Do you think the FBI needs new guns?
When conservatives complain about profligate federal spending, part of the problem is the sheer magnitude of the federal budget, where mere tens of millions seem hardly worth talking about in a flood of dollars, both taxed and borrowed, that is in the trillions. That of course, allows all sorts of waste in which a few million here and there hardly seems worth fighting over. Take for example, the FBI’s recent decision to reequip their agents with an entirely new and entirely unnecessary handgun, which will cost American taxpayers something like $80,000,000.
The FBI has an interesting history of handgun use that is closely followed. An important event in that history is a shootout in Miami in 1986 in which two FBI agents were killed, and several others wounded. After the gunfight the FBI decided to reevaluate their handguns. The gun-battle was an extremely rare occurrence in which a couple of hardened criminals decided to go down fighting with agents. Despite being fatally wounded by agents firing a variety of weapons (.38 and .357 magnum revolvers, 9mm pistols, and shotguns) these criminals, still managed to kill and injure several before they expired.
After the Miami shootout the FBI decided that the revolvers and 9mm pistols, which were the standard issue weapons at the time, had inadequate stopping power. After number of stops and starts in which various 9mm pistols were issued and with different ammo loads, the agency decided to switch to a new and more potent handgun that fired a 10mm round. However, the hard recoiling 10mm round proved to be too powerful for many agents, especially as the agency incorporated more women into the ranks. The FBI quickly abandoned the 10mm. Reluctant to return to the 9mm round, it decided to switch to a newer round, the Smith and Wesson .40, a cartridge that fired a bullet comparable to the 10mm, but with less recoil.
In 1997 the FBI adopted the Glock 22 and 23 pistols which fire the .40 SW. The Glocks are excellent pistols, combining affordability, light weight, compactness (especially in the G23), reliability and accuracy. The FBI’s decision to switch to the .40 Glock influenced police departments countrywide, and today the .40 is one of the most popular, if not the most popular pistol caliber used by American police departments, with Glock one of the most popular (if not the most popular) manufacturer for police use. The FBI purchased thousands of Glocks.
Now the FBI has decided that the .40 Glock is no longer acceptable, and has put out the big contract for a new handgun, in — wait for it — 9mm. According to the FBI, improvements in ammunition over recent years have evened out the differences between the .40 and 9mm so that it behooves the agency to return to the round it abandoned after the Miami shootout. Of course, this being the federal government, the switch back to 9mm will mean abandoning tens of millions of dollars’ worth of perfectly good .40 Glocks and millions of rounds of ammo in stock, in favor of a new pistol, which appears will be the SIG 320, at the cost of tens of millions of dollars. To make matters worse, Glock 22/23s can easily be converted to 9mm, so that the purchase of a new handgun in favor of the lighter round seems even more wasteful. And even if the FBI allows agents to continue using some Glocks, or only issues the new 9mm to new agents (doubtful), the switch will cost a lot of money.
In justifying these changes, the FBI harkens back to the Miami shootout. But in reality, it is worth questioning whether the FBI even needs to arm most of its agents. Today, an FBI agent is as likely to be a recent law school graduate or MBA as an experienced cop. And most of the work that FBI agents do is not streetwise police work, but investigations where advanced degrees, technological know-how and reading comprehension matter more than skill with a firearm.