An abridged version of this report was published in Officer Media Group's 2020 Firearms & Accessories Supplement. You can download a PDF copy of the supplement at Officer.com/21126869.
In October 2019 we conducted an online survey asking officers about their preferences in off-duty weapons. The primary goal was to find out what officers are actually carrying off-duty; not what they would, thought they wanted, thought was cool, etc The questions were almost all oriented around what they are carrying off-duty day to day right then. What we were seeking was insight into the current reality of off-duty carry weapons. If you’re a fan of social media and follow any of the current weapons pundits, you can easily come to believe that everyone is carrying a full-size competition class handgun with optics and flashlights attached. These images would lend people to believe that magazines have extended capacities via aftermarket floor plates and they carry what amounts to an offensive handgun weapon system in their favorite In-The-Waistband (IWB) holster in the appendix position.
We wanted to do a study to see if that perception actually equaled reality. Our results revealed a very different circumstance.
The set up and demographics
The survey was published online and distributed via our electronic newsletter and our social media outlets. In less than a week’s time we received over 2,500 responses to our nine questions. We intentionally avoided asking any questions about model of firearm, instead focusing on the make, caliber, capacity and accessories, e.g. sights, optics, lasers, lights, etc. For the sake of identifying the answering audience, we did ask a few questions about type of agency, length of service and current assignment. We were curious if there was a noticeable difference in preferred off-duty weapon based on the duty assignment or if there might be such a difference related to time in service or type of agency. For that, our first three questions revolved around agency type, years of experience, and current duty assignment.
Interestingly, with the low percentage of retired officers who responded, the greatest percentage of years of experience in respondents was 26+. Specifically, 40 percent of the respondents reported having 26 or more years of experience in law enforcement. Those who had 21 to 25 years of experience were 18.5 percent of the respondents. The numbers smoothly dropped off from there down to those with less than five years of experience making up seven percent of the respondents. Combined, those respondents with 11 or more years of experience made up 84 percent of all who completed the survey.
What does that mean? From an analysis stand point, we have a largely experienced and educated group who responded to our survey. If 84 percent had been “rookies” with less than five years of experience, one might reasonably wonder about the impartial results. With such a large number having significant experience, it’s safe to assume that the off-duty weapons selected are not due to lack of knowledge, some type of “cool” factor, etc. The people who answered our survey have selected their off-duty weapon with a balance of street / duty knowledge and off-duty need versus comfort.
For current duty assignment, the largest respondent group works in Uniformed Patrol. That group represented 36.5 percent of our respondents, with Administration/Command Staff the next largest group at 25.3 percent. Investigations made up just over 15 percent and Special Operations / SWAT was the smallest respondent group at 4.3 percent. Those who answered that they were assigned to work in Training made up 4.75 percent of the respondents. “Other” came in at 13.7 percent and would include such assignments as School Resource Officers, Marine Patrol, Civil Processing deputies, Crime Scene / Evidence assigned officers, etc.
It is worth noting that approximately 75 percent of our respondents work either in administration, patrol or special operations. There might be an assumption that the perceived off-duty needs between those three assignments would be vastly different. None of our data supports such an assumption. From the data mining and analysis done, the chief of police, the veteran patrol officer and the off-duty SWAT officer are all equally likely to be carrying the same (or similar) off-duty weapon.
We started out asking what caliber was carried. We listed what we felt were the most commonly carried calibers and then added an “Other” and let people specify. Not surprisingly, the 9mm came in at number one with 58.9 percent of the respondents carrying a weapon of that caliber off-duty. Also no surprise, the .40S&W came in second but with only 16.9 percent of the respondents selecting it. Double checking the “Other” replies we did find another seven respondents who specified a .40 caliber weapon, but that only brings the total percentage for .40S&W up to 17.1 percent.
Quite surprisingly (due to our assumptions going in), the 380ACP was the third most popular caliber carried off-duty with 9 percent of the respondents. .45ACP came in next at 7.3 percent, followed by .38/.357 revolver at 5.5 percent. Thirty respondents (1.2 percent) indicated that they carried a .357Sig off-duty and one respondent indicated a 10mm was their off-duty weapon of choice. The “Other” category also made up 1.2 percent and included everything from .22lr to 5.7x28. It’s of interest to note that in the “Other” category there was one .45 Long Colt specified and two .44 specials. Three respondents specified a .32 caliber weapon for their off-duty carry.
Over 51 percent of respondents indicated that their preferred off-duty weapon holds seven to ten rounds. "Eleven or more rounds" was the next largest group at 35.5 percent, with the "Six rounds or less" respondent group representing just over 13 percent.
Since we didn’t specify magazine capacity, depending on the outlook of the person answering the question, the Glock 43 and the Glock 26 could have both been in the "Seven to ten Rounds" category.
To avoid asking about model of off-duty weapon, but in an attempt to separate out various action types, we asked what action type the off-duty weapon was. "Striker Fired / Safe action" was the number one answer with over 75 percent of the respondents in that category. The next most popular answer was "Double Action/Single Action External Hammer semi-auto" at 8.5 percent. "Single Action Only External Hammer semi-auto" was next at 5.6 percent (this most likely represents all of the 1911-type pistols carried). "Double Action Revolvers" were next at 5.2 percent, followed by "Double Action Only Semi-autos" at 4.5 percent.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the survey was that 16 respondents (0.64 percent) indicated that they carry a "Single Action Only revolver" off-duty. It was included as half a joke and we didn’t expect to get any response to it. The joke was on us.
The next question did ask those taking the survey to specify the manufacturer of their off-duty weapon and Glock came in number one with 53.2 percent, followed by Smith & Wesson at 17 percent and SIG Arms/SIG Sauer at 12 percent. The remainder of the responses, collectively equaling 27.8 percent of the total responses included every major handgun manufacturer we can think of. Kimber and Colt were both well represented and a fair portion of the manufacturers listed were actually custom houses who rework other manufacturers’ weapons.
Specifically wanting to find out about the growing trend of red dot optics, laser aiming devices, and weapons with laser aiming devices mounted, we next asked about the sighting system on the off-duty weapons. The options offered were
- "Fixed Sights" (84.7 percent),
- "Adjustable sights" (9.1 percent),
- "Red Dot" (2.2 percent) and
- "Fixed or Adjustable with Laser" (3.9 percent)
It should be noted that some of those reported as Fixed Sights may well be drift adjustable and those answering were either unaware of that ability to adjust the sight(s) or they didn’t consider them adjustable because they often don’t look like such.
The last question was a simple yes or no: "Do you keep a light mounted on your most commonly carried off-duty weapon?" The “No” took it with 92 percent of the respondents falling on that side. That left eight percent, or 200 respondents, who reported having a light mounted on their off-duty weapon.
In looking back at these questions and answers, the results of this survey - if they are considered representative of the law enforcement community, clearly show that the large majority of officers are carrying a 9mm, striker fired weapon with fixed sights and no light attached. It is most likely carrying a minimum of seven rounds (even if that’s 6+1) and there’s an almost equal chance it is loaded with eleven rounds (10+1) or more. While these survey results don’t completely lay to rest the idea of a full-size, optic and light equipped off-duty weapon, they certainly show that such are not the most commonly carried off-duty weapons.