SW380 – Forgotten Pocket Gun That Should Stay Thataway

SW380 meets the challenge - false advertising
| April 3, 2019
| 14 Comments
Categories: Guns

SMITH’s SIGMA/SW380

Forgotten pocket pistol that should stay thataway

Today we’ll look at Smith & Wesson’s first pistol chambered in .380 ACP. Better known as the SW380, this little polymer framed pistol was produced for about eighteen months before it faded into obscurity.

This article originally ran in May, 2017 and has since been updated.

SW380 - the first Smith & Wesson pistol chambered in .380 ACP

Sometimes, a weapon disappearing into history is a good thing — and we don’t say that because of any .380 vs. 9mm nonsense, either.

S&W Sigma Series

SW380 History

The Sigma series was Smith & Wesson’s first foray into polymer-framed pistols. These striker-fired models were a huge departure for the company, whose history was steeped in cartridge revolvers and metal framed hammer fired pistols.

The Sigma series striker-fired pistols were a departure from S&W's norm.

Introduced in 1994, they were initially chambered in 9mm and .40 S&W. The were designed for simplicity and economy and were in fact extremely similar to Glock’s pistols. They were so close in fact that Glock took them to court. However, after a number of lawsuits and cash settlements, Smith & Wesson somehow prevailed.

Keep in mind that a lot was happening in 1994. The Federal Assault Weapon Ban limited magazine size to ten rounds or less for civilians, but at the same time Concealed Carry Reform was on the rise in many states. With the limitation on capacity and the demand for smaller pistols, more companies started making small pistols in larger calibers as well as concealable “pocket autos.”

SW380 meets the challenge - false advertising

From an early SW380 ad – FALSE ADVERTISING.

In 1995 S&W introduced their small concealed-carry style Sigma variant. The SW380, chambered in .380 ACP, held six rounds and was fitted with very rudimentary “guttersnipe” sights. It had a single-stack magazine and a large thumb cut-out in the base of the frame, to supposedly make magazine removal easier.

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SW.380 Design

Based on the lines of the Sigma, this was actually the only model we ever liked at first sight. Despite being diehard S&W collectors, it was the only one we ever bought. We even remarked how it looked like a “Tiny Glock” and hoped they would make one someday.

The Sigma Series would eventually evolve into the M&P and lose all the weaknesses of the SW380.

That is where the similarity ends.

The SW380 is a straight blowback pistol with a slide made of a zinc alloy known as Zamak. Many of us see this alloy as junk, but it’s probably enough for a small-caliber pistol. Disassembly involves removing a roll pin in the slide. MSRP was around $300, with street prices of $220 to $250. It was plain to see to whom S&W was marketing these pistols: the reluctant gun owner who wanted something inexpensive and would only fire an occasional magazine or two over the years. S&W admitted the service life was about 2500 rounds.

We honestly don’t know if we hate the amount of light betweeb slide and frame more than having to fumblefuch with roll pins for disassembly.

You may be wondering why we would look at such a firearm like this, but the reason is simple. Numerous law enforcement officers and shooters who trusted the Smith & Wesson name for years bought these pistols based on the name. The sights were reminiscent of those found on the custom ASP and Devel pistols of only a few decades previous. People simply thought they were buying quality. But its numerous issues and poor sales led it to being dropped from production in 1996.

Guttersnipe Sights

Guttersnipe sights, or just “gutter sights” have been around for more than a century (at least). Just not necessarily by that name. For instance, FN’s Model 1910 (a Browning design) used a milled channel down the slide. During the Cold War, a company called Armament Systems and Procedures (ASP) designed a interesting little “spook” or “spy” pocket gun. The ASP pistol was based on the S&W Model 39 and featured what have now become known across many a platform as guttersnipes.

The ASP’s sighting system was revolutionary. Theodore’s patented sight, called the Guttersnipe, consisted of a machined block of steel with a tapered channel that ran longitudinally. The sides and bottom of the sight channel were painted yellow for high visibility. There was no front sight. The Guttersnipe required the shooter to subconsciously balance the yellow panels on the sides and bottom of the channel to align the ASP properly. In practice, the Guttersnipe was extremely fast to acquire and was “battle” accurate. Rob Garrett, Guns America

SW380 Function

Our SW380 has admittedly given us just a few problems. We picked it up cheap for perhaps the only other reason someone should even consider this piece: to fill a void in the S&W collection.

It is a semi-interesting piece and there are some neat features to the SW380, such as the grasping grooves at the rear of the slide to aid in racking. The trigger safety and firing pin safety are scaled-down versions of those used on full-size pistols.

The magazine release on the magazine’s base pad reminds us more of charging a cordless drill than loading or unloading a pistol. While this feature is well-intentioned, it’s our biggest issue with the pistol after the cheap materials and short service life. It simply takes too long to remove the magazine.

SW380

SW380 magazine

Over the years Smith committed more dick-stepping maneuvers with the infamous “Clinton Agreement. They quickly went to “least favored firearms company” by most Second Amendment supporters.

Thankfully a good CEO took the company back and righted the ship. That agreement is now a dark footnote in history and the Sigma line eventually evolved into the M&P series. But if you see one of these twenty-plus-year-old plastic pocket pistols and think it might be a good backup piece or even primary carry piece, stay away.

Edit: added a video.

SW380: the worst gun S&W ever produced

 

SW380 pocket pistol schematic.

SW380 pocket pistol schematic.

 

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If you use them to make a purchase, we will receive a small commission at no additional cost to you. 

