One of my favorite benefits of being a woman who writes about guns is that I get to review guns, and I choose guns that I think women will like. So, when Smith & Wesson announced it had developed a Performance Center (PC) M&P 40 with a ported barrel, I wanted to get that gun out to the range. However, there is a problem. It’s a .40. I like .40 caliber guns, yet I wondered, “Could a ported .40 be the new 9mm?” and “Have women been brainwashed by the industry to think that any .40 is too heavy or bulky to carry?”
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Handguns in .40 caliber seem to take the back seat to slim, sexy 9mms.
The backstory of the .40 S&W
Nowadays, we use the name “9mm” to refer to a handgun and submachine gun cartridge used nearly universally by military and police forces. According to Bussard’s Ammo Encyclopedia, 5th Edition, the cartridge’s proper name is the 9x19mm Luger cartridge, but it is also called the 9x19mm, the 9 x 19mm, the 9mm Luger, the 9mm NATO, the 9x19mm 7N21, the 9mm Parabellum, the 9x19mm Parabellum, the 9mm Para, and lately simply the 9mm. Ever heard the word, Parabellum? It is Latin and means “for war,” and the 9mm was built for war use; in fact, the German Navy adopted it first, in 1904. According to the Ammo Encyclopedia, this cartridge is now the most popular handgun cartridge in the world.
The .40 S&W came on the heels of failures of 9mm and .38 SPL caliber handgun ammunition to produce immediately lethal stops of criminals in the field. The most infamous is the firefight between 8 FBI agents and 2 bank robbers in Miami, Florida, on April 11, 1986, that resulted in the deaths of 2 agents and both robbers, and the serious injury of 5 agents. According to forensic analysis after the Miami firefight (see Forensic Analysis of the April 11, 1986, FBI Firefight by Dr. W. French Anderson), the shooting accuracy of the FBI agents was not at fault. The robbers continued to fight, killing 2 agents, after receiving non-survivable wounds. The robbers were hit, one six times and one 12 times, by Agents’ shots from 9mm, .38 SPL +P, and 12-gauge shotgun 00 buckshot ammunition.
The FBI took the lead in trying to find or develop a handgun and ammunition system that would give agents better immediate killing performance than the combinations they carried at the time. A portion of this process resulted in the creation of the .40 S&W and handguns to fire it. The new handgun and cartridge system is called the .40 S&W because Smith & Wesson developed the system; Winchester worked with S&W to design the cartridge. It was intended to match the FBI’s initial choice, a reduced-velocity 10mm Auto cartridge.
The .40 S&W is pretty much a 10mm Auto short, just like the .380 ACP is a 9mm short. By short, we’re talking about the .40 ammunition case, as it has nearly identical overall dimensions as the 10mm Auto but is a little more than one tenth of an inch shorter. The .40’s specified maximum length is also slightly shorter than the 9mm’s. As such, handgun designs for the 9mm can easily be adapted to .40, since the maximum chamber pressures are also the same for each cartridge. Shooters with smaller hands who have difficulty with a 10mm Auto or a .45 ACP can usually handle a .40 as well as they can a 9mm; someone who can successfully grip a high-capacity 9mm handgun can also grip a high-capacity .40 S&W.
In addition to a slightly larger bullet diameter, the advantages of the .40 S&W over the 9mm include greater muzzle energy because the .40 can launch heavier bullets at the same muzzle velocity as lighter bullets from the 9mm cartridge, and the .40 can fire heavier bullets than the 9.
Okay, if the .40 is better, why the switch back to 9s?
Ammo manufacturers claim that with their new projectile designs, 9mm ammunition is just as effective as .40, so there’s no reason to use .40 with its sharper recoil. In addition, since active military conflicts are winding down, there is a lot of surplus 9mm ammo from which to choose (this doesn’t apply to the .40, since it was not adopted by military services) for training. Also, some trainers say it’s easier to train someone with a 9mm than a .40, because of the 9mm’s lower perceived recoil. Lastly, a .40 handgun will be a tad heavier than similar 9mm, and generally won’t hold as many rounds in its magazines.
I wonder what will happen when the ammo companies apply the same new wondernine bullet technology to the .40 S&W (wait for it; it’s bound to happen).
But, is a .40 for you?
You may decide to look at a gun such as the Smith & Wesson PC M&P because it has been built for competition shooting, and, for self-defense. In the winter, where I live in the Ozarks, I will carry a gun such as this in a holster and train with it – indoors and outdoors – for carry purposes.
The ports, 2 in the barrel and 3 on each side of the top of the slide near the muzzle, reduce the muzzle flip on this gun. This somewhat eliminates the argument that a 9mm will beat a .40 any day in the felt recoil department. Now, a ported 9 will beat a ported 40, but that’s another test. In fact, another gun publication called this model a “flat shooter,” and that is a supreme compliment in the gun world.
The stainless-steel slide has 7 grooves cut at the back end, to help you grab the slide better. There is also a bilateral slide stop.
The more I shoot, the more I am becoming a total trigger snob, and I like the PC M&P’s crisp, 2-stage trigger. Smith & Wesson describes it as “enhanced,” and began building guns with smoother triggers and definable resets into its M&P line back in 2015.
Another reason I like this gun is its sights – HI VIZ Fiber Optic sights with orange dots at the back and apple green on the front.
S&W builds it with stainless steel in the chassis and barrel and high-strength polymer in its frame. It includes easily changeable grip inserts in small, medium and large sizes. The pistol also comes with a Picatinny-style rail in front of the trigger guard, for aftermarket lights or lasers. The slide has been fashioned to accept Trijicon, RMR, Leupold, Delta Point, Jpoint, Doctor, C-More STS and Insight® MRDS optics.
It also comes with 2 magazines that hold 15 rounds each; it’s somewhat unusual nowadays to get a new gun that includes more than one magazine.
Why will women like this gun?
I asked a female friend and a female family member to try this gun. Each liked it and could run the slide easily. Neither of these women has extensive firearms training, yet they had no problems with the gun or the size of it. I had placed the smallest of the 3 Palmswell grip inserts on the gun for them. The grip inserts have an aggressive texture, but not too aggressive, and the front portion of the grip also has a lighter texture.
This is a super easy gun to clean, too, and its recoil spring doesn’t want to be set free to fly across the room.
One of the other main reasons I like this gun is for dry fire purposes. It’s my go-to, with no ammo in the pistol or in the room, and a safe wall in front of me. This winter I am determined to dry fire more, and this gun, with its excellent sights, will be a super aid.
On the range, I tested 4 types of ammo – Remington’s UMC Pistol and High Terminal Performance, along with Hornady’s target and Critical Duty. I tested the pistol and ammo at 15 yards, and the smallest group of 3 fell within 1 inch and the largest, at 3.25 inches. Overall, averages ran between 2 and 2.5 inches for the various types of ammo. I chose 15 yards for the personal defense aspect. Later, I shot the gun at 25 yards on steel, liking the fast acquisition back onto the 8-inch disks.
I purchased the gun from Smith & Wesson recently, and am glad to add it to my line of personal defense guns.
Publisher/Editor Barbara Baird is a freelance writer in hunting, shooting and outdoor markets. She is a contributing editor at "SHOT Business," and her bylines are found at several top hunting and shooting publications, including NRA, NSSF and Field & Stream. View all posts by Barbara Baird