By Al Paulson
There is something irresistible about pen guns that conjures up misty visions of greatcoats and cobblestone rues and Seitenstrasses; the echoes of distant whispers from operatives of the Special Operations Executive, the Office of Strategic Services, and the Studies and Observation Group; and the hints of hints and rumors of rumors about modern diplomats and heads of state who carry Mont Blanc pens in their custom-tailored shirts that can administer a fatal sting should termination with extreme prejudice be required. From the cheap, throwaway .22 Short Scorpions and Stingers of the OSS to the super-expensive, highly restricted, government-only designer .22 LR pen guns currently being made for spooks and heads of state by Arms Tech of Phoenix, Arizona, these visually stealthy little beauties carry a special kind of elusive romance. Part of that romance has been their operational roles from World War II onward, and part of the romance is that actual pen guns (as opposed to MAC Single Shot Survival Weapons) are rarely available to private collectors. Fewer still are reloadable and actually safe to handle. The family of .22 LR pen guns designed by Dr. Jay Quilligan for Quicksilver Manufacturing represent a welcome addition to pen gun history. Furthermore, the Quicksilver is one of the few pen guns and single shot survival weapons that is actually robust enough for regular use with a sound suppressor.
The Quicksilver Pen Gun comes in two flavors: stainless steel (first generation) and aluminum (second generation). We’ll evaluate both. The aluminum flavor second-generation pen guns are available in chocolate brown, tan, burgundy, black, and dark blue. A gold-plated clip/trigger proved to be such a low-cost option, that it now comes standard.
The first-generation stainless steel pen gun features a 3-5/16 inch rifled barrel. The gun is 6-3/8 inches long, and it weighs 6.2 ounces. The second-generation aluminum pen gun features a shorter 3-inch barrel, which is actually a steel barrel liner installed in an aluminum shroud. The aluminum gun is 6-1/8 inches long and it weighs just 3.8 ounces. Both generation guns feature a knurled brass charging handle, barrel spacer, and threaded muzzle protector. The muzzles are threaded 3/8×16. The second-generation aluminum pen gun provides about twice the length of threading for mating with the optional sound suppressor, which is a very good thing.
This feature, plus the much more practical weight and length of the aluminum variant, in addition to its array of handsome and stealthy (i.e., decidedly un-gunlike) colors, make the second-generation pen gun especially appealing. I know of one LE officer who carries a Quicksilver pen gun as his third firearm when on duty. This is his ultimate, last-ditch, deep-cover, third-tier backup weapon. Jay Quilligan designed these pen guns as nostalgic toys and family heirlooms, not as working weapons for the armed professional. It is interesting that at least one armed professional thought enough of the Quicksilver Pen Gun to deploy it in the field.
Like all firearms of this genre, carrying and using the Quicksilver Pen Gun can be much more dangerous than a conventional hand firearm. Anyone currently operating with an IQ waiver should simply step away from any pen gun or single-shot survival weapon. More than one finger has been lost by knowledgeable gun handlers who did not pay sufficient attention to proper handling techniques. That said, any serious student of firearms who pays attention to details and has an ounce of common sense will find the procedures for safely and effectively operating the Quicksilver Pen Gun are both straightforward and intuitive.
Operating the Quicksilver Pen Gun
Loading the Quicksilver Pen Gun couldn’t be simpler. Unscrew the two halves, and insert a single .22 rimfire cartridge into the chamber. When there is a round in the chamber, a 1/16-inch gap appears between the upper pen body (i.e., the receiver) and the knurled brass charging handle. This happens because the firing pin is actually being pushed backward by the rim of the cartridge case, thereby pushing back the charging handle that is connected to the rear end of the firing pin. This arrangement essentially provides a loaded chamber indicator.
I’d recommend using .22 LR subsonic for several reasons. Recoil is a lot more manageable than with high velocity or standard velocity ammunition, and the lower pressure round will ensure maximum lifespan of the aluminum, second-generation pen guns.
To fire, screw the two halves back together, while keeping the muzzle pointed in a safe direction. Note that there is no safety on the pen gun! To reduce the risk of accidental discharge since the firing pin is in contact with the rim of the cartridge case, unscrew the two halves of the pen gun enough so that the 1/16 inch gap between the receiver and the charging handle completely disappears. This should, in theory, prevent the pen gun from firing if the charging handle is bumped. I tried hitting the rear face of the charging handle several times with a heavy hard-back book after following this safety procedure, and the pen gun did not fire.
