By Chris Hernandez
I stood in line at the range, waiting my turn to qualify. Other officers cycled through the qualification course, moving from firing position to firing position and changing mags at top speed. I was a little nervous. I had a lot to prove . . .
I was 23, painfully skinny (5’7” and about 120 pounds soaking wet), the lone city boy in a department full of countrified cowboys, and had just been hired a month earlier. I was also one of the few military guys around, and was still in the Marine Reserve. My background as a Marine armorer and marksmanship coach had probably been a significant factor in the decision to hire me. Now here I was at the range, with all the other officers, about to qualify. If I screwed it up, in their eyes I would deflate pretty quickly.
None of that was a big deal. I could handle pressure. But I was a little worried about my weapon, which I had never fired before. I was the only one on the department who carried this type of weapon, and the other guys made sure I knew it. They carried SIG Sauers, Berettas, Smith and Wessons, and Colts. None of them would lower their standards and carry a piece-of-junk, untested “plastic” GLOCK like mine.
This was 1994. Some police departments were still insisting that GLOCKs were too dangerous to carry, and certain people with severe psychological problems kept repeating the old “porcelain-handled GLOCKs can’t be seen by metal detectors!” nonsense. I had bought the .40 cal GLOCK 22 in a rush after being offered a job by this department and then discovering they didn’t issue duty weapons.
When I reported for the first day of field training I was carrying a weapon I had never fired. I had owned and fired GLOCKs before, but with this one I was pretty much operating on faith. That wasn’t a good feeling.
So despite my worries, I was relieved when qual day finally arrived. Now I could prove my weapon was reliable, and not have that nagging doubt that my brand-new pistol would fail when I needed it. After I qualified, I figured the guys would shut up about GLOCKs.
My turn came. I stepped up to the rangemaster’s table. He was a crusty old Marine Vietnam vet. His qualification to be rangemaster was that he was a crusty old Marine Vietnam vet. He counted out the proper number of rounds for the qual course, and held out a handful of old military surplus ball ammo. I took it and quickly loaded up my three mags.
I stood at the first firing position, waited for the command, and locked and loaded a mag. As I always do before a qual course, I bounced a little on my toes, stretched my neck, took a few deep breaths. I felt 22 pairs of eyes on my back. Every other officer on the department was watching the skinny new city boy, the guy who allegedly had tons of weapons training but still chose to carry a plastic gun. I was about to show them bastards that I was a Marine, and that my weapon was about ten times better than whatever they carried.
The rangemaster yelled, “Begin!”. I drew my weapon from its security holster in one smooth, quick motion, sighted in and squeezed the trigger. The hammer fell. And nothing happened.
What the. . . ? I reached up and yanked the slide halfway back to recock the weapon, then sighted in again and pulled the trigger. The weapon fired this time. I pulled the trigger again. Nothing.
Crap! I went through the tap-rack-bang drill. The weapon fired again and double fed.
I pulled the mag partway out, turned the weapon sideways and cleared it, then slammed the mag back in, racked the slide and fired again. And had a failure to eject.
By this time the other officers had gleefully taken note of my troubles. Despite my intense focus on my pistol and the targets, I heard their loud laughter. As I fought my way through the course, several officers made catcalls like “That’s what you get for carrying a piece of crap plastic gun!”
About thirty malfunctions later, I finally fired my last round. Maybe ten live rounds lay in the dirt around me, rounds that I had to dump during malfunction drills. I hadn’t managed to get through more than two rounds without either a failure to fire, failure to feed, double feed, failure to eject, or stovepipe. The guys behind me were beside themselves. I ignored them and walked to my targets. My rounds were, of course, all over the place. And more than half of them had keyholed, hit the target sideways, from a distance of no more than 25 yards. I turned away in disgust, and tried to avoid the jeering expressions of my coworkers.
As I walked back to the rangemaster’s table, I wondered, What the hell happened? I wasn’t limp-wristing the gun. I’ve fired GLOCKs before and never had even one problem. Something has to be wrong with this gun.
I told the rangemaster, “I don’t know what happened. Maybe it was bad ammo or something. Can I try it again?”
The rangemaster gruffly nodded, grabbed a handful of 9mm ammo and said, “Yeah, here you go.”
I looked at the rounds and shook my head. “No, I need .40 cal ammo.”
The rangemaster’s eyebrows sprang up. “You’re firing a .40? I gave you 9 mil earlier.”
The rangemaster was about a foot taller than me, but I think my eyebrows rose so high they were even with his. And suddenly it occurred to me: he had given me old military surplus ammo earlier. But there was no such thing as old military surplus .40 cal ammo. I had loaded up and fired the wrong caliber.
I’m a cop, folks. Nothing gets by me.
We immediately tore down my weapon and inspected it. Nothing looked damaged. I put it back together, loaded up with the right ammo and ran the course again.
I didn’t have a single malfunction. And my accuracy was pretty damn good. I don’t remember my score, but it was worthy of a Marine marksmanship coach. I strutted off the range, and made sure my coworkers knew that not only was my GLOCK reliable, but it even worked with the wrong ammo.
There were no more insults about my weapon after that. I think the only comments I heard about my GLOCK came out of my own mouth. “Hey Joe, when your piece-of-junk 9 breaks during a shootout, just toss me your mags. I can fire 9 or .40 through my GLOCK.”