I must admit to having developed an abiding passion for plastic handguns. When I was cutting my tactical teeth, aluminum frames were the spooky new frontier in handgun design. I never thought I would be swept up in the polymer revolution. Plastic was for model airplanes and Happy Meal toys—not serious tactical tools. Well, technology marches on with or without you, so I finally got on the bandwagon and soon found myself addicted.
Now that polymer frames are ubiquitous in holsters everywhere, there has been the most fascinating evolution in the firearms industry. The economy is in the toilet for the foreseeable future, and societal uncertainty has made recreational shooting and tactical training thriving businesses. But fullsized cartridges are expensive and the market has responded with any number of .22 versions of tactical handguns.
The first wave in this revolution was led by the Walther P-22. Compact and sinister, yet cute as a button in a manly sort of way, the P-22 is reasonably priced, reliable and fun. I actually shot mine until the slide broke in half.
This was not necessarily an engineering flaw. I simply shot the thing to pieces. It took untold thousands of rounds to get there. The upside is that eight days after an email to Smith & Wesson, the American face of Walther these days, I held my revered little pistol now tuned and tidy and with a brand new slide … free of charge. I defy you to find better customer service anywhere.
SIG followed soon thereafter with its Mosquito, and Ruger is now churning out its SR22 “tactical” pistol as well. The common thread among these pieces is that they are all fairly small.
Small is often good in the handgun world because it equates to concealability and lightweight carry. In the case of training tools, however, smaller is not necessarily better.
If you want a weekend training simulator that gives you useful trigger time without torpedoing the ammo budget, the pistol should ideally be a ringer for its full-caliber big brother. Enter the Smith & Wesson M&P22.
M&P stands for Military & Police. At present this line includes an assortment of striker-fired polymer-framed handguns focused on the law enforcement, military, and private citizen tactical markets.
The M&P line also includes AR-15 variants as well as .22-caliber versions of these respected tactical rifles. Now the M&P22 breaks Smith & Wesson into the tactical plastic .22 pistol market— but with a twist.
BIGGER REALLY IS BETTER
The beauty of the Smith & Wesson M&P22 is that it is built onto a full-size M&P frame. This makes transition training literally seamless save for recoil. While full-sized M&P handguns are striker fired, the M&P22 incorporates an internal hammer, but the trigger pulls are not grossly dissimilar.
The M&P22 incorporates the same pivoting safety mechanism integrally designed into the trigger as its big brothers, but also includes an ambidextrous manual frame-mounted safety in the manner and location of the 1911.
Now a word of heresy.
The external manual safety has been much maligned as a lawyerism in online gun fora. Perhaps that is the case. I do fully appreciate that more than half the cops in America carry a striker-fired handgun with no external safeties and a round up the pipe every single day.
However, I personally know of three accidental shootings wherein law enforcement officers were hit in either training or on ops due to negligent discharges from striker-fired handguns without external safeties.
Yes, each case was a training failure and was imminently preventable. That does not change the fact that they occurred. In the case of the M&P22’s external manual safety, it is unobtrusive and the operator can leave it in the off position and ignore it. Personally, I like the option of putting the weapon on safe externally during training.
The pistol includes that wretched magazine disconnect that seems to be so prevalent these days. It comes in an attractive and functional fitted plastic case with all the cool tools, manuals, and safety swag we expect from namebrand shooting products. At the time of this writing, they are selling briskly. As a result, spare magazines can be difficult to find.
The sights are sturdy and unobtrusive while being nicely visible. The rear sight is adjustable for both windage and elevation. The front blade sports a white dot, while the rear sight is unmarked.
I am at about 500 rounds thus far on my M&P22 and have yet to experience a cycling problem with five different .22 Long Rifle ammunition variants—.22 ammo is dirty and I don’t think I have ever owned an auto-loading .22-caliber firearm that could make a similar performance claim. This pistol has cycled to that standard right out of the box, with ammo ranging from subsonic to hypervelocity.
A bone of contention for some rests in the fact that the M&P22 does not have interchangeable backstraps like its fullbore brethren. I have moderately large hands, and the M&P22 fits me perfectly.
If you have little pixie hands, maybe a smaller pistol would be more to your liking. If you have enormous gorilla mitts, you may just have to suck it up. You likely got to be a football star and date half the cheerleader squad in high school, so I don’t feel sorry for you.
There are two aspects of this design that bear exploring further. First, the gun is built by Walther in Germany. The relationship between Smith & Wesson and Walther that produced the world-class customer service referenced above now brings us a superb full-sized tactical training tool.
Workmanship on my example is literally flawless, and the slide is machined from aluminum stock rather than the zinc pot metal of many other .22 clones.
The other nifty aspect of this design is that the barrel retention system on the M&P22 is identical to that of the P-22. The benefit to American shooters is that the fixed barrel is just itching to sport a sound suppressor.
SILENCE IS GOLDEN
Suppressors were very effectively and unfairly demonized in the 1930s by gangsters and organized crime figures. Thanks to some misguided knee-jerk legislation, we are now stuck with the public perception of sound suppressors as assassins’ tools and terrorist kit. The reality is an entirely different beast.
In much of the world, sound suppressors are sold unrestricted over the counter, which should be the case here as well. We should be able to buy them uncontrolled in blister packs from Wal- Mart. They make for safer training, better controllability, and more neighborly shooting.
A well-designed muzzle can adds very little to the overall weight of the system and supremely enhances a shooting experience. There is no better way to introduce a neophyte to the art of handgun shooting than by using a suppressed .22-caliber handgun and leaving the earmuffs at home.
Additionally, the incorporation of a suppressed .22 pistol into the load-out kit of a police tactical team is an imminently practical undertaking.
Concerned that the bad guy might slip out of his crack house during a raid, get to his vehicle and escape? Pop two of the tires with a suppressed .22 handgun right as the breaching team knocks on the door. How about if you’re formed up in the stack off his front porch at 0300 and there’s a growl and a pair of yellow eyes glaring back at you from the flowerbed? You could always shoot the guard dog with your M4, but even if it’s suppressed, that hypersonic .22-caliber slug at 3,000 feetper- second is going to give you a sonic crack that will bring out every evil-doer within a three-block radius.
Don’t care for the blinding exterior light that is trashing your night vision and giving the advantage to the defenders at the local illicit pharmaceutical emporium? A reliable .22 pistol with an effective suppressor takes care of all those things and more. The M&P22 is literally the perfect suppressor host. It runs like your duty gun and takes a suppressor like it was born to do so.
For a variety of solid reasons, the Smith & Wesson M&P22 breaks new ground in the .22 pistol market, which dates back more than a century in the United States. Reliable, sexy and with ergonomics familiar to most everyone, this pistol makes for great training while still filling a niche for any number of real-world tactical applications.
All of this with flawless quality and a price that will simply make you grin, the Smith & Wesson M&P22 is a cool sub-caliber heater in a hot muscle-car frame.