With all the attention these days being given to patrol rifles with bells and whistles galore, we often forget that most police officers simply need a tough and reliable basic carbine for their dangerous jobs. Also, especially in this economy, few working officers have a couple grand to spend on a rifle—nor do many police departments, for that matter.
Though I am now retired, I still attend every firearms training with my police department. It not only keeps my retired police concealed carry ID intact, but it also gives me a chance to keep in touch with the officers and investigators working the streets. Although there is a standard go-to rifle that is used for qualifications, it is not uncommon for me to test a new weapon system. The setting provides for some realistic results, and it’s also interesting for those officers who want to see and shoot these weapons.
Every time this occurs, it becomes clear that most officers are looking for a simple direct-impingement rifle built to the highest standards. On occasion, an officer has saved up some money and wants a rifle to call his or her own. It needs to be in their price range, and it needs to pass a certification course in order to meet policy. A mil-spec rifle is helpful because many cops served as soldiers at some point. Most models with this kind of quality seem to cost around and a bit over $1,000. There are certainly a ton of choices out there, many under that price point, but true mil-spec quality is seemingly becoming more rare.
So what does this elusive “mil-spec” tag mean? Unfortunately, it is more often marketing than anything else. But, there is a specification, and a few companies still adhere to it, mostly companies that actually sell to the military. There are several details, but three things stand out as the most important. The first is testing of all the critical operating parts for durability. This includes hammers, triggers, sear parts, bolt carriers and bolts. Meeting that qualification ensures these parts will not fail or break under the harsh conditions they might encounter. This requires magnetic-particle testing and proofing, which many companies simply do not complete or are unwilling to pay for.
Another critical aspect is interchangeability. If a bolt, safety, trigger or other component needs to be changed in the field, there may be no place to “fit” it. The part needs to pretty much drop in and work. This allows for field repairs without fitting tools or making it dangerous for the operator. In theory, you should be able to swap parts at will and have everything working to battle-condition standards.