Snubbies have long been the go-to firearm choice for those pistoleros who desired a small and concealable handgun that could still deliver 5-6 hard-hitting full sized rounds at close range.
In the late 19th century, shortened revolvers like the Bulldog and others were popular with gentlemen, investigators, and travelers for personal protection.
By 1927 the Colt Detective, a small framed six-shot double action revolver that fired the then very modern and powerful .38 special round had become a favorite with prohibition era police types. In 1946, Smith and Wesson introduced the Chief's Special, their first J-frame 38. With five shots of 38SPL and the capability of firing +P ammunition, the J-frame smith has been the bar that every other snubby has been weighed against.
Since the days of the Colt Detective and the original WWII-era Chief's Special, snubbies have gotten smaller and lighter with composite alloys, polymers, and plastics. Firearms such as the Ruger LCR and the S&W 340PD top the food chain as concealable defensive snub-nosed revolvers of the most modern design. The LCR weighs in at 13.5-ounces and the 340PD with its impressive .357 Magnum capacity tips the scales at 11.4-ounce. As a reference keep in mind that the 1927 Colt was a 21-ounce gun that could fire six rounds of non +P loaded .38SPL.
Then as today the snubby class of revolvers have as their number one recommendation the fact that they are readily concealable. While many CCW carriers try to get away with a full-size sidearm, myself included, there are some situations where bulky clothing, jackets, and outside the waistband holsters just will not work. Unless you are wearing a bikini, odds are you can carry a snub-nosed revolver safely concealed with a minimum of effort. These firearms also have some of the easiest weapon's nomenclature and manipulation required to learn and practice. In the event of a misfire, a short-barreled .38 can be simply fired by a follow-up trigger pull, which is easier than the tap-rack-pull needed in a semi-automatic. When compared to .380 compacts, having the increased power of .38SPL rounds at your fingertips, the snub-nosed chalks up another advantage.
While of course you should go to the range with your firearm at least quarterly, we all know that this always doesn't happen. The fact that snubbies can be left loaded and stored for years if needed and still go bang when needed is also a feature desirable in a home defense firearm.
It can be argued that the days of the snubby have come and gone. With modern subcompact semi autos like the 21-ounce, 11-shot Glock 26 and the 17-ounce, 8-shot Ruger LC9 you have a firearm of almost the same size as most J-frames with a faster reload and larger magazine capacity. Nevertheless, the snubby remains popular and most likely will not fade from modern use any time soon. With over a hundred years of snub-nosed wheel guns being used by all elements of the population, they are still valued and serve to fill a unique niche.