Myth Destroyed: .40 S&W Isn’t Dead, It’s Just Sleeping

Myth Destroyed: .40 S&W Isn't Dead, It's Just Sleeping

In recent news, the Federal Bureau of Investigation declared they’re using a 9x19mm round in their newly issued Glocks. This goes counter to extensive testing and experimentation done with larger caliber handguns like the 10mm and .40 S&W. After all, if the lucrative FBI contract had never come up looking for a more ideal handgun round between the 9×19 and the .45 ACP, there may never have been as much emphasis put into its production.

For background on this issue, let’s discuss why the FBI began looking for a new round in the first place.

The FBI began searching for a new round after a deadly shooting in 1986 claimed the lives of several agents. One of the agents fired a 9mm round that stopped 2″ before penetrating the heart of one of his assailants. He died in the fight.

Col. Martin Fackler, MD, of the U.S Army Wound Ballistics Laboratory, gave comment to National Institute of Justice’s Relative Incapacitation Index (RII) studies in 1985 after the FBI began their practice of using ballistic gelatin to determine efficacy of a handgun round.

“These studies,” Fackler said, “ranked bullets solely according to the temporary cavity produced in ordnance gelatin. They assumed that incapacitation of the human target by a given bullet is directly proportional to temporary cavity size. No physiologic mechanism was even postulated for this supposed effect—much less proved. Temporary cavity size for a given bullet can be increased very simply by decreasing bullet weight and increasing velocity.”

So now that the FBI has stuck to using a 9x19mm Parabellum round and specifically chose Glock, does this mean that rounds like the .40 S&W are going to fade away?

Not likely.

Many gun manufacturers such as CZ-USA, Glock, Ruger, and others continue to develop .40 S&W handguns alongside their already popular 9mm varieties. For many gun owners, the .40 S&W is the perfect blend between a .45 ACP and a 9x19mm.

It used to be a big deal when a gun manufacturer like Ruger came out with a .40 S&W pistol. Now, it’s become industry standard.

Even though the FBI isn’t choosing the .40 S&W, there are still plenty of gun enthusiasts and concealed carriers who swear by the round. In terms of big government contracts, it seems the Internal Revenue Service has purchased a sizable number of Glock handguns chambered in .40 S&W. So, while the FBI may not give a hoot about the round, it seems other government agencies are jumping on board the .40 S&W train.

So the tax man is carrying .40 S&W, now?

A lot of the benefits in a pistol chambered in .40 S&W come directly from how well the pistol is designed. A short, compact pistol is going to have less of an ability to absorb and distribute recoil effectively. This is going to make a snappier shot. Full size pistols will better absorb and distribute recoil to make the shooting experience smooth.

In terms of upcoming releases, we’ll have to wait until SHOT Show 2017 in Las Vegas before knowing what the industry is coming out with for this caliber.

Photo by Oleg Volk

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  • I guess. Don’t own a 40, probably never will, I don’t have a reason to buy one and if I was going to buy a new pistol, it would probably be in a caliber that I already have, which is 45 and 9mm. If I was going to go off the reservation, it would be for something more interesting, like 38 Super, 10mm or 45 Super/460 Roland.

  • mtncharlie

    The 40 Smith is an excellent round, though it may be a bit much for the new FBI recruits who have delicate hands. I have a Shield 40, and even with RA I don’t consider it to have excessive recoil. Maybe the 9 mm will do as good a job, but why do dangerous game hunters choose a 460 Weatherby over a 375 H&H?

    • Who says they do (460 to 375)? If someone wants a more powerful cartridge than the 9mm, there are other choices than the 40 s&w. The 10mm, the 45 in +p, 45 super, 460 rowland, 357 sig possibly and even the 50 GI. There are 38 Super loads that approach 357 sig levels as well. If one doesn’t mind a revolver, there are way more powerful cartridges…The 686 Plus would be a fine gun and if I could have a Jovino Effector in 45LC or 41 mag, that would work pretty well too.

