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Fall handgun roundup: Charlie Petty's review of what's new on dealer's shelves.

The dawning of the decade of the nineties brings good news for hand-gunners. Leading the list of significant developments is the news that S&W and Winchester have teamed up to bring us a new cartridge and a gun to shoot it. The .40 S&W is just possibly the answer to the legitimate needs of law enforcement for a more powerful cartridge in a convenient sized package. While it may be a little early to be making predictions of great things, if things keep going in the direction they're headed right now, it would be a safe bet.

The .40 S&W is NOT simply a scaled down 10mm Auto, although there are some distinct similarities. Nor is it the Centimeter wildcat (which is a cut down 10mm) that has received attention lately. Nor is it entirely new. The cartridge, which has a case length of 0.850" is a combination of the two with an added twist. The most visible difference other than the length is the fact that it uses a small size primer. This wasn't done simply to be different. The whole idea behind the cartridge is to allow the use of the smaller frames of 9mm pistols with a more potent cartridge. Let me hasten to add that this is NOT another .41 Action Express which was intended, originally, to allow conversion of existing 9mm pistols to a more powerful cartridge, for the rim diameter makes conversion of existing pistols impossible. What it is, is a cartridge to go in a new gun, the Model 4006, which will have a twelve round capacity, 180 gr. bullets at 950 fps, and be contained within the size limitation of existing S&W 5900 series pistols.

The .40 Smith & Wesson is obviously gettin a lot of attention from other makers as well and rumors abound as to who all will chamber pistols for it. Irwindale Arms (IAI) was first on the market chambered for the .40 S&W cartridge beating both Glock and Smith & Wesson by several weeks. It is a cut down Government Model copy quite similar in size to the Officer's Model that sports adjustable sights and eight shot capability.

Smith & Wesson's Model 4006 arrived about a week before the Glock 22, so all at once there is bounty for those who want the new cartridge. The S&W 4006 is based upon their Third Generation 9mm, the 5906 and looks exactly like it until you notice the bore diameter. It boasts a magazine capacity of 11 founds. The Glock 22 appears to be virtually identical to their 9mm model 17 and is the winner in magazine capacity with 15. There are going to be a lot of gun writers, myself included, burning up the ranges with these pistols and the law enforcement community is watching with real interest. The .40 S&W will heat up even more when Federal and Hornady get ammunition on the market, possibly by the last quarter. And, just as this was going to press I learned that CCI will include the .40 Smith & Wesson in their popular Blazer line of ammo early next year.

FIE has also announced that they will soon have their TZ-75 in .40 S&W (TZ-40) and you can bet that the SHOT show next year will have lots of other "new product" announcements from other handgun makers who will climb on the bandwagon.

Smith & Wesson has also multiplied the woes of folks who have trouble keeping up with their numbering system with the addition of pistols with frame mounted decocking levers (the third digit will be a 7) and double-action only pistols (the third digit will be a 4 on those). The double-action only is aimed primarily at law enforcement to reduce the risk of accidental discharge from a conventional double-action pistol. The double-action only models boast a much shorter trigger stroke than the standard pistols and a couple that I've tried have been remarkably smooth.

Another interesting innovation is Ram Line's plastic/steel .22 pistol. It looks like a cross between a Ruger and a Nambu and uses molded plastic for the majority of non pressure bearing parts. The barrel is molded with a steel liner and the bolt, springs etc. are steel too. Before we have another "terrorist gun" outcry like we did over the first Glocks let me hasten to add that Ram Line has gone to a lot of trouble to make sure it looks like a gun under X-ray

Even though the .40 S&W is getting all the press right now, big brother, the 10mm Auto is thriving too. Joining Auto Ordnance with a Govt. Model clone in 10mm is Springfield Armory. There's a twist though. Springfield will employ a "linkless" barrel design similar to that used on their Omega but without the special slide. Springfield reports that it will be competitively priced - unlike the Omega. Colt is still offering their Series 90 10mm double-action, and predictably, S&W is also promoting their 10mm. Flushed with their successful FBI contract for their Model 1076 Smith is offering a civilian version of the same gun the G-men (and women) carry in addition to the full size Model 1006. The only difference between the FBI's pistol and the one sold to civilians is the presence of a magazine safety which was left off at the FBI's request. The north-of-the-border folks at Para-Ordnance are also offering their high-capacity 10mm PSeries autos with steel frames (alloy may follow!). Dealers employing a gunsmith or those that have customers with a do-it-yourself attitude can avail themselves of just the frames if desired.

