There is no gunmaker on the face of the planet with a longer and more comprehensive history of manufacturing pocket pistols than Smith & Wesson. Despite a brief flirtation with the primitive cartridge-firing Volcanic lever-action guns during their early partnership, it can be truthfully said that the company founded by Horace Smith and Daniel B. Wesson in 1852 owes its existence today to the success of the Model 1, a tiny .22 rimfire seven-banger that was one of the first commercially viable metallic cartridge guns. Larger models quickly followed over the years, but the company has never lost sight of its roots and has steadily produced small revolvers with only limited interruptions for well over 150 years. When expansion into autopistols ramped up in the 1980s, smaller versions of full-sized carry and duty models didn’t take long, and nobody in search of a good assortment of compact and lightweight pocket guns needs to look further than S&W’s extensive lineup.
Since 1950, the company’s go-to pocket protector has traditionally been its small five-shot .38 Special J-Frame. One of S&W’s most solid market movers, the J-Frame has served as a backup for two generations of cops and as a ride-along in glove boxes, pockets and purses for everyday folks who felt the need for a compact and reliable get-off-me gun for over 60 years. “Chopped” versions of the steel-framed autos of the 1980s sold well, and downsized versions of the current M&P pistols in 9mm, .40 S&W and .45 ACP are also quite popular, but all the way down the line the J-Frame .38 has held steady as Smith & Wesson’s best-selling pocket gun.
While J-Frame models are still popular, 2010 marked the introduction of two new guns that broke with tradition in both design and materials, challenging the long-running J-Frame for its slice of the national concealed-carry pie. Both were designated “Bodyguard.” One is a similar-looking, polymer-framed .38 Special double-action (DA) revolver like the J-Frame, the other is a seven-shot .380 ACP double-action-only (DAO) polymer pistol almost small enough to wear on a Brazilian beach—and with an integral Insight laser, no less! The original Bodyguard .380 grabbed the public’s attention like a kid grabbing candy, and the reason you don’t see it everywhere in uniform or among your friends and neighbors is mostly because it’s so invisible. Trust me, they’re out there.
Sales of the little polymer pistol were so promising that Smith & Wesson raised the curtain on the 2.0 version late last year in the form of the new M&P Bodyguard 380. The company debuted it to appreciative audiences at the SHOT Show industry convention in Las Vegas this year, and the new pistol is shipping now. Even I, someone not inherently a fan of either polymer or the .380 caliber, like this one.
If you’re familiar with the first Bodyguard .380, you know it’s an 11.85-ounce, locked-breech, DAO, polymer-framed semi-auto with a 2.75-inch barrel, a stainless slide under a dark matte black finish, and black steel sights that are drift adjustable for windage. The new pistol adds an “M&P” stamping to the left side of the slide, fish scale serrations to both sides at the rear, and drops both the internal laser and its suggested list price of $418 to $379. It has a less blocky snout than the “old” pistol, but retains the left-side takedown lever, slide lock lever and thumb safety (which locks trigger and slide on the frame), along with lightly textured grip sections, a left-side mag release button, an internal hammer, a steel recoil spring guide rod and a substantial-for-its-size external extractor. The M&P Bodyguard ships in a black zippered nylon carry case with two magazines. One magazine uses a finger-extension floorplate to allow for a full two-fingered grip on the stubby frame, while the other limits most hands to slightly under 1.5 fingers. The pistol is very usefully flat, with the grip frame measuring 0.75-inches wide (the slide is even thinner, if but slightly), making it extremely tuckable and unlikely to profile through most pocket types and materials like a larger and thicker snub revolver or compact auto might.
The DAO trigger is heavy, a requirement for reliable hammer-striking energy in such a small design, but smooth with no detectable stacking toward the rear, and the second-strike capability is welcome to many, including me. Yes, we do train religiously for immediate action drills on a misfire, but it’s not particularly easy on a gun this small. In my experience of firing truckloads of ammunition over the past 45 years, a second strike will ignite about 95 percent of the time if the first one didn’t, but there are still a few potential carriers who have yet to see the light and accept the “Tap, Rack, Bang” gospel, and the natural reaction of those who use Hollywood productions as training material is to pull the trigger a second or third time after it clicks. So, second-strike does have its benefits. The little M&P also locks its slide to the rear on the last shot fired, and slide retraction doesn’t require exercising super-human strength.
