The Evolution of Police Long Guns

The Evolution of Police Long Guns

That Which is Perceived as Real Becomes Real in its Consequences.

Despite their limited effective range, shotguns have traditionally been the standard long gun of uniformed patrol officers.

It’s easy to understand why. Most city police field contacts are at conversational distances. Staring down the cavernous bore of a 12 gauge from the business end can certainly give one pause.


Using Firearms to Effect Arrests

Contrary to current popular belief, when a cop points a gun at a suspect and issues a command to affect an arrest, the intent is to up the ante till the bad guy decides “not today,” and surrenders. The idea is to PREVENT bloodshed, by convincing the bad guy that he doesn’t even have chance to use any weapons he may have. A shotgun is more likely to effect that desired outcome than a pistol, which isn’t nearly as intimidating.


Using Firearms to Put Down a Rabid Dog

If, on the other hand, the bad guy is already in the process of killing (or trying real hard to kill) officers and / or civilians, the intent is not to prevent bloodshed, since blood is already being shed. Rather, it’s to prevent FURTHER bloodshed by the bad guy. There is no nice, safe, neat, pretty, painless way to do this. The quickest, most effective ways usually involve shedding the bad guy’s blood. In that case, a more powerful weapon like a shotgun or rifle is more likely to end the killing faster. A rifle can do it more precisely, with less chance of throwing projectiles beside the bad guy, rather than through him.


The Venerable Scattergun

After working a long holiday weekend, Deputy Todd D uses slugs from a 12 gauge Mossberg to destroy a keg confiscated from underage drinkers.

I’ve witnessed the shotgun’s intimidation factor on more than one occasion. Once, when I was a state park ranger, I was literally “riding shotgun” with Todd D, the deputy blasting the keg in the photo. We were in pursuit of a stabbing suspect. We found a man matching the suspect’s description in a construction yard, where the suspect was supposed to be sleeping off a hangover. He climbed down out of a truck, and approached us. Todd was waiving his pistol at the guy, one handed, ordering him to stop and go prone. The subject was saying “No habla! No habla!“–and continued to close the distance.

It’s important to remember here that knives are “contact” weapons; one needs to get close to use them. Tests conducted by police trainer Dennis Tueller, the decade before this incident happened, found that an “unarmed man with a knife,” as our sitting president would say, can cross seven yards in the time it takes the “average” police officer to draw and fire one shot. Accordingly, if a man with an edged weapon won’t stop getting closer, you may need to assume he means to harm you. I could not yet see a knife, but I had just seen what the suspect was capable of; I’d treated the suspect’s uncle, who had been stabbed in the stomach and chest about 17 times. This guy was inside of 7 yards, and getting closer.

My Spanish was even worse then than it is now. Always had a problem with the verbs. I could remember manos but not levante las or parate or acuestate. I pointed that Mossberg 12 gauge at him, pumping a shell into the chamber–and discovered the shotgun’s usefulness as a universal translator. The subject immediately went prone, put his arms out, palms up, and looked away.

It doesn’t always work that way.

When I was in the Border Patrol, my partner and I were laid in on a group landing on the northern shore of the Rio Grande, southeast of Harlingen, Texas, in the gathering dusk. We were hiding in the jungle-like foliage near the top of the bank, waiting for them to move north so we could get behind them and cut off their escape back toward the Rio. But more and more kept crossing the river on rafts and inner tubes, and staying near the water’s edge.

My partner, Travis Attaway, had an issued 12 gauge Remington 870, with night sights and a few other upgrades by Scattergun Tech. Turned out he didn’t need the sights that evening.

One of the coyotes started scouting out the top of the bank, apparently to look for pinche migra like us. He stepped off the trail, perhaps to take a leak, but perhaps to investigate something about the brush we were in that didn’t look right. He almost fell on top of Travis, who was crouched down next to me. Travis stuck the shotgun muzzle in his groin–at about Trav’s shoulder level–and pumped a shell into the chamber, which got the subject’s undivided attention. The subject was immediately compliant, and Travis was able to take him into custody.

