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In the video above, a San Diego police officer armed with a pump-action shotgun helps take out an active shooter at a pool party. From a fair distance. Assuming he was shooting double-ought bucks, there must have been quite a spread of potentially lethal pellets. Then again, the perp appears to have been all by his lonesome when he met his maker.

Still, the question remains, would a rifle have been safer? Or does that weapon system present an even greater danger of collateral damage? Maybe it depends on the ammo loaded in the rifle and shotgun . . .

In any case, I recently learned that the Austin Police Department only has two rifles for every ten officers. The rest have shotguns. Should the APD replace their shotguns with rifles? Should all police do so?

Before you answer, a quick excerpt from The Police Shotgun: Versatile, Powerful & Still “The Great Intimidator” via

The traditional “meat and potatoes” of the shotgun has always been its devastating role in close quarters battle. Loaded with heavy buckshot, the shotgun places multiple high-energy projectiles on the target instantly. Several years ago, I was having a conversation with another SWAT operator about how devastating the MP-5 submachine-gun was. He was discussing cyclic rate and accuracy and boasting the sheer power coming from the sub-gun. He described how he could put 60 rounds (with a mag. reload) of 9mm ammo into a target about five yards away in less than eight seconds.

While I agreed with him, I mentioned the similarity of the Benelli shotgun that I was currently carrying. He was puzzled for a moment until I pointed out that my semi-auto Benelli M-1 could hold nine rounds of .00 Buckshot ammo, and that each pellet of buckshot was approximately a .33 caliber lead projectile moving over 1,000 feet per second (slightly smaller, but similar to the 9mm or .35 caliber projectile he was firing).

I then explained that I knew several officers (including me) who could fire that Benelli fast enough to empty all nine rounds into the target in about two seconds. That meant we could fire 81 rounds of near 9mm ammunition in less than three seconds. In a comparison of fire power and speed, that shotgun was faster than any sub-gun I had ever used or knew of. My point is that in a CQB range, the shotgun (loaded with heavy buckshot) is absolutely the most devastating firearm in the police inventory.

Is that enough reason for cops to carry a shotgun instead of (not along with) a rifle? Your thoughts?

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  1. For departments using pumps instead of semi shotguns, one thing to remember is that pump action shotguns are really cheap. For a smaller department paying less for something most officers will never use outside of qualification is a huge deal.

    We should never give the beat cops automatics. They’re useless for that role and very temping to use incorrectly. Also giving them stuff illegal for civilians is wrong.

    As for use 5.56 is a lot easier to handle than heavy shot, which helps training (one reason we ditched 308 in military).

  2. Rifles and shotguns are different tools for different tasks. Limiting yourself to one tool for all situations is subpar. Have both available, and give the officers the freedom to choose the best tools as the situations develop.

    I can drive nails with a ball peen hammer, and I can shape metal with a framer, but I’d rather have both in my toolbox.

    Naturally, this does get expensive..

    • What we need is some sort of taser grenade, which can be launched from a safe distance and paralyze everyone within say, a 25 meter radius. Sure, there may be collateral damage, pacemakers fried and such, but if it saves one orphan, it’s worth it.

      Alternatively, loudspeakers broadcasting the racking sounds of shotties should quickly bring miscreants to heel.

      (correct answer: any firearm with legitimate, regular pass/fail proficiency training as a prerequisite for duty. Never happen, but a guy can dream)

      • Normally I’m a fan of sarcasm, but I fail to see why you would choose to conflate equipment choice with reckless misuse.

        Choose your gear and own the consequences of its use. That’s my dream.

    • This. ^
      A shotgun has the advantage of versatility of ammo both lethal and nonlethal.
      Rifle is better for precision and the 5.56 load has less penetration through interior walls.

      • Police shotguns aren’t supposed to mix ammo types for safety reasons, police will only use less lethal stuff in marked shotguns. It’s kind of a moot point.

  3. city limits/ rural. they should have both.
    i can have both, so it’s alright for them too.

