This question comes up often so I though I might share with you my thoughts.
If I had to pick a first snub to recommend I would go with a lock-free, Airweight S&W Bodyguard and render it double-action only.
If I couldn’t find a Airweight Bodyguard I would try to hunt up an Airweight Chief Special, render it double-action only and then add a Waller and Son hammer shroud.
Here are a few reasons in no special order.
The Bodyguard offers nearly every advantage the Centennial does. You can get high on the back strap for optimum recoil control. It is just as sag proof on the draw stroke and every feature available for a J-frame is available for the Bodyguard.
One added bonus the Bodyguard has over the Centennial is that with its hammer nipple access you have another safe (and quick) method to check for high primers.
Some argue that the open slot at the rear of the Bodyguard’s integrated shroud invites crud that can impede hammer arc.
A 5-second “clean shroud” check every morning along with confirming that the snub is loaded solves that non-issue.
By the way, a great habit to get into is to check that the snub is loaded every time it has been out of your control. – a piece of great advice I picked up from Walt Rausch
EVERY morning I make it a habit to confirm it is loaded even it I am the one who locked it in the safe loaded the night before.
In addition to rendering it double-action only (for all the usual street- and court-liability reasons) I would get the usual “must have” add-ons.
Chamfer the cylinders
XS Big Dot front sight – The U-rear sight may not be an option with the Bodyguard but I could work around it.
For Stocks one of these:
Barami Hip-Grips with a Tyler T-Grip adaptor (or)
Spegel Boot Grip stocks (or)
Crimson Trace laser stocks
Whichever one would bet fit the shooters carry style and or resources.
My final carry gun option would be to have the gunsmith, Mike LaRocca for Worcester, MA or Karl Sokol in West Rutlant VT remove the locking bolt currently holding the short ejector rod in place, add a full length ejector rod and then add a detent to the crane to keep the cylinder locked in place.
The J-frame’s much too short ejector rod is the bane of fast, positive reloading and a personal bug-a-boo of mine. On a self-defense gun it has to go.
Since I am throwing around a lot of ideal snub money on this list let me add one other wish list items
Since this Airweight Bodyguard or Shrouded Airweight Chief Special is a working gun I would look to find a companion gun.
Now there are lots of great reasons to go with a copy of my primary carry snub only in a heavier format. Either blue (first choice) or stainless steel (second choice)
As a heavier range training gun I could shoot more rounds through it and in the same caliber I would have a readily available second or BUG gun.
But the fact is that very few shooters will consistently (if ever) carry a second gun I would want a companion gun to optimize training drills and occasions.
Something fun to shoot to encourage range time
Something I could get my children and non-gun friends to learn on and enjoy shooting.
Something inexpensive to shoot so I would want to do either of the above often
I would look for a J-frame .22 and hammer shroud it.
Certainly not optimal as a second self-defense gun but it would be unmatched in its role as a fun trainer and in an emergency could be used by any responsible adult.
Too often folks into guns forget that the 99% of the self-defense guns we own will never be used in that role.
90% of those that are, the good guy ends the fight with the presentation and not the shooting.
As a training tool I would also have the option of practicing with both HKS .22 speedloaders and QuickStrip .22 loading strips.
Throw in a good supply of .22 dummy rounds and you have a shooting kit that practically begs you for weekly range trips.
And anything that gets you to the range regularly for training has to be a good idea.