Rimfire Revolvers for self defense?

I’ve always wondered about rimfire revolvers as self defense tools. Right out of the gate I need to establish that we call agree that .22 LR and .22 Magnum are not ideal self-defense rounds. We’re not going to re-hash that discussion, because it’s been done before.

Ruger LCR22

But I’ve always been fascinated by the concept of mouseguns in general, and rimfire revolvers especially. Obviously, there’s something to it, because people keep buying them and manufacturers keep making them. For the longest time, I pined for a Smith & Wesson 351PD, a 7 shot j-frame chambered in .22 Magnum. I even for a brief period owned a Taurus 941 in .22 Magnum. My fascination with the guns doesn’t mean I “get” them. I get a rimfire revolver as a kit gun, the S&W 317 and Ruger SP101 (in .22) are great examples of that. They’re small, handy guns that have good sights and won’t be a bother to carry for general outdoors work that doesn’t involve large, scary animals. I get rimfire revolvers as trainers for full size guns, and to teach people the fundamentals of marksmanship. But for defensive purposes?

Aside from the obvious issues with terminal performance, a rimfire revolver has all the problems you’d associate with a centerfire small revolver: difficult trigger pull, small sights with a short radius, and of course relatively low capacity, although the 8-shot Ruger LCR pictured is on par with other mouseguns. So what do they have to offer?

To that end, I ordered a pair of LCRs from Ruger. One in .22 Magnum, one in .22 LR. I’ve shot small revolvers in .22 LR before, and I have an inkling as to the appeal, and it’s the lack of recoil. Even my all steel 640 Pro Series j-frame isn’t fun to shoot for extended practice sessions, but a .22 LR revolver, even one so light as the LCR I can shoot all day long until my forearms get tired. We’re going to spend some time diving into these guns here and on GunUp the Magazine, but my initial feeling about their niche is just that – they’re for people who’ve been sold on the concept of a revolver, but don’t like recoil.

It makes sense when you start to think about it. The micro .380s and small .38s aren’t exactly fun to shoot and practice with; a .22 wheelgun though is going to be something you can put serious trigger time into without getting beat up by muzzle blast and recoil. Once I take these guns to an indoor range and do some shooting, I’ll have more thoughts and feedback.


  1. I suspect the defensive advantage would be almost entirely the shock value of “Holy crap I didn’t know this guy has a gun! Maybe his wallet isn’t worth getting shot over.”
    Of course, if you have somebody actively trying to kill you, they’d probably laugh off a hit with a .22, (sure they might die in the hospital four hours later, but until then, you have to deal with their ire at being shot by something marginally more dangerous than a BB gun)
    Although, I would be interested to hear your opinions about the whole “hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .45” rhetoric.

  2. From my understanding, more people die every year from .22 LR wounds than all other calibers combined. Maybe not the most robust choice for self-defense, but also nothing to sneeze at. My wife has an 8-shot revolver with a 4″ barrel chambered in .22 Mag. Accurate, harder hitting than .22 LR, loud (for a psychological benefit) and low recoil. More likely to get a hit with this than with the admittedly deadlier .357 magnum.

  3. Always wanted a s&w 351pd as well, just never really knew why. I like the ideal of super lightweight small handgun. I have a .380, but not overly impressed and typically carry a j-frame or g26. Will be interesting to see how well the little rim fires preform.

  4. If the shot placement is dead on a .22 is very much lethal. In the case of head shots, once the bullet enters the skull it is too slow to come out and instaead bounces around inside making a brain look like a block of cheese. As for somebody laughing off a shot from a .22 magnum its not likely unless they are on PCP… Larger calibers are better for defense but if you are a skilled shooter and can act under pressure a .22 or .22 mag will get the job done just as well. Dead is dead it does’t matter how you get that way

  5. A well placed .22 round can be quickly effective. Larger calibers often not so much. The Trooper Coates incident is a prime example.

    I’d love to be able to get ahold of a 43c, or a 351 PD or C model, but those are made of unobtanium now.

