We call them derringers because they were Mr. Deringer's invention and over time, the spelling became notoriously loose. By today's definition a derringer is a very small, lightweight "pocket" pistol. Or purse pistol, depending. At one time they were also called "muff pistols", but women generally don't carry muffs now. They are also famous, of course, because President Lincoln was murdered with one, but still, for the era when they were in vogue, the derringer was a popular and effective close quarters gun. Being a single shot, they were most often sold in pairs. One and a backup. I remember building a plastic scale model of a derringer, like the one above, from a kit when I was a youngster. I have always been fascinated with them.
Last year I acquired a new model derringer which, although designed along the same principles as Mr. Deringer's original pistol, and intended for the same use, is a safe, modern, robust and efficient expression of the type: the Bond Arms derringer. You may know about this Texas company and the small but dedicated group of its followers. They, like the gun itself, are unique, original and determined. Unfortunately, I gave in to the persuasions of a friend and sold it to him. One of my less sound decisions.
Bond Arms derringers are unique in that they offer a small but robust two-shot answer to the question of self protection. The owner and chief bottle washer of the company, Gordon Bond, is vocal and convincing about the Bond Arms derringer's place and effectiveness in personal self protection. I suggest that you take a trip over to their website and look at a few videos and see what Gordon has to say. I won't plow the same ground here, but I will state my personal ideas about his line of handguns.
Handguns come in all flavors, sizes, calibers and designs, and all are aimed at a certain function. Some are just big hand canons, firing large and powerful projectiles from long, heavy barrels. Perhaps their function is to punch holes in metal walls or stop enraged grizzlies. I've never been quite sure. Some are revolvers, some are semiautomatics. Some are designed and intended for competition, or target shooting, or concealed carry. The design intent, or requirement, should define the form and function of the weapon. Some handguns strive for a middle of the road approach to maximize sales. Some are decidely narrow in their intended application, like a Ruger Mk. II .22 target gun, for example, or a small frame, five-shot, snub nose revolver. The vast majority of handguns do share one common trait: they offer five or more shot capacity before having to be reloaded. In this aspect, Bond Arms is one of the few that stray from this philosophy. The big question is, why?
I would like to offer a few suggestions of my own.
Generally, opinions on this question revolve around range, effectiveness, the overall average number of rounds that are expended in a self defense gunfight scenario, which is, I believe something like 1.45. And, what I would term as suitability. More on suitability a bit later.
The majority of situations in which a citizen must resort to and fire a gun for self defense happen within a range of one to five yards. Some are even closer than that, involving bodily contact. Timing is also a factor in these situations. Attacks are most often sudden and unexpected. To mention only one example, I watched a video recently of a man who was preparing to back his car out of his garage when another man holding a pistol, walked quickly into view, approaching the diver's side from the rear of the car. The driver had just enough time to see the assailant in his side mirror, pull his own gun, which appeared to be a mid-sized semi-auto, and fire over his shoulder out of his open window at the approaching gunman. The bad guy immediately fled without firing his weapon. Was he shot? I don't know, but the driver's quick, almost reflexive action stopped the encounter and the threat.
Rage? Maybe three feet. Maybe less. Timing? About two seconds.
The man who was about to be assaulted had no time to go to a two-hand shooting hold, nor time to aim in any meaning of the term. Where did his rounds go? I don't know and he probably didn't either. I think the bad guy ran just because his intended victim was firing in his general direction. I can't help but wonder where those rounds would have ended up if the episode had not occurred in a garage.
So, in most instances the range is short. Most guns carried for self defense will far exceed this modest range, which can be a real problem. You shoot quickly, one, two or three rounds. You hit the bad guy with one, and the others miss. Where do they end up? You are responsible for each bullet that leaves your gun. Do they travel across the street and into a neighbor's house? Into a passerby? You won't know if you are not a top shot with a handgun in a adrenaline-soaked, high stress, life-threatening situation. And who is? Not even the professionals, those men and women who train with and carry handguns as part of their jobs, can be acceptably accurate under such circumstances. Look it up. The "miss" rate of law enforcement personnel in these scenarios is shockingly high. You or I won't do as well. We will do considerably worse.
With the standard handgun used for self defense by the average person, the only real answer is to shoot it. A lot. Train, practice in scenarios that will be somewhat like the one you may have to deal with some day. Not just shooting at paper targets or cans, but drawing from concealment and firing safely and accurately. This is not easy. In fact, it is damned difficult. Besides, who has the time, opportunity or money to burn through ammo like that? Certainly not most folks.
"Effectiveness" is the land of "stopping power". Actually, it is the fantasy land of "stopping power". Shoot a large, strong, crazed male bent on doing you serious bodily harm with 12 gauge 00 buck and you might stop him. Then again, you might not. The human animal is a hardy and strange thing. Studies of law enforcement shootings reveal that sometimes humans don't stop after being shot, even when they have been shot multiple times with large caliber bullets. The image of someone being literally blown off of their feet that is all too common in the movies, is just that: a movie special effects effect.
