What The Heat Is Packing

Police officers have some serious firepower in their holsters.

Last week, the NYPD announced that it would be forming a new tactical unit focusing expressly on terrorist attacks and protests. While terrorist attacks call for a serious response, critics were nervous that machine gun toting officers might end up patrolling protests. NYPD commissioner Bill Bratton later walked the idea back, but only after focusing the national spotlight on officers’ holsters.

Not that the spotlight wasn’t already there.

With or without machine guns, police are still packing serious firepower. As Steven C. Howard, an attorney and gun expert explained to Maxim, the guns work, but human error remains an issue. “The biggest problem with police and all their guns,” he said, “is they never freaking practice.”

Howard spoke to Maxim about the guns American police are packing and why they’re well suited (or not) to their beat.

Glock: “One of the reasons the Glock is so popular is that it’s superbly made and it shoots very very well, but it has a really easy to use de-cocking lever, so there’s more accidents with Glocks than probably any other gun. The FBI got so sick of them that they’ve just dumped Glocks and they’ve gone to the Sig Sauer.The main factor when it comes to which guns are bought by police departments is the price. Glocks are cheaper than the competition. One reason that Glocks were so popular was that their selling point was, ‘We’re the gun of the FBI.’ To become the gun of the FBI, they sold them at an incredible discount.”

Sig Sauer: “This is the safer gun that many departments are moving towards, but it’s still very expensive. Now, if you look at it in dollars, in straight comparison, a Sig 226 is a good solid weapon, and that sells in the $900 range. But a Glock being sold to police departments sells in the $300 range. If you’ve got 10,000 officers like they do in New York City, money talks and it all comes down to price. So you end up with the less-safe gun because it costs less.”

Smith & Wesson: “Smith and Wesson are what a lot of police officer’s carry. The way most police officers carry them they don’t have an external thumb safety. They’re basically just a copy of the Glock. In fact, Smith and Wesson deliberately copied Glock’s design and they got the crap sued out of them.”

Colt M4 Carbine: “This is where money versus safety comes into head to head competition. A lot of police departments are being armed with US military surplus weapons straight out of the battlefield. So there are a lot of free machine guns that they hand out to these departments. There are a lot of armored vehicles and sniper rifles and so forth. The machine gun is something that anybody can use, but few people can use them well. They take a lot of practice to master, and a lot of practice to use properly. Your first round may be on target, but all your other rounds are going elsewhere. Most military units have a bigger amount of ammunition to practice with than most military units. They’re far better disciplined and trained when it comes to weaponry than the average police officer. Most police officers do not shoot their guns until they’re forced to. As soon as they get out of training, they don’t shoot their guns except once a year when they have to be tested. Most cops are terrible shots. Not bad — terrible. The only thing that even saves them at all is the fact that the bad guys are worse.”

Remington Shotgun: “The Remington shotgun. For a long time it just owned the police market and for good reason. It was kind of the AK-47 of shotguns. No matter how much you mistreat it, no matter how much you don’t clean it, or how dirty it gets, it keeps shooting and shooting. Back in the day, a police chief or commander would carry one of these in the trunk or the cab wherever they went.”

Photos by Matt Dinerstein/NBC