Good Riddance

Apparently, the .40 S&W cartridge is in a death spiral:

[S]ub-compact .40 S&W pistols are not very comfortable to shoot. They can generate as much as 30 percent more recoil than a 9 mm pistol, without offering that same level of increase in terminal performance. Not only are .40 S&W pistols less comfortable to shoot, they do not hold as much ammunition as a comparably sized 9 mm. The .40 S&W, which was not all that long ago the darling of law enforcement, is now falling from grace. One could argue that its time in the spotlight is over.
A substantial contribution to the .40 S&W’s decline in popularity was the announcement by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that they were returning to the 9 mm. This was shocking to folks who have followed and trusted the FBI’s work with regard to the terminal performance of handgun ammunition, especially considering that the FBI is the reason we have the .40 S&W. In case you didn’t know, after the 1986 FBI shootout in Miami, the Bureau began a search for the ultimate bullet and defensive handgun cartridge. The .40 S&W and the popular FBI guidelines for defensive handgun ammunition performance was the result of these efforts.

This is what happens when you let a government agency decide anything:  you get a compromise between two options which is somehow worse than either.  9mm Europellet:  marginal effectiveness but easy to shoot and lotsa boolets, as opposed to the .40 S&W:  not as easy to shoot, more effective than the 9mm but fewer boolets to spray around and injure/kill innocent bystanders.  (The exact same could be said for the .45 ACP, but don’t get me started.)

Simply stated:  there is no magic, do-it all cartridge because of Isaac Newton and the laws of physics, and the variety of tasks the cartridge is required to fill.  This is especially true of handgun cartridges because of the portability / concealability of the guns involved.

Also note that the rush to replace the 9mm Europellet was a result of a single incident — the 1986 Miami Shootout — and the knee-jerk panic that ensued among the Fibby top brass when faced with a pair of well-armed and -motivated mopes.  (See also the North Hollywood Bank Shootout a decade later, where law enforcement was similarly under-armed and essentially outfought for nearly an hour by another pair of choirboys.)  The Miami thing was notable for the fact that the Fibbies were using mostly handguns against rifles — never an optimal situation from a handgunner’s perspective — but instead of equipping all FBI cars with trunk guns (even M16s would have been okay), the idiots decided instead to change the handgun cartridge to a more powerful — and at the time, nonexistent — cartridge.  (Couldn’t go back to the .45 ACP or .357 Mag because that would have been tantamount to admitting that they fucked up in the first place by going to the wussy Europellet so as to make their handguns more palatable to the Bureau’s Dickless Traceys a.k.a. female agents.)

Speaking personally, I can’t say I’m too sad about the .40 S&W situation because I never could shoot the stupid thing worth a damn.  (At the time, I considered getting a Browning High Power in .40 S&W, but when I discovered that no matter what gun I used — Beretta 92F, Glock or Kahr — I couldn’t get all the boolets into the good part of a silhouette, I changed my mind.)  I found the hard snap  of the .40’s recoil less manageable than the push  of the .45 ACP (the 9mm barely recoils at all by comparison).

A couple of days ago I visited a new Scheels store just down the road from the range, and out of curiosity browsed in the Ammo section.  Amongst all the bare shelves, the most heavily-stocked items in the handgun section were .460 S&W (another dud) and the .40 S&W, which is I guess the only upside for you if you have a gun thus chambered.

(I also saw a gently-used Winchester 94 in .32 Win Special, and if I’d had a spare grand in my pocket, it would have come home with me.  But let’s not go there.)

My suggestion to the Fibbies would be to let agents carry either .45 ACP, .357 Mag or 9mm guns, with a “minimum ammo carry” of, say, thirty rounds. I know:  what if there’s another Miami shootout?  Two words: trunk rifles.

Anyway, the chicks and girlymen would probably end up with 9mm pieces and two 15-round mags, while the 1911 guys would have four mags and the revolver guys five speedloaders.  I doubt that the goblins would know the difference.

But that would make way too much sense for a Gummint agency which insists on caliber uniformity, for no good reason.  Idiots.


  1. My idea has always been thus, carry a gun you are comfortable with, and lots of bullets – more than you will probably ever need. I think of it in balance, Beretta 92FS at 4 0’clock and (4) 17rd mags of 9mm at 8 o’clock. I’ve never HAD to use that stuff but if I do I want to have confidence there is enough. 17×5=85

    There are plenty of guns out there I’ll never miss.

