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Weapons

Double-Action Semi-Auto Pistols Fall Out of Favor

Other options have mostly superseded DA semi-autos in law enforcement.

September 24, 2013  |  by Lou Salseda - Also by this author

Photo of Beretta 92F courtesy of Wikimedia.
Photo of Beretta 92F courtesy of Wikimedia.
In the mid-1980s, progressive law enforcement agencies transitioned from revolvers to semi-automatic pistols. Smith & Wesson and Beretta stepped up to meet the need for duty weapons to facilitate the trend. The hot ticket became a double-action semi-auto pistol with the first press of the trigger similar to a duty revolver and the second and subsequent presses short as in a 1911-type action.

Sales for S&W model 5900s and Beretta model 92s took off. Slide-mounted de-cocking levers would safely drop the hammer and put the pistol back into double action. Law enforcement training evolved to meet the needs of agencies making the switch from "wheel guns" to double-action semi-autos. New manipulations and malfunction drills were needed to ensure the old wheel gun officers could keep these semi-automatics running and correctly operate the de-cocking levers.

By the late '80s and early '90s, most major police agencies had transitioned their officers to these new double-action semi-autos with weekly in-service training classes. At the same time, Glock entered the market, eventually opening a manufacturing plant in Smyrna, Ga.

S&W and Beretta held the lion's share of the law enforcement market at the time, and many agencies were reluctant to look at another type of duty handgun. Large law enforcement agencies like the Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department were happy with the performance of their duty issue 9mm Beretta model 92 pistols. Even the U.S. Border Patrol selected a Beretta 96D after extensive testing for their duty pistol.

Glock worked hard to establish a law enforcement foothold in the '90s and eventually the company's polymer pistols caught on. The pistol was simple to operate and repair. It offered one type of short trigger press and higher ammunition capacity. Operators needed fewer weapon manipulation skills because the pistols didn't have slide- or frame-mounted de-cocking levers.

As a trainer, teaching police personnel one type of trigger press is better in many ways for officers than training for two types. What's not to like? More training time could now be used for combat skills. S&W initially tried to counter the coming Glock landslide with the Sigma, which was similar only in action type to Glock's semi-auto. The Sigma didn't catch on and has since been reengineered.

At the present time, only a few agencies still issue Beretta or S&W double-action pistols. A few large federal agencies such as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, including the Border Patrol, have opted for a frame-mounted de-cocking lever. They maintain that the double-action semi-auto is safer for their agents. Last time I checked, the Border Patrol was issuing H&K P2000 series handguns.

S&W has produced the M&P model that has been well received in the police community. Springfield XD models have established a limited foothold with police. The 1911 pistol remains popular as an alternate duty weapon, including with the LAPD, and agencies such as the Long Beach (Calif.) Police Department train with it as the primary academy duty weapon.

In view of the currently available semi-auto models from Glock, S&W, and Springfield, use of double-action pistols has become much more limited. If your agency is still issuing the Beretta 92 series or S&W 3900, 4500, or 5900 series double-action pistol with slide-mounted de-cocking levers, let us know by commenting below.

Tags: Smith & Wesson, Glock, Duty Pistols, Beretta, LAPD, Border Patrol, Police History


Comments (14)

Displaying 1 - 14 of 14

Troop @ 9/24/2013 7:39 PM

Sig Sauer still dominates the double/single in law enforcement.

Shawn @ 9/25/2013 6:36 AM

Honolulu Police Department still carries SW 5906 but is transitioning to the Glock 17 next year!

Jay @ 9/27/2013 7:43 PM

The CHP has used the S and W 4006 since 1990 and then upgraded to the S and W tactical 4006 in 2006. I personally did not like either weapon. We could not carry anything else for a duty weapon. I fell in love with the Glock and had one as a back up. I do not know if they will be switching anytime soon.

William Gild @ 9/30/2013 4:53 AM

Glock is a KISS user friendly weapon like D/A revolvers were squeeze the trigger and it will fire!!.

