S&W Bodyguards: Revolver Or Semiauto for Self Defense?

For us, neither. These laser-equipped sidearms have problems were not willing to overlook, though they do some things well.


In this report we look at S&Ws two so-called Bodyguards, one a revolver in 38 Special, the other a semiautomatic pistol in 380 ACP. Both were fitted with adjustable laser sights. The first thing we found was the lasers are useless outdoors in bright daylight, no matter what youve been led to believe by various TV shows. On an overcast day, the lasers on these two pistols might be of some value, but we much prefer to use iron sights when we can see em. With them, theres nothing to turn on, no buttons to push.

If you like the idea of using a laser indoors at night, these setups might be okay for you. Weve said before we dont like giving our location away by the glow of a laser sight to anyone who might be in our house whos not supposed to be there. However, a good laser – and these seem to be excellent – is a reasonable aiming device in conditions when you just cant see your iron sights and dont – or cant – have tritium inserts. Both of these handguns have adjustments so you can put the laser dots right at the impact point of your chosen ammo. One push of a button turns on the laser. A second push puts the laser into a pulsing mode, and a third turns it off, same for both guns, though they have different button setups. We shot with the ammo available, which for the 38 Special was one handload with 158-grain lead SWC and some CCI Blazer 125-grain JHP. For the 380 we used brass-case CCI Blazer with 95-grain FMJ bullets. Heres what we found.

S&W Bodyguard No. 103038 38 Special +P, $509

This revolver is built on a small frame, not a J-frame. In fact the frame is plastic, the barrel and upper frame are aluminum, and thus this gun bears none of the characteristics that made the J-Frame Chiefs Special world famous.

Actually, that about says it all for us. We did not like the lockup, did not like the tiny star that doubled as the lockup, did not like the spitting out the rear end of the cylinder (not the front, we didnt get near that end) from gas blowby, did not like the fact that shots from the gun hit 7 inches high with both loads, and did not like that you could not do anything about any of that. The cylinder was steel, as was the barrel insert. But the barrel housing was integral with the forward part of the aluminum frame. While theres nothing wrong with that, its not what you expect from S&W. Nor do you expect a plastic frame on a Smith revolver, never mind that its reinforced with steel. As mentioned, the lockup was not very tight, which may have contributed to the spitting of gas. We felt this spitting severely on our supporting-hands thumb no matter where we put it. While it was not a safety issue per se, some of us like to support the gun with the weak hand, and thats not the best idea with this revolver. The instruction manual even warned against getting near the front end of the cylinder.

One thing we did like was the lengthy ejector stroke. Unlike the classic small Smiths, this little gun had an ejector that shoved the spent cases nearly an inch out of the cylinder. The ejector rod was also well protected with a shroud at the front, under the barrel. The sight picture was too tight for us, and we wanted more front-sight height to get the bullets down nearer the target. The front sight is indeed pinned in, so a taller sight might be an option from Smith.

The cylinder latch left us quite cold, too. It was a plastic piece on top of the rear of the frame, just below the rear sight. To open the gun, push it forward. This draws the star, in its entirety, back into the frame which permits the cylinder to swing out. The cylinder had no other lock and was not all that tightly secured when the gun was in the just-fired mode. In our limited testing, we didnt notice any spitting at the front cylinder gap, but we wonder how long that lockup at the back will last. Maybe forever, but we have our doubts.

The grip was, for us, excellent. The gun felt very good in the hand. We doubt if alternate grips are available for this gun because they would defeat its easy concealability, which must be one of its major selling points. We found the gun to be very comfortable to the firing hand from recoil, though as noted we got some gas pains on our left hand.

On the range we had trouble hitting the paper at first, but then we discovered the gun was shooting high and, for one of our test crew, far left. Knuckling down, we found the windage to be okay, but the hits were a good 7 inches too high at 15 yards with both weights of test ammo. A change of front sight would fix that, but it ought not to be necessary.

Our Team Said: We were not too happy with this revolver, though it did what it was supposed to. We thought its accuracy was sufficient, if not stellar, though it didnt shoot where it looked. It worked, which one always expects from Smith & Wesson. We dont think wed be happy for a long time with this little rod, but if its all we could afford (real J frames are at least another $200), wed buy it, but gave it a C grade. If it hit where it looked, wed like it better.

