Arming the Boston Police with Assault Rifles

Whose idea is this?

The Boston Police Department is preparing a plan to arm as many as 200 patrol officers with semiautomatic assault rifles, a significant boost in firepower that department leaders believe is necessary to counter terrorist threats, according to law enforcement officials briefed on the plan.

The initiative calls for equipping specialized units, such as the bomb squad and harbor patrol, with the high-powered long-range M16 rifles first, the officials said. The department would then distribute the weapons to patrol officers in neighborhood precincts over the next several months, according to the two law enforcement officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they did not have permission to speak publicly.

Remember, the “terrorist threats” that plague Boston include blinking signs, blinking name badges, and Linux. Would you trust the police there with automatic weapons?

And anyway, how exactly does an police force armed with automatic weapons protect against terrorism? Does it make it harder for the terrorists to plant bombs? To hijack aircraft? Sure, you can invent a movie-plot scenario involving a Mumbai-like attack and have a Bruce Willis-like armed policeman save the day, but—realistically—is this really the best way for us to be spending our counterterrorism dollar?

Luckily, people seem to be coming to their senses.

EDITED TO ADD: These are semi-automatic rifles, not fully automatic. I think the point is more about the militarization of the police than the exact specifications of the weapons in this case.

Posted on June 3, 2009 at 5:57 AM110 Comments


Brett June 3, 2009 6:43 AM

They are just getting prepared for the new definition of a terrorist “the right winger” which everyone knows is well armed and ready to snap at any time.

GoatRider June 3, 2009 6:49 AM

It makes sense for them to have this kind of firepower available, to take on organized crime syndicates who are getting better armed all the time. But the regular beat cops? Not so much.

bob June 3, 2009 6:55 AM

The worst thing in the world to do is give cities military grade systems like armored cars, tanks helicopters and for all I know, Ohio-class Trident ballistic missile submarines. “To a child with a hammer, the entire world looks like a nail” and I have seen no evidence that a city given a B-52 (presumably the D-model with AGM-28s and free-fall hydrogen bombs) would not start using said B-52 to enforce jaywalking, speed limits and parking ordinances. And thats just “honest” cities, not highly corrupt cities like New Orleans or Chicago!

Why is the army giving away M-16s anyway? Isn’t that still the front-line basic infantry firearm? And furthermore the citizens of the US paid for them, so if the army has surplus rifles they should be issuing them back to us for shipping costs through the DCM (Director of Civilian Marksmanship) like they did with the M-1s.

Alternatively, have you seen the TV docuseries “Time Warp” where they use extremely high resolution slow motion cameras to film interesting things? They filmed (commercial grade) fireworks being set off in Boston and I was very surprised they were only intercepted by 1 fire marshal vice the entire SWAT team (yes, I am assuming they had acquired a permit for the activity from the police dept – anybody who thinks a lite-brite is a terrorist weapon isnt going to let a little thing like permission stop them from a good SWAT assault).

Mike B June 3, 2009 6:57 AM

Actually it makes sense due to the increased presence of highly organized/armed drug cartels and street gangs that increasingly have members with military training due to lowered recruitment standards resulting from the War on Terror.

So if street gangs can be counted as terrorist organizations (and really, what isn’t terrorism these days) we have another case of the War on Terror creating more terror.

Seriously tho, the terrorism moniker is just there to streamline the Federal grant, the cops just want to achieve parity with an increasingly armed local population.

ConcernedCitizen June 3, 2009 6:57 AM

They aren’t automatic, they have had the trigger assembly replaced so that they are semiautomatic rifles. It says so in the very last article you posted. And I really don’t see a problem with officers carrying a rifle in their trunk. They most likely already carry a shotgun. I seriously doubt they would be walking around with them like they do in Europe.

Oh, and also remember LA during the bank robbery. The cops had to borrow rifles from a local gun shop to take down those guys. What does that say about the people that are there to protect and serve? Seems like they didn’t do a lot of protecting with only handguns and shotguns.

B. Real June 3, 2009 7:16 AM

Yes, let’s be sure that we arm the police with advanced weaponry based on one robbery over ten years ago in Los Angeles.

I think that it is more telling that this kind of incident has only happened one time – gee, kinda like 9/11. Militarizing and federalizing police departments nationwide doesn’t make us safer, it only makes us a military-state.

Trichinosis USA June 3, 2009 7:23 AM

“The police have obtained 200 M-16s free of charge from the US military…”

Oh great. If they’re anything like the ones I qual’d with in basic training, they jam every third round. Sleep tight America, LOL!

Danny June 3, 2009 7:25 AM

You misread the article which clearly pointed out that the police will be issued semi-automatic weapons. Also, the reporter is engaged in bad reporting by referring to the semi-automatic weapon as an M-16. A semi-automatic M-16/M4 clone would be an AR-15. Calling it an M-16 is “poisoning the well” by eliciting, in the reader, images of guns used by the US military.

While the AR-15 looks menacing, it’s no more lethal than any other hunting rifle of the same caliber (a varmint round, really). Just as movie-plot threats deceive the general populace with unrealistic expectations as though it was a probable event, the juxtaposition of terms between military and civilian firearms fool even security specialists (present company included?) into fits of hoplophobia.

If the primary or exclusive reason for arming Boston’s cops with AR-15s is to “thwart terrorism” then I agree that it seems to be overkill. But there are legitimate reasons for police forces to use weapons with more firepower. Anyone who thinks otherwise should research the “FBI Miami shoot-out” in 1986.

Student June 3, 2009 7:27 AM

I think part of the explanation can be the improvement and dropping price of ballistic armor. There have been a few cases now with police facing robbers and other criminals protected with vests. And if it’s one thing that can cause troubles it is if criminals feel they can shoot their way out of bad situations because the police can’t easily hurt them.

Besides, getting hit by a 5.56mm NATO FMJ is not much worse than a 9mm NATO JHP, which is roughly what the police uses (atleast here). The difference is that 5.56mm will go through a class 2 vest, unlike a 9mm.

Marc June 3, 2009 7:28 AM

As a resident of Boston, I can tell the “peoples” nearly universal reaction was no way.

The only people who thought this was a good idea were the police and the now denying any involvement mayor

igor June 3, 2009 7:32 AM

These weapons aren’t automatic. But they’re much, much more accurate then handguns. It can save lives of policemen and at the same time, lessen the risk to bystanders. Also they shoot through a bulletproof vest.

And don’t forget the psychological factor. Here in Poland some policemen are trained with heavier than usual weapons, up to fully automatic AK rifles. They don’t take them on regular patrols, only when expecting trouble. Even then, they almost never shoot them. The sight of an armed squad is usually enough to make a criminal much less resistant.

Neighborcat June 3, 2009 7:36 AM

Since, as the article states, other large cities have had assault-rifle armed cops for many years, I wonder if anyone looked at the crime stats in those cities to see if it made one bit of difference. Somehow I doubt it.

I see no mention what type of ammo will be issued. There is a large difference in the effects of FMJ and HP rounds.

As the majority of rounds fired by police in real world situations miss their target, and the overwhelming majority of LEO involved shootings take place at LESS THAN TEN FEET, I have to wonder how much farther they want their stray rounds to fly.

Also, the majority of LEO involved shootings are over in 3 seconds, so “Wait a sec while I go to my cruiser, open the trunk, unlock the case, load a magazine. Be right back.” isn’t going to be much help.

My guess is that whether they have an M-16 in the trunk or not, in a shooting situation, police are going to use the closest gun available; the one on their belt.

Ian Argent June 3, 2009 7:43 AM

Article notes they are semiautomatic. At first glance I thought they were going to be some AR-15 variant (which is currently the most popular target rifle by far in civilian hands); but I see they’re getting (presumably) surplus M-16s from the feds and modifying them to be semiauto-only. Once they do that they’ll have what amounts to AR-15’s that (probably) can’t be owned by civilians for legal/technical reasons. That having been said, even in New Jersey I can own an identically-functional weapon (though I’m sure they get to have the regular-capacity magazine). A resident of Boston with an appropriate license can as well.

Article is full of FUD – M-16/AR-15 isn’t a particularly high-powered rifle (though it is pretty accurate). Various PDs across the nation have been equipping their officers with similar weapons for years (as noted in the article). Whether the police need the ability to engage outside of pistol range is beyond my pay grade, but if they need the capability, an AR-pattern rifle is probably a decent choice. They’re relatively light, accurate, and less prone to overpenentration (the 5.56 round is at the weaker end of the power spectrum).

curtisk June 3, 2009 7:51 AM

Just a precaution, intel is strong on another Mooninite invasion, this time they’ll be able to act!

bob June 3, 2009 7:51 AM

I don’t mind police having rifles. Heck, I have one (and far more powerful than an M-16, although I would love to have an M-16 because they are fun to shoot, less pain to the shoulder and much cheaper to load). Of course I keep mine at my parents’ house out in the country because it would be completely useless in the city. What I object to is police being given rifles (or armored cars or jogging shoes or ice cream cones or radioactive pencils) on the grounds that item WILL COUNTER TERRORISM.

Furthermore, every M-16 ever made already has the ability to shoot semi-auto – no modification required. Just don’t switch it to full auto mode (stipulated later models do not have full auto anyway). They might be modifying them to prevent FULL auto; but they are NOT modifying them to ALLOW semi-auto (which is what the article implies).

Finally, just like perceived air safety – there are 2 events listed here where the cops were outgunned. Compare that to the (just guessing) 7,000,000,000 times per year that a cop somewhere in the US interacts with the public and didn’t need a rifle. This doesn’t pass the horseshit test (or rather it passes it very thoroughly).

Brandioch Conner June 3, 2009 8:13 AM

I agree with this guy.

“It seems like people wanted to get their free toys, and now they have to make up rhyme and reason for what to do with them,” said Jorge Martinez, executive director of Project RIGHT, which runs violence prevention programs in Roxbury. “They come up with these ridiculous ideas. What’s wrong with this commissioner? This guy is supposed to be a national leader in community policing.”

Walt June 3, 2009 8:24 AM

Looked at from a different direction, this also doesn’t make objective sense. For each “free” rifle they get, they have to train four persons (one for each shift) 40 hours each. So each “free” rifile is costing them about $5,000 in training time, plus future refreshers.

All for a scenario which will (statistically) never happen within their city.

AlanS June 3, 2009 8:27 AM

Look on the bright side, a few years back, before America discovered terrorism, all those M16s would have mysteriously gone missing and ended up on a boat to Northern Ireland.

Walt June 3, 2009 8:34 AM

I have another observation, related to both yesterday’s post, as well as the justification for the plan in this one. Why are Homeland Security decisions in general scenario-based? If I understand it correctly, on the DoD side the concept of capabilities-based procurement was being pushed 10-15 years ago. My understanding of this idea is that there are general capabilities you need to perform your mission, without knowing exactly what type of conflict you will be in; whereas, weapons bought to perform in only one scenario may be useless in another.

What will it take for this concept to take hold in physical security? That we shouldn’t be strengthening the elements that would be attacked in one scenario or another, but that we should have an overall general security posture which provides resistance and resilience across the board?

Of course, I agree that that posture would be relatively lower than we have in spots now, due to the need to support it everywhere. And, that police intelligence work to prevent the attacks is still the best (and most cost-effective) defence.

Mark June 3, 2009 8:39 AM

I find it a little odd that people would be more concerned about trained law enforcement carrying this type of rifle than they appear to be about unlicensed, untrained criminals carrying them.

The semi-auto variant, the AR-15, is functionally the same as the M16s that the Boston PD will be using and is readily available to anyone who can pass the background check.

What the article doesn’t mention is that many police departments that don’t issue “assault” rifles, allow officers to carry their personally owned rifle.

The problem here isn’t the rifle, it’s the criminals who use them. I don’t see the problem in giving police who risk their lives the tools to do their job.

Anonymous June 3, 2009 8:40 AM


“They don’t take them on regular patrols, only when expecting trouble. Even then, they almost never shoot them. The sight of an armed squad is usually enough to make a criminal much less resistant.”

So in other words expect to see them at every protest as an intimidation tactic. Yay for Police State tactics…

alex June 3, 2009 8:44 AM

One thing is sure – if you let police officers carry around weaponry and ammunition of that quality, they become themselves a target for exactly those items.

Jeff Schroeder June 3, 2009 8:54 AM


To re-iterate what several others have already said, the M16 is not an automatic weapon. Even the US miltary’s standard issue M16A2 is semi-auto or 3 round burst so your post is in-accurate.

MateFrio June 3, 2009 8:58 AM

I have no problem with giving cops the option to fall back to a weapon system where they can better control shot placement, stop the threat, and protect themselves and the citizens.

Semiautomatic assault rifles is an oxymoron. Semiautomatic is one trigger pull per shot. Assault rilfe can shoot more than one bullet per pull of the trigger. The .223 round looses it’s energy quicker against anything it hits faster than a pistol round (such as 9mm or 40mm) so I’d be more worried about the guns cops carry at hand.

Jeff Cooper said a pistol is what you use to fight your way back to your rifle.

I have a AR15 to fall back on myself.

Eponymous June 3, 2009 9:02 AM

I work in D.C. I walk by (and sometimes greet) cops with assault rifles almost daily.

Anonymous June 3, 2009 9:09 AM

“Would you trust the police there with automatic weapons?”

I’m not sure I’d trust the police there with ANY weapons that go beyond novelty foam mallets and squeaky toys.

Kathleen June 3, 2009 9:21 AM

There is a similar proposal going on now in Chicago, and it appears the Police Commissioner is going to go ahead with it no matter the objections from the community.

Chicago is notorious for its thuggish police tactics – excessive force, brutality, and harassment thrive in this city which has no independent review board with any binding authority.

Miramon June 3, 2009 9:30 AM

Well, it certainly is dumb, and if these officers ever actually patrol or guard sites with these weapons, they will instill a sense of fear greater than any caused by actual terrorists in this country.

On the other hand, the cost is not very high compared with lots of other lamebrained security measures taken over the last 8 years.

The thing which seems particularly dumb is giving these rifles to the bomb squad. Aren’t those guys supposed to be playing with robot controls and fiddling with colored wires? Let the SWAT team have the rifles, since they may be expected to have something resembling small unit training. But the bomb squad? That’s just weird.

Chris June 3, 2009 9:34 AM

The trend in law enforcement to replace shotguns with rifles as the standard longarm has been going on for a long time now. Boston is actually quite a ways behind the curve on this one. Rifles are more accurate, longer ranged, and easier to shoot (particularly for female and smaller statured officers). They’re lighter, shorter, and handier in tight quarters. 5.56mm bullets don’t spread the way buckshot does, and they don’t penetrate nearly as much as slugs. They also require a lot less manual manipulation to load and unload. They’re just much better tools for the job than shotguns are.

Sindisil June 3, 2009 9:38 AM

Bruce, it’s not like you to post hyperbolic, FUD bait like this.

I mean, I’ll grant you that Boston’s “finest” aren’t exactly the sharpest knives in the drawer.

Still, the very article you quote says they’re being issued “semiautomatic assault rifles”. You then ask how police armed with “automatic weapons” increase security.

Ian Argent June 3, 2009 9:39 AM

Incidentally, every time I’ve seen cops outside the US (even in europe) they have submachineguns; which are almost always at least burst-capable.

The article is really fear-mongering. If thee didn’t happen to be surplussed M-16s, and were instead something like the Ruger Mini-14 or Ranch Rifle, there’d be a lot less panic. From a danger to bystanders point of view, the ubiquitous 12-gauge loaded with either shot or slug is more dangerous; yet we don’t panic when the cops have Mossbergs in their trunk. But dress it in plastic and say it’s milsurp and watch the excitement.

Ian Argent June 3, 2009 9:44 AM

Follow-up: If you can’t trust the cops with long-arms, you have a bigger problem than those longarms. It would appear that there are some issues along those lines. Might want to look to the root cause of that, instead of the trimming

igor June 3, 2009 9:44 AM

@anonymous (about rifles against riots)

Issuing any sort of firearm to riot officers is against the law (or at least internal regulations) in many countries for several good reasons. Being shot with your own gun is one of them, unnecessary increase in violence is the other.

