In a recent case, a subject armed with an assault rifle opened up a barrage of gunfire on a New York State Police officer at a traffic stop near Albany. The trooper was able to retreat to a safe location with the help of a retired officer who just happened to be driving by. Other officers responded to the scene and hunkered down more than 400 yards away while the subject continued to fire wildly. At that distance the backup officers, from a 22-man police force which at the time only owned one patrol rifle for the entire department, felt that the distance was too great and lacked a safe backstop.
Two of these patrol officers, along with their chief, flanked the gunman's position to a wooded area on the side of the highway where they had a safe backstop, and quickly ended the confrontation with five well-placed shots. This department not only had the foresight to see the need for a patrol rifle, but after this incident the agency was able to find the funding to purchase two additional rifles.
On the other hand, the New York State Police still do not have patrol rifles in all of their vehicles and only carry buckshot in their shotguns, which they found out is not very effective at 400 yards.
Change Range Training
The shotgun is a devastating tool at close distances, but the patrol rifle is just as deadly given the right training. Therein lies the problem. We focus too much on that long distance shot, and not the close distances where we find the patrol rifle most often deployed. Is there a need to know how to make a head shot at 100 yards? Considering the human head can move four inches in one-sixtieth of a second, is it even possible? Should we spend our limited training resources on a shot that may not ever happen, or that is close to impossible to make in the field?
The answer is yes, because those shots do sometimes happen and we need to be prepared for them. The New York incident was terminated at a distance of roughly 70 yards. But we also need to be prepared and train for the close quarters shot where the rifle is most often deployed.
This is where some firearms instructors will advise you, "If they can hit the target at 100 yards, then they can hit it up close." But that's just not true. The dynamics of a gunfight at 100 yards are totally different from a gunfight occurring at five yards, 10 yards, or even 20 yards.
At 100 yards, we look for precision. At close distances, depending on the circumstances, we look for quick hits on the target. When that gunman pops out of a bedroom at the end of the hallway, we need speed and hits to end the fight quickly. When that driver exits his vehicle at a high-risk traffic stop with his gun blazing, we need to end the fight quickly.
Ending the fight quickly means placing effective rounds into your adversary as quickly as you can. This is actually very easy to do if you're willing to think outside of the box. The "box" I'm referring to is that square range you go to with your patrol rifle to qualify. We need to do more than just "qualify" on the range with the patrol rifle. A lot of time and effort went into the research, development, design, and manufacture of this weapon. Yet very few officers are aware of its true capabilities as a close-quarters tool.