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smith and wesson m and p pistols

Everything You Need To Know About S&W M&P

One of the most popular handgun lines out there is Smith & Wesson M&P pistols, and for a boatload of good reasons. These are the closest competitors to Glock in the domestic handgun market, and they are popular with police and civilians alike as implements of personal protection.

The full-size M&P is one of the best pistols you can get, especially for the price, and the M&P Shield is easily one of the best concealed carry pistols on the market.

What do you need to know about S&W M&P handguns? Which one is the best? You probably have some questions like these if considering buying one. Let's dive right into the Alien Gear Holsters' Guide To M&P Pistols, and we'll cover what anyone should know about these guns.

Smith & Wesson M&P Is An Old Title

old smith and wesson pistols

The first of the modern Smith & Wesson M&P line emerged in the early 2000s. However, much like current Ruger Security 9, the name is actually a throwback to some guns that came about a long time ago.

The name M&P, in fact, is "Military and Police," and the name has been worn by a number of different guns over the years. Most of them, however, have been revolvers and at that a number of service revolvers.

A few different models wore the name, as they were commonly sold as service pistols to both - you guessed it - military personnel and law enforcement. They also found wide adoption in the civilian realm, as service pistols often do.

Semi-autos such as the Glock 17, Beretta 92/M9 and 1911 and revolvers such as certain Smith and Wessons and Colt Python, Police Positive and New Service all found adoption in the civilian realm as implements of personal protection as well.

Smith And Wesson Model 10 Was The First

smith and wesson model 10
The first Smith & Wesson M&P was in fact the Smith and Wesson Model 10, first released in 1899.

The Model 10 wasn't called the Model 10 until 1957, when S&W changed their nomenclature. Initially it was called the Hand Ejector, as it featured a swing-out cylinder design. The version sold to the military was stamped "M&P" and those sold to the public received the name "Hand Ejector." The genesis of the pistol was to basically replicate the Colt M1892, which likewise featured a swing-out cylinder, and that initial production run was chambered for the (then) US Army's standard handgun round, the .38 Long Colt.

S&W created the Model 10 by sizing up their 1896 Hand Ejector for a .38 caliber bullet (the 1896 was chambered in .32 caliber) which initially was .38 LC, but was changed soon after to S&W's new round of the day, the .38 S&W Special. Yes, that's .38 Special in case you're curious.

It was also offered in .38 Smith and Wesson, an older .38 caliber round (first released in 1877) also known as .38-200 that was popular at the time. The .38-200 found adoption in Canada and the UK in the Enfield Number 2 Mark IV, a variant of the Webley revolver.

The .38 Special models, however, were most popular with the civilian market, and eventually the Model 10 was only offered in .38 Special, which remains the case today.

The name, however, lay dormant for quite some time.

Smith And Wesson Sigma

smith and wesson sigma

Before we can get into the modern Smith & Wesson M&P line, we have to talk about the Smith and Wesson Sigma.

The Sigma, for those unaware, was S&W's first venture into the polymer-framed, striker-fired pistol market. Glock started beating S&W, Colt and other makers like they owed them money in terms of sales by the 1990s and, being the smart folks they are, S&W knew that type of pistol was the way of the future.

So, they cooked up the Sigma, a pistol with a high-strength polymer frame, a pre-set striker firing mechanism and a hinged trigger that de-activated the passive safety mechanisms. The grip rake was set to the same angle as the M1911A1 pistol for comfort, and the double-stack magazine could hold 17 of 9mm or 15 of .40 S&W. The first run hit stores in 1994, and was initially somewhat popular.

Soon afterward, subcompact models in 9mm and .380 were released with single-stack magazines, perfect for concealed carry.

Any of this sounding familiar?

It should, because it reads like they basically created a carbon copy of a Glock to cash in on the new trendy thing. Glock thought so too, and they sued Smith and Wesson like it was going out of style. The Glock vs Smith and Wesson suit was settled out of court in 1997, with S&W having to cut Glock a huge check and pay them royalties for every Sigma they sold afterward.

