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Why the Smith & Wesson Model 642 Is the Perfect Self Defense Gun

Smith & Wesson Model 642
Smith & Wesson Model 642. Image Credit: Creative Commons.

The Smith & Wesson Model 642 is certainly not as sexy as the latest Glock, Sig Sauer, or Kimber semi-automatic. However, if you are looking for a solid defense gun this might just be a top choice: 

While it is hard to think of many consumer products that have been out for nearly twenty years remaining top sellers and we certainly couldn’t imagine this with cars, TVs or mobile phones—when it comes to firearms a classic design will remain a top seller for years and years.

Such has been the case with the Smith & Wesson 642 revolver, which was among the top-selling revolvers, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF) for all age categories.

The Model 642 was introduced as a variation of the Model 42 Centennial Airweight, and it integrated the time-tested features of the original while still providing modern advancements. The hammerless compact revolver has been a popular choice with law enforcement since it was introduced in late 2003 as an updated version of the iconic Model 40. That snub-nose handgun had originally debuted as the Centennial way, way back in 1952 before being rebranded in 1957—and it was chambered in .38 Special. An updated version, the Model 640, has been in production since the 1990s.

As a J-frame revolver, which is among the smallest-frame wheel guns on the market, the Model 642 has been noted for its plethora of features as well as a few necessary compromises. It has been a popular option with CCW holders since it was introduced for its low weight and size—with an overall length of just 6.3 inches and a weight of just 14.4 ounces. Shooters have had an option to go smaller, but the Model 642 is compact and yet could still pack a serious .38 S&W Special +P punch.

Designed as a double-action-only” revolver the Model 642 has remained simple and more importantly reliable since it first hit the market. Unlike the more complex operating system of an automatic pistol, revolvers have long been noted not to fail feeding or ejecting. The J-frame took this further with few moving parts.

It has remained easy to reload, made all the easier with speed loaders and unlike more finicky automatics the Model 642 will remain reliable with quality and cheapo ammunition alike! Perhaps the biggest advantage of the P-frame Model 642 after its size and weight is the fact that when shooting the gun hasn’t been noted to have a significant kick. In fact, while it takes a bit more effort to double-tap a target with this class of revolver it could be easily accomplished with minimal practice.

So what’s the problem?

The biggest downside since its introduction has been that the Model 642 holds a mere five rounds. As self-defense weapons go that shouldn’t have been seen as a problem—as any CCW holder should have been taught the idea is to get out of trouble and not to take part in a protracted shootout! Yet, compared to the Glock 17 and other automatics that hold more than seventeen rounds, the five rounds of the Model 642 could have some left feeling light. Then again, that’s what those speed loaders were designed for!

With an MSRP of $477 it is also easy to see why the Model 642 has been a steady seller—perhaps some of those purchased were to use as a backup for those who are already carrying an automatic. It would be hard to go wrong with this Airweight as a back-up.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on 

Written By

Expert Biography: A Senior Editor for 1945, Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,000 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu.