The Other New S&W Bodyguard

Overall, I think the Bodyguard 38 has a great deal of potential, but it needs more work. For now, I'll stick with my trusty J-frames for backup carry.

As I reported in my October column, Smith & Wesson announced their two new Bodyguard handguns at their Media Day event on the day before the SHOT Show opened in Las Vegas, in January 2010. Because I covered the Bodyguard 380 pistol in my last column, it seems logical to me to cover the Bodyguard 38 revolver this month.

The Bodyguard name was first used by Smith & Wesson to describe one of their small J-frame, 5-shot revolvers. It was a variation of the original Chiefs Special, which had been introduced to the law enforcement world in 1950, at the annual International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Colorado Springs, CO. The Bodyguard model, which had the humpback frame that served as a hammer shroud, came along about five years later. It provided a snag-free revolver that still allowed access to the hammer, so the gun could be fired in single-action mode. The original Bodyguard design is still with us, as the 438, 638 and 640 models. Actually, the new Bodyguard 38 bears more of a resemblance to the Centennial J-frame model, originally designed in 1952, in that the hammer is completely enclosed in the frame and it is strictly a double-action only gun. In any case, it seems only natural to ask if the Bodyguard 38, with a retail price of $625.00, measures up to its venerable name. Here are my thoughts.

All New, Except For The Name

When the folks from Smith & Wesson were giving the media briefing in Las Vegas, they were quick to emphasize that the Bodyguard 38 is a completely new revolver. Other than its size and some outward appearances, it does not share any parts or design features with their J-frame guns. In fact, it seems to be a response to the polymer, aluminum and stainless steel Ruger LCR, which was introduced a year earlier and has gained ground in the small revolver market ever since. The BG 38 uses steel reinforced polymer for the lower part of the frame, which includes the grip, with the rest of the upper frame being aluminum alloy.

According to their spec sheet, both the cylinder and the 1.9 inch barrel are stainless steel. It looks to me like the stainless part of the barrel is really a liner, however, as the exterior of the barrel is actually part of the frame. Only the interior portion can be removed, using a special tool, so that seems like a liner to me. Regardless, this design works well in other guns, and helps keep the overall weight down. Obviously, weight reduction is the name of the game here and the BG 38 weighs in at 14.3 ounces. That puts it in between the S&W AirLite and Airweight models and slightly heavier than the basic Ruger LCR, which weighs 13.5 ounces. Aside from the construction materials, the Bodyguard has a completely new trigger system, a new design for rotating and locking up the cylinder, and a new top-mounted, ambidextrous cylinder release. As they said: an all new design.

I have not dissected the gun, so I will leave the internal workings for others to explain. Although the gun seems to be the same size at the J-frames, it is not identical. I found that some, but not all, of my leather J-holsters might work with the Bodyguard 38, but none of my kydex holsters fit the BG 38. Happily, I did discover that both my HKS and Safariland speed loaders will work with the new gun.

Let There Be Lasers

As I mentioned in my column about the Bodyguard 380, S&W announced that both of the Bodyguard models would only be available with built-in laser sights. The laser unit on the BG 38 is also made by Insight Technology and it is basically screwed onto the upper right side of the frame, just behind the cylinder. The beam is projected along the right side of the gun, above the cylinder and relatively close to the bore axis. It is activated by a single button, located on the top of the unit. Like the BG 380, the laser has both steady and pulsing settings, chosen by how many times the button is pushed. It will also time out after five minutes, following a blinking warning signal, in order to save battery power. Turning it on is a bit simpler than on the BG 380, as you can easily push the button with the thumb of your support hand as you bring the gun into use, without compromising your shooting grip in the process.

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