I’ve always had a soft spot for the FN-FAL and have owned several. It is little known, but there was once a deal in the works with our European allies that could have resulted in our military being armed with this fine weapon, but politics being what it is, we ended up with the M-14 instead. If I had my choice, I would carry one wherever I went. I know it’s a long and heavy weapon and would be impractical in some circumstances, but I can dream, can’t I?
Reality relegates us all to handguns for daily concealed carry, which isn’t a terrible thing, but anyone knowingly facing a gun battle armed with less than a competent rifle like the FN-FAL or an appropriate submachine gun—I’ve always been fond of the Thompson and once upon a time, owned one, but that’s a story for another time—is not planning a long life. Still, with proper training and regular practice, it’s possible to be well armed indeed with any one of many fine handguns in all sizes.
On one side of the practical concealed carry spectrum is the iconic M1911 in .45 ACP. It fires a very effective cartridge—for a handgun—and is a proven, reliable and accurate design available in a bewildering variety of configurations from a great many manufacturers. Virtually any accessory one might imagine is available for this excellent handgun. Unfortunately, it is a large and heavy handgun. It is the opposite side of the spectrum that is the subject of this article: The North American Arms NAA-22LR mini-revolver. I’ll get into the why of this tiny hideout gun later.
The little revolver is truly little. Only 4″ long, 2.25″ high and 5/8″ wide at the cylinder, it’s actually smaller—though thicker—than an iPhone, and weighs little more fully loaded. This left side view shows its clean lines and simple construction.
This right side view reveals the manufacturer’s logo and the .22LR chambering. The weapon holds five rounds and is essentially a first generation single action revolver, virtually identical in action to the equally iconic Colt .45 single action revolver of western movie fame. Wooden grips are standard on the $199.00 MSRP revolver, but a wide variety of accessories are also available.
Like the single action revolvers its design follows, reloading is not a fast process. This exploded view reveals the method of loading the weapon:
pressing the button on the end of the knurled under-barrel rod releases the rod on which the cylinder rotates and allows the cylinder to be removed from the right side of the frame. Fired cases may or may not fall free of the cylinder, but the rod doubles as a handy tool for poking out fired brass if necessary (wipe off the tip before reinserting it into the frame). Recharging the cylinder with five rounds is quick and easy, and the process is reversed for reassembly. It takes a little gentle jiggling and a bit of finesse to reassemble the weapon smoothly, but it’s not difficult. If it’s taking real effort, it’s being done incorrectly.
The weapon is made entirely of stainless steel, which is a good thing for essentially a pocket gun. Sweat and body oils are hard on the finish and metals of any handgun, and particularly so for one that might seldom be carried in a holster. Stainless steel will rust, but is far less susceptible to rust and corrosion than carbon steels. The weapon is well machined and finished. Despite its size, it looks and feels like a quality weapon.
This is a single action handgun—essentially a first generation single action handgun–and this presents a unique safety issue, uniquely addressed by North American Arms. Cowboys and others carrying the original Colt loaded only five chambers of their revolvers, leaving the hammer down on the empty chamber. This was necessary because a blow on the hammer could force the firing pin/hammer into a primer, inadvertently firing the weapon. This was not an optimum solution, but the shooter still had five rounds available. This is a more significant problem with the mini-revolver, which holds only five rounds. Use the old cowboy safety method and only four rounds are available.
Unlike many single-action models made by Ruger and other manufacturers, there is no transfer bar or other mechanism that prevents the firing pin from contacting a primer unless the hammer is fully cocked and the trigger deliberately pulled. This photograph reveals the solution: the “halfway notch cylinder.”
Notice the hammer is down and is resting between two cartridges. Notice too the notches machined in the rear of the cylinder between chambers. Not only do these notches prevent the hammer from ever touching a primer unless the weapon is cocked and the trigger pulled, they also lock the cylinder, preventing it from rotating. There is—as with everything—a catch: It takes practice to learn to engage this notch safely.
Starting with an empty weapon, pull the hammer back approximately halfway. There is a noticeable click as the hammer is pulled back about ¼”. This is the trigger resetting, but it will not release the hammer unless it is more completely cocked. It is necessary to continue to cock the hammer—while simultaneously holding the trigger back—until the cylinder will rotate freely. The hammer can then be allowed to fall forward into a notch between chambers. Cocking the hammer fully properly aligns the next chamber with the barrel (the cylinder rotates to the right—clockwise). The potential danger of doing this with a loaded weapon should be glaringly obvious, and no one should try to engage the halfway notches without sufficient safe practice to feel comfortable with the drill. Of course safe handling rules, such as always pointing the muzzle in a safe direction, apply whether any weapon is unloaded or loaded.
North American Arms doesn’t even pretend to provide a rear sight. There is no notch machined in the rear of the top strap, but the front sight is substantial—remember, this is a very small gun—and easily seen. There is what appears to be a very slight notch on the hammer, but when cocked, the hammer is below the level of the top strap and the tiny notch would be useless as a sight under any circumstance. Because there is no finger guard—the trigger is fully exposed—keeping the trigger finger in register—off the trigger and in contact with the frame, pointing straight forward—until ready to pull the trigger is even more important than with most firearms.
