Rock Island Armory M202: Light on the Budget, Heavy on Performance

Have you ever thought of the Rock Island Armory (Armscor) M202 revolver as the handgun of your dreams? I didn’t think so. If you consider yourself a lover of fine guns, then you probably never gave this seemingly unremarkable .38 Special 6-shooter a second look—assuming you even noticed it at all!

RIA M202: This is a simple yet sturdy double-action revolver chambered for the proven .38 Special cartridge. Its Parkerized finish is quite durable and gives it a professional look. (Photo by IGG)
RIA M202: This is a simple yet sturdy double-action revolver chambered for the proven .38 Special cartridge. Its Parkerized finish is quite durable and gives it a professional look. (Photo by IGG)

Yet, this inexpensive double-action revolver may be Armscor’s most successful product in the Philippine market today.  It is the gun that you will find in the holsters of 9 out of 10 private security guards across the nation. Yes, its popularity with security agencies may have been brought about by the fact that it is probably the cheapest handgun available locally. Still, the fact remains that tens of thousands of “blue guards” deployed to malls, supermarkets, restaurants, banks, schools, hotels, residential areas, etc., are currently armed with the M202.

The selling point

Briefly stated, the M202 weighs 28.2 ounces (.80 kg.) unloaded and has an overall length of 8.8 inches (223mm) with its 4-inch (108mm) long “bull” barrel. Its clockwise-turning cylinder holds six .38 Special cartridges. The gun comes standard with a round butt-profile polymer grip with incorporated finger grooves. The all-steel M202 will safely shoot +P ammunition although it does not specifically say so in the manual, the folks at Armscor say.

The gun described above illustrates a very basic revolver that is somewhat lacking in innovation by today’s standards. But to the non-gun enthusiast, it makes a lot of sense from the cost and operational simplicity standpoint.

The Colt pedigree

Armscor has always drawn its design inspiration from Colt’s line of double-action revolvers. This was true for the M100-series of the 1970’s and 1980’s and still holds true for the M200-series of today. The M202, as a matter of fact, bears more than a passing resemblance to the now-classic Colt Police Positive Special or maybe the New Colt Official Police—although updated in some respects.

Inspiration: Colt's classic double-action revolvers like this nickel-plated, pearl-handled Colt Police Positive (top), seems to have been the basis for the M202 (above) and two generations of Armscor revolvers.
Inspiration: Colt’s classic double-action revolvers like this nickel-plated, pearl-handled Colt Police Positive (top), seems to have been the basis for the M202 (above) and two generations of Armscor revolvers.

As a bit of historical tidbit, the M100 was a common sidearm of Filipino policemen during the last quarter of the 20th century—when the .38 revolver was still considered a viable cop’s gun. Simply referred to then as the “Squires Bingham Thirty-Eight,” it was supposedly highly regarded by its users… and served ably alongside Smith & Wesson and Colt revolvers in the hands of local lawmen.

The main difference between today’s M200-series compared to its forebears is its completely revamped lock work. The M202, as with others in its series, comes with a frame-mounted (floating) firing pin which operates in unison with a transfer-bar safety—which are common safety features in contemporary revolvers. The M-100s of yesteryear came with a hammer-mounted firing pin, which is regarded “less safe” nowadays.

At the range

The Home Defense Journal (HDJ) team came to Armscor’s facility in Marikina City recently primarily to review a few of the company’s “high-end” pistols.  The M202 was evaluated simply to make that long drive to the sprawling firing range—which is managed by our friend Bob Sajot, all the more worth the trip. As it turned out however, the M202 proved to be the bigger surprise that day!

Gentle thirty-eight: Recoil was quite mild using standard-pressure ammo--as seen here by the lack of muzzle rise. The M202 can handle any sensibly loaded factory ammunition. (Photo by IGG)
Gentle thirty-eight: Recoil was quite mild using standard-pressure ammo–as seen here by the lack of muzzle rise. The M202 can handle any sensibly loaded factory ammunition. (Photo by IGG)

Our brand new test gun still bore the “Armscor” logo while subsequent production will bear the “RIA” logo—consistent with recent changes in the company’s branding strategy.  We noticed a minor change in this late production M202’s front sight… which was slightly reshaped and is now dovetailed unto the barrel. Apart from this, it seemed identical to Armscor M202s manufactured 10 years ago.

Thanks to Armscor’s very competent promotions and advertising manager Jhoanna Ibay, we were supplied with a few boxes of the company’s 158-grain FMJ standard-pressure (non +P) ammunition. It reportedly generates a modest muzzle velocity of just under 800 fps from a 4-inch barrel. This is an improvement over the classic 158-grain LRN (lead round nose) ammo only because it is less likely to cause barrel leading.

We let loose our first salvo from the 5-meter mark… firing rapidly one-handed in the double-action mode. It was embarrassing to note how wide my initial group turned out to be! Not to be outdone, I took careful aim and then shot again from the single-action mode to ascertain if it was the gun or was it the shooter at fault for the lousy grouping?! It became instantly apparent that our test gun was not to blame—although it did shoot a bit high.

I quickly got reacquainted with the revolver’s DA trigger after a bit of struggle to unlearn three decades of shooting M1911s with finely tuned triggers. Once this was accomplished, my shots were spot-on and tightly grouped all the way to 10-meters. The utilitarian sight format on the M202 was easy to use during daylight, with the tall front sight very visible between the wide rear sight notches.

Squires Bingham M100: This durable revolver was issued to Filipino policemen during the 1970's to the 1980's--and was popular with civilians as well. It looks a little bit like the Colt Trooper.
Squires Bingham M100: This old-reliable revolver was issued to Filipino policemen from the 1970’s to the 1980’s–and was popular with civilians as well. It looks a little bit like the Colt Trooper.

It must be said that the M202’s double-action trigger pull (about 12 lbs.) was uncharacteristically smooth and easy for an out-of-the-box revolver of any make! Its single-action trigger pull (about 4 lbs.) let off crisply and was conducive to accurate shot placement.

In no time at all, my wife-slash-photographer Iris and I were making soda cans dance with little effort using the revolver. All in all, the M202 is a confidence-inspiring gun that is simply a joy to shoot!

Home defense?

The ever-present threat of home invasion as well as an increasing acceptance of the “Prepper” mindset in the Philippines is driving more non-gun enthusiasts into purchasing a firearm or two. For them, the RIA M202 is a most practical choice because it can hold its own against American or Brazilian revolvers in its class—at a fraction of the cost.

Violent intruders should beware of the determined home defender with a loaded RIA M202 in hand! I can certainly sleep well at night with only this fancy-free revolver (loaded with high-performance hollow-points) within easy reach.

 

SRP of RIA/Armscor M202: Php 11,800 (about US $260)

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