The Best .22 Pistols for Self-Defense

The Best .22 Pistols for Self-Defense - Uppercut Tactical

The .22 Long Rifle cartridge is the world’s most common rimfire cartridge and the world’s most widely available firearm cartridge overall. Ammunition in this caliber is more commonly available than some popular centerfire chamberings, such as 9x19mm, 5.56mm NATO, or 12 gauge.

The cartridge is popularly known for its low cost and low recoil, and numerous firearms are available in .22 Long Rifle, including handguns. As one of the most commonly available types of ammunition in the United States, you may be wondering if a .22 pistol is suitable for self-defense. 

Discover the pros and cons of choosing a pistol or revolver in this caliber and learn about the best .22-caliber pistols for self-defense in today’s market.

22 pistol for self defense

Why Should You Consider a .22 Pistol for Self-Defense?

Managing the recoil of a firearm and maintaining aim is crucial for shooting accurately and quickly, no matter the type of gun.

When it comes to self-defense firearms, handguns are considered the hardest category to shoot accurately and proficiently. Unlike most rifles and shotguns, handguns do not feature stocks and usually have a shorter barrel and sight radius. This makes recoil management and sight control with handguns more challenging.

When asked about self-defense handguns, most self-defense communities will start by recommending centerfire handgun cartridges such as 9mm, .45 ACP, or .357 Magnum. These represent the most common self-defense handgun calibers in the United States.

However, many shooters struggle to shoot accurately or comfortably with guns chambered in these cartridges, adding to the inherent difficulties of handling handguns.

Factors like natural sensitivity to recoil, reduced strength due to aging, or specific physical or medical conditions can make it harder for them to become skilled with these firearms.

For these shooters, .22 Long Rifle may be a more viable option. A .22 LR cartridge is loaded with a smaller amount of gunpowder than most other handgun calibers, meaning it generates less recoil energy. This means that .22 LR guns require less strength for recoil control, making them easier to shoot and practice with, including handguns.

22 pistol self defense range practice

Pros of .22 LR Handguns for Self-Defense:

  • Easy to shoot. Virtually every .22 LR pistol on the market is easy to shoot, whether you choose a small, polymer-framed model like the Walther P22 or a large, stainless steel target pistol like the Browning Buck Mark.

    The cartridge’s low recoil generates less energy than a larger, centerfire equivalent like 9mm or .45 ACP. This means the sights move little between each shot and the recoil impulse doesn’t disturb the shooter’s hands as much.

    The ease of shooting guns in this caliber is the main reason why .22 LR is recommended for beginners; practicing your fundamentals with a low-recoil cartridge is easier than with a more potent one.

  • All types of guns available. Most handgun cartridges are typically separated into two groups: those intended for semi-automatic pistols, such as .45 ACP, and those primarily meant for revolvers, like .38 Special. .22 Long Rifle is one of the few firearm cartridges for which both are available.

    Pistols and revolvers chambered in .22 LR are both readily available and capable of firing most brands of factory ammunition. They are also available in various sizes, ranging from full-sized target shooting pistols to compact concealed-carrying models.

  • Inexpensive ammunition. While ammunition prices vary year after year, .22 Long Rifle has historically been less expensive per round than any centerfire cartridge on the market. Whether you are on a budget or want more shots per dollar to practice with, going with a .22 LR handgun means spending far less on ammunition than other options on the market.

    As of February 2024, typical target shooting .22 LR ammunition costs 6 to 10 cents per round and is frequently sold in bulk packs, making it easy and inexpensive to stock up. Cheaper 9x19mm typically costs 20-25 cents per round, whereas .45 ACP often costs 40-50 cents per round.

  • Cons of .22 LR Handguns for Self-Defense:

  • Low-powered. The biggest disadvantage and the primary tradeoff of using .22 Long Rifle for self-defense is its low power. The low recoil is a result of the cartridge’s relative lack of power compared to other handgun calibers.