I define effectiveness in terms of self defense as the ability to stop the threat, not to knock someone down. If an aggressor is threatened by the sight of a gun and stops or flees the encounter, then the threat has been stopped. Game over. Nothing left to do except call the authorities and report what happened. Do this because it is the right and legal thing to do and it might stop someone else from being harmed by the individual that threatened you.
So, having to shoot someone to stop their threat of deadly force (and you must be certain of what the law requires before you resort to deadly force) may not necessarily effective. There is much you can do about that except to be prepared and confident and try your best. After reading about and viewing many real-life videos of these kinds of situations, I am very confident that in most instances, shooting at an aggressor, even multiple ones, is sufficient to stop the threat. They usually run away. Not always, of course, but if we insist on perfection, we will be hiring squads of bodyguards.
So, forget about the stopping power of different loads, bullets and calibers. One may stop a deadly threat by displaying a .22 auto.
Number of Rounds Fired
This relates directly to the discussion on effectiveness, above. Obviously, more damage will be inflicted with more rounds hitting the target. But, again, that doesn't guarantee it will stop the threat. There are many, many documented instances of aggressors being shot multiple times, even with rifle and large caliber rounds, but they keep on coming, or fighting. Yes, it is good policy, if one is forced to shoot in self defense, to shoot until the threat is stopped, but that may only take one shot, or it may take many more than the self defense gun has available. There is no hard-and-fast rule here.
Is the weapon – a handgun in this discussion – suitable for self defense? Most knowledgeable people would say yes, with certain reservations. Usually this question pivots around caliber, power and capacity. However, these, I think, are not the main points when considering that most people are not well trained and have never been in a life-or-death confrontation. The important points are, I think:
Will you have a gun available when you need it?
As many people have said, if your carry gun is not going to get carried much, then it fails at its intended purpose. Doesn't matter if it is your beloved 1911 .45 or a Glock, if it's home in the safe, you are going unarmed. If a gun is too large, too heavy, too thick, too uncomfortable in any way, at some point, it will be left behind. The best gun is the one you have when you need it, and the one you are most likely to have on you is small enough and comfortable enough to carry. Always. No handgun is really "comfortable". They are more and less acceptable as a carry gun, but that's about it.
Can you shoot it quickly and accurately enough to hit an assailant at close range?
As discussed above, if you use one of the "standard" self defense carry guns like a semi auto or revolver and don't practice consistently and often, then the answer is no. You can't. Especially when things turn suddenly bad and deadly and you are cranked out of your skull with fear and adrenaline.
Will the projectile that you fire have a low probability of injuring an innocent person should you miss?
Again, unless you are a top shooter in combat situations, the answer is no. Even if you were, the odds of all your rounds going where you intend are small.
This brings me back to the original derringer. Mr. Deringer designed and made a small, easily carried handgun that was effective at very short range, easy to shoot and not deadly far beyond the immediate range needed to stop a threat. I suspect that the Bond Arms derringer, the modern expression of Mr. Deringer's original design, might be just the carry gun for the average citizen. It is a two-shot, rather than a one-shot pistol. It is made with modern materials and quality workmanship. It handles a wide variety of modern ammunition. It appears to be small enough and well configured for concealed carry so that it will be acceptably comfortable over long periods. Loaded with .410 shot shell ammunition, accuracy at close range should not be an issue, and since shot power dissipates rapidly with range, it will be less of a danger to others beyond the immediate vicinity. Being a single-action gun, it should be very safe to carry, and simple to operate.
Probably the biggest issue for some will be the gun's two-shot capacity. In practice, this may not be as important as many people believe. Again, I believe I am correct when I state that the majority of civilian self-defense confrontations occur within a very short range and that they are quickly over once the intended victim shoots at his or her assailant. It is very rare that a standup gunfight ensues in these situations. Rapid reloading of the Bond Arms pistol will require focus and practice and may prove to be acceptably fast.
The best way to decide these matters is to put them to the test. Fortunately, I have a new Bond Arms Patriot model coming soon which I will use for just those purposes. I will be testing both the .410/.45 caliber barrels, and the .38 Special/.357 Magnum barrels on the gun. All Bond Arms derringers have the capability of easily accepting barrels of different calibers.
I will use it frequently, and carry it daily. Right now the weather is changing. I will be migrating from T-shirts to sweaters to parkas over the course of the fall and winter which will offer a good test for the gun as a carry piece and its effectiveness when things are nice and balmy, and when fingers are frozen and gloves and coats are a hindrance. I will be reporting on my experience with this pistol regularly. I will also be reporting on the experiences and thoughts of friends who will also be trying this gun out, most of whom have little or limited experience with pistols and are older, like me, and smaller and female. I want to see if this would be a good concealed carry and an around the house gun for people of limited strength and abilities.
I will be putting my S&W M&P Shield in the safe and going with the Bond Arms Patriot as my primary carry piece for the foreseeable future.
I will let you know how that goes.