Monday, May 11, 2015

Should Police Use Glocks? (Updated)

Bob Owens, who operates the Bearing Arms blog, had an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Times suggesting that police should not be issued Glock handguns. He notes several accidental shootings that he attributes to the fact that the officer was using a Glock, and why that was an issue:
The underlying problem with these pistols is a short trigger pull and the lack of an external safety. In real-world encounters, a short trigger pull can be lethal, in part because a significant percentage of law enforcement officers — some experts say as high as 20% — put their finger on the trigger of their weapons when under stress. According to firearms trainers, most officers are completely unaware of their tendency to do this and have a hard time believing it, even when they're shown video evidence from training exercises.

For more than 35 years, officer-involved accidental discharges with Glocks and Glock-like weapons have been blamed on a lack of training or negligence on the part of the individual cops. What critics should be addressing instead is the brutal reality that short trigger pulls and natural human reflexes are a deadly combination.
He relied on three examples: two shootings of residents of New York housing projects by officers using Glocks, and a training accident, where a police trainer fatally shot one of his trainees while demonstrating how to disassemble a Glock (to make matters worse, the officer killed had been wearing a bullet-proof vest, but the bullet entered through a gap on the side of the body).

Mike McDaniel responds to Owens' article at The Truth About Guns Blog. However, this is my take on the issue. First, Owens picked three shootings out of how many accidental/negligent discharges? I don't know if he cherry picked these shootings, or they were simply incidents of which he was aware. But without looking at the overall statistics for different firearms, we don't know whether there is a higher chance of an accidental discharge with a Glock versus other pistols. Historic data would also be useful, because it would also be helpful to know if accidental discharges had increased, decreased, or remained the same after the adoption of the Glock. I was not able to find any statistics on accidental discharges in a quick search, and frankly doubt that such statistics exist. Unless someone is injured or killed, who is going to report a negligent discharge?

However, there are some limited statistics available that can provide us with some clues. I would note this 2003 report from the National Shooting Sports Foundation that indicates that deaths due to accidental/negligent discharges fell 45% during the time frame of 1990-2000. Obviously, this doesn't address ADs by type of weapon, but we can see that during a time that Glocks were overwhelming their competitors in the police and civilian markets, the number of deaths due to ADs declined. Presumably, this reflects an overall decline in ADs.

Another useful report is the SOP-9 reports issued by the New York Police Department, which lists information on unintentional discharges by its officers. In looking at the 2011 report, The report lists 13 ADs, of which 7 involved Glock weapons. The reports goes on to indicate that since 2001, 71% of unintentional discharges involved Glocks, and primarily blamed the need to depress the trigger in order to disassemble a Glock. However, that was only 22 incidents over a 10 year period with a police force numbering over 35,000. And we don't know what percentage of officers carried Glocks.

Turning to the 2012 report, it reported a total of 21 incidents for the year, of which 13 involved service weapons. Of those involving service weapons, however, 23% were Sig Sauers, 31% were Glocks, and 46% were Smith & Wessons. Although there was no break down of the non-service weapons by brand, of the 21 total incidents, 3 incidents (i.e., 21%) involved revolvers.

The most recent report available appears to be the 2013 report. In that year, there were only 12 unintentional discharges. Of the 12 firearms involved, two were revolvers (both Smith & Wesson), five were Glocks, and three were Sig Sauers.

Unfortunately, the reports do not provide information on number of each brand of duty weapon issued. (Although Mike McDaniel reviews the three main firearms authorized by the Department here). However, if Glocks make up a majority of the NYPD's service weapons, it is not clear from the 2012 and 2013 reports that Glocks are more likely to result in an AD than other types of autoloaders.

Second, Owens contends that the short trigger pull is responsible for the ADs. Two of the incidents involved the NYPD which uses Glocks with a 12 pound trigger pull. I realize that the length of a pull is different from the weight of a pull. But, unless Owens is contending that a person will only clench his or her trigger finger a certain distance when surprised or exerting him or herself, the weight of the pull should be more significant. In any event, Owens' argument would not explain the ADs that NYPD officers had with Sigs and S&Ws, which do have long trigger pulls.

Third, it is the failure to keep the finger off the trigger, reholster the weapon when performing exerting activities, and unloading the weapon before performing maintenance, that is the issue--not the lack of an external safety or length of trigger pull.

In short, Owens relies on anecdotal evidence that very well may not be indicative of the actual problem. At this point, there is insufficient evidence to suggest that Glocks are more likely to result in ADs than other types of semi-automatic handguns used by police.

Update (5/12/2015): Bob Owens apparently has received less than complimentary remarks to his op-ed, and so has posted a defense to his claim at the Bearing Arms blog. He lists certain handguns he believes would be acceptable, including the Sig Sauer “P”-series and Smith & Wesson’s metal-frame semiautomatics which are the very firearms noted above in the SOP-9 reports from the NYPD. So, I still think that Owens has failed to carry the burden of showing that long-trigger pull firearms are going to be any safer than the Glock trigger.

Second Update (5/13/2015): "Who Are You, and What Have You Done with Bob Owens?" from the Armed Lutheran.

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