However, arresting a gangster who’s known to be armed is a completely different scenario. The cops surely want to have more firepower in that case and I don’t blame them.

aczarnowski June 3, 2009 9:52 AM

The hysteria is disappointing; I’ve come to expect more reasoned postings here.

There are two issues: 1) police trust and 2) police tooling.

Certainly, Boston and many other PDs have lost the trust of their localities. But that’s separate from making sure the guys on the street have the best tools available.

The shotgun and pistol are the traditional boys in blue weapons. The rifle fills roles the shotgun and the pistol do not so there has always been a hole in the PD tool box. A rifle can also effectively replace a shotgun for many tasks. It makes objective sense that a department would begin moving toward the tool which has better coverage of needs.

And the semi-automatic AR15/M16 makes sense as well. It’s standard .mil issue, there are a bazillion after market parts and accessories for it, there are a bazillion of them in US citizens’ homes, therefore there is a truck load of knowledge out there and training courses are already designed for the platform.

Now, if the Boston PD (made up of citizens) gets guns that I can’t have as a citizen (automatics), I’ll join everybody else with the pitch forks and torches.

PIr June 3, 2009 10:04 AM

Bagdad, Boston, or Kabul, Police are not the anti terrorist shock troops, they are the second line at best, Boston, like Louisville Ky, will have an FBI assault team with all the mp5s and sniper gear in that unmarked van parked in the motel lot.

Brandioch Conner June 3, 2009 10:10 AM

I keep seeing the words “tool” and “job” in these posts.

Yet no one is defining the exact “job” that this “tool” will be used for and how it is a better “tool” for that specific “job” than any other options.

Most of the cops have the correct “tool” for their “job” already. It is a pistol. And it is as effective as a rifle in the scenarios that most cops will ever encounter IN THE CITY.

Terry June 3, 2009 10:11 AM

I spent 13 years in the Marine Corps working in Intelligence and know a few things about M-16’s and terrorism. First is that it takes a lot of training to use an M-16 safely and effectively. Second it is not an effective weapon for police departments as a standard weapon.

More importantly one of the main tenets of terrorism is to make the existing population feel oppressed and afraid and resentful of their government. i can’t think of a better example of ho we are playing into their hands than by giving cops assault rifle.

bethan June 3, 2009 10:18 AM


fully automatic weapons in the hands of street cops is a complete non-barrier to terrorism. the idea of assault rifles as a barrier to terrorism is ridiculous, that they spent tax dollars this ineffectively is unfortunate, and that most civilians will accept it is disturbing.

and, cops aren’t civilians, they’re cops. they don’t consider themselves civilians, and they’re not treated like civilians.

i don’t have a problem with cops having access to these weapons, though, so long as the state isn’t trying to stop civilians from possessing the same.

Nick Lancaster June 3, 2009 10:27 AM

It would seem that:

  1. There are valid concerns about LEO’s carrying assault-grade weapons. In recent events, I can only think that either the shooting of several Oakland Police Dept. officers might have been impacted by this; certainly, the first two casualties, which occurred with a handgun during a traffic stop, would not have been affected. The second two, which took place when officers confronted the suspect in a narrow hallway, might also not have been positively affected, as they did not have intelligence indicating the suspect had an assault rifle in the apartment. I’m not certain as to whether or not the shootings in Pittsburgh would have been impacted, as again, there was question as to how the suspect was armed.

  2. Training/Trust. Tasering incidents have left the public suspicious of police, even if the perception is largely a scotoma (eg., friend buys a white CooperMini, and for the next few days, you notice lots of white CooperMinis on the road). At the same time, how much regular practice is required to effectively use an assault rifle in judgment-call situations? Police are not, even with the threat of ‘terrorists’ and ‘drug lords,’ necessarily facing the same situations as soldiers on the battlefield. So you also need effective ROE’s (rules of engagement) which won’t be tested unless police deploy with and use these weapons.

mcb June 3, 2009 10:28 AM

We’ve been through this before…

As for issuing M4 [or M16 or AR15] carbines to the police it’s a good idea for a variety of reasons. People who look askance at patrol carbines think nothing of the coppers running to the scene of a fight with a 12 gauge combat shotgun or a 15 shot pistol. What the average person doesn’t know is that shotguns have tremendous recoil, poor accuracy, insufficient penetration on body armor and a tendency toward overpenetration (shooting completely through persons and structures behind them). While no one enjoys shooting a 12 gauge combat shotgun (they’ve been known to dislocate shoulders and cause brain concussions), training issues are amplified when used by persons of light build or slight stature. It’s just plain hard to train enough with a shotgun to get good enough to account for every projectile.

For a time there was interest in carbines that fired the same pistol cartridge as the officers’ sidearms. Pistol cartridge carbines are easy to train with and use, but only specialized pistol ammunition will penetrate soft body armor and that ammunition will routinely overpenetrate on persons and structures.

Actually the biggest problem with pistol cartridges relates to their use in pistols. Pistols are hard to use well under stress. Self-loading pistols with large magazines have a variety of training and tactical advantages, but a significant fraction of pistol bullets stop in things other than their intended target.

Enter the 223 caliber patrol carbine, most frequently encountered as the CAR15/M4, a shorter, lighter, more adaptable version of the AR15/M16 rifle. It is easy to train with and use effectively, regardless the size or recoil tolerance of the operator. The 223 cartridge will penetrate soft body armor (as was demonstrated when LAPD SWAT ended the infamous Hollywood shootout). The 223 cartridge is more effective than pistol bullets making bad guys lie down and leave you alone. A carbine is much easier to hit bad guys with than a pistol, even up close. Ironically the 223 cartridge doesn’t overpenetrate on persons or structures as much as shotgun projectiles or even pistol bullets. Many cops are reservists who have acquired plenty of real world experience with the system while on deployment in the “GWOT”. Most police administrators agree that the patrol carbine need only be a semiautomatic (one shot per trigger pull) instead of automatic (“machinegun”), but that is easily dealt with at the time of procurement.

So, the advantages include… Easier to train with than shotguns or pistols. Safer to use than shotguns or pistols. Easier to get hits with at all ranges compared to pistols. More effective at neutralizing the target than pistol bullets. Effective against soft body armor, unlike shotguns or pistols. Less overpenetration on persons and structures than shotguns or pistols. It need not be an automatic.

One could make a case that those citizens frightened by cops carrying guns should be asking why an officer is trusted with a shotgun or pistol instead of being given a rifle.

Bottom line: We can and should object to using FUD and the GWOT to justify the deployment of patrol rifles in public law enforcement but a police officer armed with a patrol rifles fire fewer shots with fewer misses to much greater effect than does the average LEO discharging his or her pistol.

Yussuf June 3, 2009 10:56 AM

“One thing is sure – if you let police officers carry around weaponry and ammunition of that quality, they become themselves a target for exactly those items.”

very true.

I grew up in war torn country, where you couldn’t walk outside with food for fear of being robbed and killed.

counter-intuitively you are a much bigger target if you are carrying a weapon; the most prized being the AK-47 with the side folding metal stock for its effectiveness and lightness.

extrapolating to Boston, it is just a matter of time when they (the police) become targets due to their M-16 rifles

Ward S. Denker June 3, 2009 11:00 AM

“The Boston Police Department is preparing a plan to arm as many as 200 patrol officers with semiautomatic assault rifles, a significant boost in firepower…”

This is a lie. Nearly every pistol or rifle is semiautomatic these days. Any rifles they already have are not going to be anything but semiauto. This is not a ‘boost’ in firepower except that the department is getting more of them – an intentional conflation of facts on the part of the author.

“The initiative calls for equipping specialized units, such as the bomb squad and harbor patrol, with the high-powered long-range M16 rifles first, the officials said. ”

Here they jump right to talking about M-16 rifles, which certainly are fully automatic. Police have been using AR-15 rifles for years. Widespread possession of M-16 military rifles by police would constitute a significant change.

It’s pretty irritating to me the way that this article is written. It’s either ignorance on the part of the author or deliberate misinformation. Lying without using any false statements is still lying.

