Seargant Patrick Hayes writes:
TTAG’s Armed Intelligentsia is familiar with firearms in general, police firearms in specific and the discrepancies between police and [legal] non-police firearms. As this site gets plenty of Google hits from less well-informed readers, RF asked me to provide a quick and basic overview of police firearms for new visitors – and for existing readers who want to share a little link love with their less firearms familiar friends. Let’s start with this: law enforcement officers (LEOs) carry or have quick-access to three types of firearms . . .
1. A semi-automatic handgun a.k.a., “duty gun”
Police use a handgun or duty gun when a sudden attack occurs or the officer doesn’t have time to arm him or herself with a long gun. Handguns have limited range.
In some jurisdictions – mostly rural – police officers are free to choose their own handgun. Large police forces issue guns to their officers. In both cases, police carry handguns from mainstream manufacturers such as GLOCK, SIG SAUER, Smith & Wesson, FNH USA, etc.
Department-issued handguns are usually striker-fired weapons chambered in 9mm, .40 or .45 caliber. They’re no different from the guns manufacturers sell to retail consumers. That said, in some state, (e.g., Massachusetts and California), non-LEOs can only purchase handguns on a government-approved list – a restriction that doesn’t apply to police officers.
Police departments spec-up their firearms to suit department preferences. The NYPD carry GLOCK handguns with an eleven pound “New York trigger” to reduce the possibility of negligent discharges (with negative effects on accuracy.) Some departments equip officers’ guns with night sights and lights, also available to non-LEOs.
Police departments are not subject to the ammunition magazine capacity limits imposed on consumers in many states (e.g., New York, Massachusetts). In these jurisdictions, police handguns can hold more rounds, and reload more rounds, than [legal] non-police handguns. In some states (e.g., New Jersey), non-LEOs are prohibited from possessing any type of hollow-point ammunition, routinely carried by the police.
– Backup handgun
Many police officers carry a second gun: a smaller, more easily-concealed semi-automatic handgun or revolver. Many police departments issue reduced-sized versions of the officer’s duty gun with ammo and magazine interchangeability, to facilitate an emergency reload of either gun.
2. A pump-action or semi-automatic shotgun
A shotgun fires multiple lead projectiles in a single shot.The shotgun is a highly effective close-quarters weapon that can also accurately shoot slugs (large bullets) out to longer distances. Officers use shotguns to make entry into a building (shotguns can be used to destroy simple locks) and/or clear areas where armed individuals are likely.
A significant number of police officers have in-car access to a five-round Remington 870, Mossberg 500 pump-action shotgun or similar. Some police agencies deploy more expensive semi-automatic shotguns, also available to non-LEO consumers.
Police shotguns are usually civilian-standard models, equipped with a 18″ barrel. Some departments opt for shotguns with a shorter barrel (e.g., the Model 870P) for improved maneuverability in confined space. Due to unconstitutional concerns about concealment, the general public may only purchase a shotgun with a barrel shorter than 18″ with permission from – and payment to – the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
3. Centerfire semi-automatic rifle
A rifle allows the officer to effectively engage targets quickly, accurately and at greater range than a handgun or shotgun. Police use (or should use) a rifle whenever they’re looking at the possibility of a gunfight. AR-style rifles are appropriate for responding to burglaries, active crime scenes (including active shooters) and high risk warrant service.
A great many police departments are replacing shotguns with AR platform rifles, usually chambered in .223. (Some deploy both, offering officers a choice of either firearm depending on the job at hand.) In the main, police-issued rifles are semi-customized versions of off-the-shelf models, also available to non-LEOs.
Some states (e.g. New York and California) ban non-LEO purchase of any AR-style or “assault rifle.” Some states (e.g. Colorado) limit the ammunition magazine capacity of a non-LEO AR-style rifle.
Police have access to shorter-barreled AR rifle variants (under 16″) that require permission, paperwork, a tax payment and delay for non-police purchasers. Police also have access to fully-automatic AR-style rifles (a.k.a., machine guns) manufactured after 1986. Non-LEOs are banned from their possession.
Police may also carry shorter-barreled fully-automatic rifles, denied to non-LEOs, such as as the SIG SAUER MPX above. Most “beat cops” do not have immediate access to fully-automatic rifles. Police departments usually reserve machine guns for SWAT teams and other specialized units.
Today’s police aren’t out-gunned by bad guys; most criminals use handguns. Their firearms are no better than the handguns used by police. The small percentage of criminals who use rifles or shotguns face police armed with rifles and/or shotguns. (In some cases, police marksmen may be called in to use longer-range single shot rifles.)
The key difference between police and non-LEOs isn’t weaponry. It’s teamwork and training.
At least it should be. American citizens should have access to any firearm or ammunition type available to the police: shorter-barreled firearms, hollow-point ammunition, an unlimited choice of ammunition magazine capacity and fully-automatic rifles. And police should have regular, effective firearms training, so they can safely and efficiently use the tools of the job to protect and serve the communities that employ them.