There have been, articles, books – volumes – written on how to improve police morale; everything from psychological and public media “pep-talks” to awards, to new state-of-the-art equipment. The transition from revolvers to pistols, way back in the ’80s, to equalize firepower against the bad guys was an unmitigated boost to LEO morale. Of course, other items such as protective vests and personal radios were great, but they had trade-offs – radios were heavy on the belt and you couldn’t be 2-7 without being monitored and vests were hot. Along came hi-cap pistols. That was comforting … and cool until proliferation into the civilian sector. An upgraded level of firepower, not only as a safety factor, but as a deterrent to murderous criminals might also be a solution to morale issues.
The morale of the police rank & file is paramount to effective and trustworthy guardians of society. But morale of the public, including elected officials, is equally necessary for a law-abiding proletariat and aristocracy alike. Of course, the media (including social as well and commercial sources) can and do control or sway opinion that generates morals and morale. The key to the media is in the persons and powers of various groups who influence the diverse media projectors. “Morale is the capacity of a group of people to pull together persistently and consistently in pursuit of a common purpose” (1). Unlike skills or knowledge, morale is an intangible that can’t be measured by a simple test as it improves or deteriorates with changes in conditions.
Police officers are a special breed. They must be able to maintain a high level of morale – officers must feel confident in their own safety to be able to successfully protect society as well as themselves. Thus, it would be unconscionable to expect LEOs to be equipped with nothing less than state-of-the-art, optimal tools and products in order to effectively perform their sworn duties. Now might be the time to bring about a change to enhance police safety and boost morale while better protecting society.
Prior to about 2000, carrying any type of firearm open or concealed was prohibited – LEOs excepted. Then followed a run of legislative and court cases that eroded this exclusivity. Almost overnight most states commenced permitting/licensing procedures for all qualified citizens to pack heat in public. Carrying a gun was no longer an exclusive police privilege. This generated a consciousness of anxiety as well as a sub-conscious lessening of police morale. In other words, any civilian could legally carry a concealed firearm – you didn’t have to be a cop to do so. Couple this loss of uniqueness with court rulings narrowing the use of force by LEOs and expanding civilian stand-your-ground laws and morale, again, took a hit.
Due to mechanical and manufacturing improvements and to meet the demand, gun makers began producing more semi-auto models that had a larger capacity than the tried & true 6-shot revolver. In addition, and with pressure from police and the expanding number of civilian concealed carriers, ammunition producers created bullets with greater stopping power. Now, with the bad guys packing these hi-capacity handguns loaded with more devastating bullets, it became evident that the protection and ability for LEOs to successfully survive a firefight, the tried & true was no longer true. Knowing that the criminal element was out-gunning the police, morale took an additional blow.
Why do police shoot so many times? This question was succinctly answered by FBI Special Agent John Huber: “In cases when lethal use of force is justified, inflicting a single, non-fatal wound is not enough to remove the threat that person represents to the officer or others. One single shot from police is not enough when use of lethal force is legally justified. Unless an airway or certain parts of the central nervous system, such as the brain stem or upper spinal cord, are struck by a bullet, a person isn’t guaranteed to lose consciousness until they lose about 40-to-50 percent of their blood … That’s why officers are trained to fire multiple times when they are justified in doing so.” (2).
“In the 1980s and 1990s, police found themselves outgunned by criminals … We have allowed ourselves to become a country where the weapons available on the street force police officers to respond in kind to survive. Until the laws change, the police will be on the responsive end of an arms race over which they have no control. It is not the time to deprive our police officers of the equipment they need to survive on the streets.” (3).
Perhaps, it’s time to return some amount of exceptionality – exclusiveness – to the out-gunned and demoralized street officer by issuing something only active-duty police can possess – machine-pistols (hand-held submachine guns). Not to disregard the reality that the bad-guys/gals are currently and equally (or better) armed than we are, but because they can’t pragmatically possess a fully-automatic firearm. Machineguns are tightly registered and most difficult to obtain via legal channels – illegal channels are also difficult inasmuch as these registered weapons are few in number and held by responsible persons who keep these expensive weapons very secure. Converting semi-auto firearms to full auto requires the skill and expertise of a competent (also registered) gunsmith.
Allowing LEOs to carry – both on and off duty – a select-fire, fully automatic handgun would return the exclusivity factor to being a cop. Knowing that civilians can’t be so-armed can be a significant morale booster. How cool is that? Just the realizations that their Chief would issue such an absolute, special and restricted tool of the trade is a feel-good thing. Of course, the department would only issue machine-pistols to officers who qualify – qualification that would entail significant training.
Proper training is the key to
surviving attacks –
lethal as well as litigious.