808 @ 9/30/2013 2:55 PM

Sig Sauer with the DAK trigger has become very popular in Law Enforcement . It is Double Action Only but with a much smoother trigger action with double strike capability. And no need to pull the trigger to disassemble.

Doc @ 10/2/2013 5:07 AM

Glock has such a large market share for a few good reasons, there are fewer moving parts, magazine capacity, no de cockers or anything else to worry about, and the customer service is Great. I'm an Armorer for Glock, Colt, & Remington and Glock is by far the easiest to maintain. I do own other guns, but I carry Glock on and off duty, and the sub-compact Glocks will use the same magazines on your duty belt, if it's the same caliber, except for the G36 (single stack). That's a Big selling point to me, I always carry a back up

Tinman @ 10/3/2013 4:00 PM

Our department still carries the SigSauer P220 that they started in the 80's. They will not even consider switching weapons platform. About 3/4 of the department have Glocks as back ups.

Cush @ 10/4/2013 9:14 AM

I agree 100% with Doc. I had always been a Colt man until Glock entered law enforcement. I have been a firearms instructor for quite a few years and am still carrying my original Glock I purchased in the mid 80's. It is the most dependable handgun I have had. In fact I have purchased a gen 4 and it is still in the box because my original is such a quality weapon. Easy to maintain and dependable. Can't say enough good about Glock.

GATEWAY GUY @ 10/4/2013 5:32 PM

Love my Beretta 92D. I have been using it since 1991. I have no plans to change. LOVE IT!!!!

Jim B. @ 10/5/2013 9:14 AM

My agency uses the Sig line (220, 226, 228, 229) in 9mm, 40 and 45. We are not permitted to carry any other duty weapon. I love the Sigs but would gladly switch to a Glock but I don't see my agency changing any time soon. For off duty or back up, we are limited to our duty weapon or the P230 (.380) or the P239 (9mm or .40). I'm hoping we will adopt the P224 as an option but am still waiting. That's another reason I'd like to go to Glocks, great options for a truly compact pistol for back up or concealed carry, with the same functionality as the duty models.

Doug M. @ 10/8/2013 12:49 PM

The DA/SA platform was a horrible response to a non-existent problem; the real problem was the paranoia and ignorance of command personnel. The ergonomics are awful, and only a command officer completely ignorant of the realities of shooting well and afraid of sound training would consider such a POS. I had to carry a gen 3 S&W for several years, and it was a pig. Bad ergonomics, hard to shoot well, the safety/decocker was on the slide where it is a bear to reach, and one of mine crapped out with only a few hundred rounds through it.
Military and LE Command Officers who supported the DA/SA platform are per se incompetent and should have been removed for incompetence and dereliction. There is no credible research that shows that the DA/SA platform works well for duty or personal defense use.

David C. @ 10/10/2013 3:17 PM

I detest the Beretta 92D because the ergonomics are so bad with its huge klutzy stock. LAPD had major problems qualifying recruits with it for that reason, especially the mini-sized women and Asian recruits. Because of many officers' poor finger discipline I don't like the light triggers on the Glocks and similar sidearms. I do like the double action only Sigs and for the typically short range use by officers I think the DA only pistols are a good compromise between safety and marksmanship.

pH @ 5/9/2014 6:34 AM

My take is that decision makers WANT to make - at least the first shot, and maybe all - as difficult as possible. DA or heavy triggers, they think, will cause the officer to be less likely to fire. Less paperwork, fewer lawsuits, no pesky press. Nuts. After all the training and then experience to "smell" when a situation is going sideways, the officer should have the fewest impediments to quick, easy, accurate shots. I got a trigger job on a .40 XDM-Competition and these old fingers passed the FBI range test with 100% head shots. *I* want to go home at night.

Bob Halley @ 7/9/2014 3:26 PM

Not being a trained LE officer, I now own the Kahr new CT 40. Due to a stroke last year, I lost the use of my right ( firing) hand and I am retraining myself to use my left hand. I have a 5 lb. pull and even that is a chore for me. So I am trading for a glock 33 where I change out the springs fro a 3.5 lb pull. Not my ideal choice since it eliminates a lot of good pistols out there.

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