A while ago, I got a very pleasant e-mail message from Gail Devoid, the president of Tarnhelm Supply Co., Inc., makers of the Magna-Trigger conversion for Smith & Wesson revolvers. (To learn more, check out http://www.tarnhelm.com.)

Gail complimented me on my set of pages, and then asked if I would be interested in test-firing a converted S&W; 686 and reviewing it on my site. Being asked to play with a neat new toy that I was terrifically curious about anyway? Hell, yes! I told Gail that I would be delighted to do so, and they shipped the test gun off to me via Turner's Outdoorsman. After the requisite 21 day wait, I picked it up and started poring over it. And on a beautiful spring day in Canyon Country, CA, I and a friend visited a lovely outdoor shooting range called "A Place To Shoot" and put the converted 686 through its paces.

I hope to test-fire the revolver again this weekend, so this review should get longer and a bit more detailed in around a week and a half's time.

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What Is The Magna-Trigger Conversion?

One of the most common questions asked by people who are considering purchasing a handgun is, "What if a criminal gets it away from me?" Parents often ask, "Suppose my child or one of their friends gets hold of it? What can I do to prevent disaster?"

The Magna-Trigger is a wonderful solution to both of these problems.

Invented as a way to keep criminals from using a police officer's duty weapon against him, the Magna-Trigger renders the gun unfireable by anyone not wearing a special, very strong magnetic ring. A small blocking mechanism is inserted into the weapon (Smith & Wesson revolvers only, and not autoloaders) by experienced gunsmith Rick Devoid, and the device can only be disabled by a potent samarium magnet on a steel ring that the shooter wears on her middle finger. The conversion is also completely ambidextrous, and the Devoids recommend that a police officer wear a ring on each finger so that if one hand is injured in a confrontation, the other can still fire the weapon.

Magnetic mumbo-jumbo? Not at all -- the samarium magnets that are used will outlast you, and the technology that is used in this conversion is proven completely.

The gun is completely dead -- but when you pick it up, the magnet comes into proximity with the blocking mechanism, and it's live.

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Putting It Through Its Paces

After picking up the revolver from my local Turner's, I received some e-mail from a friend of mine, Sidra Vitale, asking if I was interested in going up to Canyon Country for the weekend with her. She had expressed interested in purchasing a handgun for defensive purposes before, and since her private nickname for the area is "Canyon Country, Oklahoma," we were both fairly certain that we could find a nice outdoor range. I brought both my own Ruger and the converted Smith & Wesson.

The three aspects to the conversion that I was most concerned with were the following:

  1. Was this truly ambidextrous, or would it tend to "freeze" more on one hand than the other?
  2. How well would it react to a range of hand sizes?
  3. How quickly would it react?
I'm delighted to report that the Magna-Trigger passed all three tests with flying colors -- to the point where Sidra left the range determined to purchase a S&W; 686!

Left To Right And Back Again

As a lefthander, ambidexterity in handguns and accessories is a favorite soapbox topic for me, and I'm not one to take claims of ambidexterity lightly. I'm very much of the "show me" mentality since I have far too much experience being solemnly instructed that anything from an autoloader to a right-handed violin or guitar is "actually easier for lefties!!!!!!!!!!" when it's blatantly untrue. So the Magna-Trigger was definitely going to have to prove itself to me in this vein.

Whether in a slow, deliberate double-action shot or a quick "pick it up and fire" shot of the sort that is more likely to happen in a defense situation, the Magna-Trigger performed perfectly and never once froze, jammed, or otherwise refused to fire. Perhaps more importantly, when I tested the revolver without the ring, even whapping it on the podium a little (not too much, Gail!), it never went off, cocked, or budged an inch past the few millimeters of play in the trigger that is always present. Not only did it fire when I wanted it to -- but it also did not fire when it wasn't supposed to, and of course with a safety conversion like this, that's half the reason for getting it!

