I was talking with a friend the other day, and our conversation reminded me of several stories that help to dispel another myth I want to address: “all cops are gun people.” Most cops today have trouble even qualifying at the range. Many who go into law enforcement would be happy if they didn’t need to carry a gun – let alone be required to use one. There are exceptions of course, but overall, most cops are horrible with firearms.

Story #1:

One of our officers carried a Ruger “Six Series” revolver. Four inch barrel, blued steel, in .357 magnum. It was simple to operate, and a very robust firearm that was well suited for carry in uniform. One day, another officer was showing off his new pistol, it too was a Ruger revolver, almost identical to the first officers, but his was stainless steel. The first officer admired the bright appearance of the new pistol, and was soon convinced that he too needed “one like that.”

As luck would have it, that evening was slow. The officer had some time, and ended up at the motor pool garage. In the shop was a massive grinder, on one side a grinding wheel, on the other, a wire brush wheel. The enterprising officer saw the opportunity to make his pistol nice and shiny silver just like the other revolver he had seen earlier that day.

The hour or so he spent at the wire wheel did indeed take the dark finish off his gun – but the end results didn’t look as much like the stainless steel revolver as he had hoped for or expected. The next day, the very observant rangemaster noticed (or was given a hint that he should check) the officers “brushed” finished gun. Quickly deeming the gun to be unsuitable for duty carry (it pretty well trashed), he immediately took the officer to a nearby gunshop where the owner gave some trade-in value to the revolver, and arranged a payment plan so the officer could get a new pistol for duty use.

Story #2:

We had switched to Glock pistols for a variety of reasons. Ease of operation, magazine capacity, and because they were duty firearms for police officers – simplicity of maintenance. I assumed the duties of rangemaster after I returned from a special assignment, the officers at my department had already been carrying the Glock pistols for several years.

At a qualification session several months later, I noticed one officer was having difficulty in shooting his pistol. He would squeeze the trigger, and then his hand would tremble and shake for a moment, then the gun would fire. As I watched him more closely, I could tell that he was squeezing with all the hand strength he had, trying to get the gun to shoot.

Since being issued his new Glock pistol almost three years earlier, he had never really cleaned it – and more importantly, although he had taken it apart and wiped down the internal parts once or twice, he had never applied any lubrication to the pistol – none!

In the three years, he had gone through a transition course, shooting several hundred rounds to get him acclimated to the pistol, and break in the new surfaces inside the gun. He had then shot it several times when qualifying, or at training – again, never applying any lube. Without getting into too much detail about the function and operation of the Glock internal firing mechanism, to summarize, instead of sliding against each other with just a bit of lubrication, two internal parts were instead sticking and catching against each other.

Part number one, instead of sliding over part number two – was pushing it backwards. The shaking and trembling in the officer’s hand was essentially shaking the gun enough for the parts to break loose and the gun to fire. OK, mechanical things happen. But the blame was on the officer: over the previous year or two he had noticed the gun getting harder and harder to shoot. Gradually going from a 5-7 pound trigger pull to one that was probably 20-30 pounds, and then wasn’t able to fire at all unless he used all the strength he had in his hand to pull the trigger.

I pulled out the firing assembly, and swapped in another from a pistol I had in the armory, and in about three minutes the pistol was working and he was back up, amazed that he could make his gun fire without a three second delay. I then spent some time showing him how and where to lube his gun, and the next day implemented a policy where the department armorer (me) would detail strip each officers gun at least once a year to check for problems such as excessive wear and proper function.

Story #3:

We were at the range doing training and qualification. We were doing a course of fire that required all the officers to shoot enough rounds that they would have to reload their handguns. We had plastic barrels set up and two officers at a time were going through the course. The officers were to move to the barrels as cover while they reloaded, and then with their pistols reloaded, complete the course of fire. As the officers shot and their handguns ran dry, there was a lull as they reloaded, then additional shots as they re-engaged.

However, as shots came from one side, we didn’t hear anything from the other side. I walked closer and saw the officer was having difficulty reloading his pistol. He had removed the empty magazine, but was struggling trying to insert a fully loaded magazine. Was it backwards? Was he not lining it up to seat in the frame of the pistol? I called out to the officer “Make it work” “Get it reloaded and get back in the fight” He continued to struggle as he become more and more frustrated.

After a few more moments, we stopped him to determine what the problem was. This officer was carrying a S&W 59 series pistol – 9mm, stainless steel, with 15 round double stack magazines. The gun and the magazines were all in perfect condition. The problem had been the officer, instead of getting a magazine, had grabbed the Buck knife he carried on his duty belt in a leather pouch. He had spent about three minutes trying to insert his buck knife into the empty pistol’s frame to reload it.

Story # 4

We did a lot of “dynamic” firearms training. Multiple rounds, multiple targets, movement, those things that directly applied to the kind of shooting situations out officers would likely encounter. The problem was the patterns on the targets were getting larger than they should be. We decided the next qualification would require our officers to go back to the basics – simple marksmanship.

At the next qualification day, we started by spending an hour or so going over the basics (sight alignment, sight picture, breath control, trigger control, follow-through, etc.). Instead of the full size humanoid targets, we used much smaller “bullseye” style targets, the center being three inches in diameter. We had each officer load ten rounds. Then from seven yards (21 feet), we told the officer to take their time, and put ten rounds into the center of the target.

At this point, it was just practice. We repeated this two more times – coaching and encouraging the officers to take their time, this being only for accuracy. By now each officer had been shooting for ten to fifteen minutes, and each had fired thirty rounds. Some had little tiny groups, others a bit larger, but it seemed that all would be able to get a qualifying score of 70% (or seven out of ten in the center of the target).

We posted new, fresh targets, and explained they now needed to do one for score. Same rules, same distance, no time limit. Seven out of ten rounds into 3 inches (OK, 3 ½ inches, since rounds that touch the outer ring still count), from seven yards (21 feet). I had four officers who couldn’t qualify that day. One needed several additional range sessions, two other instructors, and about 400 rounds of ammunition over about eight hours of additional training before he was able to pass.

These are all true stories – I just left out some details to help shelter those involved. I have many other stories that are like these. The officer that had green bullets (they had been in his ammo pouches so long they had reacted to the leather dye and corroded). The officer that had not shot his duty revolver, or changed the ammunition, nor even cleaned it in so long – the bullets were corroded in place and we needed a small hammer and wood dowel to drive them out of the cylinder.

So the next time someone tells you cops are knowledgeable about guns, or any gun advice given by a cop should be believed – after all they carry a gun everyday….   Before you believe it, take some time and check a little deeper. You’ll be glad you did.