  2. Don’t even get me started on the Browning Hi Power in 40 S & W.

    It’s a fairly fun (and fine) gun in 9mm, but it is perfectly wretched in 40.

    I had a couple of them years ago and they represent a very small minority of guns I traded away that I never wanted back.

    1. I had a .40 Hi Power, it shot patterns, not groups. Got rid of it. Then I got a CZ in .40, it did shoot groups, but just barely. Got rid of it and all the .40 ammo, and haven’t looked back. I shoot 9, .357 and .45 just fine, but never cared for the recoil impulse of .40.

      I watched a husband and wife pair of new shooters at the range one day, they couldn’t hit the side of a barn. I asked them a few questions and checked their handguns. Some counter guy at the range had sold them both compact .40s, plus she was a tiny little thing. They were using tea cup holds, too. I taught them proper holds, at least. Shame on the counter guy.

      1. Few weeks back an idiot brought his girlfriend in to try shooting for the first time and when she asked which one to try, idiot said “Give her a .40 compact.”

        I pointed out that that’s a lousy damned choice(more politely worded) for a first-time shooter and recommended a mid-size or compact 9.

        He was pissed, but she listed, took a M&P Compact, and had a ball.

  3. Despite what weasleword mendacity may have been spoken, the reason LE went to the Europellet was diversity. Wimmen with reduced upper body strength (yeah, I’ve seen Sarah Conner and she ain’t typical) and young “urban” males who learned about guns from the movies, like 9mm because it don’t kick and you can spray & pray with it. The 40 Short & Weak was just a marketing gimmick for the gunmakers (mostly Glock) and now they’re going to use the “come to your senses” Europellet to sell a whole new generation of LE guns. It’s funny.

    BTW, I carry a J-frame in .38 Spl, so I have the best of both worlds… 😉

  4. Also, the Miami Shootout DID result in the development of a more effective cartridge – the 10mm Auto. Problem was it takes a real shooter to use it effectively and it kills the fuck out of people, even when you just shoot ’em a little bit with it. That’s, as they now say for no intelligent reason, “bad optics”.

    1. I will keep my 10mm. It holds 5 more bullets than my 45 and can send a 200 grain JHP at 1150 fps.

  5. I just carry a secondary and sometimes tertiary handgun One on the hip, one in the pocket, one on the ankle.

    To para-quote the Big Easy, “If that don’t work, I’ll piss on ‘im”

    Alternatively, para-quote Unforgiven, “I don’t wanna be killed for lack of shootin’ back”

  6. My experience with recoil (and thus recovery time) vis the 40 and the 45 is exactly the same as yours. This in spite of shooting the 45 in a compact and the 40 in a service pistol (both Glocks). The energy numbers say the 45 should have more recoil but it doesn’t feel that way. I long ago converted the 40 to a 9 and use it as a training pistol. Kept the 40 barrel and mags as a hedge against ammo shortages but my main hedge is a pile of 9.

  7. While the guns took the blame in Miami, absent from the discussion was that the FBI fucked up by the numbers, tactically. Agents without body armor, agents that put their guns on the car seat before ramming the perps car, causing said guns to follow Newton’s laws and end up in parts unknown, their best shot losing his glasses in the crash and becoming combat ineffective because you can’t shoot what you can’t see. We won’t even get into them carrying nothing heavier than pistols.

    Imagine, if you will, you and a number of other commenters here are told “We’ve got two bad guys, armed with rifles, that need to be stopped right now and with extreme prejudice.” How would you handle it differently than we FEEBs did?

    My suggestion:
    Find out which way they’re heading, put guys with high-power, scoped rifles on the roofs along the route. First shots disable the car, follow up shots disable the perps should they unass the car in any manner but with hands up. Have the car followed by a van full of guy with AR-15s, AK-47s or subguns to provide an assault should the snipers (who can STILL provide over-watch) fail to take the perps down, or the same guys in the van can apply the cuffs should the perps decide to come along peacably. In all likelihood the perps would be the only casualties once the festivities begin.

    Sounds a lot better than “Lets ram their car and see what happens” don’t it?

    1. I’m guessing “Follow them home, wait until they go to sleep then burn their fookin house down around them” is not a viable option?

      And people wonder why I’m not a cop…

      Follow them home and send the SWAT team in a 03:30.

