The Combative Carbine, Part I

A while back I wrote a column I called “The Combative Shotgun,” in which I focused on the use of the platform, why I chose it, and how and why I “dressed” it out. I received a large number of positive comments, but most of the commenters also reminded me that the AR-15 was THE law enforcement long gun of the 21st century. I do recognize this, but I also lament the passing of the 12-gauge shotgun because of its target power. If a police officer is justified in shooting a violent suspect, then they should shoot that target  well. No small arm does this better than the 12-gauge shotgun—within its operational parameters.

And therein lies the rub: The shotgun is limited in effectiveness, while the AR-15, Ruger Mini-14 or other such 5.56 carbines can be used as far as the naked eye can see. With current-generation optics, these guns can be used well beyond their original intended limit of 300 meters.

I mourn the “passing” of the shotgun (or more accurately, its relegation to second-fiddle status) with a smile on my face because in the AR-15, we now have a gun that officers want to take out of the cruiser. Cops often buy these guns with their own funds and then “dress” them like a child would a Barbie or G.I. Joe. here are now so many add-ons for the AR that we’ve reached a level of absurdity. But cops do want to deploy with it (as opposed to the hard-recoiling 12 gauge). The truth is, the AR-15 is just plain cool and I’m OK with that. Any long gun will be more effective than a handgun.  

I currently operate a training school that focuses exclusively on the combative application of the handgun, which is the most difficult of weapon systems to master and the most likely gun an officer or armed citizen will have with them when they need a gun. The handgun is a reactive or reflexive weapon, while the carbine is a responsive one, meaning the carbine is the gun taken when you know what the threat is, while the pistol is the gun you will likely have when the threat breaks out and unfolds in front of you. Since most police operations are investigative in nature, many of the threats cops face will be reactive, happening as a situation develops. Thus the handgun will always be the primary firearm for American cops. That’s why I dedicate so much time in my regular column to the handgun. The military, on the other hand, works to kill the enemy, and a rifle or carbine is much better for this. I’ve heard the shout of the readers loud and clear—it’s time for me to talk about the carbine, primarily the AR-15.

The Basics
The primary reason I like the AR platform is that it offers training and manipulation continuity with the semi-automatic pistol. Whether an officer chooses a gas-driven or gas-piston platform is up to them. There are good and bad things with both systems. Regardless of the platform, the AR needs TLC The abuse heaped on trunk-stored shotguns won’t work with the AR. The gun needs to be cleaned and properly lubricated regularly. If such care is given, both the gas-impingement and gas-piston AR platform will give years of reliable service.

I’ve owned a number of ARs over the years (in both gas systems) from a variety of manufacturers. My current go-to gun was built by Templar Custom Arms on a lower receiver of their manufacture. A 1-7 Wilson Combat barrel attached to a Hogan upper rounds out the primary components. From there it’s a matter of personal choice as to which accessories are added.

Because I want my gun to be light and sleek, I’m very careful about how I “dress” it. I don’t need enough rails to start my own railroad, so I chose a Diamondhead fore-end due to its trim profile and finger-groove-contoured design. The fore-end comes with a top rail for the forward mounting of optics and the capability of adding rail sections only where I want them. In my case, there’s one section of rail at 9-o’clock so I can add a white light. I like the way I can wrap my hand around the trim fore-end to help “drive” the gun from target to target and also help reduce the overall weight of the gun.

Sights & Optics
I also added a set of Diamondhead’s diamond-shaped flip-up iron sights. My eyes aren’t getting any younger, and I like the simplicity of placing a diamond inside a diamond, resulting in perfect sight alignment. That old saying applies here: The simplest solution is usually best. That’s what I get with the Diamondhead sights—a simple solution that works for my eyes.

An optic of some type is also a good idea and the general rule of thumb is one power of magnification for every 100 yards you expect to use it within. Although anything is possible when working the street, history has shown most patrol operations will occur within 100 yards, so a simple, fast-action red dot is the way to go. Wanting the largest field of view possible, I chose the EO-Tech with its large circle/cross hair reticle. Mine is the XPS2 and at 2¾ inches is the shortest model sight yet! This sight is smaller and lighter than the other EO Tech sights and runs on a single 123 battery. With the single battery configuration, the XPS allows more rail space, leaving room for rear iron sights, magnifiers or a night-vision mount. Smaller, lighter and always fast, the XPS series is a great compact option for your platform and this model is night vision capable as well.

White Lights
Every long gun needs to have a white light attached, or at least the capability of adding one. Truth be told, I’ve never been completely happy with any of the white lights I’ve tried on my AR. Unless I use a pressure switch (which can come loose and fall off), I’ve never been able to get my support hand thumb onto the light’s pressure switch without compromising my grip. But that’s recently changed.

While browsing the Brownell’s booth at the 2013 SHOT Show, I noticed a new light mounted on an AR. I asked Brownell’s Larry Weeks about it and he offered to send one for testing. I quickly agreed and after using it for just a few weeks found it was the best weapon-mounted light I’ve ever used. Made by a company called In Force, this light differs from others due to its canted rear switch instead of the flat rear switch found on other white lights. This design offers the same ease of use of a tape-pressure switch but without the wires and loose fit found with Velcro mounting.

Other Add-Ons
Magpul makes some of the best designed, reasonably priced accessories available. This company never seems to “miss” when it comes to new product development. Their telescoping rear stock, the model CTR, is the best of the breed in my opinion. It’s light, sleek and locks solidly in place with a dual lever system that eliminates wobble. It’s also set up for mi. spec detachable QD sling swivels, which I use on my preferred Larry Vickers-designed quick-adjustment two-point sling from Blue Force Gear. I also prefer their MOE pistol grip. Its design pulls the hand back for proper finger placement on the trigger face as well as Magpul’s AR magazines due to their incredible level of reliability.

I replaced the factory flash hider with a model from Battle Comp, which I’ve found it not only reduces muzzle flash, but also helps hold the muzzle down during recoil better than anything I have ever used. Although the Battle Comp model is expensive, I really don’t mind paying for something that really improves my shooting ability. Few add-ons really do.

Choose Wisely
The AR-15 is an exciting platform with no end to the configuration possibilities. To create a weapon that’s truly useful for you, however, it’s important not to get distracted by all the add-ons. It’s not enough that you want to take it out of the cruiser. Your AR-15 must also be configured to be the most effective gun for your needs.


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