In recent years, the AR-15 weapons platform or “patrol rifle” has replaced the much-revered shotgun as the long gun of choice for many law enforcement agencies across the country. The patrol rifle affords an officer several tactical advantages including accuracy, stopping power, and a high ammunition capacity. However, the patrol rifle presents some unique challenges for officers with regard to weapon handling, reloading, and malfunction clearing. Only through proper training will an officer acquire the ability to safely and effectively deploy the patrol rifle during a high-stress incident.

Weapon handling
The patrol rifle is no longer considered a long-range weapon. Deploying the patrol rifle may require officers to work in very tight quarters, as would likely be the case in conducting a building search for instance. Under these conditions, it’s easy for an officer to inadvertently “sweep” himself or herself, another officer, or someone other than the suspect with the muzzle of the rifle. If the officer’s finger is on the trigger, there’s
a chance he or she will unintentionally fire the weapon with tragic consequences. To help remedy this, officers should be taught to orient the muzzle downward, a couple of inches in front of their own feet in what’s often referred to as the “safety circle.” This enables the officer to compress the muzzle close to the body, greatly minimizing the change of the muzzle pointing at another officer or bystander.

To employ the safety circle, simply lower the muzzle while rotating the weapon toward your support (non-dominant) side. This allows you to bring the weapon much closer to your body compared to the “low ready” position, which was traditionally used when the weapon needed to be “at the ready” but not on target. Like the low ready position, the safety circle enables you to clearly see a subject’s hands to scan for weapons. However, the safety circle is more conducive to moving in tight quarters. When assuming the safety circle position, be sure to keep the stock of the weapon in contact with your shoulder so you can quickly bring the muzzle up on target if needed.

Another important component of weapon handling is retention. Since the barrel of the patrol rifle is much longer than that of a handgun, it is more susceptible to being grabbed by a suspect. One of the easiest ways to maintain control of the patrol rifle is to employ the “close quarter hold.”

To assume the close quarter hold, tuck the stock of the weapon under your arm. This brings the weapon closer to your body and significantly enhances your leverage, while allowing you to keep the muzzle oriented to the threat. If needed, you could accurately fire from this position when the suspect is in close proximity. The close quarter hold is also useful when cornering, since it helps prevent the barrel from protruding around the corner, thus telegraphing your movement.

As with a handgun, there are two types of reloads that can be conducted using the patrol rifle. The first is a “combat” reload, performed when you run out of ammunition and need to immediately insert a fully loaded magazine into the weapon. Since the combat reload is only executed when your weapon is out of ammunition, it is imperative that you train to develop speed in this technique.

You know it’s time for a combat reload when you feel the bolt lock to the rear. Another “clue” would be when you pull the trigger and the weapon does not fire. Cant the weapon slightly to your left and glance at the chamber. If you can see that the chamber is empty, grab a fresh magazine with your support hand while using your trigger finger to hit the magazine release.

There are two ways to hold the fresh magazine prior to inserting it into the weapon. One way is to align your index finger with the tip of the top round to properly orient the magazine for insertion into the weapon. Some officers prefer this method because it is consistent with the handgun training they have received. When using this method, it’s best to orient spare magazines so that the bullets are pointed toward the center of body. This helps ensure they are easily and quickly accessed in the correct manner by the support hand.

Many officers find it easier to grab a spare magazine with a fist type grip, as they would use to grab their baton for instance. This version is more gross motor-based and therefore probably a little easier to perform under stress. However, if you grab too high on the spare magazine, your hand could prevent the magazine from traveling deep enough into the magazine well to seat. If you choose this grip, having your magazines set up so that the rounds are facing away from the center of your body makes them easier to access.

When inserting a fresh magazine into the weapon, cant the weapon slightly to your support side to expose the magazine well. This enables you see the magazine well out of your periphery as you maintain a visual on the threat area. Be sure to tug on the magazine after inserting it into the weapon to ensure that it is properly seated. Once the magazine is seated, use the palm of your support hand to hit the bolt release, causing the bolt to move forward and chamber a round.

The “tactical” reload is conducted when you have cover and time to “top off” your patrol rifle. There are several tactical reload variations. One popular method is the “L technique,” in which you retrieve the fresh magazine and place it against the magazine in the weapon to form the shape of an “L” with the bullets pointing forward and down. When you remove the magazine from the weapon, simply rotate your hand back so the rounds in the fresh magazine are properly oriented. It’s important to note that once the fresh magazine is seated, you can fire prior to stowing the magazine you removed from the weapon. (If your rifle is equipped with a vertical handrail grip, it might get in the way when using this technique).

The “finger spacer” method is another technique used to perform a tactical reload. It involves placing the index finger of your support hand between the fresh magazine and the one in the weapon. Your finger creates a gap so that when you remove the magazine from the weapon, you can immediately insert a fresh magazine, without risk of the magazine you removed getting hung up on the magazine well.

Perhaps the easiest tactical reload is sometimes called the “stow” method because it involves the officer removing and stowing the magazine from the weapon and then retrieving and inserting a fresh magazine. This method doesn’t require you to “juggle” two magazines and as such, it is favored by many officers, particularly those with smaller hands. The downside to this technique is that it could leave you without a magazine in the weapon for a longer period than the methods previously described. Of course, with any type of tactical reload, there’s no need to hit the bolt catch because the bolt is already forward with a round in the chamber.

Malfunction clearing
When the patrol rifle malfunctions within about 50 yards of a threat and there is no cover available, your best option is probably to transition to your handgun. Attempt to engage the weapon’s mechanical safety and then guide the weapon downward and to your support side as you reach for your handgun.

From longer distances, especially when you are behind cover, it may be more beneficial to fix your patrol rifle rather than transition to your handgun. Your first step should be to tap the magazine to ensure it is properly seated. Then use your support hand to pull the charging handle to the rear while canting the weapon to the left. This enables you to observe the chamber. If the chamber is clear, you can release the charging handle and get back in the fight.

If you detect a “double feed” malfunction, use your shooting hand to pull the charging handle back and depress the bottom of the bolt catch with your support side thumb to lock the bolt to the rear. Now strip the magazine from the weapon, allowing it to fall to the ground. Tilt the weapon to the right so the ejection port is facing downward and use your support hand to cycle the bolt about three times to attempt ejecting any rounds that are stuck in the weapon. Insert a fresh magazine into the weapon and cycle the bolt once again to chamber a round.

There’s more to attaining combat proficiency with the patrol rifle than simply hitting your target. A haphazard patrol rifle orientation where each officer fires a few rounds through the weapon in a static training environment is not sufficient. Only through diligent training, will an officer become familiar enough with the patrol rifle to keep it running safely and effectively during a high-stress incident.

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