Having grown up around numerous firearms (most every member of my extended family is a gun owner), it was never really a question of if I would purchase my own gun, but when. Even though I had obtained a concealed carry permit in my early twenties, I didn’t bother purchasing a gun until I was 26 and worked in an extremely dangerous part of town. After doing a bit of research, I decided I wanted something with more capacity, stopping power, and safety than the .38 caliber revolvers most of my family carried. But I didn’t want to break the bank buying one. Beating the rush by exactly ten days, I walked into a local gun store and paid just over $400 for a brand-new Smith & Wesson Model 410 pistol on September 1, 2001.
The gun was chambered in the new-for-the-Nineties .40 S&W cartridge omnipresent in today’s police holsters. The company called the weapon the 411—until the Federal Assault Weapons Ban reduced its magazine capacity by one. The newly christened 410 was the big brother to the 9mm Model 910 that rounded out Smith & Wesson’s “Value Line”. Only the 910 survive today; it’s the last of S&W’s regular-production metal-framed pistols.
Based heavily on Smith & Wesson’s original post-WWII semi-auto (the Model 39), the 410′s “third generation” design is the company’s latest (and perhaps final) evolution of a hammer-fired, traditional-double-action, semi-automatic pistol. If you’re not familiar with traditional double action, it’s sort of a hybrid between a single-action-only pistol like a Model 1911 .45 Auto and a double-action-only gun like a Glock.
After you insert a loaded magazine and rack the slide to chamber a round, the hammer will be in the de-cocked position (assuming the thumb safety has been left engaged). The thumb safety’s engagement blocks the firing pin and fully disconnects the trigger from the firing mechanism.
Disengage the thumb safety and the gun is ready to fire a double-action shot—as soon as you pull the (fairly heavy) trigger. After firing the first shot double-action, the hammer will be automatically cocked by virtue of the slide’s rearward travel during the previous shot. This makes each subsequent shot a single-action affair with a much lighter trigger pull. (The first shot can be made single action by disengaging the thumb safety and manually cocking the hammer.)
If you want to stop firing before the magazine is empty and return the gun to a safe condition, re-engaging the thumb safety simultaneously de-cocks the hammer and disconnects the trigger. This without causing the gun to fire (though a round will remain in the chamber). If you press the magazine catch button and release the magazine, the Model 410 is completely inoperable. Even if there’s a round is in the chamber, the weapon will not fire; a feature rumored to have saved the lives of police officers wrestling with gun-grabbing perpetrators.
Although it might sound a little tricky, loading and firing the 410 is only slightly more complicated than today’s double-action-only handguns. The payoff: several of the 410’s safety features provide assurances sadly lacking from newer design’s passive safeties. For example,the Model 410 can be made ready to fire with the same singular thumb movement as a far-more-dangerous “cocked and locked” 1911 .45 Auto.
There’s a similar safety advantage over modern double-action-only guns: if my trigger was ever unintentionally pulled (God forbid), nothing would happen as long as the thumb safety was engaged. The same can’t be said for a Glock, which has no external safeties.
In case you hadn’t figured it out, safety is one of my top priorities. But so is being able to deploy my gun at a moment’s notice. I consider the Model 410 an excellent compromise between these competing priorities.
Of course, there are downsides to an older design like the Model 410. I typically shoot better groups with Springfield XDs and Glocks than I do with my Smith & Wesson. Recoil-wise—especially compared to modern polymer pistols—the 410’s metal frame is unforgiving. Again, the long, high-effort double-action trigger pull doesn’t do you any favors in the accuracy department, either.
As you can see, I’ve added Hogue rubber grips. They’ve reduced the gun’s kick considerably, and increased my level of physical comfort while shooting the gun. Accuracy is also improved; I’m consistently capable of attaining close groupings at self-defense distances.
My Model 410 is more than sufficient to protect myself and those I care about. Add to that the fact that I’ve only had half a dozen failures-to-feed (and no failures-to-extract) in nearly 3,000 rounds and you can see why I consider this solid, old design the perfect gun for me.