Death of the Wheel Gun

In 1988 the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department began the painful transition from the Smith & Wesson .38 caliber revolver, to the Beretta 9mm pistol as the primary duty weapon of its deputies. It would be the death of the wheel gun.

The Transition

Beretta 92F

With nearly 10,000 sworn deputies, nothing happens overnight. But over the next couple of years, the Firearms Training staff would run every single deputy on the department through training and qualification courses, and eventually, we would each be equipped with the Beretta 92F—whether we wanted to be or not.

The feelings were split among the troops: some couldn’t wait to carry an autoloader, others of us loved our wheel guns. Others yet would have loved to go with an autoloader, but something other than the Beretta 92F.

My former training officer, Mike Griffin, was no fan of this Italian made weapon, referring to it as a Fiat with bullets.

Not for Me

Personally, I never understood those who were excited about the transformation. Was it because of the high-capacity magazines? The Beretta 92F has a standard 15-round magazine, and you carried the gun with one round in the chamber. So you had 16 rounds of ammunition before having to load a new magazine, which was a simpler process than using a speed loader to reload a revolver. We were each issued two extra magazines, so at the very least you had 46 rounds of ammunition readily available.

Loading with a speed loader.

The quickest way to reload a wheel gun is by using speed loaders. Most deputies would carry four of them on their belt, giving them a total of 30 rounds counting the six rounds loaded in the cylinder.

Clearly, the Beretta boasted an advantage with round capacity and the ease of reloading.

But was it that, or could some of those who advocated for the change have only had the coolness factor in mind?

It was rumored back then that it was the custody deputies—who, in their current assignments, didn’t carry firearms on duty—who voted heavily for the 92F to be our newest weapon. Damn kids.

As I recall, “we” even traded one of our holidays for the exchange, meaning our union negotiated away eight hours of pay—FOREVER—to get what the department would have ended up giving us regardless, sooner or later.

The traditional the Wheel Gun

Smith & Wesson Model 15

I loved my revolver and I didn’t want to part with carrying it. I never carried the department-issued Model 15 on patrol; rather, I carried my personally owned Smith & Wesson Model 14, a blue-steel six-inch revolver that was popular with LAPD for a long time. I wore a swivel Hoyt breakfront holster, and it felt as good on my side as my highly polished Corcoran jump boots did on my feet, and as natural as the Gonzo 245 sap riding on the back of my leg.

If you’ve read my blog The Gun Grip Fiasco, you know how fervently I fought this transition into the modern world of law enforcement weaponry. I hid under my desk to avoid being sent to training, and as it turned out, I was one of the very last deputies to go through the mandatory marksman makeover.

Definitely NOT Tacticool

From the beginning, I could never shoot that thing. It was a horrible gun—in my humble opinion—big, bulky, clumsy, and ugly. Not sleek and sexy like a Browning High Power, nor tacticool like a Glock, or just plain badass like the ultimate man’s gun, a Colt .45 auto. And definitely not the old wheel gun.

The Author’s Sexy Glock Model 48

No, that dumb heavy hunk of scrap metal called the Beretta was the dreadful cousin that no self-respecting H&K or Sig Sauer would dare mention during Thanksgiving dinner

Thankfully, it wasn’t long after being forced to carry the B-word gun that I promoted to the detective bureau. There, we were allowed to choose from a variety of other autoloaders, including the H&K P7, my personal favorite at the time.

As if the Beretta wasn’t bad enough for uniformed patrol where you wore a heavy-duty gun belt, trying to carry one while wearing business attire was impossible! Dress belts aren’t designed to hold the weight of an anchor-sized pistol high on your hip, but the H&K sat there snugly and comfortably.

No Love Lost

When I retired, I had the option to buy the Beretta I had been issued. It was that or return it to my old friends at Logistics. It was a smooth transaction—unlike the previously referenced Gun Grip Fiasco—and I was happy to walk away leaving that chunk of steel behind.

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Thank you for reading my blog. I hope you will share it with your family and friends.



49 thoughts on “Death of the Wheel Gun

  1. I remember the transition days very well. I was a field training officer and all the trainees were going through Beretta conversion in patrol school. I got tired of going into tactical situations and being completely outgunned by my 5’2” blonde trainee carrying a full box of shells on her belt. It pissed me off and I took the conversion class on my own time. I loved my Model 27 5”, but it can never compete in a high volume gunfight. It’s like being the best dressed midget in an NBA ball game. You’re gonna get your ass kicked. I love the beauty and nostalgia of a revolver, but I’m a firm believer in fast reloads and a high round count.

    I’ll also admit, I always loved your Model 14, Danny!

    1. Well put. I completely agree. Anyone who says 6 rounds is enuff if you know how to shoot well is viewing the scenario possibilities with far too narrow of a prism. A handgun of any type is already an inferior combat weapon, so why further handicap yourself with one that has a very limited round capacity and is slow to reload?

