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A SWAT operator's entry weapon of choice

If you elect to do this, I urge you to be able to answer the question of why you do it and how can you justify it

I have seen and heard some SOPs from different agencies about how they carry their weapons on entries, and some of the comments and situations have sparked some thought in my overworked nugget. I have asked some agencies why they carry M-4 rifles into homes on Full Auto. What is the reasoning behind the carrying an assault rifle on full automatic fire into a residence? If you elect to do this, I urge you to be able to answer the question of why you do it and how can you justify it. So some of my questions are: How do you carry your weapons in an entry? Do you carry them on Full Auto, Semi or Burst? What kind of weapon do you carry as an entry weapon?

I am aware that these questions have potential for much debate in the tactical arena and firearms world. I have been a Firearms Instructor for a tactical team for several years. I have quite a bit of military training that parallels the civilian tactical side and want to pose some “food for thought”. I have heard time and time again “put them on auto for entry” when dealing with M-4 Assault Rifles. I do not believe there is a definitive answer whether you should or should not. I have my personal beliefs and training that lead me to think this is not always a good idea. I personally believe that semi-auto is more justifiable and defensible. I believe the “full auto” mentality is a throwback to the MP-5, 9mm sub-guns that Law Enforcement used to (and a fair amount still do) favor. They are good weapons, but they are a pistol caliber. We know that pistol calibers tend to need more hits to make effective stops on people, and they have more controllability. This lends MP-5’s to be carried on auto or burst with entry teams as a standard.

There are several things I would like to address when you are considering carrying an M-4 on full auto into a residence or building. The M-4 is an assault rifle - the operational word being rifle. It carries a rifle cartridge (5.56mm) that is designed for high velocity and maximum effect on targets. Sure, there is a lot of debate about the effectiveness of the round. Some of the effectiveness may be related to barrel length being too short in some of the M-4 systems, which doesn’t allow maximum performance from the round. The military also utilizes a FMJ or ball round due to Geneva Convention restrictions, but law enforcement officers do not have the same restrictions. We have the ability to carry many diverse rounds with different expectations. I digress from the topic though. What about full auto?

What is the purpose of full auto on a rifle? The purpose is suppressive fire. The military utilizes full auto for suppressive fire and other specific incidents, but not for building entries. We carry these weapons because they are not a pistol caliber and we feel the need to up our capabilities against body armor. I fully agree that the rifles are needed tools in our inventory, and I personally believe every officer should have one available. The implementation of pistol caliber carbines were a great way to attempt to get some type of longer reach weapon on the streets, but they still are pistol caliber and limited in their performance.

Ask any academy recruit what our reason is for shooting. We shoot to stop the threat. Do people die from bullet wounds? Of course they do, but law enforcement officers shoot for maximum effect to stop the threat. In saying that, how do I (a firearms instructor) get up on the stand and defend you or your tactical team when you entered a residential home with an assault rifle on full automatic? I do understand that it can be argued it is a matter of semantics because you are trained to only fire 3 or 4 shots from your rifle. What happens under stress, though? There are great studies done about the effects of stress in combat (Col. Dave Grossman is a phenomenal authority) and differences in performance from range training to combat. So you train to fire 3 rounds, but now you’re under fire. You bring your rifle up and cut loose with 4, 5 or 6 rounds, but how accurate are you? Do you really know how many times you fired? Did you unconsciously hold the trigger down on your full auto weapon? How controlled is your fire at your target in the school or shopping mall? Sure, the same thing can happen with a sub-gun, but why did I switch to a compact rifle? I switched because I was able to convince my Chief of Police that it is more accurate, especially over longer (25 yards and out) distances. Fewer rounds would be needed to stop bad guys, training is simple, it is easy to maintain, and it is proven. If those are your arguments, remember them while carrying this tool.

How about this scenario: A SWAT operator enters a building and a bad guy takes a hostage. The operator now must make a headshot, but under stress forgets or fails to realize that his/her weapon is still on auto. How bad could that scenario get? I am not saying remove the feature - it is a fantastic option that we have in our tool bag. We operate in situations where seconds may decide life and death. I may not have the second chance to switch from auto to semi to make a precision shot, but in the once in a lifetime I need full auto I can get it. Of course, training is the most critical component of this system. If you are going to train with this rifle, be realistic. Remember that training is what you will fall back on when the gunfire starts and when you are in court. Do I need to fire full auto from the 25-yard line, 15-yard line? Where and why? What is my purpose? How do I document this in training records? We are all aware of the risks we take and want to train hard and with all the tools we have. As a trainer I urge you to make your training realistic and practice realistically. If you can justify the need to carry full auto with a rifle, maybe you don’t trust your operator’s ability to double tap with a rifle, so have documentation to back it up. I don’t want to see law enforcement lose the ability to have this tool. As we all know, we can be our own worst enemy with egos and toys.

Hopefully I sparked some debate and thoughts on the topic, especially with more agencies carrying these tools. I fully believe patrol officers should have the ability to carry patrol rifles, not pistol carbines. There is so much documentation proving the rifle’s value and demonstrated cases for the implementation of rifles in patrol and compact rifles in tactical teams. I also think that agencies that commit to these programs realize the importance of frequent training and ensuring proper maintenance is performed. I have officers on my tactical team who are not diligent in their equipment maintenance and have had failures. If you are an operator, take the lead and do your homework on these weapons. Get with guys that have extensive military experience with the weapons systems and learn the ins and outs. Study the ballistics of the rounds you carry. Practice, practice and practice with the rifle. Learn where it shoots and get comfortable with it, and maintain your rifle (and all of your equipment). Remember that shot placement wins gunfights, and if you don’t hit him, it doesn’t matter how many rounds you fire.

Sgt. Marc Kovacs is a Tactical Operator, Firearms Instructor, and Instructor in numerous areas. He is a Patrol Sergeant and has 18 years Law Enforcement Experience. He is an Instructor in Tactical Operations for his Military Reserve Unit and has his own Training Firm.

Sgt. Marc Kovacs is a Tactical Operator, Firearms Instructor, and Instructor in numerous areas. He is a Patrol Sergeant and has 18 years Law Enforcement Experience. He is an Instructor in Tactical Operations for his Military Reserve Unit and has his own Training Firm. Visit his website here or reach him via email here.

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