While the revolver's popularity among American police forces has taken a nose dive in the past few decades, Smith & Wesson has recently introduced a new line of revolvers that I believe will engender new interest from law enforcement, especially for concealed carry by undercover officers and as an off-duty or backup gun.
Night Guard revolvers are now available in three frame sizes: K, L, and N-frame. Buyers also have a choice of .38 Special, .357 Magnum, .44 Special, .44 Magnum, and .45 ACP. The K-frame Model 315 NG is a six-shot .38, while the two L-frame guns are the 386NG, a seven-shot .357, and Model 396NG, a five-shot .44 Special. There are three N-frame guns: Model 327N holds eight rounds of .357, while the Models 329NG and 325NG hold six rounds each of, respectively, .44 Magnum and .45 ACP (using half or full moon clips).
All six come with 2.5-inch barrels, practical matte black finishes, and Pachmayr Compac grips. The entire line is very light, weighing 24 to 29.3 ounces unloaded. In fact, they are so similar looking that it is very difficult to tell them apart at a glance.
Night Guards feature a frame constructed from a special alloy that contains a small amount of Scandium, a rare metal that has the ability to transmit its strength and flexibility when alloyed with other metals, in the case of the Night Guard revolvers, aluminum. This allows the construction of lightweight frames capable of standing up to the operating pressures of Magnum cartridges.
But the Night Guards differ from S&W's other lightweight revolvers in that a replaceable blast shield made of thin, hardened steel is positioned above the cylinder/barrel gap where it prevents hot powder gases from "cutting" the frame's top strap.
While it would have been possible to use titanium cylinders to reduce the weight of the Night Guard revolvers even further, S&W decided to fit them with stainless steel cylinders featuring a Physical Vapor Deposit (PVD) matte black finish that provides increased protection against salts, solvents, powder residue, abrasion, and just about any other problem the revolvers may encounter.
Night Guard revolvers feature what just might be the most practical set of sights I have ever seen on revolvers intended for service use. The XS Sight Systems 24/7 Big Dot front sight has a tritium insert surrounded by a large white ring, making it equally visible in the dark or in bright light conditions. The rear sight is a Cylinder and Slide Extreme Duty fixed unit whose generously proportioned "U" notch allows a fast sight picture and alignment under a variety of light conditions.[PAGEBREAK]
The Night Guard line includes all of the other innovations that S&W has made to its revolvers in the last few years. It has a frame-mounted, spring-loaded firing pin; smooth trigger; checkered hammer; and a two-part barrel consisting of a rifled inner steel tube covered by an alloy shroud that permits the barrel to be mounted in the frame without exerting undue stress on the frame. Lastly, they all have S&W's key-operated Internal Security Lock, which can be used to prevent unauthorized firing.
While the Night Guard line is extensive, for POLICE Magazine I tested the one that I feel is the most practical of the bunch for concealed or off-duty carry, the Model 315NG.
The 315NG I received impressed me immediately. The fit, finish, and the quality of materials were what you would expect from the world's premier revolver manufacturer. While the trigger pull was a bit on the heavy side, backing off the mainspring adjustment screw a few turns made a noticeable difference without compromising cartridge ignition.
Even though it was a hot, humid afternoon I was anxious to see how the new Smith performed. Gathering together a selection of .38 Special ammunition I headed out to my gun club to see if the 315NG is accurate and reliable enough for a personal defense weapon.
The first chore was to ascertain what kind of accuracy could be produced firing it from an MTM Predator rest at 15 yards.
All four brands of ammo that I shot in this test produced more than acceptable groups and printed close enough to point of aim to please me. It should be noted that the sights appeared to be regulated for 158-grain ammo as these printed dead on to point of aim while the lighter, faster bullets grouped low.
After chronographing the four brands of ammo, I set up a pair of combat targets, belted on a Safariland holster, and ran the Smith through a series of drills at seven yards, firing the revolver with both supported and unsupported (one-handed) grips. Despite the 315NG's light weight, recoil control was excellent—helped in large part by the tacky Pachmayr grips—and it proved no problem at all to make fast, accurate follow-up shots. The sights provided fast target acquisition and easy transitioning.
To my way of thinking, Night Guard revolvers may be the driving force behind a renaissance of the medium frame wheelgun's popularity with police in this country. The K and L frame guns in particular would be equally adaptable for concealed carry by undercover officers or as off-duty/backup guns in those jurisdictions where carrying such weapons is permitted.
Paul Scarlata has served as an auxiliary police officer and is a frequent contributor to POLICE.