The product line went through some evolutions, including the addition of a Double Action Only trigger in the mid-1990s. The reason, and this is actually kind of ingenious, was to market the guns to police departments that were switching to semi-autos (that was happening at the time) without having to re-train anyone on trigger operation.

The 1994 Assault Weapon Ban precluded magazine capacity beyond 10 rounds, so civilian models had reduced-capacity magazines after it went into effect. Improved models, the VE series, came out in 1999 with ergonomic and other improvements.

At the dawn of the 21st century, the Sigma line was given a refresh and new nomenclature. Barrel length was clipped to 4 inches, the DAO trigger became the only option, magazine capacity returned to 17/15 and the frame was given a sprucing up. The pistols retained the name VE, but S&W stopped calling them "Sigma" and just called them "SD" instead.

However, S&W was not done yet. They cooked up a new striker-fired design, which was released in 2005. Since the initial focus was on military and police sales, the new gun was dubbed the "Smith & Wesson M&P," just like the Model 10 was all them years ago.

Enter The Smith & Wesson M&P 9

smith and wesson m and p 9

The Smith & Wesson M&P 9 and thus the new M&P line, entered the scene in 2005, a new service pistol for a new generation. The internals were revised to avoid the...issues...surrounding the Sigma (meaning so they wouldn't get sued) but were still more or less the same thing. Additionally, since the striker is not fully cocked by the cycling of the slide, it could almost be termed a light DAO system.

Whether that's true or not...can be argued elsewhere.

The M&P9 features a hinged, rather than tabbed, trigger with a passive safety system that's disabled with a trigger pull. Unlike some other striker pistols, the M&P9 is made available with or without ambidextrous manual safety levers. The trigger was perhaps the most constant complaint of the renewed M&P series, as many users found a bit too much creep and bit more grit than they liked.

The 1911-inspired appointments remain in the new S&W M&P pistols. The grip angle of 18 degrees is reminiscent of the M1911A1, with the arched mainspring housing. The safety levers, located on the frame near the top of the grip, are in near as makes no difference the same location as on a 1911 pistol and are operated the same way, so you flip them up to activate them.

Interchangeable palmswells are included with purchase, with three sizes shipping with the pistol, including for full-size and compact (but not Shield!) models.

Dovetailed front and rear sights are replaceable, so it's easy to customize. The base model has a 4.25-inch barrel, an accessory rail and holds 17+1 of 9mm. The striker mechanism can be deactivated without having to pull the trigger, making takedown much safer (ostensibly) than striker-fired pistols that require it.

The M&P9 quickly found adoption in law enforcement and among civilians as a home defense gun or even as a concealed carry pistol. Though a full size pistol (dimensions are 1.2" W x 7.5" L x 5.5" H) the svelte width and 24-oz unloaded weight make it very packable.

It is certainly one of the most comfortable full-size striker pistols to hold and shoot and is a great platform for modding. A replacement trigger is usually the first order of business for some shooters, though the M&P series hardly has a bad trigger. Since it is also quite reasonably priced, it's a fantastic choice of handgun, which made it eminently popular.

More models followed over the years, including Performance Center models, M&P9 pistols with integrated lasers and so much more.

S&W M&P40

smith and wesson m and p 40

The M&P9 was offered at the same time as the S&W M&P40, which - being a .40 - had the same size of frame, but required a different magazine and a few other parts such as the barrel. That has made the M&P40 series easy to convert to a 9mm and back, as some people are wont to do.

Back in 2005, you see, .40 S&W was a lot more popular, especially with law enforcement but also civilians who wanted the same gun cops rely on. (That is not a new idea, incidentally.) As it turns out, the S&W M&P40 is one of the best on the market.

The M&P40 is one of the highest-capacity .40 caliber pistols on the market, holding 15+1. That plus the ergonomics of the gun have made it one of the best-shooting .40 S&W pistols among the striker set.

