Monday, May 26, 2014

Back Home on the Range

The Monday following Edgars Week I was back in Albany, but actually in the City of Saratoga. (I have yet to figure out if the ‘Saratoga’ where the Continental Army beat General Burgoyne is one and the same ‘Saratoga Springs’ that the highway signs tell me I’m in). Never mind. I was there at the Saratoga Police Pistol Range to qualify with both .38-cal. revolvers that I’d carried during twenty years as a cop in the NYPD—which, bye the bye, I last fired in 1987, the year I retired (and also when I last cleaned them, but that’s another story.)

I’m at the Range this Monday to keep from getting arrested. You see, I once had a Carry-Permit issued me by the City of New York as a retired Member of the Force “in good standing” (meaning not having been arrested anywhere since). When you leave NYC, however—as I did to reside in Albany–the Permit automatically expires, and the NYPD requested me to mail it back (I didn’t). I keep both revolvers—my off-duty 5-shot Smith & Wesson Chief and the on-duty S&W Police Officer’s Special—in my sock drawer in our bedroom on the top floor of our Row House in Downtown Albany. Not in a “locked metal box” as the Department prescribed. How in hell could I get to my gun with all deliberate speed to repel a burglar if I first have to remember where I stashed the lockbox key (recommended to be kept separate from the lockbox), then unlock the box to get the gun. There is a further complication in that the gun will not be loaded. At the insistence of my wife Rose, I keep the bullets in a different hidey hole because loaded guns in the house make her nervous. This, as you can readily see, adds an additional step to the whole business before I can Stand My Ground (as Floridians say).

Of course, there hasn’t been a single home invasion on my street in the seven years I’ve lived here, and I can’t really see a burglar climbing two flights of stairs to beard us in our bedroom, so it’s more likely that I will, in such circumstances, yell loudly down the stairs: “POLICE!”, then call them.

I’m not a gun buff. I still have the two revolvers I carried while patrolling the mean streets of the City, but none others. I’m sentimentally attached to them, which explains my presence this Monday on a Police Pistol Range. I owe it to The GRUMPS who arranged for the presence of eighteen of us—all retired guys, no gals—to shoot for certification under Federal law. The Federal Law Enforcement Officers Safety Act (LEOSA, 18 U.S. Code 926) authorizes me to carry my revolvers concealed on my person in every State of the Union, including the City of New York (which delights in locking up off-duty out-of-state lawmen who think they can bring their firearms into the City because their place-of-employment isn’t as finicky as NYC). We owe this boon to former President George Bush, the Son, who did one good thing after all.

The Saratoga PBA Range is a homey place, small by Big Department standards, accommodating just eight shooters simultaneously. Surprisingly, all the old cops were qualifying with revolvers rather that automatics like the Glock. It bespoke a long-ago time when police departments prescribed that its members carry the revolver because of its reliability: if you never cleaned a revolver, it would still fire, whereas a dirty automatic would jam, fail to fire. I fired 50 rounds from each revolver at a stationary paper target stapled to a flexible metal pole from distances of 25 yards, 15-, 3-, and one-yard. That one-yard is meant to simulate combat. You stand a little to the side an arm’s distance away and give the target a shove with your free hand, step back quickly with the foot opposite your shooting hand while drawing your weapon, holding it close in to your side a bit forward of your body (so you don’t shoot yourself), and let go three rounds rapidly at the bad guy. Your body is doing the aiming at the silhouette of a muscular, bald-headed, mean-looking white guy, with a gun in his fist pointing at you. This is a practical exercise since most police gunfights occur with the shooters within three yards of each other. The Range Instructor then scored our targets. I passed, respectably. (It’s like riding a bike, muscle memory.)

For the occasion, Rose had sewn me a Carpenter’s Apron in denim to hold the one hundred rounds I had to grab in handfuls to reload as I fired the Course. I bought the ammo at a store on a suburban route with a monster sign blinking: “GUNS”. I’d never been in a store like it, having in the dim past bought only from NYPD-affiliated shops clustered around the Police Academy on East 20th Street. I needed a pair of safety glasses, ear protectors, and bullets, of course. The bullets are called ‘wadcutters’, meant for shooting targets. The People Bullets are soft-nosed ‘hollow-points,’ designed to explode and expand within a body on impact, causing massive tissue damage. I remember the NYPD, when it decided in the 1990s to arm its members with these ‘.38-Specials’, calling them “humane bullets”. Actually, it had everything to do with the tendency of higher-velocity rounds to pass right through the bad guy, taking out innocent pedestrians in the line of fire. The lawyers referred to this unintended result of non-stop bullets as Lawsuit City. Incidentally, I was voted Best Looking Ammo Pouch on the Range that day by my fellow GRUMPS.

At the end of shooting, six of us went to lunch together at Ruby Tuesdays in a nearby mall. I had told my share of war stories during the morning, enough to merit the invitation. Two homicide detectives from Nassau County, one a member of the Saratoga Springs Police department, another a BCI investigator with the State Police, the last a sergeant formerly of the NYPD’s Bronx Narcotics Unit. All of us long retired from police work, me the oldest at table. I’d not met any of them before, although the Bronx sergeant said he and I had spoken at a GRUMPS Christmas Party. Our time had overlapped in the NYPD so we talked of the Old Days. As we stood around a picnic table waiting for our Relay to be called onto the range, I asked him if he planned on cleaning his guns that evening; he did. (I recalled the process: you wet cotton patches with Hoppe’s Gun Oil, attach them at the end of a thin metal rod that gets run through the barrel and empty chambers, then repeat with dry patches to remove excess oil.) He volunteered that he also dismantles the weapon to get at all the moving parts, and offered to show me how. I declined, noting that despite not having been cleaned in 27 years, the moving parts still moved, the guns fired. At first taken aback, he recovered, offering to clean both my revolvers for me if I bought lunch. I bought lunch.

GRUMPS is not an acronym as so much of police-speak is. Rather, the name aptly calls to mind a couple old codgers sitting on a park bench chewing the rag, remembering the Good Times, recast and immortalized in the retelling.

© 2014 Robert Knightly


  1. Dear Mr. . Grumps, I just loved this piece! Wonderful way to start Memorial Day.... tjs

  2. A wonderful post Bob. You hit the bull's eye with this one. And GRUMPS is a wonderful word.