Wednesday, July 16, 2003

The lovely (& talented) Annika wrote to ask me a question about a specific subject in an article she was reading about Glock pistols. Upon reading the article in question I realized that it had been far too long since I delivered a proper fisking that addressed a news articles lack of technical knowledge about firearms as well as the LAPD's reasoning in switching sidearms. Hence, we have this post. (Note to Glock fans: expect less than a favorable treatment on the LAPD's wisdom in adopting this particular pistol.)

LAPD may adopt powerful weapon
By Mariel Garza
Staff Writer

Looking to better arm officers who face heavy firepower from criminals, LAPD will likely soon add the futuristic Glock pistol to its arsenal.

Heavy firepower from criminals? Does this mean the dreaded .500 S&W Magnum has made it onto the streets of L.A.?

The Glock is fast becoming the standard for police agencies nationwide. The metal-and-plastic Glock would provide greater stopping power than the current standard-issue Beretta 9 mm without the added weight of a .45-caliber handgun, the LAPD's alternate sidearm.

The statement taken by itself is erroneous. It is a cartridge that determines what ‘stopping power’ is, not the platform from which it was launched.

If the Police Commission approves the plan, many of the 6,000 officers still using the Beretta are expected to upgrade to the .40-caliber Glock.

Upgrade is a very subjective term, especially here. But it would have been more accurate to say the upgrade was from a 9x19mm cartridge to a .40 S&W cartridge, not necessarily the platforms used to launch the cartridges in question. Also I would be curious to know why the LAPD didn't just switch calibers. Beretta makes a .40 S&W version of their model 92: it's called the model 96. I would further speculate that one should be able to convert a 9mm Beretta 92 to .40 S&W by simply changing the slide assembly & magazine - thereby saving money (slides & magazines are much cheaper than whole pistols) & training time since the basic operation of the weapon would be the same. Of course I could be mistaken about merely exchanging slide assemblies & magazines.

While the Beretta would still be the Los Angeles Police Department's standard-issue sidearm, officers would be able to buy the $500 Glock themselves, using money from their $850-a-year equipment stipend.

From Merriam-Webster:
Logistics 1 : the aspect of military science dealing with the procurement, maintenance, and transportation of military matériel, facilities, and personnel
2 : the handling of the details of an operation

Granted - a police department has different needs than a military organization (& rightly so) but it is usually not a good idea to have two different weapons in two different calibers that serve the purpose of a main weapon.

"It's got a little more stopping power than 9 mm, but not the same recoil of .45," said Officer Mike Horan, with the LAPD's Firearms Unit.

(* To clarify - If the officer is talking about the difference between a .45 acp Glock as oppossed to a .40 S&W Glock, then the statement may be true. If he refers to a .45 acp 1911 or some other type of pistol heavier than the Glock his statement may be false.)

The officer's statement may be true on its face but I feel it's intent is erroneous. Recoil often varies between two guns of the same make using different ammunition so it's true that the recoil isn't the same. However in the context I feel the implication was there is less recoil than the .45acp. This may or may not be true.

Recoil can be explained by basic laws of physics. Many variables come into play such as projectile weight, powder charge, weight of the firearm, etc. So the Glock 21 (in .45acp) weighing in at around 26 ounces empty would presumably have more free recoil than a Springfield Armory Mil-Spec 1911 (also in .45acp) which weighs in around 35 ounces empty. Now loaded magazines increase the weight for both pistols & the ammunition used may have variances in bullet & charge weight. But all things being equal except for the weight of each pistol when loaded & ready to fire the heavier pistol will generate less free recoil.

For example if we assume the Glock 21's loaded weight is 38.28 ounces (26.28 ounces unloaded plus a loaded magazine that weighs 12 ounces), the bullets weight is 230 grains per bullet, the charge weight is 7.5 grains & the muzzle velocity is around 950 feet per second that gives us a free recoil energy of about 8.69 foot-pounds.

If we assume the Springfield Mil-Spec 1911's loaded weight is 45 ounces (35 ounces unloaded plus a loaded magazine that weighs 10 ounces) the bullet weight being 230 grains per bullet, the charge weight being 7.5 grains & the muzzle velocity being around 950 feet per second we have a free recoil energy of approximately 7.39 foot pounds.

Now in all fairness, or unfairness as the case may be, the comparison was between an unspecified .45 acp chambered pistol & a Glock pistol in .40 S&W which I will assume is the Glock 22.

Going by the above variables (altered slightly because of the change in cartridges) if we assume the loaded weight of the Glock 22 to be 34.38 ounces (22.92 ounces unloaded plus a loaded magazine that weighs 11.46 ounce) with the bullet weight being 165 grains per bullet, the charge weight being 9.9 grains & the muzzle velocity aorund 100 feet per second we arrive at a free recoil energy of 7.67 foot-pounds.

To sum up the Springfield 1911 in .45 acp has a free recoil energy of 7.39 foot-pounds. The Glock 21 in .45 acp has a free recoil energy of 8.69 foot pounds. The Glock 22 in .40 S&W has a free recoil energy of 7.67 foot-pounds. Those numbers only apply to the variables I used. Change bullet weight, powder weight, etc.. & the numbers will change in proportion.