Initially an M&P357, chambered in .357 Sig, was also offered as the .357 Sig cartridge was more popular at the time. Since the .357 Sig uses the same magazines as .40 S&W, capacity was the same. However, it was discontinued within a few years as the .357 Sig just didn't really hang on too well. Conversion barrels are available on the aftermarket, and magazines from the era read ".40" and ".357 Sig."

The M&P40 is still quite popular, and should be at the top of one's list if considering a .40 caliber pistol from the S&W M&P line.

M&P Compact Followed Shortly Behind

smith and wesson compact

Not long after the new Smith & Wesson M&P series launched, the M&P Compact series came behind, with a 3.5-inch barrel in the 9mm, .40 S&W and .357 Sig models.

The original M&P Compact series more or less followed the standard compact formula: take big gun, cut a bit off the barrel and the grip. Overall dimensions were reduced to 1.2" W by 6.7" L by 4.3" H with the flush fit magazine. The pistol would ship with a magazine featuring a pinkie extension as well, which made it slightly taller. Capacity is/was 12+1 of 9mm or 10+1 of .40 or .357 Sig. Carry weight was a very reasonable 22 oz unloaded.

The full-size magazines were compatible with these pistols, though a grip sleeve is recommended.

Many users found the pistol lay between the Glock 19 and Glock 26 in size, so the person who liked the 26's size and weight but found the grip too short (a common complaint) would be well-served with the M&P Compact series.

Smith And Wesson M&P45 For The Big Bore Fans

smith and wesson m and p 45

The full-size S&W M&P line was joined in 2007 by the Smith and Wesson M&P45, the big-bore variant. The M&P45 boasted a 10+1 capacity of .45 ACP in more or less the same size of pistol.

The M&P45 base model has a 4.5-inch barrel, bringing the overall length to 7.75 inches but the width and height remain unchanged. An additional 5.5 ounces of unloaded weight are brought on board, but that also made the M&P45 quite shootable for a non-metal frame in this chambering.

The following year, a mid-size model - with a 4-inch barrel - was also made available, with the barrel length being the only difference between the two pistols. So was the M&P45 Compact.

The M&P45C shared the barrel with the mid-size model, but reduced the grip length from 5.5 inches to 4.8 inches, and capacity to 8+1 of .45 ACP along with it. Additionally, 0.375 inches were trimmed from the length, with weight being reduced to 26 ounces from 29 in the full-size. The same flush-fit and pinkie-extension magazines shipped with the M&P45C as the 9mm frame version.

M&P9 Longslide

smith and wesson m and p 9 longslide

Another development was the release of an S&WM&P9 longslide edition in 2008, also offered with the .40 S&W model as well. Barrel length was increased to 5 inches. This model is quite popular for competition shooting and range use. It makes a dandy home defense pistol as well.

Since the modern gun owner is mostly a recreational shooter as opposed to a hunter, the trend has become for target pistol variants of popular carry guns to be offered. Long slide versions of other pistols - such as the Glock 34 and others - are fairly widespread.

The long versions of the M&P line - designated as the S&W M&PL (for "long") - have certainly garnered fans. They are quite readily equipped with target sights or a reflex sight optic (meaning a red dot) so if one is looking for a tactical wonder gun, you won't find too many better choices to start with.

The CCW Sensation: The M&P Shield

smith and wesson m and p shield

Being quite cognizant of the concealed carry market, Smith and Wesson added to the M&P lineup with one of the best-selling guns in recent memory: the S&W M&P Shield.

The M&P Shield is a slim, single-stack subcompact pistol that it eminently carryable. Unlike many compact pistols of yesteryear, it is also quite accurate. It's small size completely belies how easily it shoots; many people have remarked how little recoil it seems to impart onto the shooter.

The M&P Shield was first offered in 2012, with a Shield 45 joining the lineup in 2016.

The M&P Shield 9mm carries 7+1 or 8+1 of 9x19mm, depending on whether one loads the flush-fit or extended magazine. Dimensions are 0.95" W by 4.6" H by 6.1" L, weighing 19 ounces unloaded.

The Shield was never offered in .357 Sig, but the Shield 40 is unchanged except for carrying one fewer round.

