Some of the most common sub-caliber handguns that some consider for concealed carry, either as a deep carry option, a “Rule One” gun, or as a primary in a lower-risk/non-permissive environment, are the .22 pistols.
There are a good number of .22 LR and .22 WMR handguns on the market, but one thing you’ll have to contend with is whether you prefer to carry a semi-auto or a revolver. Both have positives and negatives, so if you’re thinking about a .22 backup or deep carry gun, it’s worth considering.
.22 Revolvers Are Generally More Reliable, But .22 Pistols Are Easier To Shoot
Generally, .22 revolvers will be more reliable than .22 semi-autos.
One reason is that the firing pin (only black powder repros have hammers that strike the cartridge anymore) is striking the rim with more force, ensuring more reliable ignition.
Anyone who’s shot .22 semi-auto pistols for any length of time can recall a number of misfires that had a clean strike on the rim, which happens because the priming compound wasn’t evenly distributed inside the rim due to how rimfire ammunition has to be made.
The other common reason is that weak ammunition doesn’t present any issues. Just like how AR-15 ejection patterns can migrate from 3:30 to 5 o’clock by switching to steel case .223 (which is loaded weak) there is no cycling in a revolver; a semi-auto .22 may choke on bulk-pack range ammo. They are ammunition-blind.
Granted, some semi-auto .22 pistols are a tad more omnivorous than others, but they can be sensitive.
Then you have magazine and spring issues. Some .22 semi-autos will need some tuning to run reliably, either by tweaking the magazine or installing an aftermarket spring kit or something else. A Ruger LCR or S&W 43C are not going to have magazine issues.
However, it is also the case that snubbie revolvers are not the easiest handguns to shoot really well.
Rimfire snubs have long been known for some of the worst triggers of that class of handgun due to the additional spring tension needed for reliable ignition. Then you have the tiny sights (often a top strap trench) and the fitment issues that some people have with snubbies to deal with.
In other words, 22 revolvers are far more reliable out of the box (some argue they’re the only good choice for a practical application for this reason) but are going to be harder to get really good with.
.22 WMR Semi-Autos Are Desperately Impractical
There are a few micro to subcompact .22 LR semi-autos that are good for concealed carry, but .22 WMR (aka .22 Magnum) is a non-starter with anything other than a revolver. While there certainly are semi-autos that are made for the .22 Mag, they are all unwieldy and large.
It’s definitely the case that .22 WMR is the better rimfire caliber for social purposes. Even out of snubbie revolver-length barrels, it penetrates to 12+ inches in gel tests and has barely any recoil, giving you the best of all worlds despite its small size.
There are a number of .22 LR loads that are worth carrying (Federal Punch, CCI Velocitor, and some others), but .22 WMR is far and away more likely to do what is required ballistically.
And if you want an easily carried, easily concealed handgun that chambers it, snubbie revolvers realistically are the only choice. Unfortunately, options are few; S&W only makes a couple, and Ruger has discontinued the LCR in .22 Magnum, leaving only the LCRx.
Taurus and Charter Arms make .22 snubs, but some people are leery of any wheelgun that isn’t S&W or Ruger. Taurus is said to be making incredible strides in the QA/QC department, so the days of a Taurus product being a crapshoot may be over.
Life Is About Picking The Downsides You Can Deal With
There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and eventually, one realizes that a major part of life is choosing the downsides you can live with. Some people take the view that a .22 semi-auto that they may have to tweak for it to run reliably is a non-starter. Others refuse to put up with a 6- or 8-shot gun with a heavy trigger.
It’s also the case that .22 revolvers are, on average, more expensive than most compact or subcompact .22 semi-autos. A Ruger LCP II is not terrifically hard to find or afford; a S&W 351 PD is both rare AND costly, typically running $700+ in-store.
As the philosopher Callahan observed, “a good man knows his limitations” and learns to work with them. If you were to be considering a .22 LR/.22 WMR handgun for deep carry or a Rule One/underwear gun, you’ll want to be aware of the limitations of the platform you choose, and act accordingly.
And then get out there and train.