Thursday, September 13, 2007


Defining A True Pocket Pistol
Dr. Marshall C. St. John

The author's Kel-Tec P-3AT

How do YOU define a "pocket gun?" Obviously, this is a very subjective thing, and people will have a variety of opinions. For example, I found this comment on an internet forum:

"For some reason, people like to take compact firearms and try to claim that they are pocket guns. You want a test: here is one. Go into a gun store wearing jeans. Take a gun and put it into your rear pocket. If it can be totally concealed in your rear pocket, then you have found a pocketgun. If a little of it peeks out, then you have a small gun, but not a pocketgun...My personal test as to what is a pocket gun and what is not, is the guns ability to be fully concealed in the rear pocket of a pair of slacks."

Someone else said: "My definition of a pocket gun is one that can actually be carried in,and drawn from, the pocket effectively in public, not merely being able to fit in one's pocket."

There are some who say they are able to conceal a full-size 1911 handgun in their pocket. I don't believe it. On the other hand., by strict definition, a pocket gun is any gun that will fit in a pocket. That's pretty broad and inclusive!

Here's a link to "flyandscuba's" collection of pocket pistols (photos and comments).

My personal definition of a pocket gun ties in with the guns usefulness as a concealed weapon. Many a large gun can be stuffed into a pocket. But it will be noticeable, because of its size, thickness and weight.

I define a genuine pocket gun as one that will comfortably fit into a man's front pants pocket, not be uncomfortably heavy so as to shift around a lot while walking, and not be noticeable to the general public. I believe these criteria rule out anything that is larger, thicker and heavier than a Kel-Tec P-11. This is just my personal definition, and of course you are welcome to your own opinion!

There is a "thread" on the Keltec Owners Group forum in which P-11 owners are discussing whether they think the P-11 is just a tad too much for pocket carry.

Here's a picture of a Kel-Tec P3AT and P-11 together. As you can see, the P-3AT is quite a bit smaller. However, the P-11 CAN work as a pocket pistol, though it is at the borderline, in my opinion.

The Kel-Tec PF-9 (see my review) is just a bit lighter and thinner than the P-11, and works better as a pocket pistol. However, the capacity of the PF-9 is only 7 + 1. The PF-9 is 5.85 inches long, 4.3 inches high, and .88 inches thin. It weighs 12.7 ounces empty. It is said to be the flatest and lightest 9mm pistol available. I carry one in my pocket, and in my opinion it is (for the money) the best pocket pistol available. If you have plenty of funds, then you may prefer the Kahr PM9, or the Rohrbaugh 9mm pistol.

Here is a drawing to illustrate the sizes of a few popular semi-automatic pistols that may be carried as pocket guns. The measurements are in inches and are not perfectly accurate to the nth degree, but close enough for a visual comparison.

Here's a photo of my Kel-Tec P-11. If a gun is larger than a P-11, then I don't see how it can be easily used as a pocket gun. My P-11 weighs 21 ounces (according to my postage scale) fully loaded with 11 rounds of 9mm ammo.

You will see from the drawing that the Kahr PM9, is somewhat smaller (and a bit thinner) than the Kel-Tec P-11. This would make it more of a true pocket gun. I don't own a PM9 (yet!)

The PM9 has a capacity of only 7 rounds, versus 11 rounds for the Kel-Tec P-11. So, subtracting the weight of four rounds of 9mm ammo, a fully loaded PM9 must weigh in the neighborhood of 19 ounces.

There are a few handguns even smaller than the Kahr PM9, and here we enter the realm of undeniable pocket pistols. The Kel-Tec P-3AT (.380ACP) and the Rohrbaugh R-9 (9mm) are nearly identical in size.

My 1st generation P-3AT weighs about eight ounces, and around eleven ounces fully loaded. I am told that the 2nd generation P-3AT weighs about an ounce more. The Rohrbaugh weighs 12.8 ounces, and around 15 ounces fully loaded. The R-9 is the most "pocketable" 9mm pistol in existence, and the extra weight will probably not make it more uncomfortable than the P3AT, if a good pocket holster is used. The firepower advantage of 9mm over .380 must not be overlooked.

The Kel-Tec P-3AT has an older, smaller brother, the P-32. Their sizes are very nearly identical, but the P-32 weighs about an ounce less, and shoots the smaller, lighter .32ACP caliber round. Of course, it would be better to use at least a .380 caliber bullet for self-defense.

The smallest .380ACP semi-auto pocket pistol is the Seecamp LWS380, which is only 4.25 x 3.25 x .9. The weight (11.45 oz unloaded) is a bit more than the Kel-Tec P-3AT, but less than the R9, and not unmanageable.

With a pistol this small, it is important to have a pocket holster that will fill out your pocket, hide the outline of the gun, and keep the gun from rotating around in your pocket. You wouldn't want to reach for your gun in trying circumstances and come up holding the slide instead of the grip!

Speaking of "hiding the outline" of the gun, here's a photo of my Kel-Tec P-11 in my pocket.

The "print" of the gun shape is hidden by a thin piece of plastic that I cut out and stuck in my pocket before putting the P-11 in my pocket. I have not purchased a leather pocket holster, but the principle is the same, and the little piece of plastic is very light and smooth. The pistol rides behind it.

North American Arms makes some neat little revolvers: the Black Widow, the Mini-Mag, and so on, that are true pocket guns. These little guns shoot either .22 or .22 magnum cartridges. Usually they come with two swappable cylinders.

North American Arms also makes the semi-auto Guardian pistols in .32ACP, .380ACP and .32NAA. These are very nice firearms. The .32 Guardian is 4.4 inches long, 3.2 inches high, and only .86 inches thick. It weighs only 13.5 ounces. The .380 is a bit larger and heavier (18.7 ounces).

The Beretta Tomcat is a popular .32ACP pistol. It measures 4.9 inches long, 3.7 inches high, and 1.1 inches thick. It weighs 16.9 ounces.

There are also those who claim that Smith and Wesson Ultralight J-frame revolvers can be pocket guns. Some of them are definitely light enough. For example the 342PD Airlite Titanium weighs only 11 ounces, and carries five .38 special cartridges. However the 342 PD revolver is 6 5/16 inches long and about 1.3 inches thick. This is quite a bit larger than a Kel-Tec P-11, and probably too big for MY pockets!

By the way, has a great review of the S & W 342PD, with lots of photos. Click here to read it.

There are also a number of .25ACP pocket pistols available, such as the Raven, the Baby Browning the NAA Guardian.

Finally, let's not forget the "Derringers." The one or two cartridge pistols that have been around for over 100 years. They are small and come in all calibers.

My personal choice for the ideal pocket gun is either the Kel-Tec P-3AT or the Kel-Tec PF-9. The P-3AT is the lightest .380ACP pistol, and of a very pocketable size. It is also quite affordable. For many links to information about any of the pistols mentioned above, click here. For my review of the PF-9, click HERE.

Also "Bobo" from "The High Road" has made a fantastic chart featuring 16 different pocket guns with photos and specifications. Here is the link to the pdf file.