By LC Judas
Each of the colors in the rainbow of self defense rounds, above, has its own purpose. Its dedicated group of proponents and detractors. Each slot in the spectrum is different from the others, but not all are given the same respect. Case in point: the red-headed stepchild of duty calibers – the .40 S&W. It may be considered superfluous by a lot of shooters, but when Smith & Wesson came up with this round, they changed the game . . .
In 1990 the .40S&W cartridge was designed to score a fat government contract with the FBI. Essentially, it was designed to take the place of lightly loaded 10mm rounds that were used by shooters who didn’t like the full-powered variety. The ballistics of the round were considered great at the time and are still more than passable today.
I got into shooting with a stock Glock 23 in .40S&W. Truth be told, that’s not a way you want to start any new shooter. The main reason being that a .40 polymer pistol isn’t terribly forgiving to a shooter trying to get over (or avoid developing) a flinching habit. And a .40’s snap and flash have induced plenty of cases of the yips in both new and experienced shooters.
So yes, that’s a drawback, but the caliber itself offers better muzzle energy and weight over 9mm when you compare similar loads. And it can do all this with less flash and recoil than its closely-related brother, the .357 SIG.
But let’s assume the typical human isn’t a walking ballistics calculator, nor are they also willing to tote a .50BMG rifle to assure target incapacitation for typical personal defense needs. To select a carry gun, most people run through a mental calculation, taking into account a number of factors. So let’s run the math.
To pick the right gun for you, you’ll need:
~ Enough rounds in your caliber of choice to handle the kinds of situations you anticipate are most likely crop up. Be that 5 rounds in a .38 Smith 642 or 19+1 in a 9mm Springfield XDM.
+ Security in the “stopping power” (air quotes used sarcastically) of your caliber and round choice, whatever flavor of the rainbow you prefer. I’ve met people who will talk you to death on the greatness of .22LR and others who claim to conceal a .50AE Desert Eagle on a regular basis. Whatever doesn’t sink your particular boat.
– Any recoil beyond your physical ability to control so that you can handle the pistol and keep it reliably on target – a subjective decision.
– Bulk, size and weight that you can’t comfortably carry in your typical style of dress. Here the heater frequently takes a back seat to style and seasonal considerations, which can mean less firepower (in the form of a smaller package or even none at all) rather than a change of clothes.
= Some general idea of a caliber and size of weapon for your lifestyle.
You take those four criteria and a few others — form factor, make of weapon, type of action, trigger, what you have experience shooting and what you trust — and then come up with a few choices east of the equal sign.
Now, being as arbitrary as a .40 Glock fanboy can be, six years ago I ran that equation and came up with an answer that equaled something compact with at least 12 rounds of a caliber bigger than 9mm. But since that was unlikely to come in a .45 package with the size and capacity I wanted, my choices ultimately came down to either the Glock 23 or the H&K USP Compact.
Since then I’ve run similar equations for determining what I’d carry for funerals, weddings and as a daily service weapon. And each situation can result in a different answer. For instance, I’m comfortable with a full size double stack 9mm on duty given the likelihood of being fired upon and having to return fire with plenty of capacity.
For a funeral or wedding, when I can’t conceal a larger capacity gun, I’m content with my Kahr P9 with 7+1 and a spare magazine because it’s manageable for its size, accurate and concealable. It’s also comfortable to carry all day and usually gets me past impromptu hugs without relatives wondering what that bulge is.
But back to the .40…it’s not for every occasion. But because nearly all .40 cal pistols share frame dimensions with their 9mm counterparts, you can usually find one that fits the carry situation you anticipate.
Tactically, in a full size double stack duty weapon, you (usually) lose 2 rounds if you’re going to carry .40 vs. 9mm. In the case of the Kahr P9, you lose only one. So most of the time you can do whatever you want with a .40 (in the same size and weight) that you would with a 9mm. It’s a great, versatile middle choice for EDC carry.
As I mentioned, there are plenty that consider the .40 neither here nor there. Less capacity and more recoil than a 9mm without the ballistics and stopping power of a .45. But for the reasons I already mentioned, it’s versatile and satisfies the guys who won’t carry anything that doesn’t start with a 4.
It suits what I imagine my needs to be and doesn’t weigh down my pants and make sitting a hassle like a threaded barrel 1911 in an IWB holster does. But it isn’t a caliber I have trouble believing will stop a potential adversary. I also handle it well, not only on the days I re-qualify, but also on the days I just go plinking at the range. In short, for me it’s the answer to my personal equation and it works.