A few days back I was scrolling through a rangemaster's forum on the Web, and I read that the conventional wisdom these days among law enforcement firearms decision makers is that other than for precision rifle use (They have a hard time with the word "sniper.") the .308 Winchester cartridge is too heavy a caliber for everyday carry.
What that really means is that the people who decide what guns we carry in the field think that only snipers should have .30-caliber weapons readily available.
Granted, .30-caliber long guns have a limited and specialized place in law enforcement. But that doesn't mean they shouldn't be in the trunks of our patrol cars. After all, the folks in the patrol cars are usually the ones that run across those limited and specialized situations in the first place.
Just as the conventional thinking on containment and waiting for the department's tactical team to respond has evolved into immediate action when necessary as in an active-shooter situation, so has the conventional thinking on patrol rifle caliber. More departments across the country are allowing patrol officers to carry a heavy-caliber long gun. The deployment of these guns varies from full- and part-time tactical team members to the rank-and-file patrol officer.
Smaller rural departments were some of the first to recognize the benefit of a .308 Winchester patrol rifle. The reason for this is easily understood. When you keep the peace in ranch or farm country, a long-range shot can be critical to your survival and to public safety.
And now some urban departments are starting to field .308 caliber patrol rifles. What this shows is that some right-thinking police administrators in urban departments have realized that their officers need a heavy-caliber, long-range option, even though touching off a .308 Winchester round in a built-up urban or suburban community becomes problematic.
Officer or citizen rescues involving a barricaded and actively shooting suspect are one area where the .308 Winchester round used for suppression fire is hard to match. In a semi-automatic configuration with a 20-round magazine, there are few systems available that could be better suited to such a task.
A Proud History
And that brings us to the gun of the hour, a weapon system that has roots back to Gen. George Washington himself. No, we're not talking about an officer pouring black powder down the muzzle of an issued flintlock rifle, although that would be both heavy caliber and long range. The historical connection here is the manufacturer, one of the oldest and proudest names in American firearms production: Springfield Arms.
George Washington designated Springfield Armory as the country's first arsenal in 1794. The original Springfield Armory served the country through wars and foreign conflicts for almost 175 years before it closed in 1968. In 1974, Robert Reese acquired the Springfield Armory name and began producing match-grade M1A rifles for the civilian and military markets. The company, now located in Geneseo, Ill., produces superior-quality M1A rifles in .308 Winchester caliber. Its newest .308 model is the M1A SOCOM 16.
Originally developed in caliber .30-06 by weapons designer John Garand, the M1 .30 Caliber Rifle became the standard long arm of the U.S. Army. It was adopted in 1932 and entered service in 1936.
On World War II battlefields, the M1 Garand proved to be such an excellent weapon that enemy soldiers would often use captured M1s in combat. After the war, the newly formed North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) decided that its multinational troops should use a single rifle cartridge and, considering their experiences both good and bad with the weapon, the European armies expressed admiration for the M1 and its .30 caliber cartridge. So, the U.S. offered the T65 cartridge, which was a shortened .30-06 cartridge. The benefit was lower recoil and reduced carry weight.
The U.S. pressed NATO for acceptance of the .30 caliber cartridge, and it was finally accepted as the 7.62x51mm NATO. We know it in the civilian and police markets as the .308 Winchester.
The original M1 Garand was modified to chamber the new 7.62x51mm cartridge along with other improvements and re-designated the M14 Battle Rifle. But the M14 also differed from the M1 in a few significant ways.
Key among these improvements was a detachable box magazine, a much better system than the M1 Garand's en bloc clip loading device. The M14 also included a selector switch that let the shooter choose semi- or full-automatic fire. Other modifications were the result of bulking up the rifle to make it capable of absorbing the repeated heavy recoil of its gas system.
The M14 was accepted for service in 1957. Shortly after it was accepted, the military found that the majority of soldiers had trouble controlling the gun in full-auto mode, and the selector levers were pinned down to allow semi-automatic fire only.