Those who came before us said, "A handgun is a great weapon used on your way to getting a rifle." Similar statements are made by experts today. Substitute shotgun for rifle and vice versa.

These statements may seem unusual to a cadet or first-year officer. Why would the so-called experts malign handguns? They are manufactured in man-stopping calibers and carried by virtually every peace officer.

Handguns may be smaller, portable, lighter, concealable and convenient, but they aren't always the best tool for the job. This has been proven again and again on the battlefields of the world and in police engagements throughout history.

Law enforcement has always sought parity in firepower with the assailant.

Engagements with Depression-era Chicago gangsters carrying Tommy guns, the FBI Miami Shootout, the North Hollywood Bank of America shootout, and Columbine prove that despite irrational and politically correct resistence to so-called "black rifles" and "assault weapons," every peace officer should be equiped with a rifle and a shotgun in the cruiser.

Officers must be ready for the eventuality of encountering an active shooter beyond handgun range. Experts usually define handgun range as less than 50 yards, and it is important to note that most officers lack handgun proficiency outside of a 25-yard radius. Rifles and shotguns remedy this situation effectively.

Shotguns are designed to be effective inside a 50-yard range. The massive kinetic energy delivered by multiple projectiles from a shotshell on a single target can be devastating. The drawback is that for most loads, the shot pattern from a single cartridge begins to spread out significantly outside of 50 yards, resulting in fewer projectiles landing on target.

Most police shotguns can carry six to eight cartridges in their magazine tube and can be augmented with a side saddle, which carries extra cartridges and attaches to the weapon's receiver or stock. Even with this enhancement, the maximum load is about a dozen cartridges. Reloads can be time consuming in an active-shooter situation, proving that a patrol rifle chambered in .223 or .308 is essential.

These rifles give you accuracy beyond 50 yards with multiple and quick follow-up shots. Most assailants realize this and choose platforms such as the AK-47/SKS or AR-15. The notorious engagements mentioned above all had assailants who utilized these platforms with devastating loss of life to the public and law enforcement.

Today's reality is no less troubling as border states such Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas face similar threats from drug gangs and Mexican cartels. Agencies must move away from politics and allow law enforcement to do its job in protecting the public and ensuring its own preparedness and safety.

Command staff are concerned about what peace officers project visually to the public. They're afraid the public will view their agency as a paramilitary force. This is a false notion, because many citizens have stated in interview they are more concerned about their own safety and that of law enforcement, rather than the aesthetics of the tools used by police. An officer must be equipped as well as, if not better than, the assailant.

Unfortunately, budget cuts and the economy have affected the finances of both the agency and the individual officer. Many agencies don't provide a sufficient allowance to officers for the purchase of a long gun, and many still prohibit it for the above mentioned reasons of potential political and legal blowback. Fortunatly, there are affordable options for both the rifle and the shotgun.

When selecting an affordable shotgun, the basic formula that I use is one that addresses the reputation of the gunmaker, the test of time as far as reliability is concerned, and the availability of aftermarket accessories and options for flexible customization if the officer wishes to go that route.

Different officers have different needs. Smaller agencies may opt for the basic platform, while larger and urban agencies may require custom features such as rail mounts for lights and optics, side saddles and heat shields for protecting barrels from overheating after sustained engagements.

The two most widely used shotgun platforms in law enforcement today are the Mossberg 500 Series and the Remington 870. Basic platforms are $300 to $400 and allow for flexible customization and abundant aftermarket parts availability. These two models have stood the test of time and have taken abuse in the deserts of Iraq as well generations of law enforcement use.

They're simple pump-actions that are reliable, affordable, and easy to dissasemble, clean, load, unload and customize. I'm a huge believer in keeping things simple. I own both models, and they've had thousands of loads through them without a hiccup. An active-shooter engagement is no time to test equipment that has not stood the test of time.

These criteria are also important when selecting a patrol rifle. I believe the AR-15 platform offers the best choice. It is inherently more accurate than the AK-47 platforms and offers easy domestic access to aftermarket parts. Its dominance in accuracy has been proven by competition shooters time and time again. I also look for manufacturers that offer foldable and/or collapsable stocks, extra magazines, as well as Picatinny rail mounts for lights and optics.

AR-15 platforms manufactured by Colt can be costly, but simpler platforms by manufacturers such as Bushmaster and DPMS can be had for as little as $900 to $1,200. These will usually come with two 30-round magazines for .223, and 10 to 20 each for the larger .308 cousin, giving the officer almost complete parity in firepower and capacity against most assailants. Patrol rifles from the above mentioned gunmakers are also available in pistol calibers such as 9 mm and .40 S&W.

While this availability allows crossover use and training with the same caliber ammo as the duty pistol, it does in the end defeat the purpose of a dedicated rifle platform chambered in a heavier and faster bullet such as the .223 and .308. Stay away from pistol-chambered patrol rifles as they may be ballistically insufficient to penetrate dense metal, concrete, armor and cover encountered during an engagement.

Officers in municipalities on the borders and inner cities of states such as Texas and Arizona are encountering drug gangs with armor for their bodies and vehicles. I would prefer to have a patrol rifle chambered in .223 or .308, rather than 9 mm or .40-caliber when encountering a well organized, well armed, and motivated drug gang.


Brian Ostro
Brian Ostro

NRA Firearms Instructor

Brian Ostro is an NRA-certified pistol and rifle instructor. He teaches concealed-carry courses in west central Florida. He also runs a firearms and related-topics discussion online forum.

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Brian Ostro is an NRA-certified pistol and rifle instructor. He teaches concealed-carry courses in west central Florida. He also runs a firearms and related-topics discussion online forum.

View Bio