HSI’s Odd Restrictions on Agents’ Personal Weapons

department-of-homeland-security-mrap-dhs-ndaa-hb347-totalita-politics-1334409716There are numerous investigative agencies and armed police in our Federal government — probably more agencies than anyone can account for. The Amtrak SWAT team? Yep, it’s a thing. Criminal Investigators for the Library of Congress? They’re out there, and they’re armed, sworn 1811s like any other Special Agent.

Each agency has to decide how to arm its own cops and agents, and how much leeway to give them to arm themselves. Some have no restrictions on backup and off-duty carry. Some require that their Special Agents to carry the issue hogleg, period. We’re not aware of any that does what some New York and Massachusetts police departments do: requires their law enforcers to keep the firearm in a locker in the office; but there’s probably one out there.

In between these extremes, the most common thing is to require an agent to shoot the qualifications (and pass) using his or her desired off-duty or substitute weapon, and often to require a certain minimum performance of the weapon (no, your NAA .22 is not going to cut it). Others have a shortlist of permitted weapons — it isn’t just your peers’ laughter that keeps you from toting that Hi-Point with the Airsoft red/green dot sight. Usually, there’s some provision that old goats nearing retirement can cling to their guns and religion (just joking about the religion, so far), which explains the presence of revolvers in approved lists.

Since it’s the Federal government, managers tend not to be the best of the line investigators. Let’s pause a moment to explain how that happens: a manager tends to be whatever underperformer a superior manager can promote without screwing up his throughput statistics. You can’t lose your best investigator. You can lose your most inept and lazy agent. Didn’t you wonder why they picked you for SAC?

Given that the managers have to look up to see “average,” there isn’t a lot of originality or variation to the way these agencies handle off duty and backup weapons. They either crib off the FBI’s homework, or they copy off whatever agency the latest SES lateraled in from. But Homeland Security Investigations marches to its own drummer. They issue .40 SIGs, and managers are dimly aware of some problems: maintenance issues, agent preferences, and the really crappy qualification scores of those agents unwilling to spend quality range time mastering the .40, or unable to find good instruction or coaching.

A certain percentage of agents come out of FLETC “qualified” by the skin of their teeth and having a love-hate relationship with shooting and their sidearms, without the “love” bit. These agents struggle to maintain qualification, and strong incentives encourage managers to report these struggling shooters as fully qualified.

A change to the 9mm is probably coming, in the long term, but in the meantime the agency is facing a near mutiny of SIG rejectors, resulting in a stockpile of unissued pistols and agents choosing from the agency’s shortlist of approved firearms. (Any agent can get approval to use one or two firearms from this list, in lieu of or as a backup to the issue SIG). But the list is just plain weird. Here it is, shorn of verbiage:

  1. Sig 226 .40 in either TDA or DAK (full size)
  2. Sig 229 .40 in either TDA or DAK (mid size)
  3. Sig 239 .40 TDA or DAK (compact)
  4. Glock 17 9mm (full size)
  5. Glock 26 9mm (compact)
  6. H&K compact .40 with LEM trigger (about same size as 229 but lighter)
  7. H&K p2000 sk .40 (compact)
  8. S&W .38 or .357 magnum revolver (5 shot, compact).

It’s as interesting what there isn’t on there, as what there is. Here are a few thoughts:

  • If you like a SIG but you prefer 9mm, you’re SOL.
  • Ditto if you like a Glock in .40. Or anything at all in .45.
  • The single most curious omission is the Glock 19 midsize 9mm. They have the bulky 17 and the small 26, but not the mid-size 15-shot G19? What gives? Per one of the trainers, “if we permitted that, no one would carry the SIGs.” What the agents seem to believe is that the firearms trainers and managers are so committed to the SIG platform that they’re actively sabotaging everything else.
  • We see the Smith (why not Colt?) revolver as a sop to greybeards who already had one. But the five-shot limitation is just inexplicable.

