Bob Owens is my friend, a simple sentence I’m proud to be able to write. He gave me my start in blogging at the now defunct Confederate Yankee blog, and when Bob wanted to focus on gun blogging, we went our separate blogging ways most amicably. In fact, Bob is kind enough to regularly post my work at Bearing Arms. It was therefore with some trepidation that I read Bob’s article in, of all places, The LA Times — talk about missions behind enemy lines — taking GLOCK handguns to task, some of the most popular and well-tested firearms on the planet. Since that article, some have accused Bob of betraying the cause, of giving anti-gunners ammunition, of failing to cry upon the death of Old Yeller, and of bad-mouthing Winnie the Pooh . . .
As one might expect, such hyperbole is, well, hyperbolic. What Bob did is raise some points familiar to those who live with and carry firearms. These points aren’t just semi-regular points of debate within the gun community, they’re matters not well known by that portion of the public unfamiliar with firearms, and all but unknown and ignored by those whose life’s work seems to be disarming the law-abiding and honest. At the very least, Bob has done a worthy public service by raising awareness — leftists should love that; they’re always raising awareness about this or that — of fundamental issues of firearm practice and safety that cannot be discussed often enough. We’re not dealing with issues of absolute right and wrong, but of focus and priority.
I’ve been around long enough to see a variety of arguments in gun circles about a wide range of arms, many passionately expressed. This gun or that gun is dangerous, this mechanism or that mechanism is superior to all others. You name it, I’ve heard it and watched virtually all of them eventually peter out as time and experience allowed more practical experience and individual wisdom to seep in. In all of these arguments, there were valid points, but ultimately, all came down to this: human beings have an almost endless variety of preferences and can be quite passionate about them.
Bob opened his article with stories of two New York police officers that accidently shot and killed citizens. Both carried GLOCKs. As Bob noted:
“It’s a popular handgun for law enforcement in New York and beyond. The Los Angeles Police Department has a number of firearms approved for use, including nine GLOCK models. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department recently began issuing new recruits the Smith & Wesson M&P, a handgun with a short trigger pull that operates in much the same way.
GLOCK uses the marketing term ‘Safe Action’ to describe its firing-pin system, but the truth is that GLOCKs are accident-prone. They contributed to more than 120 accidental discharges in the Washington Metropolitan Police Department from 1988 to 1998. Anecdotes of increased accidental shootings have followed the pistol for more than 30 years wherever it has been adopted by police officers and citizens alike.”
By way of full disclosure, I began my police career many years ago with .357 magnum revolvers, which were the only weapons allowed us. Capable of double action fire with a relatively long and heavy trigger pull and no external safety, police revolvers were also capable of single action fire. By thumbing the hammer back, the trigger pull was transformed to a very short and light pull.
During those years, I also owned a variety of weapons, which I carried off-duty, including several Colt 1911 pattern pistols, a Browning Hi-Power, a Smith and Wesson Model 59, a Browning BDA .380, and a variety of others. The 1911s and Hi-Power were single action designs with an external safety lever. The Smith Model 59 — much modified — and the Browning BDA were double action pistols, also with external safety levers, though I never used them; the relatively long — shorter than a revolver — and heavy — lighter than a revolver — double action trigger pulls were more than sufficient safety mechanisms, particularly since I always kept — and keep — my finger away from the trigger until a millisecond from firing.
When GLOCKs came to America, I bought the first GLOCK 19 I could find and I’ve never looked back. Note: GLOCK’s numbering scheme has nothing to do with the capabilities of the respective weapons. The 19 was GLOCK’s 19th patent. These days I carry a GLOCK 26.
In the 1990s, my final police agency eventually transitioned to GLOCK 22s in .40 S&W. I was amused by the transition because prior to that decision, management proclaimed the S&W model 686 .357 revolvers and the 125 grain jacket hollowpoint cartridges we used to be the finest police combination ever conceived, absolutely irreplaceable. Suddenly, though, the GLOCK 22 and the .40 S&W were the finest combination ever conceived. It was apparently a sort of road to Damascus conversion.
One of the other issues Bob raised concerns GLOCK’s disassembly procedure:
“Just last month, Ocala, Fla., Police Officer Jared Forsyth was shot and killed by a fellow officer after a GLOCK training session. The fellow officer failed to do a chamber check before pulling the trigger as part of the handgun‘s normal disassembly procedure. When the gun fired, the bullet went through a gap in Forsyth’s body armor. Despite the efforts of paramedics to keep him alive, the young officer died on the way to a hospital.”
Bob notes there are “few flaws” with the GLOCK design, but we must be certain about what “flaws” means where firearms are concerned. A design with inherent mechanical issues that make it possible for a gun to fire when the user doesn’t intend to fire, or which can prevent firing when it is necessary to fire, has flaws, in essence, making the design fundamentally unreliable or unsafe. In the case of GLOCKs, Bob is clearly referring to design features which, if ignored or misused, can lead to negligent discharges. He continues:
“The underlying problem with these pistols is a short trigger pull and the lack of an external safety. In real-world encounters, a short trigger pull can be lethal, in part because a significant percentage of law enforcement officers — some experts say as high as 20% — put their finger on the trigger of their weapons when under stress. According to firearms trainers, most officers are completely unaware of their tendency to do this and have a hard time believing it, even when they’re shown video evidence from training exercises.
