Monday, February 2, 2009

Shooting pocket pistols..... from the pocket?!?


Becoming more and more popular these days, pocket pistols have snared a serious market share with the shooting public. They are carried as secondary hideout weapons, or often as a primary gun in situations precluding a full sized weapon. Walking around the house or dropped in a pocket for a quick trip to the corner store, more and more gun owners every day are choosing to make a small pistol part of their defensive strategy.

This is nothing new in history. At one time no gentleman left home without a small pistol carefully stowed in a vest pocket or purse. Both in the former Great Britain and the United States, men of stature and moral standard went about their community armed as a matter of course. Then, as now, a small weapon that could be carried easily was often favored over a larger caliber but heavier pistol.

The ‘Baby Browning’ and little Beretta are considered classics for concealed vest pocket carry, and many a shopkeeper carried a top break revolver under his apron as well. Police officers routinely had a small backup pistol as part of their daily kit, and still do.

For generations, firearms makers have catered to this segment of the buying public, but today’s selection is better than it’s ever been before. The variety of small revolvers and automatics designed for concealed and pocket carry is almost staggering. Taurus alone offers more than thirty variations of its small revolvers, and numerous builders now offer sub-compact autos clearly designed for pocket carry. Pocket ‘holsters’ have now come to the market (and about time) that hold the weapon safely at the proper angle for trouble free carry and draw. Perhaps best exemplifying the pocket pistol genre, the concealed hammer ‘bodyguard’ type of snubnose revolver is showing resurgence.

One question that comes to mind… at least to the terminally inquisitive amongst us is this; can pocket pistols be fired from…well… the pocket? Certainly a firearm can be fired from within ones clothing, or through a barrier, but what about from the pocket it’s carried in?

There can only be one good reason to fire a pistol from the pocket instead of drawing it first. That would be a threat so close, so sudden, and so dangerous that an armed response in a split second is the only reasonable reaction. A situation so close and so dire the second it takes to draw the weapon is one second too long.

In such a situation the pistol takes on its most important role; bodily defense. The requirements of a defensive pistol are many, but chief among them is reliability. The weapon must work as expected, and do so every time.

In that situation, we can assume the range will be close. Arms length probably, and even touching is possible. With an attacker trying to gain physical control, even the act of sliding a hand into the pocket might be all that’s possible. Accuracy is not an issue, as aiming would be instinctive. It would be a true case of ‘point shooting’.

The question remains… will the pistol function as designed when fired from the pocket? If it fires once (as almost all surely will) will it be able to fire again, or be rendered inoperative at a time when it’s needed most?

Follow along as this small scale test is run……

Several weapons were chosen for the testing, with common types of pocket pistols represented. Truth told… it’s what I had available. In this case, a 1934 Beretta in .380, a Taurus snub nose (external hammer) in .38 special, and a Harrington + Richardson top break hammerless in .38 S+W. This gave us one small automatic, one external hammer revolver, and one internal hammer revolver, all pistols noted for typical pocket carry. In fact, I have carried each pistol at one time or another for just such use, and in just that manner.

For a ‘pocket’, a typical pair of blue jeans pants was used. Jackets would have suited as well but I wished to explore a worst case scenario; a pocket just loose enough to grasp and fire the pistol. Made of fairly stiff fabric and having an inner lining, it approximated a light jacket pocket as well.

First up was the Beretta auto in .380. Typical for a small carry pistol, the Beretta is noted for outstanding reliability. Its slim build fits the pocket nicely, and it’s miniscule sights and rounded hammer rowel leave little to snag the fabric. Certainly it would fire from a pocket, at least once, but how serviceable would it be afterwards?

The very first attempt showed an immediate problem. The pistol fired once and then malfunctioned. The slide had operated normally, extracting the fired case and beginning to load the next round from the magazine. That’s where it all ended, as the fired case neatly ‘stove piped’ in the action, blocking the slide from going forward. The fabric close to the pistol had not allowed the empty to fly free, and the weapon was inoperative till cleared.

Attempted again, this time three rounds were fired before the same malfunction occurred. Once again, a stove piped empty blocked the action and took the weapon out of service.

Forming a generalized conclusion from very limited data, it seems that firing an auto from within a pocket is a recipe for trouble. There is every chance, If not likelihood the weapon will be rendered inoperative when it’s needed the most.

