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.


This post currently has 4 responses

  • Agreed. .40 hasn’t changed just the way it is viewed. I own most calibers and they all have a place even if that place is just for fun or to be weird and different than the pack.
    Most factory 180 gr .40 S&W is sub sonic out of most pistols. It supresses very nicely and you have more capacity and a smaller grip frame than .45ACP and has more energy than specialty subsonic 9mm.
    My wife’s department is fazing out all of there.40’s and switching to 9mm. They are selling most guns to officers. I am waiting for them to let the ammunition go next. I predict in ten years us old timers will be telling the young guys about $280.00 Glocks and the few cases of ammo we bought and wishing we bought more of both when it was cheap.
    .40 is not perfect, but what is?

  • Excellent points here. Having carried one on duty when I was a police officer, I still have a high degree of confidence in the .40 S&W as far as one can with any handgun cartridge. I feel largely the same about the .357 SIG, which I have also carried as a duty sidearm. I recognize that these two cartridges are not for everyone, but I like them both and shoot them well and often.

    I really enjoy the fact that I can get some great deals on weapons in these calibers right now, particularly the .40 S&W. For example, I was looking for a dedicated “house gun” to leave in a secured location that had good capacity and the ability to install a weapon mounted light. I was able to purchase a never-issued, unfired Smith and Wesson M&P with three 15 round magazines for well under $350, and have a top quality gun at low cost. Just for fun, I also found a factory .357 SIG barrel for this gun on an auction site, for for $50 extra I now can shoot an additional caliber if I need to for some reason.

    I also buy some .40 caliber guns when I really want a different chambering. Not long ago, I was able to get a real deal on a SIG P226 simply because it was in the unloved .40 caliber. A few moments on the phone with SIG and my credit card got me a 9mm caliber exchange kit, as well as a .357 SIG barrel. Even considering the cost of the kit and barrel, I was still well under the price of a new P226 bought originally in 9mm. I also have the added bonus of retaining .40 and .357 caliber capability. I call it my “3 caliber SIG”.

    I also see the price of .40 caliber ammunition coming down to the point where it isn’t prohibitive to buy a case or two just to have it on hand. It isn’t as cheap to shoot as 9mm, but it isn’t awful either. So even though I believe the 9mm is probably the best primary choice for most shooters, I think the .40 is still very much alive, at least for some of us.

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