Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Why semi-automatics are used in law enforcement
"Combat Handguns" Magazine | October 1990 | Massad Ayoob

Posted on 11/20/2001 7:31:41 AM PST by 2nd_Ammendment_Defender

[This is an old article published in 1990, but it offers some good information]

Fans of 9 millimeter high capacity autos triumphantly cry "Firepower!" Old-line police chiefs who still cleave to revolvers make the sign of the cross when confronted with such service pistols and hiss, "Firepower!" There's only a slight difference in the inflection.

"If you can't do it with six, you can't do it at all" is an old canard that has been heard less and less as the cocaine cowboys have upped the firepower stakes in the war on crime. As police nationwide rush to trade the traditional "police special" revolver for the semiautomatic service pistol, their overwhelming choice is the 9 millimeter Parabellum with a capacity of 12 to 18 rounds.

The single most popular model is the Glock 17 which carries 18 rounds in out-of-the box configuration and, with the addition of the Plus-2 magazine floorplate, put 20 rounds without a reload at the lawman's fingertips the instant he clears leather.

Diehard sixgunners are not the only ones who put a garland of wolfsbane around their necks and nail garlic cloves over the door when high capacity pistols are mentioned. There are the Senator Metzenbaums of the world, who fear that their constituents will turn them out of office if they embrace the necessarily expensive measures that would be meaningful for crime control, and so instead seize on issues like ownership of semiautomatic firearms with box magazines to create the illusion that they are doing something about the crime rate that is the American voters biggest single concern.

And finally, there is plaintiff's counsel. This is the lawyer who specializes in suing over personal injuries, and doesn't make money unless somebody is being sued, and occasionally has to manufacture a case to pay the office overhead. This is the sort of attorney who will imply that anyone who carried a pistol with 18 shots obviously had a Rambo complex and was looking for a schoolyard to shoot up when he stumbled across Counsel's client who just happened to have a knife in his hand. If the defense is that you carried that gun because it was issued to you, all the better; more ammo for proving "a continuing pattern of police brutality" by the department that furnished you with the weapon.

The fact is, there are arguments that can be made for firepower. Firepower is the ability to deliver a large number of shots at a high rate of speed. As crime grows worse in America, firepower is more relevant to the good guys than ever.

I'm writing this at the beginning of March, 1990. In just the past couple of months, the need for firepower has been reinforced for me about three times over.

ITEM: In Stockton, California--a city made infamous by madman Patrick Purdy and the semiautomatic AK-47 he brought to a schoolyard--a couple of patrolmen had to shoot it out with a gunman armed with a .45 automatic. The bad guy's first shot put officer# 1 down for the count, though he was in stable condition at last report. This left officer# 2 alone to continue the running gunfight.

The suspect went through a couple of magazines without hitting the lawman, and was reloading once more when the cop finally got a good sight picture and finished the action with four killing hits. The newspapers reported that the lone officer had fired 27 shots before the encounter was terminated.

Item: In Kansas, a lone officer pulled over a suspect who had shortly before robbed a bank using heavy Rambo gear including smoke bombs and concussion grenades. The felon came out of the car shooting, and caught the patrolman off guard.

The cop was a southpaw, and the first bullet smashed into his gun hand. As he clawed for his 9 millimeter Smith & Wesson third generation service automatic, the would-be cop killer hammered four .44 Special bullets into the cops chest.

Horribly wounded but determined to live and fulfill his duty, the officer retreated for cover, firing as he went. Fired weak hand only, most of his fusillade went wide, doing no more than causing peripheral wounds on the gunman but at least keeping the latter from reloading his revolver.

The cop took cover behind a car. He stabilized his hand on the vehicle and fired one more shot.

Witnesses saw a hole appear in the center of the felon's chest, and saw him shudder. He turned, stumbled a distance to his car, got in, and put it in gear. The walk to the car had been perhaps fifty feet according to reliable reports; the car went another fifty feet before it crashed with the attempted murderer dead at the wheel. The officer's 147-grain subsonic hollowpoint had destroyed his heart. The officer remains in intensive care. It had been his fourteenth shot that stopped the fight.

ITEM; At the International conference of ASLET, the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, in 1990, in San Diego, Los Angeles Police Department's resident officer-survival expert Lt. Rich Wemmer mentioned that a growing trend among police in the region was to carry FOUR spare magazines on the uniform belt instead of the usual two.