  • Harry Frank

    Why wait for the gun show to see what’s new? The Sig P239 is already the perfect handgun. More seriously, the .40 is in the sweet-spot of the (admittedly controversial) Hatcher scale. Above 50, which means a better than .90 probability of stopping an opponent with a single round, and below 60, at which point recoil makes target re-acquisition difficult. BTW, I agree with mtncharlie that the .40 recoil even with my compact P239 is pretty nominal.

    • The recoil impulse is higher on the 40. When I took a CCW class, a girl next to me on the qualifying stage had a Kahr 40 and she had a hell of a time with that little pistol. She should have had a 9mm to qualify. I did as it’s easier to shoot. That said, people can learn to shoot anything, but it takes time and practice.

  • Gene

    The Ruger SR40 was my first handgun purchase ever a few years back…still my favorite and we now have multiple 9mm in the collection as well.

  • Johnny Steele

    The reason the fbi went from 9mm to 40 is a well known story. Did anyone read why they recently reversed their decision?

    • I tried to post a youtube video and wasn’t allowed to I guess. Hilarious because they let these chicks post selling some scheme, but I can’t post a video relevant to your question. Stunads. Go to Yankee Marshall. He did a video on it.

  • Bdpenn

    I own 2 of each 9mm, 40 and 45 cal semi autos. The only one that I can’t group out a bullseye at 15 yards is with my Glock 23. My XD service 40 no problem single handed. With the Glock the grip angle changes my wrist angle and thick trigger guard bites into my strong hand center finger large knuckle. Of course my accuracy is apparent right away but the comfort factor becomes a major issue with my forearm and knuckle after the second or third magazine.
    I guess my point is if the FBI is having problems with proficiency with the Glock in 40 cal maybe it’s the gun and not the round.

    • nicholsda

      Give them a S&W 4006 and the recoil problem would go away. But then they’d have complaints about it being too heavy.

  • Timothyf7

    I bought a CZ P-09 in .40 back in the in the Winter when there was a Dealer o/s. I went in to buy the P-09 9mm but my dealer was out and had the .40 marked ridiculously cheap. I didn’t want to add another caliber to my arsenal, since I already had 5 calibers for pistols to stock. Best purchase I have made in a long time. Love the gun and the caliber. The .40 is big enough to offer significant stopping power and recoil in my CZ is the same as with my 9mm’s. I can’t wait to get to the range every month just to shoot it. The FB! had several reasons for going back to the 9mm… a lot of smaller officers (many women) could handle the 9mm easier; capacity was important (with a hit rate around 2 out of 10 during duress) even though it may be only 4-6 rounds: and cost of ammunition was considered – all led to switching back. The performance of the round was not a contributing factor. It is an excellent all-around round for those that don’t want to or can’t handle the .45 recoil and want more punch in their self-defense EDC. It is definitely not leaving anytime soon. You very rarely see anything negative said about the round from anyone that has a .40. It usually comes from the ones that don’t accept that anything less than a .45 is effective or from people that have never owned a .40 and want to justify why they don’t.

  • G8R8U2

    When I started looking for a new sub-compact EDC, I noticed that most tested ammo ballistics fell short of true 9mm power because of the shorter barrels; and decided that in order to get true 9mm power in a much smaller package I should probably just move up to .40 S&W. For example, a standard Federal 115 gr. JHP 9mm out of a full size Kimber with 5″ barrel clocks 1181 fps., and out of a full size Beretta 92 with a 4.875″ barrel 1171 fps.; but out of a Rohrbach with a 2.9″ barrel only gets 949 fps…. more than 200 fps less. The difference in energy from that velocity loss is considerable, 356 fpe, 350 fpe, and 229 fpe. Can you find hotter +P rounds for the smaller pistol that help make up for it? Yes, but they’re so much hotter and snappier in the tiny pistol that you might as well move up in caliber too.

