I read with some horror about the Empire State Building shooting the other day, but I wasn’t surprised when I heard that during the shoot-out the cops wounded nine bystanders. I shoot quite a bit. Guns are a hobby of mine. I’m not a great shot–thoroughly average at best, but I’m as good or better than most of the cops I see shooting at the range. Most cops don’t shoot much–often just during their regular qualifications. A few times a year, sometimes. And under adverse conditions, I’m not surprised that a few shots go astray. But nine wounded bystanders? That’s insane.
Then I read this:
NYPD cops are given a choice. They can have a SIG P226, a Glock 19, or a Smith & Wesson 5946. But no matter what they choose, the triggers are modified to have a 12 pound pull for every shot fired.
If you don’t know guns at all, this means little to you. So here’s a basic gun lesson. Semi-auto handguns come in a few varieties: single-action only, double-action only, and double-action/single-action. In a single-action handgun, the trigger performs one thing: it drops the hammer or striker, firing the gun. Usually the hammer is then re-cocked by the blowback of the bullet fired. If you pull the trigger without cocking the gun first (by pulling back the hammer or by racking the slide), the gun won’t fire. The 1911 handgun functions this way.
In double-action handguns, the trigger performs two actions: cocking the hammer back, and then dropping the hammer. This means that the user of the gun need not worry if the hammer is cocked before using the gun, saving a step (the racking of a slide, for instance, that is required before firing a single-action handgun). The downside is that because the trigger is doing more work (two actions) it requires quite a bit more force. A single-action trigger pull might be in the 4-6 pound range. Double-action trigger pulls are up in that 10+ pound range. Many old-style revolvers are double-action only, because the design doesn’t allow for bullet blowback to cock the gun.
In a double-action/single-action handgun, the first round can be fired without cocking the hammer, but subsequent shots need only drop the hammer. First trigger pulls will be 10+ pounds, but later pulls of the trigger will be 4-6. The Beretta 92 carried by US Marines (who call it the M9) is this type of handgun.
Most modern handguns are double-action/single-action. The NYPD modifies their guns to be double-action only. End of lesson.
This is why the NYPD’s 12-pound trigger pull is insane: that first shot in double-action (at 12 pounds) is very difficult to control. It’s fine in a situation where you want a safe gun but still need to respond quickly (like a cop) to have the first shot be a bit heavy. But to have every single shot have a 12-pound trigger pull is just asking for absolutely lousy marksmanship. And in this situation, nine people got hurt. Even decent marksmen would have trouble with a double-action trigger pull on each shot.
Seriously, go follow that link above. There’s a comparison with the results an experienced marksman gets from these two different designs.
I’m sure they do the 12-pound trigger pull to prevent negligent discharges of weapons, but that’s a problem that could best be solved by training rather than crippling the tools cops need to end violent situations quickly without harming innocents. Given that trained cops would carry a standard double-action/single-action with the hammer decocked anyway, making the handguns double-action only doesn’t actually make them any safer.