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Smith & Wesson M&P .40 Semi-Auto Pistol

Well designed and constructed for tough duty, the new M&P continues the legacy of fine S&W police pistols.

March 01, 2006  |  by Paul Scarlata - Also by this author

I would be willing to bet cash money that if you were to ask any veteran American law enforcement officer who is over the age of 35 to tell you what a “Military & Police” is, he or she would answer “Smith & Wesson’s most popular revolver.”

For most of the 20th century, the Smith & Wesson .38 Hand Ejector Military & Police (Model 10) revolver was the hands-down favorite sidearm of local, state, and federal police agencies in North America.

Introduced in 1899, the M&P revolver served as the launching platform for the most common revolver cartridge, the .38 S&W Special. More than 6 million M&P revolvers have been produced and manufactured, and the Model 10 is still being made today.

But times have changed since the days when almost every cop carried a .38 revolver. In the mid-1980s, American police switched their preference en masse from the revolver to the semi-auto pistol. And while S&W had a complete line of self-loading pistols, other manufacturers jumped into the market, and it wasn’t long before such brands as Glock, SIG, and Beretta had captured a significant share of the American police handgun market.

To counter the slide in its police sales, S&W has spent the last few years developing a new pistol that it believes addresses many of the problems inherent to polymer frame pistols. Now, I’m sure some of you are saying, “Great. That’s just what we need, another plastic pistol.” Well, be patient and keep reading because the M&P is not just another plastic pistol.

S&W introduced the new Military & Police Pistol late last year to a group of firearms writers, including myself. The event, which was held at S&W’s headquarters in Springfield, Mass., opened with Joe Bergeron explaining to us that the company saw the M&P as the means of recapturing the dominant position it once held in the U.S. police market. After attending a series of product lectures, observing the manufacturing process, and spending some trigger time with the M&P, I knew that it was really something special, and I wanted to evaluate it more thoroughly.

Design and Construction
The M&P’s frame design is what really sets it apart from its competitors. Immediately noticeable is an extended beavertail, which secures the pistol in the shooter’s hand and provides enhanced recoil control for fast, accurate follow-up shots. A grip angle of 18 degrees makes the M&P a natural “pointer.”

Less obvious but equally important is the M&P’s construction. Ridged steel rails are imbedded on either side of the M&P’s Zytel frame. They run from the front locking block to the rear sear housing block and not only strengthen the frame itself, but also reduce torque and frame flexing. In addition, the rails help create a chassis that provides consistent alignment of the trigger and sear, which cannot be affected by the expansion and contraction of the frame caused by heat or cold.

The M&P’s slide reciprocates on four steel rails. Two are part of the frame-mounted locking block, while the others are integral to the steel sear housing at the rear of the frame. These have, when viewed from the top, an oval shape that provides a small frame rail/insert bearing surface that provides sufficient support while reducing friction. They have the added benefit of creating a self-cleaning action, which removes debris from the frame rails to further enhance reliability.

M&P slides and barrels are machined from solid stainless steel then “through hardened.” This process produces both external and internal hardening. Both the slide and barrel also receive S&W’s proprietary Melonite finish, a heat treatment that not only protects the surface but penetrates the metal, combined with the through-hardening process produces a surface hardness of 68 HRc. This translates into enhanced immunity from wear and the environmental extremes that the pistol is likely to encounter during police service. In addition, the slide rails are thicker than those on most other brands of pistols.

M&P barrels have a “cone” muzzle configuration to provide consistent positioning for enhanced accuracy and produce less friction as the slide reciprocates. A captive recoil spring rides on a full-length, steel guide rod, while a semi-circular cut at the rear of the barrel hood allows the shooter to verify whether there is a round in the chamber.

Reliability is enhanced by an oversized extractor whose external location makes repair and replacement fast and simple. Novak Lo-Mount three-dot sights are standard but for those agencies desiring higher tech equipment, options include Trijicon night sights.

Because the M&P is a duty pistol, the designers wanted to make it easy to draw and reholster. Reholstering—especially when performed one handed—is facilitated by the tapered profile of the nose of the slide, while sharp cut serrations allow the slide to be retracted smooth, even with wet hands or when wearing gloves. An oversized trigger guard makes the M&P more user-friendly for officers wearing gloves while all edges, including those of the sights, are beveled to prevent abrasion to the shooter’s hands.

Scarlata was impressed with the M&P's performance on the range.

Breech locking is achieved by a barrel hood bearing on the front edge of the ejection port. When the pistol is fired, the barrel and slide move back and lock together until an angled lug on the barrel cams the barrel down on a frame-mounted locking block, allowing the slide to continue back, extracting and ejecting the spent cartridge case. The recoil spring then pulls the slide forward, stripping a new round from the magazine and chambering it. As the slide and barrel go into battery, the barrel hood moves up into the ejection port, locking the two units together.

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