The Smith & Wesson Bodyguard 380

Back in January of this year, Smith & Wesson hosted a Media Day event in Las Vegas on the day before the 2010 SHOT Show opened. The purpose, of course, was to show off their newest offerings, which included two completely new guns that they have labeled the Bodyguard series. One is a compact .380ACP pistol and the other is a small double-action only revolver. Either may be of interest to law enforcement officers as backup guns or for off duty carry.

Both guns, along with S&W's other offerings, were available for limited shooting at the event. However, the Bodyguards were still pre-production prototypes and the exact release date for the production models was not available. Among my colleagues, initial impressions of the BG 380 were positive, while the BG 38 seemed to meet with less enthusiasm. Naturally, I've been anxious to get my hands on the production models of each gun, and that finally happened within the past month. The BG 380s are beginning to arrive through the supply chain and the three we have received so far sold quickly at our Pro Arms gun shop. Counting the prototypes, I have had the chance to shoot three of the BG 380s, as of this writing, and two of the BG 38s. In this column I'll report on the Bodyguard 380.

First, What's In A Name?

Smith & Wesson has produced some firearms icons over their history and they are recycling some of those venerable names in their modern production guns. The Military & Police, or just M&P, for example, is one of the most popular service revolvers in the history of law enforcement. With revolvers no longer the mainstay of police firearms, Smith has re-used the name for one of their new semi-auto pistols series, as well as some of their tactical rifles. The Bodyguard designation was originally given to a variation of their popular J-frame revolvers, which was basically a shrouded hammer version of the Chief's Special. First introduced in 1955, it improved the pocket revolver by reducing the likelihood of the hammer snagging on clothing when attempting to draw it from said pocket. So, if you are Smith & Wesson and want to give immediate credibility to your latest pocket guns, what would call them? The risk here is that the new offerings might not live up to their well-regarded namesake. From what I've seen so far, I don't think that will be any worry with the Bodyguard 380. Honestly, however, I think the jury is still out on the new revolver.

.380ACP: Who'd Have Thunk It?

The .380ACP had been languishing for decades, with mainly Walther's "James Bond" PPK (although 007's "like-a-brick-through-a-plate-glass-window" Walther was actually a 7.65mm/.32ACP) and Kel-Tec's P-3AT keeping that caliber alive. There were others, of course, from SIG Sauer and Beretta, and some other lesser known brands, but most folks had nearly forgotten about the 9mm Short until Ruger announced their new LCP at the 2008 SHOT Show. Ruger's excellent reputation for quality and renewed interest in concealable pocket guns collided at just the right moment in time causing the .380ACP to burst forth from relative obscurity and grab the gun world by the, um, throat.

Naturally, everyone wanted in on this new bonanza, so we can now add Smith & Wesson to the growing list of pocket 380s available from Ruger, Taurus, Kahr, Desert Eagle, SIG Sauer, et al. I think we need to keep in mind that the .380 is still a fairly weak cartridge by today's standards. Much of its resurgence is due to the convenient size of the guns available, as opposed to the effectiveness of the cartridge. Still, as a backup gun or as a gun you carry when you won't carry anything else, it can be of credible service. So, let's see what Smith & Wesson brings to the game.

A Venerable Name and Some New Features

Okay, so it's a small, pocket-sized, double-action only semi-auto pistol. I think we've all got that. It is basically the same size as the competition, so what will set it apart is whether it lives up to its namesake in quality and brings on some new features that the others do not have. I think the BG 380 scores some big points in both areas. First of all, this little polymer and blackened stainless steel gun simply feels good in your hand. The grip is small, but well shaped and fills your hand about as well as the size permits. Also, Smith includes a finger extension on the 6 round magazine. (There is an optional flat base plate included in the box, if you really want an even smaller feel.) Although recoil is noticeable in such a small gun, I did feel like I had good control of the pistol, even in rapid firing.

Other features also make this pistol stand out from its peers. I'll talk about the built-in laser in a minute, but the "iron" sights on this little gun are actually big enough to be useful. The rear sight is also drift-adjustable for windage. Check out the accompanying photos for a comparison of the sights versus laser accuracy. This pistol also has a slide lock lever that you can easily manipulate, and it is equipped with a manual safety. The safety is something that some can take or leave, but it is there if you want it and that is something that most of the other double-action pistols do not offer. All three of the levers on the left side of the gun are very low profile, trading quick activation for low drag, but you can still release the safety smoothly, if you do use it, so it seems a fair bargain. The magazine release is also smallish, but works positively and isn't likely to be accidentally bumped in deep carry mode. Not that you are likely to be doing speed reloads with a gun such as this, but the finger extension on the bottom of the magazine does help with positive lockup when the mag is inserted. This hammer fired gun also has one other nice feature that the others do not: repeat hammer strike capability. Each time you pull the trigger, the hammer falls. In the unlikely event of a misfire, you can try again. All in all, the folks at Smith are offering some good stuff on this gun.

And Now For Something Completely Different

As mentioned earlier, the BG 380 comes with a built-in laser sight. (So does the Bodyguard revolver, but I'll leave that for another time.) Built-in here meaning: whether you want it or not. The laser module, produced by Insight Technology, is an integral part of the dust cover, with the laser projecting from directly, under the muzzle. The ambidextrous activation switches are two gray buttons, one on each side of the laser, located just in front of the trigger guard. Pushing either button once produces a solid laser beam, pushing it a second time delivers a pulsing laser beam. Pushing it a third time turns the red beam of doom off. The laser does add a bit of bulk to the front of the gun, and, more importantly, cost to the price tag, but it is there. In response to the obvious question posed at the Media Briefing when these guns were unveiled, S&W has no plans to offer either of the new Bodyguards without the laser.

So, how does it work? On all three of the guns I have tested (once the laser was adjusted, of course), it worked great. In fact, accuracy was better on the prototype I shot in Las Vegas with the laser than with the open sights. On the other two, results were about the same, with the laser producing only slightly better groups at the 5 yard distance I was shooting. There is a down side to the laser, however. The little gray buttons require a determined effort to activate. Simply reaching forward with either index finger to press the button will not allow enough inward force to turn the thing on. You'll need to shift the gun in your hand to get enough leverage, resulting in essentially using two hands to engage the switch. When using this gun as a last-ditch get-off-me gun, you probably won't have time to do that. You'll need to be shooting, not groping around for buttons. I personally prefer Crimson Trace lasers for just that reason, instinctive activation, but they are not a player here. The Bodyguard is what it is, and that is why I think that the decent open sights on this pistol are a big plus and the laser is just icing on the cake. Currently, list price for the Bodyguard 380 is $575. It will undoubtedly sell for less than that, but probably not much less, at least until the "new" wears off.

Shots Fired

How does it shoot? Very well, thank you. The groups in the photos were shot at 5 yards, since this is a close range sort of gun. I've had no malfunctions or feed problems with any of the three I have tested, although I have not fired more than about 50 rounds total to date. This seems like a gun you can trust your life to, if you trust the caliber. I have heard that some users have reported that the takedown lever might fall out of the gun during shooting. This is, of course, a very bad thing, but I have not experienced it myself, so I can't verify it. If that is a problem, I'm sure Smith & Wesson will find a fix for it. All in all, the Bodyguard 380 is certainly worth serious consideration, for those who are looking for this type of pistol. I think it will live up to its Bodyguard heritage.