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A Basic Guide to Weapons

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Weapons I've Carried: Part Two

At the DOJ Academy, which was only eight weeks long, Fridays were dedicated to firearms training. I mentioned previously my apprehension of semi-automatic firearms. Several factors were at the root of my worry. 

First and foremost, I am left handed. Most firearm safety is geared toward right handed people. So going from a revolver with no safety to a weapon with a safety in an awkward position made me think: Great. After eight years I’m going to have to become a right-handed shooter.    

That response is not nearly as flippant as you may think. A lot of left-handed people who entered a police academy became right handed shooters at the ‘encouragement’ of trainers coupled with the influence of equipment manufacture. In fact, I remember being told to find a way to make it work or switch hands. Initially I thought what unflexible buttheads. Then, when I stopped and thought about it, I realized all the shooting courses I’ve done involved times where every participant had to shoot with their non-dominate hand. After all, what happens when in the middle of a gunfight if you get shot in your gun hand? No, calling a timeout is not a viable option, at least that’s what my instructor told me.

Fortunately, for me the Glock only has a trigger safety. Point and shoot. Simple enough. The magazine release gave me a little bit of trouble because it’s on the left side of the gun and I had to learn how to cant my gun and push the release with my index finger to release and remove the empty magazine while still aiming at the target. Took some practice but I did learn how to ‘make it work’.

The Glock was such an easy weapon to transition to. My confidence bolstered, I began carrying my Walther PPk/s. Only problem, well in truth there were several, the first being my Walther was not a Glock. It had a safety. Next, all the guys thought my Walther was a sissified gun. I won’t tell you what they had to say about James Bond. What I will tell you is they made lots of references to kitty cats.

The positive about the Walther was it was easily concealable and the .380ACP ammunition was closely comparable to 9mm ammunition. I carried my Walther as a back-up weapon, because it was so light weight and easy to hide.

Did I ever mention how thrifty (my nice way of saying cheap) most cops are? Two words no cop can resist: Discounted Gun. One of my co-workers (Tim) wanted a Glock 26, which is a scaled down version of the Glock 19 – it’s also called a Baby Glock. Well Tim did some research which included brokering a deal for a group discount. So a group of us (yes, I’m thrifty too) decided to purchase Glock 26’s (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yzj14q7nBJ0&feature=related), Initially, the Baby Glock was going to be my undercover and off-duty weapon only.  Problem was even for me, a woman, my pinky finger could not fit on the butt of the weapon.

Most of the guys I worked with modified their Glock 26 by adding an extended magazine. The extension gave you a place to rest your little finger, but it also extended the butt of the weapon which (in my mind) defeated the purpose of the smaller version. Because my Baby Glock did not feel comfortable to me in my grip, I regulated it to the position of back-up weapon only. You know that weapon that might be awkward, but is compact and hidden for that Oh Sh#t! moment.

Right around this time Walter – our Head Range Master -- introduced me to the concept of carrying the same weapon on-duty/off-duty/under-cover, basically at all times. His argument: muscle memory and familiarity could save our lives.

Walter believed switching back and forth between weapons undermined all our training and preparation for the unexpected and terror filled events that come with drawing and firing our weapon in the line of duty. Yes, our duty weapons were somewhat large and a bit awkward, (especially for undercover work). However, as with anything, practice, training and a lot more practice made carrying my Glock 19 and later my Glock 23 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3H93SMqVLu0&feature=related) comfortable and invisible. 

So even with several weapons at my disposal I pretty much carried my Glock 23, 40cal handgun on my person on-duty/off-duty and undercover. For two years I was assigned to a Task Force in Palm Springs, California. Palm Springs is arguably one of the hottest places on earth, six months out of the year temperatures exceed triple digits on a daily basis. Wearing shorts and t-shirts I was able to wear my Glock 23 in an approved on-duty holster, attached to my left side where no one was the wiser.  

I liked my Glock 23 so much that when I was retired I purchased it from my department.       

This video gives a comparison of Glocks and it shows how some of the attachable lights and lasers work. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_ruaWNaWMs&feature=related)

STTA: Today there many weapons, pistols and sub-machine guns that have transitional safetys or ambidextrous safetys. The best way to find out if a weapon’s safety can be modified for a left-hander is to look at the manufacturer’s website.

I will be posting Part III in a few days. There I will cover shotguns, and sub-machine guns.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Weapons I've Carried: Part One

Which firearm (model and caliber) did you carry on the job? Is it very different from your personal firearm?

Melisssa wow, that simple question had my mind take off in ten different directions at once. So I decided to blog on all the weapons I carried on and off the job and why. Earlier, I gave you my abridged answer, here is the expanded version.

Back in 1983 I was issued a Model 67 J frame Smith and Wesson six shot revolver that shot .38 rounds. Back then the CHP had a policy all officers had to carry the same weapon. (see: http://www.smith-wesson.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product4_750001_750051_764935_-1_757787_757787_757787_ProductDisplayErrorView_Y) In the academy, just prior to graduation, we impressionable cadets were given the opportunity to purchase a Model 60 five shot revolver that also shot .38 rounds (see: http://www.smith-wesson.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product4_750001_750051_765498_-1_757910_757787_757787_ProductDisplayErrorView_Y )  We were told it would make an excellent off-duty weapon. AND if we purchased it right then we would get the side plate engraved with the CHP logo at no charge.

Yep, I and most of my classmates bought one. I won't tell you how those chuckle-heads cooled my weapon after engraving with water and never cleaned and oiled it. I also won't say how they managed to fully rust up a stainless steel revolver. Nope not saying a word about that.

