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Crapshoot: Jennings J-22

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One of the reasons this column was started was to see how well someone could do with about $200 at the local gun shop. A few years ago, options weren’t too bad. But combine a worldwide pandemic, millions of new gun owners entering the market, and a healthy dose of inflation, and those options get more limited. If you thought a pot-metal .25 ACP was scraping the bottom of the barrel, Jennings Firearms says, “Hold my beer.”

The J-22 is a blowback-operated zinc alloy .22LR pistol that doesn’t have the best reputation in the world of guns and shooting. This one was bought more out of a feeling of nostalgia, and it sat amongst a batch of other guns from an estate sale dump at a local gun shop.


Not surprisingly, Jennings Firearms was one of those companies with a bit of a checkered past. It was started in 1978 by Bruce Jennings, whose father, George, founded Raven Arms years prior. Their pistols were manufactured out of Zamak, a cheap zinc alloy. Jennings Firearms was part of California’s so-called Ring of Fire — a derisive term used to refer to a handful of companies in Southern California that manufactured cheap handguns with a low melting point.

In their heyday, Jennings, Bryco, Raven, Davis, and others supposedly manufactured 35 percent of the handguns in the U.S. and accounted for as much as 65 percent of the handguns used in crimes. The company was restructured as Bryco in the late 1990s, subsequently filing for bankruptcy in 2003 after losing a lawsuit based on a poorly designed safety. Paul Jimenez purchased Bryco and renamed it Jimenez Arms in 2004. In 2020, the company was renamed JA Industries and relocated to Henderson, Nevada.


The J-22 is a simple striker-fired blowback-operated pistol. The sights are crudely molded into the soft slide, and the trigger pull is a hefty 11 pounds. There’s no provision to lock the slide to the rear. At a public shooting range, you’ll be that guy (or gal) when you have to leave it unloaded on the bench with a spent piece of brass in the ejection port showing it’s unloaded. Accuracy isn’t terrible, and at close range you can expect a 3- to 4-inch group. In spite of their low cost, an operable example seems to always work until something breaks.


When it comes to materials, craftsmanship, cost, and caliber, these pistols might be trash — but they can be reliable. This is the second Jennings J-22 I’ve owned over a 30-plus year period, and I’ve never experienced a failure to fire, feed, or eject with either of them. Maybe the key is to stick with better quality ammunition and avoid the old Bucket of Bullets. Recoil is non-existent on these little guns, and due to their size, they’re very concealable.


It’s chambered in .22LR. While ammunition has been improving with regards to reliability and performance, it’s still a .22 and this isn’t exactly a Ruger Mk IV or Browning Buckmark. The sights are garbage and can’t be upgraded. Spare parts are not only hard to find, but they also may not fit properly. This even extends to magazines; two spare magazines purchased separately had angles cut so far off that they wouldn’t even fit in the pistol.

As the original company is long out of business, there’s no one out there to honor any warranty or find new replacement parts. The finish on this one probably reflects 20-plus years of pocket carry and was scratched horribly; this is what happens when you carry without a holster with keys, pocket knives, or other clutter in your pocket. Bottom line: These are pretty much disposable pistols once they break.


The safety on the Jennings J-22 isn’t to be trusted. The slide can be moved rearward with the safety engaged, and the gun has been known to fire when trying to clear the chamber with the safety on. Rather than fix the problem, Jennings thought it’d be acceptable to simply change the instruction manual to tell shooters to push the lever to the fire position when they intend to clear the chamber. Neat.


For many Americans who simply couldn’t afford a quality handgun, inexpensive pistols like this provided a small measure of comfort, and just having a gun-shaped object may have literally made the difference between life and death for some. Be advised that there are far better firearms out there for just a little bit more money. This came in at well under $200, but if you get offered something like this for a similar price, do a little more shopping before you buy it.

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