FROM THE CONTROL BOOTH: The Arc of the Duty Pistol



By Steve Tracy I Editorial director

The Arc of the Duty Pistol

I cautiously asked while trying not to sound overzealous, “Is there a list covering which duty pistols I can choose from?” I was speaking with my department’s Executive Officer five days before I was assigned to attend the police academy. It was 1988 and I needed to purchase a duty weapon right away. “Welcome to the department kid, now go and spend a small fortune that you don’t have for a gun and gear.”

The G.O. was simple; my duty pistol had to be a double-action 9mm or .45 ACP from a short list of manufacturers (the .40 S&W didn’t exist in 1988). I opted to carry a .45, so my choices were split between the S&W 645 and the Sig Sauer P220. The W. German-made Sig was $150 more than the Smith, so I went with the big stainless-steel .45 from Massachusetts.

Just one year later, the Chief made a declaration with the stroke of his pen that we would all switch to a single sidearm. He mandated that the range officers sort through the options and choose a winner. Sig Sauer won, but a department-wide vote tied between 9mm and .45, which left us with the choice of either caliber. In addition, officers with small hands could opt for the single-stack 9mm P225 instead of the high-capacity P226 or the .45 caliber P220.

My barely fired S&W was sold to pay for my second new duty pistol in as many years. A short time later, I became a range officer and a Sig Sauer armorer. I carried the alloy-frame Sig .45 for 23 years and it earned my trust and respect.

Over the years, police-duty sidearm technology progressed steadily. Glowing tritium nights sights, lightweight polymer frames, striker fired actions, triggers with built-in safety tabs, and Picatinny tactical light rails became popular. The .40 S&W cartridge arrived on the scene and rose to the point where today it’s the most common round carried by police officers.

Several Chiefs later, our newest did away with the Sig Sauer mandate. Many more options had become available since 1989 and the field of duty gun offerings had greatly expanded. Fellow officers asked me several times, “What pistol are you changing to?” My response was that I wasn’t planning on changing. Twenty-three years of training and practice was difficult for me to just casually toss aside. My Sig displayed made scratches, dings and some missing patches of electroless nickel that gave it character. This pistol and I had gone through some memorable times together. It even wore dark stained walnut Equinox handles that I was rather proud of.

But the standard double-action trigger always gave me a bit of concern. I knew that first shot’s long, 12-pound double-action pull was difficult for me to master. I shot the gun well, but that first DA round wasn’t always in the same group as the rest of my single-action shots with their 4-pound trigger pull. Mastering two trigger pulls is always more difficult than just one.

An advantage of striker-fired pistols is their trigger pull’s consistency from first to last shot. After researching and shooting several candidates, I decided on the S&W M&P Professional chambered for the .40 S&W cartridge. Fitted with the medium grip, the M&P points naturally in my hand and the tritium night sights line up quickly on target. I also like the 15-round magazines on my duty belt.

At the 2014 SHOT Show, Sig Sauer displayed their first striker fired pistol, the polymer frame P320. This modular design has a serial numbered chassis, which accommodates several grip frame sizes and heights as well as various calibers and slide/barrel lengths.

We choose our duty pistol based on several factors. Cost, feel, reputation, and even brand loyalty. What fits one officer’s grip may not work well for another. Are you carrying the duty pistol that you really want to carry? If your department issues your duty gun, there may not be much you can do about it. But if you’ve got a choice, are there new duty guns available that may be a better option for you?

If you’re currently carrying an original, first-generation Glock 17 pistol, are you aware that they have become a collector’s item? You may be able to sell your first-generation Glock for enough money to purchase a brand-new Gen 4 version and even have some money left over. Even my 1989 Sig P220 has gone up in value compared to how much I paid for it originally.

I started my career with a Smith & Wesson, was forced to change to a Sig P220, then made the difficult choice to start fresh with a new pistol after more than two decades of carrying my P220, and I now carry an S&W again. The arc of the duty pistol spans an entire career. I haven’t fired the new Sig Sauer P320 yet, so perhaps my own personal history will repeat itself. PM

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