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Love the One You're With

There are ways to make peace with a duty sidearm that you hate.

December 01, 2006  |  by Nick Jacobellis - Also by this author

One of the most frustrating things that can happen to you as a law enforcement officer is being forced to carry a handgun that you dislike. Common sense dictates that if you are not happy with your service handgun, you may not perform as well as you should when it comes time to use that firearm. This includes when you have to qualify and when you have to use deadly force to stop a threat.

There are a variety of reasons why you might dislike the weapon you have been issued. You may not like the design and the manufacturer. For example, you may prefer an all metal pistol over a polymer-framed pistol like a Glock. Or you may prefer a single-action to a double-action trigger. Maybe you prefer a striker to a hammer.

Not liking a specific manufacturer’s designs is a particularly difficult problem if you work for an agency that has a one-gun-fits-all policy, meaning that only handguns from one manufacturer are authorized for on-duty and in some cases off-duty use. Some agencies are very strict about their one-gun policy and others are more flexible and require sworn personnel to carry the same service handgun but allow a backup or off-duty gun that is chambered in a different caliber and made by a different manufacturer.

One reason why Glocks are so popular with police agencies is that the company makes a complete line of pistols ranging from full-size tactical models to compacts and subcompacts. The advantages to issuing the Glock pistol for patrol, concealed, and off-duty is that you have the same manual of arms for each model and the magazines are interchangeable as long as they are the same caliber.

Most other manufacturers do not offer this kind of versatility. SIG, for example, does not make a subcompact pistol in a substantial caliber that fits in an ankle holster, let alone a subcompact that also has magazine compatibility with a full-size or compact variant. So if you are a fan of SIG pistols and you work for an agency that wants to have one make of handgun for all purposes, you are going to have to learn to love another make of gun, likely a Glock.

Another reason that officers can sometimes hate their issued sidearms is that the caliber is wrong for them. This problem goes both ways. If you love the .45 ACP, you may feel that the 9mm does not offer the stopping power that you need. A worse problem is if you find the caliber of your issued sidearm too powerful.

Finally, when an agency has a “one size fits all” policy, you can end up with a weapon that doesn’t fit your hand. Some agencies want to maximize your firepower, so they issue double-stack handguns to every officer. Sure, it’s great to have 17 rounds when you need them, but if you can’t wrap your hand comfortably around the grip of your weapon, then you may have a hard time accurately shooting those 17 rounds. Remember, it’s better to fire seven rounds with accuracy than spray and pray 17.

Making the Transition

So what can you do if your issued sidearm doesn’t fit you or you just don’t like it?

You can learn to love it. After all, your only other courses of action are to con-vince your agency to change its policy or move on to another agency. Neither one is likely to be practical.

One of the best ways to become more comfortable with a handgun that you dislike or downright hate is to head out to the local gun range with several cases of ammunition and do some serious shooting.

But don’t just shoot. Study your shots. Do most of your shooting from the three-yard line. This will enable you to see where your bullets impact the target without having to walk downrange to make your inspection.

And surrender your pride. Ask a firearms instructor who is familiar with the handgun that you are trying to get comfortable with to help you through the re-education process.

It is also very important to discipline yourself to consider yourself a novice shooter when you transition to a handgun that you do not like. This means that you must take your time while you concentrate on your sight picture and trigger manipulation. Keep in mind that this can be accomplished by dry firing your new pistol when you are not practicing with live ammunition.

Once you gain some comfort with the pistol that you are trying to learn to love, it’s time to start practicing to use the weapon the way you would have to use it on the street. Repeatedly practice drawing and firing from your duty holster using one- and two-handed point-, shoulder-, and hip-shooting positions. You can also conduct drills that involve putting two shots in the chest and one in the head of a man-size target from the three-yard line. When you are ready to put more distance between you and your target you can move back to the seven-yard line and repeat the process.

Hand Feel

As I’ve mentioned, one of the reasons why officers are uncomfortable with their issued sidearms is the fit and feel in their hands. Here’s some tips for how to overcome this problem.

A good way to get used to how a pistol feels in your hand is to wear a comfortable pair of shooting gloves when working out with it on the range. Shooting gloves and snug-fitting special ops/patrol gloves can protect your hands while shooting for an extended period of time. Gloves can also help you overcome an uncomfortable grip or minimize the impact of excessive recoil on your hands.

Another option is to try using a different set of grips or a rubber sleeve to help improve the ergonomics on any pistol or revolver that you carry. You can check out a variety of these at any well-stocked shooting store.

Having a grip reduction performed by a competent gunsmith can also improve the ergonomics of certain polymer-framed pistols. But make sure that any modification you make to your issued handgun is OK with your agency.

Fortunately, hand size and grip feel are becoming less and less of a problem. Manufacturers like Beretta, Smith & Wesson, Walther, FN, and others are now making pistols with interchangeable handswells that can be used to change the ergonomics of the grip to fit every imaginable hand size. In fact, I am convinced that every next-generation law enforce-ment and military pistol will be designed to accommodate removable grip panels.

Feeling the Power

Recoil is very subjective. Your best friend may tell you that his new pistol is as gentle as a kitten, but when you shoot it, it may feel more like a tiger. Even some handguns that have a reputation for being comfortable to shoot may not be comfortable for you to use.

If recoil is your problem, here’s some ways to minimize the kick.

First of all, consider a longer-barreled, heavier gun that is approved by your agency. For example, your agency may require that you carry an HK, but the policy may give you some flexibility as to which model of HK. A longer-barreled and/or heavier pistol generally has less felt recoil than a shorter or lighter model.

The manufacturer may also offer models that are designed to reduce recoil. For example, you may want to try a ported or compensated pistol.

But before you change your pistol, remember that recoil is a function of both the ammo and the weapon. Let’s say your agency requires you to carry a .40 S&W pistol when you would prefer a 9mm. You don’t like the recoil of the .40 and you blame it on the caliber. The caliber may be the culprit, but it also may be due to the ammo load. Maybe your agency authorizes a lighter load. If so, give it a try.

Shoot It Anyway

Let’s say that no matter what you do, you still hate your issued gun. You can’t let its shortcomings—-real or imagined—-frustrate you to the point of giving up. Even if you get a succession of blisters on your trigger finger and you do not shoot as well as you have in the past, you need to shoot it.

When candidates attending U.S. Navy SEAL training are forced to endure tremendous hardships and perform difficult or seemingly impossible tasks, they quickly learn how to, “embrace the suck” and push on. Shooting your weapon well on the street can save your life and the lives of the people you are sworn to protect, so embrace the suck: Do your range time, educate yourself about the handguns you carry, and adopt a positive mindset.

Tags: Duty Pistols, Glock, Smith & Wesson

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