The tiny standard grip will allow secure purchase only for my second finger, but a proper Weaver grip and stance applies just as it does with any handgun. In rifles and larger handguns, the ubiquitous .22LR cartridge produces virtually no felt recoil. Not so with this little revolver. There is real muzzle up-flip requiring most shooters to reacquire a strong grip between rounds. Like the original single action revolvers, the very shape of the grip allows the weapon to move in the hand when fired. This is not necessarily a bad thing as the mere act of cocking the hammer—unless it is done with the off hand—will require the shooter to adjust their grip before firing. With practice, it is possible to empty the little weapon quite quickly, but it is not an intuitive matter, and once empty, takes time to reload.
Accuracy is reasonable within the design limitations of the weapon. I can produce a reasonable group—I can hit it–on a standard silhouette target from 15 yards, but it is time-consuming and not something I can do every time without fail. This is clearly a gun meant for close range—very close range, including muzzle contact. Fortunately, most shootings do indeed take place at such short ranges. With this gun, focusing on the front sight takes on new importance, as it is the only sight available. Again, with practice, at practical ranges for this weapon—seven yards and less (less is better), it’s possible to quickly get a good sense of where to hold the sight to produce solid hits. Shooting the little gun is not only challenging, but real fun and it’s one of those unusual guns that attracts all manner of attention—and requests to shoot it—on any range.
I have experienced some keyholing with this weapon. By this I mean the shape of the hole left in a target indicating that the bullet became unstable after leaving the muzzle of the 1 1/8″ barrel and struck the target more or less sideways. There seems to be no particular rhyme or reason for this, and no brand of ammunition seems to produce it more than any other, but I’ve learned to expect one or more keyholed rounds for each 10 rounds fired. Even so, the keyholed rounds do strike the target more or less where aimed.
This might seem disconcerting and almost certainly does not improve the effectiveness of the anemic .22LR cartridge. If necessary to shoot, two rounds might be considered the minimum fired. Many people have been killed by the .22LR simply because it is so widely used, but the primary goal—whenever it is necessary to shoot another human being—must always be to immediately stop them from doing whatever made it necessary and legal to shoot them in the first place. That’s why I’d prefer to carry a FN-FAL. Its .308 cartridge is an excellent man-stopper. The .22LR simply is not, but even so, a shot to the heart or brain—if it penetrates the skull—with a .22LR might be as effective as a shot with a larger, more powerful handgun round. However, the .222LR simply can’t be counted upon to provide real stopping power. This is why the .380 ACP is generally considered to be the smallest effective handgun cartridge, as I noted in my recent review of the S&W Bodyguard.
There are times when it’s difficult to carry a larger, more effective handgun. Mrs. Manor and I have been, for most of our lives, runners. With advancing age and the wear on our joints untold thousands of miles has produced, we’ve turned to bicycling, but the mini-revolver is small enough for a lightly clad runner to carry, as we often did in the past. Its stainless steel construction provides protection against the prodigious sweat runners produce. It would be wise to regularly change cartridges, however, just in case.
The weapon would also be a wise choice for those that prefer to carry a backup handgun, particularly in warm climates where options are limited by the smaller amount of clothing warm climates demand. I’m sure readers can easily imagine a variety of other reasons and circumstances for carrying such a small, light, easily concealed weapon. There is no question that the mini-revolver is, compared to larger weapons, particularly semi autos, limited in many ways, but when it’s a matter of carrying it or nothing, it’s an easy choice.
North American Arms provides a wide variety of interesting accessories including all manner of grips and holsters. Several might be of particular interest:
(1) A larger, folding polymer grip that doubles as a holster. When unfolded, the grip snaps in place like a lockback knife. I’ve never used this accessory, but it would obviously allow at least a two fingered grip and would at least partially break up the silhouette of the weapon in a pocket.
(2) A stainless steel laser sight manufactured by LaserLyte. At $99.00, it clamps onto the top strap. It’s certainly small and neat, but if the point of this weapon is its minimal size, it might be smarter to simply practice enough to be sure where you’re shooting.
(3) A belt buckle holster that displays the weapon for all to see. Most people don’t realize they’re looking at a real handgun. It’s a clever accessory and has been around a long time, but it would be wise to check the law, as many jurisdictions that allow concealed carry do not allow open carry, and it doesn’t get much more open than this.
The gun comes with a cute little gun rug, but no other accessories. This is one of those guns that falls into one of two categories: an essential backup tool for certain people in certain occupations, and a cute little gun that many shooters would find fun to own and shoot.
Used within its limitations, it works as it should, but the .22LR, particularly fired from a 1 1/8″ barrel, is anything but an effective stopper. Still, the mere sight of many guns, even one so small, presented by a confident, serious shooter, stops violent crimes as often as two million times a year, usually without firing a shot. One should never count on the idea that the sight of a gun will make its use unnecessary—guns should never be pointed at anyone unless the legal cause to shoot exists—but the possible discouraging effect is real.
It must always be remembered that this is essentially a very small first generation revolver with an exposed trigger. In many ways, it is easier to make mistakes with smaller weapons than larger weapons. This doesn’t mean the weapon is unreasonably dangerous, just that it has a particular manual of arms that must be carefully observed. Unlike with some weapons, there is simply no room to stamp safety instructions—which is not a bad thing.
The mini-revolver is well made, interesting and fun. What other reason for owning any gun is required?