If you’re a cop or private security contractor, you are probably issued a rifle or carbine for duty use. For my part, however, I prefer to use my own rifle for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that I am intimately familiar with it; I know that it is dead nuts on zero at 100 yards and it is set up just the way I like it with EOTech HWS, Bushmaster GSR piston/op rod gas system, Buttonsling single point sling, Surefire MIL-STD-1913 rail handguard and Vltor Modstock, but my home-built custom patrol carbine is another story.

carbines2.gifThe bottom line is that my patrol carbine is mine, not the department’s. I know several other officers who purchased their own patrol carbines for the same reasons I did. Some departments may not issue carbines, so in that case it is up to the officer to have his or her own. In today’s law enforcement environment, I believe that every officer should have a patrol rifle or carbine and if the department doesn’t issue one, officers should get their own.

When I talk about rifles and carbines for patrol, I’m not referring to five-shot bolt action hunting rifles. While better than nothing, such guns are poor choices as general purpose patrol weapons. A patrol rifle or carbine—the latter being a short-barreled version of a rifle should be a semiautomatic military or police-type firearm, which limits options. Carbines are better for patrol, since deploying with a full-length rifle from a cruiser might be cumbersome. My first choice is an AR-type rifle in 5.56mm. The AR in its select fire version, the M16, has been in service longer than any rifle in United States military history with good reason. There simply isn’t another rifle in the standard NATO caliber that does anything significantly better. The M16 long ago overcame its teething problems that were due to the Army specifying a powder that actually caused the weapon to malfunction.

Today’s civilian version of the M16, the semiautomatic AR, is a far cry from the originals and the rifle shows no signs of being replaced. In fact, the US Marine Corps recently standardized the M16A4 and the Army chose the M4 carbine, proving the excellence of the basic AR design, which is inherently modular and extremely adaptable for missions.

About the only basic change I’d suggest is a piston and operating rod gas system to replace the direct impingement gas system that blows fouling and particulate matter back into the AR’s receiver. This doesn’t significantly reduce reliability with modern powders and lubricants, but the standard AR is messy and cleaning is a real chore. I recommend a replacement gas piston/op rod system like Bushmaster’s GSR to eliminate the carbine’s vomiting into its own mouth. The GSR can be installed in a few minutes by anyone with a little mechanical aptitude, and mine runs like clockwork.

When buying an AR, look for one from manufacturers like Armalite, Bushmaster, DPMS, DoubleStar, or Stag Arms. I have personal experience with all of these and can attest to their overall quality and reliability. Whatever you buy, make sure it is fully MILSPEC compatible. Being compatible with military specifications enables the owner of an AR to take advantage of the many accessories available in the AR aftermarket. MILSPEC also enables the AR user to change calibers by simply replacing the upper receiver. DPMS, for example, manufactures upper receiver conversions in .22 LR so you can practice with low-cost .22 ammo. I have used DPMS .22s in both rifle and carbine versions and recommend them without reservation. A final comment on AR-type rifles – I prefer the “flat top” A3 type with removable carry handle because that facilitates mounting optics like Aimpoint, EOTech or Trijicon. All of these optics are in military use and the Marine Corps recently adopted the 4×32 Trijicon ACOG as its standard M16A4 optical sight.

Another possibility for a patrol rifle is the AK. Despite its sometimes negative image, the AK is an excellent design and is as close to 100 percent reliability as a mechanical device can be. Compared to ARs, AKs are also relatively inexpensive. The downside of the AK is that it isn’t as versatile as the AR because it isn’t an inherently modular design, although Command Arms Accessories makes a conversion kit that transforms any AK into a modular patrol carbine while masking the unique AK profile. The kit includes a Picatinny rail system, ergonomic pistol grips and a collapsible buttstock. Further, the AK isn’t as inherently accurate as the AR. The 7.62x39mm fired from most AKs is ballistically very close to the venerable .30-30 deer cartridge. Several states ban the use of .223 ammunition for deer hunting, so that should be an indication as to its general effectiveness as an anti-personnel round. Although there are 5.45x39mm AKs available, I’d avoid them because the 7.62x39mm has better terminal ballistics and is much more widely available, not to mention less expensive. If .223 ammo is an issue, .223 caliber AKs are available as well.