  4. The foreground was clear and there was a wall behind the Perp. Shot spread is irrelevant in this instance.

  5. I don’t get the Mp5 comparison. I definitely don’t think the average cop should have a sub gun or any firearm not in common usage with civilians in their state. Should they have an AR15 in 5.56 or a shotgun? Let the individual cop decide. Maybe they should have access to both in a very secure trunk? In states where ARs are legal.

    • “I definitely don’t think the average cop should have a sub gun or any firearm not in common usage with civilians in their state.” – Agree – should repeal the NFA to make SMG ownership more common….

      • Conversely I think if a firearm is in common usage with police it should also be with civilians. Police are civilians not military. If police are using weapons to protect civilians why shouldn’t civilians use the same to protect themselves?

      • Had a similar thought. Just why is it that machine guns represent such an incredible threat of carnage in an “active shooter” situation? How is it that we are all so much safer when any 18-year-old can buy a 12-gage shotgun and 00 shells?

        Seems to me that the best avenue of attack on the NFA is to precipitate a debate on the minutia regulated by that Act compared to the reality of various NFA items and their close relations. E.g., what exactly is the meaningful distinction between two firearms that use 12-gage shotgun shells; one is an NFA-SBS while the other is neither a handgun, nor a shotgun (nor a rifle nor an NFA-AOW)?

        Put ATF officials in the witness chair before a Congressional committee and ask them to answer such questions.

        • Because you can cause a lot of damage with automatic fire. It’s as a continuum between complete weapons prohibition and everyone carrying tactical nukes. From letting everyone own guns to excluding certain groups (i.e. Felons, people with behavioral problems Ect).

        • “Because you can cause a lot of damage with automatic fire.”
          I can cause a lot of damage with a shotgun or a semi-auto. I don’t, but I can.
          And there’s the rub: If you say that’s the reason autos are illegal, it’s not reasonable, and causes contempt for the law. Never a good thing.
          And *THAT* is why the NFA needs to go: It’s unreasonable, and causes contempt for the law.

        • As the article stated, a machinegun at close range gets you up to the capability of a shotgun. At longer ranges a machinegun does what precision rifle fire does, it hits one person and keeps everybody else’s head down for fear of being hit, albeit with statistics (hit probability per 1000 rounds) rather than trigonometry (one shot, one kill)…. machineguns are an expensive over-rated novelty, and a waste of ammo….. the aricle did a good job of showcasing the misconception amongst people (including duchebag gear-queer cops) who think machineguns are super duper wicked awesome badazz!

  6. Yes and no. When / if you need to make that 100 yard shot you will be sorry you had the shotgun. Transition the gun to slugs takes time and most shotguns out there do not have adequate sights for longer ranges and slugs just aren’t as accurate. Can Jerry Miculek do it with a Benelli M4? Yes. Can a beat cop do it with a Remington 870 and a bead front sight? Eh…lets hope he moves in closer for a better shot. Then again for closer shots the shotgun is king…50 yards and under the shotgun with 00 Buck beats any other weapon system out there at putting incapacitating hits on a target. But for my money the rifle is adequate at closer range and better that a handgun or subgun and has the capability to range farther out to long range targets. Rifles win as the more multipurpose weapon.

    • That’s why we have more than one cop on duty.
      The weapon has to match the situation. If that cop with the shotgun is 100 yards away from the perp, the situation doesn’t call for 00. Does that mean there’s nothing he can do? Of course not. His options are many: He can move closer, call for backup, load slugs, among other options.
      The shotgun use is not a binary choice: it’s not either a shotgun using 00 or a rifle. It’s a force using a variety of options and tactics.
      SO the question, while simple enough to ask, is phrased wrong. How large is the police force? If it’s just 3 or 4 people in a small town, options are different than for a force of hundreds in a large city.
      In that small town, each officer needs to carry the weapons he might need; that could mean a pistol, rifle, and shotgun. This way, he can meet most situations, with the understanding that backup can be minutes or half and hour away.
      The big city cop has the benefit of more backup available in a relatively short time. He might not need both a shotgun and rifle, because either is readily available with backup officers.
      Of course, to state the obvious, funding comes into play; that small town might not be able to equip its officers with both shotgun and rifle, while the big city might be able to equip its officers with both easily.
      So the question isn’t easily answered, and requires much more knowledge of the situation being addressed.

