Hellcat: A Cop’s Best Backup Gun?
December 19th, 2019
6 minute read
Editor’s Note: Retired police captain Massad Ayoob served for nineteen years as chair of the Firearms/Deadly Force Training Committee for the American Society of Law Enforcement Trainers, and is in his fourteenth year on the Advisory Board of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association.
I recently had the opportunity to take a look at the new Springfield Armory Hellcat 9mm pistol and review it from the standpoint of its application to law enforcement. Based on 47 years as a police trainer, 43 of them packing gun and badge myself, that assessment is as follows.
In uniformed police patrol work, the most common application of the small handgun is as a back-up weapon. The primary service pistol may be knocked out of the officer’s hand, shot out of the same hand, lost in a fight or snatched by a violent perpetrator. The service pistol may be inaccessible to the officer when they are strapped in a seat belt or pinned on the ground, while a small hideout gun in another location can be more easily accessed.
In administrative/uniformed police work, an officer will be spending a lot of time behind a desk. Most office chairs have armrests, which get in the way of a bulky Sam Browne-style duty belt and all its gear. Therefore, it’s common for administrative officers, chiefs and down, to wear the narrower Garrison belt which threads through uniform trouser belt loops and carries the pistol closer to the body. Smaller pistols are particularly advantageous here.
There are 168 hours in every week, and the cop working 40 of those hours in uniform is off-duty the rest of the time. Every sworn officer has a duty to take action if a felony occurs in their presence, even on their own hours. While some dedicated lawmen and gun people carry their full-size duty weapon when not at work, most find a smaller handgun more convenient and discreet.
Finally, investigators and assorted other armed plainclothes personnel prefer — and are sometimes mandated — to carry their guns concealed. As with law-abiding armed citizens, they find smaller, lighter pistols easier and more comfortable to carry concealed than larger, heavier ones.
The Springfield Armory Hellcat is the latest entry in the burgeoning field of what I call “slim-nines,” pistols which are light and slim and carry full-power 9mm ammunition. The Hellcat’s most obvious advantage over other makes and models in this usually single-stack pistol category is its cartridge capacity. Also, despite its small size, it’s rated for +P 9mm ammunition.
Its flush-fit magazine, which comes with both a finger extension floorplate and a swappable flat one, holds 11 rounds. With one in the chamber, that’s an impressive 12 rounds in a pistol that weighs around 18 ounces and has a 3” barrel. In addition, it comes with an extended magazine that holds 13 rounds (14 total capacity with one in the chamber) and allows a full grasp with all three fingers below the trigger guard. The Hyve magazine extension can even add 3 rounds to the flush fitting mag and 1 round to the extended.
With two magazines and two floorplate options for the flush magazine, you have a lot of carry options. With the flat floorplate installed, this puts a full dozen rounds at the trigger finger’s disposal with the minimum possible “footprint.” This allowed pocket carry (in a pocket holster, of course!) in my preferred 5.11 brand BDU pants.
This shortest magazine option requires tucking the pinky finger under the gun butt when firing, but I found it to still be very “shootable.” It was also the most comfortable configuration for me personally to use with an ankle holster, though even with the extended magazine ankle carry was “doable” with uniform pants.
For decades, the most common back-up gun for cops has been a small-frame revolver in .38 Special, holding five or six rounds. With the Hellcat, you get a +P 9mm that holds 12 rounds in its most compact configuration. With this gun, you are getting more power and more ammo in a remarkably compact package.
Looking at it from another perspective, the Hellcat with the longer magazine has the same fourteen-round 9mm cartridge capacity as that iconic full-size service pistol, the 9mm Hi-Power. Obviously, this classic fighting handgun is distinctly larger and heavier than the Hellcat.
In the six-shooter days, a cop could feed his back-up .38 snub from the same ammo pouches as his 4″ or 6″ service revolver. All the modern service pistols have smaller variations which can take the longer magazines of the full-size models in an emergency, but they tend to be chunky and bulky in pocket or ankle carry. The Hellcat won’t take a service-size XD’s magazines, but its own spare magazine is small enough to fit perfectly in the cell phone pocket of the BDU pants that are rapidly replacing the standard trousers of the traditional Class A police uniform.
Best of Both Worlds?
One reason some savvy old cops still carry small revolvers for backup is that often when you have to go to the second gun, it’s because you are so entangled in a hand-to-hand fight for your life you can’t reach your primary service pistol. In a situation like that, it’s more likely than usual that you’ll have to fire one or more shots at muzzle contact.
Attempting to fire a press-contact shot with most autoloading pistols is highly likely to result in the barrel/slide assembly being pushed rearward just far enough to “take the gun out of battery,” and render it unshootable. The Hellcat has a huge, potentially life-saving advantage here, which it shares with the revolver!
Because of the design of its full-length recoil spring guide, it has “stand-off capability.” In other words, it won’t go out of battery in a straightforward press contact shot, and can be expected to fire in that life-or-death circumstance.
Some shooters don’t care for the grip safety on the larger XD models. They’ll be happy to know that the Hellcat doesn’t come with a manual or grip safety. It does come with a rear sight shaped with a shelf that lets a wounded officer cycle the slide one-handed by catching that shelf on the edge of the belt.
One additional benefit the Hellcat enjoys is an accessory rail that allows for a weapon light like the SureFire XSC to be mounted for improved target identification.
The Hellcat is competitively priced, making it attractive to underpaid law enforcement personnel. It’s reliable and well-designed with a lot of great features. All things considered, it seems to have a bright future in several aspects of modern American police work. The bottom line for me? The new Hellcat pistol has definite law enforcement applications.