By Andrew Butts
Following the success of last year’s VP9I, Heckler and Koch has announced the VP40 — I recently had the chance to spend an afternoon with this new pistol.
The new VP series differ from the earlier USP series by using an internal striker, rather than an exposed hammer, to fire the pistol. As expected, the new VP40 was accurate and reliable, as we have come to expect from all HK firearms.
Salient points for the HK VP40:
1. The pistol’s slide has been beefed up and thickened to increase its mass. This means the VP40 has been tailored to handle the higher slide velocity generated by the 40 S&W. Most makers offer pistols in 9mm and 40 in the exact same package but HK has taken a different path by offering a pistol that’s slightly bigger and heavier than its 9mm sibling.
2. The new VP40 will take existing P30 40 S&W magazines. Just like that 9mm P30 magazines will work in the VP9, the new striker fired pistol uses magazines that are readily available from most HK dealers.
3. The VP40 will accept the same grip panels used on the VP9. This means the grip circumference can be increased or decreased to suit most shooters. Grip panels can also be installed in a combination of large or small, creating a level of grip customization not available on other duty handguns.
4. The German label does command a higher price but the VP series is generally close in price to its competition.
5. Depending on holsters, the VP40 may or may not work in holsters built for the VP9. The VP40 did fit nicely in a well-used Galco Concealment Belt Holster.
A Little History
Shortly after World War II, the fledgling NATO was in search of a standard rifle cartridge for use by all member nations. England and Belgium submitted their best take on an infantry cartridge to fit NATO’s needs but the United States Army — being the most powerful voice in the room — big-footed the .308 Winchester as the best choice to protect the western world. Despite opposition from some NATO countries, America’s financial and political influence prevailed and the 7.62 NATO was adopted as the standard fighting rifle cartridge among member nations.
Just a few years later, the United States found herself fighting in the tropics of Southeast Asia where the 7.62 NATO and the M-14 rifle proved too big, bulky, and powerful. The lessons learned in Vietnam soon saw the adoption of a small rifle firing the .223 Remington — a lighter, smaller and faster cartridge that lacked the size, bulk, and brute force power of the 7.62 NATO.
Much to the chagrin of NATO countries — some no doubt still angry over the forced adoption of the 7.62 NATO — America reversed course and started to push the smaller and lighter .223 Remington cartridge on NATO countries.
Fast Forward to Today
What does all this have to do with Heckler and Koch’s new striker-fired pistol? Like the seesaw decision making process and negotiations of the NATO rifle rounds, it wasn’t too long ago that the Federal Bureau of Investigation determined that the 40 S&W was quite possibly the best “all around” law enforcement pistol cartridge. Departments across the nation traded in 9mm Luger pistols for 40 S&W pistols based on the FBI’s testing which showed the 40 was superior to the smaller 9mm in terminal ballistics and downrange performance.
Now, after many departments adopted the 40 S&W based on the FBI’s studies, we’re learning that the Bureau, taking a page from the NATO deal, has reversed course and decided that the 40 S&W is still too hard on guns and shooters and the larger cartridge unnecessarily reduces magazine capacity. In addition, it seems bullet technology has improved to the point that 9mm and 40 S&W are equal in terms of performance, penetration, and power.
The optimists will point out that lower recoil will mean qualification scores will go up without a loss in an officer’s ability to stop a violent threat. The pessimists are quick to determine that the FBI has done nothing other than lower qualification and training standards by going to a less effective cartridge that’s easier to shoot.
For better or worse — and with any pessimistic outlook aside — the 9mm has become the new 40 S&W and we’re likely to see many departments trading in their .40-cal firearms for guns chambered in 9mm Luger based on the FBI’s latest findings.
With all the above in mind, why would Heckler and Koch just now be launching a handgun chambered for the 40S&W? I suspect that, even with the FBI’s current stance, the 40 S&W will continue to remain popular with American officers. Lacking a crystal ball, I cannot say what lies ahead for the 40S&W, as HK continues to develop and revolutionize the firearms market.
About the author
Andrew Butts has served as a soldier in the Army National Guard and also served as a correctional officer in Montana, and is currently with a federal law enforcement agency. Butts currently holds an Expert classification in IDPA and an A classification in USPSA in both Limited and Single Stack Divisions.