February 28, 1997. That's the date of the resurrection of the rifle as a primary tool in the arsenal of American law enforcement. It's the date of the North Hollywood Shootout. It's the date when two heavily armed and armored bank robbers went toe to toe with dozens of LAPD officers and law enforcement administrators were given a graphic demonstration of why pistols and shotguns are no match for body armor.
North Hollywood was a resurrection of the rifle as a primary law enforcement weapon because the rifle had once been as common on patrol as a badge. Way back before lawyers sued every cop for every bad thing that happened on the job, lots of LEOs carried rifles in their saddlebags and later in their car trunks. Then political correctness and fear of being sued pressured most departments to send their officers out with only a sidearm and, maybe, a shotgun. Some cities, of course, would have loved to have had their officers patrol without guns. Some still would like that.
But two events—the previously mentioned North Hollywood shootout and the atrocities of Sept. 11, 2001—put rifles back in many patrol car trunks.
Some agencies bought those rifles and issued them to their cops. Others let their cops purchase their own rifles and bring them to work.
The result has been a boom in the patrol rifle market. Go to the Shooting Hunting Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, and you will quickly realize that there are a multitude of companies making AR-15 platform rifles chambered in .223 and .308 for patrol duty. There are also a number of patrol long guns available that can fire pistol ammunition at higher velocities and with greater accuracy than sidearms. And of course, there are some non-AR carbines and rifles that are marketed to police.
The following is a brief guide to help you discover what's available in the patrol rifle and carbine market.
Beretta's CX4 Storm semi-automatic carbine was built from the ground up to fire the same calibers and use the same magazines as Beretta's duty pistols. It is available in 9mm, .40 S&W, and .45 ACP.
I tested the Storm carbine a few years ago when it first hit the market. The weapon provided to me by Beretta was chambered in 9mm and used Beretta 92 magazines. You can also use Beretta 96, Cougar, and PX4 magazines in a Storm carbine.
My test PX4 came with the M1917 rail on top of the receiver, and I mounted a red dot sight on it. This combination was surprisingly accurate at distances out to 100 yards. Using a tree for support and firing at a target 50 yards downrange, I was able to keep all 16 rounds in the head zone of a USPSA target; most clustered into a nifty sub-three-inch group.
OK, so that's not marksman accurate. But believe me, the CX4 could help you prematurely end the career of an active shooter. And it's a lot more effective than a pistol.
The design of the CX4 allows you to carry it from a one- or three-point sling all day long comfortably. This radically different carbine is worth a look if your department issues Beretta handguns, provided you have other tools available should you face a bad guy in body armor.
One of the best-known manufacturers of AR platform rifles, Bushmaster offers a wide variety of full-size ARs and carbines for law enforcement applications.
My choice for a great Bushmaster LE patrol rifle is the XM15 E2S M4A3. It's compact, with a 14.5-inch chrome-lined barrel, it offers plenty of firepower with a mag capacity of 30 rounds of .223, and it's lightweight at 5.9 pounds.
For mounting accessories, the M4A3 has a flat-top upper receiver with an integral Picatinny rail. Bushmaster claims 1/2 MOA using the rear sight that is incorporated into the removable carry handle.
The Colt LE Carbine 6920 is a standard M4 marketed to law enforcement. With its double-heat-shielded hand guards, which increase heat dissipation during prolonged firing, and its 1-in-7 twist, which allows the use of heavier bullets for better performance, this rifle is built to serve on duty.
My shooting partner, who is an FTO for the Allegheny Port Authority Police in Pittsburgh, carries the Colt LE carbine daily as his patrol rifle. He has found the rifle to be reliable and accurate. Oh, and it's rugged. His carbine is tossed in and out of his cruiser in all weather conditions, and it continues to function.
DPMS Panther Arms
My personal favorite M4 is from DPMS Panther Arms. It's my favorite because I like its Mangonel flip-up sight system, which gives me the capability to mount various types of optics for testing or any number of uses. Another reason I like this M4 is that it's accurate enough to serve as a designated marksman rifle with a number of telescopic sights.
DPMS Panther Arms also manufactures a .308 Winchester AR-style rifle designed from the ground up as a precision marksman rifle. The LRT-SASS, which feels like a standard AR on steroids, is one of the finest rifles I have ever shot.
The LRT-SASS arrives with all the essentials: Mangonel flip-up sights, flat-top, quad-rail front hand guards, Harris bi-pod, hard case, and manual. Out of the box with the low power magnification of a Trijicon ACOG, this rifle was shooting sub-MOA at 100 meters off the bipod. With quality-variable magnification optics, half MOA can be achieved at 200 meters.[PAGEBREAK]
If you want a bolt-action patrol rifle, FN's Patrol Bolt Rifle and Patrol Bolt Rifle XP are worthy contenders.
