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By Rick Notkin

I have watched a lot of TV in my time, including many cop and detective shows (e.g., Dragnet, Adam-12, Kojak, Barney Miller, CHiPs, Hill St. Blues). As a firearms enthusiast from childhood, I noticed how guns were used in those shows. Once I was old enough to have and shoot my own guns, I saw that realism wasn’t always the prime consideration (like when 5-0’s Steve McGarrett downed a helicopter with a 2” .38 Special). Once I received permission from the state to carry a handgun, I became much more aware of the soft and hard prejudice against armed citizens. NRA’s Cam Edwards calls it “otherizing”. Watching these shows with this new perspective, I noticed that non-police with guns were almost always either perps or people who were probably going to be perps . . .

Sometimes, the show’s writers also seemed to be against even the police using guns.

In the Peaks and Valleys episode of CHiPs, Ponch and Baricza answer a call in a remote area. While searching for the trouble, two cranks shoot up Baricza’s car with a Thompson and a shotgun. The cops’ response was to hide: Bear’s hand resting on his revolver. After the perps were out of ammo, Baricza then appeared to draw his weapon (it’s not visible on the screen). Great officer survival skills. Not.

On quite a few episodes of Barney Miller, any regular citizen who even mentioned buying a gun was told to “leave the matter to the professionals.” Even consummate cop, Inspector Frank Luger, NYPD, was never seen carrying a sidearm.

So while binge watching Adam-12 recently, I came across an episode (Log 55: Missing Child) that actually showed justified use of force by a citizen. A young-ish man, Antonio, hearing his car broken into, grabbed his father’s revolver to scare away the thief. When confronted, the thief attacked and Antonio shot him.

Malloy and Reed arrived at the apartment building to find hush-mouthed neighbors. They finally get the story and Antonio is arrested. I was pleasantly surprised when we see Antonio and his parents being released by the investigating detective. But results such as these seem to be very much the exception. Can you remember a civilian DGU happy ending? What’s your favorite cop show?


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    • I recall episodes from Andy Griffith Show that dipicted their regulars as good-guy ‘gun experts’ not to be feared. Some character shoots the hat off of an IRS investigator from up North. Sherrif Andy intervenes and says something like “Otis meant know harm … he can shoot the wings off a fly at one-hundred yards” … basically saying he was just trying to scare the guy away and wouldn’t have missed if he didn’t want to. Maybe there was a negative conotation against good-ole country boys, but I didn’t take it that way.

    • There was an episode where some guy Andy got arrested (and shot in the leg, giving him a limp) bought Andy a shotgun as a thank you for causing him to turn his life around.

  1. Even good guys with guns in cop shows always had an accident or an almost disaster (almost shooing the wrong person/child/wife/husband/friend, etc.). I can’t think of any “clean” ending of a good guy (non-cop) with a gun in ANY cop show.


    • I was thinking about this very thing a while back while watching for the umpteenth time some poor helpless man and/or woman get snatched and gruesomely murdered by another serial killer on Criminal Minds. I thought that if just one of the multiple sheeple this guy/these guys were targeting pulled a sidearm from an IWB or purse the FBI would be left with little use for that expensive jet they zoom around in.

      Following that I realized that the majority of cop shows would be hard-pressed to go a full hour if they included real-life representations of armed civilians defending themselves.

      I do recall that at least for a short time on Bones Dr. Brennen carried, even though she was a civilian and even though they were obviously close to and traveling in and out of Washington D.C. No mention was ever made of her having a concealed license. One one occasion she used a revolver (which seems to be her preference) to shoot a suspect before he could set fire to the evidence. On another she had somehow concealed what appeared to be a .50 S&W in a Wonder Woman costume (cue canned laughter here) but decided it was too much gun for her when the shoot-out started and so she passed it to Boothe and retreated to use his Glock to protect herself and the victim while Boothe shot the evil clown.

      • The scene with the .500 Mag in the Wonder Woman costume was one of my favorites! “Where’d you hide that thing?” LMAO.

        Love me some Justified! Been trying to get my wife to watch it for years.