Moving on to revolvers, the external hammer .38 snubnose came up to bat. The pistol managed to function for four rounds before fabric bunched under the hammer and blocked the mechanism. Not only would it not fire again, but it was thoroughly snagged on the pocket lining and difficult to remove. It took two hands and several moments to clear it.

Once again making a fairly general observation, a revolver with an external hammer has problems functioning with wadded up cloth stuffed under the hammer. This is not the weapon for firing from within a pocket reliably.

Finally, the vintage H+R concealed hammer revolver in .38 S+W. This pistol is reasonable small, quite light for its type, and has nothing on it to snag fabric. In these features it shares the stage with the Bodyguard type revolver, excepting the potency of its cartridge. The .38 S+W is a weak sister compared to even the .38 special, and is a holdover from the days of low pressure black powder cartridges.

Fired from the pants pocket, the H+R hammerless top break performed flawlessly. All five rounds fired smoothly, and the pistol was withdrawn afterwards without a hint of snagging. It appears the shop keepers and barmen of the roaring twenties had an idea what they were doing!

There really wasn’t enough testing to arrive at a solid conclusion, but the anecdotal evidence found here suggests only one type of pocket pistol can be reliably fired from the pocket in a split second defensive situation; The hammerless or concealed hammer revolver.


Brigid said...

Great piece. I've heard people say they'd just "shoot from the pocket if they had to".

Or fellows buying their wives a gun with "if she had to, she could shoot it through her purse".

But is that effective? Thanks for trying it out.

And no. . you can't borrow my new purse.

Carteach0 said...

Hmmm... a purse? A Purse!
What a great idea!

Now.... where to get a purse to blow apart.....

Old NFO said...

One point, it is easy enough to do as you demonstrated, but you did not have constraints so were able to bring the guns up horizontal. In most jeans today, I doubt that could be done without raising the leg at the same time, also the potential for flash burn and inadvertent shot to the leg if you couldn't clear the pistol high enough... Well, maybe more than one point. Would I try it if I had to? Hell yes... You get over flash burns!

Carteach0 said...

Old NFO,
Frankly, I used the jeans because they were cheap at Goodwill (g).

I would have preferred a jacket or two, but I think the main points are still valid. A semi-auto can fail to eject without enough room, and thus malfunction. The same with a hammered revolver (or auto for that matter) with fabric getting under the hammer. I imagine the results would hold just as true from a crowded purse or bag.

Bob said...

Thus another reason to acquire a S&W 642 or the new Ruger LCR.

Incidentally, from personal experience I can tell you that a hammerless revolver is more difficult for an attacker to deal with. I had a robber grab at mine, and, with no hammer or other areas of purchase with which to get a grip on it, I was able to simply twist it out of his grasp, press it against his abdomen and fire.

When President Ford was the target of two female assassins during the 70's, one of them was foiled by a Secret Service agent interposing the web of his hand (the area between thumb and forefinger) between the hammer and the frame of the gun. I can't remember if this was the Moore or Fromme attempt.

Anonymous said...

I thought of this a while back and was wondering if the cylider gases would scorch the hand... or the pocket enough to reach the skin through pants?

Carteach0 said...

I fired bare handed for these tests (nothing too dangerous for my readers!). I didn't feel the least discomfort or heat.

Crucis said...

I carry a S&W M442 every day in a pocket holster. The DeSantis and Bianchi pocket holsters cover the trigger and prevent firing while in the holster. The DeSantis is open at the bottom so it's possible to draw the pistol enough to gain access to the trigger and then fire.

Personally, I don't think I could fire mine from the pocket. My jeans, even the "loose" fitting ones, are just too tight. I'd have to completely draw the pistol and then fire.

During the winter, however, firing from a jacket pocket is another matter. I like military-style A2 jackets. I have one in leather that is fine for colder weather and two cloth/canvas jackets for cool weather. I carry my M442 in the external bellows pockets. Those pockets are loose enough to turn the pistol and fire---unless hindered by the pocket holster.

There are pros and cons here for firing from the pocket. I've always used a pocket holster and will continue to do so when carrying in my jeans pocket. I'll rethink using a pocket holster for carry in a jacket. In some states, you have to be concerned with printing. That, fortunately, is not an issue for me here in Missouri.

Great job with the post. I was disappointed you didn't post a pic of your H&R Hammerless. I'd like to see it.

Carteach0 said...

