History is not linear; it has a habit of circling back on itself. In the 1930s, violent bank robbery gangs armed with military automatic rifles and submachine guns murdered citizens and law enforcement officers, terrorizing the nation in the commission of their crimes. John Dillinger, Baby Face Nelson, Bonnie and Clyde -- to name a few of the hard core criminals -- were finally brought to their end by lawmen using savvy tactics and armed to meet the threat.
The criminals had access to body armor of the day and were often located inside vehicles or behind hard cover at extended distances. Understanding that their revolvers and pistols were not up to the fight, law officers acquired Browning automatic rifles, Remington Model 8s, and Winchester .351 Self Loaders as their patrol rifles. These men knew what they were facing, and armed themselves with the necessary tools to win against deadly offenders.
Modern-day gang busters
We have come full circle, as today we face not only the traditional criminal threats, equal in every way to the bad old days, but also the threat of terrorism as exemplified by the Beslan, Russia and Mumbai, India attacks. The rifle has returned to front duty in law enforcement agencies across the nation and is now standard gear -- fully integrated into training programs and deployed on every shift. Officers armed with patrol rifles have successfully defended themselves and citizens during violent attacks and brought a stop to offenders' deadly crimes.
Given the strong basis for acceptance of the patrol rifle, here are my thoughts on key elements of a comprehensive patrol rifle training and deployment program. Selection of the approved firearm, caliber, ammunition type, costs, training and policy all come into play.
Selection of weapon type:
A number of long guns could meet the patrol rifle function, but factors in selection include:
- Adjustable stock option to allow officers of all sizes to attain a proper shoulder mount and cheek weld
- Length to fit in an overhead or interior mounted rack
- Ambidextrous safety/selector for left- and right-handed officers
- Integral mounting rail system to accommodate red dot or magnified optics
- Iron sight system to back up optics
- Attachment points for tactical sling and light
- Readily availablereplacement parts and armorer classes
- Availability ofsubcaliber .22 or pistol caliber training conversion unitsshould range access be limited to pistol caliber back stops
- Previous experience and familiarity with the rifle type
The AR-15/M-16 system
The predominate rifle in use today is the AR-15/M-16 type system. Rarely do we see officers armed with anything else. The handling qualities, available accessories and easy adaptability to officers of all sizes make this firearm first in consideration. Many of our police officers are military veterans who have been trained on the M-16A2/M4.
The M-16, first produced by Colt in the 1960s, is currently offered by a host of other manufacturers in a multitude of versions. Smith & Wesson, Ruger and Remington have added versions to their product lines. High quality rifles are being produced by Mark LaRue of LaRue Tactical, Greg Sullivan of SLR15, and Barrett to name a few I have tested at length.
For those starting a patrol rifle program or seeking to add rifles where money is tight, original Colt M-16A1 rifles are available though the U.S. Military Surplus LESO 10-33 program at well under $100. Compared to new manufactured rifles and carbines in the $800-plus range, it is a true bargain. These are full auto capable rifles that can be converted to semi-auto function for less than $20.
In the early years of the 10-33 program, only a limited number of rifles could be acquired per agency. Today, an agency can order the same number of rifles as sworn officers.