Why Duty Guns Aren’t All They’re Cracked Up To Be

Sig Sauer P320 Army Service Pistol Consumer Buy

A lot of gun buyers buy the duty gun models used by the police and the military. That’s one of the reasons those gun makers navigate the hurdles and fight so hard for those contracts. The pros use those guns, the refrain goes, therefore they must be better that these other models.

But are they? Does it matter as much as people say it does when it comes to a handgun?

For instance, SIG SAUER P320 pistols started flying off the shelves when it was announced that the military had chosen it as the next service pistol for the armed forces. Granted, it wasn’t a bad choice; the P320 has a lot of excellent features.

However, a few things about the P320 eventually came to light. First, the civilian version (specifically the version with the light DAO curved blade rather than tabbed trigger) was prone to accidental discharge under certain conditions and SIG SAUER announced a voluntary recall.

GLOCK Army Service Pistol Entry Sig P320

courtesy military.com

Second, it wasn’t exactly uncommon knowledge that the SIG’s lower per unit cost was a major factor. The GAO (PDF) found as much, since SIG beat GLOCK’s bid by about $103 million.

The P320 is an example in microcosm why it doesn’t matter as much as one might think whether a pistol, shotgun or rifle is a designated service weapon.

Cost is a larger factor than one might think in which pistols are issued to law enforcement and military personnel. SIG SAUER, as mentioned, beat out GLOCK’s bid by more than $100 million, and testing – while flawed in many ways – didn’t show that GLOCK’s pistol was really so far ahead of the P320 platform that it justified spending an additional $100 million. That’s 20 percent of what the military was going to spend on these guns in total.

Beretta M9 Service Pistol 9mm

courtesy beretta.com

As some may recall, the cost of the SIG P226 was higher than that of the Beretta M9, which is why the latter was selected over the former back in the 1980s as the (then) next generation service pistol.

No organization in their right mind would have greenlit a more expensive option that was only marginally better than a less expensive one that still met all their needs, much less a government agency.

Law enforcement agencies, likewise, make purchasing decisions that take cost into consideration to issue new pistols, too. Of course they all went to poly-striker guns in the past 20 years; they weight and cost a whole lot less than big steel pistols.

Granted, GLOCKs are known for having long service lives so it’s actually great value for money, but the point is that a lot of officers carry a particular gun because their department got them for cheap.

Additionally, whatever the gun magazines tell you, even the most popular guns still have bad examples come off the production line. There are design flaws, there are bad batches of parts and so on. It’s the same with the car industry; Hondas and Toyotas run a long time, but they’ve also had their recalls.

We know SIG SAUER had issues with the P320. But go Google “GLOCK recall” and see what turns up. The most recent was in 2016. There are even SIG P226 pistols that had difficulties. Yes, it has happened. Including…better not tell the 1911 guys this…1911 pistols that required extensive work to shoot reliably.

So, the point here is that just because a particular firearm is chosen by a police department or military unit doesn’t necessarily mean it’s the be-all, end-all of reliability or accuracy. As can be easily determined, the cost to buy the thing is a huge factor in those purchasing decisions. And even the “most reliable” guns aren’t exactly infallible. Not by a long shot.

 

Sam Hoober is a contributing editor at Alien Gear Holsters, as well as for Bigfoot Gun Belts. He also writes weekly columns for Daily Caller and USA Carry. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

comments

  1. avatar rob says:

    Great write up. Outsourcing the thinking and analysis requisite for gun selection to government agencies seems like a poor decision for all but the enlisted (God bless ’em).

    1. avatar Dan in CO says:

      Rob, throw your feces in another direction or STFU. Unwarranted attacks on those who do the heavy lifting in our military will receive warranted criticism from myself. What is your dog in the fight anyways?
      Thanks,
      Dan the NCO in CO

      1. avatar Evey259 says:

        Scientists have yet to find anything more fragile than a tight-assed NCOs skin.