The others, however, scattered like quail–and there were lots of them. Several jumped in the river, which is what we had been waiting to avoid. I didn’t care if they swam back, but some might not have been very good swimmers. We didn’t want anybody to get hurt or drown, and El Rio is plenty deep enough to drown in, that close to where it flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

Travis had the first guy under control, so I grabbed Trav’s shotgun and scrambled down the bank to the water’s edge.

The guias, the guides, were good swimmers, of course. One was treading water near the north bank, squirting water from his mouth and smiling at me. He knew I wasn’t planning to get wet apprehending him. I ordered him out of the river, hoping the pollos would follow suit.

Porque?” he asked.

Porque tengo una escopeta,” I replied. Because I have a shotgun.

Perro,” he said, “no vas a usarla.” But you’re not going to use it. He called my bluff, ’cause he knew cops on the US side follow rules (he wouldn’t have gotten any such courtesies from Mexican cops, unless his bosses had paid them off). I hadn’t been pointing it at him, and he knew I wasn’t going to shoot him.

Travis Attaway

The mere presence of a weapon, even a powerful one, isn’t always enough to illicit cooperation.

Incidentally, Senior Patrol Agent Travis Wayne Attaway drowned on duty in the Rio Grande a few years later. SPA Jeremy Michael Wilson, his partner, was also killed, when their patrol boat flipped on 19 Sep 2004. 

The Mexicanos call it El Rio Bravo del Norte, and right they are.


The Pendulum Swings

In the 1960s, there was a growing perception that US law enforcement agencies were oppressive and ignorant. The phrase “police brutality” was bandied about quite a bit by the news media. This led to reform laws requiring more LE training (never a bad thing, as long as the training actually improves performance or decision making in the field; much modern computer based training is useless).

By the late 1970s, though, the rise of terrorism and well funded narco-trafficking organizations led to situations where Stateside police, with their revolvers and shotguns, were clearly outgunned. On 09 May 1980, San Bernardino, CA deputies faced off with bank robbers sporting H&K G3 and 93 rifles, an AR, semi-auto pistols, pump shotguns, and (bizarrely) a katana sword.


Submachine Guns

G-men (FBI) and revenuers (ATF) had used Thompson SMGs (and Browning Automatic Rifles) during the Gangster Wars of the 1920s & 30s. State, local, and federal LEOs still issue SMGs to warrant service teams.

Secret Service Uzis

The Secret Service issued Uzis for many years. Secret Service Uzis were distinguishable by the shiny crowns of their muzzles; the barrels had been cut to make them more concealable.

Secret Service Uzis vs Nut Job with a .22

Watch video of the Reagan assassination attempt of 30 Mar 1981. After the wannabe assassin was tackled by angry citizens, Uzis appeared in the hands of Secret Service agents, as if by magic. You can see one with his back against a wall, scanning the crowd in case it was a coordinated attack.

Put Your Back to a Wall

Heloderm teaches armed citizens and LEOs to put their backs to a wall to prevent being flanked by the bad guy’s partners or surprised by layoff men.

Jump Him–What Have You Got to Lose?

One other HUGE lesson of the Reagan assassination attempt of 30 Mar 1981 applies to victims of active shooters. President Reagan was surrounded at all times by well trained and heavily armed guards whose sole purpose in life was to defend him, unto death if need be. A bit more protection than your teenage kids will have if some InCel looser walks into their high school to kill everyone. The lesson is, Reagan’s would-be assassin was NOT shot by Reagan’s armed praetorian guard. He only fired for something like 1.7 seconds before he was tackled and pummeled by all and sundry who were within reach. The same method–POUNCE!–can work for any able-bodied member of your family, if they get caught up in an active killer event at close range.

Secret Service Uzis vs Pirated Helicopter

Earlier, on 17 Feb 1974, an Army helicopter mechanic stole a Huey (Bell UH-1B) from Tipton Field in Maryland. He had enlisted in the Warrant Officer Pilot program, but with the drawdown of the war in Viet Nam, the Army stopped losing helicopter pilots to enemy fire at such a prodigious rate, so they tightened up the funnel of incoming pilots. This guy was an adequate pilot, but not an outstanding one. Army flight instructors washed him out of pilot training during the instrument flying phase, and made him serve out his hitch as an enlisted soldier (if I’d been a cadet in 1944, instead of 1984, perhaps the Dean might’ve looked past my Fs in Physics and Mechanics of Materials). He felt it was unfair. Well, it was; and on the day I enlisted we were all informed in no uncertain terms that life is not fair. The erstwhile Warrant Officer flew the Huey to DC and landed on the south lawn of the White House, intent on appealing his circumstances directly with the Commander in Chief, Richard Nixon.

