For gun owners seeking an alternative to the 9mm and .45 ACP cartridges, the .40 S&W delivers a bullet with greater frontal surface area, expansion potential, and kinetic energy than standard-pressure 9mm loads.
At the same time, .40-caliber handguns can be more compact than those chambered in .45 ACP and tend to have higher magazine capacities. The result is a compromise suitable for concealed carry, home defense, and law enforcement.
Background on the .40-Cal Pistol
In 1990, the FBI adopted the 10mm Auto cartridge and the Smith & Wesson Model 1076 following several tests. In the wake of the deadly 1986 Miami shootout, which left two special agents dead and five severely wounded, the FBI determined it had inadequate weapons and training.
Part of the re-evaluation focused on handgun ammunition and how to improve the terminal performance. Full-power 10mm Auto ammunition was considered too powerful for practical purposes, so a reduced-pressure load was chosen instead.
Smith & Wesson discovered that it could replicate the ballistics of the 10mm FBI load in a cartridge with a shorter case, allowing it to be used in medium-framed handguns initially designed for the 9mm round. In a joint effort with Winchester, the two companies developed the .40 S&W cartridge, and Smith & Wesson announced a new handgun to fire it: The Model 4006.
However, Smith & Wesson was not the first firearms manufacturer to hit the market with a .40-caliber handgun. That honor belongs to Glock.
The Best .40-cal Pistols
The best handguns chambered in .40 S&W as self-defense or law-enforcement firearms need to fulfill certain universal criteria.
A self-defense firearm should be reliable and rugged above all else. If you depend on your weapon to protect your life, a malfunction can be costly. Always test your concealed-carry or home-defense handgun with the ammunition you intend to load it with to ensure optimal performance.
Reasonable accuracy is also important. A self-defense handgun doesn’t need to exhibit match-grade accuracy, but you should be able to keep your shots inside an area the size of a man’s chest at realistic shooting distances (e.g., five, 10, 15, and 25 meters). You should be able to see the sights under low-light conditions and acquire a sight picture easily.
You should be able to handle and operate the handgun without difficulty. Fortunately, many modern handguns feature some degree of modularity or customizability to ensure you’re able to adapt the weapon to your requirements.
Other factors, such as concealability, depend on the application. A home defense or truck gun doesn’t need to be concealable, so you can choose a weapon that holds more ammunition or recoils less.
The Glock 22 is the .40 S&W variant of the company’s full-size Glock 17, whereas the Glock 23 is the compact variant based on the G19. These were the first handguns to hit the market in the new caliber and remain popular among private citizens and law enforcement officers.
A polymer-framed, striker-fired handgun, the G22 weighs 34.39 oz. with a loaded magazine and 25.57 oz. when the magazine is empty. The standard magazine holds 15 rounds, but 16- and 22-round options are also available for increased firepower.
Like the G17, the G22 has a barrel length of 4.49”, a height (including magazine) of 5.47”, and an overall length of 8.03”.
The G23 is almost identical to the G19, except for the loaded weight, which is about an ounce heavier (31.22 oz. vs. 30.16 oz.). The standard magazine capacity for the G23 is 13 rounds, but it’s also compatible with 14-, 15-, 16-, and 22-round magazines. The reduced height of the G23 increases its suitability for concealed carry, as it’s less likely to print through clothing.
Beretta Px4 Storm
The Beretta Px4 Storm is a polymer-framed, hammer-fired, semi-automatic pistol that uses a short-recoil system with an innovative rotating barrel. Beretta advertises this system as having a recoil-reducing effect, reducing muzzle rise. Available in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP, the Px4 Storm is designed to offer a versatile option for self-defense.
Featuring an ambidextrous safety catch, a reversible magazine catch, and interchangeable backstraps, the Px4 Storm provides increased customizability for left-handed shooters. For attaching accessories, such as flashlights, there’s a Picatinny rail molded into the frame forward of the trigger guard.
The full-size variant weighs 27.7 oz. when unloaded, has a 4” barrel, a height of 5.51”, an overall length of 7.55”, and a magazine capacity of 14 rounds. The Px4 Compact substitutes a 3.27” barrel, has a height of 5” and an overall length of 6.8”, and holds 12 rounds per magazine.
The Walther PPQ, a development of the Walther P99, introduced more than a decade earlier, is a polymer-framed, striker-fired handgun. Although eclipsed by the new PDP, the PPQ remains a popular choice for self-defense. One of its most unique features is the “Quick Defense” trigger, ensuring consistency from shot to shot and a short reset.
The PPQ has a 4.2” barrel in .40 S&W and can accept magazines holding 10, 12, or 14 rounds, providing you with the flexibility you need.
S&W M&P 2.0
A modern S&W .40 pistol, the M&P 2.0 differs significantly from the steel-framed 4006 the company introduced three decades ago. The M&P 2.0 weighs 25.9 oz. and has an overall length of 7.4” (w/ a 4.25” barrel) or 27.4 oz. and an overall length of 8.25” (w/ a 5” barrel). Fed from a 15-round magazine, the M&P 2.0 provides ample capacity for responding to most threats.
There is also a variant with a 10-round magazine available for those who live in more restrictive jurisdictions. The M&P 2.0 features four interchangeable palm swell inserts to accommodate a range of shooters, allowing you to customize the weapon to suit your hand size and providing an ergonomic 18° grip angle.
The Best .40-cal Pistol Needs the Right Holster
At We the People Holsters, we offer rugged IWB and OWB Kydex holsters for various .40-caliber handguns, including all popular makes and models. Backed by a 12-month warranty, our holsters are 100% made in the US at our facility in Las Vegas, Nevada.