A solid majority of agents are never going to carry anything but whatever they got issued “for free.” That’s just the way it is; 999.a-buncha-nines out of a thousand special agents neither expect to use their weapon nor practice with itj. And we understand the rationale that agencies use to try to keep their agents’ off duty weapons restricted to a small number of popular models. Having too many makes and models of guns to keep track of it is confusing, and bad for proficiency; in addition, there’s always that guy, that 1% exemplar of any group, who sees freedom nearly as a license for him to do something stupid

10 thoughts on “HSI’s Odd Restrictions on Agents’ Personal Weapons

  1. Matt

    I guess given those choices, I’d carry the G26 with a 19 spare magazine and a Smith 642 as a BUG. I’m not a .40 fan. It’s funny that they don’t offer the G19 for fear no one will carry SIGs. Did they buy a lot of SIGs they don’t want to leave unissued, to be sold through Cheaper Than Dirt at a sharp discount in a few years when no one likes .40?

  2. Ken

    It is odd that they left the G19 off the list,maybe just an oversight… For that matter why leave off the G34?

    At any rate; the G17 is only .67 inches longer and .44 taller than the G19. Slightly less than 1 1/2 ounces difference in unloaded weight.

    All of the Glock 9mms are good pistols in my opinion.

  3. jethro b

    Your info is accurate. When the DHS beast was created, US Customs Service primarily had Glock 19s for Inspectors, Criminal Investigators and Pilots, etc. The revolvers were authorized as a secondary weapon for some folks. INS (Border Patrol, Immigration Inspectors, etc.) had the HK. HSI issued Criminal Investigators the Glock 19 but kept the legacy weapons in the system and eligible as personally owned/authorized for duty carry. Apparently, some decision maker thought that having a big hunk of Sig steel would be a good idea. When writing the justification they torpedoed the G19 as a justification for buying the Sigs. That is the most plausible of several rumors from the day room lawyers.

    The bigger problem is that the Sig DHS contract guns had “low bid contract winner” manufacturing/QC standards. Fit and finish are not comparable to commercially available Sigs. There have been numerous take down lever failures. That problem alone, stands out as a systemic flaw on this production run.

    Too many bosses have G26s for that to probably ever go away. Your assement there is correct. If you have smaller hands the Sig is lot of real estate. If you want to spend the money, you can buy and carry your own from the list. The Sig Elite is a pretty refined piece and Glock has a decent price point. Many people have turned in the issue Sigs in favor of something else with Glock being the big winner.

    1. Hognose Post author

      Actually, Sig quality took a nosedive around that time, including commercial and military contracts, not just LE stuff.

      Any of the “wonder nines” is a handful. I have small hands for a guy, which is one reason I prefer the CZ to the M9. The CZ grip is very close to that of the BHP. The M9 and the SIG are pretty close, the heavyweight champion of the world has to be the Mk23… I think that could wear Mike Tyson’s belts.

  4. Eric


    The .40 cal SIG 229 DAK was foisted on the USCG by Homeland Security because they felt the USCG needed a more “professional” law enforcement weapon than the M9. Bonus – the Craftsman staple gun weight trigger works as intended to keep barely trained E-3s from shooting themselves. The possibility that they might actually have to intentionally shoot something besides a TRANSTAR II probably made Admiral Papp (the recently departed commandant) wet himself a little. Rumor has it that the driving force behind the USCG going to the SIG was a reserve Warrant Gunner who just happened to work at SIG for his day job, but I wouldn’t know anything about that.
    The funny thing is that for the longest time the units most likely to actually use their pistols had to stick with the M9 because there was no Ammo Code for .40 cal, so the Navy wouldn’t allow it in their magazines (the shipboard kind, not the feeding device). Guys deploying with it overseas attached to the Navy now have to use the hardball “training” round since the USCG standard is a hollow-point.
    Want to bet the USCG is the last agency to switch back to 9mm?

  5. Law of Self Defense

    To my personal knowledge a few FBI agents willing to jump through all the hoops and wait a long time are already being authorized to carry G19s in 9mm. But those are the “gun guys” willing to put in the effort to burrow through the bureaucracy, not the rank and file.