  7. My grandfather was a GA state trouper during the great depression. He usually drove so his partner had first choice between the Thompson 45 or the 12 gauge. His partner always grabbed the Thompson first. One day during a bank robbery his partner happened to be driving. Pop left the patrol car first with the shotgun. When it was over Pop’s partner said he thought Pop would of grabbed the Thompson. Pop said that when he was betting with his life he would always go with what he knows and had been shooting with his entire life.

    • I’ve got some doubts on the accuracy of his story. Thompson was super-rare in the depression era (of a few 10,000 existing).

      • My dad bought a Thompson SMG in 1934. My mother used it later that year to squelch an attempted home invasion by a couple of prison escapees who found out the hard way just how effective those .45 ACP are even when shot through a door!

  8. We converted our last couple of 870’s to less lethal only. Painted them red and removed shotgun ammo from the arms room.

  9. Nothing wrong with a shotgun in that situation at that range. How wide do you think pellets spread? Take a range day and do some patterning or go turkey hunting.

    • One inch per yard on a 12g cylinder bore shooting 000 buck. That old estimate has always turned out to be pretty reliable for me.

      • I agree. And some buckshot loads spread out more quickly than others depending on the wadding, shot cup, buffer material, etc. Using the 1 inch per yard rule-of-thumb, that buckshot pattern will be 24 inches wide (two foot diameter circle) at 24 yards, and of course 60 inches wide (five foot diameter circle) at 60 yards.

        That can be a huge advantage out to about 25 yards because it virtually guarantees that you hit your attacker with at least one buckshot pellet, and probably more. By the time you get out to 60 yards, though, the pattern is too wide in my opinion and could be rather dangerous if bystanders are relatively close to the attacker. Furthermore, those pellets are starting to slow down quite a bit at 60+ yards.

        If your engagements are limited to about 30 yards maximum, I would say that a shotgun is a good platform. Beyond 30 yards, a rifle is in order. If I had to choose one or the other, I would go with an AR-15 rifle which should be pretty effective out to 100 yards … and nothing to sneeze at even out to 200 yards.

        • Dude my department uses that stuff. It’s awesome. At 15 yards the buckshot is typically in a group about the size of a silver dollar.

          As for the original topic, my dept. has one rifle for every ten officers or so. Ever since I got one my shotgun hasn’t left its case.

  10. Only rifles that are in compliance with the most stringent assault weapons ban that’s being pushed by someone of authority in their respective state…

  11. They should stick with shotguns. Since I can’t buy a brand new full-auto SBR, cops shouldn’t get them either.

    • Your average patrol officer is never going to be issued a “full auto SBR.”

      They’ll have the same type of AR you can buy in 45 states.

  12. In this instance, I will be curious, if postmortem information is made available, if the officer with the handgun or the officer with the shotgun landed significant hits on the individual

  13. Another consideration: The perp in this situation was in front of a wall – that very likely had people just on the other side. Overpenetration potential also needs to be a concern when looking at shotgun vs. rifle.

    • Not much to worry about. Defensive 5.56 (what they’d be shooting with all likelihood. There’s some Alaskan PDs with 7.62×39, presumably because they expect incidents requiring a long-gun involving wild animals will far exceed those involving humans, but they’re the minority by far.) is actually pretty good/bad when it comes to barrier penetration

  14. I thought it was pretty common knowledge locally that APD officers are primarily equipped with shotguns in the vehicle rather than rifles. Two officers I run in the same social circle with don’t seem to mind. They seem to consider the shotgun as a backup weapon, and their sidearm to be their primary. One of the two guys and I had an extended discussion about the department’s reliance on the shotgun. I’m not sure it’s a financial motive for that setup. Rather, it seems to be that the shotgun can utilize a variety of ammo loads depending on the scenario the officer is up against. Logically that doesn’t really make sense to me, as swapping out one type of ammo for another can be time consuming, especially in a stressful situation, but that was what he told me. I felt like he was parroting something someone higher up his chain of command told him.

    • Shotguns are amazingly versatile, but as you mentioned there is a price paid in changeover times and risks of ammo mixup.