  8. The real problem of .40 is internal ballistics. A gun designed for 9mm will blow itself apart when chambered in .40. Compare to how long a Glock 22 lasts vs. a 17. The only real solution is to design for .40 in the first place (ex: HK USP), but then the extra size and weight becomes starkly obvious.

  9. I don’t really look at 9mm as a downgrade from .40 or .45… it’s an upgrade from .380. Picked up a Hellcat as a massive upgrade to the Bodyguard 380 I had been using for ‘less permissive’ carry, and now having a backup mag means I have 27rds (Somehow mine came with 2x 13-rounders, instead of one 13 and one 11) instead of the 13rds I was carrying before.

    Now for the fibbies? You’re a federal agent, required to be armed at all times. And you don’t have the problem that I do of “non-permissive” areas and needing such a deep-conceal platform. So if the .gov says 9mm, rock an XDm Elite with 22+1 and carry ALL the boolits. But the ammo consistency for them? Makes sense for me and my green pajama wearing buddies in a foreign land somewhere, but domestically? Yeah, notsomuch. And I’d allow ‘trunk pistols’ for them too, as long as they have ATF-unfriendly braces and are chambered in .223, .300 Blackout, or .458 SOCOM…

    Aside: SWMBO loves her XDm .40 (which doubles as my bedside gun since it has the highest capacity and a tac rail for a light). She hated my Bodyguard (put literally one round through it and never touched it again), but has no issues with the .40.

  10. Two events, in completely separate parts of the country, from 30+ years ago doesn’t change my opinion that almost all law enforcement should be given the Barney Fife load-out. One old .38 revolver and a single bullet that they carry in their pocket.

    More seriously, I’ve read (and agree with) the statement that cops win shootouts simply because more cops show up than criminals. The radio is their best weapon. I’m disinclined to agree with any further militarization of the po-po.

    1. Jeff Cooper advocated the use of lever-action carbines as trunk rifles. Reliable, effective, and simplicity that requires less training to achieve competency.

      Speaking of training, it is as important, or maybe more important, than equipment. That includes proper implementation of training, without which the former is a waste of time, at best.

      1. In my visit to Gunsight many years ago, the guy who won the rifle shootout was using a Winchester 94.

  11. A family friend told me just yesterday that he wanted a weapon and asked what should he get? I suggested a time machine to go back a couple years so he would have better choices at sensible prices.
    That aside, there were two factors in my recommending a 9mm. First, modern 9mm defensive bullets are just as good as anything in .40 or .45 (just ask Tam Keel, she’ll tell you, endlessly). Yeah, I am not really convinced, either, but for a new shooter, probably a good start. Second, the world is awash in 9mm and certainly more will come here at the current prices. Not so much for fotay (or god’s cartridge, either), although I am surprised our genial host found some on the shelf.

  12. One good thing about this shift (and I agree the 40 is an answer in search of a question) is the flood of LEO turn-in handguns in 40. I picked up a lightly used S&W MP40 with three magazines for $250. Grabbed a few hundred rounds, shot half of it to confirm function and reliability, set it aside. Now I have something that consumes different ammo in times of shortages and a spare to hand to a buddy should things get sporty.

  13. Yes – my local gunshop has .40 in stock and at reasonable prices. I have a carbine in .40 and if the ammo situation doesn’t improve in a few months, I’ll have a pistol in .40 too.

  14. A big part of the problem with the FBI (and other police agencies) is the push for everybody to carry the same weapon. It makes sense in the Army, where you might have to pick up a fallen buddy’s ammo and use it, but if police are in that situation, they’re already pretty much screwed. Sure, they might save a few bucks by bulk-buying .40 S&W, but since when has that been a consideration to the government?

    1. It makes sense for *any* large organization responsible for logistics and training.

      All agents trained to the same (minimal) standard on a standard piece of hardware.

      All practice facilities and armorers get allotments based on one variable (number of people supported), not three (people, firearm types, calibers).

      The difference in fight ending between a 9mm and .45 pistols *IN THE REAL WORLD* is minimal, mostly because as fighting weapons both suck, so issue something everybody can train on and use, and then have a carefully crafted policy that allows individuals to carry what they shoot better, but they only get the same training ammo everyone else does. And of course your special units get what they can justify.

      You expect a fight, you bring a shotgun or a rifle. And as many trained friends with shotguns and rifles.

      As for the Hollywood Shootout, to quote the philosopher Ron White “I can see his head, shoot him in the head”.