    Of course, looks like the whole Bureau will be shifting to 9mm some time down the road. Folks I know who until recently worked in the FTU describe a remarkably high rate of malfunctions in the 22/23, at least in training at Quantico. It’s hard, however, to know whether to tie this to the caliber of those platforms or the folks being taught to shoot them. The FBI gets all sorts and sizes and genders, almost none of whom come with any meaningful shooting experience, and a non-sturdy operator limp-wristing a 22/23 is going to have a lot of FTFs.

    That factor, combined with the FBI’s determination that it’s effectively impossible to differentiate wound tracks caused by a 9mm v. a 40 (or any other typical self-defense pistol caliber) means the Bureau is slowly but surely discarding it’s Miami baggage.

    I guess. What do I know, I’m just a small-town MA lawyer. :-)

    –Andrew, @LawSelfDefense

    1. Hognose Post author

      The principal things driving the march away from .40 back to 9mm are:
      1. improvement in 9mm projos that has led to much better terminal effects;
      2. almost every agent shoots better with the 9mm even if they shoot well with the .40;
      3. some agents shoot so much worse with the .40 that their qualification is a fiction. It’s not just female and small-framed agents, either.

      The brass grasps that there will be a time when #3 is going to bite some agency hard in the ass. When that happens (not “if,”) the shuffle back to 9 will become a stampede.

      Funny thing is: most handgun rounds are about the same on stopping threats/killing bad guys: excellent with good (or lucky) shot placement, and lousy with bad (or unlucky) shots. You want to neutralize people, you want a rifle. About 5-6 centuries of infantry toting long guns are what the intel analysts call “an indicator.” The trade-off is a rifle is a PITA to carry and makes people look at you funny. (Those Open Carry Texas guys don’t notice because people have been looking at them funny all their lives).

  6. Bones

    A few comments:

    Customs Inspectors were issued G17s, not 19s.

    The G agencies have a firearm shelf life of 5 years, then they plan to reissue. The SIGs are now that old.
    Since Customs Special Agents had been issued and had purchased G19s,, they chose not to include them on the list (actually issued the list and invalidated it the next few days – without the 19s), since they assumed that the 19s that guys would ask to shoot would be more than 5 years old.

    They had G26s issued in the system, and your boss-types, (especially HQs) carry them as their only weapon.

    When they tested the G22/23/27 in .40 they planned to use the 155 grain JHP. I’m told that the guns failed the durability tests with that round. That’s why they went with the SIG. Why the DAK trigger group, I have no idea. Whoever this Kellerman guy is (double action Kellerman – DAK), he needs his a$$ kicked. The trigger on the gun is horrible. HSI now uses the 180 grain JHP anyway.

    They have the HK USPs in the system from the INS days, and people still carry them. So much for 5 years.

    Back in the US Customs days, you could carry any firearm on the list of manufacturers, S&W, Colt, Glock, Beretta, HK, Walther, etc… I think they wanted to exercise some more control over the choices, since they are buying the ammo on a national rather than a local level. 9mm+P, .40. .38 Spl.+P, that’s it.

    Yes, I’m told that the Coast Guard did “piggyback” the ICE (not just HSI), contract and get the 229’s. What’s nice for them is that they don’t have this confusing decocker/safety on the M9 anymore, they just draw the gun from the armory, load a 12 round mag work the slide and presto – ready to go. No topping off it’s not in the ordnance manual. They come back in, do the reverse and they’re good. Place the now ejected round back on top of the mag, and all’s well. (I’d be interested to see the overall length of that round after a year.)

  7. TRX

    > It’s as interesting what there isn’t on there

    All the ones on the list that I’m familiar with are Glock variants – barrel locks into ejection port.

    I didn’t notice any 1911 or CZ pattern pistols.

    The vast majority of autoloading pistols break down into three neat groups: 1911 variants, CZ75 variants, and Glock variants, with everything else probably a single-digit percentage.

    I’m old-school enough that I don’t see any problem with five, six, or seven rounds in a pistol, particularly something I’m carrying all day. If I need seventeen, twenty, or more rounds, perhaps a pistol isn’t the correct tool for the job.

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