Secret Service and White House security personnel fired “over 300 rounds” at the helicopter. 5 rounds struck the fledgling pilot, wounding him superficially, but he landed it in one piece. The chopper was riddled, but turned out to still be flyable later.

Uzi Grip Safeties

Two of the Uzis agents had trained on the helicopter would not go bang (much less rat-tat-tat). Their operators transitioned to revolver and got back in the fight. According to John Recknor, Secret Service (and later NRA Law Enforcement) firearms instructor, examination of the Uzis after the incident proved that they were in perfect working order. The operators had failed to depress the grip safeties far enough to disconnect them.

Open bolt SMGs are some of the few guns outside of Hollywoood that can actually go off when dropped. Accordingly, Uziel Gal incorporated a large, stout grip safety into the design of the SMG that bears his name. Unlike, say, an M1911 grip safety, which is almost entirely passive, the Uzi grip safety required significant movement and squeezing pressure on the back of the grip. I failed to depress one deeply enough the first time I tried to shoot an Uzi. If you look at photos of Israeli soldiers during the 6 Day War, many have used electrical tape to disengage the Uzi grip safety, just to be sure (they were more concerned with not being able to shoot their enemies than they were about shooting their friends by accident).

A note regarding pinning grip safeties off: as Chris Rock said about OJ knifing his ex-, I don’t condone it, but I can understand it.


SMGs for Patrol Officers?

Till close to the end of the 20th Century, state and local patrol officers in the USA droned on with mostly the same firearms their grandfathers had carried, while bad guys continued upgrading their hardware in an almost completely one-sided arms race.

By the 1980s, European police and counterterrorism outfits had armed themselves with SMGs. In the 1990s, most US police departments had traded in their wheel guns (revolvers) for large capacity semi-auto pistols, which was a good start, but most of us were still falling back on shotguns for serious work.

The Beretta M12, one of the coolest looking sub guns, was designed in the 1960s, but didn’t become popular with Italian Carabinieri and other LE / Airport Security agencies till the terror wave of the ’70s.

In the US there was some talk of patrol officers trading in their shotguns for SMGs. With slugs, shotguns have an effective range of 80 – 100 meters. SMGs, with their pistol cartridges, could reach out more accurately (on semi-auto) than a shotgun with slugs, to 100 meters or more. Like shotguns, SMGs could put multiple projectiles in a person in short order at typical “field interview” distances (several bullets making up, again, for lack of punch).

SMGs were certainly handier in tight quarters, such as a hallway, or the small rooms of a trailer. They also kicked a lot less, which made them easier to train. The business end of a SMG is a lot closer to its center of gravity than a shotgun’s, which makes it easier for smaller statured officers with less upper body strength, like me, to keep aimed in.

On 04 Mar 2010, Pentagon Force Protection Agency Officer Jeffery Amos used a UMP-40 like this one to take out an active shooter at a DC Metro station. He got winged by two bullets from the bad guy in the process.

North Wildwood, New Jersey issued MP5s to their patrol officers, as did a few other departments, but for the most part SMGs were not the 2-hand guns of rank and file street cops.

When I was on patrol, most of us wanted an SMG–they had major cool factor, even if they were not much more than a 7 pound 9mm. But there weren’t that many sub guns in police armories. The ones they had went to SWAT. There were shotguns galore.

On 18 Sep 1996, toward the end of my first stint at FLETC, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, an instructor named Garcia did a demo to increase our confidence in shotguns. 5 or 6 targets were set up in a line from left to right. Agent Garcia started with an H&K MP5 SMG, a fine weapon if there ever was one. He emptied an entire magazine on full auto, sweeping left and right, back and forth, till he ran dry. Somebody timed it; it took less than 4 seconds.