  15. I’ve never liked the feel of shooting the .40 for the reasons listed above. The reason though the Feebs didn’t go back to the .357 or .45 probably had more to do with “if we use something we already have we can’t request a larger budget next year for procurement ” type thing.

    1. The 10mm is a better combat round than either 9mm or .45 for people who are young enough not to care about arthritis, strong enough to handle it, and have big enough hands to grab it.

      But the FBI is (or should be) even less about getting into gun fights than local police. They should be more interested in forming good relationships with local PD and providing the sorts of assets that are logistical problems for local PDs, and providing inter-state coordination.

      Well, when they aren’t trying to overthrow the duly elected government of their own country.

      1. “…forming good relationships with local PD…”
        OMG, we can’t have that happen in OUR FBI!
        There are standards of obnoxiousness that must be upheld.

  16. The 40 SW will be around a long time and it is a good thing. I switched to a 40 a couple years ago both as my carry piece and bed side piece. It is a very good compromise between size and having more energy.

    First thing to note, the 40 SW has about 25-30% more muzzle energy than a 9mm. That is not night and day but it is significant and it is what you are getting for your 25-30% more kick.

    By switching my carry piece to 40 i have that extra energy available in a piece that is almost exactly the same size as my previous carry piece (a Ruger LC9 to a Walther PPS). I do lose a round, but so what, the average number of rounds fired in a defensive shoot is about a hair over one, and the number of times where it is more than three is miniscule. BTW, I shoot the PPS better too (much better trigger).

    I like 45 too, but the subcompact 45s I looked at were all still larger and heavier. I will probably get a 45 bedside piece again eventually but I have a P99 I bought for a steal of a price that I shoot very well so I went with that – for now.

    Is 40 SW the best round ever, no. But there is a lot of space between a 9mm and 45 and it makes sense to have options in between.

    1. Gerry, you’re a lovely man and we go back a long way together, but… bite me.
      It’s mine, I tell you.

      1. LMAO Haters got to hate!
        I don’t blame you a bit.
        That was a very popular rifle hunting in the laurel thickets in PA when I started hunting eons ago.
        Shots were never more than 40 yards.
        I kick myself for not buying one several years ago but money was the issue.
        Second dumbest gun thing I ever did. Trading the Savage 99 was the dumbest

  17. I’ve shot several .40s and I was never that impressed with them. I would call the recoil “snappy” and borderline unpleasant. Honestly, I’d rather shoot a magnum.

    When my sister-in-law (she was a cop) died, I inherited her personal Glock in .40. That is a very different gun to shoot, and not unpleasant at all. I can’t tell you why it should be so, and obviously this is an unscientific anecdote. But I don’t mind shooting that one. And at this point in time, I don’t mind using the .40 I have on hand for range trips, since I don’t rely on that caliber.

  18. My wife had a Smith and Wesson M&P 9mm compact. It’s max capacity with factory mags is 12+1. It is a joy to shoot. Her cousin was getting rid of a M&P compact in .40S&W. I wanted a 9mm like my missus but I bought the 40 because it was available and I was helping her cousin out by giving him a fair pay at the time.

    Shooting both of them side by side there are differences. No doubt the 40 has a snappier recoil and the capacity is 10+1. I Compare 40 vs 45 to be similar in comparing 380 to 9mm. 40 and 380 are snappier felt recoil compared with 45 and 9mm.

    As much as consolidating calibers can make sense, having diverse calibers can also be an asset. Once 9mm, 45acp have sold out, 40 may linger on the shelves. That might be among the few benefits of 40S&W. Other than that, I see 40S&W as a compromise on everything else. Capacity, it gives your more than 45acp typically for similar sized handguns but lower capacity than a similar firearm in 9mm. Ballistics, it might give you more than 9mm but less than 45, etc etc.

    If this were several years ago, I’d suggest 9mm for new shooters because the variety of handguns and ammunition are available and very manageable to shoot well. Today I’d say buy whatever you can find and recognize the benefits and short comings of what you buy.


  19. You nailed it on the perceived recoil. Even 9mm is a snap, .40 is a hard snap. But .45ACP is a push. I have always preferred to shoot .45ACP.

    1. “But .45ACP is a push.”

      Yeah, with standard 230gr ammo at ~825 fps. The original CorBon 165gr in a 24oz Officers Model is flinch inducing. I think it was supersonic. Still didn’t work well on steel falling plates. Glad I only bought one box. The 200gr “flying ashtray” version was much better to shoot. Still trucking along about 1150 fps, IIRC.

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