By Mike Keleher

I have been observing the trend away from .40 S&W pistols and ammunition for about five years now, and there has been a marked change in shooter/owner behaviors regarding this cartridge.

Back in 2013 I was down at a shooting school along with a guy from the FBI National Hostage Rescue Team who told me the FBI had been doing a caliber lethality study and were about to change their carry guns and caliber and release their findings away from the .40 Glocks they were carrying. He had a copy on his laptop that I really wanted to see, but it did not happen. I had to wait for almost two years to see it in print.

You probably recall the whole history of the FBI deciding they needed a more potent and penetrating cartridge than the .38 Special and 9mm following the 1986 Miami Shootou. The 10mm was invented specifically for the FBI-an actual 10mm pistol did not even exist at the time. Well the 10mm was later deemed to be "too much" for a variety of reasons and later the shortened 10mm became the .40 S&W  which the FBI adopted it as a compromise between the 9mm and the .45 ACP. One of the big advantages included you could mount a .40 S&W inside a 9mm frame sized pistol instead of having to go to a larger and stouter .45 ACP/10mm suitable frame.

The FBI adopted the .40 in Glock pistols in 1997 and the rest of the law enforcement world went that way, and the civilian market followed shortly thereafter. With a large caliber, sub sonic bullet in a small to medium sized pistol the world seemed to be once again on track. Sure, you lost a bit of magazine capacity over the 9mm pistols, but it was a lot more bullets than a .45 would hold.

However, with Physics, there is no such thing as a free lunch. If you have a larger, heavier bullet, you have more recoil than a 9mm. In fact, the .40 has a unique recoil vibration and feel that is down right sharp stuffed into compact guns like Glock 27s. Law enforcement also started seeing stress fractures more often in .40 guns, even in the vaunted Glocks, than in other calibers. It has never been my favorite caliber, but has been quite serviceable.

Way back in 2011, Greg Ellifritz published a head turning study about handgun “stopping power” where he researched actual gun fights for a 10-year period, talked to participants, coroners and collected police and autopsy reports following law enforcement and civilian shootings. The study, which is still available on the internet, “An Alternate Look at Handgun Stopping Power” really put a stake in the heart of the “Knockdown Power” and stopping power myths of the .45 ACP, .40 and 9mm.

One of his big findings was the one shot stop or incapacitation with a head or torso shot using a .38 Special, 9mm, .40 or .45 ACP were all about equal (8 percentage points difference between the four calibers.) Moreover, only half the human beings shot with a single round were incapacitated. The failure rate for the same four calibers was 13% to 17%..even with the .45 ACP.

By the way, the .357 Magnum was the best documented one shot show stopper, and Ellifritz concluded two shots on target by the .38, 9mm, .40 or .45 increased the likelihood of incapacitation to an effective level much more in line with what shooters would expect.

In 2014, the FBI released their study and came to very similar conclusions. They found two rounds from any of the four major calibers performed so similarly there was little statistical difference between them.

The FBI thus announced they were returning to the 9mm cartridge and abandoning the .40 S&W cartridge. In addition to effective stopping power, all law enforcement officers were already trained to evaluate and fire double and triple taps as necessary in "shoot to stop" training. The FBI also found the agent corps could shoot the 9mm pistols quicker, with less felt recoil, and the magazines held more rounds than the .40 or .45, and finally, they had better qualification scores with the 9mm than with the other calibers. They could just shoot the 9mm better-and if you shot a center mass target twice, it was as effective as as shooting a .40 twice, or a .45 twice, so why carry the heavier loads?

A few years after the FBI adopted the .40 my own agency swapped us all out from 9mm Sig 228’s to .40 Sig 229 pistols with the DAK trigger (DAK-a solution to a problem that did not really exist). I was already aware of the Elllifritz study, and when the FBI study was released announcing their findings I went back to my 9mm for every day carry. I already knew I shot the 9mm Sig faster and more accurately than I could shoot the same framed gun in .40-no revelation there, it just provided more confidence to depend upon the 9mm.

Since 2014-2015, I have been hearing about police agencies doing the same thing-they are moving back to 9mm pistols. As the FBI goes, so goes the rest of the law enforcement world and trailed by civilian buyers.

Measured effectiveness and confidence in the 9mm made it a good move. Police agencies were also seeing .40’s cracking some frame rails, locking blocks, and more than a few ejectors broke along the way. Police administrators aren’t always known for their forward thinking when firearms are involved-but they are always sharp on budget issues in a time where police funding has been cut back during the Obama years. When presented with the whole 9mm vs .40 issue, many administrators found their lucky nugget-9mm ammo is cheaper than .40 ammunition. Yes, cheaper often wins the day in public administration, and the public always votes with it's wallet. If you can shoot 9mm for about 1/3 the price of a .40, then it makes sense to balance that out when picking a new weapon.