9mm Heckler & Koch MP5, carried by European police and counterterrorism units starting around the 1970s. It was also standard US SWAT gear.

Garcia invited us to go forward and count the hits.  Out of 30 rounds, each target only had one or two. Some might have 3; one or two others had no holes. Some of the hits were peripheral, toward the outside of the target. We marked the holes and went back to the observation area.

Then Agent Garcia took a standard issue shotgun and unloaded a charge of buckshot into each target. It took Garcia about the same amount of time to unlimber the shotgun at each target, as it had for him to empty the MP5. We went to count. Each target had 8 or 9 well centered 00 buck holes (can’t remember if they were using 8 or 9 pellet shells). A lot fewer rounds zinged into the backstop without having passed through a paper target first.

That demo was a bit slanted. If our instructor had aimed a short burst of full auto 9mm at each target, they all might have been effectively engaged, in not much more time–although the shotgun would still have put more projectiles in each threat. We got the message, though: the shotgun will do just fine for a lot of social work at conversational distances.

What we wanted didn’t matter anyway. Public perception of oppression kept SMGs from becoming standard patrol officer equipment. Shotguns evoke images of Doc Holliday, old west lawmen, or Pinkerton security agents riding shotgun on a stage coach. SMGs evoke images of Nazi stormtroopers, or “Hans Gruber’s” thugs (no matter what my wife says, Die Hard is a Christmas movie). As I wrote in the beginning of this article, that which is perceived as real becomes real in its consequences.

Squad car in 1995. Note shotgun locked in dash mount.

This need vs perception dichotomy led to law enforcement specialization into what Jeff Cooper characterized as two main subgroups: social workers with guns (patrol officers), and infantry (SWAT, Special Weapons and Tactics teams), who had the equipment and training to handle bad situations. Mere mortal patrol officers were schooled in the Cs:  Communicate, Contain the situation, Call for SWAT.


North Hollywood

Unfortunately, the rapidly devolving nature of crimes in progress often can’t wait for SWAT. SWAT operators finished the North Hollywood shootout of 28 Feb 1997, but only after two poorly trained but armored scumbags with rifles fired 1100–count ’em, 1100–rounds into the neighborhood, maiming 20 people, over the course of 44 minutes.

The Los Angeles Police Department had upgraded to high capacity 9mm Beretta pistols by that time, but they lacked armor punching ability, and range. LAPD officers literally “borrowed” AR-15s from a local gunstore, but having more capable weapons only helps if you are trained how to use them. We may assume that many of LA’s finest were prior military, and (if a bit out of practice) were at least familiar with AR series manipulations, but either way the ARs would have been handy much earlier in the confrontation.

Hardware was not the only problem; LAPD were also not trained for, and discouraged from taking, head shots, which might have ended the situation much sooner. But the engagement distances were long, and head shots would’ve been difficult to pull off anyway at those ranges–especially while someone is emptying a rifle in your direction.


Pistol Caliber Carbines

Kel-Tec pistol caliber carbine. Note pistol magazine under his palm.

There had also been talk (and still is, occasionally) of US law enforcement agencies converting to pistol caliber carbines, such as the Marlin Camp Carbine, Beretta C4X Storm, or Colt Commando (essentially a CAR-15 / M4 shooting 9mm) for those occasions when a long gun is called for. Pistol caliber carbines can have the logistical advantage of taking the same ammo, and sometimes even the same magazines, as the officers already carry on their belts. But being pistol caliber, they lack punch. They are often just as long, just as heavy, and certainly just as “oppressive” looking, as more powerful, farther reaching M4s.

Perhaps surprisingly, in all my decades, I only remember seizing one pistol caliber carbine from a bad guy. It was a Marlin Camp Carbine in .45, if I recall correctly. He’d been using it to escort a load of drugs from Sonora Mexico to Arivaca, Arizona.

I may have seized more, but if so I don’t remember them. I have seen High-Points and semi-auto Thompsons (essentially a .45 carbine) in evidence lockers.

