There are many reasons to own a .22 handgun. Varmint control, teaching a young person to shoot a handgun, and available/affordable ammunition are chief among those reasons for most people. As a defensive firearms instructor, I have also found multiple advantages by having a low-recoil alternative to a larger, centerfire pistol. This is especially true in case of injury or when declining health robs a person of the ability to comfortably operate a larger gun.
A .22 provides a gentle introduction to handgun use for people who carry an excessive fear of firearms but are motivated to learn. The relatively quiet report and tame recoil of a rimfire-chambered gun allow the shooter to focus on building a foundation of safe handling and the fundamentals of marksmanship.
However, perhaps the best reason to have a .22 handgun is that they’re fun to shoot. Of the .22 caliber handguns that have come and gone from my collection over the years, I’ve settled on two that I never plan to sell. Here are my pet choices and reasoning.
Chambered in .22 LR, the Kel-Tec P17 is my go-to for teaching young shooters, beginners who are intimidated by gun noise or guns in general, and people who have hands that are so impaired that they cannot reasonably, safety operate a larger-caliber revolver or semi-auto. While the stereotype that smaller guns are easier to operate is usually erroneous, it applies here. It’s compact enough to not be intimidating, but large enough to be easy to grasp, both around the grip and the slide.
To put it succinctly, the P17 is the economical version of Glock’s .22 LR. The controls and features are Glock-like, so skills learned on it translate to other modern striker-fired handguns. Operating the magazine release, racking the slide, and engaging the slide lock are truly lightweight operations with this pistol.
Most importantly, the P17 is the most reliable .22 I’ve owned. That may be due in part to only using high-quality CCI brand ammunition, but even so, it’s never been fussy about high-round count practice sessions or blowing-dust days as most .22s are.
This gun really won me over after a new student came to learn about defensive handgun use for her home. Her fingers were quite deformed and painful due to rheumatoid arthritis. We tried everything: a double-single action revolver and a double-action-only revolver operated with both index fingers (a measure that’s not preferable but necessary for many people). We also experimented with several semi-autos, including one that’s advertised as being easy to operate — and is, unless one’s grip strength or hand conformation is such that the grip safety renders the gun inoperable on the regular.
Although the .22 LR is famously underpowered as a defensive cartridge, this client developed a great affection for the P17 after shooting several of my “easier” guns and eventually bought one for herself.
While no one would prefer a .22 LR for self-protection, when there are more effective choices, it is true that shot placement matters more than caliber. And, I have no doubt that that woman could put shots where she intended. For her, the P17 was the perfect gun.
I’m not a big fan of thumb safeties, and the P17 has one. But I respect the peace of mind some people derive from a mechanical safety. Kel-Tec made sure the safety was handy by putting it on both sides of the gun — just like the mag release. Less experienced gun-wearers should be cautioned that ambi-safeties are often unintentionally placed in the “fire” position by outside-the-holster objects such as seatbelts.
There’s just one problem with a P17, but it just further justifies my affection for this gun. It has something of a quiet cult following and isn’t easy to find. Florida-based Kel-Tec isn’t a huge company, so there are relatively few P17s to begin with. And Kel-Tec’s quality and sound reputation mean its guns usually command more than the MSRP, even used.
Kel-Tec P17 Specifications
Caliber: .22 LR
Weight (unloaded): 0.7 pounds
Barrel length: 3.8 inches
Overall length: 6.7 inches
Height: 5.3 inches
Trigger pull: 3 pounds
Another pistol that’s been a keeper is my Kel-Tec PMR30. It’s chambered in .22 Winchester Magnum. Like the P17, the PMR30 is enjoyable to shoot, and has, only on occasion, offered up a malfunction when caked with carbon. But my reasons for considering it part of my ballistic family are not the same as with the P17.
The PMR30 has the squarish profile that many surely associate the Kel-Tec brand as several of its pistols and rifles sport boxy lines. With that profile and a waffle pattern of squares (literally molded into the grip for traction), it has a delightfully industrial look. I don’t consider myself a collector at all, but I feel a certain pleasure when both the PMR30 and its .22 WMR carbine counterpart, the CMR, are on the range together.
These guns form a wonderful, practical, matched set that has given me much enjoyment. If the set of Mad Max had guns created just for it, the PMR30 and CMR would’ve been ideal. Not just because of their reliable functionality, but their futuristic and industrial-esque profiles.
Of course, .22 WMR offers a boost in firepower compared to .22 LR, making the PMR30 a confidence-building choice for dispatching game or varmints if necessary. And while its CMR stablemate is a better choice for hunting, the PMR30 is perfectly accurate and capable at closer ranges. Together, they make a bugout setup complete.
The CMR can be a suppressor and bipod host, making it highly capable for taking game as large as a deer—with competent and careful shot placement, of course. The PMR30 can slip into a sizable shoulder holster for wintertime concealed carry or carrying aboard a cycle or horse.
The PMR30 is a joy to shoot in part because it has a 30-round, flush-fit magazine. Shoot, shoot, and shoot some more before reloading. I’ll admit, it’s not the easiest mag to load. After it’s more than half-full, there’s a certain amount of applying the right amount of thumb pressure and holding your mouth just right to get all those rounds in there. And I’m not crazy about the magazine release, which is at the bottom of the mag well.
Like the P17, the PMR30 has ambi thumb safety levers and Hi-Viz sights. I could sure live without the former, while acknowledging that it has a place in certain contexts of use.
The Hi-Viz sights make the PMR30 easier to aim on targets of any sort. It has a generous Picatinny rail to attach a light. This lightweight pistol makes an excellent backpacking partner that’s easy to carry, yet capable of taking game and serving a self-protection role. Unfortunately, more expensive, and scarcer .22 WMR ammo makes the PMR30 a little less inviting for extended practice than the P17.
Kel-Tec PMR30 Specifications
Caliber: .22 WMR
Capacity: 30+1 (10-round mag also available)
Weight (unloaded): 14 ounces
Barrel length: 4.4 inches
Overall length: 7.9 inches
Height: 5.8 inches
Width: 1.3 inches
Trigger pull: 5 pounds
The .22 LR/.22 WMR category of pistols is one that’s largely overshadowed by centerfire guns. However, for all the reasons named here, and perhaps others that are unique to your situation, it’s worth adding one to your collection. Owning one of these outstanding Kel-Tec guns will deliver years of enjoyment and survival-ready capability, along with the pride inherent in owning an American-made product.