Fighting with a Carbine

Old West sheriffs and marshals often carried a Colt .45 called the Peacemaker. But that .45 had the limitations of all handguns, so savvy Western lawmen also kept a short-barreled repeating rifle like a Winchester in their saddle bags. They knew that in a real gunfight, a carbine is the real “peace maker.”

Old West sheriffs and marshals often carried a Colt .45 called the Peacemaker. But that .45 had the limitations of all handguns, so savvy Western lawmen also kept a short-barreled repeating rifle like a Winchester in their saddle bags. They knew that in a real gunfight, a carbine is the real “peace maker.”

Today, cops are putting carbines back in their saddle bags, uh…the trunks of their patrol cars.

A number of critical events in the past 10 years have made the patrol carbine a desirable complement to the peace officer’s pistol and shotgun. The complacent era in which police officers patrolled only with a pistol started to come to an end in the fire and smoke of such infamous incidents as North Hollywood and Columbine.

A lot of police agencies also started adding rifles or pistol-caliber carbines to their lists of approved tools following the 9/11 attacks. After all, it’s likely that if terrorists engage in a firefight with American police officers that they will be very well armed, possibly outfitted with body armor, and capable of firing accurately at more than 100 yards. As we all know, a pistol would be next to useless in such a long-range fight against armored subjects.

There are those who say that the need for a rifle in patrol operations is easy to overstate and that it’s likely to sit in the trunk a long time before you use it. They’re pretty much right. But here’s the counter to that argument. When you need a rifle on patrol, you need it really badly. And you and the public you serve would be endangered because you don’t have one.

The patrol rifle is far more versatile than the pistol or the shotgun. A well chosen rifle can be useful from conversational range to several hundred yards. Still, the key factor in successful operation of this weapon is the skill of the operator.

And that’s the rub. When patrol rifles are introduced in many police agencies, they are assigned to officers after only minimal training. Many traditional police courses simply do not adequately address the problems the carbine was introduced to solve.

There are many schools of thought on implementing the carbine, but the fact remains that the basics of marksmanship must be mastered before the carbine can be used well. Once these basics are mastered, any good cop can use this tool to keep the peace and resolve incidents involving deadly threat.

A carbine works pretty much like any other gun. If the trigger is pressed properly, the sights are aligned, and follow-through is respected, the shooter will hit the target. Of course, these are all big ifs.

Learning to Fight

Proper training is the best way to reduce the ifs. And proper training must include more than basic marksmanship practice in which you shoot at stationary targets from defined ranges. Training scenarios should include: instruction and practice in how to shoot at felons at close range, how to counter multiple threats, how to neutralize threats behind cover, how to target and hit partially exposed threats, how to stop threats in vehicles, and how to eliminate threats at long range. In the end, law enforcement carbine training must be about more than just shooting targets; it must teach you how to fight and win with your patrol carbine.

And understand, my fellow officers, you probably won’t get this training from your agency. You will have to take the weapon to the range and work it, shooting at different distances, at both stationary targets and moving targets, and using cover when possible.

I use long-range shooting to develop accurate shot placement. I realize these shots will not often be needed, but use them as a training aid.

However, the course I run is not completely concerned with marksmanship. I also consider cover and officer safety. You must underscore the difference in cover and concealment. And write this in stone: Your life depends on you remembering that just because you have a rifle and a ballistic vest, you are not impervious to small arms fire.

There are several basic shooting positions that you should master to be effective with a carbine in a fight. Standing, kneeling, and prone must be thoroughly understood, as should firing around corners and firing from cover.

Quick and Accurate

When shooting on a range, it’s easy to forget that you are training to act quickly and decisively to save your life or the life of an innocent person. You are not just “plinking” at targets and if you think you are you’re in the wrong business.

Your time training with your carbine should be all about learning to fight and win. That means you need to practice quick and accurate fire. One of the most overlooked skills when using long guns is quickly getting the gun into the firing position and acquiring the sights. Without these important skills, all else fails when a quick shot is needed.

Most patrol carbines have standard aperture sights, but quite a few officers privately purchase and use rifles that have open sights. Some officers also use carbines that are fitted with optical sights. Each of these different sights requires different techniques for sight acquisition and alignment.[PAGEBREAK]

Sighting Methods

Aperture Sights—When you need to aim quickly using aperture sights—and this applies to a shotgun with ghost ring sights as well—the rear sight should come to your eye first. Your cheek should be welded to the stock at the same time, even for shots at moderate range. The front sight is then pulled into the aperture. It will center itself for an accurate shot.

