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Readers respond: What is the state of firearms maintenance in law enforcement?

Agency leaders have a responsibility to their people and the public to ensure officers have safety equipment that will actually work when the chips are down

Firearms maintenance survey Mike Wood-1.jpg

An officer’s handgun is one of the most important tools they are issued and can spell the difference between life and death. As such, it is critically important to ensure they are properly maintained for reliable function.

The disappointing results from one agency’s inspection of their officer’s duty and off-duty handguns led to a discussion on five important lessons about firearms maintenance. It also encouraged Police1 to ask readers a series of poll questions about firearms maintenance practices in their own agencies. The results of this polling are discussed below, along with select reader comments.

Formal instruction on cleaning a duty firearm

When Police1 asked readers if their agency had ever provided formal instruction on how to clean their duty firearm, about two-thirds of the 930 respondents said yes. This is good news, but we need to get the other one-third of police agencies on board with providing this training, to ensure all officers know how to complete this critical task.

Readers respond:

  • I don’t think we were ever actually trained on how to clean our service weapon. I think those who knew just kind of taught those who didn’t in the academy.
  • We learned how to field strip it before ever firing a shot and how to clean it after that first range day.

Refresher training on firearms maintenance

A 40% minority of Police1 readers indicated their agency conducts periodic refresher training on firearms maintenance. The other 60% of the 497 respondents said their agency didn’t conduct this training (57%), or they didn’t know (3%).

Maintaining a firearm is a skill, just like shooting a firearm. Some officers will learn this skill quickly and retain it forever, while others will need constant reinforcement to guarantee they know how to do it properly. It’s important for agencies to ensure this latter group of officers doesn’t fall through the cracks, and periodic refresher training is a good way to do that.

Readers respond:

  • I’ve always recommended that on training days we clean our weapons as a squad, or at least after quals. Been told no for 14+ years.
  • Every year. During the annual requalification shoot.

Firearms maintenance policies

Of the 435 readers who responded, 67% of them said their agency addressed firearms maintenance in its policy manuals or directives, while 26% said their agency did not. The remaining 7% of readers didn’t know for sure.

If an agency is going to hold its people accountable for keeping their firearms properly cleaned, lubricated and ready for duty, a written policy must outline this expectation. Most officers are sensible and don’t need a written policy to encourage them to maintain their lifesaving equipment, but other officers will need the motivation and reinforcement provided by a clear agency directive.

Supervisors will find it difficult to enforce a requirement that is not clearly communicated to officers, so if the agency wants things done – and done a certain way – it needs to be written into policy. That’s the best way to be fair to all involved.

Routine inspections of duty firearms

By the slimmest of margins, just over half of the 630 Police1 readers who responded indicated their agency conducted routine inspections of their duty firearms, to ensure they were properly maintained. Only 52% of readers worked for agencies that actually inspected their duty weapons.

Based on what we’ve seen in other agencies, and what we know about our fellow cops, it’s a safe bet that there’s a lot of dirty and dry guns riding around in police duty holsters out there – with some so poorly maintained that they won’t work reliably.

This is an important safety concern that affects the welfare of our officers and the public they protect. Agency leaders have a responsibility to their people and the community to ensure that officers are carrying safety equipment that will actually work when the chips are down. If periodic equipment inspections are not being conducted at your agency, then you need to fix that quickly.

Readers respond:

  • We once went 4 years without qualifying . . .
  • The dirtiest pistol I have ever cleaned was a California department Smith and Wesson M&P. I almost thought of just throwing it in the trash and giving up.

Trained armorers

An encouraging 84% of the 489 readers who responded to our poll indicated their agency had a trained armorer on staff who could address problems with duty firearms. This is a positive sign because some problems with firearms can be difficult to detect and require the trained eye of a professional to discover them. Similarly, some repairs require specialized knowledge and tools to properly accomplish them.

Although some agencies may hesitate to spend the money on armorer training and equipment, this can be a false economy. The service life of a firearm can be dramatically shortened if it’s not properly maintained and its reliability will suffer as well. An agency that doesn’t have an armorer to keep equipment in good working order will require a larger pool of reserve weapons to substitute for broken ones, and will also have to replace their weapons more frequently. Additionally, the liability associated with fielding an inoperative or unreliable weapon can be substantial.

If the members of your agency don’t have access to a trained armorer, either in-house or by external contract, you should remedy that.

Readers respond:

  • We have access to our training bureau, and an armorer is available every day for any questions, issues or to assist with disassembly and cleaning. They provide all the supplies and have work stations to clean and maintain all the weapons we carry.

Firearms cleaning supplies

Of the 347 Police1 readers who responded to our poll, 61% said their agency provided access to cleaning materials (including consumable items like solvent, oil and patches, as well as tools) so they could maintain their duty firearm.

That’s a good start, but we need to increase that number. The best way for an agency to motivate officers to clean and lubricate their firearms regularly is to eliminate the barriers that stand in the way. By providing ready access to cleaning materials, an agency eliminates the barriers of cost and convenience and leaves an officer little excuse for having a poorly maintained weapon. As an added bonus, if officers are cleaning their weapons at work, it gives supervision an additional opportunity to provide proper instruction and monitor compliance with agency policies for maintaining firearms.

Readers respond:

  • Yes, and cleaning time is built into the end of each range day. Nobody leaves until all weapons are cleaned.
  • Mine did, but I would have cleaned mine on my own if they hadn’t.
  • Not only did we provide the training, we provided the tools. Brushes, cleaner, lube, etc, then annually we would stand in front of them and make them prove they knew how to field strip and reassemble both the rifle and handgun they were issued. For some, it was not an easy task.

But wait, there’s more!

For more information on firearms maintenance, including shotgun maintenance, cleaning your magazines and inspecting your duty ammunition, check out the gun cleaning page on

Get those blasters clean and lubed, and be safe out there!

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Mike Wood is the son of a 30-year California Highway Patrolman and the author of “Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis,” the highly-acclaimed study of the 1970 California Highway Patrol gunfight in Newhall, California. Mike is an Honor Graduate of the United States Air Force Academy, a graduate of the US Army Airborne School, and a retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with over 26 years of service. He’s a National Rifle Association (NRA) Law Enforcement Division-certified firearms instructor, senior editor at, and has been a featured guest on the Excellence In Training Academy and American Warrior Society podcasts, as well as several radio and television programs. He’s grateful for the opportunity to serve and learn from the men and women of law enforcement.