My recent article on the New York City shooting—NYC: Bad Tactics and Socialism—where two officers fired 16 rounds at a man who, shortly after murdering a former co-worker in broad daylight on a crowded sidewalk, pointed a handgun at them. Unfortunately, despite the fact that the officers fired from distances ranging from about 8-20 feet, they managed to shoot nine bystanders as well as the shooter (dead at the scene), who did not fire a shot at them.
While the tactics—or rather, lack of professional tactics—employed by the officers was in large part responsible for this sad state of affairs, there is no doubt that the handgun choices imposed on NYPD officers by their administrators is also at fault. This is hardly surprising.
The police administrators of large east and west coast cities are chosen far more for their political loyalty than for their police expertise. For such people to be strong Second Amendment supporters, or to have any real knowledge of firearms and tactics, is rare indeed, and obviously so in New York City.
Mayor Bloomberg is, in the kindest terms, an anti-gun anti-freedom true believer. However, he largely merely reflects local thinking on firearm issues. It is difficult for people of the red states—flyover country—who see firearms merely as useful tools employed for a variety of purposes, and who respect, but do not fear them, to understand the mindset of many denizens of the coasts who not only actually fear firearms, but seem to believe them possessed of evil spirits such that their mere possession inevitably drives their owners to unspeakable evil. These people also apparently believe that anyone that would even consider owning—to say nothing of carrying–a firearm must be, at best, deranged and dangerous, and certainly mentally and socially defective.
Surely, some of this attitude has to do with social conditioning and a pack mentality. Surely, some of these people can, with proper coaching and gentle infusions of logic and reason, learn to overcome their irrational fears. They may even find shooting to be enjoyable. However, as I noted in the article that gave rise to this article, NYC’s gun laws are so draconian as to make it very, very difficult for any New Yorker to ever see, let alone shoot, a firearm, except of course firearms in the hands of criminals preying on them.
To understand the place of administrative decision-making in the wounding of nine civilians, review this section of the appendix of the 2010 NYPD annual firearm discharge report (thanks to readers John and Styrgwillidar for link assistance):
“There are three pistol models that are authorized as on‐duty service weapons for NYPD officers: the Glock 19, the Sig Sauer P226, and the Smith & Wesson 5946. These weapons are semi‐automatic, chambered in 9mm, and equipped with 15‐round magazines. (…A handful of officers carry .38 caliber revolvers; these officers are senior members whose weapons have been grandfathered in; revolvers have not been issued as service weapons since 1992.)
All NYPD service pistols are ‘double action only’ (DAO), meaning they have a two‐stage trigger pull for each round fired (unlike single‐action weapons, which can be ‘cocked,’ resulting in a one‐stage trigger pull, which is smoother and easier). Additionally, all NYPD weapons are also modified to have a heavier‐than‐stock 12‐lb trigger pull; this diminishes the likelihood of unintentional discharges but also affects aiming. Nevertheless, it balances the fact that NYPD pistols do not have safeties, and are carried ‘hot,’ with a round in the chamber. The NYPD uses a 124 grain, hollow‐point bullet that is designed to prevent over‐penetration and ricochets.’
I spent three days in May of 2011 in NYC while performing at Lincoln Center. I was careful to observe the weapons carried by patrol officers, and did indeed notice the three duty semi-automatics listed in the 2010 report. I did not see any older, “grandfathered” .38 revolvers. This information, provided for public consumption, sounds many alarms to those competent in firearms, and particularly in police tactics and training.
Any police agency should provide only modern, identical pistols in a single caliber for universal patrol use. Not only does this decrease logistics costs, it makes training far easier and less expensive, reduces costs for armorer training (officers trained to maintain and repair weapons), increases officer and public safety, and ensures interchangeability of weapons and magazines. Glocks are particularly effective in that full, intermediate and compact Glocks have precisely the same controls, control placement and function identically. My recent article on the Glock 26 can be found here.
