Rifles in general have been present in law enforcement vehicles in one form or another for a long time. Sometimes, depending on the setting and circumstance, you might find more than one rifle and maybe a shotgun thrown in for good measure. Then for a while, it seemed like shotguns were all you were likely to find unless you were in a more remote area. Then… Columbine happened and active shooter response became a national law enforcement priority. It became obvious that firearms with a longer range than the average handgun were needed.
Almost as fast as the need for rifles was recognized, the political fall out and objections cropped up. Where some agencies had no issue purchasing and issuing semi-automatic rifles chambered in .223 or 5.56mm (and some in .308/7.62mm), other agencies ran into political objections against “assault weapons” or “black rifles.” Many of those agencies compromised and opted to purchase rifles that were chambered for what are typically semi-auto handgun calibers: 9mm, .45ACP or .40S&W. With this compromise, the patrol officers were able to more accurately engage targets 100-200 yards away, potentially addressing the perceived need in active shooter situations, but also sacrificing energy delivery down range.
The question back then—right around the turn of the century—was if there might be a rifle chambered in a true rifle caliber, or something with greater energy delivery at longer ranges, but with an appearance that left the politicians nothing to object to. At least one law enforcement trainer/writer (it might have been me) suggested that lever action rifles might fit the need.Yes, I can think of a lot of reasons why a lever action might not be the best option. Limited capacity as compared to a 30-round magazine, slower split times between shots and fewer options for aftermarket accessories are all reasons why an agency might be better served choosing a semi-auto rifle. Another reason an agency might not choose a lever action rifle is the simple perception of officers. With an estimated two-thirds of all law enforcement professionals today being military veterans, they are familiar with the operating system and benefits of an AR-style rifle. The mechanics are well known. Sighting, trigger control, magazine changes, malfunction clearance, etc… it’s all well known for most veterans. Along with them, all of the other “gun guys” on a given agency would take a look at the lever action rifle and wonder, “Why?” After all, it isn’t set up for easily mounting an optic, or a light or any of the other functional accessories one might want or need.
Let’s consider for a moment what’s really needed out of a law enforcement rifle. We need longer engagement and accuracy ranges. We need more energy delivery than is common from the 9mm/.40S&W/.45ACP at those longer engagement distances. We need enough ammo capacity to engage a target with a minimum of three to five rounds. We need a weapon that can be transported and stored safely without a round in the chamber but that also be put into action quickly. We need a weapon that can be reloaded quickly. Oops… and there’s the “burp” in using a lever action rifle for law enforcement. If you look at every other need, the lever action rifle suits the purpose just as well as an AR-style weapon, but reloading an AR-style weapon is much faster per round. Consider it: drop and push in a 10/20/30 rounds magazine and drop the bolt to chamber the first round versus turning the gun to push rounds, one at a time, into the tubular magazine via the side loading gate.
We can see that there’s a definitive difference and it can’t be argued. The AR-style rifle holds more rounds, fires faster shots and is quicker to reload. That’s all well and good if your government body (city council, county council, state legislature) will allow you to have them in your patrol car. It’s great if your agency will spend the money on the rifle locks, ammo to train, etc. It’s great if none of the politicians your Chief (or Sheriff) answers to objects to the “assault weapon” in your patrol car.
There are even lever action rifles purpose-built for such use. While many lever action aficionados expect wood “furniture” (stock and forend), the X Model rifles from Henry Repeating Arms comes with synthetic furniture instead. The rifle is available in several calibers that would be effective for law enforcement use and it’s designed to make mounting optics/accessories easy. To mount an optic all you need to do is put picatinny base in where they’ve tapped it for a scope. The forend has a section of picatinny already and M-Lok accessory slots built in. In-line sling swivel studs are in place, ready for you to use the sling of your choice. With an MSRP of roughly $1K in the .30-.30 chambering, you’d be challenged to find an AR-style rifle in today’s gun market at a comparable price point.
Does law enforcement need rifles? Yes. There’s no arguing that. What gets argued, all too often, is what kind of rifle, in what caliber, and holding how many rounds of ammo. We may not favor the option of carrying lever action rifles, but they will get the job done and, more than likely, keep the mouths of the objecting politicians shut.