The .40 S&W cartridge seemed to be the ultimate high tech answer.

The .40 S&W cartridge seemed to be the ultimate high tech answer.

I felt like Ralphie must have when he got the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. I was proud of my gun and I was not shy about telling folks about it.

It was beautiful. I opened the black plastic container and there it was, a Glock 23 chambered in .40 Smith&Wesson. (Glock does not like to advertise for their competition so the actual packaging read “.40SW”) The calendar and the blowing drifts of snow in Northeast Ohio indicated that it was December, more specifically Christmas of 1993.  My new bride had just presented me with my gift.

Although the official Glock timeline states that production of the Glock 22 and 23 began at their South American plant in 1990, the guns would not be available in the United States until sometime later. I can distinctly recall requesting Glock sales material in early 1992 and receiving the three-fold brochure in a standard business-sized envelope.

The brochure enumerated the 3 Glock pistol models for sale at the time; G17, G19, and G17L (long barrel and slide for competition). That was it; three total. I purchased my first Glock 17 pistol for about $410 a short time later. However, like most young married men, I found myself short for bill money one month and sold it.

The Glock 23 was considered the pinnacle of the concealable fighting gun

The Glock 23 was considered the pinnacle of the concealable fighting gun

M1911A1

By the fall of 1993, I had read innumerable articles in myriad gun magazines about the .40. I had also studied the 1986 FBI Miami shootout and was infinitely familiar with the handgun cartridge schizophrenia that the Feds were experiencing.  The .40 Smith&Wesson round, that was developed as a joint venture by S&W and Winchester Ammunition, seemed like the cure to the FBI’s problems.

In December of 1993, I held both the title of United States Marine and Ohio Certified Peace Officer. In addition, I was home for the holidays from a contract working as an Executive Protection Agent (bodyguard). Nonetheless, my primary life experience with handguns included only the M1911A1 pistol and the M9 Beretta.

Baptized a Weaver-Stance shooting, 1911 guy by John Farnam in 1986, when I went through the Police Academy I used and then carried a Springfield Armory M1911A1 pistol that I purchased with my own money. Yes, Virginia, cops on small departments quite often had to secure their own guns way back when.

The .40 S&W cartridge seemed to me to be both exotic and high tech. When Israeli Military Industries released the .41 Action Express (AE) cartridge years earlier I was ate up with the desire to buy one, though that never happened. To my mind at the time, the subcompact G23 in .40SW was the pinnacle of a concealable fighting gun.

Ralphie

Along with my Christmas gift I had one box of Winchester 180 grain Jacketed Hollow Point ammunition, I filled one magazine and put the remainder of the 20 round box in the spare. It was one of the best Christmas presents I had ever received. I felt like Ralphie must have when he got the Daisy Red Ryder BB gun. I was proud of my gun and I was not shy about telling folks about it.

The author's Glock 22 with a 9mm conversion barrel.

The author’s Glock 22 with a 9mm conversion barrel.

During the next several years I launched literally thousands of rounds of .40 S&W through that G23. In the mid-90’s ammunition was plentiful and by today’s standards relatively inexpensive. The trigger components on the Glock pistol meshed with each other and the trigger press smoothed out considerably.  (*Author’s note: if you think the trigger on your Glock, M&P, etc is rough, try shooting it. The parts will break in.)

The year 1993 was also the beginning of my other career as a gun writer. For the next couple of decades, I would test and evaluate hundreds and then thousands of firearms. My experiences with a wide variety of handgun designs, actions, and cartridges grew immensely. I also sought out even more training and instruction.

In the early 2000’s I was out at the Gunsite Training Academy outside of Prescott, Arizona. I had my trusty G23 with a new set of XS Sights to test both day and night while there. I am pretty sure that Ken Hackathorn brought up the situation of .40 Glocks experiencing “out of battery” ignition issues. Several L.E. trainers were present; Rich Grassi, Dave Spaulding, Walt Rauch, Mike Boyle, and I remember them chiming in similarly.

Stress Fractures

A few years later a member of my department had a “Glock Explosion”. His G22 fired out of battery during in-service training. None of these incidents, as I recall, resulted in genuine injury to the shooters. The magazines blew out of the bottom of the guns and were ruined. The recovered cases were split open that the shooters’ hands “stung”.

Shot placement is more important than pistol caliber.

Shot placement is more important than pistol caliber.

Researching even further, I was told that department armorers were finding stress fractures and cracks inside of .40 S&W service guns regardless of manufacturer. Something that no one ever spoke of much in the early days was the fact that the .40 S&W was a “high pressure” cartridge while the .45 acp and 9x19mm were “low pressure” cartridges.

By the mid-2000’s I had purchased a 9x19mm conversion barrel for my G23 and went on to shoot literally thousands upon thousands of rounds of 9mm (all makes and designs) through the gun. I recall a conversation with Dave Spaulding on the training range at least ten years ago where Dave stated succinctly “I am over it” regarding the .40.

I suppose for me, I have been over the .40 S&W cartridge for a good while now. A large part of that reason is the cost of shooting .40 vs 9mm. Go to any store and you will find that .40 S&W ammunition is 25 to 35 percent higher when compared to 9x19mm.

Go For It

Also, and this is a big “also”, real-world shootings with the.40 S&W show no significant advantage for the cartridge over the .45 acp or 9mm. Shot placement is far more important. People have both expired or kept on fighting after being shot with all three of the aforementioned. The factor is always where did the bullet’s strike, not the size or weight of the bullet.

Twenty-some years after the adoption of the .40 S&W, the FBI is now over it too. Not surprisingly, myriad police agencies nationwide are feeling the same way. Glock L.E. reps are trading out G22 and G23 pistols for 4th Generation G17 and G19 all over the United States. That is good news for citizens that really want a Glock in .40. You’ll be able to pick up even more of them on the police trade-in market.

Would I turn down the offer of .40 S&W pistol? No, of course not, as long as you are offering me a case of ammunition in the bargain. If you have plenty of disposable income and have your heart set on the .40, go for it, you are an American. Know this though, the bloom is most certainly off the rose when it comes to the .40 S&W cartridge and the cold fact is that there are simply more practical choices.

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Paul G. Markel has worn many hats during his lifetime. He has been a U.S. Marine, Police Officer, Professional Bodyguard, and Small Arms and Tactics Instructor. Mr. Markel has been writing professionally for law enforcement and firearms periodicals for nearly twenty years with hundreds and hundreds of articles in print. Paul is a regular guest on nationally syndicated radio talk shows and subject matter expert in firearms training and use of force. Mr. Markel has been teaching safe and effective firearms handling to students young and old for decades and has worked actively with the 4-H Shooting Sports program. Paul holds numerous instructor certifications in multiple disciplines and a Bachelor’s degree in conflict resolution; nonetheless, he is and will remain a dedicated Student of the Gun.

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