Self Defense: S&W Steel

HOME ALONE DUO: According to FBI stats, home burglaries take…

HOME ALONE DUO: According to FBI stats, home burglaries take place once every 15 seconds. In the dead of night S&W’s new nightstand 9mm or .40-caliber SD semi-autos are perfect companions

For 158 years, Smith & Wesson has been meeting the needs of legally armed citizens in the area of self-protection and home defense. S&W started out making a tiny .22 rimfire revolver meant primarily for defensive use. In the ensuing decades, they have produced revolvers and semi-automatic pistols that have become standards for civilian, law enforcement, and military use. From the 1870s until WWII, the company was known for its small, hinged-framed revolvers in .32 and .38 S&W. In 1950, they introduced the Chief’s Special, which has become a concealed carry classic. Then, as semi-automatics became more popular, in 1955 S&W introduced the Model 39, a double-action pistol in 9mm Luger that spawned a whole family of second and third generations.

Built For Self Defense

S&W recently announced plans to produce a line of semi-automatic pistols designed with personal protection and home defense in mind.

Designated the SD (Self Defense) Pistol Series, production SD handguns recently became available and I requested a test gun for evaluation in .40 S&W caliber. Both the SD40 and 9mm SD9 offer a variety of features that address home and personal defense applications. According to Tom Kelley, vice president of marketing for S&W, “The new SD9 and SD40 pistols combine the best of both price and functionality in a reliable, ergonomic firearm engineered with one specific goal in mind—self-defense.”

In fact, the SD9 and SD40, with MSRPs of $459 fall well below the price of a similar sized M&P semi-auto or SIG Sauer P250 Compact. They are in the same ballpark price-wise as other popular mid-sized pistols like the Glock 23 and Ruger SR40. In a move to make the SD Series compatible with your particular jurisdiction, S&W has an SD9 with either a 16+1 or a 10+1 capacity and an SD40 with a 14+1 or 10+1 capacity. My sample of the SD40 sported a full-capacity 14-round magazine.

Sigma/M&P Hybrid

I was one of a group of gun writers who were invited down to central Florida in 1993 for S&W’s unveiling of the Sigma Series of pistols, the organization’s first venture into the production of polymer frame, striker-fired pistols. The Sigma was a big success for S&W and the line continues today. When I first saw the SD Series pistols, they reminded me of the Sigma, especially the frame as they have the same 18-degree grip frame angle, making for good “pointability” and control, plus the slide release catch, magazine release and takedown are virtually the same. The frame also has some hints of the M&P line, like the textured panels on the sides of the grip frame and the universal Picatinny-style rail. The shape of the slide also is reminiscent of the M&P pistols more so than the Sigma.


The SD pistols are slightly more compact and slender than the Sigma line, with a width of only 1.29 inches and an empty weight of 22.7 ounces. Both types of pistols are made with lightweight polymer frames and the slides and barrels are stainless steel with a tough black Melonite finish on the SD models. This finish not only reduces glare for the shooter, but also has a surface hardness of 68 on the Rockwell scale, increasing durability. Another important feature—the SDT (Self-Defense Trigger)—is designed to give the shooter a consistent trigger pull to aid in practical accuracy and help instill confidence in the user during the high stress of a self-defense situation.

Continuing the comparison with the Sigma, the SD, for a few dollars more, offers a number of refinements. Most importantly, you get steel sights that are dovetailed into the slide. Not only does the SD40 have steel sights, but it also has a tritium front sight to increase visibility in low light. The rear sight has white dots on either side of the square notch and I have found that in close range situations you are generally as well off with a night sight just on the front blade.

At the rear of the barrel, on top of the SD slide, is a port that allows a visual verification as to whether there is a round in the chamber. Those who like to do a “quick peek” to check their gun’s loaded status will be pleased to see that the SD Series of pistols have serrations on the front of the slide. These wide serrations are also on the rear of the slide and give really good purchase when retracting the slide. The front of the slide is also beveled, allowing smoother, gouge-free insertion of the handgun into the holster. The sides of the slide are dished-out between the two panels of serrations, giving it a look more closely resembling the M&P model pistol. For disassembly directions, see the owners manual—it’s simple, but be very cautious.

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