The Smith & Wesson Response: S&W’s Latest PCCs

Smith & Wesson releasing one pistol caliber carbine last year was a nice surprise, but two was an absolute shocker. The Folding Pistol Carbine provided a folding carbine, making it one of a select group. The latest from the company, the Smith & Wesson Response, takes a more typical approach in the form of an AR-15. With that said, the S&W Response isn’t your typical AR-15 and takes plenty of liberties with the famed design.

What’s Different with the Response?

At its core, it’s just a simple blowback AR-15 design. Yet, S&W certainly put their own spin on the concept. The most obvious feature is the fact that the upper and lower layers are made of polymer. Polymer ARs aren’t new, but they are somewhat odd, especially the concept of a polymer upper. However, since the Response is only dealing with pistol caliber pressures, it’s not a big deal. At least, I hope it’s not.

There are a few more polymer infusions with the Response. The free-floating M-LOK handguard is made of polymer and is very similar to the FPC’s handguard. The charging handle is also polymer, and I’d be willing to bet that a metal handle and latch wouldn’t be the best option for a polymer upper. The Response certainly caught my interest.

S&W Response portrait
The Smith and Wesson Response is a simple carbine with some innovative features.

I have a few ARs in 9mm Luger. Most use multi-cal uppers, and I noticed an immediate difference between the Response and my other ARs in 9mm. The length that the bolt and charging handle have to travel is super short with the Response. It’s just long enough to get a 9mm round into the chamber. I love the shorter travel, and it’s one of the benefits of the proprietary design.

S&W Response magwells
The S&W Response currently offers a Glock and S&W M&P compatibility.

Okay, so the big thing that makes the Response stand out is the ability to swap magazine wells. The Response comes with an M&P magazine well and a Glock magazine well. More than that, it seems like the future could hold magwells for a variety of firearm platforms. Swapping the magwells is as easy as removing a bolt, removing a couple of small pieces, and installing the next magwell. It took me 90 seconds to swap magwells using the manual as a guide.

Response without magwell installed
The Response makes it easy to swap magwells on the fly.

Customizing The Response

The Response looks and handles like a traditional AR-15. I’m genuinely curious as to how well parts and pieces from ARs would work in the Response. I did try to install the Response upper on another 9mm lower, and I tried to install an AR9 upper on the Response lower. It didn’t work. The upper and lower are proprietary.

S&W Repsonse on truck
The S&W Response might be a new classic for S&W.

It looks like the gun uses a standard trigger and safety, but those seem to be about the only internals you can swap. Parts like the magazine release and bolt release are proprietary. The pistol grip and the stock can both be removed and replaced with aftermarket parts, but you don’t need to. Of course, adding optics, lights, and whatever isn’t a challenge at all.

The Ergos of the Response

The Response is an AR-15, so it has AR-15-like controls. This makes it inherently ergonomic. The safety clicks and pops in place fine. It feels like it drags over the polymer, but it never faults. The charging handle is huge and a very nice touch.

response charging handle
The Response charging handle is huge and polymer. By the way, it was raining, but rain isn’t an excuse not to shoot.

S&W has been using this M&P branding extensively on its pistol grips. The FPC, the M&P 12, and now the Response all use grips with the M&P texture, as well as interchangeable backstraps that allow you to tailor the grip to your hand size. It’s a nice touch, one that I don’t use, but still a smart idea.

response grip
The M&P Style grip makes it easy to swap grip panels to size the gun to your hand.

S&W used the Magpul MOE SL stock. It’s one of my favorite stocks. It’s supportive, beard-friendly, and features multiple sling points. They could have used some lame M4-type stock but really went above and beyond with the Magpul option.

Response controls
The Controls are pretty standard AR-Fair.

The use of polymer for seemingly everything but the barrel, receiver extension, and a few other parts results in a very lightweight gun. At 5.9 pounds, it won’t weigh you down. It’s impressively lightweight, making it easy to wield for those who hit the gym and those who don’t.

Magpul stock on rifle
The use of a Magpul stock was a nice addition.

At the Range With the Response

With a straight blowback weapon, we expect a bit of recoil. Yes, it’s only a 9mm, but with a lot of blowback guns, you get a hefty dose of recoil that can exceed that of a 5.56 round. With the Response, they must have balanced the bolt and buffer just right. Recoil is light and doesn’t feel violent. It’s below that of a 5.56. Being able to control the total construction of the bolt and buffer seems to have made a difference.

With that out of the way, how’s the accuracy? As a 9mm round, the gun only has so much range. At 50 yards, I can create a pretty solid 1.5-inch group. At 100 yards, it certainly opens up as I adjust for drop, but skewering an FBI Q Target wasn’t tough. If I aimed at the head, the rounds dropped into the chest.

S&W Response shooting
The Response is a gun, easy shooting carbine.

The trigger is fairly normal. It’s not heavy, but it isn’t a match-grade option either. It’s a flat-faced trigger that’s flatter than early 2000’s models. There is a nearly imperceptible take-up, followed by a stiff wall and a clean break.

The gun doesn’t come with sights of any kind, so my Holosun HS510C topped it. A red dot is all you need to throw 9mm pills at targets. It’s perfectly suited for quick action and makes close-range, fast shooting easy and simple. With nothing more than a red dot and a few extra mags, you are ready to rock and roll at a Steel Challenge or USPSA event.

Driving the Gun

The gun is more rear-heavy than front-heavy. This makes it easy to hold up and move quickly between targets. The M-LOK handguard is thin and light, making it easy to get a good grip and control the gun’s muzzle rise. A gun like this is born to shoot fast, and I had a great time with basic ready drills, a Bill Drill, and shooting my gongs as fast as I could. The low recoil and muzzle rise make it easy to shoot fast and it feels natural at anywhere from five to 50 yards.

response shooting from behind
The Response has very little recoil and muzzle rise.

I had no reliability issues. I used both mag wells. The M&P magazines ran fine, as predicted. The Glock mags had no problems. I even tried KCI, ETS, and Magpul mags and didn’t have any issues. Being able to use Glock mags means I can use cheap mags, which was a smart decision by S&W.

An aggressive magwell funnel makes it easy to drive reloads home on the move. The Response kept making its case to be a great entry-level competition PCC.

The Proper Response

The S&W Response is an interesting take on the world of AR9s. The Response is all polymer, ultra-lightweight, and very easy to use. Recoil is surprisingly light for a blowback gun. As a PCC nut, the interchangeable magwells have great appeal to me. When can I get a CZ-75 version? Smith & Wesson could have easily just released an M&P Sport in 9mm but went the extra mile, and it shows.

Travis Pike is a former Marine Machine Gunner and a lifelong firearms enthusiast. Now that his days of working a 240B like Charlie Parker on the sax are over he's a regular guy who likes to shoot, write, and find ways to combine the two. He holds an NRA certification as a Basic Pistol Instructor and is probably most likely the world's Okayest firearm instructor. He is a simplicisist when it comes to talking about himself in the 3rd person and a self-professed tactical hipster. Hit him up on Instagram, @travis.l.pike, with story ideas.

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