The Shield 45 increases barrel length to 3.3 inches, overall length to 6.5 inches, and capacity is the same number as the Shield40. Width is increased, but by less than 1/10", and weight is increased by about 1 ounce.

The M&P Shield ushered in the subcompact single-stack craze almost single-handedly, rapidly becoming one of the most popular concealed carry guns available.

Smith And Wesson Bodyguard

smith and wesson bodyguard

In 2014, the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard was added to the M&P lineup. The Bodyguard, a micro in .380, is very popular for deep concealment, or as a backup gun like what one might carry in an ankle holster.

The Bodyguard 380 is very small and svelte, with a 2.75-inch barrel and overall dimensions of 0.75" W by 5.23" L x 3.75" H and unloaded weight of 12 ounces. It carries 6+1 of .380.

The Bodyguard is a little different, however. Instead of a striker-fired mechanism, the Bodyguard 380 has true double-action only operation with a shrouded hammer at the rear of the slide in lieu of a striker, and a traditional trigger as well.

Additional models, such as FDE and grey finishes, as well as models with an integrated Crimson Trace laser, have followed. Users report that while the trigger is a bit stiff (the modern shooter often has little experience with a double-action pistol, which some argue is a sign of weakness) the pistol is held to be one of the better mouse guns.

What About The Smith And Wesson Bodyguard 38?

smith and wesson bodyguard 38

Some well-informed folks might have said "that's completely wrong, what about the Smith and Wesson Bodyguard .38?!" Such folks are on to something!

Just as the S&W M&P series references a pistol that made S&W's name in the 19th century, the Bodyguard name belonged to some older guns first.

The S&W Bodyguard series was a line of J-frame revolvers with shrouded hammer. The idea was to offer the ability to cock the pistol for single-action fire but also streamline them so the gun could be easily drawn from a pocket. It's made them quite popular over the years, as these pistols are still made by Smith and Wesson.

The original models of the S&W Bodyguard 38 included the Models 38 (alloy frame, steel barrel and cylinder) 48 (all carbon steel) 638 in stainless steel and the 649, which is the same as the 638 but with an elongated cylinder to accommodate the .357 Magnum.

All models hold 5 shots of .38 Special - these are snubbies, after all, so there isn't much variation on the theme.

However, a pair of Smith and Wesson Bodyguard 38 pistols were added to the S&W M&P line. Both carry 5 of .38 Special, but differ from the rest of the J-frame family in a few respects. First, the lockwork is different as the cylinder release is at the rear of the top strap rather than on the left side of the frame. These pistols are also DAO, with an internal hammer much like the Model 40/42/Centennial family.

Both models can be had in any color you like if you happen to prefer black. The only other choice to make is whether you prefer the gun with or without an Crimson Trace laser grip.

Smith And Wesson M&P 2.0

smith and wesson m and p 2

After a certain point, these guns began to show a bit of age and a refresh was due, leading to the Smith and Wesson M&P 2.0 series of pistols. The rest of the M&P line is being slowly phased out in lieu of the 2.0 versions, which are very similar but do have some improvements.

Mostly, the changes are cosmetic. Revised stippling on the grips and slide machining are the largest changes to the full-size models such as the M&P9 2.0. However, the trigger mechanism has been revised for a smoother, more consistent pull and harder, more audible and tactile reset.

The same is true of the M&P Shield 2.0.

The biggest change has been the M&P Compact. The 2.0 series changed the barrel length to 4 inches, and increased the grip length by about a half-inch. This added an additional 3 rounds of capacity in either 9mm or .40 S&W, for 15+1 of 9mm or 13+1 in .40 S&W.

They also give you FOUR palmswell sizes instead of three. So that's something.

The S&W M&P Compact therefore grew in size to being between the Glock 19 and Glock 26 to being pretty much the same size as the Glock 19. However, a 3.6-inch barrel model (reduces overall length to 6.8 inches from 7.3 inches) was announced a few months later, probably due to some backlash over it.

