When it comes to selecting a firearm for self-defense, the .40 caliber handgun is known for its balance of stopping power and manageable recoil. The .40 caliber pistol offers a reliable option for those looking to carry concealed.

The debate between 9mm and .40 caliber handguns has been ongoing for years. In response to high-profile incidents, there’s often a rush to adopt larger calibers like the .40, .45, or .357 SIG to replace the 9mm. A more balanced approach might involve using a modest-recoiling .40 S&W load, such as the 165-grain Hydra-Shok or a 165-grain load at 180-grain velocity. While these decisions are ultimately made by agencies, it’s clear that in service-sized and compact pistols, the .40 caliber offers good control and accuracy. However, in subcompact pistols, the increased momentum can be more challenging to manage.

Why Choose a .40 Caliber Handgun?

The .40 caliber was developed to bridge the gap between the 9mm and the .45 ACP. We are not comparing the 9mm to the .38 Special but rather to the .40. When the 9mm was first adopted, some of the pistols issued to replace the .38 were excellent handguns, but others were not. Hit potential actually fell in some law enforcement agencies. Wound potential and results with the 9mm were often worse, not better, than those that used the .38. Load development and improved handguns have — fortunately — changed the landscape.

Among the most successful handgun and cartridge combinations of the past 30 years has been the .40 Smith & Wesson cartridge and service-sized handguns, among them the SIG Sauer P229, Glock Model 22 and Beretta Px4 Storm. Performance-wise, such combinations have proven as effective as a handgun cartridge is likely to be. The .40 caliber offers a balance of power and capacity, making it a versatile choice for both law enforcement and civilian use.

Pros of .40 Caliber Handguns

The .40 caliber handgun offers several advantages that make it a compelling choice for self-defense and concealed carry. First and foremost is its stopping power. The .40 caliber is known for its ability to deliver significant energy to a target, which can be crucial in neutralizing threats quickly and effectively. This caliber also strikes a balance in terms of penetration and expansion, essential factors in self-defense scenarios. With the right ammunition, .40 caliber bullets can penetrate deeply enough to reach vital organs while expanding to create larger wound channels, increasing the likelihood of incapacitating an assailant. Additionally, the .40 caliber’s versatility makes it suitable for a range of firearm sizes, from compact to full-sized handguns, allowing users to choose a model that fits their specific needs and preferences.

Cons to Using .40 Pistols for Self-Defense

However, there are some drawbacks to consider when opting for a .40 caliber handgun. The most notable is recoil. The .40 caliber generally has more recoil compared to the 9mm, which can make it more challenging for some shooters to handle, especially in smaller, lighter handguns. This increased recoil can affect accuracy and speed in follow-up shots, particularly for less experienced shooters. Furthermore, .40 caliber handguns typically hold fewer rounds than their 9mm counterparts because of the larger size of the ammunition, which can be a consideration in self-defense situations where every round counts. Another issue is the increased wear and tear on firearms chambered in .40 caliber. The higher pressures generated by this round can lead to faster degradation of the gun’s components over time, potentially resulting in a need for more frequent maintenance and part replacements. Despite these cons, the .40 caliber remains a popular choice for those who prioritize stopping power and penetration in their self-defense firearms.

Best .40 Caliber Guns for Concealed Carry

The goal of the .40 wasn’t to produce a weapon that was as controllable as the already existing 9mm but rather to offer superior wound ballistics. Although I generally regard larger calibers as superior to smaller ones, when you consider the balance of expansion and penetration in the .40 S&W cartridge and the frame size needed to contain the 10mm or .45 ACP, perhaps the .40 is the ideal cartridge and the larger calibers represent a point of diminishing return.

Certainly control, magazine capacity and compactness favor the .40-caliber handgun. Choosing the best .40 caliber handgun for concealed carry involves considering factors like size, weight, capacity and personal comfort.

  1. Glock 23
    The Glock 23 is a compact .40 caliber handgun known for its reliability and ease of use. In true Glock for concealed carry fashion, it offers a good balance between size and firepower, making it a popular choice for both law enforcement and civilians.
  1. Smith & Wesson M&P
    The M&P Shield is a slim, lightweight option designed for concealed carry. Its ergonomic design and manageable recoil make it a favorite among those who prefer a single-stack magazine.
  2. SIG Sauer P229
    The SIG Sauer P229 is a robust, service-grade pistol that performs exceptionally well in .40 caliber. Its solid construction and accuracy make it a reliable choice for both duty and personal defense.
  1. Springfield XD-S
    The Springfield XD-S in .40 caliber is a compact, single-stack pistol that offers excellent concealability and ease of use. Its grip safety and consistent trigger pull add to its appeal for self-defense.

With handguns, shot placement remains the most important factor in the equation. With the .40 S&W, the question of control comes up from time to time, but in my experience, it relates primarily to subcompact pistols. 

Comparing .40 Caliber to Other Popular Handgun Calibers

A concept called “Power Factor” (PF) was developed to compare handgun calibers’ suitability for competition and personal defense. The weight of the bullet is multiplied by the velocity, and the product is then divided by 10,000. For example, a 200-grain bullet (weight) at 1,000 feet per second (velocity) would have a PF of 200.

While the PF doesn’t take weapon weight into account, it is useful to compare the recoil of various cartridges. A PF of 200 is the level at which most shooters can control a handgun well.

.40 Caliber vs. 9mm

The debate between the .40 caliber and 9mm is ongoing. While the 9mm offers higher capacity and less recoil, the .40 caliber provides superior stopping power and penetration. For those who prioritize stopping power, the .40 caliber is often the preferred choice.

.40 Caliber vs. .45 ACP

The .45 ACP is known for its heavy-hitting power, but it comes with increased recoil and lower capacity. The .40 caliber strikes a balance between the manageable recoil of the 9mm and the stopping power of the .45 ACP, making it a versatile option.

Choosing a .40 Caliber Handgun for Concealed Carry

The .40 caliber handgun remains an excellent all-around choice for duty and personal defense though not well-suited for subcompact pistols. Its balance of stopping power, penetration and versatility makes it a reliable choice for self-defense. With proper training and practice, a .40 caliber handgun can provide the confidence and capability needed for effective self-defense.

For those in search of a concealed carry firearm that offers a blend of power and manageability, the .40 caliber pistol is worth considering. Make sure to test different models to find the one that best suits your needs and preferences, and always prioritize safety and proficiency in your self-defense training.