Best 22LR Handguns For Defensive Use

by Travis Pike

July 15, 2022

2 comments

5
(7)

Using the .22 LR as a defensive round isn’t without its controversy. It’s not the best round for defensive use, and it’s not a subject most need to worry about. I dove into this list to find the best .22 LR handguns for defensive use regardless of the controversy surrounding the round. By the time you leave this article, you’ll know all about the 22LR for defensive use and the best .22lr pistols for defensive use, and how to choose your own. 

The Issue With .22 LR As a Defensive Round 

There are a few different issues with using the .22 LR as a defensive pistol. The primary reason why .22 LR is a rough choice for self-defense is the rimfire ignition. Rimfire ignition fails more often than centerfire, making rimfire guns inherently less reliable than centerfire guns. 

Another issue is the very small and light projectile propelled at a fairly slow foot per second rate. That doesn’t equal a lot of penetration or energy on target. .22 LR defensive rounds aren’t common, but they are growing in popularity. 

.22 LR isn’t optimum, but there are situations where the .22 LR is the only option. 

When .22 LR Is Acceptable 

Everyone should be afforded the protection and guarantee of the 2nd Amendment. This includes people who have weak hands that could be ravaged by arthritis or disabled somehow. I had an older lady pass through my concealed carry class, and her hands were disabled. She couldn’t handle a 9mm, or even a 380 ACP. 

She shot her little .22 LR revolver like a pro though, and, years before the class, she used that very firearm to defend herself. There are some situations where the little .22 LR is the only viable choice. Sure, calibers like the 25 ACP and 32 ACP exist, but the ammo is expensive, and the guns are seemingly rare. 

I’d always suggest someone try a more capable round, but sometimes the .22 Lr is the only option. With that in mind, I want to provide a list of the most competent firearms for defensive use that utilize the .22 LR round. I also aimed to keep in mind the people who’d use a .22 LR for self-defense likely need a firearm that’s easy to handle and shoot. That certainly affected how I chose these firearms. 

Considerations for a Defensive .22 LR 

Defensive .22 LR use means addressing the weaknesses of the .22 LR round and embracing its strengths. Addressing the firearm’s weaknesses is the most critical factor in success with a .22 LR. With the primary concern being reliability and ignition due to the rimfire priming system, we need to find extremely reliable firearms. 

We also need to find a firearm that makes solving a failure to fire easy. For the average shooter, the revolver offers you the simplest option for self-defense. Should a round fail to fire, the shooter just needs to press the trigger again, and the cylinder will rotate and give the shooter another option. 

A .22 LR sucks at penetration and expansion and might not penetrate deep enough with the first shot to stop an attacker. The weapon should be easy to make follow-up shots with that in mind. Luckily, the low recoil of the .22 LR keeps recoil low. 

Finally, the weapon should offer some substantial capacity. The smaller size of the .22 LR makes it easy to fit more rounds than an average gun. I looked for guns that featured efficient capacities that took advantage of the small round. If you’re shooting an attacker with .22 LR, it might be necessary to shoot more than once, and it’s smart to have as many of the little rounds as possible. 

Best 22LR Handguns For Defensive Use

S&W 317 Kit Gun 
  • DA/SA Revolver
  • 8-Shot Capacity 
  • High Visibility Front Sight
Check Price
Ruger LCP 2 22LR 
  • Lite Rack Slide
  • 10 Round Capacity 
  • Built on a Proven Design
Check Price
SIG P322
  • Optics and Light Ready 
  • 20 Round Capacity
  • Ambidextrous Controls
Check Price
Ruger LCR 22LR
  • DAO Revolver With Enclosed Hammer
  • 8 Shot Capacity
  • Perfect For Pocket Carry
Check Price
Walther PPK/s .22LR
  • DA/SA Design 
  • 10 Round Capacity 
  • Built on a Proven Design
Check Price
Beretta Bobcat 21/A 
  • Tip-Up Barrel
  • DA/SA Design
  • Engineered for .22 LR
Check Price
KelTec CP33
  • 33 Round Magazine
  • Optics Ready 
  • Well Suited for Home Defense
Check Price

BEST 22LR HANDGUNS FOR DEFENSIVE USE

  1. S&W 317 Kit Gun
  2. Ruger LCP 2 22 LR
  3. SIG P322
  4. Ruger LCR 22LR
  5. Walther PPK/s .22LR
  6. Beretta Bobcat 21/A
  7. KelTec CP33

Best Defensive 22LR Handguns Specs

Below is a list of our Best Defensive 22LR Handguns. So we can compare and line up the specs from each of the products and help you make the best decision possible.

