The Davis D32: It’s Not the Worst Gun Ever Made

…but if you can’t find a Clerke First it will do. OK, that’s a bit unfair. The D32 is not what you’d call good, but it’s not dreadful either.

The Davis D32 derringer. It was not only cheap, it was… well, it was cheap.

In the 1960s a lot of folks were getting very concerned that cheap firearms were available to the ‘wrong sort of people.’ Criminals? No. Poor people? Nope- it was even worse than that. Black people were getting them. Something had to be done, so they pretended criminals liked these small, inexpensive guns. They didn’t of course; criminals preferred full-sized, more intimidating handguns.

So, with the entirely spurious claim that they were trying to prevent crime, politicians and the NRA pushed through the Gun Control Act of 1968, which, among other things, forbade the importation of small, inexpensive European pistols. Weirdly, since criminals weren’t enamored of these guns, this aspect of the bill did nothing to prevent crime. It did, however, make it more expensive and thus harder for the ‘wrong people’ to arm themselves.

George Jennings, a machinist and engineer, saw an opportunity. In 1970 he formed Raven Arms and made the P-25. This was a .25 ACP semi-auto made largely out of injection-molded zinc-alloy, with the barrel and critical components made of steel. It was simple, it worked and it was very, very inexpensive.

Stay with me here, this is relevant.

In time George’s children formed their own companies, making similarly inexpensive arms. One was Jennings, and the other was Davis. Jennings started with a small .22 semi-auto that was mechanically identical to the Raven (though it was cosmetically different,) and Davis started with a line of derringers in .22lr, .22 magnum, .25 ACP and .32 ACP. Davis was in operation from 1982 to 1999, and eventually produced semi-autos (again based on the Raven) in calibers up to .380 ACP. They weren’t very durable in the long term, but they were cheap and they worked.

I bought a Davis D32 in 1985 or so for the princely sum of $40, and it was a constant companion while I was on duty, riding in my right front pants pocket. It was a back-up to my back-up; less a lest resort than a ‘Hail Mary.’ When I cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger it went ‘bang,’ and for a contact-distance weapon that was sufficient. Of course the point of aim and the point of impact weren’t never but similar (to paraphrase one of my favorite movies,) but I learned to work with it.

The gun went away at some long-ago point, and I spared them little thought until recently… we’ll get back to that. When a buddy offered me an H&R 732 revolver, and offered to throw in this D32 as a sweetener, I was happy to take him up on it.

So, What is This Marvel of Engineering?

The D32 is essentially a smaller version of Remington’s iconic over-and-under derringer. Mostly. Sort of. Like the Raven P25 the barrels and frame are injection-molded Zamac (a zinc alloy) with steel barrel-liners and internals.

To load the gun you must pull the hammer back to the half-cock notch. Then you rotate the lever on the right side of the frame 180 degrees forward, which allows the barrels to tip up and gives access to the chambers. Once the chambers are loaded you cannot lower the hammer or it will press the firing pin against the primer. If you wish to lower the hammer you will need to set the safety. If the hammer is down on the safety, you cannot disengage the safety without at least half-cocking the hammer.

Like the Remington it is based on, the barrels tip up to load and unload. There is a sliding extractor to help remove expended cartridges.

Like it’s distant forebear, the D32 is single-action. Cocking the hammer fires one chamber, and repeating this fires the other. Pretty simple. Open the mechanism, slide the extractor out to get the shells started then pluck them from the chambers and you’re ready to reload. The cross-bolt safety blocks the hammer from striking the firing pin, and you cannot drop the hammer from half-cock by pulling the trigger. If loaded the gun should be carried on half-cock with the safety engaged for maximum… well, safety.

You would probably be perfectly safe with the hammer set to the half-cock notch, but I’m not sure I’d chance it. When drawing mine I would disengage the safety with my thumb, then shift to the hammer and cock the weapon, aim (with more optimism than confidence ) and fire.

Shooting the Wee Beasty

Down at Champion Arms I bought a silhouette target and ran it out to three yards, aimed and fired. The trigger isn’t great, but I have shot some very expensive derringers that were worse. Likewise the sights are surprisingly usable. Even more surprising the sights actually bear some resemblance to where the bullets hit.

At three yards, one barrel actually hits point-of-aim! Amazing!

One barrel shot to point of aim, the other about four inches higher, but both are centered. I was actually quite pleased with this; my previous D32 were not well centered. In what I can only describe as a fit of optimism I taped the holes and ran the target out to seven yards, with a significantly less happy result.

All of the bullets hit quite high, with several of them landing just above the target.

OK, let’s call three yards ‘maximum effective range.’ In fairness that’s what the gun was designed for- table-top distances, and it will do the job. Honestly for a gun with a 2″ sight radius and a less than awesome trigger I have to say it does alright.

I don’t actually think the gun is inherently inaccurate, mind you. Both barrels put the bullets in pretty much the same place every time; the spread is due entirely to the operator at this range. Sure, each barrel groups in a different place… but the problems here are the operator and the fact that it’s not an easy gun to wring accuracy out of.

After twenty rounds I was ready to move on, and it was less due to the gun than to the fact that I shoved a Craftsman work-bench into my van last night. I had other guns to shoot, and my back was registering it’s displeasure already.

So, My New EDC?

Not hardly. It’s a fun little trip down memory lane, but it’s about as big and heavy as my Seecamp LWS32, which holds three times as many cartridges and delivers them with significantly greater ease, speed and accuracy… and even that isn’t my primary EDC. Not to mention that while this gun works it’s not all that well-made, and doesn’t offer up much in the way of aesthetics to attract interest.

That’s not to say I don’t have plans for this gun… which mostly involve taking it apart and copying the mechanism to make an over-and-under derringer from scratch. Maybe chambered in .251 TCR…

Anyway, I’ve always considered a derringer of this type to be a fairly dubious proposition for self-defense, but they’re fun and carry a sense of history. Sometimes that’s all a gun needs.

Michael Tinker Pearce, 28 August 2020

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4 thoughts on “The Davis D32: It’s Not the Worst Gun Ever Made

  1. awp101

    I handled an amazing number of guns from all of those companies when I worked in a pawn shop in the mid-90s. It got to the point we wouldn’t take the .25s because we couldn’t move them at $40/ea. Sorta wish I’d bought a handful of them now…

    1. John Zurek

      Not sure where I got it but the Chrome D32 I bought was OK until it locked in the ‘hammer down’ position. Never figured out why. It would release and work then it would lock. I will say it was the worst gun I ever owned because of that.

  2. Joseph Karl Houseman

    I had a .38 derringer in the 70’s which was accurate enough to topple beer cans at 25 yards but only from the bottom barrel, the top went about 2 feet higher. The bore was very crudely rifled. The actual grooves were only about .001″ deep but looked much deeper because of the burr thrown up on each side of the grooves. Despite that it shot surprisingly well.


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