This is not the case with the NYPD, which uses three handguns that could hardly be more different in meaningful ways:
This is the Glock 17, which is the most modern of the three handgun designs. It is also the safest design and the easiest to train and shoot accurately. Note that the weapon has no manual safety or de-cocking lever. It has no exposed or internal hammer and fires by means of an internal “striker,” which is essentially a large and heavy spring-loaded firing pin. The weapon features three integral internal safety mechanisms and is in use by more than 2000 American law enforcement agencies. Its standard factory trigger pull is 5.5 pounds and is relatively short and positive.
This is the Sig Sauer P226, a dated design, which originally featured a poor double/single action trigger, made much worse and absolutely dangerous by NYPD mandate. In the NYPD version, the exposed hammer is bobbed—it’s cocking portion is removed–and the weapon is rendered able to fire only in double action mode, requiring a long, creepy and very heavy trigger pull. It retains a de-cocking lever, which considering the double action-only mechanism, is redundant.
This is the Smith and Wesson model 5946, in this photo, the stainless steel version. This is arguably the oldest design of the three, being based on the original model 59, which was a larger magazine capacity adaptation of the original model 39. Like the Sig, it is a double-action only mechanism with a bobbed hammer. The large circle in the slide just under the rear sight is where a manual safety lever resides on some models of this series of handguns.
Notice that these are indeed very different weapons in different configurations. They feel very different in the hand, their balance is different, and the bore axis of the Sig and Smith and Wesson is higher than the Glock, producing more felt recoil. They all fire 9mm ammunition, but their magazines are not interchangeable, a serious concern for patrol officers.
The biggest problem with these weapons, however, is the NYPD mandated 12-pound trigger pull. While the Glock, having a trigger mechanism with a shorter travel than the others has greater accuracy potential, its NYPD trigger is more than double the pull weight of a Glock 17 available to the general public. In order to fully understand this problem, a bit of firearm history is necessary.
My police service spanned the revolver age and the widespread introduction of Glocks. In the Air Force, my issued weapon was a .38 Special Smith and Wesson “Combat Masterpiece.” While it had fully adjustable sights, it was certainly not well suited for combat, nor was it a masterpiece, having a heavy and gritty trigger pull. It was not until I became a civilian police officer and had greater choices that I bought and carried Colt Pythons (.357 magnum) exclusively. They were pretty much state of the art at the time, with a relatively light and smooth double action trigger pull.
Double action revolvers fire in one of two ways: In single action mode, one manually cocks the hammer—just like wild west Colt .45s in the movies—which simultaneously withdraws the trigger, leaving a short, light trigger pull. This greatly enhances accuracy, but because the trigger pull is so short and light, can be dangerous, particularly if one does not religiously keep the trigger finger in register (out of the trigger guard and pointed straight ahead in contact with the frame until milliseconds before it is necessary to pull the trigger). In double action mode, the trigger pull is of necessity long and heavy because pulling the trigger not only cocks the hammer, it simultaneously rotates the heavy cylinder, bringing the next cartridge in precise alignment with the barrel. There is, of course, considerable friction between all of the internal parts making this happen.
Police officers using revolvers—and some still do—must train to fire in double action mode only, because in most circumstances, there will be no time to cock to single action, and so doing is always inherently dangerous. Shooting a large double action revolver accurately, particularly under stress, is very difficult, and most police officers never truly master them, commonly barely qualifying, even with elementary courses of fire and low qualification standards. NYPD statistics from 1969—when only revolvers were issued—and more recently when semiautomatic pistols began to be issued-–illustrate the problem:
The police officer’s potential for hitting his adversary during armed confrontation has increased over the years and stands at slightly over 25% of the rounds fired. An assailant’s skill was 11% in 1979.