      2 mutually incompatible systems with fixed ammo choices is the more foolproof system. I don’t like footing the bill for that, but that is a separate matter for another day.

  15. Nobody is going to point out that the quoted dude said he and his buddies can cycle their shotguns in less than a quarter second? The argument is semantic to begin with, but said individual over at “” is a fucking tool for suggesting he can put 9 rounds down range in “about two seconds,” let alone accurately…

    Making shit up is an excellent way to get people to NOT buy your argument in a debate.

    • I have seen 8 rounds fired effectively from a Benelli M4 in under 3 seconds. I’ve seen it done with a pump in just barely 4. Those are center shots on a silhouette at 15 yards.

      • 8 rounds in 3 seconds is .375/s per cycle of the action
        9 rounds in 2 seconds is .22/s per cycle

        .375/s per cycle is outrageous, but something I’ll willing to accept on a range… .22/s per cycle is a bit beyond pushing the boundary of realistic on anything short of a full-stupid customized firearm in the hands of only a handful of shooters

        • Yes, to be sure that was a professional shooter who was an avid “shotgun guy”. And remember the M4 is semi auto. This last weekend I watched a Brazilian cop, the shotgun guy on their special teams, shoot two from an 870 that he just picked up (not his gun), then administratively load another on an empty chamber, and shoot it, in 3 seconds flat, and all good shots at about 15 yards. .

    • Yeah, sounds like a couple of guys measuring their Johnsons.

      If you unload 60 rounds of anything at someone and he’s still coming you should just give up because he’s a zombie or you’re a worthless shot. So maybe we should talk about normal situations instead…

  16. Yes (#NorthHollywoodShootout). Shotguns recoil too much, aren’t overly accurate, are harder than an AR to accessorize and customize, and shoot too slowly and run out of ammo too fast. That said, they’re cheap, and there’s a billion different kinds of loads out there for them.

    Random question: How often are AK and Mossberg 500 safeties taken on and off compared to a 1911 or AR?

  17. NYPD armed with surplus M16A4s or M4s. That’s a lot of dead and wounded bystanders…

  18. Cops should have to live by the rules we are forced to comply with.

    See how fast they start belly-aching about what’s “needed”.

  19. As long as a killer/potential killer is dead on the spot, don’t care what they killed him/her with. I’d want a shotgun riding with me at all times. Anyone can’t handle a 12 gauge with 2 3/4 std 00 buck, or even a 2 3/4 slug, when needed, does not need to be on a police force or in the military.

  20. Having seen police miss a injured horse standing broadside with mini-14 .223 at 10 yards I think most of them should not have anything except taser or pepper spray. Or put a lot more time into training.

    Retired deputy I spoke to this week at range told me how his boss did not do one qualification shoot in 35 years!

  21. I think this is very much METT-TC dependent. Rifles, shotgun, pistols, and less-lethal all have their places and specified missions they’re best fit for.

  22. Demolition Ranch recently did a dirty test of birdshot spread over distance.

    I’d imagine (depending on choke, barrel, etc) that 00 buck would spread even less than his bird did.

    maybe someone can do some more definitive testing on buck over distance, out of a 18″ 870 pump or something along those lines?

  23. My department has both, but the shotgun is more common, as we employ less lethal rounds a lot. Most of the local PD’s and the Sherriffs have both an 870 and an AR in the car.

    And before anyone whines about regular folks being allowed to own the same things, I live in one of the 2 most gun friendly states in the nation. Everyone can own and carry those same weapons.

  24. With modern ammo, a handgun is a pretty good close quarters weapon. So that role is already reasonably covered.

    But you’ll never have the ability to do this with a shotgun the way the second officer did:

  25. “would a rifle have been safer?”

    In the hands of a garden variety patrol officer under the influence of an adrenaline dump, no. He/she would have trouble hitting a perp at 50 yards with a rifle, and the potential for collateral damage would be just as great as with a shotgun.

    If I’m that cop, in that situation, I want my shotgun.

  26. If you go with just shotguns, some are going to claim it’s a backdoor attempt to keep women and other smaller framed individuals off the force. Then you’d have a lawsuit and a consent decree…….and some federal judge will mandate that you may only use .410 bore shotguns.

