We have written, and written, and written yet again, about the Pennsylvania State Police’s awkward relationship with service pistol selection, training, and employment.
After a run of accidents with one brand, they recently changed guns and brands again, again. And managed to shoot one of their own troopers to death on his first day training with the new pistol.
It was his instructor who shot him.
This demonstrates that no one should consider himself above following the most basic firearms safety rules, “A.N.D.”:
- Assume it’s loaded and act that way (actually, we would say, assume it’s live; don’t trust safety features);
- Never point it at anything you don’t want to shoot;
- Digit off the bangulator until it’s bang o’clock.
Failure to observe these rules, whether or not it results in a discharge, whether or not the discharge creams some poor throg or just rockets off to a rendesvous with some part of Mother Gaia, is gross negligence. Yeah, we’re aware the courts don’t say that. The courts are wrong, on this. Had that instructor introducing the SIG 227 (not to mention, all the guys who shot themselves, their wives, suspects, and bystanders “accidentally” with the outgoing Glocks) followed even one of those three rules (or the four, or seven, or twenty-eleven rules some lists include, all of which include some version of these three), we would have never heard about that training class. We haven’t yet had a few years to see if the PSP is safer with the SIG than they were with the Glocks. This wasn’t an encouraging start.
They’re Also Teaching This
This SIG, an OK service pistol compared to other 70s-80s Double-Action/Single-Action auto pistol designs, is their first DA/SA pistol since the .40 S&W Caliber Beretta 96. They used Berettas (92s and 96s) for a while, before moving to Glock in .40, then to .45 GAP, then to .45 ACP, then to SIG. (That recap may have missed a couple. Hey, it’s been great for hobbyists who like to have pistols with the PSP logo: collect ’em all!).
Any DA/SA has a different manual of arms than the simpler Glock, and the PSP’s SIG 227 in particular has more to master than the firearm that it replaces. So they’re teaching their troopers… what? If they have a “long shot,” to manually cock the hammer before firing. Yes, this improves first-shot hit probability, but it adds a layer of complexity to what is already one of the more complex DA/SA systems.
We agree that there are training advantages to the SIG system where one lever does one thing and one thing only and always, but it’s more complex than the simple Walther hammer-drop safety that’s been around since 1929. And it’s a big change for a force of 4,000 or so cops, of whom perhaps 3,500 really couldn’t care less about guns, and who are mostly of average intelligence, just like the usual run of citizens.
The complexities of a service weapon change can always be overcome with good training and lots of drill, but it’s an open question, after the recent shooting, how good the training is; and you know and we know, and the PSP knows, that the troopers — possibly excepting recruits in Academy classes — are not going to get as much drill as they need to master the SIG operating system. The 500 or so who take firearms seriously will give themselves this drill on their own. Hell, there are probably 100 or so who compete or shoot recreationally, and take inordinate pride in their mastery of their sidearm. But you’ve got to reach the average guy and gal with in-service firearms training.
And that’s something a lot of trainers, who became trainers because they love, live and breathe firearms and shooting, don’t “get” instinctively. They assume everybody’s as into guns as they are. (If they train for long enough, the scales fall from their eyes. Big time).
Fact is, a lot of cops take improving their skill with guns as seriously as the typical office worker takes improving his or her typing speed. “Meh. I passed the qual, I’m good to hook.”
That only works if the qual is really good, tough, and criterion-referenced to the sorts of shots officers have to take in the real and gritty world. Like the old-school (pre-TSA-dumbdown) Air Marshals’ qual, or the qual that another government agency uses for its contract personal-security detachment contractors. (And those were/are quals with consequences: meet the standard, or hit the bricks, even if you have seniority).
Personally, we consider cocking the hammer for the first shot from a DA/SA service pistol to be an advanced technique for someone that has already mastered the firearm and the course of fire. Obviously, we have a difference of opinion with the Pennsylvania State Police firearms trainers on that.
Is that a SIG he’s reaching for? If so, you know whose training range this is….
Hey, We’re All Ate Up About Guns, But We’re Databasing Yours. All Wrong.
The Federal agent who works in one of Pennsylvania’s largest and most violent cities was blunt. Pennsylvania says they don’t have a registry.
“Then how come law enforcement can call up and ask if someone has firearms?” Not, he said, that the database is any earthly use to a line agent. “It is my experience that you go with the opposite of what the PSP says. I let them tell me what the database says. And then I assume the opposite.”
“Oh,” we said. “You mean, because if the gun’s registered, even if he has it, he’s probably not a cop shooter? And if he comes up no-gun, he might be a gangbanger who got his guns on the black market?”