One of the Columbine High School killers used a High-Point pistol caliber (9mm) carbine. They also had a Intratec TEC-DC9, a piece of crap if there ever was one. Most active shooters, like most violent street criminals, use pistols–just pistols, not pistol caliber carbines–for most crimes, owing to their concealability. Pistols cartridges are woefully underpowered for stopping determined, aggressive enemies, but they are powerful enough to massacre defenseless school girls.


Terror on Our Soil

Sicarios and other narco-terrorists of the Southwest border region are particularly fond of the Kalashnikov. Cuerno de chivo, they call it: “Goat’s horn,” in reference to the curved magazines. Seemed like every other stash house or dope load we took down had an AK or two. The AK, of course, shoots an intermediate rifle cartridge.

Two turn of the 21st century phenomena occurred to swing the pendulum in favor of rank and file cops upgrading to police patrol rifles:

  1. Columbine, and
  2. 9/11

It took SWAT 3 hours to respond to and clear Columbine on 20 Apr 1999. Among other things that slowed them down, the high school was plastered with IEDs (improvised explosive devices). In the meantime, victims were bleeding out.

And on the 12th of September, 2001, nobody in the US was complaining about cops having “military grade” equipment. Rather, they were demanding it.


Patrol Rifles

Officers working in open / rural areas have always favored the rifle for when things got serious. Highway Patrolmen, Game Wardens, and Border Patrol Agents have had a rifle–even if it was a scoped, bolt action deer rifle, or an M1 / M1A–in reserve for decades.

I have often patrolled my nation’s border alone, and at night. I was damned if I was going to do that, in areas notoriously infiltrated by narcos with AKs, without a long gun. Sometimes I carried a shotgun–especially if I got assigned to City Patrol–but more often than not it was a rifle. I could, because the BP issued rifles.

That was not in response to some recent right-wing militarization of the border. The Border Patrol’s mission has always been quasi-military. Protecting a nation from invasion has traditionally been what armies are for. The US is practically unique in world history, for using our military to protect other nations from invasion (for example, our eviction of the Iraqi squatters from Kuwait), while using cops to patrol our own borders.

Coincidentally, most other nations consider terrorism a military, rather than a law enforcement, problem. It’s no accident that GSG9, one of the worlds premiere counterterrorist organizations, was a subset of the West German Border Guards.

When I joined the US Border Patrol, we had beat up Army surplus M-16A1s, and even some M-14s. They used the latter primarily for funerals and other honor guard ceremonies, but in the mid 1990s a BPA backing up New England police near the Canadian border used an M-14 to put a bad guy down.

I got a USBP M-14 issued to me (along with a case of match grade ammo for practice and competition) to represent MCallen BP sector in the Texas Police Games. Ah, free ammo (heavy sigh) . . . Those were the days.

In about March of 1997, Border Patrol cashed in their old M-16s for M-4A1s.


Concerns About Rifle Bullet Over-Penetration

For a long time, resistance to city cops having rifles stemmed from concerns about over-penetration: if a good guy or gal shoots a bad guy (and it’s almost always a guy; lone wolf terrorism, indeed most violent crime, is one glass ceiling ladies don’t penetrate much), a bullet from a more powerful cartridge could go completely through the bad guy and strike innocents behind.

Hollow Points

This is why police carry hollow points. It’s not to be extra mean. In theory, the hollow point should open up like a parachute, slowing down and stopping in the suspect, rather than over-penetrating.

They don’t always work. On 07 Jul 1998 I was peripherally involved in a gun battle in which a multiple homicide suspect ambushed the officers looking for him (and his alleged accomplices). He killed two agents and wounded a deputy. Multiple officers shot back, striking him 8 or 9 times with 9mm and .40 hollow points. Only 4 or 5 bullets stayed in him; the remainder over-penetrated. Fortunately it was in a corn field in a very rural area, with low population density and few farm houses.

Myths About Penetration

In theory, it stands to reason that faster bullets penetrate more, but in practice that isn’t always so.

In May of 1999, I toured Heckler and Koch’s US headquarters near Chantilly, Virginia (they have since moved to Georgia). The highlight was a stop in their conference room. If I recall correctly, they called it the “Grey Room,” owing to the color of the walls, which were covered with various firearms H&K produced. We go to fondle, among other things, their prototype caseless rifle, the G11.