        1. avatar Dan in CO says:

          Dear troll, I noticed you didn’t attempt to refute my point, rather, you threw personal attacks around.

          I’m all about showing respect to those who share the uniform with me, that is why I defend my fellow Soldiers.

          Why don’t you share your name and location with us so your subordinates or leaders can b—-slap you the next time you show up to work? Are you not in or no longer in the service? Good riddance to you.

          Have a great day!

      2. avatar Tom says:

        I believe what Rob said is that everyone can see the government shoots for the lowest bid and calls it ok for our troops. They deserve to have the best, not the most economically friendly, at least when its protecting their lives, now a urinal valve in the office…. we can skimp on that.

        1. avatar Mikial says:

          Well said. I’ve never seen a site where people can’t seem to stay on topic rather than get their knickers in a twist over the smallest comment. Grow up, folks.

  2. avatar 1911 Guy says:

    Including…better not tell the 1911 guys this…1911 pistols that required extensive work to shoot reliably.

    Duh. Kimber is still in business (for some reason).

    1. avatar Mark N. says:

      Yup, Kimber was the first thing that came to mind. They build to an overly tight tolerance, and until they wear down sufficiently, they jam. Mine took 1400 rounds and a new recoil spring before it became reliable. Cabot has the same issues for their massively expensive handmade guns. Further, almost everyone, including Kimber, who tried to make a 3″ barreled officer pistol got the timing wrong, and so they jammed a lot too, mostly stovepipes.

      1. avatar Geoff PR says:

        “…They build to an overly tight tolerance,…”

        Did you mean tight or close clearances, perhaps?

        That was the main bugaboo wit the Cabot pistols, an absolute joy in the hand with a smooth, tight (no feeling of slop), and ‘slick’ feel, but bound up on any ‘grit’ that gets in there…

  3. avatar SurfGW says:

    The first concern (usually unwritten) for any duty gun is avoid negligent discharges. The second most is cost and low maintenance. Most duty guns will be carried by duty officers or NCOs who have only an occasional fam fire / check in the box qual and everything else specified is secondary. Military people who actually use their pistols in combat are on Direct Action teams and those teams buy whatever they want.

    1. avatar Joe in San Antonio says:

      The pistol is a defensive weapon. Anyone who knows they are going to a gunfight is best suited to bring something a little more deadly.

      1. avatar 33Charlemagne says:

        Absolutely. Depending on the tactical situation I would take a 12 gauge shotgun, an AK or a full powered battle rifle over any hand gun.

        1. avatar 33Charlemagne says:

          I would add that the needs of civilian CCW carriers are even more concerned with emergency defensive situations than the needs of military and law enforcement handgun users. I personally feel that a compact .357 Magnum revolver like one of my Ruger SP101s is optimized for those sorts of sudden and short emergencies despite the fact that no force or department that I know of issues them. Again I would go to one of my military long arms if I had sufficient warning of a potential battle.

        2. avatar California Richard says:

          The best gun in the world is the one you have with you when you need it. Not everyone can carry a rifle everywhere all the time. There’s a reason why 99% of shootings (good, bad, justified, murder, accidental, suicides, police, criminal, citizens, etc) are done with handguns.

      2. avatar California Richard says:

        Pistol is just a tool. You don’t snipe with a shotgun. You don’t do CQB with crew served weapons. There are times when a pistol is the handiest weapon to use.

    2. avatar Nanashi says:

      I’ve heard of machine gunners participating in room clearing with a pistol. That kind of thing is likely the majority of actual pistol use in combat.

      1. avatar SurfGW says:

        Very accurate but relatively rare.
        Machine gunners, SMAW gunners, and mortarmen have been known to clear houses with pistols since that is often their issued weapon to allow them to focus on carrying their big and heavy main weapon.
        However, most MG crews or SMAW gunners usually form the outer cordon in house clearing and it is only in extreme situations that they are called to clear any house.