Both are very similar to FN's SPR long-range precision rifle for match shooting. Both feature FN/Hogue stocks with a full-length aluminum bedding block for stability. And both are chambered for .308 Winchester.
The standard PBR is available in barrel lengths of 18 inches, 20 inches, 22 inches, and 24 inches. The barrels are cold rotary forged with four-groove, right-hand, 1-in-12 twist. Magazine capacity is four rounds.
Available in 20- and 24-inch barrel lengths, the PBR XP is an upgraded version of the PBR. It features a medium heavy fluted barrel and recessed target-style muzzle crown. The bolt-action features Controlled Round Feeding, a massive external claw extractor, a proven three-position safety, and a one-piece Mil-Std M1913 steel optics rail with oversize 8-40 mounting screws.
Heckler & Koch
Best known for the MP5 sub-gun, which can be used as a pistol caliber carbine, Heckler & Koch also makes a line of .308 and .223 rifles.
The most likely HK patrol rifles are the G36 and the HK416. Both are chambered in .223 Remington.
The G36 is a gas-operated, lightweight, full-size assault rifle. It is constructed of glass fiber-reinforced polymer with stainless steel inserts that make the weapon more stable and more durable.
HK calls its 416 model the "Enhanced Carbine." Here's a look at some of the enhancements. It features a free-floating quad-rail system that can accommodate a ton of accessories. The gas operating system does not introduce propellant gases and carbon fouling into the weapon's guts. It's available with 10-, 14.5-, 16.5-, and 20-inch barrels.
When it comes to unusual-looking patrol long guns Kel-Tec Firearms may be the industry leader. What sets Kel-Tec rifles and carbines apart from other manufacturers is that they fold, making them very easy to store and carry. This design allows you to carry a full-sized rifle in your gear bag.
Over the last few years I have shot several Kel Tec carbines. The first one I tested was a Sub-2000 pistol-caliber carbine in 9mm that used Glock 17 magazines. This compact firearm is blowback operated and functions flawlessly with duty ammunition. It is made safe with a cross-bolt safety that disconnects the trigger bar and locks the hammer and sear. The firing mechanism is deactivated when the carbine is folded for storage.
The Sub-2000 is designed to complement your duty weapon. It is available in 9mm or .40 S&W and uses magazines from common duty weapons such as the Beretta 92, Beretta 96, Glock 17, Glock 19, Glock 22, Glock 23, SIG 226, and S&W 59. I found that this compact weapon handles well and is accurate at distances out to 100 yards. I did not test it beyond that range.
The success of the Sub-2000 led Kel-Tec to develop a larger version chambered in .223 Remington using AR-15 magazines. The SU16 series, like the Sub-2000, folds for storage and transport.
A unique feature of the SU16 is the two 10-round magazines that store in the butt stock of the rifle. This means you have an onboard source of emergency ammunition. That's a great feature to have in a patrol rifle. The 1917-style mount on the SU16's receiver allows the user to mount a red dot sight or scope. With a Bushnell 1X32 Trophy sight, my SU16 was capable of shooting two-inch groups at 100 yards all day long. That level of accuracy should be more than adequate for a patrol rifle.
Remington's 7615 law enforcement rifle is a duty version of its tried and proven 7600 pump-action hunting rifle. Chambered in .223 Remington and using AR mags, the 7615 gives officers a patrol rifle that doesn't look like a black AR-style military weapon. You know how it upsets some "liberal" folks when they see cops carrying "assault weapons."
A strong selling point of the 7615 is that the controls are like those of the 870 shotgun, so the manual of arms is very easy to teach to most officers.
My experience shooting the 7615 is limited. But overall I like the rifle. I will tell you, however, that the pump release button and the magazine release are very stiff on new 7615s. This is a minor irritation, and both break in quickly.
Rock River Arms
Just a few years ago Rock River Arms was known primarily for building custom 1911 pistols. Then one day the company announced that it would be the supplier of the DEA's new duty carbine. This contract vaulted Rock River into the public spotlight and established the company as a serious player in the tactical rifle market.
Rock River's DEA M4 is a select-fire carbine with a 16-inch barrel. The DEA package includes an EOTech 552 Holosight, a SureFire M73 Quad Rail, a SureFire M951 forearm light, and a six-position collapsible stock. My test model was wicked accurate, allowing me to easily shoot sub-one-inch groups at 100 yards.
