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Do we need the .40 S&W?

6205 Views 49 Replies 17 Participants Last post by  degatesjr

Before you break out the tar and feathers I want you to know that I own three .40's and like them.
My question really is why bother with the .40 when high performance ammo is available for the 9mm and the .45 ACP. Making the .40 neither fish nor fowl, but a "me too" cartridge.
Think that in the future my purchases will be either 9mm or .45 ACP.
In a military environment I'd take the .40 over the 9mm and the .45 ACP over both, if ball ammo is a requirement.
Your thoughts on this...folks.
Stephen, you may want to weigh in on this one...

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I still think the .40 S&W was a solution to a problem that didn't exist...BUT it is a GOOD solution to a problem that didn't exist. Meaning, that I find the .40 to be a pretty nice compromise of shootability and power.

That said, I own absolutely no .40 caliber handguns...nor do I have any desire to purchase a .40 caliber handgun...or carry one. For me, I have absolutely no use for the round...as I feel confident carrying a 9mm loaded with HPs. If I need something more my .45 ACP isn't far out of reach.

But I still think .40 is an excellent round. What exact purpose it serves I don't quite understand, but I know that it does it's job as being a middle ground between 9mm and .45 quite well.

Hi there all,

I thought that I would weigh in on this one because I keep hearing that the .40 S&W is a "solution to a problem that didn't exist". Well, maybe not now, but back then there was a "percieved" void in "stopping power.

As my college professors used to say, "let me present my bias on the debate". Yes, I own and shoot the .40 S&W and up to throughout the time it was developed by Winchester and Smith & Wesson the search was on for a better performing LEO cartridge and delivery platform. Why? The lack of better performing 9mm loads and the majority of .45 auto pistols were hamstrung with reduced capacity single stack capability.

I think the next decade that the shooting/stopping stats will bear out that the .40 S&W does fill its intended niche.

However, over time we have seen vast improvements in the power and load development for the 9mm auto cartridge with higher performing powders and better bullet design.

I don't know what your local LEO carries in their holster where you all live, but here in SC more often than not it is a .40 S&W handgun.

I would enjoy starting a thread with a poll, "What cartridge does your local/state LEO carry?" Even with a minor sampling the results would prove interesting.

Love it, hate it, ignore it, the .40 S&W is here to stay.

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Thanks in part to competition from the .40 S&W, 9mm ammunition has been improved. Think about it: 9mm had a hundred years to develop, and up until fifteen or twenty years ago had pretty much stagnated, with 115 grain Winchester Silvertip and 115 grain Winchester +P+ "Illinois State Police" loads being the gold standards. Ironically, the ISP now uses .40 caliber pistols.

When I got my first .40 in 1992, it was a better caliber than most of the 9mms then available, because of the size of the bullet if for no other reason. Today, I think well-chosen loads in either caliber will do you justice, if fired accurately. I like competition! Everybody wins! Bring it on!
I like the .40 S&W. I think this is what Elmer Keith and Bill Jordan were after when they brought about the .41 magnum, which was too much of a good thing -- police officers didn't really need another heavy N frame. Personally, I like that 180 grain bullet moving at the same speed as most 9mm rounds. Which is not to say that I don't like the 9mm -- with primo ammunition, it is a fine caliber. Oh yeah, while I'm doing disclaimers, I like my .41 magnum also. Great hunting gun and lots of fun with silhouettes.
The .40 became trendy in law enforcement circles in the 90s and was foisted on a lot of departments, (fortunately not mine). I don't like em, never did and never will. The older I get, the more I realize that .45acp, 9mm, .357 Magnum and .38 Special, always were and still are.. enough. As far as I am concerned they keep inventing new calibers to keep selling new guns, afterall, an S&W Model 10 that is well-maintained will last almost forever and you can buy ammo at WalMart, where's the profit for the gun industry in that? Nope, they've gotta keep stirring the pot. Caveat Emptor.
I have sold all but one of my pistols chambered in .40SW. However I do like the round and believe it offers great performance for an auto loading cartridge. Especially the full (velocity) power 155gr and 165gr loads. I really do think they produce way too much recoil and muzzle flip in light polymer framed handguns. They are better suited for alloy or steel framed guns. For now I'll keep my 2 .45ACPs and 9mm Para.
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I only own one .40, it's a Hipower, and it's my carry gun. I find it to be a good compromise in power versus capacity, 10+1 in the gun and 10 more in the pocket works for me, and it's shooting 155 grain bullets at the same speed as a hot 9mm load shooting 124. I see it as a beefed up 9mm, other see it as a watered down .45. I find it to be extremely accurate and easily controllable in a Hipwer. I've put about 5,000 rounds through this gun in the last 4 months without a single glitch on the gun's part (I had a reloading oops once). I like the 1911, and will probably be buying one soon, but the low capacity nags at me for a carry gun and my tiny hands don't fit the hicap .45's.
I've given this question some real serious thought since my first reply to it. Do we need .40 S&W?? What a really great question!!

