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Smith’s Subcompact Sigma

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The firearms that fill our pages aren’t usually beer-money budget affairs. When you spend time on the bleeding edge, a higher price point comes with the territory. However, the ability to defend yourself with more than harsh language and hope shouldn’t be directly linked to your available income.

To that end, we bring you a new CONCEALMENT column, “Crap Shoot.”

This column isn’t about new guns, but budget-friendly pistols found stocking pawnshop and local gun store cases. Every issue, a different editor will go to a local store with a whopping $200 to spend on the best, worst, or most interesting gun that meets the budget. A pistol will be selected and tested, and shown here.

For our premiere, we bring you:
> Smith & Wesson Sigma SW380
> Price paid: $169

Did you know that Smith & Wesson made a subcompact version of the ill-fated Sigma? Neither did we.

sw380 sigma


Our favorite part about this little pocket pistol is that we hadn’t seen one before. Once the M&P was released, we all tried our best to forget the entire Sigma line. The subcompact models, in particular, were made for an incredibly short period of time. They weren’t a commercial success.

We’re pretty sure this one was in a flooded basement at some point, because it was full of mud and partially corroded, which helped lower the price. It cleaned up well and functioned the same. Though we had never taken one down before, it was easy to figure out; because it has a striker system similar enough to a Glock that both companies were in a legal dispute for three years before coming to a settlement.

The slide geometry with of the SW380 is conducive to racking, something we’ve seen continued with the latest M&P 380 Shield EZ.

sw380 sigma slide


While our example is in .380 Auto, Smith also made a version in 9mm. We heard these were all recalled — when we called Smith & Wesson to confirm, we found that everyone who had a direct knowledge has long retired. What those left behind could confirm is that the 9mm subcompact models were pulled out of circulation for reasons that they couldn’t explain. The smaller .380 didn’t suffer the same fate, however, as mentioned it wasn’t manufactured for very long.

Though internally similar to a Glock Safe Action, the SW380 is far more rustic in both machining and materials. With a capacity of 6+1, it’s no derringer, but it’s small enough to ride in your pocket. Surprisingly, the trigger didn’t seem as awful as the heavier, full-size Sigmas.

smith and wesson sw380


The slide of the SW380 is cheap zinc alloy and is easily marred; we marked the inside of ours up greatly just from a few short-range sessions. Initial research on the pistol brought forth the rumor that S&W stated no more than 3,000 rounds should be fired prior to replacement, giving it an approximate service life of an avocado. Smith & Wesson told us this wasn’t true, but we can definitely see how that hypothesis was dreamed up.

The sights on the SW380 are little more than artistic renderings that merely acknowledge that firearms are supposed to have them. While a guttersnipe sight isn’t the end of the world, the teeny front sight buried in a trench is all but impossible to discern outside of the brightest lighting conditions combined with perfect vision. It almost would’ve been better if they left them off entirely.

Field stripping the pistol requires a hammer and punch because roll pins have to be removed.

And the worst part? The magazine. Even the best gun in the world will be hobbled with a bad mag — let alone what we have here. Polymer technology has come a long way since the ’90s, and holding this cheap and brittle Barbie plastic subcompact is an effective demonstration of exactly how far we’ve come.

Each SW380 magazine is held in place with a set of integral plastic clips that must be pinched down in order for the magazine to be removed. Because spare parts availability is effectively zero, one crack of plastic from a vigorous reload and your pistol is down for the count. Not even Magpul could fix this one.

sw380 sights


For under $200, we expect a lot of warts. While we wouldn’t throw one out if grandma owned it, we absolutely would strip and inspect it before she put it back in her purse. This is a pistol meant to be thrown into a drawer and forgotten unless needed. Unless it’s in 9mm, then you should follow S&W’s advice and take it out of circulation.

Smith & Wesson  
Caliber: .380ACP
Barrel Length: 3 inches
Overall Length: 6 inches
Weight (unloaded): 14 ounces
Magazine capacity: 6+1
Price: $169
Purchased from: Vance’s Outdoors, Columbus, OH

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