  2. Justified
    Love the gunplay, plenty of Glock brand Glocks,
    and Patton Oswalt even shows up guns ablaze with an AKMSU.

  3. “Police Story” during the periods Joseph Wambaugh had creative control. I can’t remember any DGU cases pro or con on the show, but in several of Wambaugh’s novels cops are sent out on their shifts in good humor by being told of a righteous DGU, such as a 90-year-old lady blowing away some junkie burglar.

    • Hill Street Blues.How can we ever forget Sgt Phillip Freemason Esterhazy — what a cool name. Very little gunplay but lots of psychological warfare. That show remains a classic.

  4. The one cop show that likely has the least amount of good guys needing to use firearms — across 5 seasons!; The Wire.

    Grew up and still live in Baltimore, so I’m definitely biased.

  5. Person of Interest.

    Well okay, not formally a cop show, but there are cop characters and its definitely a good-v-bad buy meme.

    • Hey, you’re right! The good guy is always shooting somebody, and he’s not a cop! When not ventilating someone, he’s killing them with one punch, breaking necks, etc. And now he has friends, ladies no less, who also blow people away on a regular basis, and are not cops. Only problem as per RF’s question, they are rarely DEFENSIVE gun uses.

  6. I liked all the cop shows as a high-school kid (70s)–Adam-12, Dragnet, Police Story and the spinoffs thereof, Starsky and Hutch, Hawaii 5-0. I see them now and for the most part they look downright silly. And I don’t see that the “modern” ones are any better, just more graphic and more flagrantly politically correct.

    • How is it that nobody has mentioned “The A-Team”?

      Not a cop show, although the Federales were after them constantly, but they were good guys with guns in almost every episode. Had to laugh every time, though – fired thousands of rounds per encounter an so far as I could see not a single person was ever wounded, even accidentally.

      • Whoa, whoa, whoa. You’re playing loose with the facts. B.A. was shot in the leg in a 2 parter when trying to get on a helicopter. You, sir, stand corrected.

        • B.A. was shot three times I can remember, and Murdock at least once. A few people got killed, too, but not very many, and usually it’s off screen (although at least once you hear the gunshot), and generally part of the prologue or back story. The A-Team never kills anyone that I remember, at least until the fifth season when they practically rebooted the thing.

          While the members of the A-Team were officially civilians, there were also episodes where people they were helping were armed and dangerous as well — including the pregnant widow of one of their old buddies in “A Nice Place to Visit”, who. with the aid of a shotgun, held off the bad guys long enough for the Team to show up at one point. If they had any sense they would have taught Amy to shoot, but instead she had to make do with fire extinguishers and sticks and whatnot. I believe they left her holding a gun on the bad guys a time or two but couldn’t swear to it,

    • Was that the one with the Asian lady cop partnered with the homosexual white guy who has a drug problem due to a back injury?

    • I agree with Southland. I can watch it over and over again. Definitely enjoy seeing Officer Cooper’s Smith and Wesson 5906 and all of the Beretta 92s.

    • Southland was also my hands down favorite. I was very disappointed when they cancelled it. I’ve gotten in to Blue Bloods recently, an I think it’s pretty good. I thought Flashpoint was pretty good too. Oh and Chicago Code, another cancelled series.

    • There was a lot of excellent characterization in “Southland” and I liked that police drama.

      The only part I thought was rather superfluous and unnecessary were the episodes involving officers Cooper and his partner’s kidnapping. That story line was playing to the real life “Onion Field” kidnappings of LAPD officers Ian Campbell and Karl Hettinger. Melodramatic, gratuitous though not necessarily outside the realm of reality.

      • The spoiler with Southland and the reason that particular episode was so wrong is that in a confrontation you never. give. up. your. gun.

        That was the lesson learned from the “Onion Field” kidnappings.

  7. Bear in mind we’re dealing with Hollyweird screenwriters for tee-vee throughout, plus their bosses.

    Given that, for actual drama and entertainment value, I tend to favor the more recent shows, despite the PC rubbish, although I also remember the early series, including the comic “Car 54, Where Are You?”

    So: “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “The Wire,” both based in Baltimore.

