After shooting bullets into some gelatin over and over again, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Department decided to purchase a new type of pistol for every gun-carrying deputy.
The department has used .45-caliber guns for about a quarter of a century, but now, for the first time, all of the sheriff’s deputies and others in the department will switch to 9-millimeter (mm) handguns.
Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes said that, when he first joined the force decades ago, deputies used 38-caliber pistols and, when he became sheriff in 1994, the department was using .40-caliber handguns but soon switched to .45-caliber handguns. Barnes said this week that the 9mm Glocks the department is planning to buy to replace the Smith & Wesson .45’s will provide advantages to his officers without compromising firepower. The sheriff said the guns will have more rounds and less kick and carry a lot of stopping power. He said the change will benefit officers with smaller arms and hands, including some female officers.
Barnes said the department has conducted ballistics tests in which guns were fired into a Jell-O like substance and those tests showed that the new 9mm pistols – with a new type of ammo – did as much damage to the gelatin mass as the .45-caliber guns did.
“We did ballistics testing and got the same results out of the 9mm,” Barnes said. “We use a block of gelatin and measured the shock-impact of the bullet.”
He said that, in the past, the .45’s had an advantage in stopping power but new types of 9mm bullets had brought those guns up to par in that regard.
According to Barnes, the Guilford County Sheriff’s Departments needs new firearms badly.
“The guns we’ve got are old,” he said. “They’ve been used multiple years.”
The last big gun purchase by the department was in 2009, and this week a department memo to the Guilford County Board of Commissioners states that the change is needed for both officer and citizen safety. The Sheriff’s Department routinely replaces its duty weapons every eight to 10 years to prevent issues such as gun jams in life or death situations.
According to Barnes, there are indications Matt Self, a Guilford County deputy shot in the line of duty earlier this year, had an issue with his gun firing, though the sheriff added that it could have been a gun jam, faulty ammunition or “a weak hand because of trauma from being shot.”
The Sheriff’s Department is purchasing 410 Glocks at $409 each, as well as 40 models that allow for special sight attachments at $481 apiece. Glock will allow a trade-in value of $315 for each Smith & Wesson handgun turned in, which will make the total cost of the gun purchase $55,899.
With the change in weapons, the department is also buying new holsters at $92 each and magazine pouches at $14 each – bringing the total purchase to $104,000 after credit for the old guns is factored in.
Barnes said the Sheriff’s Department is using federal forfeiture funds in an effort to save taxpayer money.
The Sheriff’s Department is seeking approval from the Board of Commissioners at the board’s Thursday, June 1 meeting. No opposition to the purchase is anticipated.
Barnes said the move makes financial sense because the glow in the dark “night sights” – dots that help users line up the shot – on many of the current guns are fading out, and the cost for replacing those sights is over $100 per gun.
He also said the change to 9mm makes sense.
“A lot of departments are going to the 9mm,” Barnes said. “The FBI has gone back to the nines.”
The Sheriff’s Department has 650 employees and roughly 450 of those are packing heat.
Barnes said officers fire the guns at least once a month. They often go to Calibers Indoor Gun Range to keep in practice. The Sheriff’s Department also has an outdoor range on the former Guilford County Prison Farm land in eastern Guilford County that’s used for firearm training as well. In addition to monthly shooting, the officers also use the firearms when they go through their annual certifications.
Barnes said his officers have the option to buy the guns they are now using at the dealer cost, but, if an officer doesn’t want the gun, it will be given to Glock and eventually sold to the public by the dealer.
The Sheriff’s Department’s choice is different from that of the Greensboro Police Department (GPD), which has already gotten new guns. Susan Danielson, the public information officer for that department, said its officers use .40-caliber weapons.
“Within the last month, GPD fully transitioned to carrying the Sig Sauer P320 pistol,” Danielson wrote in an email. “This transition was part of a scheduled fair-wear-and-tear replacement [for] the Sig 229 and Glock 19.”
Both of those handguns are .40-caliber.
Danielson wrote of the advantages of the new weapons: “We like the P320s because all 676 of our sworn officers can carry them, so our department now has just one model of sidearm. The weapon has interchangeable grips to accommodate a variety of hand sizes. It is lightweight, and easy to break down.”
The High Point Police Department also uses .40-caliber Sig Sauer pistols. A spokesperson for that department said that the Sig Sauer .40-calibers they use are fairly new and come after a switch from Glock .40-caliber weapons High Point police used until recently.
Chairman of the Guilford County Board of Commissioners Jeff Phillips is a big gun rights advocate and both he and his mother have concealed carry licenses. He said the county’s large gun buy is expected to get board approval easily.
“It’s not uncommon every few years to have a turnover with firearms in the department,” he said.
He said it is interesting to see the way that gun companies cut deals to get law enforcement departments to switch.