Buying Trends: Armed Citizens Versus Off-Duty Cops
Historically, our nation’s law-abiding citizens have protected themselves and their homes with the same firearms as their local police. In the 19th Century Old West, a rancher was likely to carry the same Colt Single Action or large-bore S&W top-break revolver that rode on the hip of the sheriff or town marshal — usually chambered also in .44 or .45. In the East, cops tended to carry top-break revolvers in smaller calibers, so the same type of handgun was likely found in a citizen’s nightstand drawer or coat pocket.
In the early 20th Century, the double-action Colt or Smith & Wesson .38 Special revolver became the predominant police sidearm until the 1980s. A 4-inch or longer barrel model for uniformed officers, and a smaller-frame, 2-inch barrel was popular for plainclothes and off-duty use. Surveys indicated these revolvers seemed to be the most popular for home protection and licensed concealed carry among “civilians.”
There were exceptions, of course; the Texas Rangers unofficially adopted the Colt 1911 pistol early on. Generations of Americans who fought wars with this sidearm came home confident in their experience with it and many chose it to protect their homes. In the last quarter of the 20th Century, cops went to semiautos in a tidal wave — along with the citizens they served.
How true is this parallel today? When firearms and police equipment manufacturers gathered for the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) Expo, I asked them about their current hot sellers.
Ideal for backup or off-duty carry, the Smith & Wesson M&P BG380 shares many of the same
features as the BODYGUARD 380. The BG380 doesn’t have a laser, which meets the
requirement for many L.E. agencies.
The Rise Of The .380
All dealers know the micro-size .380 pistol is one of the hottest gun shop sales trends. Pistols chambered in this round have caught the attention of cops for off-duty and backup carry.
Rob Dearden, director of L.E. sales and training at Ruger, and Rob Wood, Ruger manufacturing engineer, confirmed the LCP .380 is not only the best-selling of the breed, but is the single best-seller right now among the vast array of firearms Ruger produces. There are over a million of these baby .380s in circulation. Cops like them for the same reason as your other customers: they’re small, light, comfortable and easy to conceal while still being very reliable.
The LC380, Ruger’s compact 9mm format chambered for .380, has exceeded sales expectations; mild recoil and a slide that’s extremely easy to operate are key selling points, Dearden explained.
“At new shooter seminars where attendees can try shooting all the guns, the LC380 is the one the neophyte shooters most often ask to shoot some more,” he said.
However, in the police market, those selling points are less important, and cops favor the LCP.
Smith & Wesson supplemented their popular BODYGUARD 380 with the M&P .380, which is essentially the same gun without the integral laser sight.
“A lot of police departments don’t approve lasers,” explained Dan Keuhn, S&W regional sales manager. “L.E. agencies asked us for the same gun without them, including LAPD.”
Louisiana State Troopers are reportedly in the process of acquiring laser-less S&W .380s as backup/off-duty guns for all their armed personnel.
Glock recently introduced a subcompact .380, the G42. If you’re a dealer, I bet you’re already backordered on this model. The same is true in the police sector. The Marietta, Ga., police department has already made a Glock 42 available for backup and off-duty carry to each of their officers. Jim Strother, Glock L.E. district manager, tells me his company is getting bid requests from other agencies, too.
Strother says despite heavy .380 orders, the Glocks carried on duty by plainclothes detectives are still intermediate or compact in size, as a rule. Many of the hundreds of lawmen attending the expo were wearing 9mm Glock 19s or .40-caliber Glock 23s, and at least one was packing a same-size Glock 32 in .357 SIG.
“My sales territory is Nebraska, Iowa and Illinois. The .40-caliber Glocks are the most popular guns for uniformed service in this part of the country. For this reason, the subcompact Glock 27 in that caliber is still the most popular for off-duty carry. It’s also very popular for backup use because it can take the same magazines as the officer’s full-size service pistol. For private citizen concealed carry, though, there’s no question: in this part of the country, the 9mm Glock 19 is king,” Strother said.
At the Springfield Armory booth, while many police instructors drooled over the company’s fine 1911 pistols, Springfield’s L.E. Coordinator Lexi Strode told me the company’s young line of XD-S pistols — slim, polymer-framed, striker-fired and available in 9mm or .45 ACP — are now their most popular off-duty guns.
I recently visited a good-size city’s police department, and found their range master carrying a 9mm XD-S as his primary weapon. Indeed, Strode told me the XD-S has become the company’s best-selling pistol overall. Sales are split about evenly between 9mm and .45.
S&W’s Keuhn said while their little .380s are selling well, their slightly larger single-stack Shields in 9mm and .40 are selling even better — to police as well as to the armed citizen sector. Gun-savvy people, he thinks, simply prefer something more powerful than a .380 when a small, lightweight pistol is going to be their primary weapon. Keuhn also notes his company’s classic J-frame .38 and .357 revolvers are still huge factors in the police backup/off-duty market.
SIG SAUER’s Tommy Cochran, L.E. sales regional manager, notes while his company’s tiny single-action .380 — the P238 — is a bestseller nationwide, the only slightly larger P938 in 9mm seems to appeal more to cops looking for slim, little backup and off-duty semiautos.
Another SIG bestseller in this market, he says, is the P290RS, a subcompact DAO 9mm. Their older P232 double-action .380 still sells well enough to stay in the line, but Tommy is seeing today’s .380 buyer ask for that caliber in a smaller package, whether the buyer is police or “civilian.”
Sales Tip: Consider reaching out to your local police union and offering a discount deal on some of your suitable small guns, which could bring in volume sales. The off-duty/backup market among police is obviously very similar to the armed citizen CCW market in terms of brand preference.
Following this mantra, the dealer who is well stocked for concealed carry needs among the citizenry will undoubtedly have the right product for off-duty cops — and reap the benefits.
By Massad Ayoob
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