We all shop for reliable items, balancing features against cost. What follows is a series, examining firearms and related equipment that has proven reliable during constant use in adverse conditions. These are things readily available that you’ll be able to buy for a reasonable price.
First up is Smith & Wesson’s Military & Police polymer pistol line; a system I have some experience with……
Our firearms training unit tested various 9mm and .40 M&P versions during mid-2008. S&W sent us 5 models and we pretty much shot the hell out of them, cleaning only when our conscience got the better of us. The first thing we liked was the ergonomics. The pistols felt great in our hands and were very shoot-able.
As an old hand, I initially greeted the M&P with a loud yawn. That opinion quickly changed after the first range session. Running a 4 ¼” 9mm against my custom 4” 9mm Wilson 1911, the S&W seemed simpler to use, and hits were just as common. The M&P was death on falling plates and proved very effective during general combat-style speed shooting. We switched out 9mm and .40 uppers because we could and the guns ran fine. The modular design appeared armorer-friendly. Comparing it to other polymer wonder-guns, we really liked the S&W.
Adopting this system, we’ve run 175 M&Ps for several years and feel qualified to draw a few conclusions. These comments mostly apply to 9mm and .40 S&W models with 4 ¼” barrels, minus any external safety lever. However, we’ve also played with compact and long-slide versions. I own a 5” 9mm Pro and have fired it extensively. Other calibers include the .357 Sig, .45 ACP (on a larger frame) and a new .22 LR version that’s externally similar but internally different. The latest sub-compact “Shield” is on our short-list. Just about any system has its quirks and the M&P is no exception.
Feedback from several hundred agency users has been good. Each pistol comes with three interchangeable grip inserts. These can be easily switched out to provide a small, medium or large back-strap capable of accommodating just about any adult hand. The slide-stop is ambidextrous with a useful paddle on each side. The magazine release can be switched to the opposite side without difficulty. A Picatinny rail section is molded into the dust-cover for attachment of lights or widgets. All of our M&Ps have fixed night-sights, which have held up well and are properly regulated. Both slide and barrel are stainless steel with an attractive, dark Melonite finish applied that has proven durable. The barrel hoods have a chamber-check port and clear caliber markings. The magazines have numbered round-count holes. Capacity is 17 & 15 rounds in 9mm and .40. Our pistols are equipped with magazine disconnects that prevent a discharge when removed. Many consider this an abomination. We don’t and we’ll save the story for a later time. Magazines drop free and quick reloads are a snap thanks to the generous well.
The trigger is an articulated two-piece design. Pressure on its tip cams a tab to clear the frame, so it can travel rearward to fire a shot. The service-grade models run around 6 pounds but feel OK and offer a tactile sear re-set point. The Pro-series trigger is lighter. Mine scales 4 ½ lbs and has a better re-set point. Accuracy is about on par with the other types of plastic pistols, running in the neighborhood of 3” at 25 yards. However, mechanical accuracy alone can be deceiving. Ergonomics play an important part in this equation and shooting improved across the board after the switch from older 3rd-generation S&Ws in 2009. Everyone fired 500 rounds during the transition and left happy.
Since then, the pistols have seen steady use. We just wrapped up a five-day basic pistol school, during which 10 shooters each fired 750 rounds in miserable conditions. Everything was soaking wet. Empty magazines took a beating as they lay in wet gravel and mud. We cleaned the pistols on the afternoon of day #2 and had exactly one stoppage – a failure to extract from my personal Pro (the only one I can recall). Good ammo helps. We’ve fired several frangible loads and a huge amount of Federal American Eagle FMJ, which I buy in lots of 100,000 rounds. The M&Ps just eat it up. We maintain a collection of dedicated range magazines, which are possibly the most often-dropped objects in Maine.
If you put a huge amount of ammo through an M&P fouling can accumulate in the striker (firing pin) channel. Cleaning the breech-face with it oriented up will allow solvent to seep into that area. Gunk will gradually build up until a light strike occurs. You won’t get a second-strike until you rack the slide, which is basic remedial-action anyway. We’ve only seen this on a batch of range guns that saw daily use for several months. S&W said we might notice a few right-hand slide-stop paddle breaks. We have seen a handful, which are normally discovered by lefties.
The pistol still runs fine since that control is ambidextrous. We had a few cracked forward chassis/rail units which are modular inserts that were easily replaced. These occurred on a series of extremely high round-count .40s. Such an event with a steel-framed pistol would have wrecked the gun. We saw some chewed up plastic where the guide rod heads contact the frame. It doesn’t affect function and the newest M&Ps have a reinforced surface. Something we worry about with any striker-fired design is a discharge caused by something like a sweatshirt getting tangled up inside the trigger guard during re-holstering. Users should dress with this in mind and select appropriate holsters. External safety models are available, along with key-lock variations. A lanyard-loop is another option that can be quickly installed by the user.
With only occasional cleaning you can expect these pistols to run. And actually, they’re easy to disassemble so neglect is really inexcusable. I use a pen to flip the little sear-deactivation arm – a neat feature that circumvents a trigger pull. The takedown lever is then rotated 90 degrees. The slide will come off for field-stripping and the recoil spring is captive. I really enjoy shooting my Pro not only because it handles well, but also because it’ll leave the range clean after just a few moments.
There are plenty of good pistols on the market. It’s probably hard to go wrong if you stick with a mainstream manufacturer. I’m sure we’ll hear some M&P horror stories – something that you’ll run into with just about any system. But, having run a good-sized batch of pistols for several years now, we have confidence in our M&Ps. I still shoot my Wilson 1911 but, truthfully, I can grab an M&P off the rack and expect it to do just about the same thing for less than $600.