Concealment Pistol: Smith and Wesson 642 with Crimson Trace grips

Smith and Wesson 642My wife struggles to just rack the slide on most semi-auto pistols. Since she can hardly operate them, it’s hopeless to train her to recover from the standard malfunctions. I wanted to find a foolproof, easy-to-use, easy-to-carry gun that she would feel confident to train with and carry for self-defense. I believe that gun is the five-shot, .38-special +P Smith & Wesson 642 revolver with Crimson Trace laser-sight grips. S&W sells the gun as a package with the CT grips (model #163811), which my dealer brought in new for $455.

Double-action revolvers are foolproof. Pull the trigger and, if the cylinder can rotate onto a live round, it will fire. As a pure concealment gun the 642 shoots double-action only and has no exposed hammer to snag on anything.

This gun is light — under one pound empty. You really can’t go any lighter and still get enjoyment out of shooting .38sp +P ammunition. (S&W sells 13oz. “Airweight” revolvers that can shoot .357 magnum, but I have never heard anyone say shooting those was a pleasant experience.) So I think the 642 hits a sweet spot balancing weight and size (for ease of carry/concealment) with the ability to fire a proven defensive round.

I wouldn’t get this gun without the laser sights, which are bright enough to use in sunlight.S&W 642 with laser on target To aim conventional (barrel-mounted) sights you are supposed to focus on the front sight post, which means you’re not focusing on the threat … which is not a good idea when you have to make a split-second decision to use lethal force. Furthermore, as with any small, concealable gun, the sight radius is so small that conventional sights would have very limited accuracy anyway. The laser lets you focus on the target and point-shoot accurately. It probably also adds an intimidation factor on top of the deterrant value of the gun itself.

It is important to note that the laser sight is offset 1.2″ down and .5″ laterally from the bore.Smith and Wesson 642 bore and laser sight If this offset is maintained when the pistol is boresighted (i.e., so the laser shoots parallel to the bore) then the sights will be accurate for any distance, but will always shoot a little high and left (though certainly within the range of accuracy of a gun with a 1 7/8″ barrel). If the sight is zeroed for a specific distance then the laser will intersect the bore line and the pistol will not be accurate for any other distance.


When I was first considering this class of gun, I was somewhat concerned about ammunition capacity. Unless you really practice for it, you’re not going to be able to reload a revolver in an emergency. After training with high-capacity semi-autos, where people talk about whether it’s reasonable to carry just one spare magazine (only 35 rounds?!), it’s disconcerting to think of a defensive weapon where after five shots all you have left to throw at assailants is the gun itself.

But when it comes down to it, five rounds are reasonably sufficient for both a civilian looking for a convenient carry pistol, and for a gun-fighter’s backup gun. Neither individual is relying on this gun to win a gun battle. The argument for concealed carry is that 99% of the time just brandishing a pistol will send bad guys in the other direction. If you actually have to start shooting, and both you and your assailants are locked in the fight after you’ve sent five bullets in their direction, then something is seriously wrong and it probably doesn’t matter how many extra shots you might have had after that point.

My only complaint about this particular gun is the trigger: It has a very long, heavy, non-linear (sort of two-stage) pull and reset. It takes a lot of practice and attention to control it to get good groups and to avoid yanking the barrel off target. Fortunately, the laser sight makes it easy — even fun — to dry practice the trigger pull: Just hold it on a point across the room (with a reliable backstop, please!) and try to keep the laser as steady as possible.


23 Responses to Concealment Pistol: Smith and Wesson 642 with Crimson Trace grips

  1. Tim says:

    Where did your dealer find this price, I am looking to buy the 642 and I haven’t found it for under $500.00 with the C.T. Laser. thanks for your help

  2. federalist says:

    I bought mine in March 2006; I believe they have raised the MSRP by $32 since then so $500 is not a bad deal now.