      1. I agree, Sonny… however, this is more about the nostalgia of the wheel gun. As you know, I love my Glocks and wouldn’t consider carrying a wheel gun any longer because there is no need, and as you pointed out, the advantages are obvious.

        Having said that, I don’t know that there is a single case of a cop being killed because he ran out of ammunition, even when we carried revolvers. I could be wrong, but I’ve never heard of it happening.

        1. Right. Unavoidable that it took a turn early on though. We know how any topic related to cars, guns, or sports is almost certain to go that way (grinning).

        2. You might find reviewing the Miami, Florida FBI shooting interesting. Lots of discussion worthy aspects of the case, including service wespon capacity and performance. Also see if you can still find that video that was making the rounds on the i-net 6 months to a year ago that depicted a las Vegas Metro patrol cop involved in a rather lengthy shooting incident while in a veh pursuit. I’m pretty confident there are quite a few incidents where we could reasonably conclude they would not have ended as well had the involved officer been armed with a revolver for a sidearm.

          1. This ongoing conversation with so many of my favorite old friends talking about GUNS! By damn, it just doesn’t get any better than this. It really doesn’t. Pat, Cowboy, Griff…chime in, damnit!

    2. Hello Bobby,
      Hope all is going well with you and yours – been a long time. I loved that 5″ Model 27 you had. Some nice 158 grain HP .357 rounds would have ended most problems promptly with that N frame, as opposed to the dept issue rounds. I agree that the round count puts one at a huge disadvantage depending upon the circs. But I gotta admit, Colt started making Pythons again this year so of course I got myself a 6″ (had a 6″ years ago, but was stolen). I have a chicken s*^% job as a DA investigator in an as## backward county currently and carry it with magnum rounds and a compact 9mm 13 shot Springfield XD in my pocket as backup. But I have to point out that I don’t do much real police work anymore either. I just love my revolvers, always will.

      And Danny, the Model 14 is great, but it won’t take magnum rounds (well, maybe it you force em in with a hammer???). That being said, I have to question your choice of weapons, life-style, brains, etc., etc…

    3. When I graduated from the academy we were issued a CS-1, basically a S&W 686 with “improvements” . I hated that gun it was like wearing an anchor on your belt. At that time we were plain clothes so it was always more than obvious that we were armed. Luckily we weren’t required to carry it. This was back at a time when sanity still reigned in our organization. I switched to a model S&W model 66 or actually two 66s a 4inch and a 2 1/2 inch loaded with .357 magnum. I loved them both but the 2 1/2 inch was the most accurate handgun I’ve ever fired. Carried it until they forced me to transition to a S&W 6906.

  2. The M9 surplus style pistol isn’t what the “new” guys carry. Iv’e seen CSOs who became deputies, and other gun enthusiasts who trained up on the 92FS now carry either the Wilson Combat or Langdon Tactical “bespoke” guns. They come with match triggers that reduce take-up on double action and other things. With added approval of 18 & 20 round magazines, slim grips and flashlight railed models most of the arguments against carrying one 10-8 aren’t big issues. Me, I’m one of those HK 45 .ACP people.

    1. I would imagine that most people who hadn’t begun their careers with revolvers would adapt more easily and even embrace the Berettas. They certainly have their advantages, but I never liked mine. Stay safe and God bless.

  3. I also have an old wheel gun used in the 70’s when I was on the department pistol team. I still believe I could disassemble and reassemble it blindfolded. Love that gun! Many years ago, hubby gifted me with a Beretta 92f. I had a hard time with it because of the bulk. Nice to know I’m not the only one. It sits in my closet safe, unused for over a decade.

    1. I would say the biggest problem with the 92F for many of us is that bulky design. I like a gun to feel good in my hand and in my waistband, and that’s why I love the sleek and sexy G48. Just put a few hundred rounds through it today, as a matter of fact. (: Thanks, Thonie.

  4. I am a fan of wheel-gun revolvers! A 38 Revolver will always hit dead-center every single time. Feels super comfortable on the grip and will never jam! 6 rounds are more than enough to stop any threat.

    As for the Beretta 9mm, it had problems with cracked slides due to improper ammo charge, and was even discovered that the slide could be taken off if a perpetrator took control of the slide alone. Sometimes its politics and cost-cutting measures that bring questionable choices into the mix. The 1997 North Hollywood Shootout proved why the 9mm Beretta was just not effective in stopping a threat. I would choose a 1911 for police officers to carry or the 38. Revolver. Reliability over more Carry Rounds.

    1. Agree 100 % with you, glad I retired before the 92 F became the “Official” carry weapon. I loved my S&W model 19 which I carried since hiring on after coming from a Dept, EMPD where we carried 1911 45’s which I also loved.