22LR HandgunBarrel LengthOverall LengthWeightCapacity
S&W 317 Kit Gun3 inches7.19 inches11.7 ounces8 rounds
Ruger LCP 2 22LR2.75 inches5.2 inches11.4 ounces10 rounds
SIG P3224 inches7 inches17.1 ounces20 rounds
Ruger LCR 22LR1.87 inch6.5 inches14.9 ounces8 rounds
Walther PPK/s .22LR3.3 inches6.1 inches19 ounces10 rounds
Beretta Bobcat 21/A2.4 inches4.92 inches11.8 ounces7 rounds
KelTec CP335.5 inches10.6 inches24 ounces33 rounds

Best Defensive 22LR Handguns Reviews

Now that we’ve had an overview and looked at our list, let’s take time to individually review each item. In this section we’ll be revisiting our specs, speaking about the product, and looking at the pros and cons.

1. S&W 317 Kit Gun

S_W 317 Kit Gun

S&W 317 Kit Gun

These small revolvers were designed to fire a full power round and are as simple and easy to use as they are reliable.

Check Latest Price

  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A+
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy A
  • Value C

Our Grade

A-

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

C+

Based on 2 Reviews

Your Grade

Do You Own This Handgun? Leave A Review

Success Your Grade Has Been
Added To Our Reader’s Score

S&W Model 317 Kit Gun Specs

  • Barrel Length 3 inches
  • Overall Length 7.19 inches
  • Weight 11.7 ounces
  • Capacity 8 Rounds

S&W Model 317 Kit Gun Review

Using the .22 LR for self-defense provides many challenges, and the S&W 317 Kit gun helps you overcome them all. While small, it’s still easy to handle, offers awesome capacity, and is an easy solution to rimfire reliability issues. The little 317 Kit gun packs as much punch as a .22 LR can and offers an option for both home defense and concealed carry. 

One of the primary benefits you get from model 317 is the capacity. The small 22LR gives you lots of room for extra rounds, and the 317 gets you eight 22 LR rounds in its cylinder. The 3-inch barrel isn’t quite a snub nose but adds a hair more velocity and a longer sight radius. Combined with the high visibility front sight and proper rear sight and you get an easy-to-aim option for defensive shooting. 

With an exposed hammer, the user can cock and fire the weapon manually, helping reduce the hand strength required to pull the trigger. Also, as a revolver, should the rimfire primer fail to ignite, you can simply pull the trigger again to fire the next round. At 12 ounces, it’s fairly light, but that’s enough weight to eat the recoil of a .22 LR. 

The main downside of this gun is trying to find one. They also tend to be quite expensive for a simple .22 LR revolver. 

The 317 Kit gun provides you with a modern-day fighting revolver scaled down to .22 LR. With eight rounds, a DA/SA hammer design, and proper sights, you’ll be as adequately armed as possible with a .22 LR. 

S&W Model 317 Kit Gun Pros and Cons

  • Reliable
  • Great Sights
  • 8 round capacity
  • Super Easy to Shoot
  • Expensive

S&W Model 317 Kit Gun Deals

2. Ruger LCP II 22LR

Ruger LCP 2 22 LR

Ruger LCP II 22LR

Ruger LCP II 22LR, a low-recoil pistol with an easy-to-manipulate slide that shoots comfortably regardless of your hand size or strength.