  3. Arty Hauser says:

    I own a SW 649 shrouded hammer revolver, and it is a joy to shoot. While retaning the small ammo capacity, the single action option makes groupings a whole lot easier. If I ever had to use this weapon for self-defense (and I truly hope the only time I will EVER fire it is at a gun range – I don’t wish for the opportunity to “prove” it’s worth. Never.) I have conditioned my practice habits to instantly set it to single action. Also, the original poster mentioned about the long trigger pull – there is a way around it without reverting to single action. There is a balance point, a part of the double action trigger pull, just before the hammer falls, that makes babying the trigger unneccesary. Enough practice with dry firing will allow the skilled shooter to engage in repeated, fast trigger pulls, each time bringing the hammer just to that tipping point (at least with my shrouded hammer operation, I’m not sure about the hammerless 642), while still maintaining an even sight picture. I can attain solid groups at seven yards this way just about every time, even with one-handed shooting. This method takes a good amount of “muscle memory” for your trigger finger, but only practice will acheive this. The trigger pull is indeed a long one, but it is not insurmountable. As far as the original poster’s mention of ammo capacity, the answer is the HKS Speedloader. For only $12 or so, your 5-shot snubnose can become a 10-round menace very quickly and with enough fiddling around with the speedloader to ensure your reflexes and coordination are sound!

  4. Jimmy says:

    I ditched the laser grips within about an hour of buying the gun. I have no problem holding a 3 inch group at about 15 yards with the iron sights on the gun. Saying they won’t work is a sign of not knowing enough about the gun to be writing this article.

    That said, the laser grips are a great idea. But it must be remembered that if you don’t know how to shoot well, the laser grips are going to have you missing just as any other sights would.

    I have been shooting revolvers for years. There is no need to cock the hammer (which is one of the most unsafe things you could do with a gun) or to stage the trigger. Once you’ve learned how to properly manipulate the trigger it is quite easy to shoot the double action revolver. One of the reasons I chose the 642 is because it cannot be cocked- meaning my less practiced wife won’t be tempted to cock it if she were to ever carry it rather than her Springield EMP.

  5. Hollan says:

    In reply to Jimmy’s posting… it may be sufficient to use the iron sights on the gun at any given time (during daytime or at the range, more precisely), yet with the added assurance of having the CT Lasergrip on there, the chances of landing a more accurate shot without taking the time or effort to line up the sights is much greater.

    If a an assailant comes at you, and you only have a split second to draw, having the laser on there doesn’t even require the gun to be at eye level or to have the sights lined up. It just has to be pointed in the general direction, thus it can be fired from waist level, half-drawn, etc. Relying solely on your iron sights when having to defend yourself in a split-second decision can take valuable time and effort, which a lasergrip can save.

    So tossing your lasergrip may have been the most expensive trip to the wastebin you’ve ever made. I just hope it doesn’t cost you everything.

  6. federalist says:

    3″ groups at 15 yards with the iron sights on this pistol is respectable but, as Hollan suggests, that is beside the point. A concealment gun is a defensive weapon, not a target toy. This difference isn’t emphasized often enough, but if you subscribe to the latest philosophies in defensive gun fighting the laser becomes indispensable to anyone who can’t drill with their weapon on a weekly basis.

    For example, in a technique like Center-Axis Relock you train to take your first shot from a single hand tucked tightly against your chest. Ask your wife to shoot from this stance and she’ll be lucky to hit a full-sized silhouette from even ten feet away. Turn on the laser and she can print center of mass from the very first shot.

    You probably shouldn’t even be practicing a traditional isosceles or other target stance with this gun. The consensus seems to be that in emergencies you will have neither the time, nor the space, nor the light to exploit iron sights with a target stance. The laser can compensate for all three of those shortages.

  7. al sowins says:

    where can one purchase one? And, can one shoot =p hollowpoints in it?

  8. federalist says:

    Yes, in fact the first photo depicts the Federal Hydra-Shok jacketed hollowpoints I keep it loaded with.

    Any dealer or FFL should be able to sell you one of these. I use GunBroker to find FFL’s.

  9. Gunner777 says:

    I just did a writeup on my blog about the 642. It’s probably the handiest gun anyone can own. It’s so easy to just pick up and drop in a pocket. If you look at my blog post you’ll see a target fired from 10 yards that grouped into about one inch. Of course I’m an old revolver guy so shooting a revolver is second nature for me. Nice article!

