40 S W Compact Comparison Essay

After speaking to many local gun store owners over the course of the last year, they all seemed to share a similar sentiment: The once popular 40 S&W self-defense cartridge is dead.

In fact, one of the gun shops I frequent doesn't even stock guns chambered in forty, simply because they just sit in the case.

Nobody buys them.

.40 S&W History:

Baby Desert Eagle III in .40 S&W.

To get a solid handle on why this is happening, we must first get a firm understanding of firearms history, as it relates to how law enforcement chooses a duty gun. The .40 Cal was introduced way back when the FBI deemed the 9mm unworthy, ballistically, to get the job done in a shootout. To combat the 9X19's deficiencies, they decided to move to a bigger, more powerful cartridge: 10mm.

The 10 was superior to the nine in almost every way, delivering magnum ballistics with the ability to carry more cartridges than your standard 6-shot .357 magnum revolver.

It was a match made in heaven … Or so they thought. The main issue with the 10mm, is that police and FBI were unable to handle the associated recoil of this powerhouse cartridge, forcing them to find another solution. This is where the .40S&W came into play.

The forty-cal was much easier for on-duty police to handle than the 10mm was, allowing those who shot it the capability of qualifying with their duty guns. After all, a police officer who cannot shoot a gun is ineffective at his/her job.

So, for the last few decades, it reigned supreme in the eyes of the FBI and law enforcement personnel across the land. And, what usually happens, is whatever is good for the badge, is good for the badge-less (like us civilians).

That is an important point to remember going forward, because what LEOs use on the job plays a big part in the story.

Back to 9mm:

Sig Sauer Ammo

After several years of using the .40 S&W self-defense cartridge and getting the job done with it, the FBI made the controversial move to change back to the once under-powered 9mm parabellum round, just over a year ago.

Citing reasons such as increased capacity, improved terminal ballistics, and the ability to land multiple shots on target in quicker fashion, the FBI awarded a contract to Glock for striker-fired pistols, chambered in 9X19. This decision dealt a severe blow to the already diminished .40S&W market.

The FBI no longer saw it as a viable option for their agents, and civilians usually follow suit because we know the feds have ballistic guidelines to help them choose the right cartridge for their guns. The bottom line is that 9mm ballistics had improved greatly, from what they used to be.

Improved Ballistics Of 9mm Parabellum:

There is a notion I'd like for you to dismiss right now, and that is the idea of this thing called “knock-down power.” There is no such thing as knock-down power unless you make a head shot or destroy the beating heart of your attacker. And, even then, life may not be lost right away. Listen to what I'm about to say next very carefully –

Knockdown power is nothing more than a myth.

If the Hollywood directors could have it their way, they'd have you believing that each time someone is hit with a bullet, they'd fly back 15 feet. There's just no such thing, and to make matters even more interesting, there really is no such thing as a one-shot kill with a handgun. Can it happen? Sure. But is it the norm? No, not really.

Back to the point …

9mm produces a smaller hole than does the .40. It's not possible to argue with science in this regard. .40 S&W is essentially 10mm in diameter while a 9mm bullet, is well, you know–nine. It doesn't make sense for us to think that a smaller projectile can perform as well as a bigger one does, in many cases.

The thinking, is that while one clearly cannot perform as well as the other, the lesser of the two performs good enough to get the job done. Furthermore, when you take into account that people shooting 9mm are more accurate with the ability to land more shots on target, the argument is improved. In other words, two smaller, deeply penetrating holes are better than one.

How have the nine's ballistics improved? Well, that'll be a topic for another day, and one that we've got coming to you. Suffice it to say that according to the FBI, 9mm JHP gets the job done.

Is .40 S&W Dead?

American Eagle Ammo.

The short answer to this, would be “no, it's not dead.” In fact, it's no more dead than 10mm is. The .40 caliber will always have a following, and there will be some who will always believe it is the best option, no matter what the FBI or anyone else says. The most important thing, is that we all carry what we can handle in a defensive situation.

