The Long Guns, Part 1 - Tactics and Weapons -

The Long Guns, Part 1

Why police patrol rifles make sense



Jeff Chudwin | From the July/August 2005 Issue Saturday, July 30, 2005

In a northern Chicago suburb in the fall of 2003, a random murder and attempted carjacking brought police rushing to the scene. The first-responding officer located the offender, who fired his handgun at the officer, wounding him in the arm and shoulder. Injured but determined, the officer stayed in the fight, armed with his duty pistol. He exchanged gunfire with the offender, who remained in his vehicle, a barrier of sheet metal and glass.

The second officer on scene deployed a .223 carbine and fired at the offender seated behind the windshield. His .223 polymer-tipped bullets were shattered by the laminated auto glass and did not strike the offender, but the gunfire into the glass drew the attention of the shooter away from the wounded officer. Running from the vehicle, the gunman was taken under fire by a third officer armed with a .223 carbine. At a distance of 20 yards, this officer hit the offender in the head, killing him.

The officer’s ability to stop the gunman that day with a single, precision shot was the deciding factor. The patrol rifle, combined with the department’s training program, gave the officer the skill and equipment to prevail.

Officers arriving on scene during in-progress, violent incidents must have the means to effectively respond. To do so, the patrol rifle/carbine is an essential piece of police equipment.

Lessons Learned

How does law enforcement make the transition in thinking to consider the patrol rifle standard-issue gear? First, we must apply what we’ve learned in the field and in tests. A sailor once noted that naval regulations are written in blood—injuries and deaths led the way to change. Law enforcement is little different. New equipment, training and policy came about through tragedies in Austin, Norco, Miami, Los Angeles, etc.

Gunfight statistics compiled by the FBI, the New York City Police Depart­ment (NYPD), and other police agencies illustrate that the majority of officer-involved shootings have been close-quarter matters with little warning. Therefore, it’s no surprise most police firearms training focuses on using the handgun in the short-range defense scenario.

However, when officers face armed, violent criminal offenders located and acting beyond the typical training distances, the handgun becomes the tool of response by necessity, not choice. It’s unrealistic and dangerous to expect officers in high stress, life-threatening situations to direct aimed, accurate handgun fire beyond these training distances. Failure to train and equip patrol officers—the first responders—with needed equipment can put the public and police at a deadly disadvantage.

Given the FBI and NYPD statistics, we know officers armed only with handguns evidence a low hit-ratio on offenders in short-range incidents. Testing we conducted at my department with police range officers shows that even an above-average shooter, when put under physical stress and restricted time constraints, cannot effectively, on demand, engage a target with a handgun at 25 yards.

In one exercise we conducted, a partially concealed gunman leaned around the corner of a 75' hallway. With handguns, officers hit the target significantly less and slower than when they were armed with a .223 CAR-15 (AR-15 carbine). Using the same course of fire, they quickly and accurately put hits on target with the carbine, clearly illustrating the patrol rifle provides officers and the public a life-saving advantage we can’t ignore.

Safety, Liability & Cost

Questions from administrators typically focus on the safety of issuing long guns to patrol units, liability issues and training costs. Primarily, they question if these firearms are too much gun for the job. But does the maximum range and penetration of centerfire rifle cartridges pose an increased hazard to innocent persons in the area of police-involved shootings?

Some claim any rifle cartridge is excessively dangerous in the urban environment because of distance the bullet can travel.

While the rifle round has a potentially greater range, all projectiles fired from any type of police firearm will travel more than a third of a mile, and most can travel well over a mile. Any stray round is a hazard, and it’s illogical to claim one type of firearm is more or less dangerous than another based only on its maximum range.

We must instead focus on the penetration and ricochet potential of the bullet type and caliber. Contrary to common folk lore, a .223 Remington cartridge loaded with hollow-point or soft-point bullets penetrates significantly less against residential wall construction and poses far less ricochet problems than typical law-enforcement pistol and shotgun rounds. Ballistic test data proving this are available through the FBI Ammunition Test Facility at Quantico. Additionally, Federal Cartridge Company publishes extensive documentation and photographs of similar ammunition testing.


Connect: Have a thought or feedback about this? Add your comment now
print share
Author Thumb

Jeff ChudwinJeff Chudwin is the 2009 Law Officer Trainer of the Year, serves as chief of police for the Village of Olympia Fields, Ill.


What's Your Take? Comment Now ...

Buyer's Guide

Companies | Products | Categories


Murder Charge: Facts or Agenda?

Two Albuquerque police officers are facing murder charges for shooting an armed man. What's the real reason behind the decision to files these charges?.. More >


Law Officer Survey

LEOs & Drug Policy

The results are in. More than 11,000 sworn LEOs took time out of their busy schedules to tell us what they think about America’s fast-changing drug policy.
More >


Get LawOfficer in Your Inbox

Terms of Service Privacy Policy