More Firepower for Local Police

Most local police officers carry a semi-automatic pistol as their main sidearm. Maybe they have a backup gun in an ankle holster, which could be a small revolver. But gone are the days when the main firearm of a local cop was a revolver. Yes, police officers need to carry a pistol. We don’t want our officers to be like the police in French cities, for whom carrying any type of firearm is optional [Wikipedia: Municipal Police, France]

Many squad cars have a shotgun available for officer use. But that particular long gun is not carried, and has only a limited role. And shotgun shot can miss the intended target and hit bystanders instead, especially at longer ranges. The shotgun is a useful tool for military and police, but it’s never going to be the main long gun for either.

Should local police have an AR-15 in their patrol car? I’m sure some do already. I just don’t know how common this may be. But the problem is that, when an officer realizes he needs a long gun, he might not be near his vehicle. And the AR-15 could be in the trunk, in a locked case. I’ve heard that some New York City cops carry an AR-15, while on foot. But it seems too much firepower for most police situations. The militarization of police is a legitimate issue in our nation. Police officers arrest suspects. Soldiers kill enemy combatants. There needs to be clear lines between the two roles. Soldiers need assault rifles. Police seldom do.

On the other hand, sometimes a local cop must act like a soldier. In a situation with an “active shooter” — someone in the process of shooting innocents — the police officer must shoot to kill. The active shooter is essentially an enemy combatant. And the officer really needs a long gun to effectively deal with the situation. Pistols are much less accurate, especially at longer ranges. And if the shooter has a rifle, the officer is outgunned if he only has a pistol.

At the 2016 Orlando nightclub shooting, an on-duty officer at the club and the first two responding officers engaged the shooter with gunfire:

“After arriving at the club by van, Omar Mateen approached the building on foot, armed with a SIG Sauer MCX semi-automatic rifle and a 9mm Glock 17 handgun. A uniformed Orlando Police Department (OPD) officer working extra duty engaged Mateen, returning fire at 2:02 a.m. Mateen was able to enter the building, however, and began shooting patrons. The officer was soon joined by two additional officers who also began engaging Mateen. Mateen then retreated further into the nightclub and began to take patrons hostage.” [Wikipedia]

No source (AFAIK) has explicitly stated this, but it seems that these three officers had only pistols to use in this gun battle with a terrorist. If they had had long guns, it is much more likely that the shooter would have been stopped at this early point. But since he had a semi-automatic carbine (SIG MCX in 5.56), and they had only pistols, they were outgunned.

Now in this type of situation, maybe officers should have AR-15s. I have no objection to law-abiding civilians owning AR-15s, and so I have no objection to their use by law enforcement officers. However, mass shootings are still, thank God, relatively rare. There are about 750,000 sworn officers at the federal, state, and local levels in the U.S. Most will never encounter this type of situation. But having an AR-15 in each patrol car is a good option for police departments to consider.

Another option is a pistol caliber SBR (short barreled rifle). Some law enforcement agencies might not be willing to authorize AR-15s for their officers — especially as a carry weapon. So a pistol caliber SBR could be a good compromise between a handgun and an AR. The pistol caliber SBR shoots pistol ammunition, most commonly the 9mm. The use of a shoulder stock permits much more accurate shots. The top rail allows for different options for optics, such as a 1-4x scope or a red dot sight, further increasing accuracy. And then the shorter barrel makes the weapon lighter and more compact than an AR. The stock often folds or retracts, as well. Yet the pistol caliber SBR still only shoots the same ammunition that their officers have always used.

Can a pistol caliber SBR be carried by officers on a daily basis? A 3-point sling makes this possible, but perhaps still too awkward. They could carry in particular situations, especially if there is a crowded event or venue where they are patrolling. Otherwise, an SBR could be available in the patrol car when responding to an active shooter type situation.

A third option, more amenable to daily carry, is the HK MP7 — described on the company website here. It is very compact and light (3.8 lbs) and can fit in its own oversized holster. The bullet is light, but high velocity. And some version of the ammo can penetrate body armor.

In summary, options for more firepower for LEOs when responding to active shooters:

1. AR-15
2. pistol caliber SBR
3. MP7

LEOs need a firearm with a stock, capable of making a headshot on a terrorist or other active shooter. A semi-auto pistol is no longer sufficient for every situation.

In the news now, there are lots of suggestions for new laws, aimed at preventing terrorists — and mass shooters more generally — from ever getting a firearm. But those proposals are never going to be 100% effective. There are just too many ways for some terrorist wannabe to get his hands on dangerous weapons, legally or illegally.

So we have to consider better options when responding to an active shooter. LEOs need more firepower. They can’t be expected to take down a heavily armed shooter, when they only have pistols. And does anyone (but the most rabid anti-gunners) think that LEOs shouldn’t be allowed to have more effective firearms?

– Thoreau

One Response to More Firepower for Local Police

  1. Thanks for the article. As a LEO for over 20 years I have to agree with a lot of what you said. Let me expand on a few things you mentioned. You noted that active shooter events are still relatively infrequent – I suppose that depends on your perspective. The FBI reports that between 2000-2013 there were 160 active shooter events resulting 1043 causalities. Media reports, I’ve seen, indicate that the number of active shooter events has been increasing in frequency over the same period. The data would seem to show that LE must be prepared for these terrible events, even if they haven’t happened yet where we live. Think about it this way there has not been a major hurricane to hit the gulf coast in 10 years – even so, it would be irresponsible to tell people living on the coast that they ought not be concerned about or prepared for hurricanes. That said there is a concern among a number of citizens about the “militarization” of the police. These tools seem to symbolize that sentiment, and I am not unsympathetic to their concerns but I have to agree with you that these tools are needed. Training, policy, and LE / Citizen interaction are the best ways to address and mitigate “militarization” concerns.
    My agency issues both rifles (ARs) and shotguns (Remington 870s). We have them locked in carriers in the front seat areas so they are accessible and easy to deploy. But we train that if a long gun(s) are deployed we must be smart about that deployment. All of our apprehensions require putting “hands on” someone, this is immensely easier and safer for all if a contact LEO has a holstered sidearm – sometimes bad guys still want to fight – even if they don’t immediately present a deadly force threat (remember Graham v. Conner). That fight is easier to have, if you don’t have to worry about a long gun flopping about. Good training, tactics, and supervision are the best answers to the questions about what tools are best for any given circumstance.
    In short training, preparation, adherence to policy and legal standards make these weapon systems important tools, but not the only tools, in the current public safety environment.