Ward S. Denker June 3, 2009 11:18 AM

Browsing through the comments, I note that several were already cognizant of the facts I mentioned. This blog has a fantastic readership. Anal retentive realists of the world unite!

Aaron June 3, 2009 11:19 AM

I think the real issue here, is Rifle+City=Bad. An unchecked rifle round can travel a looong way. Of course the real question will be, what will finally stop that round? Hope it’s not a human. Nah, there aren’t that many of those in a city. Especially a small one like Boston.

Moderator June 3, 2009 11:52 AM

Please don’t turn this into another thread about civilian ownership of firearms. That’s not what the post is about. We can stipulate that police do, in fact, sometimes encounter armed people without going through all the usual arguments about the Second Amendment yet again.

Moderator June 3, 2009 12:19 PM

Oops, I missed one of the Second Amendment comments when I was deleting them. Captain Moroni, I’m going to delete your response as well — note that saying someone has misunderstood the 2nd Amendment counts as continuing the argument about the 2nd Amendment. But I realize that leaving exactly one comment on the topic was pretty provoking.

Davi Ottenheimer June 3, 2009 12:25 PM

Wonder what would happen if they spent the same amount of capital on better intelligence for the LEOs. Seems improved intelligence might have prevented recent officer deaths in Oakland and Pittsburgh, while assault rifles would have done nothing for them.

Fred June 3, 2009 12:31 PM

It’s easy to get excited about military technology in the hands of local police, but as others have noted, a semi-auto M-16 is functionally (and visually) identical to an AR-15.

To put this all in perspective:

  • I can legally purchase an AR-15 for $850 without any special paperwork from countless gun dealers.

  • .223 is a very popular target shooting round. There’s not anything particularly special about it, or the similar 5.56 milspec round. They are less powerful than the majority of popular hunting calibers.

  • Not only is a rifle far more accurate than a handgun for longer distances, but a .223 round can have less collateral damage than many handgun rounds. That’s because unlike a handgun round which can pass through several walls before stopping, a .223 round is often stopped by only a couple sheets of sheetrock (because it ‘tumbles’ after the first penetration).

Roy June 3, 2009 12:31 PM

I will trust our police with these weapons when they will trust us with the same weapons.

As any fool can plainly see, cops love these things for the intimidation value.

If one of these gets turned on the cops, it’s a weapon of mass destruction.

When the cops turn them on us, its a matter of their comfort and safety.

We will never see eye to eye.

David Dyer-Bennet June 3, 2009 12:42 PM

The sources I’ve seen say they’re getting the semi-auto version, not the full-auto (machinegun) version.

And the 5.56 NATO (or .223 Remington) round, while technically “high-power” in that it qualifies for high-power rifle competitions, is one of the weakest rifle rounds in use. It’s not legal for deer hunting in most states because it’s considered inadequate for a quick, humane, kill. The classic .30-30 is more powerful. A .30-06, a basic hunting rifle, is MUCH more powerful (and effective at longer ranges). A shotgun with slugs is much more powerful.

Remember the source of the military term “assault weapon”. They are for short-range combat, and one of the primary distinguishing characteristics was that they used a smaller and less powerful round than the main battle rifles. Another is that they are fully automatic, which means that none of the things targeted in the various so-called “assault weapon bans” have been assault weapons in the first place.

It’s awfully rare, even still, for criminals to use rifles of any sort. Most of the exceptions are spree killers and people committing suicide-by-cop. But a rifle of this type is widely thought to be a suitable home-defense weapon, so I don’t think I’d want to deny them to the police. However, I’d like to get the police trained to the level of the average defense-minded homeowner.

Nick Lancaster June 3, 2009 12:51 PM


So, if LEO’s are required to qualify and be subject to regulations, refresher training and other limitations on the use of their weapons, are you saying that you will accept the same restrictions?

I’m puzzled as to the basis for the tit-for-tat armament viewpoint. God willing, I hope to never be confronted by an assailant toting an ‘assault rifle’ – but then, short of my going about my daily business armed to the teeth, I’m not going to have weapons parity.

Hugh Mannity June 3, 2009 1:15 PM

Well, seeing as how they managed to kill an innocent bystander with a “less than lethal” pepper spray gun ( ) I suspect this will be a Really Good Thing. Not.

The increasing militarization of police in general, is something I find very disquieting. There’s a massive philosophical gulf between “law enforcement” and “public safety”.

Rr June 3, 2009 1:20 PM

The justification is suspect, but as others have pointed out the rifle in question is a pretty good platform. It’s particularly preferable to a shotgun, which are not out of the ordinary in LE.

In the end the discussion should revolve around platform usability and ballistics, not the kinds of arguments (which are based on incorrect facts about the AR-15 platform) presented in the article.

To Davi’s point – intelligence is probably a better spend. But it runs a risk of going afoul of privacy concerns. Not sure Bruce would be happy with that choice either 🙂

Stephen B June 3, 2009 1:22 PM

Ah…. Somone’s seen the movie “HEAT” recently, and decided it’s a “risk” the Police may have to face…

You can see their logic: someone, somewhere may attack with heavy weapons, so that’s a good excuse for more budget – to be spent on empire-building.

The implementer of this idea sounds British.

Andrew June 3, 2009 1:47 PM

I see a disconnect between the firearms experts and the general public, including many of the posters here, on the issue of police carrying rifles.

The police are not gearing up for a fair fight, nor as the public should we expect them to tolerate that high a level of routine risk.

For example, one police officer arresting one criminal seems like a fair fight, right? Well, the police officer has to use a lot more force because with all the gear on the belt, he has to win or potentially get injured or killed. If he does get hurt, the city will have to pay all his medical expenses and possibly his pension or death benefits. If he uses too much force and violates the suspect’s rights, again the city has to pay up. So it is better for all parties including the suspect for five or six police to make the arrest. They can use the minimum force necessary, the suspect gives it up because there’s no way he can win, and the taxpayers are saved both medical bills and lawsuits.

Conner makes a really good point:

Yet no one is defining the exact “job” that this “tool” will be used for and how it is a better “tool” for that specific “job” than any other options.

In this context, a firearm is a last ditch piece of emergency equipment for saving lives from a deadly threat.

A patrol rifle (specifically, a semiautomatic, often short-barrel rifle chambered in .223) is necessary to be on an even playing field with commonly available civilian rifles which are effective to 300 yards or more. In rural areas, any police officer can expect to encounter these rifles on any call.

Patrol rifles also give substantial range and accuracy advantages over other common firearms such as handgun and shotgun. It also gives some nominal capability in opposition to well-equipped adversaries with body armor, fully automatic rifles, IEDs, distraction devices and tactical communications; such as those who carried out the active shooter terrorist attacks at Mumbai. Not enough to assault against high-speed opponents, but enough to hold a perimeter while waiting for the cavalry.

A highly trained countersniper with a patrol rifle has some hope of deterring or engaging a sniper, which is the real reason you sometimes see rifle-toting police officers at major events. An astute observer will notice that they are looking up and/or at the skyline.

Most of the cops have the correct “tool” for their “job” already. It is a pistol.

No. A pistol has a maximum effective range on the order of 25 yards. In most police handgun shootings, trained police officers miss with most of the rounds fired at engagement ranges as little as 5-10 yards. The standard shotgun is on the order of 50 yards and even loaded with slugs, is ineffective beyond 75-100 yards.

And it is as effective as a rifle in the scenarios that most cops will ever encounter IN THE CITY.

This caveat is well taken. However, any city is large enough to have areas with long, unbroken sight lines where a rifle could well be necessary. These include ports, airports, large parks, long city streets, mass transit stations and industrial areas.

Also, special weapons and tactics teams require time to assemble. Pre-Columbine police doctrine for countering active shooters is for patrol officers to form a perimeter, then SWAT to assemble. After Columbine and North Hollywood (among many, many others less newsworthy), active shooter doctrine now calls on patrol officers to seek out and engage active shooters.

People murdering people, right now, is one situation in which we do expect police to accept great risk to their own lives to stop it, and the patrol rifle is a highly desirable ‘tool’ for this particularly hazardous ‘job.’