For more than 35 years, officer-involved accidental discharges with GLOCKs and GLOCK-like weapons have been blamed on a lack of training or negligence on the part of the individual cops. What critics should be addressing instead is the brutal reality that short trigger pulls and natural human reflexes are a deadly combination.”
How short is a GLOCK trigger pull? About 1/2 inch, which is actually a lot longer than it sounds, though it’s not nearly as short as that of a 1911 and a bit longer than many double action pistol designs. It’s also shorter than virtually all revolver triggers. The S&W Bodyguard .380 pistol has a double action only trigger with a pull much heavier than a standard GLOCK, and its trigger travel is only about ¾ inch. And it’s much harder to shoot accurately than any GLOCK.
How heavy — how much force is required — to fire a GLOCK? Standard GLOCK triggers are 5.5 pounds, but parts swapping requiring only minutes can make that trigger pull much heavier. New York City requires 12-pound triggers on their duty weapons, including GLOCKs. As I noted in an earlier article, that unfortunate fact, and mediocre and infrequent training has resulted in a great many instances of officers accidentally shooting innocent citizens. Bob suggests a possible solution to negligent police shootings:
“Though short trigger-pull guns dominate the law enforcement market, they aren’t the only game in town. A number of major and minor agencies use guns with much longer double-action triggers that are just as easy to fire deliberately but that are much harder to fire accidentally. The half-inch difference of trigger travel may not sound like much, but it can be the difference between life and death.”
Circa 2015, GLOCK owns a substantial portion of the law enforcement market and a substantial portion of the civilian market as well. GLOCKs are among the most proven, field-tested firearms ever produced. They are so widely appreciated because they are absolutely reliable, accurate, rugged, and safe. It is worth remembering that revolvers also have no external safeties, which is one reason so many police agencies that previously used revolvers transitioned to GLOCKs. The other primary issue is hit probability.
As I noted in a recent TTAG article, police officers tend to be poor shots. Even at inside-a-phone-booth ranges, they often miss their targets. The simple truth is those agencies that transitioned from revolvers with relatively long and heavy trigger pulls, to GLOCKs, experienced much higher hit probabilities, which is not at all surprising. Long and heavy triggers make shooting accurately and repeatedly difficult. This is particularly true in New York City, whose politicians and police executives obviously do not trust their officers, forcing abominable triggers on them as a substitute for proper training. Unfortunately that strategy inevitably causes officers to miss the bad guys and shoot up innocents, as in a 2012 case where two officers shot and killed a man who had just murdered a coworker…and in the process shot and wounded nine bystanders as well.
Shorter and lighter trigger pulls enhance accuracy and hit probability. External safeties are not a factor in this balancing act. Proper employment of the model 1911 — one of the most popular and widely-used handguns in history — requires flicking off the safety with the thumb as the weapon goes to ready. In other words, it’s in exactly the same state as any GLOCK, but with a shorter and lighter trigger. Relying on an external safety to prevent tragedies with people who can’t manage to keep their fingers off the trigger is a questionable strategy. GLOCKs are popular with law enforcement because they strike the correct balance between safety and ease of use and high hit probability. The rest is a matter of training and practice.
The police must, when necessary, be able to accurately hit their targets, and only their targets. Their duty handguns must make this not only possible, but easy. Trying to compensate for poor initial and ongoing training and officers that shouldn’t be carrying firearms in the first place with external safety levers and long, heavy double action triggers only make it far more likely that innocents will be shot.
As Bob noted, taking down a GLOCK for cleaning requires pulling the trigger. If there is a round in the chamber, the gun will fire, but it doesn’t matter if that trigger is 5.5 or 12 pounds, a trigger pull is a trigger pull. If that happens, the problem is the person who failed to perform the basic safety procedure of removing the magazine, repeatedly cycling the slide to remove any chambered cartridge, and visually and manually inspecting the chamber.
Interestingly, GLOCK’s extractors protrude from the slide when a round is chambered providing a tactile red flag. So it’s not actually necessary to cycle the slide to tell if there’s a round in the chamber. When I clean my GLOCKs, I perform the necessary clearance drill, and before I pull the trigger, I do it once more. One can never be too safe.
Bob is absolutely right. Many people are careless with firearms. Human beings have short attention spans. Human beings have certain other tendencies, which if ignored or not compensated for in training and practice, can contribute to or cause unintentional discharges. The solution, however, isn’t to abandon a safe, reliable and effective design, but to institute proper training and practices, including absolute familiarity with the correct manual of arms and basic safety practices…regardless of which firearm is employed.
Bob mentioned the high dollar payouts some municipalities and law enforcement agencies have made after accidental shootings — an important issue. If even a fraction of that money was spent on effective training and reinforced basic handgun safety at least once a week, the taxpayers would be shelling out a great deal less and attending far fewer funerals.
Police agencies must train for safety and accuracy to ensure their officers not only know when to shoot and when not to shoot, but to hit what they aim at, and only that, when shooting is necessary. Any gun that detracts from these goals–long, heavy trigger pulls do just that– should not be embraced.
Mike’s Home blog is Stately McDaniel Manor.