S&W in Tennessee: A Tactical Move

Smith & Wesson continues to deliver on all fronts as it moves south to Tennessee. What’s the latest?

S&W in Tennessee: A Tactical Move

Since 2005, the M&P stable of autoloading pistols has given Smith & Wesson a big bite of that market. Durable, reliable and accurate, these striker-fired sidearms also have “hand appeal.” They point naturally and come out of recoil on target. You can thank intelligent engineering for that. The M&P gave birth to the Shield and Shield EZ pistols, and more recently, the SD9 2.0. Built on a compact polymer frame, this 22.7-ounce 9mm auto has a stainless 4-inch barrel, white dot sights. Capacity is 16 rounds (a 10-shot-compliant model is available). The two-tone SD9 2.0 has a gray slide on a black frame and retails at just $349.

In full-size pistols, there’s an M&P 2.0 Performance Center 10mm, built on a polymer frame with an embedded stainless chassis and a 5.6-inch ported stainless barrel. The optic-ready slide is finished in black Armornite. It has tall white-dot sights. Four grip options with aggressive texture give users fumble-free control in slick hands and coming from the holster. There’s an ambidextrous thumb safety and a smooth, flat-face trigger. Supplied with two 15-shot magazines, this 31.4-ounce M&P lists for $749. While some would trade power for capacity and choose a 9mm over a 10mm for self-defense, the big 10 has an unquestioned edge as a carry gun in bear country. Each 180-grain bullet out-muscles the stiffest of .357 Magnum loads. And a 10mm M&P holds twice as many cartridges as any big-bore revolver!

S&W’s Performance Center has a most appealing pistol in its recent full-size Spec Series M&P 9 Metal 2.0. This 9mm has an alloy frame and 4.8-inch threaded barrel with a Faxon compensator to reduce recoil and muzzle flip. “Suppressor-height” white dot sights with tritium inserts top an optic-ready slide. An attractive OD green Cerakote finish complements the black polymer grips with palm inserts. Lightening cuts and aggressive serrations pare the pistol’s weight to 30 ounces. It ships in a carry case with two 17-shot and two 23-shot magazines, also a Karambit knife with a short, curved blade. As handsome an auto as you’ll find, this striker-fired 9 is equipped to deliver fast on-target shots and is top-shelf in every detail. It retails for a buck shy of $1,000.

Wait a minute! Is S&W catching up with orders? Rumor has it the company’s move to Tennessee brought delays, and that some guns long produced in Massachusetts won’t be built in the South.  

“Actually, we’re still in Massachusetts,” said Dave O’Connor, S&W’s Media Relations Manager. Based in Springfield, he should know. “This factory has grown with the company since its birth in 1852. Forging, heavy machining and metal finishing will stay here, with about 1,000 employees. We’re keeping revolver production and assembly in Massachusetts, too. Manufacture of autoloading pistols and carbines, and AR-15 rifles, is shifting to Maryville, also the injection molding of plastics.” Distribution services, he added, would make the move too.

Maryville, Tennessee, a suburban city of 32,000, lies 17 miles south of Knoxville on the state’s eastern hem. S&W had explored other places for its new plant and headquarters offices. Announcing the $120 million relocation September 30, 2021, S&W’s President and CEO Mark Smith explained the company “had little choice” but to exit Massachusetts, because proposed legislation there, “if enacted, would prevent Smith & Wesson from manufacturing firearms … safely used by tens of millions of law-abiding citizens … protecting themselves and their families and [participating in] shooting sports.” He added: “[We hope] this arbitrary and damaging legislation will be defeated, [but] these products made up more than 60% of our revenue [in 2020] ….” Massachusetts had banned the sale of “military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines” in 2004. More anti-gun proposals were — and are — in the queue. 

A firearms- and business-friendly environment brought Maryville to S&W’s attention, as did the area’s modest cost of living and ready access to university education. Home to the University of Tennessee, Knoxville has a population of 193,000, which is 23% greater than that of Springfield, Massachusetts, but cost of living in Knoxville and Maryville is 14% below the U.S. average. Springfield’s is 4% below. Massachusetts taxes are among the nation’s highest. 