The reason, said Lt. Wemmer, was that there had been no fewer than THREE fairly recent incidents in which California lawmen involved in firefights had emptied their service automatics, reloaded not once but twice, and used up all three magazines and still found themselves facing active, armed, violent felons. The weapons involved had ranged from the Beretta 92F (14 shot magazine, 9mm) to the Sig-Sauer P220 (7 shot magazine, .45 ACP). This trend is not recent, a few years ago, I debriefed Officer Jim Martin. Working a small town in Arkansas, Jim had a routine drunk driving stop turn into a nightmare.

The subject was a grossly obese man with a death wish and a .357 magnum, who opened fire on the officer. In the moments that followed, Martin went through two magazines with his department issue Smith & Wesson model 59 service pistol, firing 29 shots and striking the subject 15 times in the torso and twice in the head. It was the last bullet to the head that put the gunman down as Martin's slide locked back for the second time. He reloaded his final magazine and cautiously approached to find the gunman dead.

Martin had been shot twice, once in the chest and once in the back. Both bullets had been stopped by his Second Chance vest. Unable to reload his sixgun, the man who had tried to murder him was trying to pull a Commando Mark III .45 carbine from the toolbox in the back of the pickup when Officer Martin's final bullet destroyed his spaced-out brain.


We can all sit comfortably in our armchairs, raise an eyebrow and curl our lips in a sneer, and say, "These men didn't know what they were doing! Why, my instructor or I would have killed all those goblins with a single well-placed .45 slug and would have blown them out of their socks!"

This theory works fine in the armchair. It sounds great when delivered in stentorian tones by the lawyer addressing the jury from the plaintiff's podium. It does not, however, always fly on the street.

Anyone who accuses the Kansas cop of not being cool and disciplined is unlikely to volunteer to get shot four times in the chest and once in the gunhand with a .44 caliber revolver BEFORE THEY CAN EVEN DRAW. The hail of "covering fire" put out by this officer with his 9mm undoubtedly kept his homicidal opponent from killing him UNTIL the officer could get to cover, collect himself, brace the only hand he had left, and centerpunch the [expletive].

Are you unhappy with the performance of the 9mm subsonic 147- grain hollowpoint that pierced the gunman's heart, yet allowed him to walk fifty feet and drive fifty more? So am I. So, no doubt, was the officer. But before you offer a largebore bullet as the cure for that problem, remember that the man who killed that bad guy HAD BEEN SHOT FOUR TIMES THROUGH THE CHEST WITH A .44 SPECIAL BEFORE HE SLEW HIS WOULD-BE MURDERER.

Go ahead, look at the marksmanship trophies on your wall and make fun of the Stockton officer who had to fire twenty-seven shots to hit the man who had shot down his partner with four of his bullets. But ask yourself if you have ever seen someone like a police partner--for that read BROTHER--shot down and left for dead before your very eyes. Ask yourself if anyone ever emptied a couple of .45 auto magazines at YOU while you were exercising your cool discipline and watching your front sight as you shot your way to those trophies you cherish.

And what about those California situations where three different cops ran out of ammunition and still didn't neutralize the gunman? In at least one of those gunfights, the gunman was elusive and cunning, took advantage of cover and light and shadow, and had the initial edge of starting the encounter. The officers survived, and no innocents were killed; that sounds like a victory to me.

And what of Jim Martin, he who emptied his high-capacity Smith & Wesson not once but twice at the man who had already shot him in the chest and back with a .357 Magnum Taurus revolver? Rich Davis, manufacturer of the Second Chance vest that saved Martin's life twice over, puts the issue in perspective.

"The .45 fans will use Jim Martin's shooting to argue that the 9mm is an ineffective manstopper. The high capacity nine millimeter fans will use it as proof that you need lots of bullets, since no one can PROVE that Martin's antagonist would have fallen down any faster if he'd been hit with .45 slugs instead of 9mm bullets," notes Davis, who has been around the Stopping Power Argument block a few times.

The officers in Stockton and Arkansas are not the only ones to have to fire 27 times to stop a fight, and not all the lawmen have come out on top like they have.

On April 11, 1986, a gun battle took place between FBI agents and a pair of hardened armed robbers and murderers in Miami, Florida. It would be as highly publicized as the gunfight at the OK Corral more than a century before, and it would take more lives.

In the course of that shootout, a perpetrator emptied and reloaded a Ruger Mini-14, using up at least one Federal Ordnance 40-round magazine along the way, according to reports. Of the eight involved agents, one was unable to return fire but seven more did. Here is how they fared.