Next, find a comfortable, palm-up shooting grip of the pen gun that will enable you to maintain a firm control of the gun during recoil while allowing good access to the trigger. The key here is to find a hold that will not let meat at the base of the thumb catch or retard the fall of the cocked charging handle. It is best to test different grips with a fired case in the chamber and a cocked gun.
When learning how to cock or hold the pen gun, always insert a FIRED case in the chamber to protect the firing pin. To cock the pen gun, pull the knurled brass charging handle about 1/2-inch until the pen clip/trigger rises up. Slowly lower the charging handle until you can feel the trigger sear engage the firing pin. Lift the pen clip/trigger farther from the receiver if necessary to ensure engagement, which will lock the charging handle in the rearward position. You’ll note a neoprene grommet at the base of the pen clip/trigger. The pen gun works fine without it, but the rubber grommet acts like a spring to hold the trigger upward and thereby act like a sear-engagement spring. Leaving the grommet in place makes the pen gun much safer to operate. Be careful not to accidentally touch or bump the pen clip/trigger, which will cause the firing pin to fall. There can be a certain learning curve here, depending upon an individual’s dexterity. Now point the muzzle in a safe direction, and screw the barrel into the receiver.
To shoot the pen gun, the preferred and safest method is to firmly grasp the pen gun with the strong hand, palm up, and depress the pen clip/trigger with the opposite hand. If one must fire one-handed, I find that I get the best grip by depressing the trigger with the middle finger of the strong hand, as illustrated in the accompanying photos. Try this several times with spent cases, and then move up to CB caps before graduating to Long Rifle ammunition. The stainless steel first-generation Quicksilver pen gun will tolerate high velocity LR ammunition, but HV ammunition is too hot for extended use in the aluminum second-generation gun. Furthermore, the recoil of high velocity and even standard velocity ammunition is unpleasant. I’d recommend using subsonic .22 LR as the maximum load for either pen gun.
The pen gun has no ejector, but the rear face of the barrel does feature a small cutout for using a fingernail or knifepoint to extract a spent case. Of course, a short cleaning rod or even the core of a ballpoint pen works well too.
The Quicksilver sound suppressor designed for the pen guns features a stainless steel construction except for the end caps, which are brass to cosmetically match the brass fittings on the Quicksilver pen guns. Therefore, only tighten on a barrel finger tight to avoid stripping out the somewhat delicate threads. The unsuppressed pen gun had a sound signature of 156 dB with both Remington 38-grain HP subsonic and Lapua 48-grain Scoremax RN subsonic. The Quicksilver silencer dropped the average sound signatures to 126 and 125 dB, respectively. That works out to net sound reductions of 30 dB with Remington subsonic and 31 dB with Lapua Scoremax, in a dry can. These are dandy numbers on a pen gun. Considering the amount of carbon monoxide and unburned particulates expelled by such a short-barreled, locked breech firearm into a relatively voluminous can, it should come as now surprise that first-round pop was +6.5 dB with Remington and +7.9 with Lapua subsonic. In other words, the cold shot in air (as opposed to in contact with the target) of the pen gun with suppressor was 133 dB with either kind of ammunition. This was quiet enough to hide the fact that a shot had been fired off my deck, while my wife and a college student were discussing a term paper three armspan away, with only a closed door and exterior wall of 2×4 construction separating us.
Quicksilver’s pen gun is classified as an Any Other Weapon by BATF, so it transfers to individuals on a Form 4 with a $5 tax stamp. It is a well-built, eminently shootable example of a rarely seen and elusive breed of firearms. I give Quicksilver’s pen guns two nostalgic thumbs up.
Author’s note: as this went to press, medical problems forced Quilligan out of the machine shop, so he has sold the business to Don Ellis, who is also known as The Glock Guy. I’ve enjoyed working with Ellis in the past. To cover pen gun customers during the transition period, George Denkins of D&D Guns has purchased an entire production run of 50 second-generation aluminum guns. Quilligan will continue to provide R&D support to Quicksilver, so this should be a very smooth transition, and we should look for more good things from Quicksilver Manufacturing.
419 E. 4th Street
Post Falls, ID 83854
|This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V6N10 (July 2003)|