Thinking about a new pocket gun for off duty or a new back-up for on-duty use? In this S&W Bodyguard 380 review, I will cover the positive aspects of this gun and a few of the problems reported with this pistol line.
Why trust me? I’m a life-long gun enthusiast and a full-time police supervisor with more than 20 years of experience in patrol, major crimes investigations, K-9 and SWAT. I’ve carried and used firearms to protect myself and others for decades. Consequently, I’ve developed a great deal of knowledge about handguns and have a no-nonsense attitude toward them. When I give you my opinion on this gun, it is without any manufacturer or outside influence.
This all started back in April when I reported that the Los Angeles, CA Police Department approved the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 for back-up and off-duty carry. To my knowledge, it was the first major agency to accept the little pistol for duty use. If they approved it, I considered it worth investigating further.
Smith & Wesson designed this gun to be a compact pistol chambered for the .380 ACP cartridge. Its small size lends itself to concealed carry on- and off-duty. I envision this as a gun that an officer could carry into work, then once he or she changes into a uniform, it would ride as a BUG to the duty gun.
On top, it has small but visible sights, which is a better setup than what Ruger and Kel-Tec use on their subcompact .380 pistols. Interestingly, Smith & Wesson includes an integrated aiming laser in the frame of the pistol. The laser is manufactured by Insight Technology. [Editor’s note: Since this review was written, Smith & Wesson added new versions of this gun to its catalog. Additional information is in the “Update” section below.]
LAPD’s initial specifications for the gun required the laser sight to be deactivated. Unofficially, we’ve been told this is in response to concerns about sight confusion when less-lethal Taser devices are used on a scene.
In addition to the laser modification, the LAPD requested a removal of the left side safety lever. With a long, DA trigger pull, I don’t see the need for the safety, so I’m not surprised LAPD took a similar stance.
The reworked Bodyguard did not exist at press time, so S&W sent us the current production gun. Functionally, this gun is identical to those used by LAPD.
The Test Gun
The Bodyguard shipped in the dark blue cardboard box with traditional Smith & Wesson branding. Inside, the gun was encased in a nice zippered nylon dayplanner-style case. The interior of the case had elastic slip holders for the gun and a spare magazine.
Included with the gun was one steel-bodied six-round magazine that had a slightly flared floorplate for additional gripping surface. The magazine has a bright orange follower for visibility. Included in the box was a manual, test fired case, and a gun padlock.
The Bodyguard 380 is a hammer-fired, semi-automatic pistol with a polymer lower frame and a stainless steel slide. The slide is coated in black Melonite for excellent corrosion resistance. The left side of the gun has the takedown lever, slide stop lever, manual safety lever, and button magazine release.
For the record, the Insight Technology laser sits in line with the barrel and is activated by a gray button on either side of the frame. The laser buttons cycle between “on,” “pulsing,” and “off.”
The frame of the gun is a matte polymer with stippled sections on the front, sides and rear of the grip. I found the gun felt solid in the hand, especially with the lower lip jutting down on the magazine. The front of the magazine lip also has the stippling.
The gun’s patridge sights are a serrated front ramp and a serrated square-notched rear sight. Both front and rear sights are drift adjustable for windage. The sights are designed to be smooth and snag-free.
The slide has a loaded chamber indicator that is a small window in the top of the slide/chamber junction. This allows you to visually see the case rim of a chambered round. The bullet case can also been seen in relief on the right side of the slide immediately in front of the extractor.
The Smith and Wesson Bodyguard has a 2.75” barrel. The gun is 5.4” in length, 4.1” in height, and a very svelte 0.75” in width. At 11.85 ozs., it is very light, yet retains enough weight and size that it does not handle like a toy.
A word about field stripping. When I first went to break the gun down, I had trouble with the takedown lever. It did not seem to rotate down as instructed in the manual. I soon learned that the lever had a slight redesign not yet found in the manual.
Early production guns had a problem with the takedown lever coming loose during extended firing. Smith & Wesson addressed this by changing the lever. Now, instead of turning the lever 180 degrees counterclockwise, the lever turns 270 degrees in that direction for disassembly.
This also requires a bit of added force, so unless you have longshoreman’s hands, I suggest using a wood or plastic dowel to assist its movement.
I shot the Bodyguard in two range venues: SWAT training and at a local gun range. The .380 ACP ammunition I fired included Speer Gold Dot 90 grain Hollow Point (GD-HP), Speer Lawman 95 gram Total Metal Jacket (TMJ), and 95 grain Fiocchi Full Metal Jacket (FMJ).
