The Under-Appreciated Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm

Introduced in early 2022, the Smith & Wesson CSX pistol seemed an anachronism at the outset. It was an all-metal (steel with aluminum frame) hammer-fired single-action pistol designed for cocked and locked carry, in a time when the defensive handgun market was dominated by polymer frame striker-fired guns with a “point and shoot” manual of arms.

The CSX’s reception has been mixed. I’m told one gun dealer in the Southwest sells them so fast he can’t keep them in stock. Yet another dealer in Florida told me he can’t sell them at all, because no one among his clientele wants to learn an “old fashioned thumb safety.” However that particular dealer loves his, carries it often on his own time, and only wears a higher capacity 9mm at work because he’s often alone in the store and figures armed robbers will come in large numbers to rob a gun shop.

To see whether the CSX is right for you, let’s look at its attributes, some of which have gone unconsidered in magazine and Internet reviews of it that I’ve read.

Features of the Pistol

The CXS is ambidextrous, with thumb safety levers and slide lock/slide release levers on both sides. It comes with a separate off-side (right side of the pistol) magazine release button that’s not terribly hard for the user to install.

Note CSX’s ambi thumb safety and slide stop, reversible mag release, and tabbed trigger to help make it drop-safe.

The CXS has decent capacity for its size. About the same footprint as a small-frame snub-nose .38 Special revolver – and, of course, flatter – it can take a 10-round magazine which leaves a very short butt conducive to concealment and counting the round in the chamber gives you the same ammo reservoir of a five-shot S&W J-frame and a six-shot Colt Detective Special. It also has a slightly longer 12-round magazine which with one more torpedo in the launch tube gives you more shots at your disposal than two six-shooters.

S&W CSX and 442
CSX holds 11 rounds with the short mag shown, 13 with longer, in same “footprint” as 5-shot Gunsite Custom S&W 442, left.

The CSX is accurate. The one I tested for American Handgunner when the CSX first came out was dead on for point of aim/point of impact out of the box, and averaged 2.5 inches for five-shot groups at 25 yards: extraordinary performance for a “pocket pistol.” Taking the best three of five shots fired hand-held from a bench rest, which tends to factor out unnoticed human error and give a good idea what the gun would have done with all five from a machine rest, the average was a hair under an inch and a half.

The CSX is reliable. Shot out of the box without cleaning or lube it never malfunctioned, except for one misfire with a cartridge that had been immersed in water for a long time and probably would have misfired in any 9mm handgun. Many testers and thousands of rounds have proven the CSX’s reliability.

The CSX has stand-off capability. That means the recoil spring guide and the overall lockup are such that if you press the muzzle straight against something – such as an attacker who is belly to belly with you and trying to murder you – it will still fire and cycle instead of going out of battery and failing to fire like most auto pistols.

The CSX has safety features. S&W has assured me it has been tested to be “drop-safe.” With increasingly popular appendix carry it’s important to note that both the thumb safety and a hammer you can hold back with your thumb are safety nets against unintentional discharge when holstering if anything depresses the trigger.

The CSX has a slanted, low-profile rear of slide in cocked and locked carry, eliminating the potential for the rear of a square-back slide to catch on fabric and stall your draw from pocket carry. This is a significant problem with striker-fired subcompact pistols the size of the CSX.

S&W CSX and Shield
With CSX atop the same maker’s Shield, we can see the CSX’s smaller, sloping rear profile – less likely to snag on a pocket draw.


No one pistol is perfect, or we’d all carry that one and the rest would be in museums. The CSX does have some drawbacks.

The big one is a “false reset.” When I was researching the American Handgunner article on the CSX Smith & Wesson’s Corey Boudreau told me the CSX “has a firing pin block in the slide and if you ride the trigger forward through the reset cycle, you can feel the trigger bar sweep off the firing pin block just a slight tick before the full reset is achieved. I’ve found that the more the gun breaks in the issue seems to go away.”

In the almost two years with the CSX since my original test, I found the same. However, it’s only a problem for those who “ride the link” when they shoot, that is, bring the trigger just forward enough to reset and not all the way forward. I learned over the years that in the grip of “fight or flight” response, our bodies redirect blood flow away from extremities such as the hands and into the internal viscera to “fuel the furnace” for extreme survival exertion. This means we lose much of our sense of touch in such circumstances, at the same time that the adrenaline dump is making us stronger…and in the fingers, flexor muscles that pull the trigger are stronger than the extender muscles.

This can cause a failure to fully reset and be able to continue shooting, so I learned (and taught) to let the trigger come all the way forward between shots until it stops moving. That’s a palpation gross enough that we can feel it, and it guarantees successive shots.  Shoot that way – with full trigger return – and this, the biggest deal-breaker with the CSX in the hands of some reviewers, simply ceases to be a problem.

S&W CSX in hand
CSX has good trigger reach but wants the trigger to always return completely forward to guarantee reset.

My only personal complaint with the CSX is that the 12-round magazine has a floppy rubber grip spacer that I just hate. I wish they’d find a way to reconfigure that.

Some people just can’t bear wiping off a thumb safety. I’ve been doing that with 1911s since I was twelve years old, but I understand why others may not be so habituated. I have to say the thumb safety on the CSX is extremely ergonomic, much like a 1911, and more ergonomic for me by far than the optional thumb safety on S&W’s own polymer analog to the CSX, the earlier Shield. I’ve seen enough people saved from death by a thumb safety when the bad guy momentarily got their gun away from them that I see that safety as a feature, not a bug; people with different life experiences may have a different outlook.

Mas shooting the CSX
Mas loves the shooting characteristics of CSX. Note where the spent casing (circled) from the last shot is, muzzle is already back on target.

Bottom Line Opinion

For this writer, the CSX’s advantages far outweighed its disadvantages. I bought the test sample from Smith & Wesson, and it’s now part of my defensive battery and may even replace my usual backup gun, the hammerless snub nose .38 revolver.

Do yourself a favor and check out the Smith & Wesson CSX 9mm. It has a lot going for it.

Massad "Mas" Ayoob is a well respected and widely regarded SME in the firearm world. He has been a writer, editor, and law enforcement columnist for decades, and has published thousands of articles and dozens of books on firearms, self-defense, use of force, and related topics. Mas, a veteran police officer, was the first to earn the title of Five Gun Master in the International Defensive Pistol Association. He served nearly 20 years as chair of the Firearms Committee of the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers and is also a longtime veteran of the Advisory Bard of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association. A court-recognized expert witness in shooting cases since 1979, Ayoob founded the Lethal Force Institute in 1981 and served as its director until 2009. He continues to instruct through Massad Ayoob Group,

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