The popularity of the AR-15/M-16 platform continues to expand in the law enforcement marketplace, with about an even dozen or so makers in the fray. Some of the names associated with "aftermarket" AR rifles have exhibited questionable quality, but a sterling few are, simply put, as good as anyone could possibly want, or need.
After the North Hollywood bank robbery and shootout, battle-weary M-16s began to show up in patrol cars, courtesy of the U.S. government. Whether or not this was, or is, a good idea, should be left to the agencies involved.
However, unlike a six-shot revolver, the AR is a complex system to operate, maintain, and shoot well. Anyone can be taught to send a few rounds downrange with it, but becoming intimately familiar with the operation, maintenance, potential pitfalls, and strengths of the AR family of rifles takes training.
And that's where a lot of agencies come up short. After a short "transition" training class (I've seen them as short as two hours!), officers are usually left to their own devices while they learn to live with the AR. This seems to be especially true with smaller agencies with correspondingly smaller training budgets. There are tens of thousands of personally owned AR rifles sitting in patrol cars, purchased in good faith by officers tired of being undergunned, but unless that initial purchase is followed up with regular training, the situation might be best described as an accident waiting for a time to happen.
So let's pretend you've made the decision to buy ARs for your agency, or to buy one personally. The first thing you have to do is pick out a gun. Do your homework. We're not going to get ugly and name names, but there are some models that don't measure up. So ask around and conduct some real-world research into quality before you lay your money down. After all, from a low of around $800 to a high of close to $3,000, the cost of an AR isn't exactly chump change.
Our advice is to stick with one of the top-quality makers and remember the adage "simple is best" is usually the case, especially for a rifle that's going to beat-around in a patrol car. But if you need or want something a bit more sophisticated, it's available.
And that brings us neatly around to the case at hand. Rock River Arms, long famous for its line of quality 1911-series handguns, entered the AR market with a vengeance and has quickly risen to one of the top positions.
Rock River's AR line is bewildering to the uninitiated and even a bit daunting to those who understand the gun. By my own count, there seems to be about 26 basic models in the company's catalog, ranging from base rifles to complex varmint models. If you factor in the options available and your ability to essentially custom make one to meet your own specific needs, or wants, the final potential model count tallies in the hundreds.
The strength of the AR platform is the fact that it's so easily "improved upon" by garage tinkerers. Top-ends, caliber conversions, butt stocks, grips, bolts, barrels, sights, rails, triggers, and just about every other part can be changed virtually at will. But this can also be dangerous, as the average "Joe" can get a bit carried away with bolt-on goodies, many of questionable value. Keep that in mind before you reach for the screwdriver.
According to the Federal Business Opportunity Website (www.fedbizopps.
gov), Rock River was awarded a contract to supply specified models of the AR (in pre-ban NFA configuration) to the Department of Justice, Drug Enforcement Administration. The award amount is for more than $85 million, which is a lot of AR rifles no matter how you look at it.
The Rock River DEA model seems to be essentially the company's Tactical CAR-A4 carbine, albeit highly accessorized and perhaps slightly modified in some respects. Our test rifle showed a one-in-eight-inch twist barrel, although the specs for the DEA show a one-in-nine requirement. Perhaps it had to do with the fact our gun has the full-length 16-inch barrel, and the contract rifle comes with the 14.5-inch version. Both the civilian model and the DEA model are semi-auto only.
Rock River's pre-ban six-position collapsible buttstock is standard on the DEA model, and the pistol grip is an obvious Hogue model that says "Rock River." There are hard points for sling attachment, both for right- and left-hand operation, and our rifle came with a simple nylon sling. Six 30-round mags, a soft Eagle case with slots for five mags, a carrying handle, and cleaning kit make up the package. Ours being the civilian model (nobody trusts us with the short 14.5-inch barrel), we're not sure if the package is any different for the L/E model. We doubt it.