      2. avatar CS says:

        I’m willing to bet, that pistol use in WW1 and WW2 was more frequent than in today’s modern wars.

  4. avatar stinky nutz says:

    sig 320 was not a good choice. but they obviously don’t care about that, what’s cheapest and still works is all they care about.

    1. avatar Mark says:

      Why is that and what would you choose instead?

  5. avatar Leighton Cavendish says:

    Lowest cost…and has to be adaptable to a variety of personnel…so they are rarely great on a personal level.
    Usually a compromise of some sort…or multiple compromises.

    1. avatar New Continental Army says:

      I’m acrualky surprised SIGs offer was lower than Glock. I was honestly thinking it was the other way around.

      1. avatar California Richard says:

        I don’t think SIG plans on making money off the military contract. Ironically (given the topic of this article) they plan on making money off the people who will buy this gun precisely because the military adopted it.

  6. avatar Ralph says:

    I’m far removed from a Glock fanboy — in fact, I generally dislike them — but I do think that the G17 is Glock’s finest pistol and one of the better duty-size pistols available.

    I wouldn’t carry one, but I understand those who do.

    1. avatar Mark says:

      I agree and I carry one (among several other guns that is).. I also carry the 34 and 26 (pocket).

    2. avatar Jon in CO says:

      I’m a complete and utter Glock fan boy. The 19 is a better duty gun all around. There’s no need for the .5/6” more barrel length and additional weight in the 17, and if you need the extra capacity, the 19 will take it. All around, if you don’t need something deep concealed between your cheeks, the 19 works for everything. I get the bid was for 17rd cap.

      Glock screwed up completely with the 42. Zero reason to enter a market full of smaller, lighter, and cheaper guns. Honestly, the LCP owns the pocket 380 market. (I know way off topic, but I wanted to provide some evidence that I can say that Glock is dumb when they are)

      1. avatar Wedge259 says:

        I totally disagree, Glock knew EXACTLY what they were doing with the G42. Glock fans have been demanding a slim line glock for decades, so when they finally release one, people were going to buy them, regardless of caliber (G36 doesn’t seem to be worth mentioning). And the G42 sold like crazy when it was released, though it did have a few issues that seem to have been corrected for a few years now. But everyone of course wanted the 9mm version, which also sold like crazy, and was also released into a saturated market, but Glock made twice the money by releasing the 380 version first. Sig did the same thing with the P238/P938. And despite it being out for a few years now, the G42 is still pretty popular, most of my LGS’s say they can’t keep them in stock. They may be bigger than an LCP, but theyre actually fairly comfortable to shoot, unlike an LCP, so you might actually practice with it! I pocket carry one on occasion.

      2. avatar JIM C says:

        COMPLETELY WRONG on the GLOCK 42. It is a matter of personal preference, but until the GLOCK 42 came along, I could not find a compact .380ACP worth buying. The RUGER is not in the same class. The GLOCK handles well, is accurate, GLOCK reliable, compact but still with a large enough grip to be controllable and light.
        If you like the RUGER, good for you, but saying GLOCK made a mistake with this excellent design is just absurd!
        For the record, while I like GLOCK, I am not a fanboy and this is the only GLOCK that I shoot on a regular basis.

        Jim C

  7. avatar rudukai13 says:

    I was one of those people who added to Sig’s P320 sales after it was announced they’d won the MHS contract, but it wasn’t because I “have to have what the military uses” or any other such wannabe nonsense. If Glock had won the contract, I can say with near certainty I wouldn’t now have a G19X.

    The truth is, I had been looking at the P320 for quite a while anyway. I liked the ergonomics, modularity, ambidextarity, etc of the system. The prospect of future aftermarket support once the MHS contract was won did weigh in favor of my final decision, so I can’t say it wasn’t a consideration at all. But it was a fairly small part of the decision

  8. avatar Paul McMichael says:

    I was lucky to have worked for an agency that allowed you to choose your own duty weapon from an approved list of manufacturers. The list included all major U.S. and European firearms manufacturers. Of course, it was at your own expense. There’s a lot to be said for the confidence of using a handgun you choose yourself. On the other hand, as an instructor I had to know the manual of arms on a lot of different weapons. No problem. I’m a gun guy. Some of my fellow instructors, not so much. Range days could get interesting.