  10. Mountainman says:

    I have to agree with “Jimmy”. I have been working in law enforcement for a long time and every now and then we revisit lasers. Currently, only our Tasers have laser. The arguments for the lasers always seem to make sense but in reality they don’t pan out and that is why so few law enforcement professionals use them. Pointing is instictive and with practice the gun can be employed without using the sights at all up to ranges that cover 90% of self defense shootings. Using the small sights with such a short sight radius it is surprising how well you can shoot at reasonable distances. Lasers require batteries and I don’t like that (personal prejudice). Lasers require you to focus on a small part of the target and not the whole thing (loose the forest in the tree). Lasers give your position away. Lasers amplify all movement and cause some people to over-focus on steadying the gun. The laser dot can become lost in a fold of clothing.
    at the end of the day, if you like lasers on a defensive gun good for you. To each his own…ain’t America great! If you look into it though I think you will see that none of the premier shooting schools, or large law enforement departments use lasers and there is a reason for it.

  11. Jason says:

    Great article, I just purchased this gun because it appaears ideal for concealment. I sure can throw alot of rounds with my auto but it is heavy and hard to carry. like others I was taught to shoot from an old guy who could shoot from the hip and move a tin can with all six rounds. lasers are nice but point shooting is more real. you see a threat and shot from any position without looking for a red dot. if you practice you run like hell and still hit the target.

  12. […] Do you know what makes me feel more comfortable if I walk alone at night– my Smith & Wesson 642 with Crimson Trace Laser Sights?  […]

  13. Beasst says:

    I purchased this pistol for my wife to carry. Her Taurus 9mm had become unreliable. Jams and Misfires, all that good jazz. So she had been carrying her 1911, not the most concelable pistol for a small female. I was a little worried about the 11lb trigger pull myself. So range day comes and to my amazement she has no probs at all with the 642, No Lasergrips. All open iron. She shot from 7-15 yards. Even managed all Headshots at 10yards. Then from 7 yards had her pull it as if from a surprised attack no aim fast as you can go senario. She missed the first shot and the other 4 were dead center mass on a normal body target. They were within the 8 circle or closer. I was very happy. Now thats what she carries. Great Weapon.

  14. Adam says:

    Thanks for all the comments guys, I am about 90% sure I will go with the 642 with crimson trace, i love the ease of sliding it in and out of my pocket. Any recommendations on where to go for the best price?

  15. federalist says:

    For pricing I typically check Bud’s Gun Shop to get an idea of what competitive retail is. Then go to GunBroker to see if there are any deals out there. (Unfortunately given the current demand for guns you shouldn’t expect to find many deals!) Once you know these prices just call a few of your local FFL’s (which you can also find at GunBroker) and see what their price would be to bring in what you want. Many have connections with distributors who can give you competitive prices.

    Also De Santis makes several inexpensive pocket holsters (Nemesis, Superfly) that I have found work quite well with this gun. I wouldn’t recommend pocket carry without one.

  16. Domingo says:

    I bought this firearm for my wife with the CT, she got the hang of it quickly. I don’t know what Jimmy or the police officer who goes along with him are thinking about. My wife never shot a gun before. I let her shoot my 9mm Makarov then her S&W .38 with CT, what a differance. If your a bad guy that comes into my house at night, and you see a little red dot comeing along the wall getting closer and closer, you better run quick!, my wife will “Bust a cap” in yo a–!

  17. Izaaksmom says:

    My husband just bought this gun for me yesterday. As a woman who intends to carry for personal protection, I like the weight, the size of the grip, and the fact that it has a laser.
    In my opinion, the laser adds another element of fear for the assailant. If they don’t run when I simply brandish the gun, they probably will once they realize a red dot on their chest!
    Unlike men, there are just no good places on a woman’s body to conceal a gun without it showing through fitted clothes. Most women will carry in their purse for this reason…which makes this an even more desireable gun as it is light and hammerless (nothing to get caught on). I am truly comforted by the CT, mostly because it could keep me confident in a scary situation.
    I must say that I am a little jealous however that you were able to find this for 500. I paid 712 after tax and that was the best deal in town! Not the cheapest time in American History to be buying guns…now if I can just find ammo.

