The term ‘mouse gun’ has been around a long time; I remember hearing it as a child in the 1960s and I’m certain it wasn’t new then. These are a species of tiny pistols for ultimate concealment. Traditionally these are chambered for .25 ACP or .22 Long rifle or even .22 Short. Since the latter part of the 20th C. there have been some available in .32 ACP and even .380 ACP, but the overwhelming majority of .32s and .380s do not fall into this category.
The insulting term ‘mouse gun’ can be construed in two ways; either they are such small caliber they are only useful for shooting mice or they are small enough to be used by mice.
What is a Mouse Gun?
To me and many other dinosaurs a mouse gun is a tiny pistol chambered in .25 ACP or .22 LR. As previously stated later examples might be in .32 ACP or even .380, but these are a bit of an aberration. For a .32 or .380 to qualify as a mouse gun to my way of thinking it has to be as small as the aforementioned .22s and .25s, and there aren’t many that qualify. No, your Ruger LCP or S&W Bodyguard in .380 does not pass; these guns are small but they aren’t tiny, and tiny is a qualifier in this case. You think they are, but put them next to a baby Browning or CZ Duo and you’ll realize you’re wrong.
Since the introduction of metallic cartridges people have always liked tiny pistols, but we tend not to classify pistols from the black-powder cartridge era as mouse-guns; I suppose they lack sufficient relevance in modern terms and in some cases are not safe to fire with modern versions of their cartridges. Derringers are also largely excluded, though exceptionally tiny ones may get the nod.
So our working definition is an exceptionally small repeating pistol made after 1900 chambered in .22 or .25, but acknowledging some outliers in .32 or .380.
What’s it For?
In a word? Discretion. Ultimate deep-cover carry. The gun you carry when you can’t carry a gun. In the early 20th C. the target market was often women, but they were also widely used by men who valued concealment over effectiveness. The Colt 1908, one of the earliest of the semi-auto branch of the family, was actually called the ‘Vest Pocket,’ a pretty good indication of it’s intended use.
To set the stage we have to look at the time. In the early 20th C. urban crime was at levels we would find appalling today. Few would be surprised to find an average middle-class woman carrying a tiny pistol; it was not ‘un-ladylike’ to do so. There’s every evidence that such guns were employed effectively too, but this has to be taken in context. The purpose of a defensive pistol was less to kill or incapacitate an attacker than to make them run away. Criminals then and now are usually more interested in a victim than a gunfight. Mouse-guns have minimal deterrent effect, but when introduced suddenly by launching a hail of bullets they were quite discouraging.
Add in the fact that in the days before widespread use of antibiotics nearly any gunshot wound was potentially a serious risk for infection and criminals were disinclined to shrug them off. There’s also a not insignificant psychological response that makes one want to leave the place where trauma is being inflicted. For civilians introducing gunfire was generally sufficient to make an average criminal flee.
Mouse guns can kill, and have done so many times. But stopping a determine assailant with one is a dubious proposition. People can soak up quite a few of these tiny bullets and continue to function for quite long enough to do you a serious mischief. The fact that they might die later will be of no consolation. Unless you empty it into someone’s face at point-blank range you are very much depending on a ‘soft stop.’
These guns were also popular as a back-up pistol for police officers, a last-ditch ‘Hail Mary’ or ‘get off me!’ gun. Very easy to drop one in a uniform or jacket pocket and forget about it until or unless it was needed.
Mouse Guns For Everyone!
In addition to Colt, FN and other major companies many small manufacturers in Spain and Belgium produced hundreds of thousands of these tiny pistols, and they were quite affordable. Quality could be highly variable, but generally speaking they worked well enough and virtually anyone could stretch their budget to buy one if they felt the need. Millions of these tiny guns were produced and sold worldwide. They were particularly popular in Europe and the united States. Post World War Two regulations in Europe tightened up considerably and there was less of a market there.
In the US these guns became (erroneously) associated with criminals in the 1960s, and were vilified in the press. The Gun Control Act of 1968 set up a series of qualifications for imported guns that effectively banned European mouse guns from being brought into the country. Some work-arounds were found and some US manufacturers entered the fray, often with extremely inexpensive pistols with cast zinc-alloy frames like the Raven .25 Auto, which in the 1980s could be had for $40-$60 dollars. This circumvented the GCA 68’s intent of limiting access for the poor and minorities. Others imported guns in ‘kit’ form, then assembled them in US factories.
