Years ago, there was a genre of guns billed as pocket pistols perfect for deep concealment. They included guns like the Raven .25ACP and Jennings .22LR semiauto pistols. They were cheap, unreliable, and underpowered even when they worked. The antis of the day called them ‘Saturday Night Specials,’ and they died out decades ago.
In the past few years, there has been a new trend of minimalist and tiny handguns billed as serious EDC options. Some of them fold into little packages the size of a cell phone, and others are just tiny miniature guns. Some are very inexpensive, and others cost as much as an FN 509M TACTICAL while delivering…not much as a carry gun. So, is it just me, or are these little guns nothing more than novelty BBQ guns?
The New Niche Guns
Anyone who knows me knows I am a practical guy. To me, it’s function over form. I don’t usually care what name is on a gun as long as it’s reliable and shoots well. I don’t usually dismiss innovations out of hand without giving them some serious consideration. And if it works, I look for a place where it will fit into my personal gun culture, which brings me to the new crop of guns that feature what I consider a gimmick.
Some are minimalist in the extreme, some are almost tiny enough to put into the watch pocket of your jeans, and some fold into a little rectangle for easy concealment. The question is, do they have a practical application as a concealed carry gun, or are they, at best, a novelty and, at worst, something that could get you killed if you had to use it in a life-or-death situation?
The Current Crop of Novelty Guns
Some guns on this list are relatively new innovations, while others are the current evolution of very old designs. Each claims to fill a critical and practical role in the realm of everyday carry.
Trailblazer Firearms was established in Asheville, NC, in 2014. Their goal was to create a pistol that “could fit in the smallest of places.” What they came up with is the Lifecard. The Lifecard is a single-shot, single-action pistol available in .22LR and .22 WMR. It folds into a small rectangle about the size of a stack of business cards for easy concealment and can be unfolded into a tiny pistol in a few seconds.
The benefit is that it can be easily concealed in a pocket or purse. It can even be slipped into a shirt pocket, and in the event someone saw it, they would probably not even realize it was a gun unless they knew what to look for. This allows you to carry it in places where carrying even a subcompact handgun might be difficult. I’m not sure where that would be, with the possible exception of a work or social environment where guns were frowned upon and you didn’t wear a lot of clothing.
The downside is that you must have the time to unfold it before you can use it. That makes it less than useful if you are suddenly face-to-face with an armed and violent assailant. Once it is unfolded and ready for use, you have one shot with a .22 caliber cartridge to stop the threat. While this is indeed possible, especially with the .22 WMR cartridge, it is not probable unless you get a very effective hit. The Lifecard has an MSRP of $275 for the basic black version. It’s also available in camouflage, Ferrari, and American Flag finishes, among others, for an MSRP of $300 to $500.
- Caliber: .22LR/.22WMR
- Action: Single Shot
- Barrel Length: 2.5″
- Overall Length: 3.375″ (closed)
- Height: 2.125″ (closed)
- Width: .5″
- Weight: 5.5 oz.
- Capacity: 1
- MSRP: $275 – $500
The North American Arms NAA-22S .22 Short Revolver
North American Arms has been making their tiny revolvers for over 30 years. Before that, they were made by Freedom Arms. They are available in .22 Short, .22LR, and .22WMR, but for this discussion, I will talk about the .22 Short version, the NAA-22S.
These mini-revolvers are well-made. They feature stainless steel construction with rubber or wood grips. Numerous options include things like built-in lasers. One model even has the necessary hardware to be used as a belt buckle. Perhaps the ultimate in discrete carry.
The appeal of these guns is obvious. At under 4″ in length, they are very easy to conceal, which makes them great for non-permissive environments. But to be frank, for me, the appeal ends there. Aside from the anemic power of a .22 Short, it’s being shot out of a 1″ barrel. Add to that the fact that rimfire ammo is far more prone to malfunction than centerfire ammo, and you have cause for concern.
The gun itself has no trigger guard, and you must depress the trigger to lower the hammer into a half-cocked safety position. Since the gun is single-action, you must cock the hammer when you draw it to fire. Its tiny size is handy but makes it difficult to get ahold of to draw out of a pocket.
It boils down to the question, is just having a gun enough to keep you alive in a violent confrontation? Personally, I can think of any number of micro-autos that are almost as easy to conceal and offer more utility as a self-defense gun.
North American Arms NAA-22S .22 Short Revolver Specifications
- Caliber: .22 Short
- Action: Single
- Barrel Length: 1.13″
- Overall Length: 2.38″
- Height: 3.63″
- Cylinder Width: 0.78″
- Grip Width: 0.88″
- Weight: 4 oz.
- Capacity: 5
- MSRP: $255
Switch Gun .22 Revolver
The Switch Gun is a cross between the North American Arms min-revolver and the folding Lifecard. Meaning it’s a tiny revolver that folds. The barrel and frame are stainless steel, and the grip it folds into is polymer. It folds into the size of a cell phone, making it somewhat larger than the Lifecard. The cylinder prevents it from being flat when folded, but it also holds more ammunition, so that’s a plus.
