When I recently reviewed the EAA Windicator .38 special/.357 Magnum revolver, I discussed trade-offs in regard to Fit, Function, and Finances when selecting a firearm for a specific purpose at a certain price-point. In this article, I will continue the “trade-off” discussion as I review the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 Auto.
Designed by firearms deity, John Moses Browning, and introduced by Colt in 1908, the .380 Automatic Colt Pistol (ACP) has been a popular low-recoil cartridge for semi-automatic pistols. This cartridge gained world renown when it was used in conjunction with the Walther PPK pistols carried by German officers in World War II.
The low pressure and recoil produced by the .380 Auto cartridge allowed for a more simple and affordable pistol design which could include both locking breech and fixed barrel variations. Taken together, the low recoil, lightweight pistol design, and low cost contributed to an affordable and lightweight carry pistol/ammunition combination that has stood the test of time for over 100 years.
Although the .380 Auto has been fired from numerous platforms in its long history, computer aided drafting, advanced manufacturing techniques, and the introduction of polymers into pistol frames ushered-in the era of lightweight sub-compact .380 Auto “pocket pistols,” or “mouse guns.” Among the first successful designs, the 9.7 ounce Kahr P380 and 10.5 ounce Seecamp LWS .380 made strong entries into the firearms market.
While the size, portability, and affordability of the .380 Auto pocket pistols garnered popularity, the aftermath of the 1986 FBI Miami Shootout and 1997 North Hollywood Shootout elevated the term “stopping power” to a position of prominence. Although the term “stopping power” is an abused misnomer, the FBI concluded that instant incapacitation can only be accomplished via a well-placed shot to the medulla oblongata whereas rapid incapacitation results from projectile penetration and expansion causing a large permanent wound cavity into and through vital organs.
Smaller and lighter than a 9mm projectile, many deemed the .380 Auto insufficient for personal protection. As the FBI adopted the 10mm cartridge, many manufacturers sought to introduce pistol/ammunition combinations that would satisfy the new lust for “stopping power.” Among other reasons for sporting and competition, this brought the .40cal and .357 Sig into the marketplace.
Many of us know that history is not linear. Many aspects of human history can be cyclic in nature. In about the same amount of time that it took for the 9mm and .380 Auto to fall prey to the illusion of “stopping power,” advances in projectile design and manufacture brought them back to life. With consumers and concealed carriers continued desire for an “effective” pocket pistol, the .380 Auto entered into another renaissance around 2010 and many pistol manufacturers rushed to meet this demand.
Smith and Wesson has long been a friend to the military, law enforcement, and civilian marketplace, so it is no surprise that 2010 saw the introduction of the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard in .380 Auto!
The Smith and Wesson Bodyguard in .380 Auto.
The S&W Bodyguard in .380 Auto is a sub-compact polymer framed locking breech double-action only (DAO)internal hammer fired 6+1 magazine fed semi-automatic pistol. The front sight is serrated and the drift-adjustable rear sight plain black. The operating surfaces are typical: magazine release, slide stop, and slide take-down (click the photo for a larger view). This internal-hammer DAO also has an active thumb safety. While aftermarket lasers and lights have been a mainstay in the firearms market for about 20 years, Smith and Wesson boasts the first integrated laser design. The Insight laser is designed into the polymer frame and the ambidextrous activator switches the laser from “On” (steady beam) to “Pulse,” to “Off” with each successive press. An additional feature includes the “loaded chamber indicator” as a small window on top of the slide where the barrel hood contacts the breech face.
With a barrel length of 2.75 inches, overall length of 5.25 inches, overall height of 4.1 inches, and slim width of 0.75 inches, this model with the integrated laser weighs-in at a minuscule 11.85 ounces!
There is no doubt, this is a small and lightweight pistol. I would go so far as to say “diminutive.” It was easy for me to “over-grip” the pistol and it took some practice to place the pad of my index finger on the trigger face with any type of consistency. However, it did point very naturally. As you can see in the photo, the size of the pistol in relation to my hand made it seem like I was simply pointing my fist at the target.
I gauge my ability to reach each of the control surfaces as an element of fit. I could activate/deactivate the laser with my index finger, and engage the slide stop and activate/deactivate the safety with my thumb without adjusting my grip… most of the time. Herein lies the first of the trade-offs. In order to keep the design sleek and thin so the control surfaces do not snag or tear clothing during concealed carry, the photo to the left depicts how the slide stop and safety are inset into the frame. The same design that keeps them snag-free also makes them difficult to activate/deactivate without a considerable amount of practice and concentration.