Having spent quality time with several .380 autos in the past, I was expecting a hand-bouncer in this lightweight polymer package, but it didn’t happen—and you can thank S&W engineers for the locked-breech design that causes it not to. I’ve experienced near 9mm recoil levels from much larger and heavier straight blowback .380 pistols that depend on slide mass and relatively heavy springs to restrict slide momentum and resulting recoil. Here, the locked breech reduces the need for slide mass, along with a good percentage of the kick, and working on accuracy with three loads at 15 yards was no big deal at all in that area. Using the finger-extension mag (super-seriously recommended), I had no problem whatsoever in hanging on or quickly recovering between shots due to muzzle rise. The Bodyguard at no time attempted to leave my hand without permission; no “gorilla grip” was necessary on this one. That enclosed hammer can’t possibly bite, and the slide rides high enough to totally avoid any chance of slicing skin.
“The new Bodyguard can obviously do what it was built to do…”
The most physically stressful part of the shooting session, if you can call it that, was actually the trigger. Way beyond my 8-pound scale, it’s not that hard to deal with and shouldn’t be a no-go for most shooters, but the cumulative effects of hauling it back slowly and steadily while trying to hold such a tiny gun on target over a half-hour or so will add up on certain smaller hand muscles. In real life, especially in an adrenaline-charged encounter where you may have to fire limited shots in defense, I can’t see it being a problem.
The sights are a mix of good and could-be-better in being comparatively large, steel, rugged and windage-adjustable. But even on an arm’s-length mini gun I’d prefer to see (literally) more visibility in the form of white dots or a combination of white outline rear/white-dot front irons. In good lighting, if you have the time, these are substantial enough to pick up for aimed shots, but in poor lighting not so much, and not every threat occurs at point-and-shoot distances.
Also, agree or not, but I personally neither need nor want a manual thumb safety on a DAO pistol, especially on one this size. Since the hammer can’t be cocked and the DAO trigger is heavy enough to require some uncommonly powerful voodoo to pull itself in a pocket holster, I think it’s unnecessary, and this one’s too small to conveniently wipe off with the thumb in a hurry under stress. The flip side of that coin, though, is that (so far at least) you’re under no legal compulsion to use the safety lever, and unlike some other designs that can accidentally activate themselves if not carried “on,” the Bodyguard’s safety lever is very flat, fairly stiff to activate and protected inside a raised surface area on the frame around it. I doubt even the most aggressive feral pack of loose pocket change would be likely to activate this safety lever, and the pistol shouldn’t be carried loosely amongst other pocket riffraff anyway; use a good pocket holster to avoid that along with pestiferous and annoying dust bunny infestation.
Accuracy was a trifle short of Olympic bullseye standards, but that was expected. Shooting slow-fire shots off the well-worn Outers Pistol Perch, all three loads also ran a trifle short of conventional .380 velocities, which was also expected. There’s only so much you can ask of such an abbreviated barrel. Out to 15 yards, the two premium Barnes and Hornady hollow points (HPs) could hold under 3 inches, and the Winchester FMJ produced an increase in velocity over the other two rounds but a decrease in accuracy in its best group of just over 3 inches. Function was 100 percent right out of the box. No malfunctions of any type, kind or nature were experienced. Very positive ejection left empty brass scattered 10 to 15 feet away in a forward arc to the right, with most of it recovered at the end of session.
The new Bodyguard can obviously do what it was built to do. And quite frankly, while the plastic “tiny gun” genre at large does not normally appeal to me, this particular pistol does. For certain applications I’ve made it a regular companion (as in, it’s not going back to S&W). If you have a pocket just waiting to be filled by a compact and reliable defensive piece, you should be able to put the M&P Bodyguard 380 to good use, too.
Specifications: S&W M&P Bodyguard 380
* Caliber: .380 ACP
* Barrel: 2.75 inches
* OA Length: 5.25 inches
* Weight: 12 ounces
* Grips: Polymer
* Sights: Drift adjustable, front and rear
* Action: DAO
* Finish: Matte black
* Capacity: 6+1
* MSRP: $379
For more information, visit http://www.smith-wesson.com or call 800-331-0852.