Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Guns: Ode to the 642

It caused some consternation in my household, but I still carry my Smith & Wesson Model 642 revolver in my pocket, especially when I don't feel like strapping on a holster and belt. I've heard that the J-frames are S&W's bestselling revolvers, and there's certainly a huge following for these guns, as shown by the enormous thread on "The High Road." This may surprise some folks, but I'm going to try to elicit why this state of affairs exists.

It has been said that the first rule of gunfighting is to "bring a gun." I'd amend that rule to read "bring a reliable gun." More than make, model, or even caliber, whether your gun goes bang when you expect it is the most critical aspect of any firearm used for defense. Most gunfights (and fights in general) are over and done with in seconds, so there probably won't be time to practice those fancy malfunction drills you learned at Gunsite - instead, you need something that will always deliver those first two or three shots, no matter what.

Even though my 642, like all new production 642s, is cursed with S&W's ugly internal lock and decreased manufacturing standards, the 642 is still leaps and bounds ahead of its competitors in terms of reliability. Mine has fired over a thousand rounds (including some 200 round sessions - a long range session for a J-frame, IMO) and is still shooting fine, with no malfunctions to speak of. Though they aren't always perfect out of the box (be especially wary of light firing pin strikes), if they've shot 200 rounds successfully, you can usually trust them for another 2,000 rounds, and maybe even another 20,000 rounds.

I once tried a Kel-Tec P3AT. It had about as much firepower as the 642, was $100 cheaper, and was half the size and weight. It was easier to shoot and more accurate. It was not, however, even in the same league as far as reliability. I would shoot about 30-40 shots and start to get failure-to-extracts (I call these "nail in the coffin" failures, since if you ever had the misfortune of getting one when it counted, it'd likely be fatal). It's also telling that many P3AT owners have to tinker and "fluff and buff" to get their guns to work well enough to carry.

In fairness to the P3AT, it's almost impossible to get a super-small pistol to work as well as a small revolver. Reliability almost always suffers when the barrel gets to 3" or less in an autoloader, especially when fancy new polymers must be used to cut down the weight. Between the subtle flexing of the (small) frame, the various (short) recoil springs, and (short) magazine spring, the extractor spring, and the shooter's hand itself, there's a ton of variables to account for.

This is just my take on it - If you need to carry your gun in a pocket, get a snubnose lightweight revolver and call it a day.


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