--One agent emptied his .357 Magnum revolver and wounded one of the killers. Shot in the gun hand, he was unable to reload before he was shot in the neck and permanently injured by the perpetrator with the Mini-14.

--One agent lost his service revolver and continued the fight with his 5-shot Chief Special .38 backup revolver. He fired all five shots without being able to neutralize the opponents. He was shot and gravely wounded while attempting to reload with loose cartridges.

--One agent fired all six shots from his service revolver and had to reload with loose cartridges, despite having been wounded. He did not, apparently, hit either of the killers.

--One agent fired a few shots with his S & W M459 9 millimeter pistol, but had lost his glasses in the ramming of the suspects' vehicle that had preceded the shootout and was apparently unable to identify his targets. He was shot down by the killer with the .223 rifle before he could utilize his extensive training to effectively engage his adversaries.

--One agent emptied his 15-shot Model 459, reloaded, and emptied a second magazine. One of his 9mm Silvertips tore through the primary antagonist's right arm and into his chest, severing the plural artery and causing a mortal wound that did not take immediate effect. It was after this bullet hit him that the killer shot down five of the seven wounded agents, two of whom died. When he shot THIS agent, the latter's pistol was empty, it's slide locked back on it's second and last magazine.

--One agent emptied his Model 459, wounding the primary gunman once and possibly rendering him incapable of shooting any longer with that hand; he was subsequently observed to fire weak hand only. This agent's slide locked back after 15 rounds and he drew his Smith & Wesson Model 60 Chief's Special from his ankle holster and fired one .38 Special round at the suspects before reloading his 9mm auto. This agent who took effective cover and a controlling posture, would be the only involved FBI man to survive the firefight unscathed.

--One agent, severely wounded in the left arm by .223 fire early in the firefight, emptied his Remington 870 pump shotgun one-handed, wounding both perpetrators but not neutralizing either. This heroic lawman ended the fight by staggering up to the getaway car and shooting the gunmen three times each with lead hollowpoint 158-grain .38 Special bullets from his service revolver, killing both instantly. As he collapsed near their corpses, the sixgun in his hand had been emptied.

The gunbattle had been a lasting lesson in the importance of firepower. FBI subsequently authorized field agents to carry high capacity 9mm autos or 8-to 9-shot .45 autos for the first time in the Bureau's history. The agents using 9mm pistols in the Miami fight were specially authorized to do so because they were SWAT members. In addition, agents were issued the HK MP5SF, a compact 9mm semiautomatic carbine with a 32-round magazine.


Of particular concern to those who will have to take responsibility for stray shots is the tendency for some people under stress to "hose the foes," a habit known in combat shooting circles as "spray and pray."

This is typically seen in people who acquired the high capacity pistol with the feeling that it's large magazine was the guns RAISON D'ETRE. They feel consciously or subconsciously that if they can just get fifteen pieces of brass over their heads and fifteen pieces of lead heading downrange, whatever is giving them a problem is likely to be taken out of the fight and they will be safe.

History shows us that this is wrong. Undirected full-auto M-16 fire in Vietnam proved it. From South Africa to Britain's SAS, battle-hardened troops made it policy to fire semiautomatic only to force the combatant to be cool enough to aim and make each shot count. The motto of the U.S. Army's Advanced Marksmanship Unit, headquartered at Fort Benning, starkly underscores this philosophy: "one shot, one kill."

Alas, not every combatant can live up to that philosophy in the real world of lethal violence. This is why U.S. troops still have M-16s, albeit with three-shot burst controls, instead of having reverted to bolt action Springfield rifles. This is why police are turning away from six-shooters to magazine-fed semi- automatics, and not toward two-shot derringers.


Today's criminals are more likely to be wearing "bulletproof vests" than at any time in history. Some of the defenders' ammo is likely to be wasted on the armor until they realize it's time to go to another point of aim.

Today's criminals are more likely than ever to be operating in teams. Jerry and Cathy Lane, top-rated firearms instructors who do contract training for Glock, note that some 42% of police shootouts now involve more than one armed criminal.

Today's criminals are more likely than ever to be jacked up on some form of cocaine, including the epidemic crack, at the time of the encounter. Any form of cocaine causes a massive adrenaline rush, and with it superhuman strength and imperviousness to pain and shock.

Today's criminal is prison-trained and/or gang-trained to use urban combat tactics in armed encounters. They take better use of cover, concealment and evasive movements than ever before.