Check Latest Price

  • Shootability B
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy C
  • Value A

Our Grade

B+

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

C+

Based on 2 Reviews

Your Grade

Do You Own This Handgun? Leave A Review

Success Your Grade Has Been
Added To Our Reader’s Score

Ruger LCP 2 .22LR Specs

  • Barrel Length 2.75 inches
  • Overall Length 5.2 inches
  • Weight 11.4 ounces
  • Capacity 10 rounds

Ruger LCP 2 .22LR  Review

Tiny cartridges can equate to tiny guns, and that’s what the Ruger LCP .22 LR gives you. It’s a tiny gun designed perfectly for deep concealment and for small hands. If you have trouble racking most automatics, put that concern away with the Ruger LCP. The little gun still packs a punch of .22 LR and comes from a proven line of defensive firearms. 

The LCP comes from a 380 ACP design that ruled the pocket pistol market. Ruger took the LCP, refined it into the LCP 2, and released it in both 380 and .22 LR. The .22 LR model is an ultra-small firearm with a 2.75-inch barrel and an overall length of 5.15 inches, and it weighs only 11.2 ounces. 

The Lite Rack moniker means the weapon is very easy to cycle. Even though with weak hands won’t face much difficulty with the Ruger LCP 2 .22 LR. It glides rearward so easily that it took me by surprise the first time I handled one. It’s also a light recoiling weapon that’s a blast to shoot. You also get ten rounds of .22 LR, which is quite a bit of ammo for the tiny little gun. 

The worst part about the LCP 2 is the tiny little sights. They are tiny nubs and are tough to use effectively. It’ll hit the bad guy, but where it hits them will be the question.

The Ruger LCP 2 in .22 LR gives you a tiny little gun with a fair bit of ammo for its size. It’s super easy to rack, and recoil is minimal and quite soft. It’s also quite reliable with good quality ammo. 

Ruger LCP 2 .22LR Pros and Cons

  • Super Small
  • Packs 10 rounds
  • Affordable
  • Crap sights

Ruger LCP 2 .22LR Deals

3. Sig Sauer P322

SIG P322

Check Latest Price

  • Shootability A+
  • Reliability B+
  • Ergonomics A+
  • Accuracy A+
  • Value A

Our Grade

A

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

B+

Based on 14 Reviews

Your Grade

Do You Own This Gun? Leave A Review

Success Your Grade Has Been
Added To Our Reader’s Score

SIG P322 Specs

  • Barrel Length 4 inches
  • Overall Length 7 inches
  • Weight 17.1 ounces
  • Capacity 20 rounds

SIG P322 Review

SIG’s entry into the .22 LR market with the original Mosquito was a mess. When they brought the P322 to the market, they did it right. The P322 is a big gun, and it’s perfect for firearms training but also for defensive use. The P322 packs more than a handful of ammo and outfits the weapon with all the modern accessories necessary for defensive use. It’s a bigger gun, but it’s a very capable weapon. 

The main draw to the P322 will be the 20-round magazines. That’s a ton of ammo in a compact firearm. The P322 gives you a gun than can throw tons of lead into a bad guy attacking you. That helps address the .22 LR’s inherent lack of defensive capabilities. If one doesn’t do it, the other 19 might. 

While the P322 isn’t the smallest of guns, it’s not overly large or impossible to carry. The larger size and full-sized grip make it very easy to control with recoil more akin to an airgun than a real gun. Shooters of all skill levels will handle the P322 easily. You can attach an optic and light to the weapon, and even a suppressor if that suits your home defense plan. 

The downside to the P322 to me is the enclosed, single-action hammer design. A visible hammer would at least allow for the ability to recock the hammer for a second try if the rimfire doesn’t ignite. 

This is the most modern tactical .22 LR tactical pistol on the market. With a 20-round magazine and optic and light capability, it gives you a modern light recoiling tool and is easy to operate as a .22 LR. 

SIG P322 Pros and Cons

  • Low Recoil
  • Optics and Light Ready
  • 20 round magazines
  • Enclosed Hammer Prevents Manual Manipulation

Product Deals

4. Ruger LCR 22LR

Ruger LCR 22LR

Ruger LCR 22LR

High-strength stainless steel cylinder, featuring a PVD finish for excellent durability, is extensively fluted, reducing weight.