Only if the Glock 21 in .45 acp was used in the statement by the officer would it be true. If the mystery .45 acp chambered pistol was a 1911 type then it would be false.

One more thing about recoil: while there are precise ways to come up with a number, recoil is perceptive to an extent. The numbers are usually good for relative comparisons (this one has a higher free recoil energy than that one so it must kick harder) but a persons perception can affect how recoil is felt.
For example I have a .40 S&W which I feel has more recoil than most .45 acp's that I've shot. But I have friends who swear the opposite is true - that the .45 acp generates much more recoil.

For your convenience here is a link to some free downloadable files that will calculate recoil, cost per round, pressure estimates from velocity, etc... should you wish to explore the matter further.

Even smaller police departments have adopted the Austrian-made Glocks, citing accuracy, dependability and durability.
"It's a great little gun," said San Fernando Police Chief Anthony Alba. "It's got the same trigger pull, every time."

A single action such as the 1911 has the same trigger pull every time. So do double action only firearms. This isn't necessarily the great thing that this officer & Glock would like you to believe.

They make the statement in comparison to a traditional double action semi-automatic which has a long relatively heavy trigger pull for the first shot (because it cocks the hammer) & a relatively light trigger pull for the subsequent shots (because the slide cocks the hammer as the action cycles).
This is a trivial comparison. It takes about two minutes to demonstrate the difference in trigger pulls encountered in a traditional double action & I would assume probably 20 minutes on the range to get used to it. The advantage to the traditional double action is that you can carry the hammer uncocked. The first trigger pull will cock the hammer. This in some people's minds decreases the danger of an accidental discharge as you have a relatively heavy trigger pull for the first shot. It also provides for some people a sense of safety that the pistol won't fire if dropped since the hammer is down. But the main benefit is after you have dealt with the initial, heavy trigger pull you have a relatively light trigger pull for the rest of your shots. & all things being equal a lighter trigger pull is usually more beneficial to accuracy than a heavy one.

With the Glock you have a relatively light trigger pull (when compared to the traditional double action pistol) on the first shot & a relatively heavy trigger pull (when compared to the traditional double action pistol) for each subsequent shot.
Personally I prefer either the single action or traditional double action. But I see no real advantage in having a double action trigger pull for each shot. Any areas of concern with the single action or traditional double action systems can be overcome with adequate training. & not much more training than learning to operate a double action only trigger pull such as the Glock.

San Fernando police officers traded in their Sig Sauers two months ago after a colleague accidentally dropped his half-cocked weapon in the parking lot and it discharged, striking him in the head and killing him.

I wonder if they'd trade in their cruisers for another make if a cop lost control while doing a high speed turn? I am always sorry to hear about accidental deaths but at the risk of being callous you should be careful not to drop your firearm for reasons such as this.

& I am unaware of the Sig-Sauer pistols having a 'half'cock' setting. It is either fully cocked or not cocked at all. Half cock notches are usually limited to certain lever action rifles & single action revolvers from the late 19th century. I would be curious to find out the particulars. But in any event the carelessness of one person is no reason to abandon a perfectly good weapons system.

Glocks cannot discharge accidentally because they don't have external safety locks, police say, relying instead on a trigger lever that must be depressed to shoot. It's like the gun is always on -- and always off.

B.S. Any mechanical device can fail. Any device operated by a human is subject to operator error. The only real safety when dealing with firearms is located between the operators ears.
In any event external safety locks do not cause a probability of accidental dischargers. They are designed to reduce the possibility of a weapon firing unintentionally.
The much touted trigger lever that acts as a safety is nothing more than a variant of internal safety devices found on other pistols. In effect they prevent the firing pin or striker from contacting the primer in the cartridge unless the trigger is pulled.
But whether or not this feature is innovative or a carefully packaged variant of pre-existing cocnepts does not change the fact that if a person puts his/her finger on the trigger & applies pressure the firearm will disharge. There is no mechanical safety that will prevent operator error where an ill trained or generally negligent person is involved.

Despite the faith of the police in the inherent safety of the Glock I refer you to this link that deals with the capability of the Glock to fire out of battery & to this link about the accidental discharge of a glock as it was being loaded.

They dropped it from a helicopter to see if it would discharge on impact -- it didn't. They ran over it with a car to see if it would fire when squished -- it still didn't. And they dropped it in mud to see if it would fire when clogged with goo -- it did.
"It shoots under water; you can roll over them with your SUV; they don't fire when dropped," said Aristotle Rogel, manager of Stevenson Gun Country in Burbank, which is a main supplier of Glocks to law enforcement agencies locally.

I would assume the same about many other fine quality pistols that are available. However I don't think the whole truth is being told. I refer you to this information about the DEA frisbee tests of the Glock.

As a side note - all pistols can fire underwater so long as the cartridges are not saturated. The trick is to have a slightly heavier firing pin or striker spring to provide enough momentum to detontate the primer. The water will sometimes cause enough resistance to prevent adequate force from being transfered to the primer. The most important thing it to completely submerse the firearm. a barrle half in/half out of water will explode.

