Tactics, Technology and Training for Today's Law Enforcement Professional
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Remember the Rifle: Don’t leave your best weapon behind when facing a gunfight
By Dave Spaulding
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It’s simple: Only a fool will knowingly take a handgun to a gunfight. In the event you haven’t figured it out, we in law enforcement carry handguns not because they’re effective, but because they are portable. While the police handgun can bring about rapid incapacitation, this type of effectiveness is a direct result of shot placement, which is difficult to achieve during the fluid, rapidly changing activity commonly known as a gunfight. I have spent my entire adult life studying the art of gun fighting, and I’m convinced long guns are far superior to handguns.
Compared to handguns, the long gun offers higher velocities, a greater sight radius and more points of contact (i.e., shooting hand, forward-support hand, shoulder weld and cheek weld), which enables better stabilization and accuracy. Yep, it’s a better weapon. So why do so few police officers take it along on hot calls? Officers give many reasons: “Once the call settles down, it gets in the way,” “It’s heavy,” “I don’t feel comfortable with it,” “I don’t want to shoot it because there’s too much recoil,” etc. I’ve heard all the excuses, but I can’t forget many law enforcement officers actually put themselves in jeopardy because they don’t want to bother with the best weapon available to them.
Whether it’s the classic pumpaction riot gun, the AR-15 family of weapons or the new pump-action police carbines introduced by Remington, the long gun ends the fight more quickly. The longer any fight goes on, the greater the chance you, the law officer, will lose. Long ago I quit worrying about handgun stopping power. The fact remains all handguns suck, regardless of caliber. Yes, a bigger bullet is a better bullet, but it’s also harder to control during rapid, multiple-shot strings of fire. History shows multiple handgun hits oftentimes bring about incapacitation. My solution: Carry a pistol that fits my hand and keep a long gun close by. The handgun is for situations in which trouble develops unexpectedly while the long gun is carried when any hint of trouble is present.
A concerted move toward the adoption of the carbine is underway in American law enforcement. It began with the pistol- caliber carbine, which was certainly a move in the right direction but really did not take advantage of the additional power a rifle cartridge offers. Originally, many police administrators believed a rifle cartridge provided too much penetration for many urban/suburban law enforcement situations. Thanks to ballistic research from the FBI, we now know many handgun cartridges actually offer greater hard-object penetration than medium-rifle calibers, such as the .223/5.56mm. Short, light long guns, such as the M-4 carbine, currently popular with the U.S. Special Operations Command, make a great deal of sense in civilian law enforcement operations.
The AR-15 family of weapons is surprisingly similar in function to the semi-automatic pistol currently used by 99 percent of American law enforcement. These magazine-fed carbines are easy to operate and shoot; the only downside is you must keep them clean to ensure total reliability. While this can prove problematic in the sandy environment of Iraq, it should not pose a problem for most police officers.
For a chief or sheriff interested in arming his officers with a rifle caliber but wary of the added maintenance, training and military appearance of the AR, Remington offers the model 7615P law enforcement carbine. This pumpaction carbine functions exactly like the 870 shotgun with the exception of the box magazine used in lieu of the shotgun’s tubular magazine. Any AR-style magazine will work in the 7615, so the capacity of the gun can vary from 5–30 rounds. If officers can use an 870 shotgun, you can train ’em to use the 7615 in about 10 minutes.
Ammunition for the .223 police carbine is better than ever before. Ballistic formulas now meet the operational parameters for a wide range of agency needs. For example, Hornady’s Tactical Application Police (TAP) series offers short- and long-distance load, bullets designed to penetrate barriers and bullets designed to create maximum wound cavities in human tissue.
The 60-grain .223 TAP is one of the most destructive bullets I’ve ever seen. This polymer-tipped round is designed to expand, tumble, rip and tear its way through the body and does so with great effect. After witnessing autopsy results of five shootings with this bullet, as well as an extensive test conducted on pigs, I am convinced this may very well be the ultimate police carbine ammunition.
The 60-grain TAP won’t penetrate hard objects very well. For this, I switch to the 62-grain Barrier TAP bullet—same trajectory but more hard penetration. Have a long-distance shot while on rural patrol? The 75-grain TAP is the answer. A favorite of the professionals at the Gunsite Academy ( www.gunsite.com) in Arizona, one of the world’s premier small-arms training facilities, the 75-grain TAP bores an impressive wound channel in ballistic gelatin.
For the cutting edge in training to start your carbine program, I highly recommend Gunsite as the place to send your agency instructors. I have enjoyed the good fortune to attend a number of carbine courses over the last few years, and I’m convinced that the Gunsite Basic Carbine Course #223 offers the most bang for your buck (pun intended). This five-day, 1,400-round class covers everything from basic zeroing techniques to low-light operations and close-quarter combat. If the Gunsite course runs a bit long for an officer or costs too much for an agency budget, Hornady offers an exceptional two-day course taught by Gunsite instructor Giles Stock.
Once you’ve selected a carbine, don’t give in to the natural tendency to equip it with accessories. The AR-15/7615 comes from the factory equipped quite well. Adding any accessory that does not solve a specific and realistic problem is unwise. Like any combative firearm, the three essentials remain a good trigger, high-visibility sights and total reliability (and don’t underrate fit). Determine reliability by shooting the chosen gun enough to establish that it will work without fail (with regular maintenance). You can improve factory triggers, but unless they are so hard and stiff you can’t obtain accurate shots, don’t modify them. If you need better trigger action, have a certified armorer install drop-in triggers, such as those available from Brownells. And while I firmly believe in the durability of iron sights, I have also come to realize that the latest generation of combat optics is tough enough to withstand the rigors of police service. In the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has extensively used rapid-acquisition optics, such as the Aimpoint and Trijicon ACOG, proving that such devices are well worth our consideration. As my eyes age, I have become quite attached to the brightred dot provided by my Aimpoint.
The sling is the long-gun holster; any long gun intended for police service needs one. While some prefer the threepoint SWAT-style slings, I like the simplicity of the traditional two-point nylon strap. I let it out long enough so my gun hangs comfortably yet allows for quick shoulder mount. To remove the gun, I merely lift it over my head and away from my body.
Target identification prior to shooting remains essential, making a whitelight source a good idea on any gun intended for police use. The majority of law enforcement armed confrontations occur during hours of reduced or inconsistent light. White-light units are easy to find, quite cost effective and attach to the weapon. At the same time, a police carbine also needs a good flash suppressor. Many misunderstand the utility of this device: It does not hide the flash from your opponents, but helps keep the flash from affecting your eyes. While the classic birdcage-style suppressor does this well, I have never seen a flash suppressor work as well as the Vortex available from Brownells. After I saw this unit all but eliminate flash on a 10.5", full-auto M-4 at night, I immediately contacted Brownells and ordered one. It’s that good.
While I still like the pump-action police shotgun, I think the .223 carbine will eventually be as common as the proven riot gun. Maybe then, law officers will start taking their best weapon on hot calls. This, my friends, would be a good thing.
Dave Spaulding is a 28-year law-enforcement veteran, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He currently works for a federal security contractor. Having worked in all facets of law enforcement-corrections, communications, patrol, evidence collection, investigations, undercover operations, training and SWAT-he has authored more than 600 articles for various firearm and law enforcement periodicals. He is also the author of the best selling books Defensive Living and Handgun Combatives.