Check Latest Price

  • Shootability B
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy B
  • Value A

Our Grade

A-

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

D

Based on 3 Reviews

Your Grade

Do You Own This Handgun? Leave A Review

Success Your Grade Has Been
Added To Our Reader’s Score

Ruger LCR .22LR Specs

  • Barrel Length 1.87 inches
  • Overall Length 6.5 inches
  • Weight 14.9 ounces
  • Capacity 8 rounds

Ruger LCR .22LR Review

Ruger revolutionized revolvers with the LCR series. Ruger implemented polymer to make the LCR lighter without making it expensive. The .22 LR version gives shooters a lightweight, snub nose revolver in a modern configuration. The Ruger LCR gives you a lightweight, easy-to-conceal revolver that’s super simple and fairly rugged from the ground up. While small, it still packs a sting. 

That sting comes in the form of 8 rounds of .22 LR in the cylinder. Eight is certainly better than five or six, and that’s the capacity we see in most j-frames. The LCR is a double-action-only revolver with an enclosed hammer. This keeps things snag-free and makes your draw smooth and easy. 

As a revolver, should a round fail to ignite, you just pull the trigger again without the need to exercise any remedial action. This makes it simple and easy to use for inexperienced shooters. The small nature of the gun and its round nature make it natural for pocket carry. 

The downside is that the rimfire version of the LCR lacks the excellent DAO triggers of the centerfire models. It’s heavier and can be tricky to shoot accurately with. The LCR’s heavier trigger does help ensure better reliability but sacrifices some accuracy. 

The Ruger LCR offers a pocket carry-ready revolver with a DAO mechanism that’s quite reliable. The eight-round capacity gives the little gun some sting, and the compact, lightweight nature makes it a breeze to carry. 

Ruger LCR .22LR Pros and Cons

  • 8 round capacity
  • Easy to Pocket Carry
  • Affordable
  • Heavy Trigger pull

Ruger LCR .22LR Deals

5. Walther PPK/s .22LR

Walther PPK_s .22LR

Walther PPK/s .22LR

A 1-to-1 scale of the Walther PPK/s in .380, this PPK/s .22LR affords you the look, style, and feel of the original in a rimfire caliber.

Check Latest Price

  • Shootability A
  • Reliability B
  • Ergonomics A
  • Accuracy B
  • Value B

Our Grade

B+

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

B

Based on 4 Reviews

Your Grade

Do You Own This Handgun? Leave A Review

Success Your Grade Has Been
Added To Our Reader’s Score

Walther PPK/s 22 Specs

  • Barrel Length 3.3 inches
  • Overall Length 6.1 inches
  • Weight 19 ounces
  • Capacity 10 rounds

Walther PPK/s 22 Review

Bond, James bond, the rimfire version. The Walther PPK/s gives you Bond’s classic firearm with a rimfire twist. The PPK/S has long been a viable concealed carry option, and the .22 LR version can be a very viable choice. The DA/SA action with an exposed hammer helps with rimfire reliability issues. The format is still small and smoothed out for easy carry, with the provenPPK/S ergonomics. Plus, the capacity won’t let you down. 

The DA/SA option means the first trigger pull is fairly heavy, but follow-up shots are lighter and shorter. Should a round fail to fire, the shooter has restrike capabilities. Being able to manually cock the hammer helps relieve some weight and makes the slide easy to manipulate. A quick twist of the safety decocks the weapon easily. 

The Walther PPK/S is just the right size to fully fit into your hand and offers the most control possible. A good beavertail allows for a high grip without any slide bite. The fixed barrel helps with accuracy, and the sights aren’t bad for such a small pistol. Plus, we get ten rounds in the flush-fitting magazine, and you can’t hate that. 

The initial double-action trigger pull is fairly long and heavy. It’s certainly not something I’d brag about. Luckily the single-action trigger is rather nice. Overall the PPK/S is a fantastic little firearm, and in .22 LR, it’s lighter, lower recoiling, and easy to use.

