HGR 006 - Classic Police Handguns

HGR 006 - Classic Police Handguns

This week, Ryan discusses some of the classic police handguns of years past.  Part 1 of 2 in a series on Police Handguns.

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Week in Review:

  • Finally found some small pistol primers so I was able to do a little reloading. Got to shoot the Colt 1903 Pocket Hammerless that I haven’t had the chance to shoot much. Reloading .32 ACP is a pain!
  • The ammo situation seems to be getting better somewhat. Checked the local Cabela’s in Scarbourough, Maine (About 75 miles from me) and there was quite a bit of rifle ammo, but very little handgun ammo.
  • Got to test the SureFire Shot Timer application that is available for free on iOS devices (may also be available for Android). It worked pretty well for a free application, although it sometimes does not pick up shots. Definitely works for casual use and not having to purchase an expensive timer just as a range toy.
  • Getting some great feedback on the show! Thank you to everyone who has sent in feedback via e-mail or FaceBook.

Half-Truth Segment:

  • This episodes Half-Truth segment will touch upon the “gun-show loophole”.
  • The anti-gun forces try to claim that you can go to a gun-show and purchase a firearm without a background check.
  • In some states, this may be true.  As far as I know, private parties can purchase a table at a gun show in Maine to sell very few guns as a “private sale” transaction, to someone who resides IN the State, i.e. no interstate commerce of firearms is taking place.
  • Also at a gunshow, anyone who is a licensed FFL and is selling at the show MUST by law perform a background check on any buyer.
  • Yes, in the State of Maine at least, private transactions between individuals involving firearms are allowed.  In Maine, we have a monthly & online publication called Uncle Henry’s where you can list firearms for sale.
  • Uncle Henry’s also takes ads from out of state, such as New Hampshire or Vermont, BUT those transactions must go through a licensed FFL because there is interstate commerce of firearms occurring.
  • It is the responsibility of the seller in a private sale to take necessary steps to ensure the buyer is not someone who is prohibited. You take on as much liability as you want to.  
  • Ultimately, you as the seller reserve the right to refuse a sale.  Typically in a private sale, asking for a bill of sale and a name and city of residence is sufficient. Some sellers prefer to copy down the buyers drivers license number for their records.

Main Topic: Classic Police Handguns

First off, I’d like to HIGHLY recommend the book series by Massad Ayoob Greatest Handguns of the World Volumes I & II. These books look into the history of some of the greatest classic & modern handguns of the world and really touches upon their usage and their nuances. Many of the details in this episode were gathered from these books, so thank you Mr. Ayoob for writing them.  Accompanied by great photography and discussion, I have learned a great deal from both books and I highly recommend that you pick them up.

1.) Colt Detective Special .38 Special Revolver-

  • In the early 1900’s, Colt originally had a revolver called the Police Positive, typically chambered in .32 Long & .38 S&W (Not .38 Special.)
  • In 1907, Colt lengthened the cylinder to accept the .38 Special cartridge, and renamed the revolver the Police Positive Special.
  • In 1927, Colt shortened the barrel to 2 inches and called the shortened gun the Detective Special.
  • The Detective Special had some distinct advantages over the S&W J-frame revolvers introduced in the 50’s. The Colt had six shots, one more than the S&W. A 20% increase in firepower is nothing to take lightly.
  • In the early 50’s, Colt tried to make the gun snag free by introducing a bolt-on hammer shroud.  The shroud left the tip of the hammer slightly exposed for thumb-cocking, but looked like an afterthought.  S&W introduced their Bodyguard series shortly thereafter and made the frame hammerless so it looked more natural than the bolt-on design.
  • Used by many police departments, typically as a backup gun for patrol officers, and as a primary sidearm for detectives and higher-ranking members of the police administration.

2.) Colt's Official Police Revolver

  • Originally called the Colt Army Special, the gun was renamed the Colt Official Police in 1927. Chambered for the .38 Special cartridge, it became one of the two main police issue revolvers in the 1930’s and beyond.
  • By 1933, the Colt Official Police had been adopted by the L.A.P.D, the New York City Police Department, the Chicago P.D. and even the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
  • The Colt Official Police was also used by the British armed forces as a substitute standard sidearm, chambered in .38/200 caliber, which was a .38 caliber cartridge similar to a .38 S&W, with a 200-grain round nosed bullet.
  • One feature of the Colt Official Police is that it has a second cylinder hand, which rises into place to lock the cylinder up solidly for proper alignment with the barrel & forcing cone. This allows for a high degree of accuracy.

3.) Smith & Wesson Military & Police or Model 10 in .38 Special

  • The S&W Model 10 or Military & Police is one of the few handguns that has been in production for over one-hundred years without interruption and is still being used today.
  • Originally, the M&P was chambered in .32-20 W.C.F and .38 Long Colt, known as the First Model Hand-Ejector, as you used the cylinder rod to eject the empty shells by hand.
  • The M&P was then altered to accept the .38 Special cartridge.  The 1905 Third Model was the typical “skinny-barrel” S&W that we know today.
  • If you added adjustable sights to the Model 10 aka M&P, you would get the Smith & Wesson Model 15 “Combat Masterpiece”.
  • In 1957, S&W started naming their revolvers with model numbers. The M&P became the Model 10. In 1959, S&W introduced the dash style numbering system, and introduced the Model 10-1, a 4-inch heavy barrel M&P revolver with an integral ramped front sight.
  • Favored by Jim Cirillo during his time on the N.Y.P.D. Stakeout Squad. Definitely check out the book Tales Of The Stakeout Squad to read about the Model 10 in action.

4.) Smith & Wesson Model 36 & 60 a.k.a "Chief's Special"

  • Introduced in 1950, the S&W Chief’s Special was so named because it was introduced at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention in Colorado Springs.
  • S&W lengthened the cylinder in their .32 caliber I-frame revolvers to accept the .38 Special cartridge. The slight changes they made to the I-frame resulted in the J-Frame.
  • A five-shot revolver, it carried one less round than the Colt Detective Special.  The S&W Chiefs Special was the number one competitor to the Colt Detective Special when it was introduced.
  • In 1952, the S&W Centennial was introduced. It was a hammerless .38 Special J-Frame revolver that was designed as a snag-free alternative to the Chief’s Special with an exposed hammer.
  • Presently, S&W is still manufacturing the J-frame revolvers, mainly chambered in .357 Magnum, as new technology allows for stronger designs. Still, most shoot .38 Specials in these small guns, as .357 can be hard to control.

5.) Smith & Wesson Model 39 9mm Semi-Automatic Pistol

  • The S&W Model 39 9mm Pistol was one of the first semi-automatic handguns adopted as a general issue service-weapon by the Illinois State Police in 1967. The ISP used a high velocity 100 grain bullet in their Model 39’s.
  • S&W originally designed the pistol when the Army expressed interest in a lighter handgun after WWII. The Army had been impressed by Walther’s P38 military pistol design and wanted something similar.
  • S&W took some design cues from the Walther P-38, notably the slide-mounted combination decocker/safety switch, and the Double-Action/Single-Action firing modes.
  • Love them or hate them, the Model 39 had a magazine-disconnect safety which Massad Ayoob says saved several officers on the ISP, as when they were in a struggle for their gun and they felt themselves losing control of it, they depressed the magazine release and made the pistol inoperable.


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