Monday, July 9, 2012

Smith & Wesson's internal lock: Should it be a deal-breaker?

            I have great disdain for the internal lock on Smith & Wesson guns. It's ugly, unnecessary and doesn't solve any real problem as well as potentially causing catastrophic consequences. I think S&W needs to get rid of it and get rid of it now.I think most gun owners would agree with me on that opinion.

       But, is the lock a deal-breaker? Some people refuse to own a S&W that has the internal lock, sometimes out of protest and sometimes out of concerns that the lock might accidentally become engaged when the gun is being fired in an emergency situation and I think those fears have a lot of merit. In a gun used solely for sport, I don't feel the lock should pose a problem, but for guns used for the serious business of self-defense, the lock would be a deal-breaker.

       This would be especially true in the light J-frame guns and any size Scandium gun that are most likely to be the choice used in self-defense. Small and lightweight guns firing powerful loads of .357 Magnum and 44 Magnum have had more than a few incidents of spontaneous locking and more prone to it than all Steel models, but I wouldn't limit my avoidance to just small and/or light Magnum models, but also advise avoiding  any and all locked equipped guns in any caliber intended for self-defense purposes as there have indeed been incidents of larger guns locking unintentionally from shooting as well as by being dropped. I would also extend my recommendation to avoid internal lock equipped larger guns(and especially the light-weight scandium framed models) that are to be used against large predator defense such as Bears. A gun that accidentally locks itself up rendering itself useless is not something I'd want with a big bruin charging me. It's your choice and you might never have problems with the lock, but for any gun used for serious defense purposes, I highly recommend avoiding guns with the internal lock completely.There have recently been a few models offered without the lock.All of them are the "hammerless" Centennial J-frames which offer no visual clue to whether the lock is engaged or not, so it makes even more sense not to have them on these particular guns. I believe at the current time, every Centennial model can be had without the lock except for the standard 640 which is my favorite model and I fail to understand why it's not offered without the lock.They do offer a pro-series 640 without the lock, but it has larger night sights(which I dislike) and a fluted barrel. Hopefully, S&W will start making them soon or even better yet, start phasing out the internal lock completely from the whole line.

         I asked Massad Ayoob if he'd avoid a S&W 640(my favorite J-Frame)if it had a lock and he replied ........" If I was planing to run .357s, yes. Most of the spontaneous locking incidents have occurred in small, light models firing very powerful rounds."

        World Class Author and Instructor David Kenik ( ) added the following ......."I go a step further than Mas in his distaste for the internal locks. Mas does not recommend them in the smaller, lightweight guns as the recoil has a history of damaging them. Having seen a full-size 686 lock break in front of my eyes, I recommend keeping away from them in all size guns. So only used wheel guns for me."

      From Revolver Master Grant Cunnigham...."Personally, I don't carry guns that have the lock. That being said, the heavier the gun and the lighter the ammunition recoil the less chance you have of an inadvertent activation."

    "With any J-frame, and particularly the lightweight models, I would strongly suggest one without an internal lock. Spontaneous lock activation is a real concern with those models; I've heard from a large number of people who have first-person experience with this phenomenon, and have experienced it once myself.


(Frankly, I'm even leery of the steel J-frame locks. One of my LEO clients is with a large east-coast municipality. During one of their monthly qualifications, he witnessed an officer shooting his backup Model 60 experience what I've come to call a Type 1 spontaneous lock. This was using the 135gn Speer +P GDHP.

The Type 1 lockup occurs with the hammer down - at rest - preventing the hammer from moving backwards. A Type 2 lock occurs with the hammer in the rearward position, just before sear release. A Type 2 lock is the more dangerous from the standpoint of range safety. A Type 1 will usually - though not always - clear if the key is turned in the lock. At this time, I've not heard of anyone able to clear a Type 2 without disassembly nor have I been able to reproduce it for myself.)"