Editor's Notebook: Lesson From Old Cops

Sep 23, 2015
Editor's Note: This piece is a feature from our companion service The Tactical Wire from October 22, 2013. The advice herein is as relevant today as it was then.
While not one of the guns owned by gents referred to in the text, it's an example of a slightly later model of the breed. It's set up for use by its owner: S&W Magna stocks and a Tyler T-Grip.
I recently saw another in a seemingly unending stream of internet missives on how a particular make and model of sidearm was worthless in a fight; how you'd be a fool to select this particular firearm. Comments on the opinion piece ranged from conspiracy theories as to the gun's very existence to "only Brand X is a decent self-defense pistol." It went on to degenerate into the endless caliber controversy, silly and irrelevant as that is. The fact is that the gun closest to hand when the trouble starts is the one you'd best be able to use. As to what's best for the individual, "let those who ride decide." Still, proximity has its benefit and if the gun is ill-fitting or not a favorite, it's great so long as it works. But, I shouldn't be hard on the original poster nor on the people who commented on the original post. After all, I knew everything too when I was in my twenties. As I amble into my dotage, I'm convinced of less and less "facts." At a Christmas gathering of the clan in the Dark Ages (the early 1970s), I was confronted by a pair of my uncles. They engaged me on the proper sidearm for self-defense. An early reader of Jeff Cooper, I knew the answer: the modern heavy-duty major-caliber autoloading pistol. The only one of those to my knowledge at that time was the U.S. Pistol, caliber .45, Model 1911 (and variants). I'd had some experience with those in high school, something you don't see nowadays – and that's too bad. Both of the old timers shook their heads sadly. Then I was treated to "facts." "Jamma-matic." "Can't hit a barn with one – from the inside!" "Doesn't point well." Both of these birds were cops, one a cow-country deputy sheriff and the other a suburban city cop. They were experienced, I was not – I was just "book smart."
Can't hit anything with those heavy double-action triggers, right?
"So, what's your answer?" I was more than a little surprised when they gave the same answer. "The four-inch Combat Masterpiece for uniform, the two-inch Combat Masterpiece for plainclothes." I was stunned that they didn't realize that the feeble .38 Special was a "widow-maker," that revolvers were hard to work on, that the double action trigger didn't lend itself to accuracy. Without raising those issues, I asked why. First, the .38 Special was widely available, though mostly as midrange wadcutters or 158 grain roundnose lead with just a little Super-Vel showing up in our part of the world. Next, the .38 Special was (and is) a wonderfully accurate cartridge. The DA revolver, in that type of format, had been around since the 1890s – a little more time on Earth than my favored semi-auto horse pistol. The adjustable sights played into the precision of the round – as did the smooth action of the S&W K-frame revolver. Gun doesn't fit? Change stocks. While you can't get much smaller (comfortably) than the Magna stocks, you could put on more sizable lumber and Pachmayr Presentation stocks were already around even in that ancient era. "You could do better for a small gun," I said, "if you'd go to the Chief Special."
This pair of revolvers had been destined for NYPD officers in that short period between "blue .38 Special revolvers, four-inch or two-inch" and the authorized semi-autos.
"That hides better," said one. "But the action isn't near as good. And the two-inch version of the holster gun means everything's the same – just more easily hidden." Poor delusional old guys. A few years later, I was present at our police range when then-Captain Don Marshall took his four-inch Model 15 out of his swivel holster and replaced it with a two-inch M15. I watched him shoot a qualifying course clean putting 60 rounds into a hole the size of my fist as he shot all the way back to 25 yards. Later, I got a 2 1/2" Model 19 – nearly the same, with a shrouded ejector rod and chambered for the .357 Magnum. Wearing it in a Roy Baker Pancake holster, I cleaned the police qual – though not nearly as well as that police captain had. It's not the hammer, as they say. While the hardest part of hiding a handgun is the part you grip, the big snubs handle quite well – the challenge is in hiding them. There's something to be said for finding a system and sticking with it. At the same time, life's too short to confine your studies to one weapon system. Besides, it's good to know how to handle a wide range of firearms. Just in case. -- Rich Grassi