Smith & Wesson Targets High-Growth Self-Defense Market With Newest Handgun


By Rich Duprey, MotleyFool

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Because personal protection is largely the reason why people are buying handguns, models that are designed with concealment in mind have become hugely popular. Smith & Wesson Holding's (NASDAQ:SWHC) M&P Shield line, which was designed just for such purposes, has become the best-selling personal-protection and self-defense pistol on the market.

Introduced in 2012, the gunmaker has already produced and sold more than 1 million guns under that nameplate. In fact, it passed that milestone last year. Until now, the Shield model has only been available in 9mm and .40 S&W, two popular sizes, for sure; but gun enthusiasts tend to like the firepower behind a .45 caliber, and Smith & Wesson has finally given them what they want.

The new .45 Auto maintains the features of the M&P Shield that have made it a go-to choice for many shooters: the compact, slimline design, an aggressively textured, 18-degree grip angle, and deep, front-cocking serrations.

There are plenty of .45s on the market that gun buyers can choose from for concealed-carry purposes. Manufacturers from Glock and Kahr to Springfield and Sturm, Ruger (NYSE:RGR)all offer models targeted to this market, and a 1911 from just about any manufacturer points to the burgeoning demand for the size. By finally coming out with its own M&P Shield model offering, Smith and Wesson may be a little late to the game, but probably believes it should be able to make up for that.

Of course, there's an age-old debate in the gun community about whether a 9mm, .45 ACP, or .45 S&W is the best round, and while all sides have their adherents, the truth is that hand control and shot placement remain paramount. But where the 9mm excels is in capacity: You can simply carry more ammunition, and do so more cheaply, and that's no exception with Smith & Wesson's new .45 Auto. It comes with two magazines -- one six rounds, the other seven -- whereas the M&P Shield 9mm has seven- and eight-round magazines.

It's also naturally a hair thicker at 0.99 inches than the 9's 0.95-inch size, while overall length is slightly larger at 6.45 inches compared to 6.1 inches.

FirearmM&P Shield .45 AutoM&P Shield 9mmM&P Shield .40
Capacity6- and 7-rounds7- and 8-rounds6- and 7-rounds
Barrel Length3.3"3.1"3.1"
Overall Length6.45"6.1"6.1"
Frame Width0.99"0.95"0.95"
Weight20.5 oz.19 oz.17.9 oz
SightsWhite DotTritiumTritium


Still, many gun owners want their .45s, and Smith & Wesson is smart to give it to them. With a suggested retail price of $479, it's more affordable than many of its rivals in the same niche. Springfield Armory's XD-S .45ACP, for example, has an MSRP of $549, while a Glock 36 retails for about $650. And a Kahr Arms PM45 will set you back about $880, though its CM45 model is a competitive $460.

Gun sales have been on a tear. According to the FBI, it conducted more than 2.1 million background checks on potential gun buyers in April. Although that's down from the 2.5 million investigations it conducted the month before, it's 25% more than it performed in April 2015. Through April 30, the law-enforcement agency had conducted 10% more background checks on gun buyers this year than it did last, suggesting it's on track to turn in another record-breaking year.

Of course, background checks don't translate into gun sales on a 1:1 basis, as some people may not buy a gun, some may get rejected, and others will buy more than one gun; but it's considered a reliable proxy for demand.

Smith & Wesson reported a 56% surge in gun sales in its 2016 third-quarter report back in March, while Sturm, Ruger reported a 26% jump. There's no indication that either gunmaker (or any of the gunmakers really) are seeing any real letup in demand for personal-protection firearms, and Smith & Wesson's new M&P Shield .45 Auto could be just the thing to keep its momentum going.

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