The caseless rifle was an emerging technology that went nowhere because just as it was about to be fielded, The Wall came down. The Soviets had stockpiled massive munitions in East Germany and the reunified country suddenly had more serviceable AK-74s than it knew what to do with–along with a massive population of relatively underproductive, former communist slaves dependent upon handouts from a socialist nanny state–so the former (productive, and therefore wealthy, West German) budget for procuring state of the art rifles immediately dried up.

One thing that surprised me in H&K’s Grey Room was that 5.56 rifles they had designed for CQB–close quarters battle, i.e., room to room combat–had longer barrels. When I asked why, the H&K rep explained that the faster a 5.56 bullet goes, the more likely it is to break up on impact with something, resulting in less, if any, over-penetration through structures. This echoed what I had heard at Gunsite during my first training there in 1994.

Penetration tests of common building materials conducted at Gunsite indicated that pistol bullets, having greater mass but moving slower, stay in one piece and penetrate farther through interior walls of structures. Hollow points tend to fill with drywall and become, in essence, round nosed. 5.56x45mm, on the other hand, tended to break up when it hit anything solid.

We attempted to replicate that for the agents in my office. Not as ammunition testing; only our National Firearms Unit (NFU; later named National Firearms and Tactical Training Unit) could test and procure weapons and ammo for our agency. Rather, we did it to show our agents the dangers of over-penetration.

We built two interior walls, 1/2″ drywall on either side of 2×4″ studs spaced 18″ apart, and an exterior wall with 5/8″ drywall on the up-range side and T111 siding on the downrange side (stucco would’ve been too involved and costly to make for the demos). We placed the “interior” walls on a firing range, at the 7 and 15 meter lines. The exterior wall was placed at 25. In later versions of the same demo, we put fiberglass insulation in the exterior wall. It became a staple of my kids firearms safety classes, to show them that if they have an “Oops!” playing with mom or dad’s gun in their bedroom, it might not only go through Sally’s room (and possibly Sally) and even out into the neighborhood, potentially killing their friend Billy next-door.

The first time I did that demo, our issued 9mm and .40 hollow points went through all three walls. So did shotgun slugs, to no one’s great surprise. So did, to some agents’ surprise, 00 buck. “But now, watch this,” I said, unlimbering a 55 grain 5.56mm.

It key holed after the first wall, and “banana’ed,”–but it went through all three double-layered walls, including the exterior wall.

This is what we in the biz of firearms instruction call an “epic instructor fail:” when you set up a demo to prove one thing, but your students see the opposite.

Our heavier “core-locked” 5.56mm bullets also went through all three walls. I’m not sure if Gunsite was using longer M-16 barrels, but our shorter, standard length (14.5″) M-4 barrels would not push even flimsier 55 grain 5.56 fast enough to cause it to break up in common household building materials. Later, our agency chopped the rifle barrels to about 11,” reducing the velocity of that tiny 5.56mm bullet even further.

“Considering that approximately 80% of the rounds fired by law enforcement officers engaged in violent encounters do not strike the intended targets, it was deemed somewhat unrealistic to attach too much significance to the potential risks of over penetration on the part of those that do.”

–John Hall, Chief of the FBI’s Firearms Training Unit, FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, Nov 1989


Shotguns Become Specialty Weapons

Many people died in 2020. So did my old city police department’s patrol shotgun program.

As time had marched along, fewer and fewer old-school officers were carrying it anyway.

“The Gauge” has increasingly become a specialty weapon, say for deploying less lethal (beanbag) rounds, or door breaching (“Avon”) munitions.

Less Lethal Rounds . . .

. . . are so-called because rubber and beanbag projectiles can still kill, especially if fired at close range. However, given a choice, most suspects would probably prefer rubber bullets to lead.

