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Another day (what already?), another police force swapping their shotguns for rifles. Panama City’s reports that the Walton Country Sheriff’s office is issuing AR-15 patrol rifles as its force’s standard gear. Sheriff Michael A. Adkinson, Jr. reckons his men and women need the firearms so they’re not “outgunned by the bad guys.” The department bought 160 ArmaLite model 15s with money provided by The Edward Byrne Memorial State and Local Law Enforcement Assistance Grant Program (named after the New York City police officer assassinated in his car in 1988). The Bureau of Justice Assistance fund also picks-up the tab for rifle training, ammunition and vehicle mounts. “Before an AR-15 Patrol Rifle is issued, Walton County Sheriff’s Office Personnel must complete a rigorous, 20-hour class,” the TV station reports. “It includes both daylight and night shooting at the gun range. Those who do not initially qualify must go through remedial training at the gun range.” And THEN they qualify. So, is this a good idea?

Unlike shotgun pellets, bullets fired from the AR “platform” have tremendous accuracy, “stopping power” and range. More technically, the AR-15 fires .223 Remington or 5.56 NATO rounds that exit the barrel at 3,200 feet per second. Less technically, at close range, AR-15 bullets have a tendency to penetrate perps AND whatever is in front or behind them.

That’s the main danger here: police rounds may find innocent civilians. And yet, the police have turned to the AR-15, and away from shotguns, for two main reasons.

First, the aforementioned bad guys—not all but some and some in notorious cases—have taken to wearing body armor which can defeat shotgun shells. A properly placed AR-15 round will penetrate a perp’s “bullet proof” clothing and take them down. Although the vast majority of police shootings occur within spitting distance (less than 10 yards), some don’t.

Second, police are often reluctant to use their shotguns, due to the weapon’s weight, recoil and (often groundless) fears of its short distance inaccuracy. In a hostage taking scenario, using a shotgun to eliminate the perpetrator is like cracking a walnut with a sledgehammer.

In general, the AR-15 is a lighter, less intimidating weapon. But it is much more expensive. Police departments can buy shotguns for a few hundred dollars, and service them easily and cheaply.The AR platform hovers around the $1000 mark, and quickly ascends with modifications. The AR is a combat proven weapon, but it requires far more care and feeding than a bog-standard pump action shotgun.

Of course, money for Law Enforcement is all about politics, and the political climate favors funding. Well, from the federal trough, anyway. All of which means the days of the police shotgun are numbered.

[thanks to’s commentators for the insight]

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