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Weapons

Are You Safer with a More Complicated Duty Weapon?

Easy-to-use pistols are best for law enforcement duty guns.

August 28, 2007  |  by Rob Pincus - Also by this author

There are probably two or three camps when it comes to what type of duty pistol is the safest for the average patrol officer. I am going to lump together the nuances of the manually operated safety and the de-cocker camps together for the purposes of this article. I am also going to lump the double-action only (DOA) and “safe action” camps together as well.

There are those that would have you believe that you are safer if your firearm is more complicated and there are those, I am one of them, who argue steadfastly against that assertion because the primary purpose of your firearm is self-defense or the defense of others. If your duty sidearm was designed or purchased with any other thought in mind, you were done a disservice

Regardless of what some may have you believe, you are in a lot more danger from the bad guys on the street who can and will do serious harm to you if you can’t defend yourself efficiently than you are from your own sidearm, especially if you are well trained in its use.

There are those who will argue that it doesn’t take any extra time for a proficient officer to engage a lethal threat with a firearm that has a manual safety (such as a 1911 design or a Beretta 92 carried with the safety engaged). While this may be true, it is certainly not true that most trained officers can return those firearms to their safe mode as quickly as they could return a firearm without such a device to its safe mode.

The reason should be obvious: double-action/single-action and single-action-only pistols are designed to be in their double action or on safe mode, respectively, when they are not actively being shot. To engage in any other activity with these guns in single action is potentially more dangerous because the firearm is in a condition where the trigger travel is short and the pressure needed to engage it is light.

So even if we take away the “from the holster” delay/distraction that these guns can and do suffer from, we run pretty squarely into a more complicated situation if after a shooting, or deciding not to take a shot, the officer needs to do anything else, including re-holstering quickly and safely to deal with the aftermath of a shooting incident.

The “safe-action” type striker-fired and double-action-only pistols do not suffer from either the extra physical action at deployment or the added cognitive and physical necessities after a shooting to be used effectively.

All other things being equal, less effort and time to conduct any given activity equals higher efficiency. When you are dealing with a critical incident that may involve the use of lethal force, you should strive to be as efficient as possible. Having tools that are fundamentally more efficient can help you achieve that goal.

Personally, I prefer any of the less complicated modern pistol designs such as the Glock, Smith & Wesson M&P, or Springfield XD over any other design for patrol officer and special reaction team use. Even the DAO firearms, which are just as simple to use, fall behind in the category of efficiency because of their heavy and unnecessarily long trigger pulls.

While these may not make a difference during typical close quarters defensive shooting, they do have an adverse affect on the officer’s ability to shoot at the extreme end of defensive precision and deter frequent realistic practice.

Safe handling of a firearm is a training issue, not an equipment one. A more complicated firearm is harder to train with and less efficient to use. So ultimately, it could end up putting you in much greater danger than a simpler design under the same circumstances.

Tags: Duty Pistols, Firearms Training, Glock, Smith & Wesson, Springfield Armory


Comments (16)

Displaying 1 - 16 of 16

sledgehammer67 @ 8/29/2007 1:23 PM

Words well-spoken. Duty weapons demand two things--rerliability and simplicity. Both are absolutely critical, and not to be compromised on. While specialized weapons systems have their place in the world, many of the features manufacturers place on weapons are designed to sell weapons, not save lives. Much in the way that most fishing lures were designed to catch fishermen, not fish...The KISS principle works!

Oldcopper @ 8/29/2007 2:44 PM

Ah, so good to see nothing ever really changes. For those too young to remember, there once was a land where the wheelgun ruled. I carried a revolver for half of my police career, switched to a Beretta, now a GLOCK. When I draw my weapon I don't need 15 newfangled switches, knobs, or buttons to push. My safety is my trigger finger. Training, training, training. I am a pistol, shotgun, and patrol rifle instructor.

psc2857 @ 8/29/2007 9:26 PM

This discussion will soon be entering its 2nd century, and the author makes some interesting points, but only one that cannot be argued or denied: "Safe handling of a firearm is a training issue, not an equipment one."

CPD169 @ 9/1/2007 7:25 AM

I will have to differ with the author in regards to the 1911 and DA/SA Sig Sauer type pistols being somehow too "complicated" to re-engage the safety before reholstering, or when one knows they won't be firing their pistol. I've carried a 1911 in Condition 1 for 24 years and carried one on duty in uniform for half of that time. I've also carried Glocks. I know several officers who carry and swear by DA/SA Sig Sauers with the hammer drop feature. I've never known one who carried a 1911 or Sig DA/SA who had any difficulties in rendering their pistols safe to reholster. On the other hand, I've known and been present at more than one officer having an unintentional discharge with Glock pistols, especially right after switching to them from revolvers.