  5. I hated the Beretta 92F the first time I held it. Hated it even more after the first time I shot it. I had heard about the reliability. That eased the ill-feelings some. As time went on, the more rds. I put thru it, the better I could shoot with it. Never a hiccup. EVER.
    I eventually shot my Beretta as well as my wheel gun…but it took about (guesstimate) 5,000 rds. to get there. Again, NEVER a hiccup. It NEVER has felt as good in my hand as my wheelgun did….but I can live with that. I had to learn to love my Beretta, the ugly gal…and I did….because even though she definitely ain’t sexy.,,she puts out.

  6. Our rangemaster talked the chief into allowing autoloaders of your own choosing. I kept my Smith and Wesson Model 19 4 inch BBL until the very end. By which time, after an assortment of weird and exotic handguns, they decided to standardize again and went with the Sig P226. I lost my city-issued Smith to the department and when I went to buy it back from the gun dealer who had purchased the lot of them (with the proviso that he sell it at cost plus $40 bucks back to us) he had sold it to some anonymous civilian!
    I purchased my own Sig, which I still have to this day. The Beretta sucked. A friend carried one during the “anything goes” era and it couldn’t shoot half as good as my Sig. I still miss my wheelgun, but my retirement CCW handgun is my old 2.5 inch Model 66 Smith and Wesson that I carried in detectives. Can’t ever give it up!

  7. Danny, I don’t know if you’re interested, but on a semi-related topic, this was my column in last Sunday’s Prescott enews.

    Why Cops Fire So Many Shots

    By Buz Williams
    October 4, 2020

    A friend of mine asked me the following honest questions: “Why does it take 9 to 18 shots into a person to ‘put them down’? And sometimes in the back when showing no resistance?”

    This was the answer I gave him. Cops are taught to shoot until the threat has ended. If a suspect still is holding a gun, he or she is still a threat. In the old days, all of the cops, and most of the suspects had revolvers, the vast majority of which held only six bullets. Nowadays, most cops and suspects have semiautomatic pistols which usually hold anywhere from 8 to 16 rounds or more, so more rounds will be fired until the threat is neutralized. Also, most people labor under the false impression, shown in movies and TV shows, that when a person is shot once, he will fly backwards and go down, severely wounded or dead.

    This is not at all like reality. A person who is mortally shot, (unless the bullet severs the spine or scrambles the brain), can still run, fire a gun, or stab you with a knife for up to 20 seconds before the blood stops running through the brain and he drops dead. As another retired cop buddy told me, “when the shooting starts, you have no idea if your partner is shooting, or what everyone else is doing. You have nanoseconds to react and it is your muscle memory taking over.”

    As far as shooting a suspect in the back, circumstances would dictate whether or not it was a righteous shooting. Take the Kenosha, Wisconsin, shooting as an example. The officers had already tried to use non-lethal tasers on him to no effect. The suspect, Jacob Blake, had already resisted arrest and fought the officers. The suspect had a warrant and a restraining order not to be at that location. He had a record of violating firearms possession laws. He had, or at least the officers believed he had, a knife as he had been told to drop the knife. He was ordered not to get into the SUV and yet he opened the door and reached in anyway. When he reached into the vehicle door, any reasonable and prudent person, let alone an experienced law enforcement officer, would assume he had a weapon and the officer would shoot to prevent him from retrieving it.

    There is a video from the body cam of an officer who was executed by a suspect in a similar situation. He had ordered the suspect not to reach into his opened jeep driver’s door. The suspect turned his back on the officer and reached in anyway The officer did not fire his weapon. The suspect brought out a rifle and a gun battle ensued with the suspect ultimately shooting the officer multiple times and then executing him while the officer is begging for his life. It was all caught on the officer’s body cam. If the officer had shot the suspect in the back, when he reached into the jeep, he would be alive today.

    My friend’s questions were honest queries, because there are two sides to every story and the public is only being told one. The public is, therefore, forced to come to conclusions founded on biased media accounts, and presumptions acquired from Hollywood movies and television cop shows. The tragedy today, is that too many cops are forced into the age old quandary of having to decide whether to be tried by twelve citizens or having their coffin carried by six. The unfortunate reality is, that with the slanted media enforced ignorance of the public, too many officers’ hesitation in life or death situations, causes their injury or death.

  8. Danny, on Long Beach PD, while I was still in the academy, the department gave us the choice of carrying the .38 S&W or the S&W model 39 or 59. I picked the model 59 because I shot higher scores with it than I did with the revolver. I didn’t particularly like the feel of it, but it had a better feel in my hand than the revolver. In 1979, the department ok’d the .45 long colt or M1911 for a duty weapon. I picked the M1911 and carried it until I went to Gangs in 1992. I then purchased a Paraordinance P14 .45 and used that as my duty gun until I retired in 2002. At my retirement party, my troops handed me an envelope with the money they had collected for me to buy myself a retirement gun. I wound up purchasing a Springfield Armory Ultra Compact .45. It is the best pistol I have ever fired. It fits my hand like glove, it never jams, and is accurate.