However, it is in decline as a commercially used self-defense cartridge. Why is this so? Well, for starters, cost effectiveness has a big role to play. There is a direct correlation between cost per round and the amount of live-fire training a person does.

In other words, if you can't afford to shoot your gun, it won't get shot. And, the result of that, is being less effective in your self-defense pursuits. Period.

If you take two boxes of ammo from the same manufacturer, one in 9mm and the other in .40 S&W, the former will be cheaper 9 out of 10 times. That's just the way it is.

On the other hand, though, you have the people who don't care about cost simply because they believe it does a better job. And that is the main reason why the .40S&W will never actually die.


What's next? Well, only time will tell. However, I feel confident in saying that, even in decline, the .40 S&W self-defense cartridge is NOT completely dead, no matter what you may have heard others say in the past. It's alive, even if only in some shooting circles, and it's not going anywhere, anytime soon.

What I want to know, is what you've got strapped to your hip, in your concealed carry holster, right at this very moment. What caliber do you trust your life with? Let us know in the comments.



by Cain

For those interested in looking up more information about my version of the Smith and Wesson M&P 40 via Smith & Wesson’s website, the SKU # for my handgun is 209300. For those of you completely unfamiliar with firearms, I have provided a side view picture at the end of this article for reference labeling most of the features found on the M&P 40. Should reviews for the M&P 9 and M&P 357 make their way onto the website, you will see a lot of overlap in information.

This particular model from Smith & Wesson comes in three calibers, 9mm, .40 S&W, and 357 SIG. So aside from the performance and recoil differences between the three calibers, most of the physical aspects of the M&P 40 are identical to that of the M&P9 and M&P 357. It is no real surprise given the modular design of the M&P handgun line that the factory magazines used by the M&P 40 are stamped for the 357 SIG model as well.

For those of you unfamiliar with firearms or are relatively new to them, the Smith & Wesson M&P handgun model naming convention is based on the caliber that the handgun is chambered in. (M&P 9 = 9mm, M&P 40 = .40 S&W, M&P 45 = .45 ACP, etc.) Since there is hardly any difference in outward appearances between the 9mm, .40 S&W, and .357 SIG models, the top of the barrel is stamped with the caliber used by the handgun.

Smith & Wesson M&P .40 Specs

My M&P 40 came with a carrying case, three 15 round capacity magazines, a user manual, chamber plug, carrying case lock (not shown above) and three interchangeable grip backstraps. My particular model of Smith and Wesson M&P 40 is considered a base model as it does not have the optional ambidextrous thumb safety, internal lock, or a magazine lock installed. The one extra I did opt for when I purchased my M&P 40 is the Tritium night sights. I have put close to a thousand rounds down range with the three magazines experiencing no problems.

Ergonomics: If the feel and fit of a handgun in your hand is absolutely paramount, the Smith and Wesson M&P 40, with its superior ergonomics, is sure to grab your attention. The M&P 40 clearly demonstrates why other gun manufacturers should pay attention to the ergonomics of their products.

The releases and levers are large and easy to use. This handgun’s edges are rounded, tapered, and trimmed to present a cleaner looking profile. Straight out of the box, the M&P 40, with its ambidextrous controls, will draw favor from both left-handed or right-handed shooters alike.

The magazine release button comes set for a right-handed shooter, but the manual shows you how to reverse the magazine release to accommodate a left-handed shooter. Because of the ambidextrous nature of the M&P 40, releasing the magazine and reloading this weapon can be done without having to switch hands in the process.

The magazines slide in and out of the M&P 40 without a fuss. Another plus feature is the ability to swap out the back strap with a different size to better fit the grip of the handgun to your hand. Smith & Wesson’s attention to detail extends beyond the ambidextrous features. The angled wave design grip else on the back of the M&P’s slide is a unique feature I haven’t see really anywhere. This wave design allows for easier opening of the slide should your hands be wet or are wearing gloves.

