The LE carbine: A class act

     The law enforcement carbine is one of the most versatile tools an officer possesses. With its original purpose of bridging the gap between a handgun and the long rifle, the carbine not only bridged the physical gap, but resolved some of the training and deployment inadequacies as well.

     Agencies that would have deployed an officer with a handgun to active shooter incidents in the past now issue the carbine (and often body bunkers) across the board. These agencies recognize that it is essential to have a carbine in every patrol car, and overlapping training/deployment plans have become more realistic as a result.

     There is evidence that suggests some law enforcement rifle and bullet combinations, specifically light 223 bullets, are safer to use in urban environments than most handguns. Several agencies have reported independent studies of 223 bullets failing to penetrate interior and exterior wall combinations where handgun bullets just keep going. The 223 isn't the only cartridge out there, but it is the one most common to the industry.

     Depending on the round, it may have reduced effectiveness or may not even penetrate a pair of exterior walls. The downside to this is the fact that the best after-barrier performers are the highest penetrating in urban environments. That is, the best performers may over-perform when we don't want them to.

     The 223 bullet tends to yaw, or deviate from its point of stabilization, quickly in soft tissue. This is desirable, as bullet flipping in tissue tends to expand the wound cavity.

     When departments are selecting carbine cartridges, they should consider where they will be employed. Selecting an easily fragmented, light bullet for city use and a high penetration combination for rural use is a good start. Agencies should always perform their own tests with their own firearms when selecting ammo.

Think tank

     The carbine-equipped officer should operate like a tank. Imagine the body divided at the hip, separating the mobility mechanism from the turret mechanism. The mobility mechanism is the way a tank gets to the battle, maneuvers to a position of advantage and maximizes use of the main gun. Although a tank driver makes individual decisions about the terrain, such as not to depress the main gun on steep terrain, he does not make tactical decisions. The command and control section does.

     Perceiving the body as divided into mobility and fire control is essential. First, users must recognize that as long as the shooting platform conforms to the carbine, the shot can be successful. Officers can poke their upper bodies around openings, cover down behind vehicle wheels, move stealthily and still make the shot. The mobility section of the body should seek shoulder-width stances when shooting in static situations. A deep stance behind cover is best.

     In motion, the knees should be bent and the balance slightly forward. This will lower the center of gravity and put the balls of the feet in charge. The moving stance should be narrower than shoulder width and the shooter should take advantage of the natural shock absorption of bent knees.

Side to side

     Moving while shooting is not as hard as it sounds, although police firearms trainers tend to teach forward and rearward movement, as most training movement is toward and away from a static target.

     Movement training can be done with traffic cones and officer-coach pairings. Create a maze of traffic cones that the officer must negotiate. The pattern can be as simple as a "Z", where the parallel lines of the letter are parallel to the direction in which the targets face.

     Training should be divided into three events: Movement observing muzzle direction, movement observing muzzle bounce and live fire. Coaches should be officers familiar with range operations and understand the objective. The safety briefing must be specific about muzzle discipline and strictly enforced, even during the non-live fire portion.

     During the muzzle direction portion, the shooter moves out with the coach an arms' length behind him. The shooter must point his toes toward the direction of travel and the muzzle in the direction of the target. Initially, this is harder than it sounds. The shooter must maintain a shouldered gun, looking over the optical sight, observing the periphery.

     At random intervals, as the training officer calls out, "Threat," or a similar command, the shooter must raise the carbine into the sighting plane and dry fire without stopping. The shooter must then scan and continue.

     During the next phase, coaches should watch for muzzle bounce. Muzzle bounce occurs in several ways. The body gives the gun a side-to-side movement when walking with a shouldered gun (and when holding a handgun). There is a less pronounced up-and-down movement from biped walking. These drills are only intended to address the side-to-side movement.

     While in motion, shooters can avoid swinging their arms by walking along a straight line, one foot in front of the other. The way to keep the hip aligned is to select a movement objective, preferably the next source of cover, and move to it. The toes should always be pointed at this objective.

     When turning, the shooter can execute a pivot that keeps both feet on the ground and quickly face the hips toward the new direction. The pivot motion is mostly on the balls of the feet. Mastery of this movement will spin the turret and the pivot in a single smooth motion.

Better breathing

     During the second phase of practice, shooters should seek their respiratory pause; the portion of their breathing between exhalation and inhalation. During respiratory pause, the body briefly settles into its theoretically most accurate phase. This is the best time to press the trigger.

     Shooters can induce respiratory pause in a manner that will improve their speed and accuracy. Expert shooters use this skill all the time. Prior to pressing the trigger, shooters should exhale and then press. Eventually, seeking respiratory pause, trigger control and maintaining a steady platform becomes part of the shooting cadence.

Going live

     The live fire portion of training should be an integration of all these skills. The turret part of the tank should orientate the shoulders to the target, while the butt of the carbine rests in the pocket of the shoulder. The shooting shoulder will be slightly behind the non firing shoulder, complying with the area on the rifle the hands will contact: The non-shooting hand is in front of the magazine while the shooting hand is in the pistol grip.

     The shooter should maintain target orientation, where he looks over the sights (optic) and scans. When told to engage, the eyes stay on the target and the optic is brought to the sighting plane. This allows the officer to see a wide field of view at all times.

     Finally, there is some debate over the amount of "blading," the diagonal orientation of the upper body of the shooter has with respect to the target. The number of fibers a bullet will contract increases if the bullet comes from an oblique angle as opposed to straight on. While this is viable, 49 percent of officers killed in 2004 while wearing body armor were shot through side openings. Even though vests designed for rapid active shooter deployment have reduced openings, a less-bladed approach is recommended and a vest with adequate coverage, such as Protech Tactical's Trimax, a full coverage vest for active shooters.

     The carbine has become the most versatile of all tactical tools. It should be in every patrol car and paramount in every training plan. And, like most tools of the trade, it's all about practice.

     Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer who teaches at Hartnell College in Salinas, California.