It is true that most police officers will never actually use a patrol rifle on the street. I don’t buy this as an argument to deprive all police of this potentially life-saving tool.

I will add that in California, virtually every police agency carries junk in the trunk. You don’t see it, but rest assured that it’s there.

My personal pet peeve is submachine guns in the hands of beat police. Why carry a firearm with only a slightly longer barrel and pistol ammunition, which does look like a military force and scare the public, yet doesn’t give corresponding advantages in range and penetration power?

Clive Robinson June 3, 2009 1:48 PM

Just a couple of points to note,

Firstly, all self loading and semi automatic weapons are usually designed as fully automatic weapons first.

The designers then optionaly add a safety sear mechanism to make them semi automatic or single shot or both.

Quite a few people know where to put a matchstick to disable the safety sear thus converting a limited semi automatic back to fully automatic.

Secondly only the military are legaly restrained from using fragmentation amunition by international treaty. In many many places there is no such limitation on the police. It is well known that certain types of amunition where the round is known to distort or fragment are to be found in police hand guns.

Let us hope that due to the vast quantity of FMJ amunition the police with these M16 derivatives are not tempted to use more exotic types of amunition.

Rr June 3, 2009 1:59 PM

@Clive –

Why on earth would you want the police to carry FMJ? Its only place is on the range for practice, and on the battlefield where other ammo isn’t allowed (because of some old, very strange, nonsensical rules about ‘suffering’). FMJ over-penetrates and poses a MUCH greater danger to the surrounding public.

Hollow-point ammo is preferable because it a) stops the threat more effectively, and b) has a lower probability passing right through someone and killing an innocent person.

Rr June 3, 2009 2:03 PM

BTW – don’t take my word for these ballistics discussions – google Gary K.Roberts and Martin Fackler for their excellent research and discussions in this area.

C June 3, 2009 2:12 PM

Yeah, its overkill. More of ego booster for them which many cops do not need. And no, that isn’t going to make the general public more safe and particularly not from terrorist threats.

aczarnowski June 3, 2009 2:48 PM

I was pinged by bethan specifically so I will respond:

cops aren’t civilians

This is false; police officers most definitely are civilians. That you state they are somehow different from those they protect is indicative of why the gap between the police and their localities is ever widening.

I will trust our police with
these weapons when they
will trust us with the same

I agree, bethan, and said as much in my original post. MA residents can not own the same rifle the Boston PD are buying. This bothers me at very fundamental levels.

But as a MN resident who can own these rifles, I’m A-OK with the cops having these same tools in my area.

The rifle is the premier individual fighting weapon of this century. Cops get into fights. I want them to have every advantage they can get.

Rupert H. June 3, 2009 3:02 PM

London bobbies for many years were armed with nothing more lethal than rolled-up mackintoshes. I doubt a local policeman/woman on the beat needs anything more technologically advanced than a torch (flashlight). Perhaps someone should ask them.

Brandioch Conner June 3, 2009 3:27 PM

“This caveat is well taken. However, any city is large enough to have areas with long, unbroken sight lines where a rifle could well be necessary. These include ports, airports, large parks, long city streets, mass transit stations and industrial areas.”

I live in Seattle which is about as lightly populated a city as you are likely to find outside of rural areas.

Unless you’re talking about 3am, the only place to get clear line-of-sight to 300m is STRAIGHT UP.

“No. A pistol has a maximum effective range on the order of 25 yards. In most police handgun shootings, trained police officers miss with most of the rounds fired at engagement ranges as little as 5-10 yards.”

Strange, since the Army requires anyone qualifying with a pistol to hit a target at 25m. The max effective range is more along the line of 50m.

And if the criminal is more than 25m away, in a city, WHY IS THE COP SHOOTING AT HIM?

Using civilian shoppers as a backstop is not usually police doctrine.

Nor should be be encouraging anyone who believes that it should be.

Assface June 3, 2009 4:52 PM

You say automatic multiple times, yet the quote blatantly says “semiautomatic”.
You should definitely work on your journalism.

Padraig June 3, 2009 5:42 PM

The thought of giving these rifles to the same cops who spent so many years raising funds for the IRA is something I find disconcerting.

Steve June 3, 2009 6:58 PM

Police in New Zealand don’t even carry a pistol. I can’t comprehend a police force walking around with assault rifles.

David June 3, 2009 9:17 PM

@Brandioch Conner: “And if the criminal is more than 25m away, in a city, WHY IS THE COP SHOOTING AT HIM?”

It really doesn’t take much imagination to answer your own question. The ironclad reason to arm cops with good rifles is active shooter scenarios. If the officer has a clear shot at a guy who is picking off innocent people, I want the officer to have the best tool for the job.

If they’d sold it as active-shooter response instead of this terrorism silliness, they wouldn’t have stirred up so much controversy.

Steven Hoober June 3, 2009 9:28 PM

Okay, skipped most of the comments as they started getting repetitive. If much of this has been said, I apologize.

NOT new at all. Replacing shotguns with Patrol Rifles has been a useful trend for close on twenty years. Long before the LA shootout, some departments had supervisors with rifles. That is the general trend, though many are arming all officers with rifles. Many are keeping their shotguns, though the trend there is to only employ less-lethal munitions in it. So they get a LOT more capability for not much money; not dedicated less-lethal systems are getting poor sales.

The rifle provides significantly more range and is a point weapon. It does not spread out over distance. At normal ranges (out to 25 yards) it provides significantly more accuracy

There is no increased risk of overpenetration. The 5.56 military ball round tends to be damaged and skewed off line by penetrating light cover, such as wallboard. Not much distance after that is is very ineffective. So it shoots through houses LESS dangerously than handguns rounds, even if you do miss.

There ARE periodic snipers. I can think of half a dozen off the top of my head, all of which were very ineffectively dealt with by shotgun or handgun-armed patrol officers. In some cases, a single rifle ended the situation. Quicker deployment of rifles would end this quicker, therefore. It’s a piece of what-if safety equipment identical to the handguns.

Most agencies are buying them new, some get military surplus. There are significant downsides to military surplus, or other selective-fire guns; as far as licensing goes, even for police, once a machine-gun always a machine gun, so they have to license them, get in much more trouble if they loose one, and cannot dispose of them except to another agency or a smelter.

Even “SWAT” teams are mostly not using automatic fire. Many do not employ selective fire weapons at all. These are ALL
semi-automatic rifles.

Handguns are EXTREMELY difficult to shoot proficiently, and it is a perishable skill. Most officers do not get sufficient training. Long arms are much more easy to shoot accurately.

Shotguns are not deployed as much as they could be because they have a great deal of recoil, and are complex to manipulate. Many officers have poor confidence in the weapon due to complex loading procedures, and the high degree of recoil. Additionally, shotguns tend to have worse sights, and it is difficult to mount lights to them, so most do not have a light. Close to 90% of police shootings are in low-light, so this is a non-trivial issue.

Training (as a cost) with the rifle is at least a wash. The officers are trained in their shotguns, and the recoil management is a serious issue. Since ther emore confidence in recoil and simpler manipulation the result is officers get better and deeper training for the same range time and money.

There is no downside to the patrol carbine over a shotgun for the typical officer in the typical city.

Sean O'Seanessy June 3, 2009 9:33 PM

Begorrah! The POlice in Boston are Irish!
They must be arming torepel the British!
Case solved!

Steven Hoober June 3, 2009 9:36 PM

Missed one: Hugh Mannity, the device used there was not a “pepper spray” device but a “pepper ball.” Think a gobstopper from a paintball gun.

There is some anecdotal evidence that specialized devices like this are viewed as NON lethal by administrators and operators, and so tend to be both poorly trained and employed somewhat more haphazardly than they should be.

The follow-on is that you should use systems like or based-on lethal platforms, and with good policies for use. The Taser is employed with significant policy behind it, like a handgun, and has accountability (it leaves coded confetti) so you have to mean it when you pull the trigger. Another approach is 12-gauge less-lethal ammunition. The gun looks, sounds and feels like a gun, so there may be an inclination that it’s risky to employ, hence is more carefully used.

PackagedBlue June 3, 2009 11:32 PM

Its what ammo they use.