It has a larger grip than the other guns on this list, making it easier to control and shoot—another plus. On the downside, the barrel is only .75″ long, allowing very little time for powder to ignite and the bullet to reach much of a velocity. The sights are virtually nonexistent, and the trigger is a bit difficult to manipulate, especially if you try to shoot it with a two-handed grip.
The folded status completely covers the trigger, making it safe to drop into a pocket. Deployment is quick using a switchblade knife-type lever, and the hammer spur is easy to catch with your thumb, all of which make it pretty quick to deploy and shoot. On the downside, you must remove the cylinder from the gun to load it, so forget about fast reloads under pressure. You have five shots to get the job done. It’s a definite improvement over the Lifecard, but this is the epitome of a ‘face and gut gun.’
Switch Gun .22 Revolver Specifications
- Caliber: .22LR/.22WMR
- Action: Single Action
- Barrel Length: .75″
- Overall Length: 3.75″ (closed)
- Height: 2.125″ (closed)
- Width: .75″
- Weight: 9 oz. (loaded)
- Capacity: 5
- MSRP: $449 (an extra cylinder to convert the caliber is $50)
Altor Corporation Single-Shot Pistol
This last gun is not a folder or even a mini, but it warrants a place in this discussion. Although Altor bills it as “one of the smallest conceal carry handguns in the market,” its overall length is 6.5″. That makes it longer than some compact autos like the P365 at 5.8″ and definitely larger than many subcompacts like the Ruger LCP at 5.17″. Height wise, the Altor is a little shorter than the LCP at 3.5″ vs. 3.71″.
It’s a very simple single-shot 9mm or .380ACP pistol that looks a lot like a hot glue gun. You must disassemble it by removing the barrel to load it so you have one shot in a crisis. On the upside, it’s very simple, so it is very reliable in getting that one shot off. It has no trigger guard, but the combination of a crossbolt safety and a barrel that can be rotated into a safe position makes it safe to carry. To shoot it, you must rotate the barrel to the fire position and push the safety off.
The trigger is odd in that it retracts all the way into the frame when depressed. It takes some getting used to, so anyone who intends to carry this as their EDC should get lots of practice in first. The cost is inexpensive. Even less than a Hi-Point. I’ll leave you to determine which might be the better choice.
Altor Corporation Single-Shot Pistol Specifications
- Caliber: 9mm/.380ACP
- Action: Single Shot
- Barrel Length: 2.9″
- Overall Length: 6.5″
- Height: 3.5″
- Width: 1″
- Weight: 10.5 oz
- Capacity: 1
- MSRP: $129 for 9 mm/$119 for .380 ACP
Ideal Conceal IC380IC9 Double-barrel .380 ACP/9mm Folding Pistol
Some of you may have heard of or even own an Ideal Conceal folding pistol. I am not going to go into any detail about it because the company went out of business in 2022. Very few were manufactured, and it is difficult to find one now. Suffice it to say that it was a double barrel pistol in either .380ACP or 9mm that folded up into a rectangle the size of a cell phone. It had an MSRP of around $800, the cost of a high-quality semiauto handgun.
The Good and the Bad of Tiny Guns
Like anything, the current crop of minimalist and folding guns has good and bad points. The real question is whether the good points outweigh the bad. It’s tempting to point out that they provide the ability to be armed when it might be difficult to carry a conventional gun. Having said that, I have never found a situation when I could not adequately conceal a subcompact like a Taurus G2s or other small pocket auto.
Concealability aside, you need to ask yourself how you would use a folding single-shot or tiny revolver in a self-defense situation. If you are faced with an armed assailant, how likely is it that you could get a folding gun out and deploy it before being shot? If you could succeed in getting the first shot off, what are your chances of doing enough damage with a .22 Short or even a .22 WMR to stop the threat?
What about a scenario where another person or persons were being threatened? Having a concealed weapon would allow you to intervene, but having only one shot would definitely be a limiting factor. Even with multiple shots of .22LR or .22 WMR, the outcome of such an intervention is hardly in the reasonably positive range. And .22 Short isn’t even worth considering. Finally, such a gun would be virtually useless in an active shooter situation.
- Very small and easy to conceal
- Many don’t look like a gun at all
- Great novelty collectors appeal
- Folding guns are slower to deploy
- Low ammunition capacity
- Many use an underpowered cartridge like .22 Short or .22LR
- Very short barrels impede ballistic performance
- Rudimentary sights
- Slow to reload
If you are a fan of any of the guns I’ve discussed, then my apologies if I have offended you in any way. Rest assured, it’s nothing personal. But as the saying goes… I’m just keeping it real.
It’s often said that any gun is better than no gun. I have even said that myself on occasion. But for the cost and the relative effectiveness of gimmicky niche guns vs. even a subcompact auto, I would not choose to stake my life on a folding single-shot .22 or even a tiny revolver with five rounds of .22.
In the end, it’s your place to decide what is right for you. Please feel free to express your thoughts on the subject in the comments.