    Now for the 1911. They always ran reliably with ball ammo, but if you wanted it to feed H.P. the series 70 went off to a gunsmith. Might as well do something with the sights while he’s got it. And the trigger. And… Today you can buy a 1911 with everything that you used to pay hundreds extra for and they run reliably with whatever you feed them right out of the box.

    1. avatar tdiinva says:

      One the continuing myths around is that the 1911 requires “extensive work” to be reliable.
      You will not have problems with a GI speced 1911. They run just fine with any kind of ammo.

      I think reliability issues arise when someone buys a 1911and immediately starts to tweak it because he has been told it’s unreliability or wants turn a perfectly serviceable defensive pistol into a race gun. All you end up doing is creating problems where there were none.

      1. avatar Eric Lawrence says:

        Bingo…guys used to take the slides from USGI models and put them in a vice to “fix” the slop that they thought meant a less accurate handgun. Ruined the reliability and the FUDDS out there just keep the myth of the unreliable 1911 going.

        1. avatar Paul McMichael says:

          Gun Free, you’re right. Both the ammo and 1911s have improved. I was addressing the author’s remarks on the 1911 when he said work was to be done before they were reliable.

      2. avatar Paul McMichael says:

        My first personally owned 1911 pattern pistol was a Colt Series ’70 purchased circa ’82 when still in the Army. 100% with ball. Not so much with H.P. It would clear the feed ramp, but the lip of the H.P. would sometimes catch on the rear of the chamber. Usually at the top of the hood. Today’s 1911s are superior in almost every way. Those guys squeezing slides in vices? Probably amateurs. In those days You sent your pistol to Wilson, Pachmayer, etc.

        1. avatar Gun Free School Zones are a crime against humanity says:

          Todays hollowpoint ammo is miles ahead of the standards for ’82. One of the reasons todays semi autos are so much more reliable is the better ammo being made these days.

          I’m not an expert. I can only speak to my own experience. But in 68-70 you couldn’t get hollowpoint ammo for the .45 or the 9. Except for ww2 bringbacks the 9 was kind of rare, period. S&W and the Illinois State Police kind of changed that.

        2. avatar tdiinva says:

          Modern 1911s have polished feed ramps. JHPs don’t catch on them.

          It is true that you can put more rounds through Glock before cleaning it but I don’t think you will be getting into a multiple hundred round gunfight.

        3. avatar JoeVK says:

          My ATI wouldn’t even feed ball ammo with the mag it came with. A couple Kimpro mags helped, but it took me polishing the feed ramp to get to reliably feed ball rounds. It still refuses to feed Critical Duty at all, but my boss’s Kimber has no problem. Oddly enough, his Kimber will not feed Federal Guard Dogs, but my ATI will.

  9. avatar W says:

    The write up was good, as far as it goes.

    One other consideration is that many organizations have testing and requirements that must be met prior to contract awards. This is in contrast to individual purchases. An individual who, for example, purchases a Glock knows that this firearms has met the testing and requirements of various LE and Mil customers. While this characteristic isn’t a guarantee, it is more that what comes with a firearm which has never been tested to these levels (take the Remington R51 as an example of the latter).

  10. avatar rosignol says:

    Breaking news: The Pentagon is attempting to find the ‘sweet spot’ between suitability, reliability, and cost, instead of just spending all the money Congress gives them.

    I could stand to see more of that.

  11. avatar Gregolas says:

    When Alan Shepherd was asked how it felt to be the first American in space, he replied, “A little less enthused when I think that every component was made by the lowest bidder.”

