Hearing the word magazine, my split personality often locks on two interpretations. One takes me back to my first use of camouflage. As a teenager, my friends and I would sometimes hang around the local grocery store's magazine rack and casually select a Life Magazine or Field & Stream. Next, employing our best stealth technique, we'd quickly grab a copy of Playboy and slip it inside the decoy magazine. Using this adolescent cover up, we would spend the next few minutes closely reviewing the articles. Honest, just the articles. Then the store clerk—who probably knew what we are up to from the moment we appeared—would chase us off, until the next time.
The other application comes from the firearms world. A magazine is an integral part of your personal security device—AKA, a handgun or rifle—but truthfully, they're often taken for granted. This month's column is an effort to correct this affront to the "ammo bearers" inside our weapons and on our gun belts.
Clipped or Boxed?
Ranking just below opposing theories of how the earth was created is the question of whether the ammo source is a clip or a magazine. There's a difference, and what makes it worse is that people often don't know what they are talking about. Examples include street gangsters and, unfortunately, cops. And then of course there's those self-appointed firearms experts: the talking heads on the evening news. To help reduce the confusion, let's start off by defining the nomenclature difference.
A clip is an ammunition source that is "clipped" together and not enclosed in a metal box. For example, it's typically inserted into a rifle through the top with the bolt locked to the rear. The venerable M1 Garand rifle requires a clip of eight rounds that are held together by a metal bracket. It's pushed down through an open bolt to load the weapon. Those of you who are old school may have suffered the "M1 thumb" from not getting that digit out of the way when the bolt slams forward.
A magazine (also known as a "detachable box magazine") is a metal or, these days, polymer container. These are open at the top and contain a spring with a plate—called a follower—installed at the open end. Live ammo is placed on top of the follower. One round after another is forced down into the magazine against the spring's resistance. Once the magazine is inserted into a weapon, the spring forces rounds up to allow their chambering as the gun goes through the cycle of operation.
Like many modern firearms, the M-1's successor, the M1A/M-14 is loaded using a box magazine. Bonus trivia: The first detachable box magazine was adopted by the U. S. Military after the Civil War with the Remington-Lee Model 1879 rifle.
Now that that topic is hopefully settled until the end of days, let's talk care and maintenance.
One recommendation is to have two sets. The first set consists of duty mags. They should be treated with proper care because in an extended fire fight, they're part of an officer's survival kit.
Duty magazines should be loaded to proper capacity with factory ammo. This may sound like a non-issue until you come across an officer with a mixture of duty rounds and range ammo. Complacent cops have been found with ammo that's well beyond the recommended shelf life, and bullets with green crud on them is an even more serious firearms felony.
The second group of magazines should be exclusively for range training. These can be used and abused on a regular basis. Drop it the in dirt? Sure. Kick it around while moving? Of course.
These magazines should be part of your realistic training program. If, however, the range training is taking place on hard surfaces, pieces of carpet or cardboard should be placed at the shooters' feet to minimize damage to the mags when dropped. Training mags should be marked to indicate their purpose. Afterwards, they should be cleaned and inspected. It is not a bad idea that all magazines—duty or training—have the rightful owner's name on them.
Regular magazine inspections are a good idea. This is accomplished by unloading them and then inserting each one into a safe empty weapon. First, make sure it will lock in place. Then, work the bolt or slide. Unless designed otherwise—like my all time favorite, the original H&K MP-5—the magazine should replicate proper functioning when the gun runs dry. This means that depending upon the weapon, the bolt or the slide will lock to the rear due to the presence of an empty magazine. If it doesn't pass these two simple steps, then in my mind the mag is not combat capable. Don't use it, don't carry it. But the only way you will know for sure is to function check every once in a while.
Recently, I checked a Glock magazine and found that it had cracked vertically along the witness holes. That magazine will never see the interior of a handgun let alone be carried in one of my pouches. Similar inspections have found malfunction-causing problems like a broken lip on the top of an MP-5 magazine as well as a metal M-16 mag that had somehow been tweaked out of proper alignment.
Do the Math
Why load to proper capacity? Here's one scenario: After a shooting, an officer states he fired five rounds from his Colt 1911. Normal magazine capacity is seven, plus one in the chamber. It is a pretty good bet that all of the magazines will be inspected and their contents inventoried. If the officer didn't start his shift with the full load of seven in each mag, the discovery of that fact is a possible target topic for an attorney.
The logic would be something along the lines of "Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, the officer states he fired only five but there's only one round left in the magazine. The physical evidence clearly points to him not telling us about the sixth round he fired."
Think this is a stretch? How many times have you testified in court against an aggressive attorney? Often, they'll use anything they can to challenge our case, even small details like this. In response, your department may want to specify the type and number of rounds each magazine holds.
28 or 31?
Here's another magazine capacity thought focusing on 5.56 mm versions. During my time with the Marines, these came preloaded with 20 rounds and were discarded when empty. Today many are just extended versions with the same construction, but now we don't typically drop and forget them. Instead we use these magazines over and over, cramming 30 or even 31 rounds on top of the follower.
Here's an alternate suggestion. Load just 28 rounds. The reason involves carrying out a tactical reload. If the M-16 magazine (or others such as an MP-5 variant) is stuffed full of rounds and the weapon's bolt is forward, there's a good chance that the magazine won't lock into the mag well. Think this through with me. You've expended enough ammo to prompt you to reload rather than the gun running dry and telling you that you're empty. But the magazine you select won't lock in because its spring can't compress enough for it to properly seat due to too many rounds.
That's bad gun karma. To prevent it, either load only 28 or invest in new magazines that do handle a full 30 round load.
Where do we get them when we need them? What we're talking about here is how the extra magazines are carried.
A concept that may work is to adopt a "primary mag pouch" philosophy. This translates into building a conscious or, better yet, a subconscious link between recognizing the need for a new magazine and prompting the hand to obtain and load it.
Practice: Each time firearms training starts, the shooters have an empty weapon. To load, they draw a fresh magazine from their primary magazine pouch and insert it into the gun. After this is accomplished, another mag is transferred into the primary mag pouch, ready for another rep. The goal is to get as many repetitions as possible, training the mind to obtain that next magazine as smoothly as possible, especially under the extreme stress of a lethal force encounter.
How many magazines do officers carry? Often, the answer is "not enough." It is a matter of preparation. For a single-stack mag like a Colt 1911, three isn't enough. Even though we carry a lot more "cop stuff" on our duty belts these days, there are creative magazine pouch options out there that allow for extras. My duty rig has two double stack mags, but I'm considering adding a third.
For a patrol rifle, many think that two mags per officer are sufficient. That is very shortsighted when the realities waiting out there on the streets are considered, including criminals who have more magazines for their rifles then the cops. I'd suggest a minimum load of five magazines—one in the gun, plus four—carried in a "police"-marked load-bearing vest that can quickly be pulled on over the uniform.
That's it for this month. Take these suggestions and add them to your firearms program in any way that can help better prepare and train police officers. I'm going to head to the nearest magazine rack and pick up a copy of … Law Officer. Honest, just Law Officer.
Train safe. God bless America.