Those of you who read my columns regularly know that I often emphasize the importance of marksmanship fundamentals in achieving effective results when it is necessary to use firearms. Those fundamentals must be learned and practiced so that they are there when you need them. Everyone wants to go through their entire career without being involved in a gunfight, but if or when it does happen, it is too late to start learning those lessons. So we learn, and practice what we have learned, as best we can. Such emphasis on individual performance can give the impression that all that is necessary is to be a skilled operator. We sometimes forget that we should also be testing and evaluating the effectiveness of our equipment. If we have not achieved the results we expect, and we have verified that the shooter is doing his or her part, we then need to look at the tools. I mention this now for several reasons.
First, budget constraints and ammunition shortages have severely limited the ability of many agencies to maintain the training programs that they would prefer to conduct. As a result, the firearms and ammunition that are being used are not really being wrung out on the range to make sure they are performing properly.
Second, I am seeing both agencies and individuals having to change the ammunition they use because of availability, or lack of availability, of their familiar or preferred brands and types.
Third, I am seeing instances of equipment problems being misdiagnosed as user error, simply because someone is assuming that less practice means less skill. I want to emphasize right here that nothing I am saying should be considered an excuse for poor skills on the part of the shooter. Frankly, if there is a problem, it is usually the workman and not the tools, but not always. If the tools are not up to the task, they need to be changed, repaired or replaced.
Keep in mind that when I say gun, I am really talking about an operational system that is both the gun, including all of its parts, and the ammunition that is being fired from that particular gun. The firearms generally selected for agency use are excellent machines. They are built to be reliable and effective in the most demanding of conditions, that of protecting people's lives.
The same can be said for premium quality duty ammunition. It is rare that there are problems with reliability of modern ammo, as long as it is stored properly and inspected regularly. But sometimes there are problems with any machine and sometimes there are problems with any manufactured product. Also, combining a quality gun with quality ammunition sometimes produces non-quality results. Let's look at a few examples of how things can go wrong. And please remember, you only find these things out through hands-on experience and testing. Such experience and testing needs to happen on the range, not on the street!
Semi-automatic weapons are now pretty much the norm for law enforcement. There are still some revolvers out there, usually in back-up roles, but I am going to address semi-autos for now. The most obvious concern of the majority of people when shooting semi-auto pistols is feeding malfunctions. They can be shooter induced, but they can also be from damaged magazines, poor maintenance and incompatible ammunition. When a pistol is not feeding properly, and it isn't caused by the shooter, I usually look first at the ammunition, then at the magazines and then at the gun itself. I'll talk more about ammunition later. For now, let's look at the guns.
Are the magazines, especially the feed lips, damaged? I've seen magazines with dents in the body and feed lips bent out of shape from being dropped on hard surfaces. I've seen magazine springs that are simply worn out. Magazines are relatively cheap and should be replaced if they are damaged. Even if the body of the magazine isn't damaged, the springs should be changed based on the manufacturers recommended schedule. Every department should have a responsible, qualified person who does routine inspections and maintenance on all department firearms. The guns themselves have parts, especially springs, that should be replaced periodically and all manufacturers have recommended maintenance schedules. Follow them.