Smith & Wesson M&P .40 Safety Features

Safety Features: There are two safety features, loaded chamber indicator and integrated trigger safety, that you will find default in all M&P 40 models regardless of the version of M&P that you purchase. The first safety feature is a loaded chamber indicator located behind the caliber stamp on the barrel. The loaded chamber indicator is a hole in the top of the handgun.

If a round is loaded in the chamber you will see the brass or silver-colored rim of the bullet showing when you look down into the indicator. In situations where you find pulling the slide back to check if the handgun is loaded is not feasible (noise discipline), the loaded chamber indicator is a great at-a-glance feature. The second safety feature is the integrated trigger safety.

While I understand the intent of this safety feature, I am of the opinion that an integrated trigger safety ruins a perfectly, good trigger squeeze. Given the choice, I’d much prefer a pairing of a grip safety with an ambidextrous thumb safety (items found on certain types of 1911 handguns like the Taurus P1911) over any integrated trigger safety. I see M&P 40’s integrated trigger safety as the biggest detractor from an otherwise excellent handgun. Smith & Wesson’s trigger safety literally takes up half of the trigger. This safety feature forces the shooter to slide a finger down then into fire the handgun.

My wife, father-in-law, and I found ourselves hitting the bottom part of the target when we first started out using the Smith & Wesson M&P 40 due to this safety feature. I have had to spend a considerable amount of time learning to compensate for the trigger safety in order to hit targets where I want them. Trigger Pull: The only so-so feature I’ve encountered outside of the trigger safety so far in the M&P 40 design is a trigger pull of 6.5 pounds needed to fire the handgun.

In my opinion, 6.5 pounds is on the high side compared to other polymer frame handguns currently sold on the market. There is a competition trigger that you can buy and install to lower the trigger pull down to 4 pounds, but having to spend the extra money and ripping apart the M&P 40 all for a better trigger may be a detractor to some. Handling & Recoil: The M&P 40 is a very stable platform for the .40 S&W when compared to other brands with its taller profile and how well it fits into a shooter’s hand. Rapid firing 15 rounds from the M&P 40 accurately at a target 25 meters away is very doable I have found.

The M& P40 does share some characteristics common with .40 S&W platform. .40 S&W based polymer frame handguns, in general, have a top-heavy feel to them and tend to produce a ‘snappy’ recoil that is felt mostly in the wrists. The M&P 40 is no different from others polymer frame handguns in this regard.

My wife complains that the M&P 40 feels like it wants to jump out of her hands when she fires it. Personally, I find the recoil to be acceptable as the direction of the recoil is straight back. If this type of recoil is an issue for some, I’d recommend looking into the M&P 9 instead. Just keep in mind during the last ammunition shortage experienced in the United States, 9 mm was harder to come by than .40 S&W. Ammunition: Do NOT use +P+ (Plus-P-Plus) grade ammunition in this handgun.

The overpressure created by this type of cartridge will ruin the M&P 40. I have run Winchester, CCI Blazer, and Federal through my M&P 40 without experiencing one misfeed or failure to fire. The M&P 40 handles home defense ammunition like a champ. I heard a while back that Fiocchi 170gr FMJTC (Full Metal Jacket Truncated Cone) rounds had a bad habit of causing M&P 40s problems, but since I do not use ammunition made by Fiocchi I do not view it as an issue. Maintenance and Lubrication: This is another aspect about the M&P40 that I give high marks for. Unlike traditional construction, the M&P40’s frame only connects to the slide in four places. When fully assembled, you can see a visible gap between the slide and frame.

The advantage of this is fewer places for the carbon to bind up between the frame and slide. In many ways, this can be viewed as a self-cleaning feature as the points of contact scrape out the carbon in each pass. Lubricating the M&P 40 is not overly difficult as there are only 7 points that you need to make sure are lubricated on a regular basis. Glock 23 / M&P 40 comparison: To give everyone a better perspective of the M&P40, I have included a picture of my M&P 40 next to my Glock 23 (also chambered in .40 S&W) for comparing dimensions.