If the guns shot blanks or plastic bbs, then yawn.

… typical bbs with plastic case rounds, then ouch, and could be deadly.
… frangible, yes, deadly to target, but not others.

I’d only give some cops blanks, others plastic capped bb rounds, and others fragible, and the few, hollow or FMJ option.

Perhaps not a bad idea for crowd control with riots and the new world disorder. Implementation is what matters.

Nabeshin June 4, 2009 2:15 AM

Bruce, more firepower often means deterrent power, and consequently less occasions to actually need to use it on criminals, who are persons in first place and it is better to scare than shot.

And it is not an incentive for criminals to escalate guns ownership, as they already do that since internal wars are the primary incentive for militarization of crimal organizations; on the other side, this factor is also useful as more advanced weapons are more difficult to produce and market and can lead insiders to more efficiently spot criminals attempting to escalate their gunpower.

Clive Robinson June 4, 2009 3:27 AM

@ Rr,

“Why on earth would you want the police to carry FMJ?”

The simple answer is it is non expanding and non fragmenting amunition and is not as leathal as mushrooming or fragmentation amunition.

The NYPD for many years had the reputation (via the press) of “shoot first” because they were to “fat and lazy” to either chase people or want to try arresting an able bodied person.

And American police in general by US media and entertainment are caractured as being gun happy. Now I know that the average police officer does not use their weapon unless they feel that they have little choice. But there is usually no smoke without fire.

In the UK it would appear that a large percentage of those shot are infact innocent people.

So you’ll pardon me if I don’t want the police turned into judge jury and executioner in the fraction of a second it takes to “get one off”.

Further knowing that what you have in the breach of your weapon is potentialy pass through should make you take a more considered shot and less likley to snap one off.
Most people who are shot incidentaly to the actual target are due to hurried and ill concidered shots, often fired from hand guns.

So on balance I fell the less leathal the amunition used the better.

Tom Welsh June 4, 2009 6:07 AM

Remember Lieutenant Hunter in “Hill Street Blues”? In one fondly-remembered episode he actually managed to get his hands on a well-equipped military armoured car – which he then allowed some gangbangers to steal from under his nose.

Just wait till the police get the power to call in air strikes! “We think the terrorists are holed up in that block of flats – I’ll just dial in a Hellfire missile…” (shades of Doonesbury).

Anonymous June 4, 2009 6:10 AM

‘For each “free” rifle they get, they have to train four persons (one for each shift) 40 hours each. So each “free” rifile is costing them about $5,000 in training time, plus future refreshers’.

Your comment makes excellent objective sense, Walt. But remember, we are talking about bureaucratic decision-makers. The free rifles do not reduce their budgets – that’s good. And they take up lots of training time – that’s also good, because it justifies appeals for more manpower – thus increasing their power and importance and (in due course) their budgets.

Anonymous June 4, 2009 7:09 AM

@Rr – in addition to Clive’s as-always excellent points, such rounds are preferable because when you get shot with one, you tend to let everyone know about it. From an infantryman’s point of view, a footsoldier rolling around screaming is much more demoralising than someone who just stops being there.

Rr June 4, 2009 8:11 AM

@Clive –

Let’s agree to disagree then – the UK/European and US views on firearms in the police force are different enough to make this a social and moral, not scientific argument. We could compare stories all day and point out the ridiculous nature of each – doesn’t help one bit in the end. My argument about the police in the CONUS still stands: use JHP; FMJ would be unsafe for the public. Back home on the EU mainland they can stick with FMJ for all I care.

@Anonymous – you should read up on the ballistics and handgun/rifle wounding studies, and also compare your argument to why HP ammo is disallowed per the Hague Convention – they don’t match.

Rr June 4, 2009 8:36 AM

@Anonymous – although, I do buy into the battlefield argument that the wounded keep more people busy than the dead.

Still – how this translates to police use of deadly force is beyond me.

bob June 4, 2009 9:07 AM

@UK, New Zealand, other: Other cultures are different and do not lend themselves to comparison. Case in point: I am frequently intrigued by “police chase” TV shows when they show someone in the UK eluding police for 3 hours and running amok on the public roads and then once they are captured the announcer mentions that they received 6 months suspension of their license and 130 GBP fine as a punishment where the exact same behavior in the US would have resulted in their car being forced off the road and destroyed, themselves having their faces smashed into the concrete and being beaten within an inch of their lives while handcuffed for disrespecting the officers, 6 years in prison and the subsequent bankruptcy, loss of their home (through inability to pay property tax while in prison) and livelihood (through a prison record) for the rest of their lives.

Deb Geisler June 4, 2009 10:35 AM

“Would you trust the police there with automatic weapons?”

No, and I live here.

mcb June 4, 2009 10:45 AM

“EDITED TO ADD: These are semi-automatic rifles, not fully automatic. I think the point is more about the militarization of the police than the exact specifications of the weapons in this case.”

The decades long pursuit by public safety administrators of better policy, effective training, thoughtful tactics, easier to use weapons, safer ammunition, less-lethal devices, more and better personal protective equipment, squad car cams (and soon weapon mounted cameras) can also be interpreted as a move toward increased officer safety, reduced community liability, and greater accountability, all of which serve the public interest. Again we can and should object to the use of the GWOT, Drug War, Gang War, and “arms race” hyperbole by public servants at all levels. Demonstrably superior ideas for providing public safety ought to stand on their own merits.

ScottyD June 4, 2009 11:16 AM

“Would you trust the police there with automatic weapons?”

I live in a suburb of Boston. 2 years ago, I had to call Animal Control for a rabid racoon in my yard (it was out in the day, drooling, and stumbling). Animal Control said “call the cops”. I did…my mistake. They cop that shows up is about mid-twenties. He gets a single-shot break-action 20 gauge shotgun out of his trunk. He procedes to load it, and then as he closes the action, he covers ME with the muzzle. I grew up around guns and shoot regularly. I have never seen such stupidity with a firearm. After I pick myself up off the ground and politely ask him to point the muzzle in a safe direction, he gets all apologetic and starts mumbling about being unfamiliar with the weapon.

My town is one of the ones that has now issued assault rifles (Ruger Mini-14) to all the cops to keep in their crusier trunks.

You bet I sleep more soundly at night, knowing I am better protected.

EdT. June 4, 2009 12:44 PM

bob: “The worst thing in the world to do is give cities military grade systems like armored cars, tanks helicopters and for all I know, Ohio-class Trident ballistic missile submarines. ‘To a child with a hammer, the entire world looks like a nail’ and I have seen no evidence that a city given a B-52 (presumably the D-model with AGM-28s and free-fall hydrogen bombs) would not start using said B-52 to enforce jaywalking, speed limits and parking ordinances. And thats just ‘honest’ cities, not highly corrupt cities like New Orleans or Chicago!”

ROTFLMAO! Which gave me inspiration for the following: New York Style or Chicago Deep-Dish? The question is now somewhat of a moot point ( ).


BlackSix June 4, 2009 1:01 PM

Why is it that people get all bent out of shape when they see an “evil black rifle”???? They’re not assault weapons. That term implies fully automatic fire as defined by DoD.

Most LE agencies who have officers armed with a patrol rifle (ranch / varmint rifle really…) require that the officer call in for permission in order to employ it (supervisor, Lieutenant, etc.). You know, some departments let officers use they’re personally owned rifle for duty use (GASP!!!!!). A rifle is a precision firearm. It’s not a WMD…please… You wouldn’t use a screwdriver to cut through a sheet of plywood. A rifle is just a different kind of tool, like a fine-toothed saw.

As some seem to have mentioned earlier, the shotgun (like the one Elmer Fudd used to hunt ducks) are, BY FAR, the most devestating firearms employed at close to medium range. But they don’t look so Scawwweeey… A shotgun employed in a combat situation is highly deadly. One shot, placed center of mass, will kill a person. With a pistol, or a rifle, your mileage may vary. Some officers have emptied 2 full magazines of 9mm JHP (service pistol) into a charging suspect, to be then killed by the seemingly unharmed suspect. It’s not like the movies, and they’re not death rays.

check out for demonstrations.

