Monday, August 10, 2020

Sunday Smith #65: M&P9, 2010

By the early 1990s, Smith & Wesson's dominance of the law enforcement market was starting to erode. While the Third Generation autos were rugged, reliable, and accurate, so was the polymer upstart from Austria, and there was no way to compete with Glock on price, no matter how many cost-saving measures were applied to the 59xx and 40xx pistols.

In a classic example of "if you can't beat them, join them", Smith & Wesson launched the polymer-framed, striker-fired Sigma line of autos in 1994. Despite applying for a number of patents on the design and slathering it with marketing gobbledygook, there was no hiding the embarrassing fact that the Sigma was, for all intents and purposes, a reverse-engineered Glock 17.

Not only did Glock sue, but the launch timing couldn't have been worse, as the new 17-shot 9mm autoloaders started shipping only months before Congress's new so-called "Assault Weapons Ban" went into effect, neutering the magazine capacity of the gun for private citizens and making "pre-ban" standard capacity Sigma magazines among the scarcest and most valuable from '94 to '04.

Smith settled with Glock out of court and the Sigma morphed into the SW (and later SD) line of pistols, going from an attempt to unseat Glock in duty holsters to a budget-oriented offering for cash strapped pistol customers.

Smith withdrew for a while to lick its wounds before making another serious run at the polymer duty gun market in late 2005 with the M&P series, which borrowed its moniker from the classic fixed-sight service, much to the chagrin of some purists at the time.

The scoffers, including yours truly, were wrong. While it never supplanted the Glock as the dominant pistol choice in the holsters of law enforcement and private citizens in the U.S., it was definitely the leading "not a Glock" from its introduction until fairly recently, when that role was taken over by Sig Sauer's P320. From 2006 until about 2017, you could be sure that any holster or accessory that came out on the market, if it were made for anything other than a Glock, would also be made for an M&P.

The pictured M&P9 features two of those accessories: A LaserGrip and a LightGuard from Crimson Trace. Thanks to its replaceable backstraps, the integration of the LaserGrip on the M&P is among the most seamless of any polymer auto.

The pictured pistol, which was my carry gun from the middle of 2011 until nearly the last day of 2015, is kind of unusual. Product Code 150580 is a factory two-tone: the usual black polymer frame with the stainless slide left in its natural color, rather than Melonited black. It's uncommon enough not to be listed in the SCSW4E. I bought it used at an Indy 1500 gun show back in the summer of '11, still in the factory box with three magazines, for $399 and I'd say that I more than got my money's worth out of it.

Sunday, August 02, 2020

Sunday Smith #64: .38 Safety Hammerless Third Model, 1893

As was mentioned the last time we looked at a .38 Safety Hammerless on this blog ('way back in Sunday Smith #2), the commonly repeated origin story of these handguns is probably largely hooey.

Gun shop mythology has D.B. Wesson hearing a tale of tragedy, this time of a young girl getting ahold of daddy's revolver and managing to shoot herself after cocking the hammer. Thus motivated, he sat up that night until the design of the Safety Hammerless sprang fully formed, Athena-like, from his furrowed brow.

In reality, regardless of the actual impetus behind the design, the revolver itself was one of the younger Joe Wesson's first projects at S&W, and passed through two iterations of drawings in 1882 and 1884 before appearing for sale in its final form in 1886.

The pictured revolver is the third iteration of the model. It had gone from a complex "Z-bar" latch holding the frame closed to a simpler push-button one. The hammer was locked in place while the latch was being operated, which added redundancy to the grip safety.

Production of the Third Model started at s/n 42,484 in 1890 and ran through s/n 116,002 in 1898, putting the pictured revolver, with a serial number in the mid 60,000's, somewhere in the early half of that range. In the absence of a factory letter, I'll spitball it at 1893.

It was replaced by the Fourth Model, as seen in Sunday Smith #2, which had a sturdier and more easily operated, yet equally simple to manufacture, "T-bar" toggle frame latch.

With seventy-some thousand built, the Third Model is the second most numerically common variant after the Fourth Model.

The thumb latch had to be pushed down to unlatch. It takes a while to get to where you can do this gracefully without trying to hold the gun shut with your thumb while your other hand is trying to open it. Note that the latch, as well as the spring in the topstrap, is blued on this nickel gun.

That little lip at the top of the square recess is the entirety of the locking surface holding the gun closed. Worn guns may pop right open when fired, which can be exciting.

The front sight on the Third Model, as on the First, Second, and Fourth Models, is pinned to the rib atop the barrel. The front sight on the Fifth Model was an integral part of the barrel.

While the trigger retains only vestiges of case coloring, the bluing on the trigger guard is still fairly nice. Looking to see if these areas are still in their original colors is a good first indicator of a re-nickel job. (See again the .38 Safety Hammerless Fourth Model in Sunday Smith #2). The mother-of-pearl grips are nice, but I do not believe them to be the factory stocks.