Walther PPK/s 22 Pros and Cons

  • Sized Well For both Shooting and Carry
  • DA/SA Trigger
  • 10 Round magazine
  • Heavy double action trigger

Walther PPK/s 22 Deals

6. Beretta Bobcat 21/A

Beretta Bobcat 21_A

Beretta Bobcat 21/A

The same dedication to advanced design, uncompromising quality and strict quality control that make the 92F, Cougar and Cheetah such international standouts is found in all Beretta small caliber, pocket-size pistols.

Check Latest Price

  • Shootability A
  • Reliability A
  • Ergonomics B
  • Accuracy C
  • Value B

Our Grade

B+

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

C-

Based on 2 Reviews

Your Grade

Do You Own This Handgun? Leave A Review

Success Your Grade Has Been
Added To Our Reader’s Score

Beretta 21/A Bobcat Specs

  • Barrel Length 2.4 inches
  • Overall Length 4.92 inches
  • Weight 11.8 ounces
  • Capacity 7 rounds

Beretta 21/A Bobcat Review

If you want to combine a small, easily concealed pistol with an unbeatable style and a .22 LR chambering, then the Beretta 21/A Bobcat is the way to go. Beretta’s Bobcat is old-school cool and comes in a proven and reliable platform. The Beretta Bobcat gives shooters with the weakest hands a means to load the weapon. Plus, its DA/SA trigger and open slide design help ensure total reliability.

The Beretta 21/A is a tip-up design. The barrel tips up, and the shooter can directly load the chamber of the gun. No racking is required, so hand strength doesn’t matter. The Bobcat is also tiny, with an overall length of only 4.9 inches. It’s super small and very easy to conceal. 

Beretta figured out a few ways to maximize reliability with the .22 LR automatic platform. The big open slide ensures easy ejection and also makes defeating malfunctions easy. The DA/SA trigger allows you to restrike the round should it fail to ignite initially. 

What I don’t like is the nubs they call sights. You’ll be on the same sight plane as the bad guy, but don’t expect to be a marksman. Other than that, the Beretta 21/A Bobcat is a fantastic option for concealed carry. 

Beretta 21/A Bobcat Pros and Cons

  • Built for Reliability
  • Great Single Action Trigger
  • Tip-Up Barrel Design
  • Nubs for sights

Beretta 21/A Bobcat Deals

7. KelTec CP33

KelTec CP33

KelTec CP33

If you’re a fan of KelTecs, don’t overlook this eccentric 22LR pistol.

Check Latest Price

  • Shootability A+
  • Reliability B
  • Ergonomics B
  • Accuracy A+
  • Value A

Our Grade

A-

Reviewed by Travis Pike

Reader’s Grade

B

Based on 3 Reviews

Your Grade

Do You Own This Gun? Leave A Review

Success Your Grade Has Been
Added To Our Reader’s Score

KelTec CP33 Specs

  • Barrel Length 5.5 inches
  • Overall Length 10.6 inches
  • Weight 24 ounces
  • Capacity 33 rounds

KelTec CP33 Review

The KelTec CP33 gets on this list as my wildcard with a few caveats. One, it’s too big for anything but home defense. Two, make sure you know how to use it. The CP33 gives you a mighty firearm that’s huge for a .22 LR but very easy to shoot, accurate, easy to accessorize, and it’s a thoroughly modern firearm. It’s also got a real space blaster edge to it. 

The CP33’s massive size conceals the massive 33-round magazine hidden in the grip. Lots of lead to dispense into a potential bad guy. The CP33 is bigger than most full-sized pistols and presents a massive optics rail, space for lights, lasers, and more. Heck, the barrel is even threaded for the easy attachment of accessories. 

The CP33 has hardly any recoil and just puffs a little between shots. You’ll have no problems putting round after round on target. The huge size and little recoil make it a mighty capable weapon. 

The downside is that the CP33 can malfunction if not loaded correctly. The manual lists how to load the weapon correctly, and if these steps aren’t followed, you’ll find yourself with a weapon failing. 

The CP33 is a massive weapon, big enough to hold 33 rounds of 22LR, mounting optics of all types, and big enough to barely move between shots. It’s a ton of fun to shoot and would be one heckuva home defense tool.