I stress “fit” as the first of the “3-Fs” because I believe that a pistol should fit the shooters hand naturally and be comfortable enough for routine dry-fire, training, and practice. This pistol didn’t fit my hand very well at all. The trigger was VERY long and heavy, which was exacerbated by the lack of leverage offered by the small frame. The trigger pull exceeded the 10 pound maximum on my gauge. Fully forward, the length of pull (distance from the trigger face to the backstrap) is 2.728 inches. After 0.057 inches of free movement, the sear/hammer double-action movement begins. For a distance of 0.62 inches, the 10 pound pressure seems to increase! Put simply, the long and heavy trigger pull seems to get considerably heavier throughout the pull.
While I do appreciate a positive tactile trigger re-set with an audible “click,” which the Bodyguard definitely has, the re-set is long. I had to consciously return the trigger to 2.671 inches which is nearly the full distance to 2.728 inches.
As a result of the long and heavy trigger pull, the exceptionally lightweight frame translates nearly all of the impulse into the shooter’s hand. With a small beavertail atop the backstrap, the energy transfer “slaps” your hand. Again, here is the trade-off: lightweight pistols translate a greater degree of impulse and recoil directly to the shooter. Combined with the considerable pressure required to pull the trigger, the photo shows a small abrasion that formed on my hand after firing only 25 rounds.
The Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 with the integrated laser is a unique design that functioned exactly as intended. It is small, lightweight, easily concealable, and fired every time. It fed, fired, extracted, and ejected both range and premium ammunition with no malfunctions. I consider it to be reliable enough for personal defense.
I appreciate the integrated laser design. The ambidextrous activation switches allow the shooter to manipulate the laser with either hand. Locating the laser emitter on the frame directly beneath the bore maintains a fairly consistent point of aim/point of impact in regard to the laser. I was able to zero the laser quickly and accomplish point of aim/point of impact in just a few shots. The design held its zero through 100 rounds over two range visits.
As stated earlier, this design is considered a “pocket pistol.” The engineers at Smith and Wesson certainly excelled in this design. Concurrently, holster makers have done an equally exceptional job. The photo depicts the Bodyguard in a “pocket holster.” The purpose of these holsters is to secure the pistol and obscure its outline, or “print,” in the concealed carrier’s pocket.
The Smith and Wesson website lists the Bodyguard with integrated laser MSRP as $419.00. However, many other outlets sell this model in the low- to mid-$300s. Our friends at Quantico Tactical list the Bodyguard with laser for $329.00 (military/law enforcemet/1st resonder/private security). At this price-point, the Bodyguard is very affordable and .380 Auto ammunition is roughly the same price as 9mm.
When I say that it is very affordable, especially for a gun with an integrated laser, consider that after-market lasers can cost nearly as much as this entire gun. Crimson Trace Laser Grips for many different models can cost between $200 and $350.00.
In general, I found the S&W Bodyguard .380 Auto to function reliably and produce acceptable precision/accuracy for its intended purpose. The long and heavy trigger made it a bit difficult to keep the sights aligned and on target at times, but I believe that this type of trigger is necessary for a true pocket pistol. Triggers that are lighter or shorter could contribute to a negligent discharge when drawing the pistol from the pocket.
The photo above depicts the results of my typical test… shooting 5 shot groups from the standing off-hand position at distances from 10-30 feet. Oddly, my 15 and 20 foot groups were better than my 10 foot group. I attribute this to “getting used” to the atrocious trigger. Even so, the point of impact corresponds to the point of aim and a sub-3 inch group at 30 yards from this gun is acceptable for personal defense.
- Lightweight and easily concealable
- Reliable with no malfunctions in 100 rounds
- Acceptable precision/accuracy
- Unique integrated laser design
- Active thumb safety
- Double Action Only trigger
- Atrocious trigger
- Not a good fit for my hand
- “Too lightweight” translated too much impulse/recoil into my hand
- Operating surfaces easy to reach but difficult to activate/deactivate
- Even with advances in design, the .380 Auto is at the low-end of the terminal ballistic performance continuum.
- Did I mention how bad the trigger is?
Returning to the arguments I made in the beginning of the review, it comes down to how the trade-offs interplay between your personal Fit, Function, and Finances. The Smith & Wesson Bodyguard .380 Auto is reliable, lightweight, easily concealable semi-auto DAO with an active thumb safety at a very reasonable price-point, especially for a pistol with an integrated laser. The phrase “Carried a lot… shot a little” may apply here. For me, however, the Cons outweigh the Pros. The trigger is among the worst I’ve ever fired and it was generally uncomfortable to shoot. I could get used to the trigger and ergonomics with more time and practice, but I’ll pass on this one since I believe there are better options out there to meet my Fit, Function, and Finances.
Thanks to Al Rice for providing the gun for review, joining me for some range time, and for snapping some photos on the range!
Stay safe and shoot straight!
– Howard Hall