But I find it a little suspect that these glowing reports are coming from a man engaged in the business of selling Glocks.

"It always works when you pull the trigger," Rogel said

Nope. Any mechanical device can & will fail. No firearms reliability is absolute. But I submit to you the following on the reliability of the Glock: NYPD Phase Three Malfunctions with the Glock 19.

It's been less than 15 years since LAPD officers used .38-caliber barrel revolvers. After a two-year pilot program, they switched in 1989 to the semiautomatic 9 mm, citing a need to compete with better-equipped criminals.

Just how are the criminals better equipped? Someone needs to relay to them the old axiom that states you are never outgunned if you don't miss.
In any event the 'need' was probably more perceived than real. I would like to see the percentage of shootings where an officer fired more than 6 shots out of necessity. This would not include emptying a magazine into a car as it's driving away as has happened in several places across the country as of late.

Less than a decade later, officers again felt outgunned. Complaints that LAPD weapons couldn't match the equipment of the criminals were brushed aside until the 44-minute North Hollywood bank shootout in 1997, when armor-clad robbers armed with machine guns made the LAPD's 9 mm handguns look like pea shooters.
The televised event reopened the argument and paved the way for the department to allow use of the heavier, more powerful .45-caliber. They offered more shooting power but were too heavy to be a realistic choice for everyone.
That's why Burbank went right to the .40-caliber Glock, which has equal power, but is smaller and lighter, with less kick.

So a .40 S&W will make a difference if they're faced with fully automatic rifles? Or even a .45acp? The only thing Glock makes that would have helped in the North Hollywood bank robbery/shoot-out is hand grenades.
Bullet proof vests are made to different levels, but most will stop any of the handgun rounds the LAPD would consider. But must vests will not stop a relatively weak rifle round such as the .223 Remington or the .30-30 Winchester of lever action fame.
& no bullet proof vest will help if you're shot in the head. When the cops realized the bank robbers were wearing vests they should have started aiming for the head. If they had been trained properly, or more precisely practiced enough to keep their skills up then a head shot would have ended that mess much sooner than the time it took.

But a change in pistols will not help the situation.

"The officers need to have weapons to fight back," said City Councilman Dennis Zine, a retired LAPD sergeant who argued for the LAPD to allow officers to carry a .45-caliber after the North Hollywood shooting. "(Otherwise), it's like giving a firefighter a garden hose to put out a fire."

Then again with proper training & practice the officers should be able to handle all but the rarest of occasions with the equipment they currently have, which is not anywhere near the bottom of the list of reliable equipment.

Ann Reiss Lane, the founder and a board member of Women Against Gun Violence, agreed that there's a lot of firepower on the streets. "As long as those weapons are available, I understand why police feel they need them."

What the bloody hell is a quote from an anti-gun group doing in an article about the LAPD changing its weapons?

In fact the whole article is hypocritical to the nth degree. It states that officers needed to abandon low capacity weapons to counter the threat of criminals, but yet makes no mention of the fact that civilians are limited to low capacity weapons. It talkes of the need to have a well armed police force to deal with the criminal element yet makes no mention of the need for citizens to be well armed to deal with the same criminal element, despite the fact that the general public deals with criminals more frequently than the police do. & to top it off an anti-gun group board member gets to put in her two cents?
Also they fail to mention the LAPD's efforts to take away .50 caliber firearms from their citizens.

Mariel Garza can be reached at (213) 978-0390 and

All in all most of the factual errors came from cops. but it might be worth mentioning that to the reporter in question.

One more thing about Glocks:
They have unsupported chambers. This means that the cartridge case is not fully enclosed by the chamber when the cartridge is discharged. With lower pressure rounds this is not that big of a deal. but with higher pressure rounds such as the .40 S&W this can be catastrophic. What is supposed to happen in a fully supported chamber is that the case expands upon firing & is stopped by the chamber, thus forming a tight seal that prevents any gas from escaping & damaging the gun &/or blowing back into your face. With an unsupported chamber if the pressure is too high the case expands too much & the cartridge is not stopped from its expansion in the unsupported portion of the chamber. This can lead to several nasty things: the best being a ruptured case which shoots gas & brass fragments back at you & the worst being a structural failure of the firearm (in other words the gun blowing up).

Here are examples of what can go wrong: a Glock FAQ that deals with catastrophic failures

Glocks major problems

A Glock 36 fails

A Glock 35 fails

A Glock model 30 fails

Glock 21 & 22 failures

A Glock 21 fails

Most of the Glock related links are from The Gun Zone which is run by a fellow name of Dean Speir. I highly recommend browsing over there as some of the info to be found is invaluable.

Now all this doesn't mean I wouldn't use a Glock if I absolutely had to. But I feel there are better choices from company's that seem to be more up front about their products. Besides, I simply don't have enough faith in the separation of assembly lines to buy a pistol from a company that makes hand grenades. :)

* Annika pointed out that the wording could have been a little better phrased to clarify my point, so I added what I hope to be a more concise explanation of why the statement made by the officer may be incorrect. I am not one to argue with a conservative lady who spent so much time behind enemy lines. But in my defense I must add that if I had more time I would have written it simpler.

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