The FBI has announced the results of their 9mm handgun solicitation a few days ago. Their choice is Glock!
Let’s look at some history, and see how we got here. The last time the FBI issued 9mm handguns, they were S&W 459s. These were issued to FBI SWAT men; regular agents got revolvers. J. Edgar Hoover liked revolvers. Revolvers were what cops carried. But let’s talk about the semiautomatics. The 459 had a 15 round, double-stack magazine, aluminum frame, adjustable sights, and a frame mounted safety/decocker. Trigger was a double action trigger, and it also came with a magazine disconnect, which was popular with police forces. Pretty typical 1970s-designed wondernine.
Of course, then came the 1986 Miami shootout, and the FBI decided that 9mm semiautomatics1 didn’t have enough stopping power. So they upgraded to the big 10mm Auto cartridge, in a new gun, the S&W 1076. This gun was another double action semiautomatic, again with a frame-mounted safety/decocker. But because the 10mm was much bigger, it only held nine rounds in a single-stack magazine.
The big 10mm round had no complaints about stopping power to speak of, but agents who weren’t very experienced, especially those of smaller stature, had trouble shooting the brisk-recoiling 10mm load. So the FBI went from the original Norma loading2 to the “FBI lite” load. Less recoil, more hits. And it’s the hits that count. Then someone realized that if you were happy with less powder in the cartridge, you could shorten the 10mm Auto round a bit and get something with a similar case length as a 9x19mm Luger round. Which would help a lot with having smaller agents, especially women, get a good grip on the gun. Plus, you could get back to that double-stack magazine goodness.
The result was the .40 S&W cartridge. You get double-stack magazines with slightly reduced capacity when compared to 9mm Luger, but still way better than guns chambered for 10mm Auto or .45 ACP. Great! Plus, you get a pretty hot round that’s got plenty of stopping power. So the FBI adopted this new round in a new S&W semiautomatic.
Or, you might like to think that. It would make sense. .40 S&W. They’re name’s in the cartridge designation! But no, they had their thunder stolen by that great new Austrian gunmaker, Glock, specifically the Glock 22 (full size) and Glock 23 (compact).
See, Glock actually managed to beat S&W to market with a .40. And polymer-frame Glocks are cheaper to make than S&Ws, and the guys at Glock are very effective marketers. Plus, the striker-fired trigger on a Glock only has one kind of pull, rather than the two of a double action3. So that’s what FBI agents carried.
Until now. See, bullet design was improving too, and by 2014, 9x19mm Luger hollow points weren’t giving very much up to .40 S&W or .45 ACP hollowpoints. A well designed 9mm hollowpoint4 actually performs about the same as a .40 or .45 hollowpoint in ballistics gel testing. And several police departments5 have had great results for years with well-designed 9mm hollowpoints in officer-involved shootings. And switching to 9mm means a couple more rounds in a magazine, plus less felt recoil. Less recoil means better qual scores. Everybody shoots a 9mm better than a .40, all else equal.
But the FBI could not simply ask for a different model Glock. Other companies would get upset. There would be legal challenges. So the FBI wrote a solicitation for a new 9mm handgun. And asked for a couple things they didn’t have in their current Glocks, specifically no finger grooves and an ambidextrous slide release.
The full RFP was for a Full Size gun (at least 16 round capacity, 4.26-5.2″ barrel) and a Compact gun (at least 14 round capacity, barrel length 3.75-4.25″), plus simunition and dummy training models. They wanted a beveled magwell and a lip on the front of the magazine baseplate to assist in forcibly removing a magazine from a jammed gun. Trigger pull weight between 4.5 and 6 lbs. Only striker-fired pistols were permitted.6 No grip safeties were permitted. A trigger safety was only permitted if it was in the trigger bow. Magazine catch was explicitly requested to be the pushbutton, 1911 type. No HK-style paddle releases were acceptable. No external manual safeties were permitted.7 Trijicon HD sights were preferred.
Out of the box, the SiG P320 met all of these requirements. S&W would have to change their trigger design, and probably tighten up the QC on their 9mm models. HK would need a longslide version of the VP9, longer grip for 16 or 17 round magazines, and a new mag release. Glock would have to add an ambidextrous slide release and get rid of the finger grooves. Not really insurmountable for anyone.
Of course, the 800 lb. gorilla in the room was Glock. Glock had the previous contract. And this contract wasn’t just for the FBI. A number of other government agencies would be allowed to purchase the new pistol under the new contract. Plus, a bunch of other, smaller agencies would inevitably follow the FBI’s lead. Why do a whole bunch of expensive testing yourself when the FBI has done some pretty elaborate testing of their own?
And here we are, eight months later. Not a bad turnaround time for a federal evaluation. And Glock has kept the contract. Good for them. Well, more than good for them. Great for them. I’m a huge Glock fan, so I’m thrilled in that totally irrational, ape-brain pleasing way. Someone with elaborate testing protocols has validated my purchasing decisions. Not that I had anything to do with the gun design or the testing, but yay all the same.
Cheerleading aside, what does it mean? Well, the FBI was pretty darn sensible for once. They’ve been happy with their Glocks, have plenty of armorer training for Glocks, and in general just wanted some in 9mm. And they even got a bunch of minor changes they wanted. Glock gets the big fat FBI contract, and tons of agencies will keep buying Glock.
As for you, the shooter, well if you remember my Striker-Fired Pistol Battle Royale, I told you to wait for the FBI to choose which one they liked best. Why? Because that one would get more accessories and holsters developed for it, since there’d be a guaranteed significant market share. And they chose Glock.
Of course, 65% of law enforcement agencies already carry Glocks. Glocks are already super popular. The only gun that has more accessories and things available for it than a Glock is a 1911. And none of that is changing any time soon with this contract. Glocks are still going to have giant market share, tons of accessories, and all the weird, wacky, and sometimes wonderful new things first. Glocks are still the right decision for striker-fired pistols, despite all of the new ones that have come out in the past couple of years. Here’s the one that made them popular. It’s got a phenomenal track record for reliability, and the trigger is pretty good.
So yeah. Pistol Roundup? To hell with that. I’ll have what Mr. Foxtrot, Mr. Bravo, and Mr. India are having: a Glock with Trijicon HDs. Make mine a 19.
Of course, I did pick it from the lineup first.
1.) And .38 caliber revolvers.
2.) 200 grains at a speed of 1,260 feet per second from a 5″ test barrel. Real magnum stuff.
3.) One heavy double action pull and one light single action pull. If you’ll notice, I’m not writing DA/SA, or double-action/single-action. Because it’s self-evident to any idiot who knows what double-action is that if I’m not saying double-action only then there’s a single-action mode of operation as well. DUH.
4.) If you’re looking for recommendations, my two favorite hollowpoint loads are the Speer 124 grain +P Gold Dots and the Federal 147 grain HSTs. Yes, they both pass all FBI gel tests, including the very important four-layer-denim test.
5.) The NYPD and the LAPD are two such examples. Both issue the 124 grain +P Gold Dot.
6.) Sorry Fishbreath.
7.) Sorry, again, Fishbreath. Maybe you should come over to the dark side. Join the 21st century. We have cheap magazines, plentiful sights, and slide-mounted red dots.