Choosing A Standard Issue Handgun Is As Much Business As It Is Function

Every gun owner knows the painstaking process of selecting, purchasing and choosing a new handgun based on individual preferences.

The function, role, caliber, form factors, brand, size, ergonomics, capacity, recoil, attachments, sights, accuracy, ammunition, grip, price, safety, magazine release and other features all culminate in a tool that the lawful carrier will rely on to potentially save their life and the lives of others.

But what about the federal government?

How does the FBI choose a single handgun and caliber for an entire force? And what can you learn from that process as a civilian gun owner?

New Gun Owners Can Benefit By Learning From The Recent FBI Glock Contract

fbi handgun

The FBI Glock contract resulted from an RFP issued in October of 2015, and in it they outlined a maximum of $85,000,000 over the life of the contract to the solicitor that matched their stringently outlined needs for 9mm Luger pistols.

For new handgun owners looking to purchase their first pistol, this is a concept that they should emulate — strictly define the parameters of what is needed from the handgun (home defense, concealed carry, etc.) and why/how it serves those needs.

In that contract, which you can download and review here, the FBI outlined general requirements for new compact and full-size pistols, as well as replacement parts for them.

They demanded an in-house quality control system from the contractor. The FBI mandated exact dimensions on the barrel lengths (compact: 3.75" minimum, 4.25" maximum and full-size: 4.26" minimum, 5.20" maximum), and handgun height.

The compact magazine capacity would be at minimum 14 cartridges of 9mm Luger, with 16 for the full-size. The full-size magazines must be compatible with the compact handgun. The magazine catch was outlined to be ambidextrous.

This presents another factor new handgun owners should think about: ammunition caliber, mag capacity and mag characteristics. Another requirement the FBI had: trigger mechanism and pull weight.

The trigger had to be consistent in length and weight from first shot to last, and they mandated firing pin/striker fired only. The trigger safety needed to match the contour of the trigger bow, and the trigger pull weight had to be 4.5 lbs. to 6 lbs.

That's another thing new gun owners should consider.

Trigger weight for smaller hands and type of trigger mechanism for safety characteristics and personal preference.

The FBI needed black, non-reflective sights made of steel, and those needed to be low profile so they didn't interfere with holstering and drawing. They also needed to function in low-light with self-luminous capsules.

Prospective gun owners should consider their sights, and note that tritium, photoluminescent and fiber optics can help in certain low light situations.

The FBI required the frame to have a rail for a tactical light, and be sized differently for small, medium and large hands, which is another valid consideration while shopping for a handgun.

Here's another thing: 11 other U.S. Government entities may purchase pistols and replacement parts under this contract.

After testing and pricing, Glock was chosen. Does that mean you should choose a Glock or that Glock is superior? Well, no. Glock contended in the MHS contract for the U.S. Army's new service pistol, and lost out to Sig Sauer.

It depends on several criteria, price being one of them, which will ultimately affect the new handgun owner's decision.

The FBI also made the decision to choose a new caliber a few years back: the 9mm Luger.

What Gun Owners Can Learn From The FBI Caliber Tests

fbi caliber

The 9mm Luger was chosen for duty carry for the FBI, based on several tested criteria, which reflects a reality in gun ownership.

Test out different calibers. Feel their difference on the range. Practice, perfect and alter carry styles based partially on ammunition choice.

The 1986 Miami shootout resulted in the FBI switching from their previous standard issue caliber to the 10mm round for its efficacy, wound channel and "stopping power."

However, the debate on caliber choice and handgun stopping power is a multi-variable equation that's affected by more than just the projectile. An effective wound channel is impacted by depth, width and type of penetration — but it's more than that.

Shot placement, volume and grouping is key. Training is imperative. And the FBI mentioned these topics and others in their report on the justification of the 9mm Luger, according to some sources.

They stated that handgun stopping power is a myth, that LEOs miss between 70-80 percent of shots fired during a shooting incident and that FBI shooter testing revealed the 9mm Luger yielded faster and more accurate shot strings.

They based part of their decision to switch to the 9mm Luger on the following wound factors in order of importance:

  • Penetration
  • Permanent cavity
  • Temporary cavity
  • Fragmentation

The FBI decided the 9mm round yields higher magazine capacities, less recoil, lower cost (based on their chosen ammunition and wear on handguns) and higher functional reliability rates based on their chosen weaponry.

Does this mean the 9mm Luger is better than a .40 S&W or .45 ACP? Not necessarily. It satisfied their criteria and needs.

The Costa Mesa Police Department also released a staff report in 2016 about their replacement of the HK USP .40 caliber pistol. They determined eight characteristics they felt were the most important for their service pistol: ergonomics, trigger pull, grip, sights, perceived recoil, trigger reset, confidence and control.

And they made a judgment call based on live fire drills with 10 chosen officers.

They concluded that the Sig P320 9mm increased the officers' accuracy, saved money and allowed officers to carry more ammunition on their person.

Take that idea and apply it to your own handgun and caliber choice. What serves your criteria based on situational, bodily, firearm and personal preferences?

Let us know in the comments.

Here are four more blogs we published that will help prospective gun owners decide on a handgun and caliber.

Jake Smith  

About The Author

Jake Smith (@notjakesmith) is a copywriter and photographer based in the Pacific Northwest who enjoys shooting pictures and ammunition outdoors.

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