  6. A .22 in your pocket will stop a fight a lot faster than a .44 Magnum out in the car! For years I carried a Walther TPS in .22LR as my always gun, until the Kel-Tec P-32 came out, which eventually gave way to a Ruger LCP. The TPS still protects my daughter, who is too recoil-shy for even the P-32.

  7. First of all 22’s in either LR or WMR are a lot of fun and of course the LR is quite economical to shoot a couple hundred rounds per outing (if you can find it lately). The WMR is a more exciting, as it has nice sound and has a little bit of oomph. I shoot my 6″ barrel 10 round model 617, my Buckmark or NAA Black Widow pocket gun everytime I go to the range. Usually run about 100 to 125 rounds, it’s a nice warm up. I’ve carried the Black Widow loaded with 22WMR at times in t-shirt weather or as a backup in my camera bag. As someone else mentioned, the 22LR is turns brains into mashed taters; that’s why it is often used for hits. I keep hoping someone else will make a semi-auto 22WMR other than Keltec and their 30 round model. I’d like to see a 22WMR M&P with 12 rounds, similar to their 22LR version, or a Bodyguard version 22WMR with like 8 to 10 round capacity. The Ruger LCR in 22WMR feels great in the hand, but it only holds 6 rounds and rumor is the design cannot handle the 22WMR (there have been some issues) with the polymer frame, it needs to be metal like the 357 version of the LCR.

  8. Imagine my surprise to learn that the 351PD is actually on (spit) the CA Roster of approved handguns. I’ve been looking for a DA revolver in 22LR/22WMR to use as a training companion with my LEM-equipped HKs…

  9. No argument that a .22 is a lethal round, but I have a tough time believing it would incapacitate quickly enough or effectively enough compared to something with a bigger bore. If Jim Cirillo could shoot a guy in the head with a .38 and it just bounces off, I would not willingly carry a .22 for the same purpose, even if firing at the head. A mob hit seems to be a little different to me than an active gunfight. Namely in that the guys I’m likely to shoot will be the ones who have first broached the issue of violence. I very much enjoy shooting a .22, and especially see the value of a .22 for training (the reason I love my conversion kit for the glock) but I’d carry something else as a primary and probably a bigger something else as a backup…like one of those super tiny .380’s. I do believe that everyone should own a .22 and a snubby however. If you can shoot a snubby well, then there are few guns you cannot handle. And if you don’t shoot a .22 for fun, then you’re out of your mind.

  10. I’m just going to steal something that Jason ( of “Armed Culture” ) commented about in response to A Snubby For The Pretty Lady?

    Snubbies have a U-shaped utility curve.

    At zero experience the utility is high compared to other guns. You’re not going to be all that accurate with anything you shoot. At least you have a gun if you need it, and can reliably get 5 shots off at contact distances. There’s no safety to forget. It’s unlikely to malfunction unless it breaks, and it probably won’t break because you don’t shoot it enough to put any wear on it. And since you don’t shoot it, you never notice that it’s painful.

    At moderate experience, it’s a horrible firearm. It’s painful to practice with, the short sight radius and long trigger are difficult and frustrating. It makes a horrible and discouraging range gun. It’s only a matter of time until it breaks, or you give up. Hopefully you don’t give up shooting entirely, and just buy a proper range gun for range use, while keeping the snubby, because…

    The rest of his comment is about the other side of the U-shaped utility curve, that I won’t repeat here.

    But the advantage the .22 revolver has over the .38 airweight revolver is that, as you’ve already pointed out, the recoil is a lot less. So it may encourage more shooting ( either for practice or recreation ).

    Do I wish that more gun owners, or prospective gun owners, would be able and/or willing to spend the time, money, and effort to become more competent with their defensive tools of choice? Yes, but in the real world we live in, that’s not going to happen. Given my financial situation, and lack of convenient places to shoot, even I don’t spend as much time shooting as I would like. And I think that’s more true for a lot of us than we care to admit.

    So, given the usual caveats, I think that a .22 revolver ( or even a .38 snubby ) would be good enough — or at least better than nothing — for the type of person who is not necessarily looking for a new hobby, but “just wants something”. It’s the type of gun I would give my mom, while constantly encouraging her to learn how to use something better.

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