I understand and agree with the concern about a mitilarized police force. No reasonable person wants that. However, limiting the kinds of tools LEOs can use seems silly to me. The same requirements and conditions for drawing a weapon should apply. Rifles, in fact, do have some over-penetration concerns, (in contrast with what someone else said above). A 5.56/223 round can easily go in one side of a wood frame house, through a couple walls, and out the other side, but it depends. The same concerns apply for pistols. The officer must be concious of what the ballistic performance is of the type of ammunition being carried, and what is in the background of their intended target.

PackagedBlue June 4, 2009 3:09 PM

As to FMJ, many good comments here. But the point is, let the few proven top cops, carry/use what they know to be best. If that includes AP, then so be it. Arguable, yes, AP requires an enlightened community, that understands “overrides.”

Problems like MONEY and who does the deeming, experts or the “system,” sets the stage for how well problems can be handled, and the resulting cleanup system. Different ammo causes complexity and screwups, thefts, sale of “…the good stuff.” USA localism is a good concept, but does need some understanding, discussion, and proper federal management/oversight. Perhaps RAND MG819 is timely.

Brandioch Conner June 4, 2009 3:42 PM

“It really doesn’t take much imagination to answer your own question.”

Of course it doesn’t. But imagination is not the issue here.

“The ironclad reason to arm cops with good rifles is active shooter scenarios.”

And how many of them are there in an average year? They don’t seem very common. At least not out in the open. Think Ruby Ridge.

“If the officer has a clear shot at a guy who is picking off innocent people, I want the officer to have the best tool for the job.”

Again, you’re relying too much on your imagination and not enough on the facts.

bethan June 4, 2009 7:52 PM

@ aczarnowski

if LEO are civlians, then who is not a civilian? a full time swat cop is less civilian than a NG soldier who works in supply chain.

there’s a difference between civilians and citizens. i know and work with a lot of LEO and military, and they regularly refer to everyone else as civilians. when i left the military, i became a civlian, and when i’m the only non-uniform in a room full of cops, i’m a civilian.
likely, this is a connotative issue, and i’m letting it go now.

averros June 5, 2009 5:41 AM

Rifle bullets go out at much higher speed than pistol bullets. They will over-penetrate targets and hit innocents who happened to be behind the walls.

Besides, just picture a cop running after a miscreant, M-16 flopping on his back. He’ll be sorely tempted to take it off and shoot the petty offender.

The purpose of a military rifle is long-distance combat, killing people without any attempt to identify them as persons and check if the right person is being killed. Do we want cops shooting people indiscriminately? Or do we want to have them to come closer and see whom exactly they are trying to shoot?

For close-quarters combat rifles suck – takes a long time to swing them around. That’s what handguns are for.

Rifles and cops don’t mix. Arming cops like soldiers is a stupid idea – it makes them feel like they are occupying force. Which, in a sense, they are quickly becoming. Oh. well, many of us can shoot, too.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden June 5, 2009 9:45 AM

No, no, you’re all confused. The Boston police are asking for semiotic weapons. You have no idea what they’re up against. Deconstructionists. Lacanites. Derrida.

Remember, while you sleep, civilization is being defended by brutal men, far away, equipped with lethal tropes.

benEzra June 5, 2009 12:15 PM

Actually, police departments across the country have been gradually replacing their 12-gauge (.729 caliber) patrol shotguns with small-caliber, non-automatic rifles like AR-15’s or demilled M16’s for well over a decade. The rifles are far more precise than shotguns, pose less risk to bystanders from richochet, and are easier for small-statured officers to shoot due to the very light recoil.

For the reasoning behind this shift, please see Roberts G.K., “Law Enforcement General Purpose Shoulder Fired Weapons: the Wounding Effects of 5.56mm/.223 Carbines Compared with 12 ga. Shotguns and Pistol Caliber Weapons Using 10% Ordnance Gelatin as a Tissue Simulant, Police Marksman, Jul/Aug 1998, pp. 38-45.



“Until recently, the 12 gauge shotgun has remained the universally accepted shoulder fired weapon for United States law enforcement use, despite the shotgun’s limitations as a general purpose weapon–short effective range, imprecise accuracy, downrange hazard to bystanders, small ammunition capacity, slow reloading, and harsh recoil. While 12 gauge shotguns still have a valid law enforcement role, especially to deliver specialized munitions and possibly in close quarters combat (CQB), recent recognition of the shotgun’s significant limitations as a general purpose weapon have prompted many American law enforcement agencies to begin adopting the more versatile semi-automatic carbine for general purpose use.(12) Semi-automatic carbines offer more accuracy, less recoil, greater effective range, faster reloading, and a larger ammunition capacity than the traditional shotgun.

“Less well known is that 5.56mm/.223 rifle ammunition is also ideally suited for law enforcement general purpose use in semi-automatic carbines.(5,6). It offers superb accuracy coupled with low recoil, and is far more effective at incapacitating violent aggressors than the pistol cartridges utilized in submachineguns and some semi-automatic carbines.


“A 5.56mm/.223 semi-automatic carbine with a minimum of a 14.5″ to 16.5″ barrel may be the most effective and versatile weapon for use in law enforcement. When used with effective ammunition, the 5.56mm/.223 carbine simultaneously offers both greater effective range and less potential downrange hazard to bystanders than a 12 ga. shotgun, handgun, pistol caliber carbine, or SMG , as well as far greater potential to incapacitate a violent criminal than any handgun, pistol caliber carbine, or SMG.

The routine issuing of 5.56mm/.223 semi-automatic carbines for general purpose use to all law enforcement officers would significantly enhance officer safety, increase police effectiveness, and decrease dangers to innocent bystanders in all situations requiring the use of firearms.”

End quote.

And that was the consensus in the field over a decade ago.

The only reason the Boston shift is noteworthy (after all, departments all over the country have been equipping small-caliber rifles for years) is that the Boston PD thought it necessary to roll out the “Terrah!” meme for PR reasons. But were it not for that, and for the overheated rhetoric about modern-looking civilian rifles that is endemic in recent Massachusetts politics, this move would rate about three column inches on page B-4 of the local paper.

FWIW, the civilian AR-15 is the most popular centerfire target rifle and civilian defensive carbine in America; it is no more “militaristic” than a Mossberg 500 shotgun or a Remington Model 70 bolt-action rifle. All are popular civilian guns with some military heritage.

markgyeahyouknowme June 5, 2009 12:56 PM

@ averros

Mass x velocity = momentum

The .223 is much lighter than the common LE hand gun rounds, .40 cal or 9 mm. .223/5.56 decelerates at a greater rate, upon impact, than those handgun rounds. FBI and other tests on overpenetration confirm this.

With its greater accuracy and low penetration, the AR-15 / M-16 is a much safer weapon in the hands of a trained shooter.

Wiskers in Menlo June 5, 2009 4:27 PM

Sadly many people and organizations are unaware of the value in having graduated and structured law enforcement (police). A critical omission in the US Iraq social structure understanding was the fact that the destruction of the military also destroyed civil law enforcement that we would call police.

Our current multi-layered mall, local, county, state, national, federal law enforcement structure while awkward has many advantages in the context of personal safety and the constraining any ‘policing’ organization wanting to abuse their power or exceed their authority.

The current DHS strategic moves are in effect flattening the complex web of checks and balances we have grown up with. Having encountered corrupt law enforcement individuals I have seen first hand how the risks to society could be larger and further reaching than all but the most paranoid might paint in a movie plot.

I do not think that AR-15s are that big a deal but the mind set that is involved is. As others reminded us the MTV LED signs are bright flashing reminder that local training, education and common sense are too often in short supply. Perhaps the short supply of long guns was a fair balance….

Caution is in order…

ThinAir June 7, 2009 5:43 AM


“Assault Rifle” is a media created term. It has nothing to do whether something is full-auto or semi-auto. The term was created to differentiate between rifles intended to kill animals (hunting) vs. rifles intended to kill humans. Eventually, the anti-gun groups started using the term in the political arena to create FUD.

benEzra June 7, 2009 9:09 AM

Actually, the term “assault rifle” comes from the German word Sturmgewehr and refers to a reduced-power military rifle capable of being switched between semiauto and full auto at the flick of a switch. All such weapons are as tightly controlled in the United States as howitzers are, under the Title 2/Class III provisions of the National Firearms Act. A fully functional M16 is an “assault rifle”; a civilian AR-15 (or an M16 permanently altered to be incapable of automatic fire) is not.

