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Rifles in every squad car?

By John Farnam
Special Contributor to PoliceOne

For as long as most can remember, American police have been armed with pistols. Pistols, both exposed and concealed, have gone hand-in-hand with American policing for at least the past one-hundred years.

Shotguns, and more recently, rifles, have always been perfunctorily referred to as ‘secondary,’ ‘back-up,’ and ‘supplemental’ weapons. They have been traditionally kept in beat-cars and even back at the precinct station, and deployed on the officer's person only rarely, and only in direct response to a demonstrably dangerous circumstance. Police executives and politicians alike have traditionally disliked rifles and have always wanted them kept out of sight, and out of most conversations.

Rifles, even in beat-cars, are often locked-up in the trunk, so as to make them invisible to the casual observer, and inaccessible to the officer.

We virtually apologized for them even being there! Even when kept in the cab-portion of the vehicle, all kinds of efforts were made to get them out of sight. However, through bitter experience — the FBI's 1986 gun battle in Florida, and the North Hollywood (Calif.) incident in 1997 — we reluctantly learned that any rifle locked in the trunk of a beat-car has no chance of ever being involved in a fight!

Tactical officers may routinely deploy with rifles on their person, but patrol officers don't, at least until now!

Now, we're seeing a subtle change, particularly in our southern border states, but a change that is quickly spreading.

The rifle is now becoming the ‘primary’ police weapon, with the pistol relegated to ‘supplemental’ or ‘back-up’ status. The ranking between the two weapons is in the process of reversing! In many jurisdictions, patrol officers are now routinely deploying with rifles when pulling over vehicles, investigating suspicious circumstances, and responding to calls!

Last weekend, I completed a Patrol Rifle Course with State Troopers on the East Coast. They're all inordinately concerned for their personal safety, which is why they were there. They're also persuaded that their employer is a good deal less concerned than they are!

Most used personally-owned rifles (ARs, Kalashnikovs, and one Ruger Mini-30). Their employer graciously provided us with ammunition, although he doesn't know he did!

I see this trend as one-way, unlikely to reverse, nor ever slow down, as officers, and all of us, see, and grudgingly acknowledge, how increasingly dangerous our world is becoming.

Like my students, the rest of us can either confront the situation squarely and take reasonable measures to look after our own best interests, or we can foolishly try to convince ourselves that our own eyes are lying to us.

Those who do, do so at their own peril. I'd wish them "good luck," but they wouldn't know what to do with it!

In the end, no unit of government will ever care as much about you as you do. With or without leadership from up the food-chain, readiness is always personal.

Edward R Morrow, in 1959, said of the then-new phenomenon of television, that the American public are mostly idiots, stupidly seeking amusement rather than information, much less enlightenment.

One of the quotations he uses is from Judge Learned Hand, who put it thus:

"Doubtless things might become uncomfortable enough to arouse them (the American public), but, given opportunity for personal favors, and not too irksome control, they are content to abdicate their sovereignty and be fleeced, and eventually slaughtered, if only the shepherds will agree to shear them in their sleep."

The storm is here, ready or not!

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