December 23, 2023
It was 1976 when I entered the Sheriff’s Academy and each recruit purchased their own gear including leather and firearms. I knew nothing about guns, beyond what I had seen on television, so I purchased a book entitled “The Law Enforcement Handgun Digest” by Dean Grennell. The book seemed quite comprehensive, discussing everything from service revolvers to chemical agents. I read the book cover to cover three times, but I selected my first service revolver on the basis of what someone else had.
My fiancée’s stepfather was a deputy on the agency I was joining. He carried a Smith & Wesson Model 28 Highway Patrolman .357 Magnum revolver with a six-inch barrel. If it served him well, it seemed like it would work for me. I was wrong. The local gun shop did not have a six-inch model, but they did have a four-inch version, so I purchased it. In truth, the gun felt terrible in my hand. The bell-shaped grips that came standard got wider at the bottom where my fingers got shorter and this made no sense at all. I also noted that I could hardly reach the trigger. I didn’t know much about shooting at the time, but this did not seem like a good fit.
I was given much of my leather gear, with my first duty holster being a well-used swivel holster with a hammer strap — now known as a “suicide strap” — to hold the gun in place. Removing the strap, getting ahold of those ill-advised grips, drawing the gun and trying to access the trigger took full seconds! There was no fast draw here. Believe it or not, I did graduate from the academy with this combination, even getting the second-best shooting scores, but my right-hand thumb took a serious beating as I had to shift my hand around to reach the trigger.
After graduation, I was assigned to the Corrections Division, the County Jail, where I worked as a floor deputy for several years. We carried guns only when transporting inmates to court or to prison, but I knew I needed a different revolver. The Smith & Wesson Model 19 Combat Magnum filled the bill nicely. It was smaller, allowing my index finger to better meet the trigger, and the used revolver came with a set of Rogers Grips, a polymer grip that tapered at the bottom better fitting the taper of the human hand. I ground off the bottom finger groove which further enhanced my grip. I also replaced the swivel holster with a Safariland thumb break duty rig. My shooting scores shot up accordingly on my next range trip, resulting in “Master” qualification, which was an overall score of 98 percent, or better.
I wish I still owned my first off-duty gun. Based on the “Handgun Digest” I had consumed, I felt I needed a .357 magnum in order to have the required level of “stopping power.” At the time, if you didn’t have a .357 Magnum or a .45 ACP, you were likely to die a miserable death in any gunfight. (Gun gossip was so different back then, huh?) Understand, this was before I became acquainted with the 158-grain all-lead hollow point in .38 Special, and its outstanding track record on the street.
Hunting through the various magazines of the time, I came across a company named Security Industries of Little Ferry, New Jersey. They produced a stainless-steel J-Frame-size revolver called a Police Pocket Magnum (PPM) in .357. The first gun of its type, S.I. was way ahead of any of the other firearm manufacturers, even offering a finger grooved wood grip that looked much like the Craig Speigal boot grips of today. The small revolver was accurate, reliable, and concealable, but also a real handful to shoot! It fit any J Frame holster perfectly and was just a great gun! That said, I was talked into trading it in by our department’s rangemaster because it wasn’t a Smith or a Colt. I listened to a so called “expert.”
My next off-duty revolver was not much of a change, really. I traded the PPM on a Smith & Wesson Model 60 in .38 Special. I can remember thinking it was the same gun but a step down in caliber. The Model 60’s trigger was not near as smooth, and the thinner barrel seemed like a poor feature to me. The only thing I added to the gun was a Melvin Tyler T-Grip adapter which offered me a grip that felt much like my PPM. In the end, I didn’t really feel like I accomplished anything beyond making our rangemaster happy.
Several years later, stainless-steel revolvers were approved for uniformed duty use, so I traded my Model 19 in for a S&W Model 66 with a set of Hogue Grips, basically the same as the Rogers grip but in rubber. The 66/60 combination served me well for several years until the semiauto pistol entered service, but that would not be my first foray into the world of autoloaders. I joined our newly formed SWAT Team in 1980, and several years on we were permitted to use 1911-style .45 ACP pistols for SWAT duty. I was reluctant at first, knowing little about the platform, but peer pressure pushed me to my first 1911 in the early 1980s.
I purchased a used pistol that was two-tone in color with adjustable sights and rubber grips. What I instantly missed was the sight picture my Model 66 provided: a bright red front combined with a flat black rear. I found this combination quick and easy to see and I remedied the problem by painting the front sight of my 1911 with a coating of Liquid Paper followed by a coat of red fingernail polish. Like most people, it took a while to get used to engaging the grip and thumb safeties, but once I understood it was just part of achieving a solid firing grip, it came easy. I used this pistol for several years and only abandoned it when the Smith & Wesson Third Generation 9mm became our issued handgun.
