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.


  1. What a messed up view. I cannot stand people who try to scare others with the most absurd hypotheticals. There is so much what if in your statements. Have you ever looked up crime statistics? They support nothing that you said. In the highly unlikely event that you ever pull a gun on someone, just the act of pulling a gun will solve a vast majority of conflicts. Just the firing of a gun will startle most offenders to the point where you can get away. With your ridiculous hypothetical about the meth head in your house, how did a meth head get into your living room without you noticing? How is it that you can't get away from him when all he has is a crowbar and you have 2 shots? You need to use more rationality with self defense. I don't need to walk around with 10 rounds of 45 acp to feel like a man or like I can defend myself. It's sad that you are accusing others of not living in reality. Keep living in your absurd celebrated examples of "the meth head didn't go down even after being hit 15 times." While you are at it, why don't you dress every day as if you were going to be hit by a meteor. It has happened, therefore we need to think its an immediate threat.

  2. And Furthermore why does the attacker have to be on Meth,this just shows how Out of you really are by subscribing to such rubbish that has been pushed upom my the Media. In "Reality" you are exactly the type to use deadly force upon someone committing a petty theft in your overzealous mental fantasyland. Your large Caliber compensates for your inadequate...sorry dude.

  3. a derringer with 2/4:10 shells make a very good close range weapon. very loud, shoots a spray and if the carry requirements were limited to just the derringers we would have less problems.

  4. Certainly a derringer is far better than nothing at all. If a person fancies the derringer style, then practice with it - a lot. .38 special is likely the best choice due to recoil/defense properties. This is a "last ditch" weapon. If I were to have/carry a derringer, it would be as backup to my regular CCW. I wouldn't personally use a derringer as a primary CCW. For me, just carrying one loaded piece of iron is really a PITA already. The main good in a derringer other than size for concealability is that they are simple. Simple is a good thing. Overall, they are more good than bad but most other CCW choices are probably better.


    Unlike several news articles describing someone using a .380 semi-auto, note that the article with the large caliber derringer did not conclude with the phrase "the suspect was admitted to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

    That 73 year old man was saved by his derringer. Nuff said.

  6. I have two Bond derringers, a .45/.410 Ranger and a .45 ACP Texas Defender. With practice and the right holster, they are VERY fast drawing guns - which is a strong advantage in my opinion. I can pull the hammer while pulling the gun from the holster, hit the safety while drawing on the target, and shoot a one foot target easily at twenty feet with hardly any time wasted lining up the sights. The beauty of the Bonds is that the bottom barrel lines up with your pointer finger just the same as if you were using your hand as a gun like when you were a kid playing "cops and robbers." If you're used to any other type of handgun, a derringer is going to seem like an awkward useless piece of crap. Derringers are their own beast, you must forget almost everything you know about handguns before you'll be any good with one. They must not be held with a firm grip, it takes a light hand with finesse. People say that a .45 derringer has so much recoil that it will jump out of your hand unless you white-knuckle it, but in my experience, even hot loads wont do that. You must concentrate less on gripping the gun and more on using the trigger to push the back of the grip into the heel of your palm. The tighter the grip, the more the gun will shake as you try to pull the trigger, this happens because of a few reasons, but mainly because a tight grip results in your trigger finger being at the wrong angle for a smooth pull. I trust either of my derringers to protect my life, and I also think they're just about the best anti-mugging device there is - instead of pulling your wallet from your pocket, you pull out two big barrels. Another advantage, if you've got a .45/.410 you can load the top barrel with buckshot and the bottom barrel with a .45 hollow-point - first you fire the top barrel which will require less aiming time because of the spread, then follow up with a well-aimed hollow-point if needed. By the way, the top barrel will pattern buckshot vertically since there is more muzzle climb on the top. Elevation is much less of a factor, so at close range you really don't even need to use the sights, just line up the barrel with the target left-to-right. It's been my experience that EVERY gun has its advantages and disadvantages, and concealability is not the derringer's only advantage. Oh, another cool trait - A lead (non-jacketed) .45 Colt fired from the .45/.410 barrels will spin at a high angle and hit the target at about a 45 degree angle, and they say a tumbling bullet is better than a hollow-point. :) So in conclusion of this lengthy post, as long as it's reliable, it's not the gun that matters, it's the man and his plan.

  7. Thank you for sharing this useful information on women's self defense..
    Self Defense

  8. Surprising a firearm instructor would refuse to accept someone because they have a derringer. I have personally put 24 rounds through 2 metal garbage can lids at approx 15yds with a bond arms backup .45 cal 2.5inch barrel. I cannot see an attacker shrugging off a .45acp fired from any gun. The argument that it only holds two rounds doesn't make sense either, with speed strips you can reload in seconds. I am waiting to read about the average citizen who manages to take down multiple bad guys with a high capacity weapon and somehow argue self defense. My last observation is, "how many people honestly carry all of the time?" I have noticed quite a few folks leave their weapons at home or in vehicles because it is just uncomfortable to lug around even a subcompact. I can slip a derringer into my front pocket and forget it is there. Nothing like comfortably carrying magnum power in your pocket.

  9. This comment has been removed by the author.

  10. Guns are the best tools for self defense, but only to those people who are well taught about using the guns and maintaining them from the professional trainers. Most NRA certified firearms school give training in firearms for eligibility of getting gun license also.

    MA Firearms School