Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Derringer as a Self-Defense Tool

Recently an individual called, inquiring about our next scheduled firearm self-defense class. In the course of the conversation, he mentioned that he was waiting until his new self-defense handgun came in to the dealer, so that he could use it in the class. I always like to see what people are selecting, and why, so I asked him what he had chosen. His answer was a .45 caliber, two shot, derringer.

I advised him, as gently as possible, that we would not allow him to take our class using such a firearm, because he would not be able to complete the required course of fire for qualification. I also let him know that I was concerned because I view such firearms as an extremely poor choice for a self-defense weapon, and invited him to attend our class, making use of any of the number of different models and makes of handguns we have available for students who lack the shooting experience to make an informed decision about personal protection handgun selection.

Having just spent the money to buy the derringer, he took what I had to say better than I expected. Some people might say that I should stay out of such discussions, letting the students make up their own minds on the issue. I don’t agree, and here is why.

I have taken a number of handgun self-defense courses myself. In various areas of the country, taught by local people who’s opinions and experience I respect, and by people of national and international stature. In each, and every one of those courses, derringers were expressly not permitted. This alone strongly suggests a uniform attitude among the experts that the derringer is not considered to be adequate for the task.

And I have to agree. In my view, the derringer is, by design, ill-suited to the task of personal self-defense. Having shot any number of derringer-design pistols, in a variety of calibers, I believe that it does not commend itself to the task of saving one’s life if deadly force is required. The recoil produced by the derringer, with its poorly designed grip, is severe in any accepted self-defense caliber. That makes the gun hard to control for the single follow up shot it offers. People have a well-documented, and very vexing, habit of not flying through the air backward when you shoot them, landing in a crumpled heap, totally out of commission. The handgun is not a powerful weapon, despite what the average individual has been led to believe. The list of recorded instances, where individuals, high on drugs, or suffering from some other form if cognitive impairment, have absorbed multiple gunshot wounds, and stayed in the fight, killing or crippling the defender, is just too lengthy to recite. The “one shot kill” that shows up in self-defense articles, and Internet blogs, often cited with authoritative statistics (i.e., “the .32 automatic provides one shot stops 65% of the time”) does not happen with sufficient frequency to rely upon. I never have, and never will.

Like most serious self-defense people, I will rely upon the ability to produce multiple shots, fired accurately, to stop an attacker. It is not my intention to kill. It is my intention to stop the individual from killing me, or someone I care about. A two-shot derringer, with excessive recoil, when chambered in any caliber thought suitable for self-defense purposes, with mickey mouse sights, and a heavy, hard to pull, trigger is not going to provide the ability for the user to fire multiple, accurate shots. “Well, how many shots do you think you’re gonna need?” How in the hell should I know? At this moment, I do not have a strung out meth head standing at the other side of my living room with a steel crow bar clenched in his fists. If, and (God forbid) when I do, I am going to rely upon my well-practiced ability to fire four, five or more shots to stop that individual if he mounts an attack. And here is the really scary part. All the rounds I have in my gun may not be enough to stop him. And in the stress of the moment, I can miss with one or more of those shots. And, no matter who you are, no matter how skilled you are . . . so can you. All any of us can do is the best we can, at the time, in the moment. We increase our odds of success by being properly equipped, and mentally prepared for that task. A hard to shoot, inaccurate firearm, offering only two shots before requiring a slow and laborious reload does not, to my way of thinking, fill that bill of requirements.

Many people, that I know to be skilled, experienced, handgunners, have tried the derringer in any number of calibers. Many, many of them report back that the recoil is too painful to do any responsible amount of live fire, range practice. Often they report that the double action triggers are extremely stiff and hard to pull, or that the small hammers are very hard to cock. An experienced gunsmith I questioned stated flatly that he has never seen a derringer that was not a “Mickey Mouse piece of crap” and that the actions cannot be smoothed to reduce the heavy trigger pull. Almost universally, experienced handgunners have reported that derringers are wildly inaccurate even in a no-stress, range fire situation.

I realize that no matter what I, or anyone else, might say on the subject, there will be those who will insist that I do not know what I am talking about, that they rely on their derringers, can hit a pop can with them at 30 yards and, as one blogger has stated, “Most fights are only at about two to three feet and a couple of .22 shots in the arm or the leg will stop anybody.” Is that a frightening failure to grasp reality? Yes.

My response? I cannot fix stupid. All I can do is try to avoid it.