    So, because the pistols I was looking at had almost identical dimensions in 9mm and .40 S&W, I went ahead and opted for the .40. Have never regretted it. First, a polymer CCW pistol isn’t a range plinker that I would typically take to the range and shoot all day for pleasure anyway; people usually shoot them enough to stay proficient with them. That said, the recoil really isn’t oppressive at all to me, even in the polymer pistol; I can shoot a few 50-round boxes in an outing and still enjoy it. For me, it made sense that if I’m going to have snappy if I want the performance, I might as well have the heavier bullets, with the bigger meplat, and the greater energy to go with it. But I realize we all have different tolerances and sensitivities to recoil; so it may not be for everyone.

  • Jojo Afable

    Most of the shooting studies that were collected on actual shooting shows poor training. Remember the botch bank robbery in LA. LAPD officers were more distracted by the noise and sound of high caliber firing. They have plenty of opportunity to shoot back. You have to watch your opponent. There was only two bank robbers and dozens of officers plus detectives. Every time they hear a shot, they all hide in fear. Even if shooter has full auto, he can only shoot where he’s aiming the rifle. So what are the other two dozen officers doing?????

    • Remedy

      The two bank robbers were in full body armor and were hit multiple times, or did you forget that
      bit of information? Weekend warriors and Monday morning quarterbacks make me sick. You;re all mouth and would drop your gun, piss your pants, and run for your life if engaged in a one on one
      gunfight.

      • The only thing that would have made a difference is if the cops had something more powerful, like 308 or 30-06. May be head shots, who knows, Whatever the case, no one was expecting fully armored guys with AKs. Not a good scene at all. On the other hand, We’ve seen a lot of time where cops spray and prayed. NYPD is famous for it and even on unarmed people. The Empire State Building shooting in 2012. They were shooting at one guy and hit several civilians. Amadou Diallo. How many shots (and he wasn’t armed)? They just paid out 4.5 million for shooting an unarmed guy. I have to wonder about their training.

  • Chris

    I started shooting .40 to go “major”

  • Jojo Afable

    A 0.22 lr caliber could have done it. My point? 9mm, 40 ca. Hit the target. How? Practice….

  • Kevin J. Reidy

    Last year I bought a couple ex-LEO Glock 22 2nd Gens, the price was just too cheap to pass up. Definitely not the gun I shoot five hundred rounds out of on a range trip, but enough to stay proficient with it.

    A bit snappy, but also a bit more powerful, a decent trade-off. Have no real problem shooting the round/gun.

    My SO had a problem shooting it, but she has small hands and likes shooting my SR9c as it fits her better and is nowhere near as snappy.

    There is some .40 coming onto the market now fairly cheap as some of the PD’s going to 9mm are selling off their stockpiles of ammo. Keep an eye out, picked up 1000rnds Winchester S&W 180 gr FMJ $0.30 a round.

    So not too $$$ to shoot.

  • Wayne Clark

    Looking to get a Px4 Storm & preferred 9mm basically for the lessor amo cost but I’ve notice lately, there’s really not that much difference. My concern now is, I’ve read where the 40 cal is rougher on the guns, I guess from the hotter loads. How much of a concern is this? I can find .40mm all over but not 9s…& cheaper too. Thoughts would be appreciated.

  • MS_Steve

    F the FBI… I no longer trust ANYTHING they spout, right Comrade Commie?

  • 2ThinkN_Do2

    One of my favorite firearms and reliable, accurate: Kahr MK40. Yep, a very small 40 caliber no less.

  • Bruce

    I.C.E. also uses the .40 SW

  • Jiheem Vo

    This article makes no sense auther. Is missing the point 1 new guns like ruger American aren’t even available in 40 because sales are down. Go on slickguns 40 cal gun are significantly cheaper than 9mm ones

  • SS

    The 9mm Luger is forever.

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