Ya Gotta Wonder

Most of the guns mentioned, clockwise from left: High Standard derringer (.22 WMR), High Standard derringer (.22 LR), North American Arms revolver (.22 LR), BJT derringer (.38 Spl.) and the S&W Airweight (.38 Spl.) The J-frame Airweight is not much bulkier than the others, but is immeasurably better in every way.

by Terry Wieland

A couple of years ago, I wandered into a gunshop and what should my wondering eyes behold but a neat little .22 revolver.  Stainless steel, compact, with a folding stock that made it even more diminutive than it already was.  Very nicely made — good machining and polish — and made by North American Arms.

The price was less than $200 at a time when virtually anything that would shoot was commanding eye-watering prices.  How could I go wrong?  I found out the answer the first time I took it to the range.

Some accuse me of being overly demanding when it comes to guns of all kinds, but even the most tolerant of shooters would have found this little revolver too much of a bad thing.  The main problem was that I couldn’t hit even the largest silhouette target at anything beyond two feet.

It loaded relatively easily — the cylinder needs to be removed completely — for what is intended to be a deep-concealment weapon. No problem there.  One doesn’t expect operation as smooth as a customized Smith & Wesson.  But this…this was too much.

I started shooting at about five paces; with each miss, I moved a step closer.  Finally, on my last shot, there was a hole in the paper.  Not where I was aiming, or anywhere close, but there was a hole.  Since the gun has minimal sights, adjustment is out of the question.  And compensating for a gun that puts a bullet a foot or more from the point of aim from a yard away, forget it.  I finally saw why the gun was priced the way it was.  It’s virtually useless.

This is a good lesson in this time of burgeoning gun ownership with its general emphasis on self defense.  No matter how cheap, no matter how seemingly well made, a gun is not a bargain if you can’t shoot it well, and I contend that no one could ever shoot this thing to even a minimally acceptable level.

It reminded me, in fact, of the old High Standard derringer that was introduced in the 1960s.  It had two barrels, like the ancient Remington derringer, with a break-open action, and had a double-action trigger.  No hammer to cock.  Just point it and pull.  And pull.  And puulllllll

Eventually the High Standard would fire, but the bullet would almost never hit where you hoped it would because its heavy, rough, seemingly endless trigger pull would have caused you either to pull it off target, or your hand was shaking so much from the effort that steadiness was out of the question.

I distinctly remember reading in the 1960s gun mags that the High Standard would be a good car gun or deep-concealment backup for a cop, but that now causes me to doubt the writers ever actually shot one of the things.  They were undoubtedly well designed (trigger pull aside) and beautifully made, but you’d have to be pretty desperate.  I would never depend on one myself, and I would certainly never recommend one even to another gun guy, much less a person with little interest in firearms or shooting beyond wanting something for defense.

Both the High Standard derringer and the North American Arms revolver may have seemed like good ideas at the time, and a .22 is certainly better than nothing when facing an attacker.  But still.  Didn’t anyone try them out?

Even more inexplicable, after High Standard’s demise, another company acquired the rights to the derringer and made one chambered in .38 Special.  Aside from the difference in caliber, the newer gun retains the old faults.

You may ask how I know this.  Have I, in fact, fired them?  Yes, to all.  And all are safely stored in the back of a drawer.  Somewhere.  At my desk, in case the door bursts open and a gang of outlaw bikers demands my Purdey or my life, I have a Smith & Wesson Airweight .38 immediately to hand, backed up by a Walther P’38, plus 13 rounds of .32 ACP in a Beretta Model 81.

None of them were cheap, but all were well worth the money.  More than I can say about that North American Arms revolver that caught my eye in an unguarded moment when my judgment was taking a nap.  Another valuable lesson learned, yes, the hard way.

Gray’s Shooting Editor Terry Wieland considers every ill-advised gun purchase to be just one more tuition payment in his never-ending education.