There are so many innovative handguns hitting the retail shelves these days, it’s hard to stay ahead of the curve when you’re a gun writer.
Every time you think you’ve exhausted the well, someone comes out with something new that you simply have to try.
One of the most prolific (and oldest and largest) designers of handguns is Smith & Wesson, and I freely admit to a very warm spot in my innards for their handguns — both revolver and semi-automatic.
Show me a like-new Model 19 Combat Magnum with Goncalo Alves grips, a white-outlined target rear sight, and that gorgeous highly polished S&W blueing, or a classic Model 59 9MM, and I will be reaching for my pocketbook — I’m a junkie with a jones for classic Smiths.
Lately, S&W has been expanding the parameters of handgun making, and some of their new manufactures are truly groundbreaking.
Of particular note is their new “Bodyguard “ series. The first two designs are a pocket-sized .380 semi-auto and a new .38 Special five-shot snubbie that is really revolutionary.
Regular readers of this column know I think very little can match a small, five-shot .38 Special revolver for ease of carry, concealability, stopping power and dependability.
I simply love the J-frame, 2-inch barreled (OK. OK. 1.9-inch) revolvers, and some of the similar stable mates such as the new Ruger LCR (Lightweight, Compact Revolver). I own one of these new Rugers with a composite frame, and it is a popular choice in our tri-monthly concealed-carry classes.
The little snub-nosed .38s are hard to beat. Down in the Deep South, when someone asks “What’s the best way to conceal a handgun?” I tell them they’ve just asked a question akin to “What is the meaning of life?”
We just don’t wear enough clothes down here to comfortably hide a handgun all the time, but a snubbie will slip into your jeans pocket or a ladies clutch or handbag, and carry in Wally World with no one the wiser.
So S&W took a good, long look at the revolver, and decided some improvements were overdue. The Bodyguard .38 Special is the result.
At first glance, it looks like your standard J-frame Smith — a Model 442 or 642, with a laser.
But this is a new animal, a whole new species in the evolutionary path, and closer examination shows it.
S&W threw out the book when they redesigned the revolver, and you may well see a whole line develop if this model proves to be as popular as I think it will be.
Instead of a side cylinder release on the left, the release is a sliding “button” on the top of the frame. It doesn’t take much getting used to, and it makes the cylinder release ambidextrous.
Located on the upper right side of the aluminum upper frame is an Insight tactical laser, which activates with a push button on its top. There are three phases: off, solid streaming laser and pulsating laser. Both of the laser phases shoot a beam of red light, “painting” the target where the sights are aimed.
The sights are fixed, as with most small-framed revolvers, but where it really gets innovative is in the action and frame.
First, the lower portion of the frame is a steel-reinforced polymer.
Polymer not only lightens the overall weight of the gun (14.3 ounces in this case), it absorbs recoil better than steel frames, making the gun more comfortable to shoot with heavy recoiling rounds.
The grip has been redesigned with a slightly thinner profile, which I have found allows my women students to better control the trigger.
But the really neat new stuff is in the mechanics.
For years, I have been recommending the little aluminum-framed S&W 442 and 642 — and if you could afford it, adding a Crimson Trace Lasergrip to the gun.
But these little handguns come from the factory with a 12-pound trigger pull, and some people find them uncomfortable to shoot.
In fact, if anything was a deal killer with these outstanding self-defense guns, it was the heavy trigger pull.
S&W has addressed that problem with the Bodyguard by changing the way the gun rotates its cylinder.
Instead of a pawl coming out of the rear face of the frame and pushing the cylinder’s rear gear drive, the Bodyguard has a new design in its “star” drive.
They should have come up with it years ago.
The difference in the triggers is amazing, and is instantly noticed by anyone who picks up a Bodyguard, and strokes the trigger.
The “star” drive makes for a dramatically improved, smoother and lighter trigger pull throughout the cycle.
I recently had a Bodyguard at the range, and let six different people try it out. Three of them were young women, all with small hands.
To a person, they all thoroughly enjoyed the revolver, found it easy to shoot, and highly approved of the laser sight. The women, as usual, loved the laser and the ease of putting bullets in the target without having to concentrate on aiming.
Of course, any lightweight gun is going to recoil more with heavy loads, and this one is no exception. The trick is to find the lightest, least recoiling rounds you can buy, and practice with them. Leave the horsepower for the self-defense mode of personal carry.
The new S&W Bodyguard .38 is an unusual, innovative and addictive new addition to the fine line of Smith & Wesson handguns, and the price is surprisingly reasonable for a laser-equipped handgun.
S&W’s new motto for the BodyGuard series fits well here: “Carry more comfortably. Walk more confidently.”
Read more guns, shooting and concealed carry at www.theshootist.net. For current information on applying for a Louisiana concealed handgun permit, go to www.gordonhutchinson.com.
Gordon’s most recent book, The Great New Orleans Gun Grab (written with Todd Masson), is a searing expose’ of the scandal of gun confiscations in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The book is available at www.neworleansgungrab.com, or by calling (800) 538-4355.