I think you'd be hard pressed to convince the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team, LAPD SWAT or the host of other LE units who issue the 1911 that they're "Too complicated' or "too slow." I also have no doubt that you'd be hard pressed to convince the IDPA and IPSC shooters of that as the 1911 is prolific in both of those high speed arenas. Granted no one is shooting at the participants but they're under stress nonetheless.

I will totally agree with the author about the Berreta, S&W, etc. type of DA/SA with the un-natural slide mounted hammer drop/safety. They should never be carried with the safety on. There have been documented cases of LEO's who've been killed trying to get the safeties off of those type of pistols over the years. I personally have no use for them.

Jusy my .02 worth.

R. W. Stalcup @ 9/19/2007 5:55 AM

I began my law enforcement career back in the dim recesses of the 1960s. In the agency where I was employeed autos were frowned on. Any wheel gun 38 caliber and above was okay as long as it was a Colt or Smith & Wesson. Over the years I have carried any number of Autos and wheel guns on and off duty. All will work if the user is properly trained. My favorites are the 1911 closely followed by Glock. Tho I have owned and carried a number of DA/SA's and shot well with all of them I never really liked the concept. Whatever you chose or is chosen for you train train and train some more. This will probably entail the fact you are going to have to purchase some of your training ammo. You may gripe about what it will cost you butw what is your life worth?

jbustamante @ 11/9/2007 11:25 AM

I've carried a Sig 220 DA/SA for a while. Now with the addition of a Tac Light there's way too much going on. On a night shoot qualification, I fired, deactivated the light and holstered a cocked 220. I am sending the pistol to be changed to a DAK trigger.

Good article!

deltaalpha @ 11/15/2007 1:28 PM

Believe that a company that uttilizes a quick release bar to a harden style holster with perhaps biometrics such as a two digit combo lock or perhaps thumb print scan like on the safe boxes will have a very good seller to law enforcement or other forms of security even
perhaps detention centers or Prisons. It makes sense and will deter theft of firearm in a take over situation.

Billy Kidd @ 12/7/2007 12:06 PM

I also have to disagree with the author as to the ability to quickly reholster a typical "cocked/locked" semi-auto. I train and teach, if you carry a semi-auto with a manual safety (specifically a 1911 type) then you only disengage the safety as you push towards the target and complete sight alignment prepatory to firing. I also recomend you re-engage the safety as you return to low ready, prior to re-holstering or scan/cover. You only have to see/have one deglegent discharge to believe in manual safties.

Kurt Taboga @ 1/4/2008 8:30 AM

Great information. I have been a police officer for over twenty-five years. We started with wheel guns, went to S&W semi-autos, and finally switched to Glocks. As a firearm instructor for the Department and local Police Academy, I've witnessed all types of problems with complicated weapons systems with all types of shooters. In the heat of combat, "simple" is often better. Training can fix most problems, but training time is usually limited. Most cops aren't "gun guys" like me, and won't train on their own time. Give them something they can use well without a lot of thought.

jamesgroody @ 1/24/2008 7:36 AM

in referance to CPD169 comment he said a mouthfull.... FBI hostage rescue, LAPD Swat, IDPA/IPIC shooters, etc. all of which are extremely highly trained in weapons tactics etc.
should carry the a"baddist weapon" they can hit with.

However... it has been my observation as a 20 year police firearms instructor, the "normal cop" (oxymoron), goes to the range only when they have to, prior to shooting want to know how many hours of over time or comp time to put on the slip, expect a meal, and complain that there should be extra trustees to pick up the brass... for these people the simpler the better.
If I could get them to reload their magazines on time, and carry enough bullets to complete the course of fire...that would be a big deal a a great day at the range!!!
please do not complicate the situation with a de-cocking lever, a "cocked and locked" carry
or a DA?SA weapon..

