’d mention them. Phoenix makes two pistols that are similar in appearance but for their caliber. The HP22A is a single-action semi-auto chambered in .22 LR with a staggered 10-round magazine. The HP25A looks almost identical, but it is a 9+1 shot .25 ACP.
The Remington RM380 is a 6+1 capacity DAO .380 auto with a 2.9-inch barrel, weighing 12.2 ounces, and at first glance may appear familiar. That is because the Remington Outdoor Company bought Rohrbaugh Firearms and has tweaked the design of their popular R380 to give us the Remington RM380. When Remington debuted their new pistol to the media they were quick to point out that the RM380 wasn’t the same pistol as the Rohrbaugh R380 but for the logo on the grips, but rather a completely new pistol based on the Rohrbaugh and similar in appearance. I got one in for testing when they were first introduced and found it a quality piece. Currently there are five versions of the RM380 available, the only difference being color/finish. You have your basic black, of course, but should you want one with a silver slide and anodized electric blue frame, you can get that too. Perhaps the top model is the RM380 Executive model with custom wood finish G10 grips on the aluminum frame. Prices start at $328.36.
Ruger is the largest gun company in the United States, and so it should be no surprise that they have several models suitable for the pocket gun category. The most well-known is probably their LCP. This is a polymer-framed DAO hammer-fired pistol chambered in .380. Barrel length is 2.75-inches, and magazine capacity is six. Exactly how many of these pistols Ruger has sold is a secret, but it is in the millions. There are currently several dozen different “distributor exclusive” models of varying colors/finishes/patterns, but the basic black LCP starts at just $259. The Ruger LCP II was designed to address the one consistent compaint about the LCP—the long trigger pull. The LCP II has what Ruger calls a “Secure Action fire control system” — which is a way of saying single action without saying single action. The LCP II has a great trigger pull, and all the same specs of the original LCP with slightly more angular looks. Again, there are numerous models and special editions, but the basic black model starts at $349. Ruger also has a revolver that meets the pocket pistol specs — their LCR chambered in .22 LR (14.9 oz) and .22 WMR (16.6 oz). Sporting a 1.875" barrel and the LCR’s excellent DAO trigger system, with their large rubber Hogue Tamer grips they are quite big for a pocket pistol, but if you’ve got a big pocket they’ll fit. MSRP is $579.
SCCY Firearms (pronounced SKY) have been producing their 9mm CPX-2 pistols for a while now, but after a few false starts they finally have production models of their .380 ACP CPX-3 available. These are DAO hammer-fired pistols with polymer frames. Barrel length is 2.96-inches, and capacity is 10+1 — you’ll find the grip is a little thicker than with most pocket pistols, and this is a bit big to fit in the pocket, but I think for the capacity advantage (and how soft-shooting it is) most customers will find a work-around — like a bigger pocket. Currently the pistol is offered with either a black or silver slide, and your choice of ten different colors for the frame. The polymer frame helps keep the weight down to 15 ounces. MSRP is $305.
SIG Sauer currently sells a gazillion guns (and optics, suppressors, ammo, etc.) but right now they’ve only got one gun that meets my pocket pistol specifications, and that’s their P238. The P238 is a 1911-style single action sized down for the .380 ACP, weighing just 15.2 ounces. This gun mates a stainless steel slide with an aluminum frame. Magazine capacity is 6, and this little pistol has full-size sights. Between the crisp single action trigger and good sights these small guns shoot like they’re much bigger. SIG currently has 20 different versions of the P238 on their website, and over the years there have been even more variations. The plain black Nitron model has an MSRP of $629, but if you want to add night sights or fancy finishes the prices go up from there.
Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson makes all sorts of pistols suitable for concealed carry, but only four fit inside the parameters I’ve set up for this article. The first is their M&P Bodyguard .380. This is a six-shot DAO hammer-fired .380 with a 2.75-inch barrel and a polymer frame. Unloaded it weighs just 12.3 ounces. Unlike a lot of pocket-sized pistols this gun has a manual safety on the right side of the frame. The slide and barrel are Armornite-coated stainless steel, and you’ll spy good sights on this gun. While you can pick up an all-black model, you have your choice of other Bodyguards with Crimson Trace lasers, FDE frames, no frame safety, even engraved slides. Prices start at $379 for the basic black model and go up from there.