Bodyguard 380 Problems
The first range run was typical for a new semi-auto manufactured in the 1980s. By that, I mean the gun needed a little breaking in. The initial shooting was punctuated with a few hiccups in the form of failures to feed and failures to eject. I had three failures to feed at the very beginning of the range session and a couple of ejection problems, however, the gun became more reliable the more it was shot.
I pushed through about 150 rounds and the gun became very reliable. A field strip and oiling seemed to finish the process of breaking the gun in as it remained reliable for the rest of the testing. In fact, after the initial break-in period, I had zero concerns about the Bodyguard 380 reliability again.
I suppose if you want the utmost in reliability from this cartridge, you might want a 380 revolver like this one.
Bodyguard 380 Successes
Since the initial problems, I have shot over four hundred rounds through this gun. It has broken in nicely. I like to have five hundred rounds without a failure through a gun like this before I will trust my life with it, but I don’t foresee a problem making this happen.
Though I had zero ammunition failures, the Bodyguard’s hammer allows for a second-strike capability should a primer not fire. Maybe I should use cheap imported ammunition to test this feature next time?
The gun shot just below point of aim at 7 to 10 yards with all three rounds. The Speer GD-HP is my department mandated carry ammo. I did not use the laser during the testing since I was trying to evaluate the gun to the specifications LAPD set out. The laser could be seen in the bright daylight at 7 yards on the white portions of the targets. Nevertheless, a green laser would be much more visible in daylight conditions.
The trigger pull of the Bodyguard is long. The sear breaks at about 3/16th of an inch before the trigger meets the frame. While the pull is long, it is lighter than a lot of DAO guns I’ve shot. I put the trigger pull between 8 and 10 pounds. The hammer falls with a sharp snap.
I was not in love with the long trigger pull, but I will say that for a close-range combat weapon it is completely manageable. Besides, this gun’s intended playing field is the street, not a sniper competition. That long pull will help you avoid any unintended discharges.
In spite of the initial Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 problems, I did tote the pistol around as a back-up for several months. Though similar to my Kel-Tec P3AT, the Smith & Wesson Bodyguard has an advanced feel, as if it were an evolution of the popular original polymer .380.
I cannot stress enough the proper break-in period of a firearm for self-defense carry. Had I not spent the time to shoot this gun into reliable function, like many other guns I’ve owned, I might have gotten rid of it prematurely.
The Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 380 offers a list of features that are not found on many of the comparable .380 guns. These include its second-strike capability, rear adjustable sights, a safety lever, a loaded chamber indicator, a slide stop lever, slide lock after the last round, and a built-in laser.
S&W achieved a price point of $399.00 MSRP for the Bodyguard 380, which is very reasonable considering how much gun you get for your money. [Editor’s note: That was the MSRP when the article was written. It is higher now, though we did find a great sale price that we link to in the Update section below.]
I like this gun. With a holster, it is ideal for pocket carry or on a vest as a BUG. Check out our list of Bodyguard 380 holsters here. I have shown the Bodyguard 380 to quite a few co-workers. After taking a close look at it, many fellow cops have offered to buy it from me. I think that says it all. If you are interested in this gun, you can purchase the Bodyguard 380 with the upgraded laser here.
Since the article was first published, the Bodyguard 380 line grew and expanded. As of 2019, the line of guns includes models with and with lasers. Additionally, the guns can be had with and without the thumb safety. Pictured below is the model without the laser but with a thumb safety.
Smith & Wesson’s parent company, American Outdoor Brands, purchased Crimson Trace. Not surprisingly, S&W now uses Crimson Trace lasers in the Bodyguard 380 pistols. Both red and green lasers are available. There are even engraved models and different colored frames available. Depending on the options you want, the current crop of Bodyguard pistols will run you up to $519 at full retail.
Currently, Brownells has the Bodyguard on sale with free shipping when you use this link. I’m not sure how long Brownells will offer the pistols at this price.
The pistol used in this review was loaned to the author by Smith & Wesson. This is not a “sponsored” review. All of the opinions of the author are his alone.
At the time of publication, neither BlueSheepdog nor the author have any financial interest in Smith & Wesson or any other firearm manufacturer. Smith & Wesson is not an advertiser at BlueSheepdog nor are we in any talks for them to be so. S&W did not ask for a positive review of their gun and no promises were made to do one.
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