It was the “Gangster Era,” with personages like Bonny and Clyde, Al Capone, Pretty Boy Floyd, Machine Gun Kelley, Ma Barker and John Dillinger dominating the newspaper headlines. Alchohol prohibition and the Great Depression combined to bring out the worst of the criminal element, and they had no compunction whatsoever about gunning down any cops that stood in their way. In 1934, a fledgling federal law enforcement agency known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation had just lost one of their agents in a deadly shootout in Kansas City, Mo., during which four other law enforcement officers were killed. Following on the heels of what became known as the Kansas City Massacre, Congress decided to give FBI agents full authority to carry firearms.

In the late ‘30s, in an effort to improve and make its firearms training more realistic, the FBI introduced the Practical Pistol Course (PPC). The course encompassed prone shooting at 60 yards, sitting and barricade positions at 50 yards, kneeling and barricade shooting at 25 yards, off-hand shooting at 15 yards and point shooting using the “FBI Crouch” at 7 yards. The course was timed to add an element of stress, and the targets were humanoid silhouettes instead of the traditional round bulls-eye. At the same time, the NRA was getting involved in LE firearms training, setting out a similar course for state and local LE agencies and providing firearms instructor schools. Through the influence of the FBI and NRA, the PPC became a national standard for police firearms qualifications and was the forerunner of almost all of today’s LE handgun qualification and advanced tactical training courses. Quite naturally, PPC also became popular at shooting competitions among LE agencies.

As PPC competition became more formalized and competitions emerged at the local, state and regional levels, the NRA stepped forward in 1962 and conducted the first National Police Revolver Championships (NPRC). The first such event was held in Bloomington, Ind., and attracted 140 competitors. Larry A. Mead of the Columbus, Ohio, police department was the first National Police Champion. Later, in 1969, the NPRC moved to the Mississippi LEO Training Academy in Pearl, where it stayed until 1980. Until 1988, the NPRC was held at Camp Dodge, Iowa, under the supervision of the Iowa LE Training Academy. In 1989, the NRA changed the name of the competition to the National Police Shooting Championships (NPSC) as semi-automatic pistols were quickly becoming the norm within U.S. LE agencies. The event was then moved to Jackson, Miss., where it was hosted by the City of Jackson Police Department. The event was again relocated in 2006 to Albuquerque, N.M., where it remains at this point and time.

My own involvement with PPC began in the late 1970s while I was employed as a sheriff’s deputy in a patrol division. A solid performer during firearms qualifications, and having had previous experience competing with a military pistol team, I was invited to become a member of the department’s combat pistol team. Back in the day, revolvers were the norm for duty carry, so all team members were issued a Smith & Wesson K-38 Masterpiece (Model 14) that had a 6-inch barrel and adjustable sights. I used the department gun at local and sheriff’s association PPC matches, but later I acquired my own Model 14, which I still own, and had it fitted with a Bomar Rib that had an adjustable rear sight and front post sight protected by “wings.” I had an action job done on it by a local gunsmith, and I installed a set of over-sized combat grips. I used my S&W Model 19 for the Distinguished and Service Handgun matches, but after leaving the sherrif’s department I became more interested in the new IPSC-type competitions and other more action-oriented shooting sports. For my last PPC match (in October 1990) I used a Browning High-Power in 9x19mm and took away a trophy.

For those who have never shot in a PPC event, the original course stages were broken down into a series of matches. The first six matches are characteristically fired using an Open-Class revolver, which is usually a .38 Special or .357 Magnum with a 6-inch heavy barrel, adjustable sights, an action job and hand-fitting custom grips (the NRA Police Pistol Combat Rule Book lists all the specifications and prohibited features or modifications). Centerfire cartridges.32 caliber and larger are required, and the .38 wadcutter load pretty much rules the day. Either factory or hand-loads can be used. Match #1 is shot at 7 yards and 15 yards in a standing position without support (the shooter fires 12 rounds at each distance). Match #2 takes place at 25 yards, shooters fire six shots kneeling, six from the strong side and six from the support-side barricade. Match #3 is shot from 50 yards, and the shooting is done sitting, prone and barricade for a total of 24 shots. Match #4 is shot from the standing unsupported position from 25 yards in 2 stages of 12 rounds each. Match #5 is the National Police Course and is composed of all the aforementioned matches together for a total of 60 rounds. Match #6 is the 1500 Aggregate of Matches #1-5, and Match 7 is shot with a service-type revolver, and it requires firing 48 rounds at 3-, 7-, 15-, and 25-yard positions. For this match, roundnose or SWC factory rounds must be used. The ubiquitous B27 silhouette target is used in all NPRC events. A whole article in itself could be written on allowable holsters and ammo loading devices, so I’ll just direct the reader to the NRA PPC Rule Book.

The wheel-gun no longer “rules the roost” in American law enforcement, and in keeping pace with the transition to semi-automatic pistols, the NRA not only renamed the match, but in 1988 added Matches #7-12, which are basically the same as the revolver matches explained above, but are fired with the Open-Class self-loader. This is a pistol of .35 caliber or larger, with a maximum barrel length of 6 inches and a sight radius of 8.5 inches. It can be single action or double action, but the DA must be fired as such for the first shot in all stages, with the exception of the 50-yard match. Other allowed and disallowed features can be found in the rule book. Like the revolver, the semi-auto also has a1500 Aggregate (Match #13) and a stock or service auto event (Match #14). As with the service revolvers, the auto-loader must be your basic factory DA or SA handgun with a .35-caliber minimum (FN 5.7x28mm is OK), have a barrel no longer than 5.5 inches and a sighting radius of no more than 7.7 inches. Again, I’ll direct you to the rule book. Match #16 is a service pistol aggregate of Matches #7, #14, #15, and #19.