Packing a submachine gun capable of firing 15 – 9mm rounds in a very short time span, is not a whole lot different – for a trained operator – than 15 shots fired in rapid succession thru a semi-auto. Besides, a department rule that the SMG must be carried in semi-auto condition or in 3-round burst mode would negate the spray-and-pray tactic attributed to military troops, albeit, under entirely different circumstances.
Submachine guns can be more accurate and safer (to the officer) than a semi-auto during CQC conditions. With a full auto, the shooter need only visualize the target ONCE – by instinctively looking at a small point on the target. Whereas the utilization of semi-auto requires time to re-align the target dynamics with each pull of the trigger. Thus, the time, seconds or portions thereof, can be used to the adversary’s (target’s) advantage. Moreover, rapid fire with a semi-auto, sans realigning sights, can cause misses – especially under the pressure of a shoot-out.
A machine-pistol with select-fire options of 3-round bursts, full-auto or semi-auto would be a PR advantage. When operated in 3-round bursts a single pull of the trigger has a greater possibility of stopping a lethal threat before having to cease firing to access the condition of the assailant. Heretofore, officers ofttimes just kept firing – up to a full magazine of 15 rounds before stopping to learn of the effect of their action. This many rounds generated negative press. Further, the chances of an errant shot when 15 individual trigger pulls are utilized in emptying an entire magazine at a suspect as opposed to a maximum number of 5-trigger pulls while deploying a SMG in 3-shot mode before emptying an entire magazine.
Finally, there’s the deterrent factor. It’s well established that perps savor bragging rights for their battles with police. For a loser to be able to show a bullet-wound scar to fellow inmates is a status symbol, i.e., surviving being shot by the cops is a significant morale booster to the criminal. To put this another way, losers with nothing to lose and knowing that today’s rapid EMT response and modern medical efficiency increases their possibility of surviving a single gunshot wound. However, the realization that the LEO utilizing a fully automatic firearm will likely mean more bullet holes and that equates not only to a lower chance of survival, but greater pain if not instantly body-baggable. Thus, perps would tend to be more agreeable to capitulation than face the devastating effect of almost simultaneous multiple gunshot wounds. Therefore, and aside from the factor of higher morale that equates to better policing, the public is better protected by trained LEOs carrying a fully automatic machine-pistol. Certainly, not all officers on a force will qualify for (or even want to) the honor of carrying a machine-pistol but the public, the press and the criminals won’t know which cops are so armed thus another deterrent dynamic.
Currently and available only to law enforcement agencies, Glock and UZI are the sole manufactures of submachine HANDGUNS (though UZI does not offer their PRO 8 select-fire pistol in the USA at this time). The Glock 18C is similar to the Model 17, but includes an external fire-selector allowing semi-automatic to full-automatic firing modes. Presently, Heckler & Koch manufactures a short-barreled firearm with select-fire full/3-shot/semi functions, but with a telescoping stock and accessory bars that preclude concealed carry (MP7A1) (4).
Some federal agencies issue Glock 18Cs but they are not readily available. Demand by police agencies will surely change that. Establishing a certification and testing program by police agencies should generate public and LE publicity that might encourage gun makers to begin higher production of SMG pistols – a demand-it-and-they-will-build-it scenario.
At present there are many firearm training facilities, but few qualified to instruct in the use of submachine guns. Three that have specific SMG courses are: Tactical Defense Institute (established 1995) a Midwest facility dedicated to civilian, military and law enforcement firearms training – including submachine guns. The well-known, Front Sight Firearms Training Institute. Georgia Public Safety Training Center. The NRA LE Div. offers training to those aspiring to become SMG trainers via their Select-Fire Instructor Course and might also have a list of SMG academies (5).
The Federal Firearms Act of 1934 requires a registration fee of $200 with each change of machinegun ownership, but this does not apply to police agencies (6). There is no prohibition against a legitimate police agency purchasing a full-auto firearm from a legitimate maker of such firearms, then registering it under the 1934 NFA, before issuing it to a member (sworn personnel as defined by law) of this agency to carry on and/or off-duty.
In response to a query for this article, The BATF replied: “This may be a bit overbroad. Certainly a legitimate State or local government agency can receive and possess registered machineguns under the NFA and under the GCA, 18 U.S.C 922(o). They can issue these to bona fide employees/LE agents of that government entity. These individual officers can possess these (possess under the authority of the government agency) in their official capacities. However, the words “off duty” require clarification.
“Officers are not allowed to possess these in their personal capacities. For example, if an officer paid his/her agency $1500 and then had a machinegun issued that they could keep and could take home, use in their personal capability at the range, it is questionable whether this is done in any “official” capacity. Stated another way, an officer cannot use his agency or his official capacity as a pretense to obtain firearms that he could not otherwise obtain in his personal capacity.