Then I thought.....do we need .357 Sig, or .45 GAP?
Gee after looking at the ballistics for the .45 GAP I really wondered why Glock would bother to even develope such a cartidge ::) Really would any disasterous police shootout have turned out any better if the LEOs had used .40 S&W????? Maybe so, or maybe not.

The FBI turned to the .40 after turning it's back on that oversized hand canon the 10mm. This was at a time when 9x19mm was all the rage and rave among police departments and civilians using semi-autos. Everyone seemed perfectly fine with the 9mm until a few high profile shootouts appeared in the media. Yeah bad guys with assault rifles shooting it out with FBI agents armed with only .38 special & 9mm pistols, with a 12 ga. shotgun available. It took too long to kill the well armed bad guys so everyone was brainwashed into believing that the 9mm (and .38 Spec) was no longer good anymore. Hmm....pistols against assault rifles....who do you think had superior firepower??? The outcome would have still been the same if the FBI had carried .45 ACP or if the .40 S&W had been available at that time. Then years later in 1997 North Hollywood.....LAPD armed with 9mm Berettas against bad guys with AKs and FALs wearing so much kevlar I'm amazed they could still stand up right. Get real, if 12ga shotguns with 00 buckshot couldn't stop those guys then why do some folks think a .45ACP or .40 S&W handgun would have??? They would NOT have saved the day either.

There is one old and excellent performing cartridge that has been used by both law enforcement and the outlaws of the gangster era. Yes it's the .38 Super. After seeing the ballistic and it's performance I wonder how such a cartidge could be so overlooked and under appreciated as this one is. Now mainly used by competition shooters in matches, rather than used for personal defense. Does it offer any special advantage to an untrained or under skilled shooter?? Probably not. Just amazed how everyone overlooks some good performers in favor of the latest greatest highly publicized new cartridge.

There was a really good post someone wrote on this forum about a retired NYPD cop on the beat during the 1950s who carried a .32 cal revolver and never felt under gunned with it. Going to the range today and seeing young folks with these new hand canons, he just chuckles and wonders if all this new stuff is overkill. It really does make me wonder if all these hot rod new cartridges offer any advantage?? The .38 Spec served as the predominat police cartridge for most of the 20th century (80 years) and is often still carried today.

People say that the criminals back then in the old days weren't like the bad guys today. They are right, in some cases these old bad guys were much much worse and far more dangerous that these punks of todays generation. Gee think of outlaws like Bonnie and Clyde and their Barrow Gang, Machine Gun Kelly, Baby Face Nelson, and Pretty Boy Floyd. These old bad guys really knew their guns and knew how to shoot too.

A bad guys is still human, no matter what era or how doped up he/she may be. A shot to the head or spine is a shot to the head or spine. A shot to a non-vital area still won't do much to stop many criminals. Tactics, strategy, mind set, and shot placement are far more important than caliber.
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Well based on my current lifestyle I reelly need the .40. Could only bring 1 gun to Hawaii, had no idea what I would get into brought a Para 1640... Light loads shoot IDPA, heavy loads for IPSC its minimum caliber for major, heavy hollowpoints pretty good at bowling pins. I Feel its a pretty much do everything pistol. Plus I dont like .45's simply because I manely shoot 9mm .223 and .40 (which coulda been .45) but changing the primer tool on a dillon is a pain. so i stick with small primer rounds.

Thanks for your thoughtful input. Lot's of good things about the .40 and darn little negative. Luckily, we have a choice in this country. This is a darn good one all things considered.

"The FBI turned to the .40 after turning it's back on that oversized hand canon the 10mm."

Only to the limp-wristed, pencil-pushing crowd, Brother! Only to the limp-wristed, pencil-pushing crowd!

My wife, Shelley, EASILY shoots the full-power 10mm loads out of my Glock 20 as if she had been doing it all of her life! Only pansies find the 10mm Auto pistol to be a "wrist-wrecker". All of the hype and stories to that effect are nothing but horsefeathers... AND I DON'T MEAN FEATHERS!

The .40 S&W is nothing but a 10mm auto set on "stun". LOL!
(Just kidding, but I can't personally see any use for it).

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Hi there,

One final thought from this side of the country.

