12 Gauge Guardians

A defensive weapon must work. In domestic law-enforcement situations, events…

A defensive weapon must work. In domestic law-enforcement situations, events unfold in seconds, or even fractions of a second. There is no time to recover from a failure to fire, or some other cessation of firing due to malfunction. And, on account of its very operating environment, sitting in a vehicle until called upon to be instantly lethal, the LE shotgun must be reliable above all else.

On its 70th anniversary, the Georgia State Patrol (GSP), a division of the Department of Public Safety, has adopted the Benelli Nova Shotgun in 12 gauge. The Department of Public Safety also includes the Motor Carrier Compliance division and the Capitol Police. These divisions have received a complement of Benelli shotguns as well.

benelli.gifYesterday’s Weapons & Today’s Requirements
The GSP was formed in 1937 in a Special Session of the Georgia legislature, fulfilling a campaign promise of the newly elected Governor Rivers. Only 80 men out of approximately 3,000 made that first initial “cut.” Their weapons were reported to be Colt revolvers. Over the decades, sidearm selection evolved to large magnum revolvers, then to semi-automatic pistols. The “lawman’s friend,” the shotgun, was utilized, but it was only in the past few decades that standardization came about.

According to GSP’s Lt. Scott Johnson, the patrol continuously evaluates the equipment troopers are issued, from mobile radios, to vehicles and firearms. For several years prior to 2007, troopers were issued a pump shotgun with a barrel length of around 14 inches. A special rack was mounted between the driver’s seat and the driver’s side door of the cruiser and a short barrel was necessary for fit.

Time took its toll on these weapons, and like all mechanical devices the time came for them to be replaced. Lt. Johnson and his command at the Georgia Public Safety Training Center had not been idle. They had followed weapons and tactics development over the years and while “patrol rifles” were considered to be a critical part of a trooper’s equipment (and GSP troopers have access to rifles, also), a shotgun was essential. In this, the GSP recognized a historical fact. When a deadly force event was anticipated, and had indeed unfolded, officers had armed themselves with shotguns. GSP was determined to see that continue.

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Evaluation and Selection
Many makes and actions were examined. Lt. Johnson reports that semi-automatic shotguns were obtained and tested. While the concept seemed reasonable, i.e., the same action across weapon types, shotgun, rifle and handgun, evaluations showed that the examples tested were not quite as reliable as the “pump” in service.

GSP troopers patrol from the Appalachian Mountains to the shores of the Atlantic Ocean. Equipment must endure triple-digit temperatures and southern humidity to freezing rain, sleet, snow and subzero temperatures in the highlands of North Georgia.

Lt. Johnson knew all of this. As a 15-year veteran of the patrol, he spent literally hundreds of days each year “on the road” throughout the state of Georgia patrolling and training troopers across the state. After examining all the options available, the recommendation was to acquire the Benelli Nova Shotgun.

gsp-badge.gifThe Super Nova
With a 18-inch barrel, “ghost” ring sights and weight of 7.2 pounds, the Nova is a formidable weapon in trained hands. “And train,” Lt. Johnson states, “they did.” The Nova is carried racked in a patrol unit with the magazine filled with 12 gauge buckshot, chamber empty. Troopers were taught then drilled to hit the slide release as the weapon was being deployed, racking the slide to chamber the “buck,” if needed. Carrying the weapon thus, coupled with the trained reflex, offers an increased measure of safety without sacrificing readiness.

But what of a common criticism of the smoothbore, that it is a short-range weapon with shot shells? It doesn’t take too much imagination to see where a trooper might have to engage a threat or threats at longer distances, say across a highway or in open spaces. This has been dealt with. Each Nova comes equipped with a sling that includes loops where slug rounds reside at the ready. With a simple motion to release the slide and work the bolt to the rear, a slug can be inserted and threats out to 100 yards can be engaged.

Equipment can only give the illusion of usefulness without training, however. An integral component of the GSP’s adoption of this capable new weapon was transitional training. According to Cpl. Gary Langford, all troopers received intensive instruction and training on sighted fire with slugs and buckshot. Yes, despite the urban myth that the shotgun is a “scattergun,” sighted fire is the only way to stop a threat.

In the final qualification, troopers are required to combat-load a slug during deployment and fire one round, center mass, five times. This repetition builds the appropriate reflex response. Multiple rounds of buckshot are then employed at 25, 15 and 7 yards. Standing and kneeling positions (to take advantage of cover, e.g. a patrol vehicle) are also utilized.

In an added benefit for being one of the first, if not the first, major agency to adopt the Nova, the badge of the division is engraved on the shotguns themselves. Troopers, Capitol Police and MCC Officers are all now equipped with the Benelli Nova Shotgun, a winning combination for keeping the peace.

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