So lefties or switches out there, rest easy -- this is one handgun-related accessory that truly lives up to its billing as usable by lefties.

A Range Of Hand Sizes

Since this conversion would be attractive to people with small children and who are interested in a handgun for defense, it seems tailor made for women, and one of the things that women are concerned with regards handguns is finding one small enough for their hand. At a rather lanky 5'8" with very long hands, I've never had to concern myself with this, so one of the reasons why I was so pleased to test the converted revolver out with Sidra is that she is 4'10" with much smaller hands. If the conversion worked well for both of us, it would be a real godsend for the many woman gunowners out there who might lose sleep over concerns for their children's safety and their own.

I'm pleased to report that there were no problems with the conversion. While Sidra, as a novice shooter, was not able to put the revolver through a serious of "quick draw" or double-tap tests, she was able to use it without failure or "jamming" of any kind. (Indeed, so pleased was she about the "feel" of the S&W; 686 that she left the range planning to purchase one with a slimmer grip. The fat Pachmayr grip on the revolver presented me with no difficulties, but if you have smaller hands, you'll definitely want one that leaves the backstrap exposed (that doesn't completely cover up the very back of the gun's frame.)

One-Two-Three Shoot

As well as being usable by a variety of hand sizes, another issue for the Magna-Trigger, given the defensive aspects to the conversion, would be how quickly it performed. Given that the conversion was invented for people with home and personal defense concerns, would it freeze up if you grabbed and shot quickly, without taking time to adjust your grip and aim?

Again, I'm pleased to report that the converted revolver performed quite well on all tests. I placed it on the podium before me and stepped back, then stepped forward, grabbed the gun, and shot quickly -- just as you might find yourself doing if someone breaks into your house. And again, with either the left or right hand, the revolver performed very well.

All of the above testing was done with a variety of ammunition, from .38Spl to .357M, so the conversion also performs well with a variety of loads.

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Would I get one?

Probably not. I have no children, and that would be my primary purpose for getting a Magna-Trigger conversion. As a private citizen as opposed to a police officer, anyone who would attack me would not expect me to be armed, and as a result, I don't feel that it would be necessary for me.

But if I had children in the house with me? Absolutely. Of course, nothing beats a good gun safety lecture, and no matter the status of the firearms in your house, you must give your children the information they need to coexist peacefully with the devices. So don't think that a Magna-Trigger obviates gun safety education for your kids -- just because you have this conversion doesn't mean you can get away without teaching them. But it will insure that their friends won't be able to play with "So-And-So's mom's gun," and it will also prevent accidents before the child becomes old enough to hear the lecture in the first place.

The conversion isn't cheap -- but it is worth every penny. You cannot order a converted revolver from Smith & Wesson, but must instead send your S&W; to Tarnhelm Supply (http://www.tarnhelm.com/) and let them install it. It costs $250 for the conversion itself, and $40 for each magnetic ring. Again, the magnets themselves are made of samarium and are strong enough to outlast you. (Rest easy that someone playing with a kitchen magnet wouldn't be able to fire your gun.)

On the lighter side, the revolver that Gail and Rick sent to me for testing was special not only because of the Magna-Trigger installed in it, but for something else as well. It was treated with a material called Sentry's Dry Lube, which you can find out more about if you follow the link to their site. Let's just say that after shooting both their test gun and my own untreated Ruger, the powder residue merely brushed off of theirs, and I was able to clean out the gun by running one cleaning patch through it and the chambers. Mine? Major elbow grease! Talk about envy! So as soon as I'm able, I'd love to have my own revolver treated with Sentry's Dry Lube to make cleaning it a ten-second operation.

For more information, please write or call:
431 High Street
Boscawen, NH, 03303
(603) 796-2551
FAX (603) 796-2918

Or check out http://www.tarnhelm.com/ for the latest up-to-date information from Tarnhelm's own web site.

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Copyright 1996 by Janis Cortese