Revisit the 40 S&W?

Apr 1, 2024
Built first in 40 S&W, the Smith & Wesson M&P is a solid service pistol. Image from the roll-out of the M&P auto pistol line in December 2005.

Just over 18 years ago, I joined a number of writers on a trip to the Smith & Wesson factory for the introduction of a new law enforcement pistol. The first of a line of newly manufactured “Military & Police” branded handguns, it was a striker-fired auto chambered for the 40 S&W cartridge.

Why the 40? At the time, it was the preeminent service cartridge in American law enforcement. Not only that, it made little sense to design a gun around the 9x19mm NATO round, then use the same platform for the larger (and, at the time, more popular) 40 S&W. Build the gun around the snappier, bigger round, then go down to the smaller service round.

Image taken by Walt Rauch.

That’s what S&W did. I ended up with one of the original line – even the serial number started with “MP …” Walt Rauch took the attached image of me firing a dedicated pair – a “hammer” – with the 180 grain Winchester FMJ round at the S&W Academy. While you can see the considerable torque, the gun is just going back into battery in the micro-second before the sights are back in line.

The handgun project team at the time settled on areas of pistol design that were most criticized at the time. First was “feel” or “pointability;” people seem more interested in feel than fit. The team used the 1911-esque 18° grip-to-bore angle.

Next, it was the whole “pull the trigger to disassemble” non-issue. While it’s a non-issue to gun people, for police administrators and purchasers it was a potential pitfall. Accidents had happened with other designs – through no fault of the gun’s design, but due to a failure to unload and, in some cases, by pointing the gun in unsafe directions.

A tool was designed to attach positively to the gun, yet be easily removed to help put the striker at rest for field stripping. The tool, a thin punch-type affair, is placed inside the open ejection port to push down the striker deactivation lever. The action has to be open when this is done, absolutely preventing a chambered round from being contacted by the firing pin. This also forces the operator’s attention to the chamber and magazine well of the pistol, further helping to ensure the empty condition of the weapon.

With the pressure off, a take-down lever on the left side of the frame is turned and the top end is removed from the receiver. After cleaning and reassembly, the striker deactivation lever is reset by seating a magazine – an unloaded one if the gun is to be stored.

Simple – and appealing to bureaucrats. I have no problem with it as it compels proper procedure … like locking the slide open.

The barrel outside diameter is wider at the muzzle than it is along its length back toward the chamber. This helps the muzzle mate up with the front of the slide and reduces slide friction as the slide retracts during use.

An interesting design twist is the “rocker-“style frame rails. As you look down on the field stripped M&P, the rails appear to be oval, a football shape. It looks similarly round when viewed from the side. The shape forces the slide to travel without binding as the designer wanted it to move.

Wear is confined to the outside of the ‘bulge.’ This rail system has less bearing surface, meaning less friction. It seems that dirt and sludge would be moved out during hard use operation, making this a reliable as well as durable system.

The stainless-steel slide is through hardened and Melonite treated in a black finish, the combination yielding a hardness of 68 HRc. The rear of the slide has grasping grooves that are “scalloped” in a wave pattern. The slide’s “nose” is beveled, giving a streamlined look.


It’d been many years since I shot this early-issue M&P40. Recently, I’ve seen some of these hit the market, having formerly been issued by police agencies and replaced for newer guns. I thought shooting this through a state qual course on a target smaller than used in the official quals -- FPS-1 target, printed from the First Person Safety website – would be a good exercise. I used some old stock Winchester White Box 180 grain FMJ flat-point (flattened hardball).

The holster was an older Blade-Tech kydex rig, picked up during another S&W event – this one at Gunsite. The SG Timer (obtained from MDT last year) was used to time my progress (or lack thereof).

I found that I lost some time, likely in dealing with 40-caliber recoil as well as relative lack of familiarity with the M&P40. As noted, I haven’t shot it in some time and I have far more rounds through the same firm’s Shield line than the larger M&Ps.

Still, the accuracy was more than enough to clean the course on the mandated FBI Q-target, even with a hit low off the page from 25 yards. That was a convulsive clutch as I fired the gun trying to make the time. I went over time on both strings from ten yards. I didn’t allow any rounds to wander off the shaded part of the target until I was at fifteen yards. It was still in the target outline.

That left 32 hits in the shaded “cardiac” box on the target. With the eight hits in the less shaded area of the target, that’s 80% to pass – if I used the target scoring.

The gun’s better than that. It was clearly my shooting. As usual, the M&P40 functioned without problems. If you run across one of these, it might be the right choice for you.

— Rich Grassi