Never buy a “new” .40 S&W handgun

By:  Joshua Gideon

I have coached students in the defensive use of firearms for almost 7 years.  I am still a pup in the Firearms training world.  I certainly have not had as many students go through my courses as others, but after watching a few hundred students go through my courses, I have noticed some interesting trends.  One of those trends is seen so often that I decided to begin including it in my basic handgun classes.  Based on this trend, I tell them to, “Never buy a new .40 S&W handgun.”  I don’t intend to degrade the .40 S&W round and it’s capabilities, I sincerely have the best interest of my students at heart when I give this advice.  Here is what I have observed and why I say this.

Many people purchase a .40 S&W handgun after spending hours on YouTube, gun forums, and seeking advice from friends.  There is no doubt that the .40 is a popular handgun round and the decision to purchase a handgun in this caliber is heavily influenced by the opinions found through this media.  The observation is few if any have actually tried shooting a firearm in this caliber.  I’m not talking about firing off a couple magazines at the local shooting range, I’m talking serious, unpredictable, training exercises that test your ability to fire accurately under stress.  When they do finally get a chance to do this, they typically don’t do as well as they had expected.  The increased recoil from a high pressure round like the .40 S&W keeps many from shooting as well as they would like.

Many come home from the shooting session downtrodden and defeated, they immediately find their box and receipt and head to the gun store to trade in that piece of junk gun made by (choose your manufacturer).  Due to the investment in ammo they have already made (both emotionally and physically), they begin looking at other firearms in .40 S&W.  Maybe something a bit bigger, or a different brand, or it must have been the grip angle, sights, etc.  Again, they find the holy grail of handguns and go to the range only to be disappointed again.  Lather, Rinse, Repeat.  My advice is to try before you buy.  The .40 S&W isn’t for everyone and from what I have observed, only works well for a few.

I had one student who had gone through ten (no that’s not a typo) different .40 S&W handguns in less than a year.  He borrowed one of my loaner 9mm’s and was blown away with how well he was shooting.  The reality was, he wasn’t a bad shooter.  The .40 S&W just didn’t allow him to shoot as fast and as accurately as the same gun in 9mm.  After the class I asked him what made him purchase a .40 in the first place.  He said a friend of his at a local gun store said it was a great compromise between 9mm and .40.  You know, the same dealer that let him trade in the two-week-old gun for about $200 less than it was purchased for in a trade on another new one.  It sounds like that gun store cashed in pretty good on this guy.  Guys like this feed the used gun market in stores with many .40 S&W handguns.  You can lose a lot of money trading in and buying new .40 handguns until you find one that works for you (or switch calibers).  Don’t get caught in this purchasing loop!

I am a member of several firearms “buy, sell, trade” groups on FaceBook and monitor several online auctions regularly.  There is a constant stream of .40 handguns up for trade.  In fact, I see more of these than any other gun.  I rarely go a day without seeing someone post up a “nearly new” .40 handgun with only a few rounds shot through it.  Because the market is so flooded with firearms in this caliber, the value decreases significantly and quickly.  It’s not uncommon to see no response to these handguns when listed.  Seriously, who doesn’t already have a $350 Glock 23 retired by the <Fill in the Blank> Police Department?  Someone in a pinch that must sell has to lower the price significantly to get it to move.  If you want a good deal on a .40 this is the first place to start.  But don’t get caught with a new .40 trying to sell it on FaceBook.

With all those observations, there are a few good reasons to buy a .40 S&W handgun.  First, I recall during the last ammo crunch, you could still find .40 ammo.   Second, You can get used one for a really reasonable price.  Many of them for less than half the retail value if you are patient and look for deals.  Third, there are also conversion barrels to 9mm for most modern striker fired .40 handguns.  This allows you the ability to switch back and forth between 9mm and .40.  If the deal is good enough, sometimes you can purchase the firearm and the conversion barrel for less than a new firearm.

Before you purchase a firearm for self defense, regardless of caliber, get some experience and training with that particular firearm.  Try different calibers until you find one that you can shoot well and comfortable conceal.  Just remember, whatever you do, “Never buy a new .40 S&W handgun.”