The innovative folks at IAI have, in addition to the .40 S&W Skipper already mentioned, been busy and have resurrected the .45 Winchester Magnum from near obscurity with their new Auto-mag IV which joins the 10mm Magnum, .30 Carbine and .22 Magnum on their availability list.

While auto pistols seem to dominate developments right now, revolver fans are not without news. Leading that list is S&W's Magna Classic, reminiscent of the Registry 357's made in the thirties. The Magna Classic is limited to 3000 guns and will be built on the popular Model 29 and 629 .44 Magnum revolvers. There are a lot of innovative features that improve the durability of the big revolver but the attraction for collectors may be the amenities. It comes in a beautiful cherry wood case with a proper place for the accompanying certificate of registration as well as the seven front sights that can be interchanged via a novel new arrangement. The finish of both pistols is highly polished to at least resemble the original Registry guns even though they can't duplicate that wonderful deep blue. Another interesting revolver from S&W is the Model 610 a stainless steel "N" frame chambered for the 10mm Auto which will, coincidentally, fire the .40 Smith & Wesson.

Perhaps the biggest news for Ruger rimfire revolver fans is that they are now offering a double-action .22 revolver. If letters to our Question & Answers" column are any indication there's a hell of a market out there for the new SP101, which is what Ruger calls the .22. It is based on their worthy line of revolvers that began with the GP-100 .357 Magnum and continued with the Super Redhawk .44. Speaking of .44s the Colt Anaconda hasn't show up yet but some writers are starting to get samples so production from the new Colt's Manufacturing Company shouldn't be too far off.

Taurus wasn't one to be outdone in the .22 revolver department either. Their new Model 94 .22 LR revolver is now available with a 3" barrel in either the blue or stainless finish. Since H&R and High Standard are no longer around producing nine-shot revolvers, Taurus has emerged as king of the pack. The semi-auto line is also larger with the addition of the Model PT-92C. Holding 13+1, this compact version of the popular 92/99 series of autoloaders should provide more choices for the Taurus fans.

Even though there are some who are ready to proclaim the .41 Action Express as a dead duck the IMI Jericho (from KBI, Inc.) and FIE TZ-75 are still around and new life may be breathed into the cartridge with the news that CCI will offer the .41 AE in their Lawman ammunition line in the near future.

It also seems as if the wondernine craze has topped out as a result of the FBI's less than glowing test results of 9mm ammo. But there are still plenty of folks who like the cartridge and nobody is about to drop them from their lines. Tanfoglio produced copies of the CZ-75 are still around in the form of the Springfield Armory P-9 and FIE's TZ-75 and Magnum Research offers the Bernardelli handgun line including the P018 in 9mm. Ruger has also introduced the P-85 in stainless, further upgrading the line. The newest 9mm on the market is Firestar from Interarms (Star). Miniscule in size, this little nine is Tast becoming a favorite of the down-sized 9mm afficionados.

North American Arms is offering new generation of Mini-revolvers," outfitted with two or four-inch vent-rib barrels, oversize grips and Millett sights. Calibers offered are .22 LR and .22 Magnum.

Handguns alone didn't make the news this year either. Smith & Wesson an Springfield Armory both announced in-house custom shops which will provide a level of service not normally available as well as support both companies new professional shooting teams. While "factory sponsorship" isn't entirely new it marks the first time that American gun companies have supported pistol shooting in this fashion. Smith & Wesson has hired two premier pistolsmiths to handle the Performance Center. Paul Liebenberg will be responsible for the autoloaders and John French will assume responsibility for revolvers. The actual scope of work available to the public is not well defined at this time, but will include everything from relatively simple trigger work all the way through full house race guns. Springfield Armory has hired well known pistolsmith Les Baer to command their custom shop. Springfield's offerings will center around their M1911 copy and will include everything from duty guns to the full house race guns as used by their star shooter Rob Leatham. The shooters for both teams will serve dual roles as competitors and also as representatives of the companies. This is serious business for both firms. Springfield's contract with Leatham is said to make him the first million dollar shooter and I'm sure S&W is paying well for the services of Brian Enos, J. Michael Plaxco, Tom Campbell and Jerry Miculek who form Team Smith & Wesson. All of this is sure to advance the state of the art and who knows, maybe we'll see these programs reach the level of the company shooters of yesteryear who brought shooting to the masses by way of demonstrations and shows. Wouldn't that be neat?

Handguns have suffered enough black eyes at the hands of the media and the anti-gun lobbies. It seems to me as if the manufacturers have finally gotten wise. After all, their survival depends upon painting an accurate picture of all the things their products can do. Sure handguns are used for evil purposes by evil people, but the huge majority are used in a lawful manner for recreation and self-defense. The legitimacy of competitive handgun shooting is, at last, going to be shown. Who, other than the big manufacturers, can afford to do it? But well all benefit.

