Over the last weekend, on the final day of the Garlic Festival in Gilroy, CA, a gunman opened fire on the assembled crowd with a semi-automatic SKS rifle. The assailant gained access to the large-scale event by cutting a hole in a chainlink fence encircling the festival grounds.
The 19-year-old gunman—whose name does not merit mention in this space—reportedly fired indiscriminately, killing three people, including a 6-year-old boy, a 13-year-old girl, and a man in his twenties.
Another 15 festival-goers were injured or wounded in the attack.
Gilroy Police Chief Scot Smithee said that the attack at the festival—which over the three days of the event attracts more than 100,000 people—could "have gotten so much worse" if his officers hadn't responded quickly and decisively.
Indeed, officers responded very quickly—neutralizing the threat in less than one minute.
"Despite the fact that they were outgunned with their handguns against a rifle, those three officers were able to fatally wound that suspect," Smithee said.
What one word in Smithee's comments jumps out at you?
For me it's, "outgunned."
A firearms instructor from my youth drilled into my teenage head many years ago the credo: "The first rule of gunfighting is, bring a gun. The second rule of gunfighting, is, make it a long gun. There are no other rules in gunfighting. None. NONE! Remember that."
He'd then grunt something unintelligible, spit, and shout, "Make the line ready!"
In the years following, I've learned that there are other rules of gunfighting—but that old codger's words on the first two points still ring true.
I've never met a patrol officer who said anything along the lines of, "Nah, I don't need or want a patrol rifle."
Every line officer I've ever discussed this subject with is in favor of having rapid access to a long gun if the need were to suddenly arise.
No, the opposition to patrol rifles is generally from the politicians, the press, the public, and even some police leaders.
Perhaps one or two agencies will take note of what follows and begin the purchase process.
Pouring the Foundation
The patrol rifle of choice at most law enforcement agencies is the AR-15 platform.
Some departments choose other long guns, but because of the relatively light weight of the gun; the accuracy of the weapon; the ease with which it can be broken down, cleaned, and maintained; and the ubiquity of its availability from a wide variety of manufacturers—at varying levels of cost—the AR is the patrol rifle of choice for police.
Selecting the manufacturer of your patrol rifles can be a daunting task. As mentioned, there are dozens of companies making these systems, and it seems like a new player enters the space every year at SHOT Show in Las Vegas, where newcomers join the old guard like Colt, Smith & Wesson, SIG Sauer, FN, Bushmaster, Daniel Defense, Noveske, and others.
Chances are, at least half of the officers reading this column could give a lengthy dissertation on the merits of all of these choices.
There are also myriad resources from which a purchasing agent can draw to make a good decision.
And make no mistake: Don't skimp on the gun. It is the foundation on which all else is built.
Considerations in this decision include barrel length and ammunition selection. A shorter barrel is easier to operate in small spaces, but may diminish somewhat the ballistics performance. However, that matter may be ameliorated with the right ammunition.
Keep in mind that you're purchasing an entire system. The following are some of the other elements to that system.
Many people call the AR platform the "Barbie Doll" of guns because users "dress them up" with a bunch of extra equipment.
It's true that many civilian shooters go way, way overboard, taking a perfectly serviceable seven-pound rifle and more than doubling its weight by adding largely unnecessary equipment to the Picatinny rails surrounding the barrel of their rifle.
However, there are some additions that are absolutely necessary for a patrol rifle to be effective.
The first and most basic piece of equipment is a sling. You need a way of carrying the gun hands-free. My personal preference is a design that can be converted from a two-point sling to a one-point variation. The additional weight of having this second mounting option is negligible.
Next is a flashlight. There is a dizzying array of choices. Chances are the company that makes the flashlight on your officers' duty belts also makes a good torch for mounting to the AR.
The rifle will come with two or three magazines. You will want more—six at a minimum. Buy the extra mags from the manufacturer of your firearm, or if you elect to go with an after-market product, ditch the ones that come from the manufacturer and go with just that after-market brand.
The gun should also have proper optics—preferably a red-dot. This is going to be an expensive item; the optic on my primary AR cost well over twice what I paid for the gun itself. But with optics you get what you pay for, so brace yourselves and open your wallets.
You'll need to add the appropriate vehicle mount. Whoever does the interiors of your squad cars will be able to point you in the right direction here.
Finally, no patrol rifle program is complete without rigorous and ongoing training. An argument can be made that this is the most expensive element to the program. This is not one-time only training—it must be continuing and ongoing. Remember that not all training is good training—do your due diligence on the training options available to you.
Some operators opt for a fore-end grip.
A few years ago, I had a pistol-style grip mounted to the end of the rail of my gun, but have since removed it. It's an individual choice.
Other individuals like having a bipod on the end of the barrel. I have a bipod in my go-bag that I can quickly add, but I don't leave it on the gun just due to the added weight.
Some operators like to change the compensator on the end of the barrel, while others like to add a suppressor. Both are potentially good choices, depending on the user.
These last few items are non-essential in my opinion, but I understand the argument from the folks who choose to add this gear to enhance performance.
Fulfilling a Need
Many recent active shooter incidents have been conducted by assailants with long guns—Parkland, Sutherland Springs, San Bernardino, Newtown, and others—and law enforcement officers must have the appropriate equipment to respond to such attacks.
They need patrol rifles.
I'm happy to report that agencies across the country are equipping many more officers with patrol rifles than in years past. But there remains a need for more. Some agencies don't have any patrol rifles. Some have a very limited number.
In many cases this continuing need is due to political opposition from elected leaders—and the voting public—opposing the "optics" of having officers "slung" out on patrol.
They argue that these pieces of potentially life-saving equipment make the police look too militarized. I hear the argument, but respectfully disagree.
A patrol rifle is like a parachute—if you find that you suddenly, desperately need one and find that you don't have one, you'll probably never need one ever again.
Lobby your department to invest in more patrol rifles.
Don't go out outgunned.