  18. Mar says:

    Just started using my S&W 642. I am new to guns and the dealer said it would be a great concealed carry. Not so true. I am an a 61 year old woman and have some arthritis in my hands, though they are still fairly strong. No one warned me that this is not the easiest to shoot. The grip is a bit small for me and the NOISE and the recoil are pretty daunting. At first shot, I almost screamed and dropped the thing, but since I am not usually the girly type, I kept going. At seven yards (I think), and two handed, I was within the center 3 rings on the target for most of my shots. However, I have trouble using the end of my finger since the grip is small. I have purchased a larger grip and may have to go one bigger yet. Some of my shots tended to go left and down. In a class, I used a 22 with a 4″ barrel, I think, and it was so much easier to shoot. Out of 10 shots on the NRA test, I got 2 bulls eyes and 3 more in the first ring. Accuracy is going to be work with the 642. The trigger is stiffer and my hand position is a little skewed, my hand tends to cramp, and it is hard to hold steady. I will have to practice a lot (if I can get the ammo) with this gun. It is not one to put away and just have as a carry. Should I ever have to use it for self defense, I will have to be well practiced – plus I will be deaf. It is terribly loud, something I have not seen addressed in any other blogs. The shooter next to me asked what kind of cannon I was shooting! If I cannot reasonably strenthen my hands as well as my wrists, I may have to find another gun. It may be ok for women, but maybe not for older ones!! Kind of wished I had had a chance to shoot a few before I purchased!!

  19. federalist says:

    Mar, you should have at least dry-fired the pistol before buying it to see how it fit your hands and how the trigger suited you. With arthritis — and especially a willingness to train with your defense gun — I would have steered you towards pistols with light triggers: a striker-fired pistol (e.g., Glock) or else a 1911-style designed to be carried cocked. Fortunately guns have decent resale values, and if the dealer is any good he’ll take it back as credit towards a more appropriate gun for you.

    Regarding noise and recoil: the fact of the matter is that there are no defensive pistol rounds that don’t make a lot of both! .22 pistols are a pleasure to shoot, but you can’t count on anything lighter than .380 to stop an attacker.

    There are ways to compensate for recoil. Going to a semi-automatic pistol from a revolver reduces recoil, but increases complexity. Adding weight to a gun reduces felt recoil, but is generally not desirable for a concealed carry gun.

    The only way to compensate for noise is with a suppressor, but there aren’t any realistic options in that arena for carry guns, and besides that they are expensive, a hassle to register, and even illegal in some states.

  20. Doc says:

    I’m a 56 year old Female who just got my very first gun yesterday, the 642 with Crimson Trace grip. I never fired a gun before in my life – or even saw one fired – except on TV Lol! That first shot or two were a SHOCK!

    Anyway, several rounds later, I just love it! I’m dry firing to up my trigger strength. So far I can do 20 consecutive shots on the dominant hand and 3 on the non-dominant. And that’s up from around 10 and 0 just yesterday.


  21. optometry student says:

    awesome conceal carry gun with reliability of a a DA revolver! I have 38 special +p Hornady critical defense rounds in mine with a pair of speedloaders. There are many lethally effective 38 spl +p defensive rounds out there by Hornady, CorBon, Buffalo Bore, and Glaser. The gun is very accurate and carries with it a Smith and Wesson lifetime warranty….

  22. Skeptic says:

    I found after a lot of dry firing and some firing the trigger has smoothed out some, or else I am just getting better pulling it.

    The only problem I have is I can’t find a good level 2 or 3 retention holster for open carry. The crimson trace handle has made it not fit all the ones I have tried at the store.

    Open carry is required in Virginia if I , for example, have to step into a restaurant to pick up a take out pizza , and that restaurant sells wine or beer. Ridiculous, but that is the law here, which means I need a good retention holster for every gun I carry , unless I want to keep it in the truck.

  23. Old Guy says:

    Have owned Charter Arms and S&W Snubs before. This is my 1st “hammerless” and wish I’d figured out the snagless feature early on. The S&W 642 fits a Blackhawk clamshell holster flawlessly and holds close to your body for concealment. The 1st time I fired this handgun was on the range for my CPL and had no problems holding an 8″ pattern at 7 yards with rapid fire. I’m not new to shooting, but also spend very few $’s in a year target shooting. The 5 shot load may not sound like much, but if 5 .38 hollow points won’t slow down an assailant long enough to make a run, 5 rounds of .45 may not either.

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