Trim levels are available, as are long slide versions of the full-size guns. The M&P45 M2.0 does not currently have a Mid Size variant, nor has an M&P45C 2.0 been released yet at the time of this writing.

Performance Center models are available, as are Extended Barrel models for use with suppressors. Some FDE finishes are available in the M&P 2.0 line as well, should that appeal to you.

M&P 380 Shield EZ

smith and wesson m and p 380ez

Smith and Wesson also released the M&P Shield 380 EZ, a rather curious pistol since there are very few direct competitors with it.

The Shield 380 EZ is a single-stack compact in .380, with a 3.675-inch barrel and capacity of 8+1. The pistol has a grip safety, and actually has an internal hammer in lieu of a striker, though with a lightened trigger closer to the 6-lb pull of the Shield. The overall dimensions are 1.15 inches wide without the manual safeties (which are optional) 6.4 inches long and 4.98 inches tall. It's slimmer than the other compacts but chambers a smaller round than most of them, by any maker, do.


The slide, for one. The 380 Shield EZ is much easier to rack than the others, as the smaller round and hammer mechanism allow for lighter spring weights. This is good for aging shooters as well as novices. It's surmisable that S&W is also marketing (or intends to do so) this gun to women.

Since it has almost a 4-inch barrel and a full(ish) grip, that means it will be easy to shoot and do so accurately, which is a constant complaint about .380 pistols. Reviewers have found recoil is only marginally more than with .22 LR. A person could, ostensibly, get pretty good with this gun fairly easily.

Kind of makes one wonder why there aren't a few bigger .380 pistols these days. Seems to make a lot of sense.

Which Smith & Wesson M&P Should I Get?

 best smith and wesson m and p pistols

The thing is that Smith & Wesson M&P pistols are very well regarded and for good reason. They are rather ubiquitous, since most gun stores carry them. They are ergonomically better than Glocks in many people's opinion (plenty disagree, however!) and offer far more optional features from the factory.

All models can be had with or without a manual safety, with the exception of the Bodyguard .380. All models can be had with or without a Crimson Trace laser. Most models have a threaded barrel available from the factory for you to get all pew-pew at lower dBs.

The only model close to 30 ounces unloaded is the M&P45 and since basically all models are smaller and lighter than a Gov't frame 1911, that means you can carry an awful lot of firepower pretty easily in the case of the M&P Compact and M&P full-size pistols. You can get it in 9mm, .40 and .45 caliber, all the popular chamberings.

A lot more people that you would think carry an M&P9 or M&P40 every day.

Pretty much everyone and their brother makes an M&P, M&P Compact and M&P Shield holster or two as well...though only one company (cough, cough) makes the best.

Additionally, the person who wants to trick their gun out will find ample aftermarket support for doing so, which is also a good thing.

Which one is best...depends a bit on you and what you want to do with it. The full-size guns make excellent home defense and range pistols, and are very common with competitive shooters. They can be carried, but not everyone wants to tote a full-size on the daily.

The M&P Compact, both the original and M2.0 versions, make excellent in-betweeners. If you don't want a small gun but don't want a big one, if you're looking for a pistol that can kind of do it all, these are the ones to acquire. Easy to CCW, big enough for everything else.

The M&P Shield, of course, is about as close to a perfect CCW gun as one gets. Capacity is okay, with 8+1 on tap with the extended magazine, though HYVE and other extensions can bring that to 10+1.

If a pocket pistol is more to your liking, you can have .380 or .38, in either a small flat version of a snubby, if you're more into the classics.

None of them are much good for handgun hunting. You could load the M&P40L with 200-gr hardcast and hope you get good and close, but or maybe convert it to .357 Sig and load it with a hot handload. Outside of that, forget it.

So it really depends on what you're looking for.

That said, get out to a gun store or range with rental facilities. Try a few out, shoot them, handle them. The one that you shoot best with, that fits your intended purpose, is the one to acquire.

Have you shot these firearms? What did you like, and what didn't you?
Let us know in the comments below!

About The Author

Writer sam hoober