  12. avatar Greg says:

    Let’s not forget politics. When Beretta got the M9 contract leases were up on bases in Italy.
    We needed those bases and that also played a factor. Reliability is my first priority with a weapon. Then ease of use and maintenance.
    Then I worry about accuracy.

  13. avatar Gun Free School Zones are a crime against humanity says:

    Whether they earned their rep or not service weapons and cartridges have a bump up in civilians eyes. .30-06 anybody?

    People want what the troops carried. .45-70. 7.62×51. .45 colt. .45acp. 9mm. .303. 6.5×55. 7.62×39. In their own countries and others they are the rounds and weapons that people want.

    Some of it is the belief that the .gov gets the best for the troops and some of it is plain old envy. People who have never been off to the military find themselves wondering about themselves. Could they have matched the men that actually carried these weapons into history?

    1. avatar Paul McMichael says:

      What about logistics? If your country adopted it you will probably be able to find ammunition for it.

      1. avatar Gun Free School Zones are a crime against humanity says:

        Totally agree. Ammo. Spare parts. People that know how to fix it. It may not be the best round or weapon in history. Just as long as it’s good enough.

  14. avatar Hannibal says:

    yeah ok but how will i operate operationally in an area of operations (or Wal Mart) if I don’t have the same gun that Tier Won BTDT guys have??!

  15. avatar New Continental Army says:

    Actually duty guns ARE all they’re cracked up to be. Somebody prove me wrong.

  16. avatar Scooter says:

    However, once a gun has repeatedly proven itself over years or decades, I’ll snatch up as many duty weapons as I can. That’s why I have several CZ 75s and 3rd gen S&Ws!

    1. avatar Spock says:

      I don’t have any experience with the 3rd gen S&W but I will give you a “+1” on the CZ 75. I got my first one about 10 years ago and they are by far my favorite pistol. I actually consider the first 75 I bought as my SHTF pistol. It has never let me down and I shoot it far better than any other pistol I have owned
      . It is even chambered in that archaic, worthless .40 S&W cartridge.

  17. avatar DaveDetroit says:

    Good article! I’m betting that regular training with your defensive weapon (revolver, shotgun, rifle, or pistol) is more important than weapon choice. Gold stars on a review do nothing to prepare you for a defensive gun use, or even a day at the range. And while we are out practicing let’s all commit to taking a non gun owning friend for some time at a range. We need fewer voters who are totally ignorant about guns.

  18. avatar Richard Steven Hack says:

    These sorts of discussions usually devolve into binary dichotomies, i.e., either-or. It’s not either-or.

    Duty guns used by professional firearms users – i.e., police and military – have to be functional and reliable. Just because a particular gun gets a recall doesn’t really change that. The military spent billions on one of their fancy new ships and it went dead in the water and had to be towed. The SIG discharge issue hardly ranks with that.

    But there’s a difference between a duty gun from a known manufacturer that churns out thousands of them and a firearm manufactured by a smaller company that will only sell hundreds of them. Maybe the smaller company pays more attention to reliability and quality control and customer support – or maybe they don’t. My guess is the bigger company has more resources to devote to those issues. That’s why you get a recall of a defective design. It’s also why such companies get the big contracts from police and military.

    So it’s not a question of whether a duty gun should or should not be considered as one’s personal firearm. What can be said is that considering a duty gun as a first step doesn’t absolve you from considering all the other perfectly reasonable firearms which are just as good as any given duty gun.

    When it comes to personal security, “good enough” is never enough. Like buying a computer, you have to buy the best you can afford. Which doesn’t mean buying the most expensive – you get what you pay for isn’t always true, either. You have to decide based on other considerations as to what is “best.”

  19. avatar cisco kid says:

    History often repeats itself again and again as there are an infinite number of “follow the leader” mental midgets out there that have never been taught “how to think” rather than “what to think” the hallmark of the Far Right.