This was one of those times the CHP policy of having all officers firearms annually inspected by the Range Master probably saved my life. During the inspection he (the Range Master) noticed rust on the screws and completely disassembled my weapon finding my real nasty, I mean rusty, surprise. My issue was quickly taken care of, but I learned several life lessons before stepping foot in my newly assigned CHP Field Office:

1) My safety is paramount to me, never assume it's that important to anyone else.
2) If my life depends on a piece of equipment the more I know about how it works the safer I am.
3) A lone twenty-two year old female can intimidate a gun shop full of men with the right look and mannerisms. – twitching is highly underrated.

Back to weapons.

So for the first few years I carried a six shot on-duty and a five shot scaled down model off duty. The five shot fit very nicely in my rear jean pants pocket.        

After I was pretty sure I was not going to get fired and for tax purposes (well, it's not like I was a gun nut or anything) I bought about one gun a year. My second off-duty weapon was a Walther PPK/s .380 semi-automatic pistol (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=enM_F7rfnNY ) . I had absolutely no training on automatic weapons, but James Bond carried one so that was good enough for me.

I carried it two maybe three times afraid every single second the mysterious automatic hand pistol was going to go off and shoot me in the arse. Didn't matter it actually had a safety switch. I knew nothing about them so I locked it up and put it away. And went back to my trusty, more familiar, Model 60 - five shot.

When the CHP finally allowed officers to carry something other than a .38 I went out and purchased a .357 Model 686 six shot revolver (http://www.smith-wesson.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Product4_750001_750051_764964_-1____ProductDisplayErrorView_Y). Initially those of us carrying .357s had to load it with .38 ammo while on-duty. A .357 revolver with fire .38 ammo or .357 rounds. A .38 revolver will only fire off .38 rounds. A few years later the CHP relaxed its stand and allowed officers to carry either .38 or .357 ammo.

When I left the CHP and went to the California Department of Justice, we were given the choice of Colt .45 (http://www.rc-trucks.org/colt-45.htm) automatics or 9mm Glocks, either the Model 17 or 19 (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nZAervPTtvo&feature=related). When the Glock was described as an idiot proof semiautomatic I raised my hand.

I will continue Weapons I’ve Carried, which will cover my DOJ years, in my next blog post.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Agencies and their Weapons

Do all agencies carry/issue the same weapon?

The answer to that question is a simple no.  The explanation is much more complicated.

There can be a large list of reasons an Agency selects a specific weapon: Cost, familiarity, functionality, specificity, total coolness and how badass will I look when I pull my weapon, to name a few.  Some Agencies even let personnel chose whatever they want (within reason) so long as they train, qualify and upkeep the weapon according to Departmental Policy.

I believe I may have mentioned before, but cops tend to be a tiny bit competitive. And even when impractical will err on the side of looking good vs being right. Because of that completely juvenile mentality – of which I was totally committed to- most States had to develop guidelines under which law enforcement officers are trained. Now depending on the type of weapon a specific amount of training is required. The more potential for mass destruction the greater the amount of training required. Of course this simply meant we got to blow stuff up during training rather than in the office, or more embarrassingly, in a patrol car.  

In California there is POST – Peace Officers Standards and Training. No one can be considered a peace officer in California unless they have a POST Certificate. Having a POST certificate means successful completion of a specific training regimen that includes physical conditioning, firearms training, less-lethal weapons instruction, methods of arrest, vehicle training, ethic and a whole lot more.

STTA:  Federal Agents are not considered Peace Officers in the state of California. Federal Agents DO NOT have authority to arrest people under California laws unless an agency grants them the authority. And that can only be done on a case by case instance.

I will go further into Academy training in another blog.

As well as some of the reasons behind the no-love-lost (mostly hate) relationship between Federal law keepers and State Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs).  See, even our acronyms are cooler than their’s - sorry couldn’t help myself.

Okay back to weapons.

An agency can decide if their officers carry revolvers, semi-automatics, shotguns, sub-machine guns, or tasers and a whole lot more.  The choice of armament is usually based on the amount of training a Department is willing to provide their officers.  POST requirements are minimum guidelines. For liability reasons most agencies exceed POST training requirements.   

During my CHP Academy training I had 144 hours of weapons training. Only six of those hours were spent in the classroom. The largest block of time -- seventy-six hours -- was spent firing our weapons down range at a paper target. The rest of our weapons training was spent running through shooting courses (twenty hours), Night Firing (twenty-two hours), shotgun training with the Remington 870 (eight hours) and more.

After we completed the above weapons instruction/training in order to satisfy POST, all cadets had to successfully complete an Officer Safety Course Qualification. To pass a score of 270 out 300 was required. That meant out of thirty rounds, twenty-seven better hit their mark. Every cadet had three chances to pass. If you failed during your third attempt you were out of the academy.

Once in the field we had to qualify every other month. Same rules applied, minimum passing score 270. If an officer failed to qualify he suffered a fate worse than firing. Public humiliation and ridicule. No warm fuzzies from fellow officers.  In fact, upon graduation from the academy, anyone not sporting an Expert shooting pin (perfect score) definitely heard about it.

Let me explain it to you the way it was presented to me by my Field Training Officer. “Do you really want to put your life in the hands of an officer who misses?” I had never shot a handgun before entering the Academy and yet I graduated having missed qualifying as Expert by one round. The training was that good.  

And to make things even more complicated, some Agencies allow their Detectives to carry weapons their patrol personnel are not allowed to carry. I won’t even go into specialized units.