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A case for .40 S&W

Once the darling of law enforcement, .40 S&W has fallen on hard times. As major federal agencies like the FBI switch back to 9mm; smaller state, county, and city agencies are following suit. The swing back to 9mm has been driven by improvements in pistol bullet technology that has rendered all service calibers pretty much the same in terms of terminal ballistics. Agencies have responded by ditching their harder recoiling and lower capacity guns in favor easier to shoot and more capacious 9mm pistols.

What does that mean for the .40? While it’s cool in some online circles to make fun of people who still choose .40 S&W, there is one good niche that this cartridge fills right now: affordable, reliable pistols. When I was running a retail store, one of our most common customers was someone with $300-$400 to spend on a defensive handgun. They would invariably end up looking at one of the mid to lower tier brands, because a new Glock, Beretta, Walther, or Sig was out of their price range. Most of these consumers were unaware of the secondary market in police trade in guns, most of which are in .40 S&W. A quick check of the common surplus websites shows deals like Glock 22s and 23s for $300-$350, Sig P229s for $375, and all sorts of other deals. There are even deals on 3rd Gen Smith & Wesson pistols, some of which are still available in 9mm, however the excellent 4006TSW is common on the secondary market right now.

The flip side to this is that .40 is slightly more difficult to shoot well than 9mm. I personally would argue that it’s not that much more difficult to shoot, but I also recognize that shooting is an integral part of my job that I train for. The sort of person who is going to spend three to four hundred dollars on a pistol isn’t likely to share my enthusiasm for shooting, or my budget for ammo. Which means that in theory they’d be better served with a gun that’s easier to shoot, like a cheap 9mm. I’m not entirely sold on that argument, because if we have a person who isn’t serious about getting good at shooting, they’re not going to practice and train with a 9mm any more than they would with a Sig P229 in .40 S&W. You could make the argument, and in fact I am, that the hypothetical person in this scenario is better served with a harder to shoot gun in .40 that comes from a reputable manufacturer than they are with a Taurus/Sccy/etc.

There are a lot of shooters that shoot .40 S&W pistols well. It is still the king of USPSA Limited division, and will stay that way for a long time barring a major rules change. Also, unlike 9mm it appears to be resistant to ammunition shortages. During the Great Obama Ammo Scare, even when distributors and shelves were barren of 9mm, .40 S&W was plentiful and relatively affordable. I’m not saying that you should ditch your 9mm guns and go buy Glock 35s and HK USPs in.40 S&W. However, there is still a place for .40, and a time where it makes more sense than a 9mm pistol. If you have a friend or acquaintance that’s thinking about a mid to low-tier 9mm for personal defense, help them out. Show them the glorious world of police trade in guns, and maybe even help them navigate the complexities of an online purchase.

Caleb Giddings
Caleb has over a decade of experience in the firearms industry as a professional competitive shooter, instructor, content creator, as well as other positions. He is also still serving in the USAFR as a Combat Arms Instructor.

He has a weird thing for Berettas, and if you follow him on social media you’ll see a lot of photos of his dog.
Caleb Giddings on InstagramCaleb Giddings on Youtube

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