The Smith & Wesson 6906 became my agency’s first issued handgun of any type. It was selected on the basis that it was large enough for duty carry but small enough for off-duty carry, if the deputy chose to do so. Our first issued load was the Winchester 115-grain Silvertip hollow point with a change to the Winchester 147-grain OSM load after the FBI’s recommendation. Poor performance by the OSM load in one of our shootings had us return to the Silvertip. With the adoption of the 6906 it was felt that the SWAT Team should also adopt the S&W platform and the S&W 5906, the full-size 9mm pistol, was adopted. While not popular with the team, the gun proved to work just fine.
It was at this time I took over as my agency’s training supervisor, and to devote my full attention to this new position, I left SWAT. I spent the next five years updating our training facility and modernizing our training program. We still shot the PPC as a qualification course up until this time. While serving in this position, I convinced our Sheriff that he did not need to require all deputies to carry an issued gun. After all, it was not the handgun that made contact with a suspect, it was the projectile it fired. As long as he decided which round would be carried, the launcher selected did not matter. A list of acceptable handguns was created and approved. As long as the gun was on this list, the deputy was permitted to purchase and carry their own gun.
As I left training to become a patrol lieutenant, the .40 S&W cartridge had become all the rage. The first gun selected in this new cartridge was the Smith & Wesson Sigma, which ended up being a terrible choice. In truth, the gun did not work. Fifty percent of the guns delivered to our agency would not fire. As a solution, Smith & Wesson offered our agency the S&W “Tactical” .40, or model 4053. It was a double-action-only (DAO) 6906-size pistol that I thought was just awful. I chose not to carry it, instead entering into a period of carrying SIG Sauer pistols. I first carried the SIG P225 which offered a grip that was quite comfortable. I shot this gun well, but never warmed up to the single-column magazines. I purchased the P228 which offered more rounds, but never felt quite as good as the P225.
I left patrol and was assigned as commander of the Violent Crime Section. I was also introduced to the new Heckler & Koch USP Compact in .40. It was this gun that made me move from the 9mm to the .40 S&W cartridge, mostly due to the fact the gun was built around the .40, rather than being a modified 9mm. The gun felt good in my hand and trigger reach was excellent. I was not surprised to find that I shot the pistol very well and ended up carrying it the entire time I was assigned to the Violent and Organized Crime units. The LEM trigger module, a short DAO design, made the pistol even better! This gun was sent off to Robbie Barkman at Robar for NP-3 treatment of all the metal parts and an action job on the LEM trigger action. The grip was stippled by David Bowie at Bowie Tactical Concepts. This is the gun I discussed in the first edition of my book “Handgun Combatives.”
I finally burned out in Organized Crime/Narcotics. It happens. My last assignment before I retired was the section commander of Support Services. This covered all of the odd-ball things a Sheriff’s Office in Ohio is responsible for, things like civil process, Sheriff’s property sales, budget office, warrant service and training. While I had little interest in many of the functions I supervised, I did have a big interest in training. It made the job tolerable. It was also at this time I discovered the Glock.
While I was certainly familiar with the Glock pistol, it was on the approved pistol list, I never considered carrying it as I hated the grip and “glitchy” action; I tended to shoot high with it. While attending a training conference in Phoenix, I stopped into Robar for a visit, bringing my USP Compact with me. While discussing the pistol with Barkman, I mentioned the one feature I did not like about it was the paddle style ambidextrous magazine release. I told him no matter how I tried it I could not perform the reload as efficiently as I wanted. Barkman suggested I try the Glock as its more natural push button release would solve my problem. I then went into an explanation of how much I hated the Glock grip, not taking into account that Robar was the original company to reduce the Glock grip profile. Barkman sat and listened to my mini-tirade with a smile on his face. I concluded my “discussion” with something like “maybe if the Glock had a grip like my USP, I would try it.” Without batting an eye, he responded with “You know, Dave, I can handle that for you.” I realized I was trapped. As soon as I returned to Ohio, I secured a Glock 19 (by this time I had decided the .40 offered no real advantage over the 9mm) and sent it to Robar. It came back with a USP-style grip and I have never looked back.
Since I retired from law enforcement, I have become a Glock fan. (Always with a grip reduction, of course.) I’ve taken multiple armorer courses and have built a few of my own “Gucci Glocks” during the great Covid lockdown. Today, I prefer a straighter 1911-style grip over the slightly curved backstrap of the USP. Not sure why, it just feels and points better at this stage of my life.
There you have it, a history of handgun carriage over a 40-plus year time span. Sure, I switched far more often than the typical cop, mostly due to my participation in the firearms media and training communities. I always had a reason for any change. Sure, some reasons were better than others, but none were due to fads, trends or cool factor. In truth, I’m kind of proud of that.
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