While an internal lock offers an unobtrusive method to secure the weapon the entire idea of an integrated keyway requiring a miniscule key is in my opinion fundamentally flawed. Consider only a few problems:
1 – A small key is easily lost.
2 – Small keyway is easily plugged by pocket lint or from being dropped in the dirt.
3 – Putting a small key in a small hole under stress is a difficult.
4 – Putting a small key in a small hole under stress in the dark is very difficult.
5 – The gun can be pocketed or holstered without noticing that it is locked and later drawn under an assault with tragic results.
6 – The lock can lock up under recoil.
Yes, you say, buy I never use the lock. Your using or not using the lock is not the problem. The problem is that the guns are locking up under recoil ON THEIR OWN.
The lock is a simple mechanical device. It certainly can’t be expected to know whether the owner is deliberately applying mechanical leverage (the key) or if under recoil the frame is rotating around the lock. The mechanical result is the same.
Again you say, But a writer from American Handgunner wrote that the lock danger is a myth. Well I can’t speak to what the other fellow knows. I can only speak about what I know. And I know two things.
First, John Farnum wrote about the guns locking up under recoil ON THEIR OWN in his e-newsletter in 2002. Massad Ayoob wrote about in the January/February 2005 issue of the American Handgunner. In one case the lock on a Taurus actually blew out of the snub. One staffer at the Manchester (NH) Firing Line shooting range reports that he no longer bothers to keep track of the number of guns he has observe locking up under recoil ON THEIR OWN. I‘ve have also seen it occur in my classes with one student’s gun locking up so tight he could not unlock it with the key.
Second, the fellow from American Handgunner was “testing” the trouble with a very large frame revolver and not a very small and light frame snub. Not, in my opinion a small flaw in the research.
Consider the core of the problem. You shoot the gun to test it and recoil preps the lock to be one round away from self-locking but you would have no way of know this. You could re-test the gun by firing another round, but now you can’t be sure that that second round set the stage for a “one shot then locked” situation. You can see what problem this leads too. You can always key check that the lock is fully seated by unlocked the lock but every time you do you are causing more wear on the lock and possibly making it more prone to lock under recoil.
There is some indication that the problem is limited to the very light weight weapons and possibly only when shooting heavy or magnum rounds.
To quote Ralph Mroz from his article My Favorite Gun from the January 2008 issue of Law Officer magazine: “If I had to buy a key-lock I’d have it removed – after all its not a safety it’s an access denial mechanism.” That is a great line and I want to repeat it. An internal lock are NOT a safety, it is an Access Denial Mechanism.
My advice was always to buy only a snub manufactured prior to the introduction of the lock and hope that market pressures will encourage the makers to either drop the lock or make it an optional feature.
If you can not find a snub available without the lock then buy one with a lock and ship it up to Karl Sokol of Chestnut Mountain Sports in West Rutland, VT. He is a master gunsmith and is currently refitting the guns to pre-lock reliability. Failing that you might consider either a Ruger SP101 or a Smith and Wesson Centennial. There is a run of these which is currently lock-free.
Even better, Smith & Wesson was the first major manufacture who announced that starting in March, 2009 it would begin phasing the internal lock out of its revolver lineup.