    A standard-velocity, 40-grain .22 LR cartridge generates about 90 foot-pounds force (ft-lbf) of muzzle energy from a pistol barrel. A 115-grain 9mm pistol generates about 400 ft-lbf of energy, or about four times that of a .22 LR.

    While proper shot placement and accuracy are critical regardless of the cartridge, .22 LR ammunition may not have enough stopping power, meaning it may not produce enough energy to stop a determined assailant on the first shot. You are more likely to need multiple rounds to stop someone in a self-defense situation with a .22 than with higher-powered ammo.

  • Reliability concerns. .22 Long Rifle ammunition is a rimmed cartridge, meaning the firing pin must strike the edge of its rim to ignite the gunpowder and fire a bullet down the barrel. It is an older and less reliable technology than centerfire ammunition, which uses dedicated primers.

    Because .22 LR is made using older technologies, one of the most common issues across all brands is a slightly higher chance of failure-to-fire (FTF) malfunctions. Whether you choose a pistol or a revolver, you must be prepared for the possibility that one of your rounds will not fire.

  • Cheaper ammo may be inconsistent. While numerous ammo manufacturers offer .22 Long Rifle ammo, the quality of a given brand may vary. Cheaper, bulk-pack ammunition prioritizes quantity over quality, meaning ammunition from the same box is not guaranteed to have the same performance round to round.

    You can mitigate this issue by choosing more expensive, match-grade, and competition-oriented ammunition. However, you may be trading more reliability for higher ammunition costs, potentially defeating the cost advantage of shooting .22 LR.

  • What is the Best .22 Pistol for Self-Defense? 

    Whether you prefer semi-automatic pistols or revolvers, the best .22 pistol for self-defense depends on several factors. Consider the type of self-defense application you need it for (e.g., home defense vs. concealed carrying), the features and controls you are most comfortable with, and ergonomic considerations.

    Below are five of the best .22 semi-auto pistols for self-defense and why you should consider them. They are among the best-selling and most popular .22 LR handguns in the United States today.

    1. Simplicity and Accuracy: Ruger Mark IV 22/45

    The Ruger Mark IV 22/45 is part of the fourth-generation Ruger Standard pistol family, dating back to the Mark I in 1949. The Mark IV 22/45 model features a lightweight polymer frame with a steel receiver and barrel, an adjustable rear sight, and a fixed front blade sight.

    This handgun is easy to operate, with all controls placed in natural, easy-to-reach positions. The 22/45 also has a convenient takedown button, making it easy to separate the receiver assembly and the frame for cleaning and maintenance.

    Why Consider the Ruger Mark IV 22/45 for Self-Defense?

    The Ruger Mark IV 22/45 is a highly accurate handgun with a comfortable grip angle and 1911-style grip panels. While it is primarily meant for plinking, target shooting, and competition, it is accurate enough to press it into self-defense duties if needed. 

    The 5.5” barrel will fire groups tight enough for bullseye competition shooting right out of the box when paired with quality ammunition and a competent shooter.

    Specifications (Ruger Mark IV 22/45)

    • Standard capacity: 10-round magazine + 1 in the chamber
    • Overall length: 9.75”
    • Barrel length: 5.5”
    • Weight: 34.4 oz.

    2. Highest Standard Capacity: Kel-Tec CP33

    The Kel-Tec CP33 was designed to stand out from other .22 handguns on the market by pushing the limits of rimfire magazine technology. This full-sized polymer-framed handgun was designed around its unique quad-stack magazine, capable of accepting up to 33 rounds in about the same volume as a 15-round 9mm magazine.

    The CP33 comes out of the box with a Picatinny rail on top of the frame and a threaded barrel, making it ready to accept various attachments and accessories.

    Why Consider the Kel-Tec CP33 for Self-Defense?

    If you need a rimfire pistol with the highest possible capacity, look no further than the CP33. Few handguns offer the capacity the CP33 does, even when counting centerfire calibers. Fewer yet provide a high capacity and low recoil, allowing you to make several follow-up shots and compensate for the cartridge’s relatively low stopping power.