    “Longmire” and “Justified.”

    Also kinda dug “The Shield” for a while.

    If there were any portrayals of legit citizen shootings they’re probably counted on one hand and I don’t remember any of them.

  8. I watched older cop shows when I was a kid. Stuff like TJ Hooker and Hammer are two that stand out to me growing up. Newer police procedurals drive me up a wall due to the blatant rights violations they show as being OK and solving problems “because science” in five minutes. If I want to suspend belief that far I’ll go watch a sci-fi, fantasy or superhero show.

    • Oh, yeah, “Chicago PD” appears to be competing with itself concerning how many constitutional rights violations you can jam into one hour. If course it IS about Chicago, so I find it highly entertaining.

  9. Dragnet…the older I get(I’m in my 60’s) the more I have a jaundiced eye. Like Chicago PD. Complete BS. And while it’s not exactly a cop show I like the new Flash…

  10. Backstrom. It’s just like The Office. I’ve heard Steve Carrel will be making an appearance here shortly to help its ratings.


  11. The X-Files because of the trench coats and shoulder pads that everyone seems to be wearing. Mulder & Scully must’ve been packing MP5s, Colt Commandos, or some other mid-90s carbine under those massive coats.

  12. Those NBC Sunday night shows from the 70’s, Columbo, Mcloud etc. They were kind of cop/detective shows I guess. ” Excuse sir, uh, just one more thing,” C’mon, good stuff.

  13. How many revenge killings by widows, widowers, and distraught parents or other loved ones have taken out suspects or incorrect suspects or actual bad guys in the Law & Order universe? Every other perp walk or leaving the courtroom scene… BANG!

  14. Definitely Justified. Most gun owners I know also love the show. There have been several DGU’s throughout its run. Last season’s main villain was even taken out in a DGU (by his own sister no less). It’s probably my all time favorite show besides the gunplay; it has such great, well-developed characters and interesting story lines. I’m sad to see it go in a few episodes.

    • Also not a cop show, per se, but if all you’re interested in is firearms realism “Hell on Wheels”.

      Lots of defensive (and offensive) gun use on this show and as for realism they had one episode where a guy was shot point blank in the mouth and survived. Seems the bullet passed through and out behind his jaw without hitting anything critical. That’s some great writing by someone who actually knows a thing or to about pistols and wounds.

  15. Love Crockett and Tubbs, so Miami Vice, as much for the architecture as the police work and multiple shootings most episodes. But also love Andy Griffith, allowing only one bullet for Barney Fife.

  16. Homicide: Life On The Street.

    Baltimore, my home town, and Yaffet Koto; what could be better. Although, in the later seasons, I really did want Detective Kellerman to eat his gun.

  17. 1. Emergency! Because the LACSD deputies wore helmets on patrol.

    2. The Wire, because it was basically a re-enactment of my time in….funny, I’ve forgotten on purpose.

  18. Oh, come on. I cannot believe that no one has said Barney Miller (the photo for this article).

    Anyone remember the episode where a man took hostages inside the office because he thinks all the cops are CIA agents? And Barney Miller’s response to defuse the crisis, “Even the CIA, at their best, could they come up with a group like this?” (or something close to that) and then the camera pans to show the eclectic group — Harris, Wojciehowicz, and especially Fish. At that point the man surrendered.

    • U_C,

      The theme of my OP was DGUs, or lack thereof, in cop shows. RF changed the title and thus altered how people responded. Barney Miller was very anti-gun.

  19. On most modern shows, even the ones I like, like NCIS, any non-LEO who has an interest in guns turns out to be the perp or a nut.

    Last week’s NCIS New Orleans had a good DGU by a female character, but then it turned out that she’s a villain too.

    I watch a lot of SVU reruns for some reason, and there are at least two episodes that chill me to the bone and make me thank God I live in TX. In those episodes, women who were being stalked and repeatedly raped were carrying guns illegally under NYC law, and had them seized by the very cops who were unable to protect them. Ugh.

