A few days ago, the Baltimore City Police Department tweeted a photo and description of a traffic stop that resulted in officers recovering “a loaded handgun and drugs from inside the vehicle.”
The photo was of what looks to be an old-fashioned, single-shot .22-caliber derringer pistol with a trailing piece of electrical tape wrapped around the scale-less grip frame (a very sad looking gun indeed). Then the Internet took over.
The old-fashioned nature of the little pistol was what got most people posting comments such as “@BaltimorePolice Pray heed officer of the law whilst I reload my hand cannon!” from artelvonc and “This is the first gun you have access to in Grand Theft Auto: Gettysburg.”
Others posited that the man who was carrying it was indeed a time traveller:“was he attempting to assassinate Lincoln? #IThoughtJohnWilkesBoothWasDead?”
After the post went viral, even the Baltimore PD got in on the comment storm, tweeting: “If it pleases the court, we will ensure we safeguard this firearm and ensure the safety of all in the village of Lord Baltimore.
“Whilst this young lad possessed this weapon illegally, his punishment shall not include that of public stoning or shaming.
“He therefore shall be recommended as a candidate for reenactment just up the road in Gettysburg.”
If you want to know what actually happened: On March 1, during a traffic stop, officers recovered the derringer and arrested 36-year-old Keith Gladden, a repeat offender who is prohibited from possessing a firearm.
The gun could, indeed be a single-shot, top-break derringer from the late 19th or early 20th century, similar to this example of of an Italian EIG Derringer, or it could be something more akin to an FMJ Derringer D, though it’s clearly marked on the barrel as a .22. The single barrel configuration is what makes this example extra strange.
Of course, there are plenty of modern, currently produced derringer pistols on the market today, like those made by Bond Arms and American Derringer of Texas, Cobra Firearms of Utah, and Cimarron Firearms, which also makes a number of reproduction firearms from the American West.
In the frontier days, derringers were small holdout pistols often carried in vest pockets at card tables or tucked in a woman’s stocking or purse. The word “derringer” is actually an accepted misspelling of the last name of Henry Deringer, a 19th-century pocket-pistol maker. He created the original Philadelphia Deringer, which was a simple, single-shot, muzzleloading percussion pistol made from 1852 through 1868. It’s obvious concealable purpose made it unique at the time and the name stuck, like Kleenex or Thermos.
Later, the more famous Remington derringer design added another barrel, doubling the capacity, and had the barrels pivot upwards for loading. These were not powerful firearms, but more of a last resort, close-quarters gun.
The Remington fired a .41 short, a round with a case smaller than its bullet—and it moved slowly, about half the speed of a .45 ACP. It was so slow, in fact, it could be seen in flight pretty easily. But at close or point blank range, it was plenty effective. The Remington derringer was sold from 1866 to 1935 and was chambered in various calibers as they became available.
Modern derringers, however, come chambered in a variety of powerful pistol cartridges and can be formidable and concealable self-defense weapons.