One of the most famous rodeos on the circuit is Cheyenne, Wyoming’s Frontier Days. Every year in July tens of thousands of cow people converge on the small town to participate or watch (2020 was the first year Frontier Days had been cancelled in over a century). The Cheyenne Police cannot take non-emergency leave during those two weeks, and work a lot of overtime. During the 1995 Frontier Days, a drunk cowboy refused to drop a knife. He was not approaching the officers, but he was not surrendering either. A 12 guage beanbag round to his solar plexus took all the wind from his sails and caused him to drop the knife. He was taken into custody without incident.

It’s important to note, though, that if he had suddenly charged after being struck ineffectively with the less lethal munition, officers would have no choice but to use deadly force. In any such operation, a “lethal cover” officer MUST be present, with deadly force firearm at the ready.

One of the greatest dangers of “less lethal” is that unless it is a dedicated platform, lethal ammo might accidentally get chambered. I know of one Airport Authority department where each patrol vehicle had a shotgun–with a red painted stock, to be kept loaded with only beanbag rounds.

Avon Rounds

Like explosive breaching, using Avon rounds to blow a door off its hinges is fun, and may even be necessary in some specific situations, but in my limited experience rams and Halligan tools are just as effective, not much more time consuming, and less risky.


Patrol Rifles Become the New Normal

Now, at least every squad, and often every officer, on most departments has an intermediate cartridge Armalite series rifle–I mean, uh, AR carbine (which somehow sounds warmer and fuzzier)–in their cruiser rack or trunk. In larger departments with bigger budgets, those rifles might be issued M-4s or semi-automatic M-4 clones. On most smaller departments, officers have to provide their own, usually a semi-auto only AR.

School Resource Officers demonstrate re-taking a school during Active Shooter training we gave to educators.

On 28 Oct 2020, a suspect shot a pistol at a man in a car, striking the car, before pointing it at another bystander, in Tucson. The suspect ran into the (dry) Santa Cruz riverbed and fired two more shots. A TPD officer with a rifle took him down from one of the river banks. It’s hard to tell the distance from the body cams, but I’m guessing it was in the 40 to 60 meter range.

On 09 Jan 2021, Phoenix cops took down a man brandishing a gun, while he was holding a toddler. The officers were responding to calls from the mother, and witnesses, that she had been assaulted and her baby kidnapped. It turned out the boy was his child too, but he should not have been a father if he was willing to use his young child as a shield while shooting up a neighborhood. The bottom line for this discussion is, those cops would not have been able to accomplish that level of precision, at some considerable distance (Google the video), with a pistol or shotgun.

Phoenix PD has a robust and well thought-out patrol rifle program. World class trainers Giles Stock, Ed Stock, and Chris Luebkin influenced its development and direction. I’ve been fortunate to enough to train under each of those excellent instructors at different points in my career.


Long Distance Shots

To a military sniper, “long distance” means 800 to 1000 meters or more. In law enforcement, it means something like 150 to 400 meters. The fact that police shootings over 80 meters are rare does not make them beyond the realm of possibility.

Once, while searching for a fugitive in a rural area, a Phoenix metro area officer was posted on hilltop, with binoculars–and a patrol rifle. He had spotted the armed individual, and directed a helicopter to the bad guy. When the fugitive shot at the helicopter, the observer on the hill took the bad guy out at several hundred meters, which is almost unheard of in Stateside law enforcement.


Again, the Pendulum Swings

Today, again, the pendulum regarding perceptions of police has swung in the other direction. Cops are being blamed for all the socio-economic imbalances in our society, just as Vietnam Vets were blamed for our elected officials’ policies in Southeast Asia. Recent executive orders have returned us to Obama-era restrictions on law enforcers obtaining “military” equipment.

Which begs the question: why should police officers carry rifles in their cruisers? For that matter, why should you?


The Civilian ASR Rifle

Here’s an excerpt from an email I recently sent to a student. He had requested a course improving his skills with an Arsenal SAM7, one of the “PDWs” (Personal Defense Weapon) breed of stockless (or braced) rifles which is legally a pistol. In order to tailor his curriculum to his needs, I needed to know what he intended it for.