You may be thinking of the term “assault weapon”, which as you point out is a FUD term designed to instill fear about rifles with modern styling. It has nothing to do with “designed for hunting” vs. “designed to kill people”, though, and everything to do with aesthetic and ergonomic features like grip shape and muzzle style.

The silly thing is about this whole brouhaha is that the Boston PD’s current rifles (Ruger mini-14’s) are functionally IDENTICAL to the demilled M16’s they are being replaced with. Same caliber, same capacity, same rate of fire; they just look like something out of the 19th century, and the demilled M16’s don’t.

mcb June 8, 2009 2:09 PM

@ averros

“Rifle bullets go out at much higher speed than pistol bullets. They will over-penetrate targets and hit innocents who happened to be behind the walls.”

The sweet spot occupied by the 5.56×45 is counterintuitive but there it is. It stops bad guys better than pistols, penetrates soft body armor better than shotguns, and over-penetrates torsos and light barriers less than either.

“For close-quarters combat rifles suck – takes a long time to swing them around. That’s what handguns are for.”

So long as your opponent is not within grappling distance a carbine is easier to use safely and accurately in a hurry than a pistol. As issued to line personnel the pistol is intended for emergency use when they didn’t think there’d be any fighting. When an LEO arrives knowing there’s a fight on the smart ones bring their long gun. These days the smarter long gun is a 5.56/223. There are a few cases where deliberately selecting a pistol instead of a long gun is the right choice but that is a decision usually left to serious professionals.

SeattleMetro June 9, 2009 6:47 PM

I hope none of the critics above has any type of insurance. I mean, what are the real chances of being involved in an automobile accident or having your house burn down in any given year? Not good, right?
There are 680,000 civilian law enforcement officers in this country. How many get into shootings every year? Why not just disarm every law enforcement officer that carries a firearm? There aren’t real good odds of using it anyway.
I also have to ask: If YOU were the one that was going to be involved in a gun fight, would you want the “convenient” firearm (i.e. handgun), or would you want the one that would give you the best chance of surviving? Whether you want to admit it or not, there are real threats that law enforcement face on a daily basis. Don’t ask someone to put on a bulletproof vest as a part of their job description, then criticize the tools they use to keep themselves and the public safe.
The only reason there is a debate over this issue is because “assault weapons (guns that fire rounds that are not even suitable to take a deer)” look scary.
For the critics out there, I challenge you to spend a day with a police officer, on the job, and find out what they experience.

Praedor Atrebates June 15, 2009 11:05 AM

Heh. “High-powered long-range M16s”?!

That round is barely effective (accurately) through heavy foliage or even window glass. It loses velocity rather quickly and is known to hit the enemy only to have that enemy continue fighting or get up and get away.

Given the myriad problems with police misuse of the weapons they are issued (shooting up grooms in their cars after weddings, tasering the living crap out of old ladies, children, and anyone else that catches their fancy), giving them a weak assault-type rifle is probably a good thing. You can bet your ass that those so issued will, in due course, take to pelting the very same old ladies, children, grooms, fully disarmed and cuffed terrorist suspects (that would be us terrorist linux users) with tinieweenie little 223 bullets at every possible opportunity.

lbcadden3 June 16, 2009 11:40 AM

Being from a much smaller town than Boston this is a surprise. The local departments have been carring semi-automatic AR15’s (semi-auto M16) and Mini 14’s for years.

The bigger danger seems to be non-leathal equipment (tasers, pepper spray, stuff being reaserached now)

awd June 23, 2009 3:20 PM

I live in the southwest- Oklahoma. It has been common here and in other rural states for officers to carry rifles of one sort or another for a very long time. Sometimes the bad guys are not human- a rabid dog or a deer injured by a car collision are just as dangerous as a convicted felon.

Historically, those rifles have mirrored effective weapons carried by the military or available over the counter to civilians.

This concept dates back to the 1800s when lawmen, settlers and Native Americans were often armed with repeating lever-action rifles. Interestingly for the latter half of the 19th century, the U.S. Army was actually outgunned, but that is another story.

Volumes have been written on this subject of handguns vs. rifles often by military and law enforcement officers of great experience. In summary, there is no eluding the fact that a handgun is and always has been a personal defense weapon, or as the term implies, a sidearm, not a weapon of choice, but a weapon of convenience because of its form factor. Ballistics discussions aside I do not know one experienced LEO or Combat veteran who would choose a handgun over a rifle in a dangerous situation- going through a closed door after a bad guy, whether that door is in Baghdad or Boston. There are a few exceptions- Special Operations teams who practice for specific situations, but the level of training and maintenance of the skill set needed to shoot a handgun in a precise manner is beyond the scope of most police departments. Rifles, with their longer sight lines (the distance from the front and rear sight) are easier to shoot accurately and hit harder than pistols, period.

I count on Bruce to be the voice of reason in discussions concerning security, but in this case he missed the point. The police are not the military and I do not expect the Police to conduct war. However in the gray area Law Enforcement operates in, dealing with threats ranging from hardened criminals to motivated terrorists, arming a limited number of Police in large metropolitan areas with a weapon which will stop a perpetrator who is wearing body armor is probably prudent. All of the hype about assault weapons or semi-auto vs. auto is just that-hype. At the end of the day, highly effective body armor is no longer exclusive to the good guys- the bad guys have credit cards and there are plenty of online retailers who sell body armor that is as good or better than that the Police and Military use. The handgun, as a personal defense weapon will not dent good ballistic armor, but even a relatively light rifle round will cut through it like butter. I may be wrong but I suspect that is the primary motivation behind acquiring these rifles.

Jimmy M. July 13, 2009 2:06 AM

The police should NOT be trusted with military style hardware.It is more useful to put the people down if they rebel against tyranny ( as they have in Massachusetts-i used to live there,i now live in a FREE state,Tennessee ),it is less useful for drug busts or to fight terrorism.The cops are so politically correct now they’d probably help contain the victims in a kill zone FOR the terrorists.Cops violate the US constitution on a regular basis as do their leaders like the President,Congress,and the courts. Why give these creeps more advanced weapons to keep you down? MA is like a police state,cops EVERYWHERE,especially state police.We don’t need cops,we need our own 2nd amendment rights and the rule of the people over despots.

Barney Fife July 13, 2009 2:19 AM

Our police have gone from simple lead 38 special 6 shot revolvers to 16 shot semi auto pistols with hollowpoint bullets,some almost explosive on human tissue,one brand claims it can make a 3″ hole in a person.Hollowpoints are outlawed in war for being inhumane.That’s wild! You can’t shoot any enemy soldier with a bullet cops routinely shoot American citizens with.I say take back all the fancy toys.Declare the drug war over,it’s the main excuse for the deterioation of American civil rights.Get those damned computers out of squad cars,they are a great toll for nazi like opression,just like safety check and drunk driver roadblocks and checkpoints.The average American’s life is at risk if they are involved in a simple traffic stop.If the cop makes a mistake and starts firing,it is less likely the victim will survive 16 hollowpoint bullets.The enegy figures for the old 38 special are about 200 foot pounds,the 40cal is 500 foot pounds or slightly less.The cops now look to instant one shot incapacitation of a suspect,translated DEATH.The goal is not to arrest but to execute.Take that into consideration as you give them 30 shot rifles that with M855 penetrator rounds will go through a house.

gta 5 plus September 30, 2013 8:33 PM

Great post. I used to be examining continually the following site and i’m pleased! Helpful information especially the ending part 🙂 My partner and i manage this sort of details considerably. I was searching for this specific information and facts for years. Thank you so much and best regarding success.

Leave a comment


Allowed HTML <a href="URL"> • <em> <cite> <i> • <strong> <b> • <sub> <sup> • <ul> <ol> <li> • <blockquote> <pre> Markdown Extra syntax via

Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.