Today's patrol rifle platform has seen significant improvement over its forebears. But the lineage is clear. Since the 1930s, patrol rifles have been used to stop the most violent criminals. Make sure yours is up to the challenge of today's toughest streets. (Photo Dan DiPinto)Today's patrol rifle platform has seen significant improvement over its forebear
FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
The 1920s and '30s were violent decades, fueled by Prohibition and gang wars. Making the front-page news of the times, tough, well-armed and unyielding lawmen hunted down public enemies, capturing or killing them in shootouts. These murderers had to be stopped, and in the end, they all went down. The FBI played a large part in their demise.
On a family vacation that included a tour of the FBI headquarters in Washington, D.C., I saw the displays from the gangster shootouts, including Baby Face Nelson, and Bonnie and Clyde. FBI agents, along with local law officers, were armed with a variety of firearms, including Thompson submachine guns, Browning automatic rifles, Remington Model 8 rifles, Winchester '07 SLR .351 rifles, Colt 1911 A1 pistols in both .45 ACP and .38 Super calibers, and short barrel 12-gauge Model 1897 Winchester and Remington Model 11 12-gauge shotguns. The FBI men were at war with the most violent bank robbers and murderers, and they took the best tools they could get to the fight. The deadly action often took place in and around automobiles and included the use of the earliest version of "soft" body armor.
To get stopping hits, these determined federal agents knew they had to get their rounds through whatever barrier stood between them and the bad guys. But the criminals adopted the same thinking and came to the fight similarly armed. All of the firearms I looked at had specific purpose: large magazine capacity and short length—.45 caliber for the Thompsons; a full rifle caliber for the military designed 30-06 BAR light machine gun; the easy-to-handle .25, .30, .35 rifle caliber Remington M-8s. Some chose the Super .38 Colt 1911 over the .45 ACP for increased penetration capability, and the Winchester '97 pump and Remington Model 11 semi-auto riot guns loaded with buckshot for close-in work. In most cases, this wasn't handgun work. The power and distance capability of the long guns made all the difference. The lawmen ultimately won, but it was tough, bloody business that cost dearly. It wouldn't have been possible without the right equipment.
A key lesson for law enforcement during those deadly years: You must be properly trained and armed to be ready to fight the most violent criminal offenders—whether you're expecting the ecounter or not. Surrender wasn't part of their thinking or planning. To the arch criminals of that time, it was fight to escape or fight to the death.
In the decades that followed, that generation of lawmen and criminals passed along, and much that was known was forgotten. The second world war was fought and won and the memory of the outlaw years faded from the public. The urgency was gone, and with it, police practices "modernized." Law enforcement put the "big guns" into armories and lockers, and rifles and automatic weapons were seldom seen again on the street of the big cities and towns.
Not all forgot. The Winchester lever guns continued their long service to Western lawmen, some still working horseback in the rough country. And occasionally, when desperate and violent criminals loomed, the Thompsons were issued again.
The 1960s were times of war, assassination and rioting. Violence against police was escalating. The year I started in law enforcement, 1974, remains the deadliest year of record for police officers. LAPD had developed SWAT, and street officers and agents who saw the light were once again looking hard at the training, tactics and gear we carried.
My hands-on introduction to police firearms came in the late 1960s. I had been shooting since I was a kid, and the local police officers took me under their collective wing. The Olympia Fields (Ill.) Police Department, where I would later go to work after college, had several U.S. military surplus .30 caliber M-1 carbines. The officers took me with them on range days that included .38/.357 revolvers, 12-gauge shotguns and the M-1s. Shooting into the old railroad embankment was basic compared to what we do today, but I took away lessons that started me down the path of law enforcement firearms and tactics study.
The books and articles I studied from the early era included Border Patrol Agent Bill Jordan's No Second Place Winner, and everything written by Col. Jeff Cooper. While the issue of revolver vs. semi-auto handguns was in full debate and taking up lots of ink, little was written on the use of rifles in police work. Our M-1 carbines were a creation of WWII. Millions were produced, and the M-1 was widely used in the in brutal, close jungle fighting of the Pacific. The same attributes of reliability, accuracy, lightweight, higher magazine capacity and short overall length that served the military so well were welcome in police work. The 110 grain bullet in the .30 caliber carbine cartridge that some considered "low powered" got the job done.
I clearly remember the scenes from the civil unrest and rioting in the major cities in the late 1960s. In Chicago, officers with individually owned M-1 carbines were on duty. My longtime friend from Chicago PD was one of them, and he later told me about the intense gunfire directed at him and others from rooftops as buildings burned as firefighters and police were targeted.