Once upon a time ammo was cheap and agencies were not squeezing every cent out of their training budgets. That was then, this is now.
Today, some agencies are starting to feel the financial screws tightening their budgets to the point that they may be forced to lay off sworn personnel. In an environment like this, training dollars are hard to come by. And that includes ammo for firearms training.
Anybody who shoots can tell you that the price of training and service hollow-point ammo has doubled in the past few years. Some people blame the war; some people blame China's unquenchable thirst for the copper that ammo makers need for brass cartridges; and others blame good old-fashioned corporate greed. It doesn't matter who or what is at fault; training ammo for duty pistols is scarce and it's expensive.
A Modest Proposal
So the question that a lot of agencies are asking is: What can we do to save money on training ammo? And I think I have an answer. I'm just going to come out and say it, even at the risk of you thinking I'm crazy. I believe you can conduct a portion of your firearms training with pistols chambered for the .22 Long Rifle cartridge.
Now before I go any further with this discussion, it is important to mention that companies such as SIG Sauer, Advantage Arms, and Ceiner manufacture .22 caliber pistols and conversion kits that will let sworn personnel shoot .22 caliber Long Rifle rounds from a variety of law enforcement-type pistols. Kimber manufactures a .22 caliber 1911 as well.
I recently field tested a Glock 19 with a .22 caliber conversion kit installed. It was flawlessly reliable, incredibly accurate, and extremely comfortable to shoot. I have also been told that in the near future a conversion kit will be available for Smith & Wesson M&P pistols.
Keeping It Real
The number one concern about using a .22 conversion kit of some kind for firearms training is realism. Will the officer who conducts some percentage of his or her firearms training with a .22 caliber pistol be ready when the chips are down in a real-life shooting situation and he or she has to use a duty weapon chambered for 9mm, .40 S&W, .45 ACP, or some other substantial cartridge?
To answer this question, we have to look at how the performance of a .22 training weapon is different than the performance of a duty gun. One major concern is recoil. How can officers who have their muscle memory reset to the feel of a discharging .22 caliber pistol be expected to function when they normally use a pistol chambered for a snappy .40 S&W caliber while on duty? The best way to deal with this concern is to make sure that you also train with a certain amount of regular caliber training ammunition and regular caliber hollow-point ammunition whenever you train with .22s.
Another concern is dexterity. Racking the slide on a .22 conversion will be different than racking the slide on a pistol equipped with original parts. This is because the recoil spring tension is substantially weaker on the pistol that is chambered to fire .22s. The best way to deal with this concern is to manually operate your service and off-duty handgun in a safe place while it is unloaded. You also need to make sure that you test fire your pistol with a few rounds of regular law enforcement FMJ training and hollow-point ammo before you leave the range.
These are very real concerns, but they don't cause me to rethink the idea of using .22 pistols and .22 conversions for some law enforcement firearms training. Note that I say some training. I am not advocating that officers use .22 Long Rifle cartridges for all training.
But I do think .22 conversions or pistols originally designed to fire .22 Long Rifle cartridges can be excellent tools for training new recruits who have never fired a pistol. They also can save you a lot of money when used for remedial training of officers who need to brush up on their grip, aim, and sight alignment. Finally, for the average officer who likes to practice with firearms, a .22 conversion could be a real budget saver.
Crunching The Numbers
How much could an agency save training part of the time with .22 pistols? That depends on the size of the agency, but let's look at some ballpark figures for a typical police academy class.
The average police academy recruit fires approximately 2,000 rounds of ammunition preparing to qualify with issued service handguns. I personally see no reason why a good percentage of these 2,000 rounds of training ammunition cannot consist of .22 LR ammunition.
At the very least the average recruit should be able to use a minimum of 1,200 to 1,500 rounds of .22 LR out of his or her 2,000-round allotment of training ammo. This would cut the ammunition budget by a substantial figure since the average police academy class of 24 recruits would be using 28,800 to 36,000 fewer rounds of regular caliber training ammunition. After five academy classes, the police academy would be shooting approximately 144,000 to 180,000 fewer rounds of regular caliber training ammunition.
According to police sales representative Terry Moore who manages Diamondback Police Supply in Tucson, Ariz., the average law enforcement agency is paying approximately 30 to 36 cents a round for regular service caliber training ammunition.
At 36 cents a round, the average police recruit who fires 2,000 rounds of .45 ACP ammunition costs the taxpayers $720 in ammunition. If that same recruit uses only 500 rounds of .45 ACP FMJ training ammunition, the taxpayers save $540 minus the cost of the .22 LR ammo and conversion kit.
Even though .22 LR ammo isn't free, it's almost free compared to the cost of regular duty caliber training ammo. You can buy 500 rounds of .22 LR ammo for $20. In contrast, a 500-round case of 230-grain .45 ACP FMJ training ammunition has a current retail price (if and when you can find it) of approximately $200.
This concept is also viable for maintaining the firearms skills of veteran officers. Law enforcement agencies could allow sworn personnel to install .22 caliber conversion kits on certain law enforcement-type pistols or use certain .22 caliber pistols that are the same as, or similar to, the pistols they carry on duty.
For example, in a current annual 50-round firearms qualification course, officers could fire 25 rounds of regular duty ammo and 25 rounds of .22 LR ammo if their duty weapons can accommodate a .22 caliber conversion kit. This would dramatically reduce the cost of qualifying sworn personnel.
In this era of economic uncertainty, everything possible must be done to reduce expenses in a cost-effective and realistic fashion. Firearms chambered in .22 LR caliber have been used during war and peace to help armed professionals develop and maintain their firearms proficiency. Today is no different.
So based on a variety of factors, I recommend using some portion of .22 LR ammunition to train law enforcement officers during their academy training and after they graduate. The most critical aspect of firearms training is repetition. If budget cuts are reducing the amount of duty ammo available for officer training, then using .22 caliber conversion kits or .22 caliber pistols is a viable and inexpensive option that should be considered.
Clearly when you do the math you can see that individual officers as well as law enforcement agencies can afford .22 LR pistols and/or conversion kits because of the savings they will enjoy from using a significantly less expensive ammunition for firearms training.
Nick Jacobellis is a medically retired U.S. Customs Agent and former New York police officer who was physically disabled in the line of duty while working undercover.