In the culture war known as “gun control,” those who would abolish the cherished American right to keep and bear arms see a pocket pistol as a tool of the devil suitable only for committing murder. But history is replete with cases where a handgun small enough to fit inside a pocket has averted tragedy and saved innocent lives.
1. Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire & His Colt Six-Shooters
Let’s go all the way back to the Old West and look at Example One. Marshal Dallas Stoudenmire tamed the town of El Paso, Texas, with a pair of cut-down, short-barreled Colt six-shooters that he carried concealed in leather-lined hip pockets. Stoudenmire won multiple gunfights with that equipment before his luck ran out in his final shooting affray.
2. Luke Short
Another Western gunfighter who favored a short-barreled Colt revolver carried in the hip pocket was Luke Short. Consider him Example Two. He was a ladies’ man who always dressed at the height of fashion and didn’t want bulging guns to spoil the lines of his clothes—or let his opponents know he was armed and ready. Gunfighter-turned-writer Bat Masterson had this to say about Short’s most famous shootout, in which he killed a much-feared bully and gunman named Jim Courtright: “No time was wasted in the exchange of words once the men faced each other. Both drew their pistols at the same time, but, as usual, Short’s spoke first and a bullet from a Colt’s .45-caliber pistol went crashing through Courtright’s body. The shock caused him to reel backward; then he got another and still another, and by the time his lifeless form had reached the floor, Luke had succeeded in shooting him five times.”
3. Colonel Rex Applegate & the “Fitz Special”
During World War II, the great combat instructor Col. Rex Applegate often served as a bodyguard for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. One of Applegate’s favorite guns for this sort of thing was a big “Fitz Special,” a .45-caliber Colt New Service revolver with its barrel cut short and tuned by Colt’s legendary J.H. Fitzgerald. The Colonel’s favorite location for this big snub-nose? His hip pocket. Consider him Example Three.
4. Bill Jordan’s Revolvers
One of Applegate’s contemporaries was Pacific Theater combat vet and Border Patrolman Bill Jordan, who we’ll consider for Example Four. Famed for his deadly speed with a .357 Magnum out of the Jordan Border Patrol uniform holster he designed, Bill liked to hedge his bets with a Smith & Wesson Chief’s Special Airweight .38 with a bobbed hammer that lived in his hip pocket on his weak side. I know how fast he was with it, too. Forty-some years ago, he “shot” me with it. Fortunately, it was at one of his demonstrations and we were both loaded with blanks. I was holding a cocked Colt Single Action Army on him, finger on the trigger, when he cleared the little pocket gun and “shot” me before I could pull the trigger of the already-aimed .45.
5. The Almighty Glock 27
Moving into more modern times, the pastor of Trinity Baptist Church in Philadelphia became Example Five when a thug targeted him for a street robbery. Fortunately, the clergyman had a subcompact Glock 27 pistol in the side pocket of his down vest, loaded with 165-grain CorBon .40 S&W jacketed hollow points. The pastor, whom I’m proud to say was one of my graduates, had the situational awareness to see the event unfolding, and he slipped his hand into his pocket and onto the Glock 27 in a ready-to-draw position. When the armed robber, spewing obscenities, whipped out a white-handled gun, the minister was already ahead of the curve. He drew and fired first, a pelvic shot that very quickly dropped his assailant, who threw his gun away and ceased hostilities.
6. The Colt Detective Special
A shorter barrel clears leather faster. Example Six: Master gunfighter Bill Allard of the NYPD Stakeout Squad determined that at close range, his 2-inch-barreled Colt Detective Special was just as accurate as his 4-inch-barreled S&W Model 10 service revolver, but its shorter barrel allowed him to clear a hip holster and get the first shot on target just a bit more quickly. Here, the pocket-sized gun actually affords another advantage over something bigger when carrying on the hip.
7. .22 Comes Through
The smallest handguns in the “pocket pistol” category tend to be light on stopping power. Example Seven: In a seedy dive in the community where I live, a drunken thug drew a .22 handgun in the course of an argument and emptied it into two victims. When his gun ran dry and he fled, they chased him out into the street and when they caught up with him, beat him mercilessly until police arrived. Officers who responded told me that one of the victims didn’t even know he had been shot until after the cops got there; the other knew he had been shot but wasn’t particularly inconvenienced or slowed down by his .22 wounds. Both men recovered, and the shooter went to jail. In that case, it worked out well for the good guys, but it is a lesson for good guys when they are the ones holding the firearm. As the late author Robert Ruark put it so well, “Use enough gun!”
Twenty years ago, time claimed a dear friend and mentor who, at the end of World War II, was one of the investigators tasked with hunting down Nazi war criminals. Some of those men were determined that they would rather die with a gun in their hand than at the end of a rope, and Jim and his colleagues accommodated more than one of them. In this case, Jim and another investigator had found the Nazi fugitive at a sidewalk café in Europe. When they showed him their guns and told him he was under arrest, he whipped out a semi-auto .25 and shot Jim in the center of the forehead. Jim told me he felt a startling slap and realized he was dead, but decided instantly to take the Nazi with him. He pumped a couple of .45 slugs from his M1911A1 into the man’s heart. The Nazi died at the table. Jim had a short-term headache and a keloid scar that was visible on his forehead for the rest of his days: the .25 slug had glanced off the forehead, traveled under his scalp and exited without so much as fracturing bone. Again, it worked for the good guys that time, but it serves as a lesson that very small calibers are not reliable for stopping determined human aggressors.
9. & 10. NAA Derringers
Some consider North American Arms’ mini-revolvers to be cute “novelty guns,” but I’ve seen multiple cases where they have saved lives. Example Nine: An off-duty cop in one of our biggest cities was carrying a snub-nose .38 as his primary weapon and a .22 Short mini-revolver for backup when he was canoodling with his girlfriend on a public park bench. An armed thug caught the young officer off guard and relieved him of his wallet, badge and .38. At an opportune moment, the young officer drew the .22 and shot the criminal in the back of the head. The bullet glanced off the area of the occipital protuberance, skidded up under the scalp, and exited the skin at the front of the forehead without ever entering the man’s cranial vault. However, when he felt the slap at the back of his head, the man reached up and touched the bloody exit wound in the center of his forehead. He apparently concluded that he had been shot through the brain, because he screamed and promptly fainted.
A good outcome, all things considered, but might it not also have been a miracle of deliverance? There are cases where NAA mini-revolvers have worked more decisively. Consider Example Ten: A rapist attacked a woman in California and roughly pulled her close; she put her NAA against his sternum and triggered a .22 bullet through his heart. He promptly fell and died.
Hopefully, this short list of 10 “saves” will be helpful to you the next time you are debating with someone who mistakenly thinks pocket-sized handguns are only for the black of heart.