The concept of a very small handgun that could be conveniently carried all the time first arose in the 1630s with the perfection of flintlock ignition. This system allowed gunsmiths to produce ever more reliable and smaller pistols—often with multiple barrels. But it wasn't until some 200 years later with the introduction of percussion ignition that extremely small, concealable guns became commonplace.
In 1852 Pennsylvania gunsmith Henry Deringer introduced a line of small, concealable pistols that were marketed under the brand Philadelphia Deringer Pistol. Deringer produced single-shot, percussion-fired pistol with barrels as short as 1.5 inches that were available in a variety of calibers. The most popular model was the .41 caliber.
Deringer produced about 15,000 pistols and they proved popular with civilians, army officers, gamblers, ladies of the night…and presidential assassins. John Wilkes Booth used a Philadelphia Deringer to murder Abraham Lincoln.
In 1866 the Remington Arms Co. introduced an over-and-under double-barreled pistol, which to avoid trademark violations, was named the Remington Model 95 "Derringer." It was offered chambered for several rimfire cartridges, the most popular being the .41 Rimfire.
Remington's "Derringer" proved very popular with law enforcement officers as a deep cover or backup gun and in excess of 130,000 were produced by 1935. One of the more notable users was General George S. Patton, who often carried one as a backup gun to his more famous .45 and .357 revolvers.
While the popularity of derringers has diminished with the introduction of semi-auto pocket pistols and small frame "snubbie" revolvers, they are still produced in the 19th century design by a number of manufacturers.
21st Century Derringer
The most recent reincarnation and reimagining of the derringer concept is the DoubleTap Tactical Pistol produced by DoubleTap Defense of St. Louis, Missouri. While similar in concept to earlier over/under derringer-type pistols in design, the DoubleTap's materials, construction, functioning, and options are as modern as tomorrow.
The DoubleTap Tactical Pistol features an all-metal frame and buyers have a choice of aluminum or titanium. If you choose the titanium, your gun will weigh two ounces more than an aluminum model.
To provide a firm purchase, the frame features square-cut checkering on the sides of the grip and sharp cut serrations on the front strap and the front of the trigger guard. In addition, the ergonomics of the grip cause the pistol to recoil straight back into the shooter's hand which, theoretically, reduces muzzle flip. More about that later.
Ambidextrous barrel release catches are positioned above and slightly behind the trigger, and a lanyard attachment point is located on the heel of the grip. A unique and practical feature on the DoubleTap is a trapdoor on the bottom of the hollow grip frame, which allows the shooter to carry two spare rounds of ammunition on a speed strip for convenient reloading.
The double-action-only (DAO) trigger has a stroke of approximately 5/8 of an inch. It is stage free, and according to my trigger pull scale, it takes approximately 12 pounds of pressure to trip the sear. Pulling the trigger rotates a two-sided ratchet in the frame, which pushes one hammer at a time back and then releases it to fire the barrel. Pulling the trigger again fires the next barrel. If you have a misfire you must fire the second barrel before you can "second strike" the cartridge in the first barrel.
The over/under octagonal barrels are three inches long and made from stainless steel and are available in .45 ACP and 9mm, either plain or ported. The ported barrels have five ports on each side that vent powder gases upward at an angle to help reduce muzzle flip. Barrels can be quickly changed by simply removing the hinge pin in front of the frame; no modifications to the frame are necessary.
As this pistol was designed from the ground up as a last ditch, defensive weapon intended to be used at "reach out and touch someone" distances, the sights—a low blade at the muzzle end of the barrel and a gutter-type rear sight on top of the frame—are probably superfluous. But they are there.
Pulling one of the barrel release catches to the rear allows a spring inside the frame to tilt the barrels up, whereupon the shooter must manually extract the live or spent cartridges.
To my way of thinking the DoubleTap provides several advantages over the semi-auto pocket pistol and small-frame revolver. With a cross-section of slightly more than half an inch, this pistol can be carried concealed under the lightest clothing in a pocket or ankle holster. The concealed hammers give the gun a snag-free design, which allows for a smooth presentation from concealment.
The DoubleTap has fewer parts than a pistol or revolver and thus is less likely to get out of order. And the operating drill is simplicity personified: draw pistol, aim, pull trigger. When you are done firing all you must do to make the pistol "safe" is remove your finger from inside the trigger guard.
As a defensive handgun the .45 caliber DoubleTap has another advantage. When viewed from the "wrong" end, the gaping muzzles remind one of the entrances to the Lincoln Tunnel and should serve as a visual deterrent.
On the Range
DoubleTap Defense provided me with a .45 caliber Tactical Pocket Pistol with ported barrels. The company also sent me a spare set of 9mm barrels with no ports, a heavy-duty gun case, and two- and five-round speed strips for each caliber cartridge.
Considering its intended use, DAO trigger, short barrels, and all but non-existent sights, I felt there was little to be achieved by trying to shoot tight groups on bull's-eye targets. Accordingly testing was restricted to engaging a pair of combat targets—one for the .45 and one for the 9mm—from the real-life distance of five paces. Test ammo consisted of Black Hills .45 ACP loaded with 230-grain FMJ bullets and 9mm American Eagle 115-grain FMJ.
Loading the DoubleTap with the speed strips was fast and fumble-free. All you have to do is insert the noses of the two rounds in the chamber and peel the strip up and away from them.
I won't lie to you. Shooting this pistol is not going to be something you will do for fun. As I touched off the first .45, I became instantly aware of two things: the pistol does indeed recoil straight back into the palm of the user's shooting hand and it creates quite a bit of pain when doing so. My fiancée—and photographer—Becky said I emitted a grunt of anguish with each shot fired.
Flipping open the barrels sometimes loosened the spent cartridge cases enough to pull them out or shake them free. At other times I had to pry them out with my fingernails. Of course with this type of handgun you're probably not going to be performing speed reloads, so I don't really see this as much of a downside.
After firing 10 rounds—all of which impacted in the A zone of the target—my right hand was very sore. But I persevered and installed the 9mm barrels. I had assumed that with a bullet weighing half as much the recoil of a 9mm would be more controllable. I was wrong.
Recoil was much sharper. And since the 9mm barrels were not ported, muzzle flip was considerably greater. After discharging six rounds, the last two of which were flyers due to a flinch I had developed, Becky (who is also an RN) said I should cease and desist before I damaged my hand. I quickly agreed with her.
I can state that the DoubleTap Tactical Pistol is everything the manufacturer claims it to be: small, light, concealable, powerful, rugged, and simple to use. For a law enforcement officer it would make a solid last-ditch gun because if you ever find yourself in a deadly situation where you must fire one or two shots at an attacker who is close enough that his breath tells you he ate garlic for lunch and you can't access your off-duty, undercover, or duty weapons, it will serve you quite well. But believe me, you're not going to do very much practicing with it.
Paul Scarlata has served as an auxiliary police officer and is a frequent contributor to POLICE.
Caliber: .45 ACP, 9mm
Capacity: 2 rounds
Overall Length: 5.5 inches
Height: 3.9 inches
Width: 0.665 inches
Barrel Length: 3 inches
Frame: aluminum or titanium
Barrels: stainless steel
Weight: 13 ounces (aluminum)
15 ounces (titanium)
Sights: Front: integral blade
Features: Interchangeable barrels so that the user can change caliber, ported or non-ported barrels, double-action only trigger, ambidextrous barrel releases, checkered grip frame, two-round speed strip carried in the hollow butt, lanyard attachment point
Price: Ported Non-Ported
Aluminum $569 $499
Titanium $799 $729