DHavig @ 2/21/2008 3:29 PM

"KISS", Remember who we are training. James and Kurt are right. Most cops are not gun people. Most of the comments here are from shooters, SWAT, military, special groups and high speed-low drag types. What we need to remember are the people I call the bottom 20%ers. SWAT/military/etc are our top 20%, the middle 60% are the average "normal cop" types. They could 'possible' advance to a 'complicated' weapon but we can not forget the bottom 20%. Like James says, if they show up to the range with all their stuff, on time, follow basic instructions, sign-in, etc. we're off to a good start. Oh yeah, now we have to shoot too.
I've discussed this over the years just to make sure my agency is not alone on this. Not suprising, I found we were just as average as the next.
Keeping the gun simple is my answer and hopefully the officer can use it under the stresses of a life threatening incident.

j706 @ 3/8/2008 5:42 AM

WOW- Sounds to me like a training issue. I have carried a 1911A1 style weapon for years, both on and off duty. Safety deactivation or activation is second nature requiring zero thought or time. Uhh- on the subject of a "lite trigger pull" once again, even in a stress situation, ones finger on the trigger is a training issue. One important thing missing in the article is the issue of being disarmed. It happens folks. ANYONE can fire a Glock. A manual safety affords a extra level of security just in case. I do believe a 1911 type weapon does require a higher level of training, perhaps that is the problem once again. I believe one of the biggest dangers for, the modern uniformed officer equipment wise, is the triple level security holsters now in widespread use. And they are to protect the autoloader that anyone can fire. Any way-just my two cents worth.

ceciliomr@yahoo.com @ 3/21/2008 12:45 PM

YUP! It's training alright. But the problem is not the equipment per se. It is a combination between the wide variety of trainees at the range (gun/non-gun people, mechanically/not-mechanically oriented, willing/un-willing to shoot, etc.) and equipment. If you want simple, use a machete, but nobody takes one to a gunfight. By the way, any pistol is more complicated than any revolver (think magazine). We shouldn't be worried about levers and buttons with revolvers... although we are not going back to them any time soon! In conclusion the real problem is: to find a reasonably ergonomically/powerful firearm, with which to safely train the bigger portion of a heterogeneous group, in a reasonable span of time, with the least amount of problems. Individuals can master any piece of equipment they set their minds to, if they are inclined to do the necessary learning/familiarization/practice. And that is the exception that justifies the rule.

senior po @ 5/1/2008 6:00 AM

First of all, the article contained a lot of great information, although as trainers and instructors we should be able to learn from everything we read or participate in, whether we agree or not. In response to those who disagree with the author (and I am not one of them by the way) this is not only a training issue but a budget issue (as we all know everything is driven by the dollar) as well as a liability issue. How can we get the most out of the limited training time we have, which is slowly but steadily shrinking, and still make sure that ALL of our people are competent enough to carry their weapon? I know I don't want to be the one to tell a family member or a jury that we trained that officer but he was marginal at best and had trouble grasping the operation of the weapon that was issued to him. The best way to make sure that EVERYONE is adequately trained is to train to the lowest denominator and use the simplest equipment. The highly motivated and high caliber officers will train on their own regardless of what we teach them, but the "I'm just here for a paycheck" officers will do the bare minimum. I don't want to trust my life or the lives of my fellow officers on someone who'll be too busy taking the safety off to shoot the bad guy. My agency employs approx 520 officers, and a conservative estimate would be that 20% should not be employed with us, much less carry a weapon. We can train them, and train them and train them, but when go time comes, and it will, simple is the only thing that will keep them in the game.

larry w powers @ 5/7/2008 3:48 PM

While it has been sometime since I was on the street, I could not agree more. Having carried a Model 28 S&W revolver for two years and a Model 19 S&W revolver for ten(10) years there is no comparison between any of the present day autos and these pistols from the past other than the latter carry more rounds which has resullted in a loss of teaching marksmanship and liability other than trying to teach new officers how to load and unload an auto pistol without shooting him/herself or others. Coming from a different era where officers frequently went out on their own to practice (particularly since when I first went on the department there was no organized training), were taught gun safety as part of their early childhood development, and most had some military experience, the average officer today simply does not want to take the time or effort to learn or practice these skills. They simply take the position (as have we in our training), to point and put as many bullets down range as possible. Marksmanship and safety are acquired skills and they take more they one or two trips to the firing range annually to become proficient. However, with the demands of work, family, restricted budgets, and an often unwillingness on the part of the officers to train or see the value of training, this is a daunting task that will not be solved anythime soon. Therefore, you have to keep it simple and uncomplicated so that in times of stress (or even when not paying attention) there is less chance of "something bad happening."

rthatcher @ 3/28/2009 1:34 PM

Rob you are right on target!! Can't say it any better than that!

Retired Captain Randy Thatcher
OSHP

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