About 40 years ago I took an oath to protect and defend the people of the United States of America as a police officer on the streets of this country’s cities and rural areas. After skills training and subsequently becoming a sworn officer, one of the obvious skills that I had acquired was weapons training.
For the very first day, I arrived in those firearms skills classes as well as hands on live fire training I owned and carried some type of Smith & Wesson firearm as my selected duty gun. Why the Smith family of handguns? Because they are well built, function well in terms of functional reliability, and in effect something I trusted my life to more often than once.
The questing being posed in this review is when making a choice in the best of the best handgun for home defense which way would I go in the selection process? The truth here is simply this because of several major factors in the selection process here, there is not a single choice, but trimming the subject down to its bare bones at least two weapons need to be considered in this case.
Both weapons in my estimation are Smith & Wesson products, but each has very specific differences, and depending on the individual using the gun success or failure can stands up right at the forefront of the subject.
Facts to consider when selecting a home defense handgun.
First of all, handguns as defensive weapons in the home are a good choice if several elements in terms of training have been undertaken. While at times the use of a handgun by a totally untrained individual turns out to be successful, in all cases that is not the final outcome desired by the homeowner.
Therefor, what I will review here in terms of my weapons selection also demands that the owner of such a weapon get training as soon as possible. Over the years I have been involved with this area of firearms, and I have seen so called gun fighters turn to a pile of soft clay when the pressure is put on them in training to perform well.
As an instructor during my police years, I could not even come close to putting enough pressure on the trainee shooter to simulate a real gunfight or home defensive undertaking. That stress level goes off the charts in the real world. The new home defensive shooter must quickly understand that you fight like you train, and you must train like you fight. The bottom line here is simply this. No training leads to a fast death under the right conditions in a gunfight. Fact number one here always assumes the bad guy coming through your front door is armed.
Factor number two is that a gun battle will last three seconds, and 2.5 rounds will be dispatched in most cases therefor and you want to be the winner. What that means is time on task is a major consideration here and you don’t have much of it to get into a defensive posture. Third accuracy counts, and again training comes directly into play. Accurate shooters train, an “blam blam” shooters send out a lot of wasted lead and often get killed in the process.
Of a major note here is making a decision as to exactly where to place a home defense gun. If children are present this is very critical in the area of gun safety. Lockbox with you retaining the key at ALL times is one solution that seems to work. What you do not want to do is go so deep with the weapon so that recovery takes more time than you have. Solving that problem another element is taking the time to consider where your hardpoints are for cover if required, retaining portable lighting for total dark coverage, and doing some actual walk through training after dark while considering coverage of the entry points in your home is always a good idea. If an issue was ever to come up and you were faced with the real possibility of using that handgun you would not want it to be the first run through in your training schedule.
Smith & Wesson Model 60 – The Actual gun
If you’re a female, and I am not a chauvinist here, to consider a wheel gun ( revolver ) is a solid choice. Here is why you many think this is a good idea. My choice is the Smith & Wesson Model 60, or any of the several other “J frame” revolvers that Smith builds in the small frame five-shot 357 Magnum or 38 Special variants.
The Model 60 is built with a short snub nose barrel (2.125 inches), retains a tough all metal ramp front sight, and a slotted frame as a rear sight, is double-action, meaning it can be used with the use of the trigger, or pull back the hammer for less trigger pressure regarding a well aimed shot (headshots).
The 60 is a very company and lightweight even in the stainless steel model and it is available in ultralight Air-weight models as well chambered in the softer shooting 38 Special.
The handgun’s length is 6.56 inches, which makes it very carry friendly or a pack away in a safe storage location in the home. Being a wheel gun the left frame sides easy to use thumb latch opens the revolver crane and cylinder which allows a quick and safe check regarding a loaded weapon. Five rounds are observed with ease and are very easy to load or unload. If I am having my weapon checked ( police style ) I will hang the gun from my rigger finger with the muzzle pointed at the ground. Flip the thumb release with my left hand and allow the cylinder to flop open indicated that the weapon is hot or cleared. Easy, safe and effective. This in my mind is a very safe handgun option to select from.
Now why the ladies you’re asking here? Because wheel guns do not require strain as in the operation of the weapons magazine system or slide. Getting the weapon into action or even keeping it running is less of a consideration if things get hot. By example Ruger has just released the new “Lite rack”, LCP in a 22 LR, which is a soft pull back when moving the slide to the rear of the receiver to bring a cartridge up into the chamber from the magazine. I have watched ladies at the gun counter totally freeze up when trying to open an autoloaders slide. The crazy thing I have also seen the same lady buy the gun? Go figure on that deal?