In 1990 the overall police hit potential was 19%. Where distances could be determined, the hit percentages at distances under 15 yards were:
Less than 3 yards ….. 38%
3 yards to 7 yards .. 11.5%
7 yards to 15 yards .. 9.4%
In 1992 the overall police hit potential was 17%. Where distances could be determined, the hit percentages at distances under 15 yards were:
Less than 3 yards ….. 28%
3 yards to 7 yards …. 11%
7 yards to 15 yards . 4.2%”
These figures comport well with other statistics from the period and from my personal experience. I believe that in 1992, the NYPD was still revolver-heavy, which would account for their low hit probability at less than 9 feet. This may also reflect inherently faulty training and little or no maintenance of shooting skills.
Manufacturers trying to capture the police market designed a number of double-action semiautomatic pistols. The late Col. Jeff Cooper, founder of the Gunsite training academy, called the mechanism “an ingenious solution to a non-existent problem.” At the time, the primary semiautos available were the model 1911 (.45 ACP), the Browning Hi-Power (9mm) and the S&W models 39 and 59 (9mm). The S&W pistols were, by contemporary standards, crude and had reliability problems, but were generally favored by police administrators because the proper cocked and locked carry of the 1911 and Hi-Power—now commonplace and accepted as safe–scared them to death. As a result, many agencies tried the Smith and Wesson handguns with mixed results, reasoning that since they were double action, it would be easy for revolver shooters to transition to them.
Col. Cooper was right. Their triggers were even worse than revolver triggers because their mechanisms were entirely different. And unlike the revolver, which returns to double action mode with each pull of the trigger (unless one purposely cocks the hammer to single action mode), double action semiautos are fired double action for the first round, but the action of the slide configures the weapon to single action for every shot thereafter. This virtually always causes a very wide disparity in shot placement from the first to second shots, often so wide as to miss the target with one or the other (even both) entirely. With substantial practice, one may, to some degree, overcome this problem, but why bother? Glocks, for example, have completely eliminated this inherent difficulty, yet some police agencies like the NYPD have worsened the problem by demanding double action only semiautomatics with even heavier triggers.
The NYPD’s “solution” was the Sig P226 and S&W 5946. Timid police executives have commonly demanded long, heavy trigger pulls, obviously because they do not understand firearms and tactics, they do not trust their own officers, and they are determined not to spend the time and resources necessary to properly train them. Consider DA-only semiautos to be lowest common denominator guns. With 12 pound triggers, they are the lowest of the low, absolutely ensuring that their officers will be poor shots, when they’re able to hit their targets at all. Even Glocks, which in civilian trappings have a very good 5.5 pound trigger with a far shorter travel and better feel than the other NYPD choices, are rendered clumsy and difficult to shoot accurately by a 12 pound trigger.
Remember too, that as the distance to the target increases, accuracy dramatically declines. This is true for most police officers with just about any handgun. Most officers simply don’t practice on their own, shooting only once a year for required qualification, and often, cleaning their guns only when forced, or never. Add a 12 pound trigger, and it’s amazing the two officers involved hit the suspect at all and hit so few–relatively speaking–innocents.
When in the 90’s, my police agency switched from S&W model 686 .357 magnum revolvers to Glocks in .40 S&W caliber, our departmental hit probability immediately shot up to the 75%+ range, which is common for such transitions, providing proper training is done as it was in that agency, but apparently is not done in the NYPD. Of course, standard Glock 5.5 pound triggers were specified, and instructors were trained by Glock cadre to ensure proper transition and maintenance training. This resulted in officers who could barely pass qualification with revolvers despite being allowed multiple attempts, suddenly becoming officers who could easily pass qualification on a single attempt.
Again, from the NYPD 2010 shooting report, we discover another factor in the recent shooting:
Utilizing a two‐handed grip, standing, and lining up a target using the firearm’s sights is the preferred method of discharging a firearm, but it is not always practical during an adversarial conflict. Of officers reporting their shooting techniques, there was a nearly even split between officers who gripped the firearm with two hands and those who gripped the firearm with one hand. More than half of officers who reported their stance state that they were standing (58 percent). And although only 40 percent of officers made any report of whether or not they had used their sights, it is notable that only one officer reported in the affirmative.
