Smith and Wesson introduced Double Action Only (DAO) variants of their 3rd generation semiautomatic pistols in the first few years of the 1990’s. They were envisioned as a solution for agencies struggling with transitioning officers from revolvers to semi autos.
At that time, I was in my early 20’s and a strong headed 1911 snob. I wasn’t impressed by S&W’s new offering. I didn’t appreciate its purpose and had nothing nice to say about it.
I was familiar with 3rd gen. autos, having carried an issued 5906 for a municipal department after giving up a revolver. The 5906 gained my respect because it proved stoppage free after thousands of rounds fired. It felt blocky and a little heavy, but it was acceptably accurate. My State Police recruit class was the first to be issued 4506’s in 1991. The 4506 was bigger and even heavier than the 5906, but worth it for upsizing to the .45 ACP. It also ran flawlessly and shot better for me than the 5906. I carried it until completing probation and then switched to a personal Colt 1911.
I was offered a position on the New Mexico State Police training staff soon after that. My job included teaching firearms skills, helping recruits achieve proficiency during a limited time window in a high stress academy.
Seeing it from that side made the DA/SA system seem unnecessarily complicated. Teaching recruits to master two completely different trigger pulls was a challenge. Getting them to remember to de-cock the pistol before holstering made me grind my teeth at night. This type of pistol is a little busy for a new or infrequent shooter.
Like most other agencies, we eventually swapped our 3rd gens for striker fired guns. They were easier to run and provided a consistent trigger pull. They worked well for most, but some senior troops still carrying revolvers struggled with the switch. Glocks were simple, but the trigger dynamic was quite unlike a double-action revolver. A lot of old timers never warmed up to the change.
I shot some PPC when I was younger but really got into it when Albuquerque started hosting the National Police Shooting Championships. Competing with revolvers reminded me how well they shot. The long smooth trigger agreed with me, and I usually shot them better than semiautos in this discipline.
I walked into a pawn shop in 2014 and saw a 5946 in like new condition. I hadn’t seen one in ages, so I asked the guy behind the counter if I could handle it. After confirming an empty chamber and receiving permission, I dry fired it a couple of times. I was taken back at how good the trigger was. It felt like a tuned service revolver with slightly shorter travel. The employee told me he would take 350.00 and tax for it if I wanted it. I justified the purchase by rationalizing it might help a revolver guy shoot the stock semi auto match better.
Author was a hardcore 1911 fan in the early 1990s and had no use for DAO autos like the S&W 5946 pictured below the Government Model.
5946 turned out to be a very “shootable” gun for those who favor revolvers—exactly as S&W intended.
5946 would have made transitioning from a revolver like this Model 66 an easier task, for shooter and instructor alike!
The 6946 the author found shoots 124-grain bullets well. It grouped these modern JHP’s nicely shooting offhand at seven yards.
S&W 6946 is basically the same size as an M&P 2.0 Compact. The longer, heavier trigger of the DAO may make it less stressful to carry than a striker fired gun for some.
The 6946 holds a few less rounds than a Glock 19, but it’s dependable and accurate—if you favor revolvers, you’ll like the trigger.
S&W DAO’s were a simple, reliable gun. They were a good solution to the problem that many old cops had with switching to autos in the 90s.
The weight of the all-steel gun and the revolver-like trigger combined to make it very practically accurate. I shot it much better than the 5906 back in the day. The trigger was smooth and consistent, it didn’t lend to staging like most DA revolvers. No de-cocking lever to fool with, it was like a revolver with a magazine.
The irony of this epiphany was not lost on me. I turned to the east and whispered a belated apology to S&W for harshly judging their idea in the 90s. Hindsight screams that this gun would have made life easier for firearms trainers back then. It would also have been vastly preferable to being issued a Glock 17 with a New York trigger if you had carried a revolver for years.
I was in a local shop a month ago and saw an alloy framed 6946 that someone had traded in. It wasn’t quite as clean as the 5946, but the trigger was even smoother. It had a lot of life left and the proprietor was pleased to find someone geeking out on oddball 3rd gens—he gave me a great price. The lighter weight and slightly reduced size made this gun viable for concealed carry.
The DAO guns came along late enough in 3Rd generation production that they all have the rounded trigger guard. This subjectively adds to aesthetics and functionality of the gun. The 6946 holds three less rounds than a G-19 or M&P Compact, but it gives a comforting margin of safety over striker fired guns when carried AIWB. This one shares the reliability of other 3rd generation guns and is accurate enough to still give dependable service.
It’s funny how your perspective can change with the passing of a few decades. These old guns are still worth a look.