Also nudging S&W toward Maryville: its favorable location for a U.S. distribution center and the availability of qualified workers. Smith acknowledged the state legislature’s hearty support and Governor Lee’s “decisive contributions” — and noted the improved quality of life for arrivals from Springfield. 

As construction of a 650,000-square-foot headquarters complex began on the 230-acre Tennessee tract, S&W made relocation offers to about 750 employees in Massachusetts. Those choosing to stay were given enhanced severance pay. In Deep River, Connecticut, S&W scheduled its plastic injection molding operation for divestment. It would become part of the Maryville enterprise — though its external customers would not. S&W distribution offices in Columbia, Missouri, were peddled for sub-lease as those services relocated. The move to Marysville did not affect company operations in Houlton, Maine. 

Enthusiastic local response to S&W’s move was inspired by the prospect of more than 600 jobs. Many Maryville residents were left adrift by the 2021 bankruptcy of bar-and-grill chain Ruby Tuesday, headquartered there. By 2019, a long revenue slide had pared Ruby’s restaurant roster to 451 nationwide, from 840 at the decade’s start. Strictures triggered by COVID, and reduced restaurant traffic, sent the company to court. In 2021 it emerged from bankruptcy proceedings with 209 locations. Maryville offices on East Broadway Avenue fetched $2.6 million from Massey Properties, LLC. Before S&W’s headquarters was finished, staff trickling in from Springfield used Ruby’s vacated digs to begin their work in Tennessee.

The new complex took shape quickly. By summer, 2023, interior finishing was underway. On October 7, Mark Smith and invited guests cut the ribbon to welcome visitors to S&W’s new home at 1852 Profitt Road. Smith predicted a workforce of 700 to 800 would soon have the factory humming. Again, he credited the company’s pick of Maryville to the “unwavering support” of Blount County for the firearms industry. Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn told Fox News: “In Tennessee, we know that the Second Amendment is non-negotiable.” 

S&W-sponsored handgun ace Jerry Miculek highlighted that event by turning his 9mm revolver on a rack of six steel plates at 7 yards. With six shots fired so fast they sounded like a roll of thunder, he flattened every plate in turn in an astounding 1.88 seconds — an NRA speed-shooting record!

S&W’s Tennessee factory is now producing autoloading models. Engineers are developing new rifles and handguns and refining traditional models. 

For shooters who dislike pausing often to reload, S&W has announced a full-size M&P pistol in .22 WMR. Unlike its centerfire siblings, it is not striker-fired, but gas-operated, with an internal hammer. The bullet must pass a forward gas port to unlock the breech. S&W also employs this system on M&P’s in 5.7x28. The .22 Magnum has a 4.4-inch stainless steel barrel, a polymer frame and under-barrel Pic rail. Optic-ready, it pairs a black rear sight with a green fiber-optic up front. The thumb safety and slide stop work from either side. The slim, flat-face trigger reflects a trend at S&W. Cosmetically, it bucks tradition. I like the feel. It seems less sensitive than curved triggers to slight changes in my grip, with less off-axis tug on the pistol from improvised positions. At 22 ounces, this is a lightweight full-size auto. But its 30-shot magazine adds heft! Frothy new loads for the .22 WMR make this $649 handgun a formidable arm.

S&W has incorporated elements of M&P pistols in the FPC folding carbine. This 5-pound 9mm collapses to less than 16.5 inches – essentially barrel-length. It uses M&P magazines, storable in the butt-stock. Recoil-driven, the FPC has AR-15 (MSR)-type fire controls and a reversible magazine release. The charging handle doubles as a retainer. The handguard sports M-LOK slots and a full-length Pic rail. With one 17- and two 23-round magazines, the FPC (also in 10-shot-compliant version) retails for $699.

S&W’s “tactical-style” carbines also include the 5.9-pound blowback-run Response. It features a polymer frame, a Magpul buttstock, and an M&P grip. Its 9mm 16.5-inch barrel, of 4140 chrome-moly steel, is threaded. Like the FPC, the Response has AR-15 (MSR) fire controls, an M-LOK-slotted handguard, a long Pic rail and a flat-face trigger. The polymer lower comprises two parts. Flared “Flex Mag” magazine wells accept a suite of double-stack magazines. Three are included: one 17-shot G17/19 and two 23-shot M&P. The Response sells for $799, as does a 10-round-compliant version.

