Duty Gun Commonality
Does One Size Fit All?
Sergeant Jones is a patrol supervisor who is 5’6″ and weighs 150 pounds. Although her agency issues the Glock 22 in .40 caliber, they have a list of authorized firearms and calibers from which officers can choose. Sgt. Jones carries her own S&W M&P in 9mm, using the smallest interchangeable grips. She’s confident in her ability to deliver good hits on target and her qualification scores prove this.
Officer Lee is assigned to a full-time tactical team. He’s 6’1″ and weighs 215 pounds. He’s been shooting guns most of his life, and couldn’t be happier with his issued Glock 21 in .45 ACP. As he puts it, he gets to “carry a gun that shoots flying ashtrays.” He also carries a Glock 30 in .45 ACP as a backup and off-duty gun. He’d prefer to carry a 1911 on-duty, but his department will not authorize any personal weapons for duty.
Officer Smith works patrol. He’s 5’9″and weighs 175 pounds. and recently had surgery for a torn ligament in his right hand. His agency issues the SIG SAUER P226 in .40 caliber and officers are not allowed to carry anything else as their primary duty weapon. Officer Smith has never really cared for the de-cocker on the P226 and his issues with it have grown more pronounced since his hand injury, thus he avoids the range and usually squeaks through the qualification shoot after his second or third attempt. He carries a 9mm Glock 26 while off-duty and as backup at work, and he shoots it much better than his issued duty weapon.
Many makers today address the “fit” issue by offering interchange-able backstraps on
polymer-framed autos. Here, a Springfield Armory XD(M) Compact shows the options.
The medium is installed.
The Reality Of Cops
Sit down and brace yourself for a shocking revelation: Most cops know very little about guns. Some don’t even like to shoot them and consider them a necessary evil of the job, putting up with them to remain employed. Unfortunately, this is also true of most administrators — the very ones creating policies for you and me.
Allowing only one make of handgun or caliber for all to carry is an often misguided attempt by administrators to keep things simple (mostly for themselves) and fails many more officers than they realize. Sure, it’s difficult to order, track and manage several different calibers and guns, but many things in this line of work are difficult. Still others believe officers (during a protracted gun fight?) may need to use the gun or ammo of another officer. While this scenario is possible (anything’s possible, right?) it’s not probable.
Take the example of Officer Lee. I’d venture to say he probably feels comfortable with almost any gun you hand him. His department-issued weapon happens to fit him, but what if it didn’t? And what about Officer Smith? He already had issues with his department-issued gun before his injury. By policy he doesn’t have another choice, so do we tell him to suck it up and drive on?
Sgt. Jones’ agency seems to be the voice of reason in these examples. By taking advantage of her department’s policy allowing officers to carry personally purchased handguns, she’s able to determine which gun is best for her, boosting her confidence and willingness to train. It’s a win/win!
The Beretta 92 series is known for having a very large-grip profile. While many cops
can at least make do with it, officers with small hands struggle to manage it effectively.
People come in all different shapes and sizes. Some have big paws while others have small ones, and large palms don’t equate to long fingers. I’m a big guy; editor Suzi even likens me to Lurch from Addams Family. While someone of my size can handle many full-sized, double-stack handguns without any problems, others can’t. Smaller-grip frames, many fitting single-stack mags, can help those with petite hands.
But there’s another part to the gun size equation: grip angle. There are lots of different gun manufacturers out there for a reason. They all produce the same end products — guns — but they make them in varying sizes. Only with practice and testing them out for size, can you learn what you like and what feels most comfortable in your hand.
Law enforcement agencies need to acknowledge the differences in their officers’ physical limitations, whether the way they’re built or by virtue of injury. Having a comprehensive list of a variety of authorized guns will not only benefit individual officers, but it will also ultimately benefit the department. Isn’t the end goal to make officers better shooters? When you look at the number of shots taken versus the number of hits, you can see we still have a long way to go in achieving this goal.
Since training and field situations can often be dynamic, why hinder an officer with an
ill-fitting duty auto when options abound? Keep an open mind if you’re the guy ordering duty guns!
Some people simply shoot certain calibers better than others. And with the current selections of duty ammo, the terminal performance of a 9mm is just as good as a .45 ACP. Honest.
The agency I work for issues several guns; the Glock 35 and 23, and the SIG SAUER 226 and 239, it’s your choice. You can carry pretty much whatever semi-auto handgun you want, so long as it’s chambered in .40 caliber. I’m told the only reason we all have to carry this caliber is for the one day when I (might) need to strip out your ammunition from your gun to reload my depleted magazine and charge forward.
It doesn’t matter if we carry different guns; the idea is if you’re incapacitated somehow, your bad fortune can be my savior. Why else would you give me your ammo? But if I’ve missed my target with all my ammo (46 rounds) or it’s having no effect, I don’t know if stripping ammo from you is really an option here. I’m not sure this is a valid rationale for limiting caliber choices to a single size. And then we go back to the physical differences in officers.
The snap of a .40 caliber can be daunting for many smaller-statured people. Heck, it can smart even big tough guys. Using .40 caliber doesn’t really gain anything significant over the 9mm; so perhaps giving officers the choice to shoot 9mm might make them better and more likely to practice. If they like to practice, they’ll be more apt to hit when the chips are down — a hit with a 9mm trumps a miss with a .40.
Not a posed shot, so forgive the photo quality. Note the disparity in size between the female
cop and her peers. How could she possibly handle the same brawny auto the big guy could?
I will concede there are logistical and liability reasons to only permit one particular type of handgun to be carried on duty. Factors include cost, ammunition and only having to train an armorer to service one make of gun. Some think there could be agency liability if personally purchased weapons malfunction and someone gets hurt. The way to avoid such liability is to have all guns, whether agency issued or personal, inspected yearly by the armorer for function. The same goes for backup and off-duty guns.
Is there an advantage to members of particular units all carrying the same handgun while working? Does it matter if your partner is on SWAT or “just a patrol guy”? You could speculate if a team is working together, they may need to use each other’s guns in certain situations, but would it matter if they all had identical handguns? I’m on a SWAT team and some guys have Glocks while others have SIGs. I’m positive any one of us could hand over or un-holster each other’s handguns and run them if the situation called for it.
I’m all for police agencies issuing a particular gun in a particular caliber to their officers, but I also understand it simply won’t work for everybody. Have a list of approved alternatives, and include guns from a variety of manufacturers. Make sure your armorers can work on all the different guns and don’t get stuck in the caliber rut. Keep it to the “big 3”: 9mm, .40 and .45.
It’s more important to put the needs of individual officers before the desire to keep things easy for the department. Officers need to be comfortable with the handguns they’ve chosen, rather than with what the department has deemed is “best” for them. This translates to better qualification scores, higher confidence and perhaps, a heightened desire to train.
Don’t we owe it to our officers to acknowledge there’s no “1-size fits all” when it comes to such a critical tool? Give officers choices — give them the tools they need to be confident and proficient gunfighters. They deserve no less, and so does the public they serve.
By John Thomas Grohn