  27. Not the cops in my berg. The average patrol cop here rarely trains with his issued wonder 9 plus annual qualification . I can just imagine what would happen with a shotty or an M4.

  28. Well it depends. By rough estimate from crappy video this looked about 30 Yds +/-. I had an 870 Pump (Cyl.Bore) that would pattern reliably between 1/2″ to 3/4″ per yard, so conceivably all of the pellets MIGHT hit the torso. In this case, the backstop looked good enough to risk it, considering they were dealing with a guy who was shooting at people. Another thing to consider that by aiming a shotgun once correctly you have the opportunity to put up to 9 projectiles in the target before you have to aim again. This could easily exceed the average hit ratio of some officers with a handgun under stress. I don’t think that the shotgun is obsolete, but PLEASE, if you carry one spend some time and ammo learning how the one you have in the rack, patterns with whatever loads you carry on duty.

  29. I recently found out that our local PD didn’t have enough tasers to even have 1 per shift (not per policeman). Yikes. Came up at a town budget meeting where the police asked for $ for tasers. Someone asked how many they had now, assuming they wanted new shiny ones and he dropped that bomb about having only 2 or 3 total. Folks were like “ah yeah dude, get some tasers. WTF, next time maybe lead with that.” Good to know you will get shot instead of tazed because they only have the lethal option at the moment. If only we can find a purpose for their MRAP…

    • That last sentence is what gives me pause, wtf did you buy a freakin mrap when you don’t even have tasers? Who did their budget and what priorities where given? It’s like the airforce, spend all the cash on the facilities and training and then come back and ask for $ to put engines in the planes.

      • MRAPs are often just handed out to a department that expresses interest.

        Conditions of the ‘gift’ are to keep it maintained…

      • Local departments don’t “buy” MRAPs, they are given out like candy. The locals need to transport them, and maintain them, though.
        Same for M-16s, and other tactical gear. They are surplus, and given to departments who ask for them.

      • “It’s like the airforce, spend all the cash on the facilities and training and then come back and ask for $ to put engines in the planes.”

        That is done on purpose. It’s the old ploy used when building an USAF air strip. Start with everything but the runway. If/when you run over budget it’s easier to go back and ask for further funding b/c there’s no runway.

  30. I am quite curious what the autopsy report said about the buckshot count in the perp. I bet many of you are as well, how many pellets hit him and were these fatal wounds?
    I think that this information would be quite important in deciding which is better to carry. I think our readers want to know as well

  31. I often hear that a shotgun is like 9 rounds of 9mm at once. This is a very false equivalency.
    Even a light weight 9mm is about twice the weight of each of the 60grain balls fired from a shotgun. Those .36 caliber pellets are likely moving around about the same speed of a 115gr 9mm round, but again, at half the mass. That shot’s light mass, moving at the same speed, delivers far less energy on the target than the 9mm bullet does.
    Specifically, each 0000 pellet delivers only 192ftlbs of energy at the muzzle, whereas even a 115gr 9mm NATO round delivers 499ftlbs.
    Taken as a group, the 0000 buck from a shotgun are devastating, but individually, they are nothing close to equal to the 9X19 cartridge.

    • I agree with your take on the hitting power of a single buckshot pellet compared to a single 9mm round. The shotgun is a wonderful multi purpose tool.

      But as a self defense weapon it is strictly a DEFENSE weapon. At in the house ranges it has no equal. The single pull of the trigger puts 9 pellets center mas instead of one bullet.

      You live on a homestead. A rifle makes more sense for your self defense needs. But I, like most of us live in the urban sprawl and under different rules of engagement. For us a shotgun makes a lot of sense.

      • No idea why I typed 0000 instead of 00. But yes I totally agree about its effectiveness. I was just pointing out to the original post that compared a single pellet from 00 buck to a nine millimeter as equals. They aren’t.

  32. Different tools for different tasks. A midnight shootout across a convenience store parking lot with a robber ? Shotgun.
    Taking out a an active muderer in a 3rd grade classroom full of kids ?
    Parol rifle.

