The sad story of the Smith & Wesson Light Rifle.

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There aren’t really a lot of engineers in the firearms business who move between specialties easily and with equivalent successes. In the case of the S&W Light Rifle, its designer was just a little out of his element.
Joseph Norman was once the chief engineer at Smith & Wesson, and was responsible (or at least had a lot to do with) some great S&W guns: the models 39, 41, 52, and 59 (and no doubt others.) It was, unfortunately, a rifle project that produced a major cloud on his name: the execrable M1940 Light Rifle.

Originally intended to be a police arm, the Light Rifle was chambered in 9mm and fired from an open bolt. By the time the rifle hit the production floor Great Britain was knee-deep in a shooting war with Germany and in desperate need of rifles. S&W offered them the M1940 and virtually every one of the 860 Light Rifles which had been made at that point were shipped across the Atlantic in exchange for a reported $1 million USD.

That deal may be the reason so many Brits hate us these days. The M1940 was a dog in every sense of the word: it was heavy, expensive, complicated, impossible to actually verify being unloaded when necessary, not terribly accurate even at just 50 yards and — the icing on the cake — had a tendency for the receiver to break at around 1,000 rounds!

The Brits virtually rejected the lot and demanded their money back, but apparently S& didn’t have it to give. Instead they reportedly made Her Majesty’s Armed Forces a sweet deal on some additional 380/200 M&P revolvers they were already using.

Today the guns are extremely rare; it’s known that S&W has a couple, there may be one or two at Aberdeen, and an unknown number (said to be less than five, with three being the most commonly suggested) in private hands. It is truly the Holy Grail of S&W collecting.

Of course, that means Ian McCollum has already handled one! Forgotten Weapons has a great video of one that showed up at Rock Island Auctions, as well as links to articles written on the gun. Be sure to read the articles, as they go into detail as to why the M1940 wasn’t even close to S&W’s finest hour.

-=[ Grant ]=-


About the Author:

Grant Cunningham is a renowned author and teacher in the fields of self defense, defensive shooting education and personal safety. He’s written several popular books on handguns and defensive shooting, including "The Book of the Revolver", "Shooter’s Guide To Handguns", "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals", "Defensive Pistol Fundamentals", and "Practice Strategies for Defensive Shooting" (Fall 2015.) Grant has also written articles on shooting, self defense, training and teaching for many magazines and shooting websites, including Concealed Carry Magazine, Gun Digest Magazine, the Association of Defensive Shooting Instructors ADSI) and the popular Personal Defense Network training website. He’s produced a DVD in the National Rifle Association’s Personal Firearm Defense series titled "Defensive Revolver Fundamentals" and teaches defensive shooting and personal safety courses all over the United States.
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