“You don’t get it. I assume the opposite, because their database is so ate up it’s usually 180º off. If they say no, I get the body armor on and a long gun. If they say yes, I don’t bother.”
“Wow.” We thought he was exaggerating. He emphasized that he wasn’t; he really so mistrusts the PA registration database that he uses it the way most of us use a Fidel Castro presidential endorsement. “Because the database is always wrong,” he repeated.
“I have arrested [men with serious/violent prior felony convictions and multiple legal ownership disqualifications].” (Edited to remove an exact description and prevent people guessing his agency). “They had felony convictions that were evident. They had the PA registry forms in the box with their handguns, and the PSP said he has no guns. These were not new sales either, so they [the PSP] had time to get it [the pistol ownership record] in there.”
So the system, in PA, is not preventing career criminals from doing something they don’t even try in most states, buying guns themselves in legitimate commerce!
And just to complicate things, the registry has no way to take a gun off once it’s sold out of state. So it’s packed with tens of thousands (at least) of firearms that (1) are extremely unlikely to surface at a PA crime scene, and (2) will “trace” to the wrong guy, if they do. What use is that? Pennsylvania gun-rights advocates go a step farther, arguing that the database, a typically lousy product of government work though it may be, is unlawful. Indeed, black-letter Pennsylvania law () says:
[N]othing in this chapter [6111.4, the gun laws — Eds.] shall be construed to allow any government or law enforcement agency or any agent thereof to create, maintain or operate any registry of firearm ownership….
[N]othing in 23 Pa. Cons. Stat. Ann. §§ 6101-6122 [the DV laws] shall be construed to allow any person or entity to create, maintain or operate a database or registry of firearm ownership….
But case law has essentially nullified those provisions. For the anti take on it, see the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, a group that promotes registration as a necessary step towards confiscation (see also here). Pro-gun viewpoints can be found at two state pro-gun groups, FOAC and PAFOA. The PA Supreme Court has ruled that the prohibition doesn’t apply to the State Police database precisely because it is so bad and inaccurate.
Despite that, anti-gun chiefs here and there encourage cops to run the serial numbers of firearms and then confiscate if they don’t come up to the person in possession. The legal support for that is weak, but it’s a way to confiscate legally-owned guns and/or make The database has been criticized by some lawmakers, all significant pro-gun groups in the state, and the PSP was excoriated for it during an FBI audit, according to a lawmaker opposed to the database.
As far back as 2000, the PSP response to legislator criticisms was to release a letter, ostensibly to the legislator, to an anti-gun activist, Jonathan D. Silver. Silver wrote about the PSP’s position in the anti-gun Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. While Silver interviewed the legislator neither he nor the PP-G made any attempt to discuss with him the letter that was the PSP’s “reply” — which the ostensible recipient hadn’t actually received. (It’s unclear if any attempt was made to send it to him, or if it was only written for the benefit of Silver, the newspaper, and the PSP’s allies in antigun groups).
The case law, thanks to careful judge-swapping by the PSP and a succession of anti-gun Attorneys General, has allowed the PSP to retain this useless database so far. Some legislators continue to fight it. (That was his 2013 repeal; here’s some info about his current-session version.
These guys can’t buy guns and get the magazine capacity it says on the box; they can’t even operate their own guns safely; they can’t hold a bozo instructor who kills a student with an ND accountable; they can’t even run an illegal registry straight, to the point where it’s so jacked up the Supreme Court said, “We can’t count this worthless crap as a registry.”
LEOs agree; the information in the database is at best worthless, at worst, completely inverse.
Suggestion for the new, kinda-Stolen-Valor Commissioner from Maryland: Fix your own guys’ firearms training, first. The public only has confidence in the firearms ability of the State Troopers to the extent they’re not paying attention. Then, when you’ve got that fixed (and it’s a big job that probably requires a bunch of difficult firings), figure out why the hell you’re wasting money on a worthless database, whose worthlessness was the technicality that saved it from doom at the hands of the Supreme Court.
Will he take that suggestion? Well, he was selected for his creativity in stretching statutes in service of anti-gun politics. What do you think? In a long tenure in Maryland, he did nothing to improve firearms training there. He doesn’t even believe people who disagree with him should have first amendment rights.
The troopers of the Pennsylvania State Police are not really any different from the cops in any other agency. What is different is the leadership. As Napoleon said, “There are no bad regiments, only bad colonels.” Of course from the bad leaders’ point of view, there are no bad leaders, only bad luck.
Pennsylvanians: brace yourselves for more bad luck.