by Bob Owens - Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Millions of pistols and revolvers have been purchased over the years by home owners for personal defense. All too often, these firearms were stuffed into nightstands, in sock drawers or hidden on closet shelves and nearly forgotten. Many are rarely fired, if ever fired at all.
Quite a few are left unloaded, with a box of ammunition somewhere nearby, while others are loaded, but left to lie without care or practice. Some are improperly stored and sometimes, people frantically try to make them ready to fire and fail to do so in time, with tragic results.
With those thoughts in mind, Smith & Wesson is selling its SD40 handgun in a home-defense kit to help the casual gun owner and experienced shooter alike.
While the SD40 pistol is the heart of the system, it is complemented by a tactical light that mounts under the barrel, a slim gun safe and a spare 14-round magazine. Combined with the right ammunition, the kit both decreases the likelihood of unauthorized access while increasing the ability of an authorized user to get a firearm into play at the crucial moments to save innocent lives.
When I went to my firearm dealer to pick up the SD40 Home Defense Kit, the first thing the guy behind the counter exclaimed as he picked it up was "Wow, this is heavy! What's in this thing?" The extra weigh that caught him by surprise belongs to the Nano 200 pistol safe by Gunvault. Made of 18-gauge steel and shipped with a 1,500-pound/test security cable to make sure it can be mounted to things that won't move, the Nano is thin enough to go where other gun safes can't, while the keyed lock makes for quick opening when the contents are needed.
The Smith & Wesson Micro90 Compact Pistol Light weighs a mere 1.4 ounces, but puts out a blinding 90 lumens of light to identify and disorient uninvited guests. It runs in either a momentary-on mode activated by finger pressure, or continuously via a bottom-mounted switch for up to two hours on a single CR2 lithium battery.
Then there's the SD40 itself.
Like its older siblings in the Sigma and M&P series, the SD ("Self Defense") series of pistols are polymer-framed handguns with steel slides and barrels that have features we've come to expect from similar guns from various manufacturers. The SD40 features internal safeties, a striker-fired action, a black Melonite finish and rugged, fixed 3-dot steel sights, though dim light reveals a tritium front sight insert—a smart choice on a pistol system marketed to target things that go bump in the night.
The fit and finish of the SD40 was first rate, and for me, it pointed quite well. After some familiarization with the pistol after dark—unloaded and away from family members, of course—it seemed the concept of the system as a whole was solid, as I could unlock the safe in the nightstand after grabbing the key hidden elsewhere in a matter of just a few seconds and produce a handgun loaded with 15 rounds of .40 S&W (14 in the magazine and one in the chamber, though Smith & Wesson is offering a pistol with a 10-round magazine for less-free states) and an blinding weaponlight.
Of course, none of that matters if the SD40 doesn't work when you need to squeeze the trigger, so I went to my local indoor range with a selection of self-defense loads from Fiocchi, Winchester and DoubleTap.
I loaded the the Fiocchi 165-grain Hornady XTP load first. After releasing the slide and aiming at a simple dot target 7 yards away, I started to squeeze the trigger. And I kept squeezing.
Then I checked to make sure there wasn't a manual safety, because nothing happened.
I gave it another go, eventually coaxing it to fire a hole a fraction of an inch above my point of aim. Twenty-four rounds later—all clustered nicely in an area the size of my fist—I was still uncomfortable with the trigger. The long, spongy take-up and snappish release was on par with that of an airsoft gun, even if the target was quite convinced of the gun's effectiveness.
Winchester's 165-grain PDX1 Defender was up next, and the soft-recoiling cartridge with low-flash powder showed it would be easy to fire rapidly and accurately in low light (though not pitch black) conditions.
I then ran through a pair of loads from DoubleTap, starting with the 150-grain Nosler JHP. It had a tad more bite and flash than the Winchester and Fiocchi loads, but that is to be expected, as it was considerably hotter out of the muzzle.
To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to the second box of DoubleTap cartridges, which featured a wide-mouth 125-grain Barnes TAC-XP. The company advertises it ripping out of the barrel with a claimed 536 foot-pounds of energy, at just shy of 1,300 fps. I braced myself for a jumping muzzle and a blinding flash. I was pleasantly surprised when the copper bullet ripped through the middle of the target and blistered its way downrange with minimal fanfare. While absolutely not a target load (at $60 per 50-round box), this DoubleTap load seemed to be the kind of ammo you could stake your life on.
While the trigger of the SD40 leaves something to be desired, the gun fed and fired flawlessly, and the sights were well regulated for the four loads I ran through it. Smith & Wesson combined a sturdy, easily hidden safe, a bright white tactical light and a solid modern self-defense pistol into a package with an MSRP of $499, ensuring quite a few will be on hand when their owners need them most.
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