Concealed Carry & Home Defense

Gun Test: North American Arms Black Widow .22 WMR

By Adam Heggenstaller, Shooting Illustrated

The debate over whether handguns in .22 WMR are adequate for self-defense has most likely been argued since the peppy little rimfire arrived on the scene more than 50 years ago. Proponents and detractors alike continue to study the question from all angles, but it basically comes down to this: The .22 WMR may be a far cry from the ideal personal-protection cartridge (if there is such a thing) unless the only gun you have within reach when your life is threatened happens to be chambered for it. At that point, the .22 WMR suddenly beats everything up to and including the .45 that’s not in your hand.

What could possibly lead to such a dire situation? In a word, reality. We like to think we’ll have our preferred carry gun with us when we’re forced to defend ourselves against an attacker, and many of us make a decided effort to keep it within reach where legal. But when is the last time you strapped your 4-inch pistol to your belt before taking the trash to the curb? Or took it along on a fishing trip when you know you’ll be standing waist-deep in water?

Despite popular thinking, reality can leave a whole lot to the imagination. We envision—and spend the bulk of our training time preparing for—warding off a threat by drawing from a strong-side holster and delivering rounds while standing on our feet. That scenario could certainly happen, but imagine being blindsided by a thug, knocked flat, breaking the wrist of your dominant hand during the fall to the sidewalk. The handgun riding inside the waistband, or even in the jacket pocket, on that side of your body is going to be tricky to get into action before the criminal can finish what he started.

Situations like these call for a handgun so small and convenient to carry, taking it along becomes as habitual as shutting the door behind you when stepping outside. A handgun that because of its shape and straightforward operation can be placed in a variety of locations about your body, where it’s easily accessible with either hand. The Black Widow from North American Arms (NAA) has all those qualities, and yes, it’s chambered in .22 WMR.

North American Arms, mini-revolver, LaserLyte

The NAA Black Widow, shown here with the LaserLyte Venom, is designed for deep concealment as a backup gun or for times when carrying even a subcompact pistol is impractical.

NAA, based in Provo, UT, has developed a devoted following during its four decades of making tiny handguns intended for in-a-serious-pinch self-defense. The company was formed in the 1970s to manufacture several revolvers designed by Dick Casull, of .454 Casull fame, after the original producer of these guns, Rocky Mountain Arms, folded. Since then, NAA’s single-action mini-revolver line has grown to include dozens of models—varying mainly in finish, furniture and barrel length—in .22 Short, .22 LR and .22 WMR.

For certain, some of the company’s variations on this theme are viewed as novelties more than anything else. Take, for example, the 1860 Earl, a 4-inch-barreled cap-and-ball revolver designed to mimic the blackpowder sidearms of the Old West, only downsized to .22 caliber. However, NAA President Sandy Chisholm will tell you many more of the mini-revolvers are expressly intended for personal protection. The Black Widow is one of the latter, and its features leave little room to argue that role. Chisholm freely admits the Black Widow (or any other NAA mini-revolver) is not intended to replace a centerfire handgun of a larger caliber. Rather, it should be viewed and carried as a complement, a backup gun. Its design excels in this function—and perhaps even a few more.

From a carry perspective, what the Black Widow has going for it is what it’s lacking, namely size and weight. The revolver is just a bit more than 5.75 inches long and .75 inch wide across the grip. Much of its height comes from the rubber grips, which are purposely extended and bulbous to make them better fit the hand. The grips don’t have to be that large, and on other NAA models, they’re not. From the bottom of the trigger to the top of the hammer, the little revolver measures only about 1.75 inches and slims substantially as you move toward the muzzle. The frame and cylinder are stainless steel, but since there is so little of it, the Black Widow weighs less than 9 ounces.

Just as fitting, literally, for a backup gun is the Black Widow’s shape. Its narrow frame lacks a trigger guard, and the trigger extends a mere .25 inch from its housing. Paired with a proper holster, the Black Widow is easy to slip inside a front pocket of a pair of jeans, which may not be an option with some so-called pocket pistols having a deeper profile. That same slenderness lends itself to inside-the-waistband carry in the appendix location.

While the revolver’s frame makes it easy to tuck away, the grips help with getting it out in a hurry. The Black Widow’s grip angle seems more open than what’s normally found on most revolvers, which seems to facilitate obtaining a good purchase in the tight confines imposed by deep concealment. Two fairly deep scallops on the front of the grips match up with the middle and ring fingers, further aiding in control. The grips’ rubber material has a slightly tacky quality, which also prevents your hand from slipping.

Safety is always a consideration when carrying any firearm, but with the tendency to place backup guns near the softer parts of the body, it becomes even more of a concern. The Black Widow addresses it with several features. First, this is a single-action revolver, meaning the gun won’t fire until you manually cock the hammer and pull the trigger. While the blade-like striker is mounted on the hammer, you can safely carry the Black Widow with its five chambers fully loaded, thanks to a series of slots milled into the back rim of the cylinder. Lowering the hammer into one of these notches between the chambers locks it into place. Essentially, the hammer rests against the cylinder, not against the rim of a cartridge. Any force exerted on the hammer is transferred to the cylinder wall. Cocking the hammer to fire the gun frees the cylinder and aligns a chamber with the hammer blade. Finally, the hammer spur is covered in rows of neatly executed, deep serrations to help maintain control of it while cocking and decocking.

Next – drawbacks and shooting the Black Widow