A rack of Bushmaster AR-15 A2s stand ready for action. Photo Dale Stockton
Here’s a Federal Tactical 62-grain slug after it was fired through heavy clothing into ballistic gel.
Officers must perform ongoing training to remain street-ready.Photo Jeff Chudwin
If your agency simply can’t issue each officer a long gun, consider allowing individual officers to purchase their rifles.Photo Dale Stockton
FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
Last issue, I discussed why police patrol rifles should be standard patrol equipment ("The Long Guns, Part 1," p. 58). This issue I'll address implementation considerations: deployment, training, ammunition selection, weapon selection, sight systems and accessories.
As the use of the rifle/carbine expands from the SWAT/ERT mission to street patrol units, questions of which firearm and ammunition best meets operational needs abound. Issues include caliber, terminal ballistics, effective range, size, weight, magazine capacity, sighting systems, ergonomics and accessories. One key issue: bullet penetration and ricochet potential.
The move away from pistol caliber carbines to the .223 Remington cartridge (military 5.56 mm) has been written about in great detail. The wide range of available bullet types for this caliber allows users to select ammo types according to their tactical needs.
In a recent Chicago-area shooting I described in Part 1, pistol and .223 rifle fire proved ineffective in penetrating the automobile sheet metal and laminate glass. The .223 bullet type deployed that day was not designed to penetrate hard barriers. While the final open-air head shot with the .223 proved immediately incapacitating, reports of numerous officer-involved shooting incidents in recent years show many took place on the street and included gunmen taking cover behind autos and other barriers.
In such situations, officers can address vehicle or barrier penetration with the Federal Tactical bonded bullet, the Hornaday TAP barrier penetrator or the recently introduced Corbon DPX solid copper round. Each of these bullets is designed to penetrate barriers with minimal deflection while retaining sufficient weight and velocity to make deep wounds. A number of federal agencies (e.g., DEA, FBI, etc.) issue the 62-grain Federal Tactical round as the primary duty load for the above reasons. The Corbon load demonstrates excellent performance against sheet metal and auto glass, losing less than 10 percent of its weight.
Yet populated, high-density locations may require the reduced penetration and ricochet potential found in more frangible projectiles, such as a 55-grain soft-point. Deploying the .223 with 55-grain soft point in a residential structure, school or workplace environment reduces the likelihood of a bullet passing through multiple walls or doors and striking an unintended person.
In addition, the .223 effectively penetrates soft body armor. This is a real consideration as violent criminals increasingly use body armor, such as the bank robbers involved in L.A.'s North Hollywood Bank shootout.
The .308 Winchester is an alternative. Police snipers have traditionally used this precision rifle load in bolt-action rifles such as the Remington 700 and 40 X. Semi-auto .308 rifles, such as the Springfield Armory M1A, H&K model 91 and DS Arms FAL, allow fast follow-up shot capability.
On the downside, the .308 rifle provides significantly more penetration potential of homes and buildings in the urban setting than the .223, delivers greater recoil than the .223, weighs more than the .223 and usually is too lengthy to fit inside squad-car locking racks. And, other than M-14s offered to law enforcement agencies through the Federal 1033 Program, these firearms cost more than .223 carbines and rifles.
Pluses for .308s include penetration where needed against barriers, extended range and terminal ballistic effectiveness. For rural areas where long distances to target exist, or where heavier bullets are needed, the .308 is an excellent choice.
Pistol-caliber carbines are lightweight, reduced in length for easy storage and handling, and demonstrate low muzzle blast and reduced recoil. On the downside, pistol-caliber carbines lack long-range effectiveness, fail to defeat soft body armor, yet over-penetrate interior residential type walls. Other than submachine guns, magazine capacity mirrors handgun capacity.
Working through the pluses and minuses of the ammo equation, the .223 round and weapons offer the greatest flexibility for the urban policing environment.
If you choose the .223/5.56mm, the dominant rifle system is the Colt AR-15/M-16 type and the numerous clones manufactured by Bushmaster, DPMS, DS Arms, Rock River Arms, Armalite, etc. The choice of the U.S. military and countries worldwide, this weapon system has become the firearm of choice for numerous tactical units.
Tactical entry teams favor the M-4A2 carbine version with a collapsible stock and 14 1/2" barrel. Barrels shorter than that are ballistically challenged the shorter the barrel, the slower the muzzle velocity, which can reduce terminal bullet performance. In testing, I've seen velocity losses of 50fps and more for each inch less of barrel.
Muzzle blast and flash can also prove significant with reduced barrel lengths, but you can virtually eliminate muzzle-flash problems by attaching the superb Smith Enterprises Vortex flash suppressor. In team environments where officers work in close formation, the shooter and other officers can protect themselves from muzzle blast with ear protection such as Peltor's 6S electronic sound-reduction headset. I strongly recommend against using competition-type muzzle brakes or compensators for street purposes. Brakes/compensators direct muzzle gas at rearward angles to reduce felt recoil. This jet-effect increases noise and blast to the area where other officers will often be positioned, creating a dangerous situation for officers without eye and ear protection.