By Ben in MA
I’m not a gun guru or even a gun owner. I’m just a libertarian who believes in personal freedom for everyone, including gun owners. As such, I’ve been trying to learn “the truth about guns” and specifically the truth about so-called “assault rifles” like the AR-15. For what’s supposed to be the most popular rifle in the country, I’ve found surprisingly little about its inherent advantages. I’ll often find explanations of how easy the rifle is to customize or descriptions of its hunting and sporting uses. While this is all-important, it’s not always compelling to the non-gun owning public, who will always see a high capacity rifle as a weapon first and foremost. Fortunately, the use of the semi-automatic rifle as a defensive firearm has been closely studied by an organization that most people trust . . .
Their local police. The Massachusetts Municipal Police Training Committee’s Basic Firearms Instructor Course includes a manual which, in just the first few pages, summarizes many of the inherent benefits of the semi-automatic rifle.
The document explains why the “patrol rifle” (refers to semi-automatic rifles, more on that later) is in many ways the “superior tool” for law enforcement and why it’s increasingly carried in the back of police cruisers. And most of these reasons apply to a law-abiding citizen who choose a rifle for personal defense for the home.
1) Accuracy — The patrol rifle is better for “stand off and containment … due to the increased accuracy that the rifle afforded over the pistol and the shotgun.”
It’s noted that “most officers” have difficulty even hitting a target past ten yards with their service pistol. Also noted is the typical cop’s ability to hit a target decreases even further in the stress of a life-or-death encounter. If this is a big issue for highly-trained police officers, wouldn’t the same concern apply to average folks as well?
2) Ease of Use — While it’s probably assumed that a police officer has sufficient training to use his or her service pistol competently, for the average person the time and expense required to obtain equal skill with a handgun can be prohibitive. The self-defense alternative is usually a shotgun, but using scatterguns can present problems: “[T]he recoil and manual operation of the shotgun has historically proved to be an issue with some Officers.”
So police officers also have difficulty using shotguns. And if the recoil is too much for even someone who meets the physical requirements of being a police officer, can’t we assume the same would be true of many of the people they serve and protect?
3) Safety — Another concern for the police is the potential for bullets to penetrate through walls and hit a target that wasn’t intended. According to the manual, this is another area where the patrol rifle shines: “[T]he most popular patrol rifle round, the 5.56mm NATO (.223 Remington) will penetrate fewer walls than service pistol rounds or 12 gauge slugs.”
And the patrol rifle is also safer because having “potentially a more accurate weapon … lowers the liability to the department.”
4) Firepower — Combined with the above advantages, the increase in firepower is a huge benefit to the individual officer: “The Patrol Rifle is a force multiplier. The advantages of the rifle permit a single officer to effectively deal with multiple adversaries without the disadvantages of being only armed with a handgun.”
If it’s important for a single officer, with radio backup, to have a “force multiplier” at his disposal, then why wouldn’t someone want a similar advantage when defending his or her home and family from “multiple adversaries”?
5) The AR is King. — The report looks at a variety of rifles with different chamberings, including the AK-47 and traditional .30-.30 lever action rifles. First problem: “Both tend to over penetrate interior walls.” Also, “the lever action rifle is not our best choice since it is difficult to reload quickly and clear if a malfunction occurs.” As for the AK-47: “While extremely reliable, it is not desirable as a patrol rifle due to the limited amount of support accessories such as vehicle mounts and because of the perceived association with terrorist groups.”
Here’s the manual’s conclusion: “The ideal choice for the patrol rifle is a semi automatic rifle chambered in 5.56mm or .223 Remington.” It continues, “The two most popular (police service) rifles chambered for this round are the Mini-14 and the many variants of the AR-15. Both rifles have an extensive line of after market accessories and have a proven track record. The Mini-14 may be attractive to those departments that find the AR-15 to (sic) ‘military’ looking.”
Given its many advantages, it should come as no surprise that the AR-15 is so popular with law enforcement and gun owners alike. The fact that it appears “military looking” to non-shooters isn’t a reason to ban it, but a reason to educate the public about the many practical reasons for its popularity.