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Tips for Buying a Smith & Wesson Handgun Online

Revolver and leather holster S&W Handguns

I know, buying your first S&W handgun online is quite difficult.

You can’t hold the gun, and nobody’s around to take it apart and inspect it. So what can you tell about an S&W handgun just from a picture and a description?

A lot. In fact, I’m going to show you five things to look for that’ll help you choose the right Smith & Wesson handgun online.

Let’s get started!


If you aren’t sure what Smith & Wesson model you’ve got pulled up, take a look at the side of the barrel or slide. All S&W handguns have the make and model, usually relatively easy-to-spot, etched in their stainless-steel barrels or slides.

Another quick front-end identifier is whether you’ve got a ported barrel or not. If it’s got cut-outs in the front end, that means the barrel is ported.

Good news! Porting means your handgun will have less muzzle flip. One example of a great ported-barrel is the Performance Center M&P M2.0.

If you’re planning on using your handgun for combat use, there are some great options out there with a threaded barrel…a necessary feature if you’re wanting to use a suppressor.

How do you know if you’re looking at a gun with a threaded barrel? The tip of the barrel is smaller in diameter than the rest, and has grooving. Check out this M&P9 for reference.

S&W threaded barrel
Source: Smith & Wesson


You can tell if you’ve got an S&W revolver or semi-automatic by looking at the action. If there is an obvious rotating cylinder, you’re dealing with a revolver like the Model 610 10MM Revolver.

If not, it’s a semi-automatic like the M&P Shield EZ.

With the semi-auto handguns, some will have a hammer you can see, but others don’t — like the SD40 VE .40 S&W (which is striker-fired).

Another thing you can usually tell about the action by looking, is whether it’s single-action (has to be cocked before firing) or double-action (fired just by pulling the trigger).

Single-actions almost always have an external hammer, while double-actions won’t most of the time.

The action, along with the caliber, can indicate the age of your handgun. For example, if you see you’ve got a .357 caliber revolver, there’s a good chance it’s an older model .357 Magnum.

S&W Handgun SD40 VE
The S&W SD40 VE is an affordable and reliable handgun.


The frame of your handgun gives you several more clues about it. For example, a textured grip means you’ve got more control. One example of a nice grip texture is on the M&P Bodyguard.

Likewise, the material of the frame/grip can tell you about the age or style of your weapon. You could have a polymer like the Bodyguard .380 ACP, or you could have a stainless frame like the Model 642.

You could even have a wood stock such as the Model 36 Classic.

If you see small horizontal grooves running the length of your frame, it means you can mount accessories like lights or sighting systems on these Picatinny rails.

I like to fit my S&W handguns with a light for duty encounters.

S&W horizontal grooves
Source: Smith & Wesson


Some Smith & Wesson handguns come with built-in sights, but others are adjustable, like these that fit the M&P.

With a gun featuring adjustable sights, you can see the groove along the top where the sight can slide back and forth.

You’ll be able to tell if your sights are night sights or not by the color. Night sights have luminescent (usually green or reddish) dots that glow in the dark for easy targeting.

Weapons like the M&P Shield ship already fitted for night sights like these Ameriglos.

Ameriglo Night Sights
Ameriglo offers great night sights for your S&W handgun.


The last category of quick S&W handgun identification I’ll talk about is the type of safety your weapon uses. There are three main types of safeties on a Smith & Wesson: grip, thumb and trigger (also described as having no manual safety).

A grip safety is easy to spot because the back of your weapon will have a wedge-shaped piece sticking out like in this M&P Shield EZ. This is because you have to be holding the weapon and pressing in the grip safety to fire the gun.

Thumb safeties have to manually be turned on and off by the user, and typically look like a button or lever above the trigger assembly. Take a look at this Shield (which actually has a grip and thumb safety) to see a classic thumb safety.

A trigger safety just means the pull weight of the trigger is heavier to prevent an accidental pull.

A trigger safety can also be a small, raised section on the trigger that prevents it from being pulled back unless there is a finger pressing it down.

This happens with a natural trigger press while shooting. This M&P .380 ACP is a handgun with no manual safety.

M&P Shield EZ S&W Handgun - Smith & Wesson
This M&P Shield EZ features both a manual thumb safety and a grip safety.

Conclusion: Buying a Smith & Wesson Handgun Online

You can learn a lot about a Smith & Wesson firearm by inspecting it and checking for these details.

Be sure to use these tips when you’re shopping for your new handgun, and you’ll get the perfect gun for what you need without the endless hours of research.

Have you ever purchased a firearm online? Do you have any tips? Let us know in the comments section below!

About the Author:

Richard Douglas

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared on large publications like The National Interest, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, and more. In his free time, he reviews optics on his Scopes Field blog.
The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

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