  20. These days I only watch two.

    Chicago PD for the action, not because it bears any resemblance to reality. Voight is a complex character, taking bribes from gangsters yet using the money to bail out people who are in a jam due to their own foolishness. I did give up on one episode where Burgess piled stupid tactics on top of stupid strategy.

    Blue Bloods because I like Tom Selleck. His Jesse Stone series was very good, too. I wish there could be more of them even though Robert B. Parker is no longer alive.

    I liked Miami Vice purely for its style. Southland and Detroit 1-8-7 both had a sense of reality to them.

  21. Bluebloods, even though NYC sucks. I like the actors, some of the issues they bring up, the excellent video quality. Justified is also good.

  22. Justified.
    Although not a weekly show but rather a series of made for T.V. movies, the Jesse Stone series starring Tom Selleck are great movies. They are currently making the ninth movie to be released later this year.

  23. Car 54 Where are You??
    Ive always wondered how politically incorrect it must have been, as to never be seen again in reruns.

    • Finally! Somebody brings up Sledge Hammer! I thought for sure I was going to be the only one.

      I liked Spenser For Hire back in the day, but Sledge Hammer was my favorite. “This isn’t a silencer. This here little doodad is my own invention — it’s a loudener.”

  24. Does anyone remember Highway Patrol from the 50’s? With Broderick Crawford? Lots of ugly cops on TV and movies but he had to be the ugliest. Hard to believe he was Cindy Crawfords’s dad.

    • Yup, I had to watch it every time it came on (“had to” as in I wanted to, not as in I was forced to) I must have been about 4 years old, I know it was before I was in school. Funny thing, about the same time I also “had to” watch a local cooking show hosted by a matronly-looking lady named Julie Bunnell (guessing at the spelling), to this day I can’t tell you what the attraction was.

    • It plays here in Seattle in the wee hours of the morning. One of those here’s-what-we-do type of shows. A classic. And I had to look up the Cindy Crawford connection. The only thing they share is a name. Not blood and certainly not looks.

    • If you liked “The Shield” , what about;
      “The Commish” ? Talk about Good & Evil, or Good Cop Bad Cop, or
      Devil Cop ! in this case !

    • Set in the 60s? With Dennis Farina? Looked kinda like Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct transferred to TV? Or am I thinking of something else?

    • Only the first season. The second season was pretty stupid. The cliff hanger at the end of season one was one of the funniest scenes I have ever watched. Pauli brings the boss to hide out at the Nevada nuclear test range. Boom!

      Dennis Farina was a real Chicago cop and think he made a better bad guy as in Midnight Run.

      • Farina was also an Army veteran before he got on the Chicago PD.

        This, from Wikiepedia:

        “Farina was arrested on May 11, 2008, for carrying a loaded .22 caliber pistol through Los Angeles International Airport security. Farina was taken to the Los Angeles Police Department’s Pacific Division and booked on suspicion of carrying a concealed weapon, and bail was set at $25,000. He claimed he had simply forgotten the weapon was still in his briefcase and had never intended to take it on a plane. After police determined the weapon was unregistered, the charges were upgraded to a felony and bail was increased to $35,000.[8]”

        “On July 17, 2008, after reaching a plea agreement with prosecutors, Farina pleaded no contest and was sentenced to two years’ probation.[9]”


        The other Dennis, Franz, was never a cop but did serve a tour in ‘Nam with the 82nd Airborne.

  25. Cops. You can’t make stuff up like the crackhead flagging a cop down to report she was cheated in a drug deal and wants satisfaction

    Or the cop busting into the house and scaring an elderly lady half to death to save her from a house fire. Only he was in the wrong house. Priceless.

    Or an amputee cop in florida(had a prostectic leg) chasing and catching a perp on foot. You wanna be the perp ran down and caught by a one legged cop? Thats gotta cost major perp points.

    • We were at an SCCA race weekend at Texas World Speedway in College Station watching Cops when we all sat up and yelled, “Hey! That’s the Dairy Queen behind your/my house!” Then the Fort Worth PD chased the guy right through my friend’s yard. Knowing it wasn’t live, we wondered just exactly WHEN that even happened and where… uh, let’s call the home-owner Josephus, was when it happened.