Crucis, take a look at the post just before this. It has a photo of the H+R top break (g).

Somerled said...

Even a Centennial with a completely enclosed hammer is not a sure thing. The looser the pocket, the better. I've carried one often in the pocket of a Cabela's vest, chore coat, or top coat usually to supplement another pistol in a shoulder or belt holster.

If the coat pocket is too loose, the piece can fall out. I like the pockets with Velcro flaps.

If someone gets within arm's length, causes me to think my life is in imminent danger, and therefore prompts me to fire a revolver in my coat pocket, I'd say I had my head up my, err, Condition White. If I lived through the shooting, I'd need the help of a defense attorney to beat the felony charges.

Crucis said...

Now how did I miss that? I even commented on that post?


Conservative Scalawag said...

Great post and thanks for sharing the results. I picked up a Keltec .32ACP,that included ammo and holster for a great price. Even though I'd prefer it in .380ACP,but it works. I carry it when me and the misses go out,she hates feeling it in my hip when she put her arm around me. Like many have said,a pocket pistol in the hand is better than the hand cannon in the safe - something to that effect.

Old NFO said...

Understood Carteach0 and I agree with the premise of the hangup/misfire/etc. I occasionally carry my 637 in a Nemisis holster in my coat pocket as a back up, and the coat is about done for, so I may give it a try at the range. I'd be surprised if I could get off 2-3 rounds without binding up.

Carteach0 said...

Sounds like a fair idea NFO.


Anonymous said...

That was the one of the selling points of the Smith Bodyguard and Centennial lines of revolvers. Carried in the hand wiith the hand stuck in the pocket of the trench coat or overcoat...

Anonymous said...

Since this is personally embarrassing, I'm glad you left anonymous comments available...

I had purchased a NAA mini-revolver, and had it in my jeans pocket fully loaded, and I THOUGHT I had the hammer in the safety slot. Maybe I did, whatever. I did not have a holster for it yet, so it was riding around loose. I was showing my wife the new washer and dryer that we had bought, and stuck my hand in my pocket, where the NAA was. Apparently through the work of moving the dryer in the pistol had gone back to half cock, or perhaps full cock. When I shoved my hand in my pocket, I experienced a very disturbing negligent discharge.

The pistol, in .22 magnum, made enough noise in the garage to make my ears ring for hours, the flame from the discharge burned the leg hair from mid thigh all the way down below my knee. Although I was lucky enough not to get hit by the bullet, the flame escaping around the edges of the cylinder and at the end of the barrel caused burns that are still visible nearly three months later. I imagine if it had been in a larger caliber, I would've been burned worse.

I have not carried that pistol without a holster that wraps around the hammer ever since, nor will I.

And no, you really can't get it pointed at an attacker from inside the pocket unless your leg is pointed that way. Be prepared to lose some skin off that leg, or perhaps worse, if you choose to fire from inside the pocket.

Spitfire_onme said...

I know this blog is kinda old, but I just found you.

I'm glad I did. There is a lot of great information out there, but your site is just so much, how do you say it, average joe yet pro. The common man, yet the way we all should be.

Anyways, my goal, even though it has been put off for a while with the AR getting too much attention, would be a Derringer with a .357 and a .410 shell. I have seen them, but haven't looked lately. They seemed a little hard to find when I looked before.

I figured it would be at the ankle, with an attacker on top of me on the ground pulling as a last resort. Figure a hand cannon would be better than five or so rounds of another gun. Plus you could probably move it around in the pocket better than most other firearms.

Just my 4,695 cents.


Dan Rex said...

Loose baggy pants, vest pockets, jacket pockets, fanny packs, inside shirts, even loose skirts for women seem to be ideal. Hammerless revolvers seem to be the only type that can fire reliably. Revolvers with shrouded hammers can be compromised too through long time carry inside the pocket/s. Lints are horrible on anything mechanical. Now, firing through my pants pocket.....I'm concerned about my "tenders", knowing that the cylinder gap is capable of "flame cutting".

Blooze said...

In response to Spitfire's comment on Derringer pistols. I know that Leinad, American Derringer and Rossi all make Derringer models that fire .410/.45 Colt ammo. That being said firing that size ammo from such a small framed pistol is like holding onto a kicking mule.

Windy Wilson said...

Where to get a purse to blow apart. . .

The 99 cent store?

Posts like this are an excellent factual antidote for Mall-ninja fiction.