14 Comments

  1. Mike

    I bought one ages ago for $100 from a friend who needed some quick cash. You’re not going to win any marksmanship awards with it, but mine has gone “bang” every time I squeezed the trigger without any functioning problems whatsoever. I carried it as a backup to my duty gun for years until I replaced it with a Glock 43. I know it has an awful reputation but I’ve never had any hiccups with mine.

    Reply
  2. Clinton O.

    I have one that I purchased used, so I have no idea how many round have been through it. My wife fell in love with it immediately and was her purse pistol for years until it was replaced with an Airweight.
    It’s always functioned just fine with maybe a couple of stovepipes. It’s now a stashed home defense pistol.

    Reply
  3. Gtrowbridge

    I just bought a used one. Totally unaware of its pedigree. Initially I was dismayed when I did some reading. But the more I read the more fascinated with the little gun I became. The gun was only manufactured for 18 months. 1994 to 1995. Parts are scarce. I took my example apart for a good cleaning. There was no significant wear. I reassembled the gun and joyfully place it in my collection in the section for S&W.

    Reply
  4. Rex T. Dog

    We bought one of these at an estate sale years ago…it is prone to stovepipe every now and then…we haven’t fired it in a couple of years, but did have a gunsmith take it apart for probably it’s first ever cleaning…not sure how much life is left in this little pocket rocket, but we’ll hang onto it out of principle…gotta hope if it ever needed it might work, and we have a little ammo saved for it…

    Reply
  5. David

    I have a copy and keep it in the knight stand. Never failed me and fits in my pocket nicely.

    Reply
  6. Bruce Chamberlin

    I have owned one since 1995 and take it to the range every few years and put a box of ammo through it. It has never misfired, jammed or stove piped. My intention at the time was to used it as a CCW, but decided since I can’t fire it from inside my jacket pocket, a S&W Airlight PD with a titanium cylinder was so much better and weighs in at only 11 ounces. It like carrying nothing at all. My wife’s key chain is heavier! The 380 is what it is, an inexpensive, reliable, straight shooter. My 380 is now devoted to just home defense. Not everybody can afford to spend over $500 for a quality handgun, so it’s not fair to compare the 380 to more expensive guns. Compared to all the cheap guns, it’s one of the best and hard to beat for the price. Also I seem to naturally shoot this gun very well. At close range I don’t even need to use the crappy sights. It seems to be a natural pointer.

    Reply
  7. George Venable

    Carried one almost every warm day since the late 90’s in a pocket holster. Sights suck but so does my eyesight. Shoot the chambered round every week or so and top mag off . Spare mag fits in my jeans watch pocket. Has always went bang when the trigger is pulled .
    Not a range gun, but serves it’s purpose.

    Reply
    • Tom Ferri

      Still have one and use it strictly for my ITARGET system, would never carry it as a backup though.

      Reply
    • Harold

      Some here. Gun goes bang every time. Groups great at ten yards. Eats everything its fed. Its does exactly what it was designed for and do. But the two most important things that I look for in any gun is #1 works every time. #2 its with me all the time. Not in the car or on the dresser. It works and its there. Simply.

      Reply
  8. Glenn Frischmann

    I still own mine. I take it to the range every now and then hoping it will fail. I called S+W a few years ago as my recoil spring was shot. I managed to get one out of them but I was told that the gun is obsolete so no parts are available anymore. If it breaks they will replace it as they honor the lifetime warranty. I bought mine when they first came out. I was always looking for a good BUG. I tried the .38 spec air weight, various .25 cal and I even considered the Seecamp .32 but they had a three year wait list and wanted my left nut for the gun. The SW .380 was perfect for me. I carried that gun in an under the shirt holster on my vest for 16 years. This gun has never failed to fire and I qualified with near perfect scores. It is ugly, it kicks a bit and yes the mags are a pain in the arse but overall it is a great BUG.

    Reply
  9. Alexander

    I own and CARRY one daily. I have lcp, TCP and a few other small .380 pistols. This is the only one to NOT fail me yet. It is my carry to work gun as I work outside so screw the finish. Mine shoots slightly left with my HST rounds but has NEVER failed me. Over 500 rounds and counting in 2 years with absolutely no fails. I paid 105 in a pawn shop and it came with an extra freaking magazine! I hear soo many horror stories of these but I love mine and trust my life with more so than I do my PF9 or DB9.

    Reply
    • Jose

      I love mine. It was all I could afford at the time. Is super reliable. I put a box of rounds through it every 3 or 4 years. I’ve never cleaned it. It has never jammed on me.

      Reply
  10. Bubba LEO

    Also had one – as a young LEO with the only money in my equipment budget what I put there myself, I found myself looking for a slim pistol to be used as a BUG. The local shop had just the thing, and made me a really impressive deal on the Sigma – too good to be true, of course, as it couldn’t run a full magazine without a stovepipe or something. S&W was pretty quick to perform warranty work and when that failed, offered me MSRP (which was a decent chunk of change) towards any other firearm in their catalog. My j-frame has been a constant companion over the past decade and then some, so I guess in that frame of reference it wasn’t a horrible deal..

    Reply
  11. Matt

    Had one. Probably put three mags through it, stuck it in the back of the safe until I used it for part of a trade for something else. I agree entirely with your assessment.

    Reply

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  1. Unending Caliber Controversies: .380 vs. 9mm | Breach Bang Clear - […] is. A little due diligence should keep them from winding up with something terrible like the SW380 or Lorcin…

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