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Honest Review: Smith & Wesson Response Carbine

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A couple months after the release of the Smith & Wesson FPC, and surprise! We have Smith & Wesson’s newest rifle release, the Response. Yes, another S&W 9mm pistol-caliber carbine rifle. I have questions, of course. Were there two different engineering groups at S&W competing to get to the market first? Is the Response carbine the S&W’s response to its own FPC folding 9mm carbine? I have to imagine that the original brainstorming session went something like…

“What S&W needs is a 9mm pistol caliber carbine!”

“While we’re at it, let’s make the whole damn thing out of plastic, and grab the throne as the new Tupperware gun manufacturer!”

“Goodness, yes, and we must do it before Smith & Wesson does!”

“But we are S&W!”

“Exactly!”

I just hope there is not another third or fourth engineering group hard at work that will pop their heads up saying, “Look, here’s the new S&W PCC!”

What it is

The S&W Response is a 9mm blowback-action pistol caliber carbine. Its most unique feature is that it is basically an all-polymer rifle that is “light weight.” (We will discuss the sarcastiquotes later.) The next unique feature is that it attempts to be a jack of all trades in that it has a cool Flexmag magwell that is user swappable to allow the shooter to use magazines from competing manufacturers. This is similar to the Ruger PC Carbine that can use Ruger or Glock magazines. Except the Response uses M&P pistol or Glock magazines.

The Flexmag

Included in the box is a 23-round extended M&P pistol magazine, and the Glock magwell replacement. I have heard rumors that S&W is planning to expand magazine compatibility, so we may see an XDM or Sig P320 compatibility in the future.

To change out the Flexmag magwell, you will need to remove the upper from the lower. Then you will need to remove the now-loose magazine follower lever. Since it is held in place by the front pivot pin, when you push the pivot pin open, the piece can be lost, so be careful not to.

Now you will look at the area right next to the ejector and you will see a hex head screw. Using an Allen key, you will unscrew the hex head and slowly pull out the ejector assembly. It is at this moment that the transfer bar for the last round bolt hold open mechanism will fall out.

Unfortunately, S&W does not capture this piece, so changing magazine compatibility may not be suitable for down-and-dirty field use. After the ejector assembly comes out of the top of the lower receiver, the magwell will slide right out of the lower.

To complete the change, insert the Glock magwell, hold the pivot lever on the ejector assembly and slide it down into position. Next reinstall the hex cap screw until it is just tight. Next you need to find the G marked magazine follower lever, and install it in the groove where the front pivot pin can hold it. Make sure you slide the arm of the follower lever underneath the transfer bar that fell out of the ejector assembly. Put your upper back on the lower and you are back in business.

While it sounds complicated, I can say that this author is not the brightest bulb around and I was able to figure it out. The main thing is that you need to remember to keep the Glock magwell with the G marked magazine follower lever and the M marked one with the M&P magwell. Don’t cross the streams, because if you do, it will open a port to the netherworld.

Pros and cons

The Response is basically an all-polymer gun: the upper, the lower, the hand guard, magwells, charging handle, buttstock, and pistol grip. It appears to be made out of the same hard polymer as the S&W M&P 15-22lr. This could could be a good or bad thing. While advertised as lightweight, the Response still weighs in at 5lbs 9oz. For comparison, a Springfield Victor Saint AR-15 with a longer hand guard and all-metal construction weighs in at 6lbs, 9oz.

So is the polymer build worth one pound of weight savings? Maybe if weight was your absolute number one priority. But in all honesty the polymer build means that this is nowhere near duty or mil spec rating. Where the Response could shine would be as a backup for police departments that issue S&W M&P 9mm pistols. Both an officer’s guns would use the same ammo and magazines. The rifle is mounted with a red dot extending engagement distances, but in my opinion, the Response is more suited for a plinking gun or maybe a home-defense weapon. Especially since the Response barrel is threaded 1/2x28tpi, it is made to be suppressed.

The Response’s trigger is one of my favorite features. While the Response looks like a radical departure from a standard AR15, it can use any AR-15 trigger and safety. Now the factory trigger does not necessarily have to be the first thing you change on this carbine. The Response comes with a flat faced trigger that only has between a 1/2 and 1/4 of an inch of total movement. At just under 5 lbs., the trigger was fast to engage targets even with double taps. Once the trigger pieces wear into each other, some of the grittiness will disappear.

At an MSRP of $799, the Response is on the expensive side for a full polymer carbine. Even though it is in the ballpark price for the polymer-bodied CZ Scorpion, we have to remember that this is basically an AR-15. Even before Black Friday, you could get an aluminum build AR15 in 5.56mm for around $400 – $500 all day long so the pricing is outdated. Add in the fact the Response is not usable out of the box. No backup sights are included, so remember that you will need backup sights or a red dot just to be able to use this firearm.

What was S&W responding to with the Response carbine? Don’t take my list of cons above as saying that it’s not a good gun; it is. I understand why they had to go with the rifle route. Even with multiple injunctions against the ATF to once again allow braces, brace legality is still up in the air. In my opinion S&W was smart to include the capability to use Glock magazines, so we get to use our Magpul Glock drum magazines for ultra high capacity. Combine that with the fact that I can drop in my AR-15 binary triggers and the Response will fully rock and roll. Right now, the Response is pretty hot in the market so it can be difficult to find a great deal. But as novelty wears off I am certain you will be able to save a hundred bucks off MSRP.

—James Nicholas Mr. UnPewFessional Himself!

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