But, as far as I'm concerned the biggest story of this, and probably years to come originated, not in the halls of the gun companies, but at the FBI Academy at Quantico, Virginia. Their ground-breaking ammunition study, begun in 1989, has shaken to the core some myths about what makes a good handgun cartridge for law enforcement and defense. We can directly attribute the development of the .40 Smith & Wesson to work done at Quantico that led to the FBI adopting the 10mm, for the new cartridge's whole reason for being is to duplicate, in a smaller package, the 10mm load developed by the FBI. This load, a 180 gr. 10nim JHP at 950 fps has been proven to outperform almost everything but the full charge 10mm and some .45 ACP loads. It leaves the 9mm and .38 Special far behind.

Other loads that were once thought to be the ultimate for law enforcement are not faring too well either. The 125 gr. .357 Magnum for example at a velocity of 1,222 fps from the FBI's issue 3" Model 13 only managed 32.5% success rate and a couple of much-touted .45 ACP loads did only marginally better. The CCI 200 gr. flying ashtray" and the new Remington P .45 only managed 50%. The significance of these findings is far reaching. To me it indicates that velocity is not the ultimate concern. Instead, the combination of velocity and bullet construction determine whether or not a round will have a high probability of success. Either too much, or too little and things simply don't work right. The velocity must be matched, within some rather narrow limits, to the design and construction of the bullet for best results. During the coming years we will see a lot of development in ammunition and bullet design that will keep everyone busy. This will probably happen first with the Smith & Wesson as other manufacturers get cranked up. Both Hornady and Federal expect to have one or more .40 S&W loads in their lines this year and Remington is "working on it" although there's no public announcement of availability yet.

But the real story won't be told all at once, for the FBI's research continues and will, probably for years to come. The work they're doing is virtually revolutionary, for the test methods developed there are the first objective tests that have a chance of predicting how a handgun bullet will perform in a real life shooting situations. Law enforcement agencies are taking their findings seriously and the wholesale switch to wondernines is abating with some agencies who recently changed probably wishing they had waited.

And I think this bodes well for you, the gun dealer. A lot of people who previously depended upon a 9mm or .38 Special for their defensive armament will reconsider that choice and, perhaps, decide it's time for a new pistol that you, I'm sure, will be happy to sell them. And I sense a widespread acceptance of the automatic pistol in both law enforcement and defensive roles as a continuing trend. The revolver isn't dead but the reliability and firepower of a modern automatic pistol is bringing it to the forefront of shooter's minds. I don't think there has been a quantum leap it has been a very evolutionary process of both guns and ammunition - but we have come to a point where you no longer expect to have problems with autoloaders. Those of you who have been around as long as I have can remember the day when pistols were looked down upon as "jam-a-matics" but that is no longer true. Improvements in manufacturing methods and consumer demand for reliable products have prevailed to bring us pistols that obviate the revolver's sole claim to fame

reliability. It doesn't mean that six rounds are suddenly not enough but there is something appealing to having eight, ten or twelve, in a package that packs easier because it's flat and is equally accurate. The improved manufacturing methods I mentioned have elevated the accuracy of out-of-the-box automatics to equal or better that of a revolver and some are phenomenally accurate. All of these events aren't finished and the new decade will bring us newer and better things to talk about and sell.

Handguns are very much in a state of flux right now. S&W seems to be determined to have something for everyone and others can't be far behind with new offerings. Much of early controversy that swirled around the FBI tests seems to be abating as more folks accept the simple logic of the test methods and the handgun market will surely reflect new demands as consumers learn more about what's going on. It's going to be fun.
Manufacturers Mentioned
Company Circle No.
Auto-Ordnance Corp. 400
Colt's Manufacturing Co. 401
FIE Firearms Corp. 402
Glock, Inc. 403
IAI 404
Interarms (Star) 405
Jericho (KBI, Inc.) 406
Magnum Research, Inc. 407
North American Arms 408
Para-Ordnance Mfg., Inc. 409
Ram-Line, Inc. 410
Smith & Wesson 411
Springfield Armory, Inc. 412
Sturm, Ruger & Co. 413
Taurus International 414
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Copyright 1990 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:new handguns at gun retailers
Author:Petty, Charlie
Publication:Shooting Industry
Date:Sep 1, 1990
Previous Article:Free press from the press.
Next Article:ATF allows redesigned firearms.

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