Last month, I shot in a Pistol Caliber Carbine Championship competition. This is a burgeoning new sport, and most current carbine length guns can be chambered for 9mm and .40. At this compeition, one of the first of it's kind held at the national level, with several hundred shooters fielding the latest in competition guns, I did not see one gun chambered in .40.

I had a .40 Glock 22 which I just did not shoot anymore, and started offering it for sale among police acquaintances. For the last two years I looked for the opportunity and offered it up at training venues to a couple hundred trainees for private sale. I also posted it around some other discrete places like gun clubs. There were no bidders. Hell, there was no interest. No one would even talk about it.

I mentioned my Glock .40 at some gun shops and gun ranges in my area. None were interested in buying it outright. In fact, I also learned the gun buying public were not buying .40 guns and they were also not buying .40 ammunition-everything had gone back to 9mm in the last couple of years.

There are a boat load of .40 guns still in private hands-after all it was the go-to caliber for about fifteen years…but it seems sales and resales have gone pretty stagnant. A couple of range owners also told me they don’t even see expended .40 brass any more in the sweep up brass they collect off the range daily. It is just not being shot by private citizens.

My final observation that helped cinch my idea about the waning popularity of the cartridge, was seeing police trade in .40 pistols via internet distributors being sold for $300.00. Full sized, used Glock 22’s along with smaller Glock 23’s and 27’s were all cheaper than other LE trade in Glocks by at least $50.

I have always thought any Glock pistol in nearly any condition would bring $350-$400 as a used item. Seeing those .40’s for $300 was quite a remarkable thing.

On the upside, if you only need one gun, have a small budget, want a quality pistol, and you don’t shoot a lot so ammo costs are not an issue, a $300 Glock in .40 S&W is quite a bargain. The fact people are not buying or shooting them like they used to, does not detract from it’s value or viability as a modern cartridge and there are thousands of them in public hands.

Maybe it is still your favorite cartridge loading, it is has been routinely packed in the venerable Glock frame (and others) and I can’t argue the cartridge was originally designed by and for law enforcement to help stop bad people from engaging in bad behavior-and it has done so on many noted occasions.

Many police agencies still carry the .40 -and there will be more used police guns coming on to the market at discounted prices.The .40 has been very effective for the last two decades-the ballistics have not changed, just the studies showing other calibers are equally effectivereally make a price point difference.

There are so many .40’s in private hands the cartridge will never disappear, and if we go through ammo shortages like we did during the Obama years there will probably be more .40 left on the shelf because other people are buying up all the 9mm!

4 thoughts on “Is the .40 S&W Cartridge Extinct?”
  1. Sorry I disagree with your conclusions and the Federal Baby Incineraters studies! higher volume of fire does not make up for accuracy. ( have never yet seen a newbie gunfighter that could hit a standing target with less than 15 cartridges) in an actual gunfight, do you expouse 40 or 50 rounds down range as ok?

    With those Statistics then 2 shots from a .22 equals the capabilities of a .45, 9mm etc. plus the .22 will hold more rounds be lighter to carry, more cost ffective, easier to fire means more accuacy! or maybe the 9mm short {Kurtz. .380} or .32

    Only when women stated entering the service in large #'s was the .45 deemed obsolete!

    actually the .38 super should have been the American Nine to carry!

    once saw a body take 4 in the chest and keep on ticking until he killed a guy 7 feet away before one in the head put him dowm! that was with a 9 and military hard ball! Saw no failures to stop with A .45 and military hardball!

    why we practice (Miss less, more on target)


  2. There's always gonna be an exception when it comes to stopping surly people doing evil things., but I'll stick with my 9.  Never went .40.  Too darn spicy.

    I do have about 350 rounds of .40 FMJ available for sale…  cheap.


  3. I'll take your .40 ammo John.  I like em, in the full size M&P, not in a Glock 27.  Cheap .40 guns and cheap .40 brass are easier to load than the 9 for me.  Do I think the .40 will come back?  No!  Do I like shooting them?  Yes!  I like the old .45 too, just like God and John Browning intended.  I also have a 10mm barrel on a Glock 21.  Ruger is coming out with a convertible Blackhawk in .40/10mm!  Isn't that peachy?

    BTW, .40 will shoot in a 10mm.  Highly not recommended, but it will work.

    Do I love my 9's?  Of course, and that is what I carry on my person, but a full size .40 or .45 is in the van at all times.  9mm factory ammo is so darn cheap, it does not pay to reload 9mm.  

    Most Glock .40's can be converted to 9mm, or the .357 SIG which should be the most popular round, but isn't for a variety of reasons.

    If the 9 fails to stop any charging rhinos (not rinos), there may be a trend back to .40, but I doubt it.

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