There remained a demand, and like life ‘demand will find a way.’ Companies like Seecamp, Freedom Arms and NAA entered the fray as well with high-quality offerings. While they have waned in popularity since the dawn of the 21st century there still remains a market for these pistols; successors to the inexpensive Raven .25 are still on the market and Seecamp and NAA are still, to the best of my knowledge, in production
Modern Mouse Guns
Part of the decline of the mouse gun is due to the variety of sub-compact 9mm and .380 pistols that have emerged in the last 20 years. These can be very small, especially the .380s, though the older mouse guns are genuinely, significantly smaller.
In the 2020s mouse guns tend to fall into a few categories. The very cheap cast zinc alloy guns from Pheonix and others of their ilk, relatively expensive guns like the Seecamp and NAA Guardian series and the micro-revolvers from NAA that split the difference price-wise but are hugely more limited in use. Seecamp and I believe the Guardian have dropped their .25 ACP models, and the NAA revolvers are available in .22 Short, .22 Long Rifle and .22 Magnum.
Both Seecamp and NAA make their guns in both .32 ACP and .380 ACP, and they can be quite a handful; the .380s tend to be genuinely unpleasant to fire. The NAA revolvers have a number of deficits in terms of self-defense; they are so small people sometimes find them hard to manipulate, they are single-action and most of them need to be disassembled to load or unload them. They do now make one with a swing-out cylinder and an auto-ejecting top-break, but the latter are quite expensive.
Philosophy of Use in the Modern World
The mouse gun still arguably has as much place as it ever did, though micro 9mm and .380s offer a more viable alternative to may people. Still, they keep making them and people keep buying them, so some folks have a use for them. So what are the modern uses of these tiny guns?
*Back Up– People still use these as a last-ditch back-up to a more potent weapon. They are very easy and unobtrusive to carry, so why not?
*The Always There Gun– This is a gun that is not specifically a back-up, it’s just always available. It’s axiomatic that the best gun in a gun-fight is the one you have, and if you always have a mouse-gun in your pocket you always have a gun; you can’t forget it when you run out the door.
*EDC in Non-Permissive Environments– Many people work in environments where they are discouraged or even not allowed to carry a firearm. A firearm of questionable effectiveness is better than none at all, and depending on dress-codes, physique etc. a mouse gun might be even more discreet that a micro-.380. I am not going to tell you to carry a gun when your employer says you can’t, but I’m not going to tell you not to either. That’s an individual choice you will need to make for yourself. Other times that ultimate discretion may be valued over potency can include social gatherings, weddings etc. It’s very much an individual choice when and where it’s appropriate to carry and what you can manage discretely.
Ammunition for mouse-guns should be solids. A hollow-point isn’t going to expand in most cases, and if it does it may limit penetration enough to severely impair the already marginal effectiveness. Also with few exceptions ball will be more reliable than a hollow-point bullet. If you need a hard stop with one of these tiny guns penetration is at a premium; you need the bullet to reach the critical structures like the central nervous system or circulatory system.
I don’t know; that’s a decision you need to make for yourself. Mouse guns are neat and fun, and with practice can be surprisingly accurate even in rapid-fire. They can be effective, but are dramatically less likely to be so in the face of a determined assault where the goal is to hurt or kill you rather than simply take your stuff.
Personally? I got into them because they are neat-o, then discovered they were fun and challenging to shoot well. Later and much to my surprise I discovered there were actually situations in my life where, just very occasionally, they were the best tool for the job at hand.
If you do opt for a mouse-gun for any practical reason for the love of God train with it, learn its ins and outs and be safe in your handling and carrying it.
For a closer lock at the Seecamp LWS32 check out this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gdq3SDv2hn0&lc=UgxJDxT2ny50FwlrBTR4AaABAg
Stay safe and take care,
Michael Tinker Pearce, 27 October 2022
Thanks. Ive seen one or two, but didn’t know much about them.
The picture of the Micro-derringer in .22 short is priceless. Thank you for that.
Excellent article! As a Beretta “cat” owner I feel a bit left out. 🙂 but I still love all my mouse guns.
Fair enough; as a person that stupidly gave up his little cats I am jealous, so I guess we’re even!