  9. Danny,
    Speaking of revolvers, do you remember an incident where Johnny thought you AD’d into the seat of his radio car? John was sure pissed at you, at least initially. Sorry John, I did think it was funny at the time. But on the other hand I have always had a problem with maturity. 🙂


  10. Yeah, I remember the transitional days as well. I carried a revolver when I first started on the job. It was a Model 27 S&W. It handled pretty well, and I practiced with the speed loaders religiously. (You had to.) When everybody started transitioning to semi-autos, it was no big deal for me. I’d carried the 1911 Colt when I was in the army as an MP, and qualified as Expert during my AIT MP training. I remember coming home on leave and my dad couldn’t believe it, He was a great shot with a rifle, but always said he couldn’t hit the side of a barn with the .45. We couldn’t carry the 1911 on the PD because regulations stated that the weapons had to be double action at least on the first shot. The long trigger pull on the first shot of the of the Beretta required some trigger-finger readjustment when it went to single action, but the ease in reloading always made me a fan of the semi-autos.

  11. That fiasco is the usual result of political decisions. And it’s typical that those who were supposed to benefit from such decisions were allowed no “wiggle room”.

    Squeezed both from the top and from the badlands.

  12. The one thng that the Beretta 92F beats all other handguns at (at least it did during the late 80s when it was adopted) is reliability. This bulky and overrsized handgun for its class has a well deserved reputation for being extremely reliable and tolerant of virtually all types of ammunition when it comes to feeding without a hiccup. Even the Glock (my personal choice now) cannot match the 92F in this category, although it may be close enough for practical considerations. If you ever get a chance to talk to any of the LASD staff who visited the U.S. military testers who were involved with selecting the new military issue sidearm at the time (late 80s or early 90s?) , you might find it interesting.
    I was impressed when I learned that the Beretta 92F blew away the other firearms they were testing for reliability. I recall the number of continuous rounds fired thru the Beretta without failure was off the charts. I think they had to stop after tens of thousands of rounds because it served no firther point. While I realize that reliability isn’t everything re handgun selection, it is at the top of my list. Were it not for the fact that other more ergonimic handguns, most of which come close to the reliability of the 92F, are available nowadays, I would still have the Italian oversized handgun in my “go to” pistol selections.

      1. Okay Danny how much do you want for yours????. I’m sure it’s like new. I think Veterans liked them more because they were all very accustomed to semi autos, especially in the Infantry. I carried a belt fed M60 until I became a fire team leader. Than it was back to the fully auto M16. My 92fs was such a relief. I felt so under gunned up to that Point.

        1. Hi Mike, I didn’t buy my 92F, turned it in. My revolver with the LASD stamp I kept and it now belongs to my nephew. I can see how your experiences would have you prefer the Beretta over a wheel gun. Personally, I wish they would have issued us 1911s.

    1. Hey Frank, Pat Martin here. Hope all is going well with you and yours. The 92F worked flawlessly when I was forced to carry it. That aside, I never shot good with it and resented the double action feature because I usually threw the first round. Not my favorite, but the thing did go bank when I needed it to.

    2. Totally agree sir. Bulky but very reliable I carried my model 15 for ten years and could buy it back. Sad. But, I did purchase my 92F and still qualify with it yearly as well as my sig p220 combat elite

      I do agree the sig is an awesome weapon

  13. Like you, I avoided the transition, making excuses to not attend the class, and avoiding the training sergeant. I hated to give up my County issue model 15, I knew it would always go “bang,” and didn’t have to worry about it jamming. Over time I grew very fond of my 92F, it’s second nature to me. On the rare occasions that it jams (usually because I let it go dry), I can clear the malfunction, still get off all my rounds and get a qualifying score. I bought it when I retired and still carry it everyday.

  14. Never liked the 92F… and when I left patrol to work at the academy they sent me to Beretta instructor school. Aside from the design flaw, being able to take half the weapon away from the user in a split second, it never felt like gunfighters gun.

    After I retired and went to the Middle East to work, what do they give me for a sidearm? Beretta M4. Same POS Italian fishing weight courtesy of my friends in the USMC.

    Springfield 1911 has always been my favorite autoloader. Model 15 Smith was my best gunfighters gun.

      1. In retrospect, I do have to say the HK P7 was the most user friendly and accurate. Germans won on that design. Out of the box it was a tack driver… and I sold it. Stupid. Also sold a .32 Seecamp to you. Stupid.

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