The second pistol that makes the grade, I have to be honest — I’d never heard of it until I stumbled over it in my search. It is the S&W Model 43 C. This is a DAO version of S&W famous J-frame snubnose revolver chambered in .22 LR. Stainless steel barrel, aluminum frame, with an unloaded weight of 11.5 ounces. It is an eight shot revolver meant for self defense, as evidenced by the factory-mounted XS big dot front sight and matte black finish. I carried a pistol very similar to this while jogging for a number of years — .22 LR might not have much knockdown power, but if I’m bothered while jogging they’re arms-length away, and eight shots should be enough to ventilate–er, discourage anyone. MSRP is $689. S&W makes two versions of the J-frame Model 351. This is a seven-shot .22 Magnum snubbie weighing in at 11.5 ounces. It is offered in an all-black model with rubber grips (the 351 C, MSRP $689) and a fancier model with wood grips (the 351 PD, $759).
If you took a bunch of experts and told them to design a subcompact .380 ACP 1911 with all of the best features they could think of, I’m not sure if that end result would be any different than the Springfield Armory 911. In fact, Springfield has stated that they believe the 911 is the perfect pistol for every day carry. Those are some big words for such a small gun. Stainless steel slide over anodized aluminum frame, 2.7-inch barrel, 6+1 capacity, 12.6 ounces, G10 grips, and AmeriGlo Pro-Glo night sights standard. I’ve put hundreds of rounds downrange through the 911, and it honestly shoots like a much bigger pistol. I like it a lot. MSRP is $599.
Taurus makes a number of handguns that fall into the pocket pistol category. The newest is the Spectrum, introduced a few years ago. This is the first pistol from Taurus both designed and manufactured in the United States. .380 ACP, 2.8-inch barrel, 10 ounces unloaded, polymer-framed and striker-fired. The Spectrum is a polymer-framed pistol available in a whole spectrum of colors (see what they did there?) The pistol is supplied with a flush six-round magazine as well as a seven-round extended magazine with an interestingly contoured basepad designed to offer a place for your pinkie. I’ve got a lot of rounds through the Spectrum and found it to be very reliable. Prices start at $292.21. The PT-22, also known as the 22 Poly, is a tiny pistol from Taurus, in appearance reminiscent of the Beretta .22 and .25 autos only with a polymer frame instead of the Beretta’s aluminum. It is an 8-shot semi-auto chambered in .22 LR and weighs 11 ounces. It has a tip-up barrel and is available in black or two-tone. The black model is $282 and the two-tone is about fifteen bucks more.
The last pistol from Taurus was an unexpected find — the Model 380 revolver. This is a five-shot DAO revolver chambered in .380 ACP, with a 1.75-inch barrel, aluminum frame, and rubber grips. Weight is an even one pound. The pistol comes with Taurus’ “stellar clips” (moon clips by any other name) for quicker reloading. This revolver is available in matte black (MSRP $478.40) or silver (MSRP $513.79).
I am not normally a pocket pistol guy. I almost exclusively carry a big gun in an OWB holster, with a spare magazines. As this is our EDC issue, I’ve attached a photo of my “pocket dump”: my current carry gun, the Beretta 92 Elite LTT I reviewed in these pages last year with an 18-round Mec-Gar magazine on board, a spare mag, a Surefire Stiletto flashlight (fabulous), a Kershaw Leek folding knife (my current fave), and a big wad of cash I had to borrow from my fiancee to make it look like I’m successful. That said, I have shot, owned, and/or tested at least 80% of the above pistols. I own not just one but four pocket pistols — a Remington RM380, NAA True Black Widow .22 WMR, the now-discontinued I.O. Hellcat .380, and my favorite, the Ruger LCP II. Because sometimes I just can’t carry as big a pistol as I would like, and that’s why pocket pistols will always be around and popular.
About the Author
James Tarr is a longtime contributor to Firearms News and other firearms publications. A former police officer he is a USPSA Production Division Grand Master. He is also the author of several books, including CARNIVORE, which was featured on The O’Reilly Factor. His current best-selling novel, Dogsoldiers, is available now through Amazon.
If you have any thoughts or comments on this article, we’d love to hear them. Email us at FirearmsNews@Outdoorsg.com.