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Meet the FBI Smith & Wesson Model 1076: A 10mm Gun Like No Other

Smith & Wesson Model 1076. Image: YouTube Screensaver.
Smith & Wesson Model 1076. Image: YouTube Screensaver.

As I’ve noted in previous writeups on the 10mm Auto cartridge and the guns that chamber it, back in the early 1990s, many gun writers thought that it would be “The Next Big Thing” – I sure hope my fellow old-school WWE fans here appreciate the Brock Lesnar allusion – in semiautomatic pistol calibers law enforcement, armed citizen self-defense, and handgun hunting. 

But, as the Phil Collins song goes, “Something Happened On the Way to Heaven.” Namely the .40 S&W cartridge, which turned out to be a much more efficient cartridge for combative application whilst having the same size bore as the 10mm. Hence the 10’s status today as more of a niche cartridge, though it still certainly has a loyal following.

As for the 10mm’s one brief shining moment as the heir apparent to the venerable .45 ACP as the King of Autopistol Cartridges, a big reason for that proverbial flash in the pan was the decision by the FBI back in 1990 to adopt the Smith & Wesson Model 1076 traditional double-action (TDA) autopistol in the caliber. So, whatever happened to the S&W M1076?

The Who: S&M M1076 History and Specifications

As already noted, the S&W M1076 debuted in 1990, which was the same year as its civilian market Model 1006 of the same caliber. Both of these pistols fell under Smith’s so-called Third Generation series of TDA autopistols; however, unlike the company’s previous TDAs, the 1076 eschewed a slide-mounted hammer-dropping safety catch in favor of a frame-mounted decocker-only lever that had been popularized by the SIG Sauer’s TDA pistols

Specifications include a barrel length of 4.25 inches, a weight of 40 ounces, and a standard magazine capacity of 9+1 rounds. Construction was entirely of stainless steel. 

The When and Why: Why FBI Chose the 10mm

The catalyst was the infamous 1986 FBI Miami Firefight, whereupon nine of the Bureau’s agents engaged in a harrowing gun battle with two vicious bank robbers, Michael Platt and William Matix. Two Bureau men – Special Agents Jerry Dove and Ben Grogan – were killed and seven of their brother agents were wounded before Platt and Matix succumbed to their own gunshot wounds at the hands of the agents. 

The tragic irony is that Agent Dove inflicted a nonsurvivable wound upon Platt *before* any of the good guys were even struck by Platt’s Ruger Mini-14 rifle; Dove was using a 9mm Winchester Silvertip 115-grain hollowpoint out of an S&W Model 459, It was the heroic actions of Special Agent Edmundo “Ed” Mireles who finally finished the fight with his revolver, firing the fatal rounds with his weak hand after his strongside arm was rendered useless by Platt’s .223 rifle fire. 

As a result of that tragedy, the Bureau decided that a more powerful handgun caliber was needed. In Ed Mireles’s own words, “[I]t was determined that ‘bigger is better’ when trying to stop (Kill) a human target. Like Goldilocks, the 9 was too cold, the .45 was too hot, so they went with the 10mm.”

The What: So What Went Wrong with the Gun?

After all the ballyhoo, the Smith 1076’s service career with the FBI ended up lasting less than five years. Why?

To answer that question, I turned to the aforementioned Ed Mireles, whom I have the honor and privilege of being able to count as a personal friend. Happily enjoying a well-earned retirement these days, he told me via both face-to-face conversation and email correspondence earlier this year that the 1076 was beset by a slew of issues, including a single qual course that tuned out to be the following horror story:

“I had four malfunctions firing 8 rounds!!! I was so pissed, I unloaded and stepped off the line. I told the FA’s instructor I could not shoot because I was so pissed and I had a nonfunctional pistol. I went back to the office. Unloaded the 10 and mags, put the weapon and mags in a box and sent it back to Quantico with a letter outlining my experience on the range … Eight malfunctions! Clearly the pistol was defective!!!!!!! I found out later that the problem was that Smith was using .45 pistol springs and things in the 10 as a cost cutting measure. Years later, the story I heard was that it ended up being a 5 cent .45 caliber spring. It was being used in the 10 and that was the problem??? This caused a “failure to extract” which led to double feeding or failure to feed. That failure to extract issue and all it caused was a death sentence for the 10mm.”

What’s more, instead of sticking with full-powered 10mm ballistics, the Bureau instead went with the so-called “10mm Lite,” which was rendered moot by the .40 S&W that offered the same ballistics in more ergonomically friendly guns. To quote Ed Mireles again, “The Bureau wasted a lot of time and money on a parallel track looking for a better caliber/weapon than the 9mm.” Ed likes the 10mm Auto cartridge, just not the 1076.

The Where (Are They Now): Want Your Own?

Though the Smith & Wesson Model 1076 turned out to be much ado about relatively little, it’s still historically significant, and apparently that in turn has conferred collector’s item status upon the gun, as indicated by the fact that every time I’ve clicked on a link advertising a 1076 for sale, it’s turned out to be either “Sold,” “Out of Stock,” or “Sale Pending.” 

Meanwhile, True Gun Value states that “A SMITH & WESSON MODEL 1076 pistol currently has too little sold data to calculate an average price.” However, they do list ten recently sold specimens, at a price range of $856.00 to a high of $1,476.00, with eight out of the ten guns selling for over the $1K mark; doing some quick number-crunching on my handy-dandy iPhone calculator, they average out to $1,194.64.

Christian D. Orr is a Senior Defense Editor for 19FortyFive. He has 34 years of shooting experience, starting at the tender age of 14. His marksmanship accomplishments include: the Air Force Small Arms Ribbon w/one device (for M16A2 rifle and M9 pistol); Pistol Expert Ratings from U.S. Customs & Border Protection (CBP), Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) Criminal Investigator Training Program (CITP); multiple medals and trophies via the Glock Sport Shooting Foundation (GSSF) and the Nevada Police & Fires Games (NPAF). Chris has been an NRA Certified Basic Pistol Instructor since 2011. 

Written By

Christian D. Orr is a former Air Force officer, Federal law enforcement officer, and private military contractor (with assignments worked in Iraq, the United Arab Emirates, Kosovo, Japan, Germany, and the Pentagon).