With almost every agency in the industry issuing semiautomatic carbines, most in the AR 15 type of configuration, is there a logical place for the shotgun in police work? The answer will always be “yes”.

The shotgun is often used to bridge the gap between the capabilities of a handgun and the long gun. There was always some overlap, but some believe that the shotgun should be employed between point-blank and 70 yards. The outer distance of the shotgun’s capabilities actually comes from military practice, which is actually 70 m. By the way, 70 yards is too far, unless the ordinance is slugs and the user practices with them. The shotgun is definitely a useful instrument, but it is not quite as versatile as we are led to believe.

In order to demonstrate this, we built some walls, then shot through them.  Although we approached our duties scientifically, we simply do not have enough iterations in this test to be conclusive, with respect to the scientific method. That is, it is expensive and time-consuming to build walls and then shoot them.

Our friends from Trident Firearms Academy helped us with this project by building the walls and providing expertise from their law enforcement and military experience. The walls were constructed of sheet rock and 2 x 4 sections, which is typical of any interior construction. We didn’t add insulation or paint. As we fired through the walls, we attempted to capture the projectiles on the other side with ballistic gelatin from Clear Ballistics. “Attempt” means that we knew that projectiles fired from shotguns have an immense amount of penetration, and they might over penetrate.

Why a shotgun?

The shotgun cartridge isn’t like a metallic rifle or handgun cartridge. Besides the construction of a plastic hull with a metallic base, shotguns don’t fire bullets, they deliver payloads. A shotgun’s payload ranges from ¾ of an ounce to 1.5 ounces. The lead used in these payloads are usually made of softer lead than those used in bullets. I reload shotgun shells and can tell you that the shotgun really doesn’t care the nature of the payload, as long as it meets the weight parameters and fits in the shell. That is, if the payload is #4 shot or 00 buckshot, the shotgun does not care, as long as the weight (and other controllable factors) are the same.

For the law enforcement officer, sending a one-ounce (437 grain) payload at close ranges is much more effective than a 55-grain bullet from a carbine or a 124-grain bullet from a handgun.

The shotgun trumps most other tools when clearing hallways and stairways. The payload from a 12-gauge delivers a tremendous amount of foot pounds of force. Theoretically, a shotgun slug or shot payload has about 4 times the energy of a law enforcement handgun bullet at the muzzle. If all other things are equal, then the shotgun will prevent a threat from being threatening quicker and more reliably than any other law enforcement instrument.

A shotgun using law enforcement slugs can produce reliable accuracy. Every patrol car should have a shotgun.

Clint Smith of Thunder Ranch has recently distributed a video article that demonstrates the differences in maneuverability of a handgun and shotgun are negligible. However, the force option difference is measurable.

Will walls stop a shotgun projectile?

What will stop a shotgun projectile? Certainly not walls. Gene Whisenand of Trident Firearms Academy and I placed out sheetrock and 2x4 walls inline, followed by ballistic gelatin. We theorized that both the shotgun slug and buckshot would penetrate at least a couple of walls, then be captured within ballistic gelatin.  

I have some experience shooting through walls, and I knew that a couple of walls is not enough to stop any shotgun payload. We started by just shooting through the walls-all four of them. They did not stop either the low recoil one-ounce slugs or the low recoil 00 buckshot we used.

Let’s stop a moment and consider the implications here. When we pull the trigger, we are conscious of what’s behind the target. However, we can’t possibly know what is behind the interior wall in the next room.

The buckshot continued to expand as it pierced the interior walls. By the time it exited the 4th wall, it was about a 300 percent spread. This is a much faster rate of dispersion than when we shot it at a paper target. It appears that barriers likely increase dispersion.

Now let’s think about cover: Some of the pillars used in commercial construction, like the ones in front of storefronts in outdoor malls, are for decoration, not architectural support. That is, many of them are not weight bearing columns. Outdoor versions are a little more structurally sound than sheetrock, but not by much. If they don’t bear weight, don’t expect them to stop slugs. As a rule, any structural column is going to have more material toward the base than at chest height. The same goes for trees, by the way. If you use them for cover, there is more cover closer to the ground.