A word about magazines. Most semiautomatic feeding issues can be traced to magazines. AK magazines are rugged and reliable, unlike most aluminum AR mags that were originally intended to be used once and then thrown away. Of course, the Army considered that wasteful and so, to this day, common practice is to load only 18 rounds into a 20-round AR magazine and 28 rounds into a 30-rounder. The improved “green follower” 30-round mags are better than the originals, but most users still load only 28 rounds into them. Steel HK mags are the “Mercedes Benz” of AR mags and are what the originals should have been. HK magazines are virtually indestructible and can be loaded with a full 30 rounds. I use nothing else in my duty AR, but at a retail price of about $50, HK mags aren’t for everyone. The best alternative is the excellent and reasonably priced military spec magazines from Brownell’s. To that, I’d add CMMG’s inexpensive stainless steel follower and coil spring conversion that allows any MILSPEC mag to be loaded with a full 30 rounds, plus enhances feed reliability. As far as number of magazines is concerned, more is better, but I believe that five 30-round magazines are minimum. That translates to 150 rounds if HK/CMMG conversion or AK mags are used, 140 with standard AR mags. This should be more than enough for any situation, although I’d recommend having a total of ten mags on hand so ammo can be rotated between them periodically to relieve spring stress. It isn’t a good idea to leave magazines fully loaded for long periods. I’d rotate the ammo and magazines at least every six weeks.

If price is really an issue, the 7.62x39mm SKS Simonov carbine is a possibility. It is as reliable as an AK and in used good condition costs less than $200. New SKS’ are only slightly more expensive. The SKS was standardized by the Russian military in the years just prior to the AK and was still in use during the Vietnam unpleasantness, where it was considered a prime souvenir by GIs returning to the USA. TAPCO makes an excellent polymer pistol grip tactical stock with collapsible buttstock and MIL-STD-1913 rail adapter, plus a full range of SKS accessories. TAPCO also sells detachable SKS magazines with capacities from five to 20 rounds. The five-round mags are suitable for deer hunting and we have several acquaintances that use an SKS for that purpose. For the officer on a budget, the SKS is hard to beat. I have three: an original Russian SKS fitted with the TAPCO stock mentioned above, along with a factory new Yugoslav 59/66 variant, also with the TAPCO conversion. My third SKS is an unaltered Chinese version. About the only negative comment I can make about the SKS is its relatively small magazine capacity of ten rounds and the fact that the standard magazine is not detachable. To accomplish a quick standard SKS reload, stripper clips are necessary. These are widely available and inexpensive, though. With 10-round stripper clips, an SKS can be reloaded as quickly as any rifle. Like the classic Garand, however, the SKS magazine is almost impossible to top off when partially depleted. If I were to opt for an SKS for patrol, I’d definitely fit it with a TAPCO stock system and buy a few of their 20-round mags.

This completes our overview of patrol carbines. I believe every officer should have a patrol carbine and if the department doesn’t issue one, officers should get one for themselves. In today’s law enforcement environment, with the potential for active shooters and ambushes, a carbine is essential. Like your vest, it is better to have it and not need it than to need it and hot have it. In the relatively short time I have been in law enforcement, I have had to deploy my carbine only twice and have never fired it in anger, but just having it has been a great comfort when I’m out on the street.

My patrol carbine preference is the AR because of its modular design and the vast amount of accessories available for it, not to mention the fact that I’ve been using ARs for almost 40 years. To say that the AR’s manual of arms is “hard wired” into my brain is a drastic understatement!

An AK would be my next choice in 7.62x39mm or .223 caliber. The AK is rugged, reliable and ammo is reasonably priced. That said, I would be confident with an SKS by my side when the chips are down. The SKS is often overlooked as a defensive or patrol weapon, but if price is a major consideration, the SKS is worth a hard look. However, I’d remove the integral bayonet, as having a carbine with a folding bayonet isn’t very good for public relations! As with anything else, one’s firearms are a very subjective matter, but any of the three we’ve talked about here would be a good choice.

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