I was emailed the following question. It’s a good question with an involved answer.
Which snubby do you recommend?
This was my reply:
It depends on the person, their ability, their needs, and their desire to achieve an acceptable standard of performance. The S&W 642 and Ruger LCR .38 Special have become the default purchases for people who want to carry a snub. They work for some people but not everyone.
A baseline go/no go test would be whether the person can make 5 hits out of 5 shots into a 12 inch circle at 7 yards in 15 seconds and then repeat it successfully 3 more times for a total of four separate strings. That’s the test for the NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program Defensive Pistol I Pro-Marksman Course of Fire.
Note that the standard for this Course of Fire is 100% hits for each string. I’m a big believer that the concept of 70% hits is a negative influence brought into the firearms community by Law Enforcement. No one wants their neighbor to shoot six shots at an intruder and have two of the six end up in OUR home but that’s what a 70% standard implies is okay. It’s not okay with me nor do I believe it would be okay to anyone who thinks rationally about it for one second.
The truth is that the .32 S&W Long is a far better choice for the beginning revolver shooter than the .38 Special. Unfortunately, the caliber has fallen out of favor within ‘cognoscenti’ circles because of the mistaken belief that it will not be able to inflict a wound any worse than a bee sting. Theodore Roosevelt never stated the reason he adopted it (in the dimensionally and ballistically identical .32 Colt New Police) as the first official revolver of the NYPD but he was a pretty smart guy. I doubt he made the choice without considering the situation carefully.
The question of what kind of ammo is often asked next. My answer is:
whatever shoots to the sights and you can shoot the Course of Fire with.
Often, higher performance ammo shoots much lower (6-8 inches) than standard pressure ammo in the 130 – 158 grain range. Or the ammunition is so unpleasant to shoot that the shooter flinches badly and is unable to hit anything with it, except by luck. The ability of the shooter to hit the target consistently is the single most important consideration for ammo selection. Perceived advantages of terminal ballistics, which are often illusory, are irrelevant if the target isn’t hit.
I wish I could give a cut and dried answer but the question is more complex than is often realized.