Most people get guns for “GPs,” general purposes.  But different guns have different niches in your battle plan.
For example, a smaller pistol might be your concealed carry gun, and a larger pistol maybe better for home defense.  If you only have your Government model, then it’s your GP pistol: anything you need to do with a pistol must, and probably can, be done with it.  You may need to train more or differently, or wear certain clothes, to make it fit different niches that might be filled more easily by different pistols.
Or, a rifle you have for defending the house might have a shorter barrel than a dedicated mobile Active Shooter Response (ASR) rifle.  An ASR rifle is something you keep in a lock box in your vehicle for only one mission:  putting down a rabid dog who’s shooting up a parking lot or [who is] sniping at cars from a freeway overpass.  High ammo volume is not as important as reach, discernment (see below), and penetration of armor / windows / glass doors / car bodies.  An ASR rifle might be more likely to have a longer barrel, and a more powerful cartridge with better penetration.  A reflex (red dot) sight might be better for indoors–for most social work, really (even police sniper engagements are rarely at more than 80 meters)–but the ASR rifle probably should have magnified optics (not so much for accuracy at distance, which is important, but for discernment:  knowing who is whom and what is going on down range, which is more important).
The ASR weapon fills a niche similar to a military “designated marksman” rifle, [which is] about halfway between a standard issue M4 and a sniper rifle.
Likewise, your SAM fits somewhere between home defense pistol and zombie apocalypse rifle.  It’s a good grab-and-go gun for escape and evasion, as well as for repelling boarders from your car in a riot situation (think Reg Denny)–although it would be deafeningly loud in the latter situation.  But like your .45, if that’s all you’ve got, it must fill every possible role.
Knowing if you have a specific niche you want it available for, or if it’s your GP (read that “only”) two-hand gun, helps us decide which scenarios to train you for, and how to arrange your gear, which is a vital adjunct to your weapons system.
For example, volume of fire (ammo capacity) is not as important for an ASR if the rabid dog is a lone wolf.  If it’s a massive, coordinated attack like in Mumbai (and elsewhere), I might wish my .308 ASR was a 5.56, which might be more mobile and carry more bullets.  But the lone wolf (or at most, a suicide pact pair) is more likely, so my planning and equipment leans that way.  I can press the .308 into service during a coordinated zombie apocalypse but I will run out of ammo sooner and will tire out faster, because it (and each cartridge for it) is heavier.
A sample training solution when preparing for large scale coordinated attacks:  plan to trade across to the bad guy’s systems and resupplying off their bodies, as Brian Chontosh did, and as you practiced during the Defensive Pistol (DP1B) class.
We can also work out with a heavier rifle more, to build strength and endurance.  After I dry practice from the treadmill with an AR-10, shorter 5.56 carbines feel feather light.

Important Safety Tip When in ASR mode:

Unlimbering an ASR rifle is something you might need to do for your fellow man in the first few moments after things go south. But running around at an active shooter scene with a long gun, hunting active shooters, without a law enforcement uniform on, is a great way to get shot by the good guys.  That’s why, in our Rifle / Carbine courses, we have our students practice dropping that rifle like it’s on fire as soon as they detect the cavalry charging over the hill to save the day (law enforcement arriving on scene).


Summary: Advantages of the Patrol / ASR Rifle

More Range

You’ll probably never need to take a shot over 140 meters–but if you do, it’s not likely you’ll connect with a pistol, shotgun, SMG, or pistol caliber carbine.

More Precision–Especially in Hostage Situations

Closer, a rifle will give you much greater precision (say, for a hostage taker who has a knife to your little girl’s throat) than a pistol or shotgun. In those extreme situations, holding over to compensate for the mechanical offset between the sight line and the bore line at close range is imperative. We practice holdover extensively in our Carbine courses.

To demonstrate the necessity for holdover at close range, we have students put the sights exactly in the center of a “hostage taker” target’s head, then walk forward, keeping them there, till they touch the target. With ARs, the bore line is about 2.5″ below the sight line at the muzzle.

More Stopping Power = Fewer Bullets Slinging Through the Neighborhood

Lastly, a rifle bullet has much greater chance of putting him down with one shot than a pistol bullet from a pistol or SMG. A shotgun with buck or slugs has similar stopping power to, but not the precision of, a rifle.

–George H, lead instructor, Heloderm LLC

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