FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
Retirement brings with it many changes, and many opportunities to learn. Over the past six years I have learned to enjoy naps, work a variety of interesting jobs and assignments, and to de-stress. I have also had the opportunity to review my arsenal of carry handguns, and refine then.
Unless you continue to serve in a part time status, or some other "regular" phase of police work, you realize that your needs for carrying have changed. No longer is capacity a serious consideration. The rules of engagement have changed you are no longer duty bound to intercede in any crime that occurs in your presence, and instead, as with any other lawfully carrying citizen, your firearm use is solely to prevent serious harm to yourself or another. Concealment and reliability become primary considerations.
But along with these thoughts came others. Generically, what is the most common carry firearm of the working cop? Is it the duty firearm? For some, perhaps. I am...large...and could easily conceal a Glock 17. But for most, the duty firearm is an eight to twelve hour daily companion, while the back-up often does yeoman duty as the off-duty piece as well, thus becoming potentially a 16 hour a day companion.
Back-up. So there is no confusion, I am referring to a small framed firearm of moderate to heavy caliber, a revolver or semi-automatic, which meets the basic definition of a duty firearm as well, and may be carried by some (administrators, investigators, undercover personnel, plainclothes specialty patrol personnel) as a duty firearm. It is not meant, in this context, to refer to deep cover, last ditch firearms, such as mini-revolvers, small caliber semi-automatics, and derringers.
When Revolvers Were Kings
When dinosaurs ruled the streets, they carried revolvers four and six inch barreled, six shot, usually .38 Special or .357 Magnum, large, strong, capable machines. Over the past 25 years, revolvers have disappeared from most duty holsters, just as the dinosaur cops have been replaced by a new breed. Today's holster is likely to carry a Glock, Sig, or Beretta, and in some agencies, a 1911 or its clone. Yet we often will find the revolver, in its J-frame or equivalent style, as a back-up, off-duty, or concealed carry firearm.
Despite the obsolescence of the revolver as a duty handgun, its small brother brings benefits to the area of concealed carry. First and foremost is reliability. Concealment means exposing the firearm to dirty environments. Pocket carry means lint, inside the waistband means lint and sweat, and ankle carry means lint, street dust and dirt, and splashes from puddles. While responsible firearms carry includes maintenance, reality often defines the frequency of cleaning. Travel? Your opportunities to do more than blow the dust off the handgun may be very limited. Live in a wet environment (any of the east coast, especially the southeast and Gulf coasts, the Great Lakes area, or the Pacific Northwest) and you may be soaked on a regular basis, a problem even if you clean your piece daily. The revolver, a simpler design, with generally more forgiving tolerances, will usually carry on where the tighter built semi-auto will experience one or another function problem.
The simplicity of the revolver also makes it a survivor in the concealment role. The manual of arms especially appeals to the individual who is not deeply into firearms, or into practicing with them to develop the muscle memory skills to manipulate the various controls of an automatic. Draw, aim, squeeze, and the revolver dependably works.
However, the small frame automatic should not be denigrated over these points. It offers important offsets to the revolver. Most valuable is in comfort and conceal ability. By nature, autos are flat. Where revolvers have the bulging cylinder, the semi-automatic lies flat, making waist carry especially much easier.
The auto also offers faster reloading, and more convenient and concealable carry of reloads. The magazine is a faster form of reload over either the "speed strip" or speed loader; push a button, drop the empty, slide in and lock the loaded magazine, and you are back in business. The speed loader is bulky, being basically the size of the revolver cylinder; the magazine is slim and trim, easily carried in a pocket without telling bulk.
Until the mid-1990s, semi-automatic design was primarily aimed at the high capacity market. Two political moves brought about the design and production of smaller autos. The "Assault Weapons Ban" of the Clinton administration, limiting non law enforcement magazines to ten rounds, was one; at 700,000, the law enforcement market is still only a small fraction of the firearm-owning public. Second was the adoption by a growing number of states of "shall issue" concealed carry permits, thus making concealed carry by law abiding citizens an easier and more common occurrence.
Concealed carry also brings new challenges to the form of carry. Holsters may be ankle, hip, shoulder, inside-the-waistband (IWB), pocket, waist-band, or t-shirt styles. Often, your choice is limited by geography and climate. As a Floridian, in a routine uniform of t-shirt and jeans, my primary choices are IWB or ankle. Folks in the wintery north would find an ankle untenable, but may well be able to wear a hip or shoulder holster, at least during the winter months. During wet months ankle carry may expose the handgun to unnecessary perils. Waist bands may work well for the physically fit by but are a poor choice for those of us with Rubenesque figures.
As one chooses a concealed carry firearm, the question of caliber arises. Often we attempt to carry the same caliber in all our duty oriented firearms. If choosing a revolver, unless you can locate either an S&W or Ruger in 9mm Luger, you will most likely be carrying an auto caliber as a duty gun and a .38 Special revolver; not a serious problem, but one to be considered. If you choose a Smith and Wesson lightweight revolver, recognize that they are designed for use of .38 Special +P only; in a lightweight frame this may be a consideration if you are recoil-conscious. The same applies to semi-autos; the smaller frames of highly concealable pistols do not absorb recoil as do the frames of duty pistols. I chose the .45 over the .40 S&W because I found the impulse of a .40 to be disturbing over the recoil of the .45. The smaller the frame, the greater this impulse or recoil becomes.
Over the next several months I will look at a variety of concealable handguns that may serve the function of back-up, off-duty, or concealed carry pistol. There are a wide variety of choices on the market; manufacturers have recognized the importance of this area and have given us a growing variety of concealable handguns fitting a wide range of carry needs and pocketbooks. Additionally, various carry methods will be examined, to look at specific manufacturers' methods of addressing the needs of concealed carry. Whether for back-up, plain-clothes, off-duty, or general concealed carry, we have options today that we have never before had available, options that permit us to trim our carry to our individual needs.