Given that Glock is considered by many to be the most popular handgun manufacturer in the United States, I thought it only proper to use one as a point of reference in this review. The Glock 23 was purchased within one month of my purchase of the M&P 40 and has had the same number of rounds fired from it as the M&P 40 has. Both firearms have night sights installed. The M&P 40 is a larger handgun in comparison to the Glock 23. The M&P 40 is physically longer, a hair wider, heavier, and has a taller profile than that of the Glock. Looking at factory magazines only, the M&P 40 carries 2 more rounds at 15 due to its taller profile. People with wider hands will like the M&P 40’s taller frame better.

On the surface, both firearms are as accurate as the shooter is. At 25 feet, 50 feet, and 75 feet, there is no real, discernible difference between the two firearms in the terms of accuracy. M&P 40’s .25” longer barrel it isn’t enough length difference to give it a definitive victory over the Glock 23 in long-range shooting. The advantage that M&P 40 has over the Glock 23 is more subtle in nature with the combination of the front and rear sights being farther apart, slightly longer barrel, and an adjustable rear sight.

Even though the recoil generated by each handgun with the same brand of ammo is effectively the same, I have to give M&P 40 the edge since it fits better into the hand than does the Glock 23. As the magazines empty, the force of the recoil is felt more in both models. The Glock 23 is designed for a right-handed shooter as all controls for the handgun are located on the left side. The M&P 40 ambidextrous design and reversible magazine release throws a bone to left-handed shooters. The M&P 40 edges are rounded versus the blocky design favored by Glock.

There is considerable tapering at the front end of the M&P 40 unlike the Glock 23 to allow for easier holstering of the weapon. The slide guard is much more pronounced on the M&P 40 offering better protecting against the slide biting into the meaty part of your hand between your thumb and index finger as the slide moves backward to eject a spent casing. The M&P 40 is easier to load when your hands are wet with the angled wave design on the back of the slide.

The M&P 40’s ability to swap out the back strap for different hand sizes if superior to that of Glock’s one size fits all approach in the Glock 23. The M& P40s equipment rail is longer and can accommodate a larger range of aftermarket items.

The Glock 23 has a better-integrated trigger safety with it being centered in the lower middle of the trigger instead of consuming half of the trigger like the M&P 40’s does. The Glock 23’s integrated trigger safety allows for a more natural trigger squeeze and does not require any modification to a well-practiced trigger squeeze. Disassembling the handguns clearly falls in favor of the M&P 40. The Glock 23 takes a bit more practice to disassemble with its tiny take down levers on both sides of the slide (both have to be engaged at the same time).

The Glock has to be dry fired in order to remove the slide. The M&P 40’s large single takedown lever is gentler on smaller hands. Using the frame tool, the M&P 40’s slide can come off without dry firing by pushing down the yellow colored sear deactivation lever in the back of the chamber. People with fat fingers will find trying to get at the lever without the tool frustrating and end up dry firing the M&P 40 like the Glock in order to get the slide off (quicker that way too).


I will admit that I am not a huge fan of polymer frame handguns as I prefer all metal ones like the 1911. It just means the manufacturer of a polymer frame handgun has to try harder to get my attention and win me over. Smith & Wesson M&P 40’s inexpensive price tag, quality, rugged reliability, and ergonomics are major reasons as to why I bought mine. There are a couple of issues that I have with the M&P40, but overall, the M&P40 handgun is a worthy addition to anyone’s collection. The anatomy of the M&P 40: Additional Review of the M&P 40: Jeff Quinn has a review on the M&P 40 worth a read. – http://www.gunblast.com/SW_MP.htm Disclaimer: I have no vested interested (financial or otherwise) in either Glock or Smith & Wesson outside of owning several of their products.

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