  33. Eh. Both are pretty good for most tasks. I guess if I had to pick one for ‘general use’ it would be a rifle.

    Where I work it’s handguns and a few MP5s per shift (semi-auto only, relax). Would prefer a shotgun or rifle.

  34. I suppose it depends on the department… for example:
    1. I live in a fairly rural county of about 8000 people spread over ~860 square miles. So rifles, shotguns and sidearms are all fairly well represented on our squad trucks/SUV’s and (i think) one or two squad cars.
    2. The twin cities metro transit and campus police don’t even to my knowledge (I left about 6 years ago) have any long arms… because they’re always jumping on trains and buses or spend all their time in random buildings.

    It really has to be a case of mission driving the gear.

  35. Nothing gets a bad guy’s attention faster than (1.) A barking, snarling K-9, or (2.) The sound of a cop racking a round into a 12 gauge.

    As far as a precision shot with a shotgun goes, one of my cops once shot a rifle out of a bad guy’s hands without putting a scratch on him. Yeah, if I hadn’t been there I wouldn’t believe it myself. The knucklehead had gotten whacked out on PCP and decided he didn’t like having a black family moving into the neighborhood, so he riddled their house with a .22 rifle. An officer located the perp, who promptly riddled the windshield of his cruiser. My guy, Brian by name, zoomed in, broke cover, and fired a 00 buck round at the shooter, who was taking cover behind the front end of a car parked on the street. The rifle flew out of the perp’s hands and before he could recover his wits and retrieve it, we swarmed him and got him cuffed and stuffed. Brian swore he had hit the guy but there were no bullet wounds on him and it wasn’t until the evidence tech had taken his photos and measurements that we got a good look at the perp’s rifle. There was a fresh groove cut across the barrel and rear sight. Evidently, Brian had neglected to account for muzzle rise from the shotgun and most of the shot had gone over the perp’s head – but one pellet had dropped low and smacked the rifle out of his hands. We recovered 8 of the pellets from the round – but the “magic bullet” was never found.

  36. I think the shotgun is most suitable to the majority of circumstances LEO’s encounter. Ideally, I would like to see them have both a good shotgun AND a semi-auto .556 or or heavier rifle for when the tactical situation demands it.

    I can not envision a circumstance where full-auto would be a good idea at all.

    • As an LEO I agree with you l. And I’ve never heard any of my co workers go “damn I wish I had a full auto!” We get issued (if selected to be a rifle operator) a Smith and Wesson M&P 15 MOE edition and go through a weeklong rifle school. The rifle school training was better than I got in the military as an 11B.

      some of our SWAT dudes have full auto MP5s. They stay in the trunk because they’d rather use their semi auto ARs. Given the choice between the two I’m using the rifle.

  37. I’d guess that a shotgun is good for typical policing. But for atypical policing, such as a terrorism attack, I’d want an AR-15 &/or long rifle.

    My recollection of the San Bernardino terrorist attack is that the final take down was mostly a shoot out of AR-15s. No doubt some cops were firing pistols or shotguns, but I believe that some of the wounds were from an AR-15. I remember laughing that the terrorists had picked San Bernardino where many of the cops probably had gotten .22 rifles for their 10 yr. birthdays; lady cops included.

    Then there was the last terror attack in Paris or Belgium. There were the Glocks w/ 30+ mags; but what impressed me the most were the groups of 4 cops, each one pointing towards the 4 points of the compass. And one of the 4 carried a scoped long rifle.

  38. Shotgun For Police? In General, I’d Drop Them. A Less Than Lethal Weapon Like The Fn 303 & A Compact Carbine With interchangable service pistol mags. Like The Sub-2000 Or CX4 storm. The P90 Is another option.

  39. There is nothing a shotgun can do that an AR can’t. There are plenty of things an AR can do that a shotgun can’t. Unless it is turkey or duck season, shotguns are BS.

  40. An irrelevant question. Because the cops are NEVER held personally responsible for errant lead, be it from a shotgun, handgun OR rifle. ANY suffering incurred by bystanders is NOT their problem….and ANY recourse and recompense for them missing the target is paid for by THE LONG SUFFERING TAX PAYER.

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