That is the advantage of the aperture: Your eye naturally centers a post in the rear “circle,” aperture, or ghost ring. With a little practice, you can easily use an aperture sight on a patrol carbine to make a very fast, very accurate first shot.

Open Sights—With the traditional open sight often found on sporting rifles and on “buck special” or “riot” shotguns, find the front sight first and then pull the front sight into the rear sight notch. Open sights are not as good as aperture sights for quick action but, with some practice, a skilled shooter can make them work.

Optical Sights—Any agency or individual officer thinking of fitting a patrol carbine with optical sights should step back for a second and weigh the pros and cons of these devices. A modern rifle scope has many benefits but, contrary to popular belief, it will not automatically make you a better shot.

As police officers and 21st century Americans, we have a great love for gadgets, and the optical sight is a great gadget. However, it has some drawbacks in a patrol environment. First of all, it can easily be damaged in the trunk of a cruiser. Second, you need to make sure that your batteries are fresh. You don’t want to get into a fight with an inoperable scope. Finally, shooting well with a scope requires a lot of practice. Be sure that you want to put in that time before you invest in one.

There are, of course, many advantages to an optical sight. In addition to the magnification that it provides, an optical sight is on a single plane, meaning there is no front and rear sight, only the sight reticle. As a result, it is much easier to focus on the target.

While we’re at it, let’s discuss magnification for a moment. Remember, a patrol carbine is not intended for the same kind of duty as a sniper rifle. That’s why, for general issue, I suggest an optical sight with the lowest magnification, from no magnification to perhaps four power. Field of view is an issue, especially when you consider that you may have to use your patrol rifle at anywhere from point-blank range to more than 100 yards.

The proven method of getting into action with an optical sight is to shoulder the weapon rapidly and take a coarse sight picture over the top adjustment knob of the sight. Lining up on the target with this knob, you then quickly move to the center of the scope. With practice, you will find that this drill can be executed very rapidly. An accomplished shooter with much practice, may jump directly to the reticle but, for most of us, the coarse sight picture drill works well.

Holographic Sights—Holographic dot-type sights such as those produced by EO Tech and Bushnell require the average shooter to learn some new skills. When using one of these sights, shoulder the carbine quickly and find the little red dot in the scope.

High-tech holographic sights have many of the pluses and minuses of scopes. For example, you need to keep your batteries fresh. That said, however, it should be noted that holo sights can be remarkably accurate, especially when firing quickly at short to moderate range. Holographic sights are also ideal for shooters who wear glasses.

Carbine Tactics

When using a carbine, maximize the advantages you have. Always take cover if possible and dominate the situation. Firing from cover, with a braced position, you are not only much safer, you are far more accurate.

You present a much smaller target for the bad guys (unless they have the high ground) and also gain the bracing of the earth itself when you shoot from the prone position. Know how and when to use this skill.

Firing prone gives you much steadier aim. However, it also presents you with one key difficulty: you can’t change positions as quickly as you can standing, kneeling, or sitting. And remember, prone behind cover is great, unless the bad guys have an elevation advantage. In that case, if you are stretched out prone, then you are presenting them with a big, juicy target.

Another important thing to remember when training to fight with a carbine is that you may find yourself in a situation with no cover and the bad guy at close range. When this happens, there is some danger that the threat might be able to grapple with the long gun. However, by keeping your weapon below eye level, you will be able to see him or her make this move and react to it.

Am I advocating that you train to use a carbine at extreme close range without even bothering to aim? That’s exactly what I’m saying. Your patrol carbine has much better balance and natural point than your handgun and, at three to 10 feet, firing below eye level can work. With the three-point attachment of the long gun, accuracy in quick unaimed fire is much better than the handgun.

The carbine is a great multiplier of officer marksmanship. Solid hits can be made at great range, and rescue shots are possible with the carbine that would never be possible with a handgun. All law enforcement agencies should provide these guns to their officers. More importantly, they should teach their officers how to gain a tactical advantage when using a carbine in a gunfight.

R.K. Campbell has 23 years of experience in law enforcement. He holds a degree in criminal justice and has served in most police capacities.

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