  26. Not stricktly a police show, but on Rockford Files, I believe Rockford often had a gun as a non-cop, and used it. I also seem to remember cops threatening to arrest him for CCW numerous times.

  27. The ABC show High Incident in the 90’s was pretty good. Glad to hear someone else remembers 10-8.

    Southland will be missed.

  28. Blue Bloods. Coming from an NYPD family and having a father who was high-ranking in the organization, I can relate to the show.

  29. I haven’t had cable for years, and after recently watching some of today’s “popular” tv shows with friends, I’m glad I got rid of it. I witnessed so much statist propaganda and/or blatant pandering to political correctness that I thought I had turned into a bona fide conspiracy theorist. It’s not unique to the cop shows, but it is the most obvious there. I could go on for hours about the totalitarian rights violations and other nonsense that’s presented as acceptable, but sticking to the topic, guns are only ever used by badge-carriers, villains, or the rare civilian who’s an ex *insert military branch and rank here* with sufficient “training.” Look at how nicely Hollywood writers’ criteria for gun ownership match up with the contexts in which most blue-state urban residents will ever see a firearm in real life outside of a museum. Now you know why so many antis live where they live.

    • I cant believe I had to scroll so far to find The Wire.

      Here’s my favorite somewhat firearm related scene.

      ***NSFW Warning for Language ***

        • I about busted a gut when I saw that scene while I was watching that series a while back. The woman playing Snoop was from the Baltimore streets and last I heard, she’d run into street/dope problems again while they were still filming the series. “The Wire” was kinda like the sequel to “Homicide: Life on the Street.” Both highly recommended.

  30. For me it will be Homicide: Life on the Streets… though that show went seriously off the rails when Det. Tim Bayless went overnight from Baltimore’s biggest womanizer to “I’m gay!”. Huh?

    • I remember reading somewhere that David Simon based a lot of that show on real people and events. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bayliss character was one of them.

      • The show was based on Simon’s “Homicide: A Year On The Killing Streets”, which is a great book. He spent a year hanging out with the homicide cops, and most of the characters from the show are loosely based on real Baltimore detectives. The show’s main characters started out pretty close to their real-life counterparts, but diverged pretty quickly as the show went on. IIRC, the guy on whom the character of Bayliss was based, in particular, objected to most of the later-season developments with that character, so I think the bisexual/gay stuff came from a screenwriter’s imagination.

  31. L&O:SVU

    Criminal Minds

    Also, not really a cop show, but I’ve always liked The X-Files.

    *Queue the conspiracy theorist comments.*

  32. “Criminal Minds” probably has the most technically correct gun handling of any TV cop show. And Joe Mantegna is a true “gun guy.”

    “Third Watch” and “The Shield” were my favorites because of their intensity. If you like edge-of-your-seat TV, those are the ones to watch.

    For all others, I’ve gotta pick single episodes where guns are featured. In an ep of “CSI: Miami,” the most laughable of the CSI incarnations prior to “Cyber,” the episode where a main character (Speedle) gets caught “looking at his gun” was actually decent from a gun guy perspective. The message: not cleaning/maintaining your gun can be deadly.

    Cagney & Lacey, Hill Street Blues and NYPD: Blue all had some single-ep stand-outs, too.

    • Third Watch was indeed good.

      I was particularly impressed with how they wove 9-11 into the fabric of the show.

  33. I liked Hill Street. No emphasis on the gold shields and all on the grunts who got the dirty end of the stick all the time. No ninja masks and NAZI helmets either. My most HATED was Cagney and Lacey.


  34. Once you gained permission from the state to carry? And this is really really supposed to be a pro 2nd Anendment site?

    • That how it be here in the People’s Republic. The SJC hasn’t acknowledged Heller or MacDonald. Owning and carrying a firearm is still a privilege here…..for now.

  35. Gunsmoke. The best “cop” radio show and arguably one of the best radio shows made. William Conrad was a giant among radio stars. Thanks to the internet and apps, you can still listen to them all. Throw it on while cleaning your six-gun!