To satisfy everyone’s curiosity, I was unable to capture any brand slug fired through 4 walls in ballistic gelatin. I used a block of Clear Ballistics synthetic gelatin, which has given us consistent results for testing.

After four walls, the buckshot penetrated between 17 and 20 inches of ballistic gelatin. This is a little further than nominal penetration.

Accuracy and dispersion

Before we got to shooting our walls, we looked at dispersion and accuracy. We use the average width of a torso, which is about 18 inches. Since the average law enforcement smooth bore shotgun barrel is between 18 and 20 inches, that’s what we used. We fired on a cardboard target. We theorized that as long as all projectiles stayed on the target, the usable distance of the shotgun is reasonable. 00 buckshot is approximately 32 caliber. Muzzle velocities average a little over 1600 ft./s. That makes each projectile about the ballistic equivalent of a 38 special. That’s a lot of energy to transfer to a target. However, if a single pellet leaves the target, the consequences could be disastrous.

After 15 yards, at least one pellet missed the torso shaped target.

Think about this: I said that anything past 15 yards is not recommended when using projectiles that fire a pattern, like buckshot. Now think about distances in a high risk traffic stop. If the suspects are in the passenger compartment front seats, they are 3-4 yards from the back bumper of a suspect vehicle. Now add the standoff distance from the rear of the suspect vehicle to the front bumper of the patrol car, a minimum of one car length, or 5.5- yards. If the officer is in the open door of the patrol car, with the engine block between the officer and the suspects, add 2 yards. That doesn’t leave much margin for error, does it?

Slugs produced a different result. My 870 has ghost ring sights that are sighted for 100 yards. I can consistently make a 100 yard shot with it.  Since it can fire a one-ounce slug, wind deflection is really not a big factor. A 25-yard shot is easy.

The pump guns we used are cost effective solutions

This year Remington Firearms celebrated the 200th anniversary. Not only is Remington an integral part of firearms history, it is also a part of United States history. Remington products have served alongside many different uniforms. Their manufacture has expanded to states which are considered more “gun friendly”, which is the sole success of gun legislation: negatively impact the local commerce.

Remington produces several firearm products, but the two that epitomize the term “iconic” when it comes to firearms are the Remington 700 and the Remington 870. Both products have served in law enforcement and military units for decades and probably will for decades to come. My long gun of choice on patrol was a Remington 870 12 gauge shotgun.

The Remington 870 is one of the most reliable and simple to operate shotguns in the industry today. It is the best-selling shotgun in the history of shotguns. As an armorer, the 870 I carried on patrol in the 1990’s was originally built in the 1950’s.  The receiver is made from a single block of steel. They last forever and I was trained by Remington to fix them.

A Remington 870 is one of two of the most reliable and cost effective shotguns ever made. The Mossberg 590, which includes my favorite, the Mossberg 590A1Tactical.

The 590A1 Tactical is a MilSpec 3443E pump action shotgun specifically made for Military Service in the US Armed Forces. It has been battle tested, and those in uniform who have used this tool in the desert have attested to its reliability.

Many tactical users select the Mossberg 590 for service, simply because they have one thing in common: Any Mossberg shotgun is ambidextrous. The Mossberg 590 series of shotguns, or the 500 series for that matter, all have the safety on the top of the receiver, not on one side. Both Remington and Mossberg make cost effective shotguns of outstanding quality.

The shotgun is an exception to the rule, “Jack of all trades, master of none”. The truth is, the law enforcement shotgun is so incredibly versatile, it belongs in just about every toolbox.

You get the picture. Yes, I was the officer who always brought the 870 out for anything that was high risk. I’m glad to tell you that our agency switched to slugs only halfway through my career. 

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