More typically, the greatest percentage of officers fired at a range of six to ten feet.
It would see that little has changed from 2010. Let’s briefly review the NYPD’s 12-pound trigger rationale. The NYPD believes:
(1) Because NYPD pistols are carried “hot’ with a round in the chamber;”
This is the only safe and effective way to carry a modern semiautomatic pistol. To do otherwise is not only 20 years behind current knowledge of safe and professional practice, it would absolutely endanger the lives of officers and the public.
(2) and because NYPD pistols do not have manual safety levers;
With a properly designed handgun, no manual safety lever is required. Superfluous safety levers add only an unnecessary level of complexity, which reduces effectiveness. Note the remarkable safety record of Glocks in police and civilian service.
(3) it is necessary “to have a heavier-than-stock 12-lb trigger pull;”
The NYPD acknowledges this “affects aiming.” They are too modest. Not only does it negatively affect aiming, it makes accurate marksmanship under stress a virtual impossibility, guaranteeing that a substantial proportion of shots fired–almost always more than a majority–will inevitably entire miss the target, flying off to parts unknown, or into the bodies of persons unknown.
(4) which “diminishes the likelihood of unintentional discharges.”
This is nothing less than an admission that the NYPD does not intend to properly train and supervise its officers, relying instead on mechanical impediments to accuracy and tactical effectiveness. In addition, the NYPD knows this lunatic reliance on mechanisms rather than training is dangerous, but tries to cover it by admitting only that it “affects aiming.” In this case if affected aiming to the point that nine innocents–who hopefully the officers were not trying to shoot–were hit by their bullets and/or bullet fragments.
The NYPD’s own report indicates that at least someone there knows that twelve-pound triggers are inherently dangerous to officers and the public, as the recent shooting so clearly illustrates. There is no “balance” involved, as the idea that carrying a semiautomatic pistol with a round chambered is somehow inherently dangerous requiring some countervailing mechanism indicates a complete lack of understanding of proper pistol craft, professional instruction and gun-handling techniques, and contemporary firearm design and engineering. In addition, the idea that a handgun—such as the Glock—designed specifically to be safe without an external manual safety lever–somehow requires a trigger pull weight far in excess of that designed to function properly with that firearm is likewise unprofessional, uninformed and inept thinking.
The safety records of countless Glock-equipped police agencies and hundreds of thousands—perhaps millions—of Glock-owning civilians, all using standard 5.5 pound Glock triggers, stands as eloquent testimony to the folly of the NYPD’s expensive, deadly dangerous and politically correct foolishness.
The solution is simplicity itself:
(1) Standardize all NYPD pistols to Glocks with standard triggers.
(2) Conduct proper transition training. Just as countless civilians do, NYPD officers can be taught to keep their trigger fingers in register, away from the trigger until a millisecond before firing. If this simple and mandatory safety procedure is mastered–a necessity for the safe use of any firearm–trigger pull weight becomes irrelevant, except that with a 5.5 pound trigger, officers will have a greatly enhanced chance to hit what they aim at rather than innocent bystanders.
(3) Institute regular refresher training, not merely yearly qualifications, and enforce proper technique whenever officers handle their weapons.
The alternatives are stark and disgusting. NYC political leadership may be so anti-gun as to demand the status quo, which is clearly untenable and unreasonably dangerous to the officers and public. Or perhaps NYPD administrators and supervisors know something we don’t: their officers are inherently dangerous and untrainable, but rather than admit that, it is better to equip them with inherently dangerous firearms. Perhaps “all of the above” is the correct answer; more’s the pity.
For an additional take, visit The Truth About Guns, where Nick Leghorn addresses this issue.
In addition, stay tuned when I address another related issue raised by readers here and elsewhere: are less-than-lethal weapons such as Tasers a reasonable response to the horrendous tactics and marksmanship of the NYPD? I expect to post that article next week.