  36. like blue bloods, Jessie stone, Adam 12, Longmire. hated to see that one go. really liked c.s.i., but it suffered when Peterson and Helgenberger left.

  37. Well, depending on how you define “Cop Show”, one of my favorites was Man from UNCLE. The amount of do-dads Napoleon Solo had for his modified P-38 were AWESOME!

    • Yeah, but IIRC, the Napoleon and Illya used tranquilizer-dart guns, while the bad guys (THRUSH) used ordinary, real guns that killed people. I do recall one episode that showed UNCLE HQ, all the female personnel seemed to have snubbie revolvers in SOB holsters.

      • I wish I still had the Napoleon Solo gun that I had as a kid. It was cool. I think they’re also pretty collectible now.

  38. Hunter! That show was awesome. He always ended up killing the badguy(s) with his .44. Rarely did he make the arrest. Also, he flipped over a car with a SPAS-12. Clearly, those “combat shotguns” are too dangerous! Crime Story was also very good. One of those old shows when you watch it now you’re constantly saying “Hey its THAT guy!”

  39. Just want to thank all the old folk here talking about shows I can now go and binge watch online because I wasn’t born when they were on TV.

    • Careful, you might just realize how much television shows nowadays suck. 😀

      Seriously though, I don’t watch many of today’s television shows as they simply don’t hold my interest. Frankly, for real entertainment I listen to old radio programs. I enjoy that much more than television.

  40. I will go with the Closer and its sequel Major Crimes. Yeah, it’s the LAPD but the cast and the characters are great.

  41. All cop shows try to portray armed citizens as inferior morons, and cops as god-like. Even the buffoon cops are shown to be superior to the lowly citizens. Reality is quite the opposite. But, since when has reality gotten in the way of activists pushing for the dismantling of human rights? I can’t have a favorite TV crusade against human rights, sorry. I hate them all.

  42. Egad this one has run all day, hasn’t it? It has been interesting and I’ve been following it all day, off and on. And I knew Broderick Crawford wasn’t really Cindy’s dad. He was Matthew Brodericks dad. Hey since somebody mentioned Man from Uncle which stood for United Network Command For Law and Enforcement how about Secret Agent? Patrick Magoohan? Anybody? Anybody? Sorry the mention of a lot of these old shows has brought me back a ways.

  43. In the late 60s into 70s: Hawaii 5-0
    In the 70s: Adam-12, Starsky & Hutch
    In the 80s: Miami Vice, Crime Storey
    In the 90s: Walker Texas Ranger
    2000s: NCIS

    Private Eye shows: Rockford Files, Magnum PI, Mike Hammer

  44. For enjoyment, Longmire, Justified, Person of Interest, Bones, and Blue Bloods are the current favorites I watch (although Longmire apparently got cancelled, there’s interest in reviving it).

    I liked the CSI shows for the science they showed (with a big dose of suspension of belief for things like how long it takes to do things, or the computer searching the fingerprint databases).

    Older shows, I think I enjoyed more the private detective shows over the police procedurals. Rockford Files, Magnum PI, as well as shows like Quincy MD and Columbo. I did enjoy Barney Miller, Miami Vice, and Hill Street Blues.

    The more I know about guns, the less and less real any of those shows get. Although Justified does a pretty good job with gunplay. I did have to laugh about them working the Tueller drill in last season, particularly how it ended.

    • A&E did kick Longmire to the curb, but after much fan lobbying and support from the author the series is based on, Netflix is picking up a fourth season. Rumors of a fifth are now swirling.

  45. Dragnet. Although, I can’t remember any specific episodes with armed citizens or DGUs. There is the one where Joe shoots the guy in the laundromat off duty and has to prove he was shot at first.

    • Matt,

      Agreed. That was a good episode. Joe was off-duty and was “close” to a “regular” citizen.

      Still, I don’t remember any citizen DGUs either.

  46. Longmire, Flashpoint, Rizzoli and Isles, Hill Street Blues, Third Watch. Haven’t caught Justified yet, but lots of good recommentations for it here.

    • PP,

      I forgot about Rizzoli and Isles. I watched that until I got sick of the slights against citizens with guns.


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