KelTec CP33 Pros and Cons

  • 33 Rounds in a flush-fitting mag
  • Very Low Recoil
  • Easy to Accessorize
  • Be sure to load the magazine correctly.

KelTec CP33 Deals

22 LR for Defensive Shooting – Buyers Guide

There are lots of myths regarding using the .22 LR for self-defense, and the most prominent and foolhardy myth is that the .22 Lr will bounce around. The myth states the .22 LR will destroy the insides of a person because it bounces around and shreds them. 

This simply isn’t true. Bullets can deflect inside the body, but they rarely do so dramatically, resulting in major damage to the internal organs. The design and slow-moving .22 LR are likely to smash into bone and crush due to the soft projectiles most .22 LRs have. 

Don’t rely on the .22 LR to bounce around to stop a threat.

Proper Ammo Prevents Poor Performance 

Think of the humble .22 LR like any other round on the market. Your training ammo and defensive ammo shouldn’t be the same thing. Having super cheap training ammo is a huge benefit to the .22 LR, but that cheap, bulk pack stuff doesn’t make for the best defensive ammo. It’s cheap for a reason, and while it’s fine for the range, it’s not as reliable, accurate, or fast as good-quality ammo. 

The best choice would be purpose-built defensive ammo from a reliable manufacturer. Federal Punch, for example, is engineered for short-barreled handguns and can penetrate reliably to the FBI standards. Winchester makes some dedicated defensive rounds that look promising as well. 

If those are tough to find, the CCI Mini Mags are a good choice and are a premium grade round. However, it’s not designed for defensive use. 

Semi-auto owners need to get practice and ensure their ammunition works perfectly in their guns. Some semi-auto guns tend to be more finicky with certain ammo types, and it’s critical you find what works with your individual gun. 

Train, Train, Train 

Remember how I mentioned cheap ammo? Well, one of the big benefits of the .22 LR is the low price of ammunition. With such a low price, you have no excuse to get out there and train. Since you’re using a .22 LR, every shot counts, and you need to learn how to put those shots where they count. 

Get out there and practice more than marksmanship. Practice fixing malfunctions in an automatic, practice reloads, and make sure you know your gun inside and out. That’s sound advice for any concealed carrier, but with a .22 LR pistol, you have to really make it count. Little bullets with poor energy transfer, suboptimal penetration, and limited expansion require lots of practice. 

Dry Fire Training 

Speaking of training, let’s address dry fire. The unique nature of rimfire pistols requires your firing pin to align with your breach face, and sometimes dry fire can cause the firing pin to strike this breach face. This might break the firing pin. Here’s the thing, some rimfires can dryfire forever and not have issues. Others might break. Some companies advise that dry fire is completely fine. Others say it’s not. 

First, address your manual. What does it say? It should let you know if dryfire will be an issue or not. If you can’t find a definite answer or the manual says not to dry fire, don’t fret. Purchase snap caps. These dummy rounds give the firing pin something to hit safely without the risk of damage. 

Snap caps are super cheap and perfect for dryfire training. 

Carry A Spare 

When it comes to carrying a semi-auto .22 LR, you should seriously consider carrying a spare magazine. It’s not because you might run out of ammo. It’s because of the higher probability of a malfunction with .22 LR semi-automatic weapons. You may need to drop the magazine to clear a malfunction, and it’s easier to let it hit the ground and reload with a fresh one than try to juggle a magazine as you fix a malfunction. 

The Wee Little .22 LR 

Can the .22 LR be used for defensive shooting? Yep, of course. Is it optimum? No, but it’s useable. You have to approach the subject intelligently and focus on how to deal with the downsides of the .22LR as a cartridge. When approached correctly, you can certainly be successful and get a heckuva nice gun in the process. 

Rate

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 7

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

About Travis Pike

Travis is a former United States Marine Corps Infantryman and currently a firearms writer, instructor, and works in Emergency Management.

Recent Posts

2 COMMENTS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

[class^="wpforms-"]
[class^="wpforms-"]