If you are looking for a longer range rifle, Rock River's LAR8 may fit the bill. This rifle, chambered in .308 Winchester, is a tack driver. It is offered with varying barrel lengths up to 26 inches and, with premium optics, it is capable of sub-half MOA at 100 yards. That rivals bolt rifles. [PAGEBREAK]Ruger
The Ruger Mini-14 has had a following in the law enforcement community for many years simply because it is not an AR, and it doesn't look like a military weapon. But time was that it was a better civilian gun than tactical rifle.
Ruger has set out to make it a better patrol rifle, and it has largely succeeded. The Mini can now be purchased with collapsible or traditional polymer stock, with a quad rail forearm system, and with a flash suppressor to preserve the shooter's low-light vision and reduce the shooter's signature in low-light situations. With these modifications, the Mini-14 is now ready to serve as a close combat or tactical weapon.
Smith & Wesson
Smith & Wesson jumped into the AR rifle market two years ago with the M&P15, a complement to its then new line of M&P semi-auto duty pistols.
I tested the M&P15T, which is the top-of-the-line M&P15. It comes with a flat-top receiver, flip-up front and rear sights, four position fore-grip with rail covers, and a six-position collapsible stock. This rifle is scary accurate out of the box with the flip up iron sights, a red dot, or telescopic sight. Take your pick, and the M&P15 will drive tacks at 100 yards.
Smith & Wesson did a fine job with the M&P rifle, it has no preference to bullet weight, manufacturer, or bullet type; it just shoots.
(For a detailed look at the M&P15, check out Mike Detty's Arsenal review in this issue.)
When the bad guys have range and position on their side, you need one of these equalizers. Scott Smith
The most specialized firearm in a department's arsenal is its sniper/counter-sniper rifle. This rifle has to be capable of pinpoint precision on the first shot.
Most often bolt-action rifles are the firearm of choice for this application, but the Rock River Arms LAR8 and DPMS Panther Arms LRT-SASS are capable of this accuracy.
Another semi-automatic .308 chambered rifle finding favor in military and law enforcement roles is the Armalite AR-10A4. While I have not shot the AR10, I know several guys that have and their reports all verify Armalite's claims of inch-and-a-half accuracy at 100 yards with premium ammunition. Truth be told, they find that the rifle is capable of half MOA or better at 100 yards.
A tried and true semi-automatic precision rifle is the Springfield-Armory M1A. While this is a semi-automatic version of the M14, the fit finish and tolerances of he M1A vs. the old mil-spec M14 are like night and day.
The modern M1A is a precision tool and is available in many forms from a scout/patrol carbine to the tack-driving White Feather (developed to honor Marine sniper Carlos Hathcock).
My personal M1A has performed superbly over the last couple of decades. The only modifications that I have made to it other than adding Springfield's scope mount and bases is changing the stock to a more solid McMillan A5 stock. This change alone made my standard M1A even more accurate because it tightened the action and made the fit of the rifle much better.
When it comes to bolt-operated rifles, it's really hard to beat the ubiquitous Remington Model 700 and the updated model the Remington 700XCR Long Range Tactical Rifle.
Remington didn't change the action and the barrel when it upgraded the Model 700, but it did add a Black TriNyte coating to protect them against the elements. The stock has been changed. It is now a Bell & Carlson stock with a full-length bedding block, dual forearm studs to mount a bi-pod and sling, as well as a cutout for the shooter's off hand. These changes make the Remington 700 a much more weather-resistant rifle and the full-length bedding block will keep the rifle MOA accurate for years to come.
If you are a looking for a precision rifle, you may want to consider Savage Arms. Savage, considered by many to be the leader in value-priced hunting rifles, offers the Model 12 in a tactical rifle package.
I believe the Model 12 is competitive with some of the finest custom rifles on the market. Savage uses a heavy contoured barrel with button rifling and a recessed target crown as the basis for the Model 12. This is then set into a H-S Precision, Choate, or McMillan stock depending on your preference and comes with Savage's Accu Trigger, which can be operator adjusted to give you a crisp one- to six-pound pull.
All of the Savage rifles that I have shot over the years have been incredibly accurate out of the box and the Model 12 Tactical is no exception. This rifle easily produces sub-MOA performance with premium ammunition, and I am certain that a shooter with steady hands can get quarter MOA at 100 yards.
Another highly respected firearms manufacturer entered the factory produced tactical rifle market this year: Kimber America.
Kimber is using its popular Model 84 hunting rifle to produce the LPT, Tactical, and Advanced Tactical line of rifles. All three rifles come from the factory with a three-pound trigger, oversized bolt handle for easy operation, and Picatinny rail for mounting a scope.
Scott Smith is a disabled veteran who served as an active-duty Army MP and in the U.S. Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard as a security policeman. He is a contributing editor to POLICE.