Discreetly Carrying Long Guns in Public

Many Americans get alarmed and even angry when they see officers equipped with rifles or submachine guns at events, so you need methods for covertly carrying them.

A wide variety of extremely effective long guns can be concealed in an easy-to-carry pack, including short-barreled rifles, carbines with folding stocks, and pistol caliber submachine guns and carbines. (Photo: Brian Marshall)

Event security has changed dramatically for law enforcement in the last few years with the increased threat of active shooter events or terrorist attacks. Agencies of all sizes must seek solutions to secure large gatherings like concerts, stadiums, or parades. Additional security is also desired in schools, airports, and other large buildings where hallways can be 50 yards or more. In my city, we have one facility where hallways reach 700 yards.

As agencies seek out solutions to increase response capabilities, we have seen increased use of counter-sniper overwatch, bollards and heavy vehicle barricades on streets, bomb detection K-9s, quick reaction forces (QRFs) made of SWAT officers, and deployments of uniformed or tactical officers with exposed long guns, generally pistol caliber carbines, submachine guns, short barreled rifles, or full-size patrol rifles.

Almost any long gun, whether it's pistol or rifle caliber, will offer tactical advantage over a handgun in magazine capacity, stability, accuracy, and ballistic capability. In addition, they can be fitted with a wider variety of optics for improved performance.

Overt long gun deployments have their intended effects as a show of force, but they have limitations and some drawbacks. The officer posted with an exposed long gun serves as a deterrent and QRF resource, but lacks the mobility or versatility to handle other calls not requiring such weapons. In addition, the exposed long gun may have positive and negative effects on public perceptions. Some people are comforted by the sight of long guns; others are alarmed and struggle to accept seeing them in the hallway of a school or at a music festival. While this image is generally accepted in Europe, the American public has issues with police officers carrying a machine gun.

Hiding the Gun

The solution to that concern is to make the long gun discreet. Concealing a long gun within a sling bag, backpack, or other carrying case allows officers to patrol a public event, school hallway, amusement park, or hospital with the ability to respond to basic calls without raising concerns of the public seeing heavy firepower. The officer has the versatility to handle smaller calls and still has quick access to shoulder-fired weapons and the accuracy and range they offer.

In my department's deployments of the “5.11 Select Carry” sling bag, most of the public doesn’t seem to notice the bag at all. Others see the bag as having first-aid or medical supplies or other personal items. They seldom guess that the officer with the bag has a carbine inside.

When asked by the public about the contents of the bag, we generally answer, “Oh, this just has first responder supplies in it.” We usually keep a bottle of water, some “PR sticker badges” for little kids, or Band-Aids easily accessible to help keep up the illusion.

A sling bag allows an officer to carry a long gun in public for extended periods of time while keeping the weapon secured and out of sight. They also can carry water, snacks, individual first-aid kits (IFAKS), tourniquets, sunscreen, and other useful items. The 5.11 bag also has a pocket for a hydration bladder for prolonged deployments. Other bags that work well in this role include the Eberlestock Cherry Bomb and 5.11 COVRT M4 Shorty. Even laptop bags are large enough for some pistol caliber carbines, submachine guns, and side folder rifles.

Choosing the Gun

Pistol caliber solutions have their strengths and weaknesses for covert long gun deployment. Weapons that my agency and neighboring agencies have deployed in this role vary from pistol caliber carbines like the CZ Scorpion to 9mm AR-15-style carbines using Glock magazines or Colt SMG pattern mags. We have also deployed submachine guns like the Heckler & Koch MP5 or UMP. Pistol caliber carbines have limited range compared to a rifle caliber but offer decent ballistic capability and benefits in weight retention and penetration against car doors and glass.

The biggest problem with pistol caliber firearms when responding to a terror attack or active shooter is that the rounds they fire can be defeated by soft body armor, which is readily available from a variety of sources.

Powerful rifle rounds such as the 5.56mm NATO and .223 Remington can penetrate soft armor. And many weapons that fire these rounds such as the side folding SIG MCX with 11.5-inch barrel fit sling bags and backpacks very well so that they can be deployed discreetly in public. AR-15 variant rifles modified with a Law Tactical Gen M3 folding stock joint also fold up to a similar length of 20 inches or less. But to fit in concealment bags, most AR-style rifles need to be SBR designs with 7.5-inch to 11.5-inch barrels.

Bullpups can also offer advantages with their longer barrels in compact packages. The Steyr AUG, with its quick-release barrel available in 16, 20, or 24 inches, is an excellent option as a takedown rifle that can be quickly assembled, and it offers the full ballistic potential of 5.56mm NATO cartridges.

A full-size patrol rifle with a 16-inch barrel can be disassembled into two parts and stored in a 5.11 COVERT M4 Shorty bag, but reassembly takes a bit longer than the Steyr AUG.

Another solution my agency has found useful is the FN P90. This innovative firearm is available in select fire and semi-auto versions (PS90). Both versions are chambered in FN's 5.7x28mm round, a high-velocity pistol bullet that can defeat soft body armor and offers a flatter trajectory out to 200 yards than other pistol calibers. The P90's design also offers the advantages of a bullpup with its 10.4-inch barrel and an overall length of about 22 inches. Additional benefits are the minimal recoil and 50-round magazine that loads on top of the weapon and does not interfere with the user's ability to shoot prone.

Adding a variable power optic such as a Vortex Strike Eagle, Primary Arms Raptor, or Trijicon Accupower 1-8x, or VCOG can significantly improve the capabilities of your rifles at large events and help support the counter-sniper role.

I recommend carrying the rifle in your agency’s “cruiser ready” condition. For us, this is chamber empty, safety on, and full magazine inserted.

Necessary Training

Drawing a long gun from a bag is not an action that most officers have experience performing. And you don't want your first time making this draw to be under stress in a critical incident or under fire. So I recommend you spend time practicing multiple repetitions of deploying the long gun from the concealment bag. Some of this practice should be on the range practicing the draw and firing the weapon.

It is important to understand the best zero ranges for these weapons. Most officers will not have the time or presence of mind to do calculations other than putting a red-dot dot on the target and being able to pull the trigger.

For pistol caliber long guns, a 25-yard zero will probably give the best trajectories for targets out to 100 yards. With the high-velocity rifle calibers, a 50-yard zero will give operators a trajectory that minimizes the need for hold-over calculations out to 200 yards.

Long guns are now critical tools for law enforcement assigned to perform event security and school protection. In a critical incident, officers need more than a handgun. But the public is not always accepting of officers carrying long guns in public, so in order to do so, we need methods for discreetly deploying them such as sling bags and backpacks.

Discreet deployment of long guns in public gives the security coordinator more flexibility with his unit resources and the types of actions they can take. At some events an overt rifle team moving quickly to contact a suspicious person or get into position to observe their behavior, or just jogging to a medical issue, may cause unnecessary public alarm. In contrast, teams with concealed rifles in sling bags can move and observe potential threats and respond to smaller issues without causing the alarm of a bunch of police running through a crowd with AR-15s.

Major Brian Marshall is a 22-year veteran of law enforcement who currently oversees the Firearms Training Unit and armory for the Marietta (GA) Police Department. He is an adjunct instructor for IALEFI and ALERRT.

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