Hello and welcome back to another edition of The Rimfire Report! This ongoing series is all about the rimfire firearms world and its various guns, ammunition, and sports! The infamous Jennings J-22 has a pretty nasty reputation for being a complete garbage pistol. Up until recently, I believed every bit of what I heard and saw about it. However, I recently came across one on GunBroker.com and decided I was going to investigate myself to really see what the Jennings J-22 is all about and to see whether the horrifying reports I had heard about its performance, ergonomics, and reliability were accurate. So join me today as I walk you guys through my experiences with my personally owned Jennings J-22 .22LR pistol.
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The Rimfire Report: Is the Jennings J-22 Really that Bad?
The Jennings J-22 pistol was designed by Jennings Firearms in 1978 and marketed as a self-defense .22LR pocket pistol. Although Jennings made several other firearms, the J-22 became the company’s most well-known product and not for the best of reasons. Many considered the J-22 to be a “Saturday Night Special” firearm due to a combination of its size and price point.
When the pistol was first released in 1978, it was priced right at $100 but copies can be found on the second-hand market for as little as $20 (or a box of ammo if you find someone willing to part with their precious lead). The pistol was also made in a .25 ACP version called the J-25 and both pistols were blowback operated. The J-22 featured a 2.5-inch fixed barrel, weighs just 12-ounces (mine measured in at 13.2 oz), has fixed sights, and feeds from a 6-round detachable box magazine.
After release, the pistol quickly gained a notorious reputation for being unreliable, inaccurate, and also quite dangerous to even carry as many owners reported that their firearms would discharge when dropped. The pistol was apparently so dangerous that the BATFE declared it “extremely dangerous” and had “potential for serious injury” in a 2001 paper.
Apparently, Jennings knew this as well and even included text within the manual that stated that users intending to carry the gun should carry it with the chamber empty due to the risk of a negligent discharge due to an insufficient gap between the trigger bar and the sear. Like I said in the intro, I had every reason to believe every single one of these reports based on YouTube videos I had seen but I just had to try one out for myself.
The pistol is small – very small. So small in fact that it is now the smallest handgun in my inventory. The pistol is constructed from an aluminum alloy slide making it several ounces heavier than my much more modern Ruger LCP II Lite Rack chambered in .22LR. Placing the gun into my hands for the first time, the J-22’s grip is barely long enough for me to get a two-fingered grip on it. The grip panels, which I would recommend that you never remove for any reason whatsoever, are fairly smooth and made from plastic but have deep horizontal lines in them which help the pistol not slip from your hands when firing. Unlike a lot of other pistols that were starting to be made at the time, the J-22 features an antiquated heel magazine release button.
The pistol itself doesn’t look that bad in my opinion, at least aesthetically. There were numerous versions produced including nickel-plated versions. Before I took the pistol out to the range I disassembled it and cleaned it thoroughly and inspected the gun for any potential safety risks but everything turned out to be in pretty good condition aside from some built-up carbon around the breech. I loaded up my range bag with a variety of ammunition and headed off to the range.
Range Time with the Jennings J-22
I started out with some simple function testing with various ammunition types including CCI Standard Velocity, Remington Thunderbolt, Federal 45-grain Subsonic, and some Winchester Super X High Velocity. I started off with the CCI Standard Velocity ammunition as the manual for the J-22 stated that “standard” ammunition should be used. The J-22 features no slide lock capability making clearing malfunctions a real pain and possibly even a safety risk and unfortunately that turned out to be the name of the game for my range sessions with the J-22.
The J-22 has a nearly 11-pound trigger pull (pictured is the average across 5 pulls). To my surprise, the gun ran all six rounds without issue! However, subsequent magazines did not fare as well and it turned out not to be an ammunition issue. I had issues across the board with nearly every ammunition type and experienced stove pipes, double feeds, failures to eject, and failures to feed. Absent from this list of malfunctions were any negligent discharges from rough handling and surprisingly the pistol also seemed to have a very good firing pin setup. The firing pin on the J-22 is circular instead of rectangular like many rimfire guns and I am not sure if this is a plus or a minus.
Overall, I would rate its reliability as poor. With that many types of malfunctions regardless of ammunition type, it’s honestly not very good at all and a huge red flag for any sort of defensive-oriented pistol. Personally, I think a lot of its failings come from the fact that the ejection port is often the cause of a lot of the malfunctions. The combination of a weak extractor and the tiny ejection port leads to a lot of FTE malfunctions where the spent casing gets caught in between the next round being fed into the gun.
This is where I was a bit surprised. Firing from an unsupported position at steel targets you could be reasonably accurate with the gun. The J-22’s fixed sights leave a lot to be desired for and are both hard to line up and hard to track during repeated firing. However, at distances of 7 yards on 18-inch steel targets, you could quite honestly not even use the sights and be okay.
I set up a couple of targets down range to see if the pistol was at least mechanically accurate and to my surprise it was! Despite having an 11-pound trigger pull, horrible sights, and barely any space to grip the pistol, I was able to manage some decent-sized groups when stabilizing myself on my shooting bag. Some of the groups at 10-yards were fairly small, about 2 to 3-inches, and to me, that is quite surprising given everything that the pistol has working against it in the accuracy department.
With regards to its efficacy as a defensive instrument, if you leave out the fact that it’s hilariously unreliable, the J-22 might have actually been a good defensive pistol to toss in your pocket for a late-night trip to the gas station but again, it’s just too unreliable. I think accuracy could be improved if better-fixed sights were designed and the trigger pull weight was reduced to something much more manageable for such a small pistol.
So is the Jennings J-22 really as bad as people say it is? Mostly yes. While the pistol is quite unreliable regardless of ammunition selection, almost everything else can be forgiven due to the low cost of the pistol. However, what can’t be forgiven is the drop safety of the gun. I wouldn’t recommend anyone carry one of these for any reason and if you do find one in your possession, it would probably be best suited to be a conversation piece or an unreliable range toy for practicing malfunction drills.
I can’t really fault Jennings for making the J-22. If nothing else, the J-22 inspired companies like Beretta and Ruger to produce pistols that function great and I think the biggest takeaway from looking at the three pistols together is that the two reliable ones both feature open-top slides which I assume significantly reduces the failure to eject malfunctions, while the slides on both pistols ride on actual rails instead of just sliding over the barrel like the J-22 does. The .22LR pocket pistol is considered by many to be a viable and reliable self-defense tool and modern semi-auto .22LR pocket pistols probably have the Jennings J-22 to thank for that inspiration.
Anyway, I had fun taking a look at yet another obscure and weird .22LR pistol that many people have talked about and shot. If you guys have any other cool or weird rimfire firearms you’d like me to check out, let me know down in the comments! Thanks for stopping by to read The Rimfire Report! See you in the next edition!