The positive outcome of the development of the .40 S&W cartridge was the pressure to the rest of the ammunition industry to improve and develope better loads for existing cartridges.

We all benefited to some extent from the competition that it provided, as well as, a platform for an exciting line of firearms and loads!

If your wife shoots the 10mm well, that's great!! Though I don't own one I also have shot the 10 well, as well as another hand canon the .44 Magnum. I do enjoy them, but I don't find either of these guns to be practical for Police or LEO work. Are they practical for your average citizen to keep for home protection? Well yes, if that person sees the need!! Are they absolutely necessary for protection? No! Not from humans, I don't think so! For protection in the wilderness from wild critters?? Absoltely

My point was that for FBI purposes a 10mm sized handgun isn't practical, regardless of wrist strength. If I wore a suite to investigate and apprehend criminals, or even to work undercover as a cop I would want to carry something a lot more concealable, like a SIG P228, P229, or a Glock G23.

I still believe that caliber choice is only a fraction of the whole equation. I just know from hunting big game over the last 18 years, that one well placed shot is all that is ever needed. That huge safari grade ultra magnum caliber that a lot of people think that they need won't do you any good if you don't place your shot right. It's not different when using a handgun for personal protection against an agressive human.

No hunting is not at all like defending yourself, but I think that this whole myth of stopping power that we so often hear about is better understood if you actually kill a living thing i.e. elk, bear, deer, antelope. Folks who actually do this understand that even a high powered big game hunting rifle doesn't always produce instant results. Yet some people actually thing that a handgun will deliver instant results. Not so! You see ;)
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While I could be persuaded that we only *need* 3 handgun calibers; .22 lr, .45 ACP and .45 Colt(in the hot handloaded version), I think the variety is certainly nice to have.

The .40 is nice to put something marginally effective (as opposed to something less effective) in the "short" magazine format in which several nice guns come.

True enough, modern ammo advances close the gap but the .40 will always start bigger than the 9 and for me the .357 Sig is a non-starter (since is does not gain that much on the 9 for its cost in capacity).

This does not mean I think the 9 is useless, far from it. I admit, I do not know how to measure effectiveness (having tried for several decades) but whatever scale there is, the .40 is still between the 9 and .45. If you cannot have a .45 then the .40 will do :)

The FBI's problem in Miami was tactics not ammo. Then, being the "top law enforcement agency" in the U.S. it covered up the fault by blaiming the guns and ammo. And people actually fell for it. New bullet designs have been coming out steadily for many years but police agences are "chair bound" and run by people who are not "gun people", mostly lawyers, who worry more about liability than the safety of the officer or citizen. The .40 S&W is a solution to a nonexistant problem. If you like it, use it. I will stay with my 9mm or .45ACP
I keep hearing this repeated about Tactics vs Ammo. Sometimes by folks I greatly respect.

However, I must respectfully disagree. When you make two "million $ shots" (on a track for the heart) and one stops short by 1" and one stops short by 6", neither of them striking bone and penetrating less than 9" each then ammunition had a bearing. There were 4 other pistol hits that failed to penetrate to vitals also even though they were fairly well directed. Of course it was a tactical failure to take a handgun to a rifle fight, but one can certainly speculate pretty fairly that just a couple of inches more penetration probably (nothing is a sure thing) changed the outcome somewhat for the better for the good guys. OTOH, one can be thankful that Platt only had a .223!

I have looked at this thing in detail, and used it in many training sessions. The problem is Planning AND Tactics AND Ammo the three are not mutually exclusive...all three had a bearing and there were failures in all.

Jim H.
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Mr. H,

I thought the bullet penetrated to its designed depth. IIRC it was the Silvertip and penetrated, what, 10"-12" by design. Again, IIRC, it was chosen because of overpenetration concerns.

Is this correct?

Thanks sir,

Josh <><
The best I can tell, according to Dr. French Andersons excellent drawings from the autopsy. One of the two (most people only know about 1) 9mm Silvertips which strick Platt in the chest penetrated approximately 6" into the chest cavity. It also pentrated approximately 3" of flesh in the bicep (no bone). The other 9mm S.T. penetrated 2" of chest wall and approximately 4 to 5" of flesh in the forearm.

None of those measurements are exact because none were given in the text that I can recall and have to be estimated. But we have good drawings and actual pictures which we can go by.

I could be mistaken but at the time the Silver Tip was designed there was no standard of penetration they were trying to design to. This incident actually precipitated minimum penetration recomendations.

As an aside, 4 of the +P .38s penetrated less than 4" total!!!!

The one thing we learn from this that is very valuable - though it should have been obvious - is that bullets do not damage what they don't reach!

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