Smith & Wesson Military & Police Auto Pistol

Mostly praised for its features and functionality, the new S&W Military & Police (M&P) may be notable for something even more important: a manufacturer’s willingness to listen to the end users of its product.
Officially introduced at the SHOT Show in Las Vegas in first quarter of 2006, the Smith & Wesson Military & Police semiautomatic service pistol became widely accepted in law enforcement, combat pistol competition, and the armed citizen sector in less than a year. Articles in the firearms and law enforcement press, and on the Internet, have concentrated on its mechanical features and its “shootability,” both of which have much to recommend them.
However, there is another story hidden within.  It is the story of a rapidly changing old-line company that has found within itself the courage to break not just one mold, but two.  Smith & Wesson found the courage to step past its old products and develop something dramatically new. The firm also found the courage to take a new approach to handling consumer complaints and responding to end-user needs.


Background: the M&P Pistol
Joe Bergeron, head of autoloading pistol production at S&W, led the development of the M&P pistol. Something of a child prodigy as a young engineer at Colt’s, Bergeron came to Smith & Wesson with a deep understanding of how semiautomatic pistols work, and of how they are designed, and of how they are manufactured. These are three different things entirely, and they made Bergeron a triple threat in the industry, and the logical man to spearhead the M&P project.
Bergeron and his people came up with a new design that didn’t look derivative. It was the first time Smith & Wesson had done so with a semiautomatic service pistol design in 50 or more years. This is not to say that it didn’t incorporate features from other designs.  However, those features were add-ons, not whole design concepts that defined the pistol.
From Heckler and Koch came three concepts, two now almost universally adopted and the third worthy of the same acceptance. The polymer frame, first seen in the 1970s on the HK P9S and that company’s semiautomatic adaptation of its machine pistol, the VP70Z, has now become the new standard platform for police duty sidearms.
Another now-ubiquitous feature is the attachment rail molded into the frame’s dust cover. Appearing first in the early 1990s on HK’s USP, it was originally proprietary to HK’s own UTL (Universal Tactical Light, built for them by InSight in New Hampshire), but this feature was soon standardized into a Picatinny rail format by the industry.
Even later incarnations of HK service pistols now use the Pic rail specifications.  The third feature was the ambidextrous slide release, first seen on major brand service pistols in HK’s 2000 line.
From Glock, which picked up the polymer-frame ball that HK dropped, ran with it, and popularized it, came the multi-part trigger incorporating a safety device. On the Smith the trigger differs from the original Glock in execution, however.
From Walther came the widely copied concept of interchangeable backstraps to adjust grip frame size to fit a broad variety of hand sizes.
Smith & Wesson had a tool in its toolbox that the competitors did not: an extensive, scientific study of hand size done in the early 1990s for their Sigma project.  With this, plus updated knowledge of ergonomics gleaned from the rapid advance of that science as applied to pistols in the last decade, S&W’s M&P team leaped ahead of the competition with a series of grip inserts that offered not only different trigger reach, but alternate sizes and shapes of grip width to more appropriately fill the shooter’s palm.  The result is probably state-of-the-art in the interchangeable auto pistol backstrap today.


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