Ever since the 1997 North Hollywood bank robbery in which the LAPD found itself outgunned by the bad guys, law enforcement agencies nationwide have transitioned in mass from using pump-action shotguns to military style rifles and carbines.
The most popular U.S. law enforcement patrol or tactical (SWAT) rifle or carbine has been the AR15/M16/M4 variants that operate using Eugene Stoner's direct impingement design. But in the last few years a number of new rifles that use gas piston operation have been marketed to both law enforcement and the military.
Why would anyone use a rifle or carbine that is different in any way from the proven and popular direct impingement black guns? The answer to this question is that some law enforcement agencies are willing to step out of the box and examine other options because as good as the AR variants are they are not the only magazine-fed, semi-auto rifles suitable for law enforcement duty.
Even someone like me who has carried an issued Colt M16 variant as well as a personally owned Ruger Mini 14 in harm's way and has a long history of using direct impingement rifles has to admit that some of the piston operated rifles are excellent guns. One such rifle is the SIG Sauer 556 Patrol Rifle.
Don't let the name "Patrol" fool you; the SIG 556 Patrol is well suited for tactical team use as well. The new SIG 556 Patrol Rifle comes in two versions: the standard model and the SWAT model. The SWAT model is equipped with a quad rail for the attachment of accessories.
The Original 556
After I retired and started field testing firearms and publishing magazine articles, I tested a rather long list of handguns, shotguns, rifles, carbines, machine guns, and submachine guns, including the original SIG 556 and now the SIG 556 Patrol Rifle.
Looking back I admit that I was impressed with the original SIG 556. But I had two complaints about this rifle that prevented me from buying one.
My first problem with the original SIG 556 was that it had a cheap-looking rear sight. The rear sight was like a piece of cheap steel with a hole drilled through it. I mean this sight was like something you would find on British Sten guns constructed in occupied territory during World War II by Allied resistance fighters.
I also had a bit of a problem with the original SIG 556's lack of a dust or bolt cover to keep sand and dirt out of the internal operating parts of the receiver. I haven't had a problem with dirt or sand getting into the receiver of the two SIG 556 rifles that I have tested to date, but I would still like to have extra protection that a dust cover provides.
Now that I have shared my criticisms of the original SIG 556 you must be wondering why I enthusiastically asked to test and evaluate the new SIG 556 Patrol Rifle.
The reason is simple. In all my years of testing and using all kinds of rifles I have yet to find the so-called "perfect" firearm. There is always at least one feature or aspect of every firearm, even if it's so minor it is almost not worth mentioning, that prevents it from being perfect. And while the original SIG 556 had its faults, it was still an excellent firearm.
OK, let's look at the new SIG 556 Patrol Rifle. SIG designed its 556 series of rifles to use M16/M4 magazines, which was a wise decision, and I applaud them for it.
But like I said nothing is perfect. The Patrol version of the 556 lacks the real estate or a longer forend to enable the operator to extend his or her non-shooting hand to grip the rifle as close to the front sight as possible. This method of gripping any assault rifle or main battle rifle is highly recommended because it effectively steadies the rifle under firing conditions.
If this is a problem then you have options. You can use the SWAT version, which is equipped with a quad rail system. The quad rail lets you install a forward vertical grip. Or you can do as I do and use the 556 Patrol Rifle as is because the plus of having a shorter forend is that it makes the rifle a tad less "nose" heavy.