Centerfire rifles on the popular AR-15 mechanism were first produced at S&W in 2006. M&P15 variations and chamberings have proliferated. At prices from $819 to $1,779, they still top the company’s long-gun roster. Now there’s a S&W Volunteer rifle in 6mm ARC, an efficient, short-coupled Hornady cartridge whose 103- and 105-grain bullets boast G1 ballistic coefficients of around .530. Started at 2,750 to 2,800 fps, they still clock nearly 2,000 fps at 500 yards, outpacing many 100-grain .243 Winchester factory loads down the stretch. 

The S&W Volunteer series (a nod to Tennessee, the Volunteer State) comprises 11 models. The Volunteer Pro has a direct impingement gas system, a 16-inch, 4140 chrome-moly barrel with a PWS 556 brake. There’s an aluminum frame and a butt-stock by B5 Systems. The full-length Pic rail tops a 15-inch M-LOK-slotted handguard with a 2-inch rail under its nose. Folding sights are from Williams Gunsite. The Volunteer has a forged, integral trigger guard, a forward assist and a dust cover. Its action strips cartridges from a 25-shot magazine. The firing pin is chromed, the barrel finished with Black Armornite, inside and out. Well-equipped, the S&W Volunteer in 6mm ARC lists at $1,589.

The company has also grown its suite of blow-back .22 rimfire MSRs, priced from $499.

While S&W is best known for revolvers, and now autoloading pistols and rifles, it is ever alert to market trends. These inspired the company’s Model 1854 lever rifle, introduced at the 2024 SHOT Show. Named for the birth year of S&W’s lever-action Volcanic pistol, the 1854 fills a vacancy in the product line, according to Vince Perreault, Director of Brand Marketing: “It will help us grow our presence in a corner of the market getting industry attention after a long hiatus.” Indeed. Lever rifles bring to mind the Old West, and in much of the U.S, came to define “deer rifle.” The nostalgia and traditions these firearms evoke were obscured in the late 20th century by dust trailing the dash to bolt-action rifles firing ever more powerful cartridges. CNC machining stocks made bolt-actions less costly to produce, while the hand labor needed to fit and finish parts in lever-actions spiked their prices.

Then a revival occurred. Even shooters enamored of AR-15s and magnum bolt rifles pined for a “saddle gun.” Hornady announced powerful new cartridges for exposed-hammer lever mechanisms. Its LeverEvolution cartridges with soft polymer bullet tips flattened trajectories and extended lethal reach. Other ammunition makers grew their rosters of traditional lever-rifle cartridges — and of revolver rounds popular in short lever mechanisms: .44-40 and .45 Colt to .357 and .44 Magnums. Refined metallic sights served competitors in Cowboy Silhouette matches. Red-dot sights repurposed lever-action carbines to home defense. Pic rails and synthetic stocks on lever rifles, and sleeves bristling with ammo, gave them a “tactical” feel.

Perreault said sales of other lever-actions “figured heavily in our decision to produce one.” He added that S&W didn’t copy a specific rifle. “Of course, our engineers studied existing mechanisms. But we weren’t in any way bound to them. We focused on what we wanted a lever-action to be: accurate and reliable, and smooth in operation. We insisted that it point as naturally as the DA revolvers that made S&W famous.” The company also consulted customers and lever-rifle buffs.

The Model 1854 has a 19 ¼-inch barrel threaded 11/16x24 — a concession to the times that nixes a traditional profile up front. Still, it’s as much at home in a truck cab as in a scabbard. The barrel and the forged, solid-top receiver are manufactured in Springfield, where the rifle is assembled. “No investment-cast parts,” said Perreault. The full-length, nine-shot magazine is banded up front. Its internal sleeve is easily removed for unloading with a twist of its knurled end, as on tube-fed .22 rifles. A cap with integral swivel stud weds barrel, magazine and forend. The butt-stock has a standard QD stud.