Moving right along, there is an Off-Duty Sidearm match (#15) with factory SA, DA or DAO revolver requirements of .38 Special caliber, with a maximum barrel length of 2.75 inches. Autos must be .380 or larger in stock-factory condition and be suitable for concealed carry, with a maximum barrel length of 3.65 inches and SA, DA or DAO. Both types of handgun must be fired with factory or hand-loaded ammo, but wadcutters are disallowed. As with the service gun matches, shooting takes place at 3, 7, 15 and 25 yards. Conventional holsters are another requirement. Match #17 and #18 are Distinguished Revolver and Pistol courses. Distinguished guns follow the same basic requirements as service-type handguns, the biggest difference being that the ammunition must be factory loads—RNL or SWC for revolvers and FMJ, SWC, JSP or JHP for autos. No Magnum ammo is allowed. Unlike the Service gun matches, the Distinguished is shot just like Match #5 and #12, with shooting taking place at 7, 15, 25, and 50 yards. Competitors are also eligible to qualify for points toward a Distinguished Badge—see the rule book for all the details. Match #19 is another aggregate called the President’s Match, and it takes the scores from both Distinguished Matches.

Match #20 is the shotgun event; it gets its own appendix (D) in the PPC rule book. The required gun is a factory 12 gauge with a cylinder or IC choke and a barrel length of no more than 22 inches. There is no mention of sights. The shells must be factory 9-pellet 00 buck and 1-ounce rifled slugs. A buckshot score is any hit, worth five points, on the B-27 target inside the 7-ring; anything landing outside is zero. With the slugs, all the scoring rings count their face value—7, 8, 9, 10 and 10X. The course of fire is broken down into an aggregate of four stages, with shooting taking place from 15 yards and 20 yards with buckshot, 25 yards with rifled slugs and 50 yards with rifled slugs. If your shotgun has a sling, it can only be used on stage #4. There are multiple targets, and the time limits seem to me pretty challenging; I have never had the opportunity to shoot the shotgun course in competition.

The final matches are both aggregates: Match #21 is the Special Aggregate, composed of results from Matches #16, 19, 20 and 22; Match #22 is the Individual Championship Aggregate composed from scores in Match #6 and #13. There is a lot to NRA Police Pistol Combat Shooting, so I hate to beat a dead horse, but anyone who is interested should take a look at the 2012 PPC rule book. It’s available online from the NRA website under the Law Enforcement section—click on Competitions, then look to the left in the menu for PPC Rule Information. The site will also furnish you with lots of other NPSC material including the locations and dates of approved matches, registered matches, state, regional and the big national match. Unfortunately, PPC is not as big as it once was before the advent of so many other shooting events and games, so you might have to go out of state to find the nearest match. Beginners are more than welcome at the NPSC in Albuquerque, with classes suited to every level of skill. There are both individual and team events.

This year (2012) marked the 50th Anniversary of the NRA NPSC. The golden anniversary event was held September 15–20 at Shooting Range Park in Albuquerque. Some 600 LE officers from the United States and four foreign countries attended the event, where more than $150,000 in awards and prizes were offered. Entry fees were waived for new shooters or those who had not attended in last three years. In addition to regular PPC matches, Tactical Police Competitions (since 2008) were held on the 15th and 16th. Mayor Richard Berry welcomed competitors to the event, and the Albuquerque Police Department played a major role in its operations. There was also lots of support in the form of prizes and other donations from such sponsors as sponsors such as Brownell’s, Springfield Armory, H&K, FNH, Smith & Wesson, Glock, Sig Sauer, Remington and Colt.

As has been the case in recent years, my old outfit, the U.S. Border Patrol, pretty much dominated the competition, taking first place in all but Match #7 the service revolver and Match #8 the semi-auto at 7 and 15 yards standing. BP Agent Robert Vadasz took the Grand Aggregate Champion title for the fourth straight year with a record-breaking score of 6159-410x. The USBP also took 2nd and 3rd place in Grand Aggregate. The “Mean Green” also took five of seven two- and four-man team events; fellow Feds ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement) and CBP (Customs & Border Protection) took one each. Other high individual tiles included High New Shooter, High Retired Officer, High Reserve Officer, High Conservation Officer, High Sheriff-Deputy Sheriff, High Woman and High non-U.S. citizen. The next NPRC will again be held in Albuquerque and will run Sept. 15–19, 2013.

After 50 years, one might wonder if PPC-type competition is still viable and relevant in today’s law enforcement world. To answer, I quote Border Patrol agent Vadasz: ”No one out there wants to shoot a bad target. Competition creates nerves, and that dumps adrenaline and endorphins; the same thing happens when you get in a fight. You have to learn to control yourself. If you do this enough, you put yourself in a situation where your stomach gets in knots and your hands are shake—not because of fear, but because of stress. You can relate that to real-life situations you may encounter. That’s more valuable than any training I can think of.”

For more information, go to Law enforcement officers, if you are not already an NRA member, you can join for only $20. Visit for details.

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