    Specifications (Kel-Tec CP33)

    • Standard capacity: 33-round magazine + 1 in the chamber
    • Overall length: 10.6”
    • Barrel length: 5.5”
    • Weight: 24 oz.

    3. Most Like a Centerfire Pistol: Glock 44

    The Glock 44 was introduced in 2020 and designed to fulfill one mission: design a .22 LR pistol that matches the dimensions and controls of the Glock 19, America’s most popular 9mm pistol. 

    The G44’s barrel length, overall length, height, width, and trigger pull weight are identical or nearly identical to its 9mm cousin, making it suitable for personal defense and concealed carrying. The two important differences are capacity and weight: 10+1 rounds and 16.4 oz. loaded vs. the Glock 19’s 15+1 and 30.16 oz.

    Why Consider the Glock 44 for Self-Defense?

    The G44 is as close to a centerfire Glock pistol as it gets while still being a .22 Long Rifle. The controls are in the same position as most other Glocks, including the Safe-Action trigger system and safety. The grip angle, grip texture, serrations, and sights are all virtually identical to the Glock 19, making it ergonomically very similar.

    Specifications (Glock 44)

    • Standard capacity: 10-round magazine + 1 in the chamber
    • Overall length: 7.28”
    • Barrel length: 4.02”
    • Weight: 14.64 oz. (with empty magazine), 16.4 oz. (with loaded magazine)

    4. Most Concealable Pistol and Easiest to Use: Beretta 21A Bobcat

    If you are primarily interested in the concealed-carry side of self-defense, you may already know that the smaller and lighter the gun, the easier it is to conceal. The Beretta 21A Bobcat, continuously produced since 1984, is one of the smallest concealed-carry handguns on today’s market.

    The Bobcat offers a unique combination of small size, ease of carrying, and convenient operation. Its unique feature, the tip-up barrel, allows you to reach and load a .22 LR cartridge in the chamber without racking the slide.

    Why Consider the Beretta 21A Bobcat for Self-Defense?

    The Bobcat can answer the self-defense needs of two types of shooters: Those who want the smallest possible self-defense handgun and those who lack the hand strength to rack a traditional pistol slide. The tip-up barrel feature eliminates the need for challenging hand movements, letting older or physically impaired shooters load and shoot the Bobcat comfortably.

    Specifications (Beretta 21A Bobcat)

    • Standard capacity: 7-round magazine + 1 in the chamber
    • Overall length: 4.92”
    • Barrel length: 2.4”
    • Weight: 11.8 oz.

    5. Most Concealable .22 Revolver: Ruger LCR-22

    One of the main challenges of carrying a concealed firearm is the tradeoff between comfort and concealment. While larger pistols may be more powerful and easier to shoot, they can be cumbersome to carry all day. Many shooters eventually abandon the idea of carrying large or uncomfortable guns, leaving them at home. This decision can leave them unarmed on the day they need a gun the most.

    If you need the lightest, most concealable .22 LR revolver possible to stay armed every day, consider choosing the Ruger LCR-22. This .22 LR version of the popular Ruger LCR is the smallest and lightest revolver in Ruger’s catalog, featuring a 100% aluminum frame, comfortable rubber Hogue grips, and an unloaded weight of less than 15 ounces.

    Why Consider the Ruger LCR-22 for Self-Defense?

    As the adage goes, “better the .22 in your pocket than the .45 at home.” If the largest weapon you feel comfortable conceal-carrying all day is a .22 revolver, the LCR-22 was designed for you. Despite its size, the cylinder can accept up to 8 shots, making it comparable in capacity to more powerful concealed-carry pistols.

    Specifications (Ruger LCR-22)

    • Standard capacity: 8-shot cylinder
    • Overall length: 6.5”
    • Barrel length: 1.87”
    • Weight: 14.9 oz.

    More about Self Defense Weapons and Ammo

    At Uppercut Tactical, we believe the right to self-defense is essential for all Americans. Our mission is to offer the best self defense information and products on the market, giving you the means to protect yourself and your loved ones in any situation.

    Did you choose your gun already? Time to buy some self defense ammo.


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