Again as an old street cop, I have always carried the Model 60 even after we as a department made the transition to automatics. Why? Great secondary weapons for backup when in service, and wheel guns don’t jam!
Today some 21 years removed from police service the Model 60 Smith & Wesson goes on my person right with my belt and pants every morning during the summer months when clothing is lightweight, and carry guns are visible.
Remember this fact. Having a gun is not an automatic get-out-of-jail-free card if you use it. In most cases, just the presence of a gun is more than enough. I have been involved in clearly four shoots, don’t shoot situations where the gun just being there saved my life.
Smith & Wesson M&P Shield
As I previous indicated there are two guns in this review because in the right hands this second option is a class act. Currently, there are at least 40 different automatic handguns on the market that look much like the Smith & Wesson M&P 9mm semi-automatic. Just today while writing this review still another 9mm as offered by Taurus in their new G3XL 9mm automatic has been introduced.
In most gun shops, there are a line up of polymer frame steel slide semi-automatics. In fact far more of them than wheel guns. Why? Because wheel guns take hand-worked skill and the autos for the most part can be turned out like general auto parts. The basic auto is a molded frame, a few lock parts, and a steel slide/ barrel package.
The weapons are cheap to produce and everyone wants to be a cowboy with a high capacity fast shooting weapon that will most likely jam and get the shooter in real trouble. This is the center of the issue surrounding the autoloading handgun, and the shooter had better be trained and strong enough in the arms and hands to clear a “ stove pipe” round ,half chambered round, or take on complete slide failure.
In professional training, it is “tap, rack, bang”, drill. That means bang the side of the slide hard, re-charge the slide with a fresh round, and pull the trigger regarding the intended target. I can say for a fact that 89% of the people that have this type of weapon in the hove have never trained, or done this drill at all. I had my chief of police live through a gunfight because the Beretta 92F he was staring down as he pulled off his shot jammed.
The shooter just looked like he had seen a ghost and froze in his tracks. Another example of why I always carried the Smith & Wesson Model 60 “belly” gun as a backup after we transitioned to autoloaders. In all fairness however, I must say that the Smith & Wesson 5906 9mm hi-cap I did carry in service never jammed once, being training or in the field. That weapon was carried for over 10 years on the job.
The Smith & Wesson M&P Shield is a cop’s gun, and as such can be a solid home defense weapon as well in the right hands. This gun is small, carries seven rounds with a shorter mag for pocket carry, and a longer mag for general use. The sights are simple and fixed with the weapon mounts a short barrel in the compact model and is designed for in your face self-defense.
Models of the Shield are offered with safety’s as well as no safety latch. In this area, I came from a safety latch system being the 5906 Smith, or the Model 1911 45 ACP, and find it very difficult to understand why anyone would want a gun with no external safety. Some shooters have told me that they feel they could mess up if they had to disengage a safety latch before firing. If that’s the case buy and bow and arrow because your no shooter in my book, and should stay way from guns before you get hurt. I know this will upset Glock and other internal trigger engaged system weapons, but I can tell you many more than a few cops got shot by their own guns because of this lack of an external safety feature. In the home the whole deal goes double. This is just one extra barrier that works against unintentional discharging of a firearm in the home. The results of that are obvious.
Finish on the Smith Shield is outstanding. I have carried one every day in a full leather molded paddle hip holster and the weapon to this day still has no holster wear whatsoever. Can’t say that for almost every other field service weapon I own that is not bright stainless steel.
General maintenance of an auto is higher than the wheel gun and needs to be addressed on a regular basis. Dirt, dust, and grit, can stop one of these weapons in its tracks. I have had good luck with the Smith & Wesson in this area, but I do pay attention to its ability to function as well.
Well, there you have it my friends. The choices are two weapons types, and in general both fit a wide number of offerings in different firearms brands that cover the same general area of handgun use. Again I selected both because these are my go-to-carry and bedside choices depending on the time of year.
I have been writing firearms and outdoor material of over 50 years to date. I have hunted across the world including Russia and a great deal of time professional hunting in Australia. I currently live in the American west and hunt all across the Black Hills of South Dakota, and the Big Horn mountains. I have specialized much of my work as a load developer in shotguns and rifles. I have run a small company that builds suppressor barrels of my design, and load tests for writing purposes and consulting. My commercial names include Ballistics Research & Development / Metro Gun Systems.TM. You can find more info on me here.