S&W builds this carbine in two versions: stainless/synthetic (currently) and blued/walnut (soon). The synthetic stocked rifle’s steel (416 for the receiver, 410 for the barrel) is naked, well polished but not glossy. “The chrome-moly steel on the walnut-stocked rifle has black PVD finish,” Perreault told me. The stainless version’s black polymer forend has three M-LOK slots, a “tactical” touch that does not affect its profile or handling qualities. The butt-stock is straight and nicely rounded on top, of proper height for iron sights and set far enough back that my big paw doesn’t battle the comb nose. Its generous fluting helps, too. The long grip has a gentle curve for fast, easy hand positioning, no matter your shooting style or arm length. The lever hugs the grip and doesn’t rattle when closed. Stippling on grip and forend mimics that on S&W pistols.

The Model 1854 wears a 4.8-inch rail, snugged by 8-40 screws, for easy top-mounting of a scope or red-dot sight. An XS ghost ring at the rear of the rail brings acres to eye. It pairs nicely with the bold, flat-faced gold bead up front. This carbine carries more comfortably and points more naturally for me than a same-length MSR carbine. 

According to Grant Dubuc, S&W’s Director of Product Innovation, the short action was designed for the .44 Magnum cartridge. “The .45 Colt is next up for consideration, the .357 Magnum after that,” he told me. “We’ve discussed the .454 Casull, but its 56,600 psi maximum average pressure is quite a jump from the .44 Magnum’s 36,000. The action would need extensive testing, perhaps tweaks in design.”

Per M&P pistols and M&P15 rifles, the 1854’s trigger is smooth and straight. “We engineered it to release at 3 to 6 pounds,” said Dubuc. “Its broad face and crisp break make the pull seem lighter.” A button safety blocks the hammer, but I’ll use the hammer’s half-cock notch.

“With the standard versions of the 1854,” said S&W’s Dave O’Connor, “two special editions are in the works. One will put 100 high-grade rifles with Model 29 revolvers in cased sets. These may not be sold through ordinary channels. Another 1,854 rifles with upgraded wood and glossy finish are planned for normal distribution.”

At this writing, S&W’s move has brought minor delays filling orders. Production at Springfield and Marysville plants will soon have revolvers and Model 1854 rifles, as well as M&P pistols and rifles, on dealer shelves. A service to shooters that began 172 years ago!

A Tactical Start?

Of or having to do with tactics, esp. in military maneuvers for short-range objectives. Distilled, that’s Webster’s definition of “tactical.” But the word has been diluted. Few arms hyped as “tactical” to civilians these days serve military ends — while arms now antique were once their equivalent in battle.

Many if not most 19th-century repeating firearms were designed with government contracts in mind. That hope may have inspired S&W’s first lever-action, a pistol developed 170 years ago. In 1852, Horace Smith and Daniel Wesson, with financier Courtland Palmer, founded the Smith & Wesson Co. to develop the Volitional Repeater invented four years earlier by Walter Hunt. (Patent rights to this rifle had sold to George Arrowsmith, who’d hired Lewis Jennings to overhaul it. Palmer paid $100,000 for these rights.) Smith was to improve the rifle and its “rocket ball” bullet, which carried gunpowder in its hollow base. In 1851, after patents from his work went to Palmer, Smith joined with Wesson to design a Volcanic repeating pistol and a rimfire cartridge. Like Hunt’s rifle, it had a one-finger lever loop. But it eliminated a separate cocking motion after feeding, using the bolt’s rearward thrust to retract the hammer. In 1855, a year after Smith and Wesson got a patent for it, 40 New York and New Haven investors bought out their partnership. It reappeared as Volcanic Repeating Arms. Wesson served briefly as factory manager. Early in 1857, soft sales sent Volcanic into receivership. Oliver Winchester bought all assets for $40,000. He re-established the company as New Haven Repeating Arms and tasked B. Tyler Henry with fixing the balky rifle. In Massachusetts in 1856, Rollin White’s patent for a bored-through revolver cylinder provided the footing for the Smith & Wesson Revolver Co.

During the Civil War, the Henry saw limited action, but it became one of the first repeating rifles used by the U.S. Army. Its design upstaged those of its competitors. While S&W revolvers get little credit for the settling of the West, they were soon favored by law officers across the country. 


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