Rifles and their advocates are in the news and blogs these days. It doesn't take a handgun to perform home defense. A man using a rifle recently detained three burglars until police arrived. It could have been any type of rifle. Rifle Shooter Magazine recently did a piece on the best bolt action rifles of all time. Brad Fitzpatrick covers a number of the ones you would expect to see, including the Remington 700, Winchester model 70, Weatherby and so on. But he includes one [read more]
Richard Fairburn, writing at PoliceOne.com, gives us this remarkable portrait of his vision for the police state in America.
I saddled up my first patrol rifle, a Colt AR15, in a Chevrolet Blazer 4×4 patrol vehicle in 1985. The other two patrol deputies in my county had their own semi-auto rifles in locking racks, one carried a Beretta AR70 (also in 5.56mm caliber) while the other had a H&K Model 91 chambered for the much more powerful 7.62x51mm NATO round (.308 Winchester). While more than one potential human target saw the business end of our rifles over the years, no one ever challenged their authority.
Now we see patrol rifles in the hands of many U.S. police officers, generally a variation of the AR15/M16/M4 system. I have long believed a rifle is the long gun “answer” to most police shooting situations, now it seems most agencies agree. So, I’ll try to stay one step ahead by suggesting we now need to move a few of our officers “beyond the patrol rifle.”
The other dominant rifle form in U.S. police usage has been the sniper rifle, generally referred to as a counter-sniper rifle in its earliest days following the “Texas Tower” massacre committed by Charles Whitman in Austin, Texas on August 1, 1966. What I propose now is that we equip and train a percentage of our patrol officers to a capability midway between those equipped with a patrol rifle and snipers who generally only deploy as one element of a SWAT team. The U.S. Army and Marine Corps are fielding these intermediate-level marksmen in significant numbers and they are proving to be extremely effective in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. military refers to them as “Designated Marksmen,” and I propose we adopt similar terminology and the same weaponry for perhaps one in 10 patrol officers.
In February 2009, only a few months after the terrorist attack in Mumbai, India, PoliceOne ran my three-part series on how we should be training and preparing to counter terrorist teams of active shooters. In the development of that series of articles, I ran the drafts by LTC Dave Grossman, noted SWAT trainer Sgt. Ed Mohn, and a couple of military SpecOps dudes I know, adding their valuable input to the final product. I was more than a little gratified when I saw the Los Angeles, Las Vegas, and New York City police departments and the National Tactical Officers Association (NTOA) organize and train officers in ways that paralleled our early recommendations — the most common program being Multiple Attack Counter Terror Action Capabilities training, or MACTAC. It was in part three of that series that I first suggested the need for Designated Marksman (DM) capabilities when responding to a Mumbai-style attack.
The most simple and inexpensive way to improve on our existing patrol rifles is to upgrade existing 5.56mm carbines with low- to medium-power optical sights. This enhances the shooter’s ability to deliver precise fire at longer distances than we can generally muster with iron sights. In addition to optics, any 5.56mm DM rifle should be coupled with a heavy 5.56mm projectile like the 77gr MHP bullet in the Mk262 load. Most Army DMs are equipped with an M16 variant using a 4x optical sight and the Mk262 load. Many patrol rifle shooters can already quickly mount scopes or 3x magnifiers for low power optical sights.
But ideally, I think our Designated Marksmen should be equipped with a more powerful rifle to deal more effectively with both distance and light intervening cover. The AR15 platform can be upgraded to larger cartridges like the Remington .30 AR or the 6.8mm SPC, but stepping up even further makes more sense. The USMC Designated Riflemen generally shoot an updated M14 chambered for the 7.62x51mm (.308 Winchester). Our LE-type DMs should also opt for the 7.62mm/.308 round, but instead of firing the 168gr Match Hollow Point (MHP) round our snipers use, we should opt for a 150 grain expanding projectile. The sniper’s match hollow points are designed primarily for accuracy and give erratic terminal performance. Choosing a round like Federal Ammunition’s P308E, which uses a 150 grain Nosler Ballistic Tip bullet, or Black Hills Ammunition’s Black Hills Gold load that uses a Hornady 155 grain A-Max projectile, would provide devastating terminal performance and a reduced chance of over-penetration, coupled with the ability to switch interchangeably to military M80 Ball ammunition. The M80 Ball load is a trajectory match for a 150-155 grain expanding bullet and allows both reduced cost training as well as better penetration against barricaded targets.
The Marine Corp’s modified M14 DM rifle can be duplicated with an M1A rifle from Springfield Armory, their Scout Squad model is particularly handy. If you would prefer a semi-auto rifle with the same operating controls as your AR to simplify training, a number of AR makers offer a variation of the AR10 which is chambered for the 7.62mm round. A police DM rifle should be equipped with a scope sight of about 4x magnification (or a variable-power scope that will zoom up to at least 4x).
Analysis & Commentary
Despite his having invoked the U.S. Army, the classification of DM is primarily found in the U.S. Marine Corps (my son was a DM in his platoon). The training for DM is much the same as the training for Marine Corps Scout Snipers, except for the stalking, evasion, and other things that make a sniper unique.
The writer invokes the memory of the shooter at the University of Texas at Austin in 1966, but Charles Whitman was killed on the observation deck at close range by a police officer using a shotgun. Furthermore, it was a basic lack of plant security that allowed Whitman to be there at all. The next data point in his scare tactics to pressure the reader into accepting a militarized police is the Mumbai attacks in India. But there isn’t any indication that long range standoff weapons were used in ending the Mumbai attacks. In fact, the notion the writer promulgates is more one of a paramilitary style force.
He specifically alludes to the DM designation, with police officers envisioned as using long range standoff weapons such as a sniper rifle. Make no mistake about it. Mr. Fairburn is quite literally advocating a higher ratio of snipers / DMs for the police than we typically find in Marine Corps infantry units.
Given the horrible state of no-knock raids in America (see Jose Guerenna raid among many others), the proliferation of these military tactics across the law enforcement community (see Department of Education affiliated officers and the raid on Kenneth Wright), and the common practice used by felons of announcing themselves as police officers, there isn’t any prima facie reason to entrust the police with high power weapons used in a standoff fashion.
The track record of police offices behaving as military operators (as they wish to be called) isn’t very good. They haven’t earned the title, they haven’t deployed on combat tours, and their job function is to be peace officers. In my own hometown I have noticed an increasing inconsistency in uniform among police officers, from cargo pants and tee shirts to formal uniforms, from OWB handgun holsters to drop holsters with tactical belts, and on and on the list goes.
While there is a need for access to more than just side arms (and training to use them in limited circumstances), police departments needs to work more towards less militarization of tactics and uniforms, less use of no-knock raids, and certainly as limited use as possible of long range standoff weapons.
Mr. Fairburn is pressing towards the increased militarization of U.S. police, while the optimum goal should be the decreased militarization of tactics. But the troubling thing about Mr. Fairburn’s argument is its wide acceptance within the law enforcement community. It’s not uncommon now to find this attitude within police departments. It’s easy to understand the interest in the so-called “black guns” (ARs) with close to two decades of war flashed across our TV screens (I have one), and I am certainly a defender of the right to bear arms as my readers know. I regularly engage in both open and concealed carry.
But interest in tactics, dress, weapons, and so on, isn’t the same thing as behaving like military operators around the public where innocent bystanders can be injured, and where we have the bill of rights to protect us from the state. Mr. Fairburn should rethink his position, but common citizens should become engaged in their local communities to ensure that the police aren’t in fact becoming too autonomous.