Applied to handguns, the name “Bodyguard” has been traditionally associated with the “Bodyguard” models of Smith & Wesson revolvers. These shrouded-hammer revolvers – a variant on Smith & Wesson’s popular J-Frame line – have had a distinctive and almost cult-like following amongst revolver enthusiasts.
Recently, however, Smith & Wesson has applied the “Bodyguard” branding to two new and distinct models of handgun – a polymer-frame revolver, and oddly enough a .380 caliber semi-automatic polymer pistol. Both the Bodyguard 38 and the Bodyguard 380 feature an integrated laser.
The handgun featured in this review is the Bodyguard 38. It is a departure from the norm for Smith & Wesson on a number of counts. First, it is a polymer-framed revolver. To-date, the only other polymer-frame revolver on the market is the widely-successful Ruger LCR (“Light Compact Revolver”). The Bodyguard 38 is also the first major revolver on the market to feature ambidextrous controls, though as we will see later these are somewhat limited. Finally, along with its semi-automatic counterpart, it is the first S&W handgun to actually feature an integrated laser (as opposed to after-market “Lasergrips”).
The Bodyguard 38 is chambered in the venerable .38 Special +P cartridge. As such, it should be able to feed and handle any .38 Special cartridge reliably.
Handling & Ergonomics
Though it visibly resembles a Centennial J-Frame revolver, the Bodyguard 38 has several features that make it distinct. Most notable is the ambidextrous cylinder release, located along the top of the frame behind the rear sight. This makes the controls of the revolver easier to manipulate for left-handed shooters, though the cylinder still deploys to the left.
The grips of the Bodyguard 38 leave something to be desired. They are made of a comfortable rubber and would not provide any great difficulty to an individual with smaller hands, persons with larger mits (this writer included) barely have anything to hold onto. Typically with revolvers this is not an issue since grips are so easily interchangeable, however the Bodyguard 38 is not compatible with any of the usual aftermarket J-Frame grips, something this writer considers to be a major shortcoming.
The Bodyguard 38 features the traditional “valley” style fixed sights found on other small-frame Smith & Wesson revolvers. While adequate, the “black on black” picture afforded is less than ideal for low-light situations. This is, of course, compensated by the Bodyguard 38’s unique integrated INSIGHT laser.
The INSIGHT laser is located directly behind the top half of the cylinder on the right-hand side of the revolver. The laser is actuated by a small button on top, so theoretically it has ambidextrous controls. This writer’s overall impression of the laser was that the button was difficult enough to press with the right thumb, let alone the left. Since a handgun like this is only likely to be used at very close range when it must be drawn very quickly, the effectiveness of this control system seems questionable. The first press of the button puts the laser into “Constant-on” mode, with the next press of the button putting it in “pulse” mode. A final press turns it off again.
The laser has a five minute auto-off timer. Presumably this is to conserve battery, though whether this is a good idea in something intended for self defense is again questionable.
Possibly a better solution would have been to make the laser grip-actuated, much like the commercially-available Crimson Trace Lasergrips. It seems this design is much more useful in a handgun intended solely for self-defense.
Size & Weight
The Bodyguard 38 is presumably as easy to conceal as any other revolver in its size class. According to the website, the gun weighs in at just 14 oz., but this author felt a noticeable difference in weight between the Bodyguard 38 and the Model 642 (which weighs in at 15 oz.).
Fit & Finish
While the lockup was tight and the trigger pull was smooth (for a modern-production factory gun), the overall quality of the fit & finish was underwhelming. Speaking purely of aesthetics now, the Bodyguard 38 does not balance well in the hand and feels somewhat toy-like.
It is always encouraging to see that firearms manufacturers are still trying to innovate and stay competitive. The Bodyguard 38 is already becoming popular and those who buy them seem to like them. Ultimately, the design seems to fall short on a couple of levels that we hope Smith & Wesson will work out over time; a laser with truly-ambidextrous grip-actuated controls and some grip options for those of us who have larger hands.