All four of these factors make it likely that more of the Good Guy's bullets will be expended before the Bad Guys are neutralized. All of these factors, therefore, militate for a higher capacity handgun in the hands of the lawful defenders.


Somewhere between the assets of firepower and the liability of the spray and pray syndrome we find the eight- to ten-shot pistol chambered for the 9 millimeter, .45 ACP, or 10 millimeter cartridge. Though from New York to Los Angeles to Florida we can find cops who lost the fight when their sixguns ran dry, there is no case this author has been able to find where a cop died because his .45 automatic was empty, and the other guy's wasn't.

Though lots of bad guys have taken a full "magazine" from a .45, this tends to mostly reflect situations where the good guy fired the gun so fast that it was empty in about a second and a half, or before the criminal's corpse could fall. Try as I might, and I HAVE tried, I can find no cases of bad guys taking 13 or 15 .45 hits and staying active in the fight.

While "spray and pray syndrome" can take place with any weapons system, it rarely seems to do so with the eight and nine- shot autoloaders. The users seem to draw confidence from the fact that they have a 33% to 50% in-gun firepower advantage over revolvers, and much faster reloads, thanks to magazine feed. At the same time they aren't fooled into thinking they have more ammo than Fort Benning, and throwing their shots away.


The likelihood of multiple opponents who move fast, often wear body armor, know how to take cover, and tend to ingest chemicals that make them resistant to pain and shock, are all good reasons for carrying guns that throw a whole lot more bullets than six-shooters do.

Do not lose this issue of this magazine. The fact that you have read these things beforehand creates a pre-existing knowledge of dynamics of violent encounters. This knowledge can, and should be, discoverable evidence if a shyster who can't make a living with honest cases, sues you for shooting in self-defense a criminal predator, and doing so with a gun that fires more than five or six shots without a reload.

All the above instances are true. If you need more proof, consider the classic police training manual "Street Survival" by Calibre Press. It contains a famous photograph of a Cook County, Illinois junkie who was shot 33 times with 9mm pistol bullets and stayed up and running and trying to shoot.

What the photo caption in that fine book doesn't tell you is that the suspect also took two rifled slugs from a 12-gauge shotgun. He was still on his feet after the first one when the second one finally killed him.

That photograph, taken by Alan Kulovicz of the Cook County Sheriff's Office has caused more than one seasoned law enforcement professional to trade in his "police special" for a .45 automatic or a high capacity nine millimeter.

TOPICS: Crime/Corruption; Miscellaneous
KEYWORDS: banglist
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-26 next last
I know this article is really old, but it is interesting. Most police are turning to bigger calibers than the 9 millimeter now.
1 posted on 11/20/2001 7:31:41 AM PST by 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
SA's are alot of fun to shoot but when it comes down to reliability nothing beats a revolver.
2 posted on 11/20/2001 7:35:48 AM PST by eastforker
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
1. Most cops today are lousy shots and only shoot to qualify.

2. If you want to make it safer for cops take guns away from cops. Friendly fire in police shootouts is #1 cause of police death.

3. Only the US ARMY (Viet Nam Era)had a poorer body count/number of rounds expended than most police departments.

Reference the Lott/Mustard gun control study.

3 posted on 11/20/2001 7:38:12 AM PST by mad_as_he$$
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: *bang_list
4 posted on 11/20/2001 7:39:39 AM PST by wysiwyg
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
Interesting. Thanks for posting this.
5 posted on 11/20/2001 7:42:32 AM PST by FOMTY
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: mad_as_he$$
2. If you want to make it safer for cops take guns away from cops.

If you do this, you really ought to equip each squad car with a Liberal who can plead with armed criminals to surrender before anyone gets hurt.

6 posted on 11/20/2001 7:43:17 AM PST by Grut
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: eastforker
"when it comes down to reliability nothing beats a revolver."

I hear 'ya, brother. Fewer moving parts, less chance of a mechanical malfunction.
I carry a .357 wheel gun for personal protection - just point and click.

7 posted on 11/20/2001 8:03:46 AM PST by Psalm 73
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 2 | View Replies]

To: Psalm 73
Very true. In the event of a misfire (Extremely rare) you just have to squeeze the trigger again and the problem is fixed, vice a semi auto where you have to clear the round manually.
8 posted on 11/20/2001 8:25:23 AM PST by mbynack
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: mad_as_he$$
Only the US ARMY (Viet Nam Era)had a poorer body count/number of rounds expended than most police departments.