“Of course, if the agency expects an officer to take firearms home while “off duty” because he/she may be called at any point in cases of emergency (or because he/she is “on duty” during the drive to and from work), this possession is within the officer’s official capacity and within the law. As an example, in one recent 6th Circuit case (7) the court considered this issue and set it out correctly as follows.
‘…the law prohibits private individuals from possessing a machine gun. The only persons who are lawfully authorized to possess machine guns are federal or state agents, such as police officers, acting in an official capacity at the time of possession of the machine gun….’
“Note though that if the officer simply used his job as an officer to obtain a personal firearm not otherwise obtainable under the law, this would not be in his official capacity.
“Bottom line, the government exceptions in Federal firearms law are not a means by which law enforcement officer [sic] are subject to different rules than the general public while in their private capacities.” (8)
In other words (author’s take), if an officer is departmentally required to be armed, he/she may possess (but not own) a department owned full-auto rifle, carbine and/or handgun.
The only downside (morale-wise) to the introduction of machine-pistols might be in the inability of the heads of police agencies to convince elected officials and the media of the importance of the new weaponry. Projecting and disseminating a strong, convincing and confident stand to equip officers with unsurpassed mechanical advantages will do wonders for the safety and morale of officers and civilians alike … well, all except maybe society’s miscreants. Pragmatically, mastering a machine-pistol requires a high level of expertise and only a few may qualify or even want to be responsible for such a demanding weapon. For sure, there is always the possibility of errant shots from a full auto firearm, just like there are possible errant shots from revolvers, hi-cap pistols, shotguns and “assault” type rifles.
There can’t be anything more demoralizing than to face battle under-armed … and police officers are always facing a potential battle. That’s why police, universally, switched from the revolver to the hi-capacity semi-auto pistol when the criminal element began packing more effective and deadly weaponry in the 1980s. To allow the option of carrying a defensive tool that the opposition doesn’t have is not only a confidence and morale builder, but a better way to protect society by reducing the ability of an active shooter to continue shooting or at least convincing the shooter he/she is outgunned. Just the mere concept, fostered by the chief, is certain to improve morale. And yes, the submachine handgun theory might not be in the thinking of many of today’s LE chiefs … but wasn’t the same resistance witnessed prior to the switching from revolver to the semi-auto?
For those charged with protection of society;
positive LE morale is directly proportional
to public and officer safety
and inversely proportional
to dangerous criminal activity.
About the Author: Chuck Klein is a former police officer, licensed Private Investigator (ret.), active member of International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) and author of: INSTINCT COMBAT SHOOTING, Defensive Handgunning for Police. Information about his books and e-mail contact is available on his web site: www.chuckkleinauthor.com
(1) Oft-quoted and accepted definition of morale: Alexander “Alec” H. Leighton, sociologist and psychiatrist. (1908-2007). https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexander_H._Leighton.
(2) Times Picayune-New Orleans Advocate, Emily Lane, Published Mar 9, 2016 https://www.nola.com/news/crime_police/article_ae82835c-0212-5e50-a175-85601a1ed8bb.html.
(3) “Civilian Firepower Put Police In Arms Race, Bernie Sullivan”, Hartford Courant, Sep 12, 2014 https://www.courant.com/opinion/op-ed/hc-op-sullivan-giving-police-more-firepower-0914-20140912-story.html.
Heckler & Koch. https://www.heckler-koch.com/en/products/military/submachine-guns/mp7a1/mp7a1/overview.html Smith & Wesson:
“S&W does not manufacture a full-auto pistol or a sub-machinegun nor do we have plans to in the future.”
Colt and Sig Sauer did not reply to the author’s query.
(5) Tactical Defense Institute: https://tdiohio.com. Front Sight Firearms Training Institute: https://www.frontsight.com/courses/uzi-submachine-gun-training-3.asp. Georgia Public Safety Training Center: https://access.gpstc.org/student/classes/details?gpstcCode=MC1559. National Rifle Association LE Division: https://le.nra.org/law-enforcement-training/law-enforcement-schools/select-fire-instructor/.
(6) The National Firearms Act of 1934 https://www.atf.gov/rules-and-regulations/national-firearms-act and as amended by Title II of the Gun Control Act (GCA) of 1968 and the 1986 Firearm Owners’ Protection Act made it illegal to own or transfer a machinegun – Exceptions were made for transfers of machine guns to, or possession of machine guns by, government agencies…. The ATF Form 5 allows for the tax-exempt transfer and registration of NFA items to government agencies, including law enforcement. A digital fillable version is available on https://www.atf.gov.
(7) United States v. Spicer, 656 F. App’x 154, 159-60
(8) From an email to the author dated 22 Feb 2021.