The Compact Defensive Revolver

Yesterday, we took a look at the concept of the Modern Defensive Revolver. The simple definition of the MDR is a revolver designed to be your primary carry gun. A belt gun with good sights, a good DAO trigger, and that you would be willing to take a 2-day, 500+ round pistol class with.

Some people were confused on the concept as to why we excluded airweight and LCR style revolvers. Those are great guns, but the whole idea of the Modern Defensive Revolver is to update the concept of a revolver as a primary sidearm from where it’s been stuck in the 1970s. I love my Security Sixes, but when I look at them compared to my GP100 WC, they don’t really compare favorably. So to reiterate, the Modern Defensive Revolver is the wheelgun as a primary carry gun. To sum it up, it should be a medium frame, 6 shot revolver in .38 Special or .357 Magnum equipped with a DAO trigger, good sights, and a laser.

Ruger LCR22

So where does that leave guns like the Ruger LCR? That’s where the Compact Defensive Revolver comes in. People have been carrying small-frame wheelguns for ages, but many of the guns on the market are like their larger cousins, stuck in the 1970s. Again, we want to take what is a familiar concept and update it to the 21st century using modern technology.

In general, a Compact Defensive Revolver should be light enough for pocket carry (assuming you have large enough pockets) and should be shootable with your defensive round of choice for at least 50 or so rounds. While you’re not going to take a huge class with a compact gun, you do still need to practice. Lots of pretty smart dudes recommend carrying 148 grain wadcutters in your defensive revolvers that are chambered in .38 Special – you won’t get any expansion, but it will cut a clean hole and penetrate well. Plus, the 148s are relatively easy to shoot.

Now let’s address the first area for a well set-up Compact Defensive Revolver: It must have some kind of high-visibility sighting system. On a full size MDR, we want both good sights and a Crimson Trace, on a smaller gun we’re willing to compromise and get one or the other. Because a lot of these guns come with fixed gutter style sights, your best bet will be to install a Crimson Trace LaserGrip for low-light sighting solutions. I know some shooters also will paint their front sight with luminescent paint as well.

It must be as snag free as possible
If your Compact Defensive Revolver is going to be carried in a pocket, it needs to be as free of potential snag areas as possible. Hammer spurs and other protuberances can interfere with a pocket draw. Ideally, a Compact Defensive Revolver would have a shrouded hammer like the LCR, but a bobbed hammer is okay.

The usual caveats about a good trigger apply here as well – a Compact Defensive Revolver really needs a good clean trigger. Despite what the internet thinks, you may have to use a Compact Defensive Revolver to actually shoot someone further than spitting distance. Because the guns are lightweight, a good trigger will really help make that job easier.

Here’s a list of a few guns that fit the criteria and a list of things I’d update on them:

  • Ruger LCR in .38 Special: Add Crimson Trace Laser Grip and XS Big Dot front sight.
  • Smith & Wesson Model 642 CT – already comes with CTC grips!
  • Smith & Wesson M&P340 CT – no changes

There are obviously quite a few other guns out there that fit the criteria as well, including some out of production guns. I actually wish that Ruger and S&W would bring back their .32 Magnum chambered revolvers, because getting a 6 shot .32 in a J-frame package is pretty rad.


  1. I noticed S&W quit the model 632 .327 Magnum revolver series, no longer available this year. It was nice because it shot so many different power levels with the top being almost equal to a .357 round. Did they quit them due to lack of interest or was there something else that was an issue?

      1. My name is Daniel, not NoBody; the 632 with powerport is a versatile awesome J-frame. I’ve had mine for 4 years now and don’t plan on ever getting rid of it.

  2. I just received my near useless “Smith & Wesson M&P340 CT” .357mag back from the gunsmith last week as it came with a 15 lb trigger on an 11 ounce revolver. It is now a usable 6.5 lb trigger.
    It absolutely needed a change in trigger springs as well as some polishing prior to using even ‘tame’ .38 spcl ammo for any acceptable accuracy.
    I have carried 38 spcl to .357mag ‘small revolvers’ (as back ups, aka BUGS) prior to retiring from my law enforcement career after 40 years.

  3. I have a Charter Arms Revolver, 5-shot in .44 Special, Stainless DAO & SA.?. 4″bbl. Brass is really not that hard to find. I already have a lot. Laser/Smazer, sounds like a commercial for Crimson Trace. Too much bulk, (Laser Grips OK)I guess. I think it was called the Bull Dog. Lasers, lights, and all that crap is a crutch for most people. Learn to shoot both eyes open and practice point shooting. How much commission is there on product recommendation. name the weapon and I already have it.

  4. I’ve always thought that S&W should borrow a page from its original LadySmith (M-Frame). Build a tiny DA revolver with cylinder diameter just big enough for either 7 rounds of .22 LR, 6 rounds of .22 Magnum, or 5 rounds of .327 Magnum. It would be nice if they could also make another run at the C-Frame concept: a 6-shot .38 Special that’s smaller than a K-Frame. I think that they could build either one off of the basic Bodyguard 38 design, scaling up and down as necessary. They should also offer .22 rimfire versions of the basic Bodyguard 38.

  5. I’ll still stick with my Model 38, and will not buy a Model 638 until S&W stops putting that damnable trigger lock on their revolvers. I recently put a Crimson Trace set of stocks on my gun; I did an action job on it 20 years ago and had my gunsmith OK my work and chamfer the charge holes. It works; why fix it? I use 90% reloads, 10% defensive loads in it, and keep the front sight painted a bright green. Good for contact-to-20 yards, and I’ve rung the 12×12″ gong with it pretty consistently at 100 yards… single action. Another thing to consider with revolvers: they can be run with 2-3 fingers busted, even upside-down if need be.

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