Lodi Police Chief Mark Helms did a good job of answering questions surrounding the accidental shooting of SWAT Officer Robert Rench. The incident happened when a young child pulled the trigger on the officer’s pistol while it was holstered.
Some questions may still remain from those who do not understand the workings of modern handguns or from those who may question the demonstration of SWAT equipment to small children while carrying ready-to-go, semiautomatic firearms.
Let’s start with a little history on police officers’ sidearms.
In the old days, most carried traditional revolvers. A few still do.
They are very reliable. The double-action revolvers have no safety switches and are always ready to fire. Most take more trigger pressure to pull than what is needed for a semiautomatic pistol. They generally are limited to six rounds without reloading.
But semiautomatic pistol magazines can handle up to 15 rounds or more and can be reloaded very quickly. This is why police departments prefer them today over revolvers. Note that civilians in California are limited to purchases of 10-round magazine capacities.
Now, let’s take a look at the Glock semiautomatic pistol, which was the gun involved in the Rench case. Today, most uniformed cops in the United States carry the model .40 caliber Glock 23. An exception to this is the California Highway Patrol, which uses a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson.
There are a number of reasons for the popularity of the Austrian-made Glock. The first is its extreme reliability. The semi-automatic pistol rarely jams or “stovepipes,” which is a malfunction that can be found more commonly in some other makes of sidearms.
The Glock’s polymer frame is lightweight and makes shooting comfortable and accurate. Disassembly for cleaning is simple, quick and foolproof. Its relatively thin design makes it comfortable to carry both openly and concealed.
If there is a “weakness” in the popular pistol, it could be considered the safety mechanism — although many gun experts would disagree. The Glock has none of the external safety devices that are found on more traditional semiautomatics. Instead, it has a two-stage trigger system which requires a deliberate pull. Its advanced firing pin design makes it impossible to fire if accidentally dropped.
Police officers usually carry their Glocks on duty with a round in the firing chamber, making them ready to go. That’s the same readiness standard as a revolver would have in an emergency situation.
The problem with this policy is what happened in the Rench case. There is no stop-gap measure if the trigger is pulled and a round is already in the chamber.
Perhaps it would make more sense for our police department to either unload their pistols during demonstrations with children — or at least not chamber a round.
Although the Lodi P.D. has a regulation to always be armed and ready in case of an emergency, the likelihood of an officer needing to fire his weapon amongst a group of small children during a department demonstration is next to impossible. As a matter of fact, the vast majority of police officers throughout the country never fire their weapons in a real combat situation during their entire careers!
If the officer in question had his ammunition magazine inserted into the pistol grip, but did not have a round located in the firing chamber, a child could have pulled on the trigger all day, and the weapon would not have discharged.
I hope the Lodi Police Department will consider a policy that does not have their officers with chambered rounds during public demonstrations. Even in the unlikely event that an immediate lethal force situation would arise, a well-trained police officer can ratchet a ready-to-fire round in a Glock in less than two seconds!
Well, that’s my humble opinion, anyway. A change in safety procedures under these described conditions would certainly be worth a second look.
Steve Hansen is a local writer who trains with the Weapons Training School in Tuolumne County.