S&W Bodyguard No. 109380 380 ACP, $419

It would seem that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Some time back we compared Rugers then-new LCP to the Kel-Tec P3AT, and told you we preferred the Kel-Tec for its lighter weight and simple and groundbreaking design. It is still the favorite 380 of our Tech Editor. Now, it seems that S&W has also seen fit to flatter Kel-Tec. S&W has made a close, but not too close, copy of the Kel-Tec, and called it the Bodyguard 380. The externals are not too much like the P3AT or the LCP, and Smith added a laser, but inside it sure looked familiar. More on that later.

At first blush, the 380 Bodyguard had not much to recommend it. It was a homely gun, quite slim, with its laser secured in a hole in the extended chin under its muzzle. The laser was activated by a button on the right side and worked just like that on the revolver.

The finish was, like that of the Bodyguard revolver, flat black. The sights were steel (and bigger than those on the Kel-Tec), set in dovetails that would permit changing the windage easily. The one magazine that came with it (extras are $21.50) held six rounds. The guns controls were all on the left side, ideal for right-handed shooters. They included a takedown lever, a slide stop, and a nearly useless safety. We found it to be very hard to put the safety on, but acceptably easy to take off.

The firing mechanism required a hard pull to cock the hammer, which cycled every time you tried it, so restriking was easy if you like that technique. The double-action-only trigger pull was stiff, measuring right at 12 pounds. It was possible to sort-of control it if you pressed it gradually. The hammer would rise abruptly, and then you had a long pull until it fell. With our normal grasp on the guns slim handle, our thumb was in the way of the trigger finger, but that depends on the hand doing the shooting. Your thumb might not be in the way.

Takedown was straightforward, requiring a cleared gun, then locking the slide back, and turning the takedown lever downward to release it. The takedown lever must then be withdrawn from the gun and then the slide can come off, the twin recoil springs can be removed, and the barrel taken out. The guts of the Smith were very much like those of the Kel-Tec, we noted. On reassembly, make sure the barrel is in the right position before trying to replace the crosspin.

We could get only two fingers on the small grip despite the extra hook on the magazine, but that was enough to give us control. The gun handled somewhat like a heavy Kel-Tec P3AT with slightly bigger sights and a laser. On the range we had no problems with the little gun. Its stiff trigger let us shoot five-shot groups with our one available test ammo of about 3.5 inches at 15 yards. The bullets landed reasonably close to our point of aim, unlike with the Bodyguard revolver. We thought this 380 had sufficient accuracy.

If you like the idea of a laser-sighted 380 for protection, this is a good one, but if you want the ultimate in lightness for a 380, the Kel-Tec P3AT is still tops. If you want a laser on your P3AT they may be had from ArmaLaser, Crimson Trace, LaserLyte Zombie, and perhaps others, but of course they add to its price.

(Handling these laser-equipped pistols so much made us think about some of the misconceptions surrounding the devices, and we wanted to mention a pet peeve regarding them. The concept of a sniper using a laser sight from a great distance is ludicrous. First, he has a scope on his rifle without which he would not be able to see the dot, and second, hed have a hard time finding and then believing that red dot in preference to the crosshairs on his scope. And while the laser is bouncing around the room, finding its way to the target, said target may see it and have time to duck. And now back to the Bodyguard.)

Our Team Said: With the Bodyguard 380s capacity for easier concealment and two more rounds, most of us liked this better than the 38 Special Bodyguard revolver. However, for pure power the revolver was tops. Although we currently have none on hand, Buffalo Bore (BuffaloBore.com) has a 158-grain cast-lead, Keith-type bullet, Outdoorsman load that comes out of snubbies at a full 1000 fps, which is power no 380 can touch.

Yet we thought this Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380 ACP was a more integrated and solid design than the revolver, and cost less, too. We gave this 380 a B, despite our reservations about its lack of power.

Written and photographed by Ray Ordorica, using evaluations from Gun Tests team testers





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