    In Pre WWI multitudes of European Nations adopted the German Luger (including the U.S. more on that below). The question was why? The Luger was perhaps one of the most unreliable military pistols every made but since the Germans adopted it the other Nations of Europe thought that I must be t he “lastest and greatest and “we need it too”

    Police departments are often no different. When Herr Glock stunned the world by making “his plasticky and stamped sheet metal pistol” wildly popular with the “unwashed” even though HK had failed with their plasticky pistol roughly a decade earlier the Police played “follow the latest and greatest craze” and ended up adopting a pistol that would never have passed the Consumer Safety Councils tests if it hade been under their jurisdiction and of course the needless numbers of accidental deaths both by police shooting people they never wanted to shoot and civilians doing the same proved a humanitarian disaster of biblical proportions. Graveyards filled quickly and still do with needless deaths due to unsafely designed pistols like the Glock with no manual safety and ready to accidentally fire with a snag of the trigger.

    No police agency I know of ever advocated carrying their previously issued Revolvers at full cock as it was not only considered unsafe but pure insanity but these same Police Departments run by Morons have done just exactly that by adopting the Glock. In all fairness to some Police departments some that were run by people other than the usual Neanderthals got rid of the Glock and adopted much safer designed pistols especially in regards to one that had a safer take down system, another dangerous design incorporated into the Glock.

    I might give the Military some praise for their adoption of the Sig over the Glock as the Sig has a much more reliable ignition system as it is at full cock not 64 per cent cocked like the less reliable Glock but the Sigs ignition system still falls way short of the hammer fired guns bone crushing ignition systems. In German tests of pre-loaded striker fired guns their ignitions systems were so week they had to invent a special category and exemption for them as apposed to the previous test rules that stipulated much stronger ignition systems with hammer fired guns.

    And as promised yes the U.S. did indeed adopt the Luger before they adopted the 1911. They even ordered over 200 Lugers for the first shipment but the clerk who took the order lost it and the U.S. Military lost interest during the long wait and then decided they wanted to carry on the search for a military semi-auto handgun invented here in the U.S. These lost records were uncovered a number of years ago by several gun writers when researching U.S. Military records and the information they uncovered was published in one of the gun mags a few years ago.

    1. avatar cisco kid says:

      And I forgot to add that the caliber of the Luger that the U.S. did indeed adopt was the .30 cal Luger not the 9×19. If such had happened the Far Right would now be screaming why we ever dropped the deadly .30 cal. Luger pistol for the more modern 9×19 Beretta and later the Sig. I am not trying to be factious as the Far Rights line of thinking never seems to change.

  20. avatar Ted Unlis says:

    The 3 minutes I wasted reading this babbling bull$#it filler article are 3 minutes I’ll never get back.

  21. avatar Tile Floor says:

    Meh. You are forgetting the fact that these duty guns have a cornucopia of data about how theyve performed, reliability issues, etc etc. Sure, they are less expensive than others, but they aren’t cheap. These aren’t saturday night specials we are talking about.

  22. avatar Charles Barnard says:

    In the final analysis, you are not buying a statistic, you are buying a particular machine, which has to work as smoothly and easily with your particular hands, arms etc. and mind.

    So you choose the best fit for you and your purpose (or customize) buy the machine that fits you best.

    As with the government, individuals have economic limits too.

    I’d be an idiot to spend a year’s income on a weapon for self-defense in a low-crime area. I’d at the least be fooling myself, as it would really be a collectible. Just like that tank in the town square.

  23. avatar zebra dun says:

    If I carried a handgun everyday open belted carry and stood a 50/50 chance of a gun fight I would carry a full size service pistol or revolver. As it is I can carry my Ruger LCP II or the S &W M-640 and do just as well. The only time I carry a full service style pistol (1911) or Revolver (Lawman Mk III) is horse back riding. There is a place for the service handgun.

  24. avatar Alan says:

    And then there are those “special arrangements” that sometimes come to light.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

button to share on facebook
button to tweet
button to share via email