The new handguns hold more bullets than the six-shooters, and with more and more criminals packing automatic weapons, rangers don't want to be outgunned.
"It's scary. The bad guys are going into the semiautomatics and assault rifles and they're kind of forcing our hand," said Kyle Johnson, park law enforcement ranger and armorer.
In the next few weeks, park law enforcement rangers will begin training with new 9 mm Sigarms semiautomatic pistols. The semiautomatics hold up to 13 rounds, compared to the six held by the .357-caliber Magnum guns rangers use now, and can be reloaded more quickly and decocked more safely, Johnson said.
Another boost in firepower will come this fall when Glacier's law enforcement rangers receive an M-16 semiautomatic rifle for use on the job, Johnson said. Rangers currently use three Ruger Mini-14 semiautomatic rifles.
But Glacier's law enforcers haven't had much occasion to draw their guns. There hasn't been a shoot-out at Glacier in recent memory, and the last time rangers broke out their rifles was in October 1987, when they conducted a manhunt to find a sniper who was shooting at cars on Going-to-the-Sun Road, Johnson said. One of the vehicles hit by the gunman was driven by Earl Armstrong, a former roads foreman for the national park.
More apt to draw their weapons are the park's bear management rangers. They will still pack the same shotguns, .44-caliber handguns and .300-caliber Magnum rifles when dealing with problem grizzly and black bears.
For more information call Johnson at 406/888-5441.
Tad Brooks writes for the Hungry Horse News in Montana.