I have seen footage of soldiers hunkered down behind cover firing their M-16s into the air at a 20-30 degree angle.

9 posted on 11/20/2001 8:25:37 AM PST by hopespringseternal
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
Anyone buying a handgun for CCW or police use needs to remember that you can fire 12 rounds a lot faster with even a small-capacity .380 semi than with any revolver - simply because semis are so fast to reload!

God help you if you face multiple enemies with a five-round revolver - or even a six-round one. This isn't about whether gangbangers carry TEC-9s; it's about what happens if your store is being held up by three guys - both armed.

GUN REVIEWS free from ad-money pressure - read before you shop!

10 posted on 11/20/2001 8:37:52 AM PST by
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
Notice how many "backup" guns were/are revolvers...

Not much has changed.

11 posted on 11/20/2001 8:39:10 AM PST by packrat01
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
SWAT members are trained to with shoot MP-5's or pistols like this: first two shots in the body, then one in the head (directly fired after each other). Although 9 or 10 mm (and sometimes even .45) won't kill or even penetrate bodyarmor, this method will put most men down quickly.
12 posted on 11/20/2001 8:48:07 AM PST by knighthawk
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Good advice if you have a reliable semi-auto (Glock). I don't and I've had enough misfires with my 9 mm to not feel confident that it would fire every time I needed it.
13 posted on 11/20/2001 8:52:28 AM PST by mbynack
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 10 | View Replies]

To: 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
I've got both autos and wheelguns, and each has its strengths and weaknesses. My .357 Mag Dan Wesson is a riot to shoot -- accurate, smooth, and hand-filling. But it's slow to reload and only gets off six shots per cycle. My Baretta 92, Centurion, and Colt Commander fire anywhere from 9 to 16 shots (the Centurion double-action only), but are quicker to jam. Jams clear easily, but do affect consistent patterning when on the range. I can't imagine what a stovepiped round would do during a combat situation.

I have been shooting the Wesson a lot lately because I've been doing a lot of target work. But if I were in the field, I don't know which one I'd carry. If I were going to go concealed, I'd probably use the Centurion. A safer pistol hasn't been invented, and if 10 shots from a 9mm don't do the trick, I'm probably a dead man anyway.

Just my two cents ...

14 posted on 11/20/2001 8:54:38 AM PST by IronJack
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

I have a .45 semi-automatic that has never jammed with the factory magazines with the estimated 1000 rounds I have used with the handgun. I would much rather take a reliable semi-automatic any day over a revolver. Just in case I miss I'll have about 7 more rounds to hit some guy with. Most revolvers won't give me more than 5 more rounds if I miss on the first shot. I have always been one to ask what if I need more ammunition? Revolvers take so long to reload too. I can just slam in another 7 round magazine to reload in about 1 second. Wheel guns have their advantages, but I would much rather take a reliable semi-automatic.
15 posted on 11/20/2001 9:24:50 AM PST by 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 14 | View Replies]

To: 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
"I have a .45 semi-automatic that has never jammed with the factory magazines"

I bought the cheapest magazines for my 1911 that you can imagine. They're terrible. I can't go through 14 rounds without a jam. Those are the ones I use for practice.

I use Wilson's in my carry gun.

16 posted on 11/20/2001 2:16:51 PM PST by Shooter 2.5
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 15 | View Replies]

To: 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
Why don't US police carry those nice little machine pistols or short carbines favored by European police? More fire power, longer sighting plane, stocks for stability?
17 posted on 11/20/2001 6:01:14 PM PST by Lessismore
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

I have recently become involved in a petition and I have been gathering signatures to petition John Ashcroft to nationally enforce the 2nd Amendment with Constitution burner states like California. Go to this internet site and look at the petition:

Here's is your chance to do something besides complain about our system. Download this, print it out, and get anyone over 18, who is a U.S.A. citizen, to sign and mail it off to the listed address. Exercise your 1st Amendment rights to support the 2nd Amendment.

18 posted on 11/21/2001 6:02:23 AM PST by 2nd_Ammendment_Defender
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 17 | View Replies]

To: all

The single most popular model is the Glock 17 which carries 18 rounds in out-of-the box configuration

Ah, yes, we harken back to the pre-ban days. Nowadays, John Q. Public is, by definition, a "bad guy" simply because he doesn't carry a badge. Good Guys get 18, Bad Guys get 10.

19 posted on 11/21/2001 12:49:01 PM PST by newgeezer
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Comment #20 Removed by Moderator

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-26 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson