Editor’s Note: This is a repost of a popular article I wrote during the first few months of this blog. Since our site has grown drastically, many of you may not have seen it when it was originally published.
If you are new to police work and your department is not going to issue you a handgun, then you have a very important choice to make. Which gun are you going to buy to carry on-duty? For someone with limited knowledge about tactical handguns, you may feel overwhelmed. Hopefully, this article will clear up the confusion and make the decision more manageable.
The first thing you need to do is read your department’s policy regarding on-duty weapons. The gun you pick needs to meet their requirements or you will not be allowed to carry it.
Stick to the name brands because quality is a must. If you find yourself involved in a gun battle, you need a reliable handgun that functions in harsh environments. During the course of your career, you are going to get wet and muddy. Your gun is going to be exposed to dirt and possibly sand. You may find yourself in freezing temperatures. Your gun is going to be banged around, even while in the holster. Some guns handle these conditions better than others, so rule out any model that has not been proven over time to withstand this kind of abuse. In plain language, you should look for a well established model from a major manufacturer.
Money should not be a major factor, but you are going to be limited by your pocketbook. If you are just starting the academy, find out when you actually need to have a gun. If you have a little time, start putting money aside to allow you purchase a quality gun. You are going to be excited about becoming a cop and you will probably want a gun right away, but if waiting a little while will allow you to get a better gun, then put off the purchase as long as possible. You will be happier in the end.
Double action versus single action. The hammer on a pistol must be pulled back, this is one action. The hammer must then be released to fall forward to fire the round, this is the second action.
- Some handguns are single action only, like the Colt 1911 models. These guns are carried “cocked and locked”. This means that the hammer is already pulled back and the trigger simply releases the hammer when pulled.
- Other guns, like the Beretta M9, are carried with the hammer forward, which means that when you pull the trigger for the first shot the hammer must be pulled back before being released. After the first shot, the hammer is already back so you are just releasing it forward with each subsequent shot. This creates two distinct trigger pulls on the gun. The first shot has a much heavier trigger pull, and follow-up shots have a lighter trigger pull. This can create some problems for a new shooter under stress.
- Some guns, like the Glock, have an internal hammer system. This allows for a consistent trigger pull on every shot. Just pull the trigger and the gun fires. I am a big advocate of this type of pistol for law enforcement.
Active safeties versus passive safeties. An active safety requires you to physically disable it before the gun will fire. Passive safeties are disengaged by simply pulling the trigger. This is more a personal preference that you need to decide upon. I prefer the passive safety system. Keep your finger off the trigger and the gun is safe. Place your finger on the trigger and the gun is ready to be fired.
Mounting rails for a pistol light. The gun you choose should have mounting rails for a tactical flashlight. I would not buy a gun without this option. Tactical gunlights are in wide use by police officers around the country. An upcoming article will address this topic in more detail.
High capacity magazines. I would not carry a duty gun that carries fewer than 12 rounds in the magazine. One of the great advantages offered by semi-automatic handguns is the increased carrying capacity. Most manufacturers have increased the capacity of .45 pistols to at least 12 rounds, so this would be the minimum I would be comfortable with. Most officers carry a loaded weapon and 2 spare magazines. The more rounds you have, the longer you can stay in the fight.
Caliber. There has been much debate on pistol caliber. This can lead to heated arguments between officers, who can be fiercely loyal to a certain caliber. There are benefits to each caliber and you need to decide what is more important to you. The most common calibers for law enforcement are 9mm, .40 and .45. The truth is that the most effective round is the one that hits the target. I recommend picking the caliber that allows you the most accuracy.
- 9mm allows you to carry more rounds and the felt recoil is lighter, allowing more accurate follow-up shots in rapid succession.
- .40 has a higher velocity than .45 and some argue it has more stopping power than a .45 because of this. The .40 has more felt recoil than the 9mm or .45. The rounds are larger than 9mm, so the magazine capacity is slightly less than the 9mm.
- .45 is known for good stopping power and usually has less felt recoil than a .40. The larger rounds reduce the carrying capacity of the magazines. .45’s are now offered with larger capacities than the past, but the grip may be too large to be comfortable for officers with small hands.
Magazine compatibility with back-up weapons. The ideal situation is one where your duty weapon and your back-up weapon operate with the same magazines and ammo. This allows you to stay in the fight longer if you have to switch to your back-up gun, by letting you use your spare duty magazines in your back-up.
These are the primary factors that I would consider when selecting a firearm to carry on-duty. This is strictly based on my opinion after over 15 years of police work and being a state licensed firearms instructor for many years. The selection of a duty gun is a very personal decision and brand loyalty can be fierce amongst officers. I hope that I have not offended anyone’s brand of choice. Based on all of the criteria above, the firearm that I carry is a Glock 22 (.40).
I would strongly caution against buying a cheaper gun to use during the academy with the plan to upgrade later. You are going to spend a large amount of time putting rounds through your gun during firearms training in the academy. With all of that time behind the trigger, you are going to become very comfortable with the weapon. If you later change to a different pistol with different functions or different positioning of the releases, safeties, etc. you could suffer from operator error under stress.
In case you are completely new to the world of firearms, here are some companies that I would recommend:
Heckler & Koch
Smith & Wesson