Firearms & Freedom

Matching Firepower: Understanding Police Use of Handguns VS Rifles

Photo by Alec Favale

In the age of the Internet, everybody has an opinion about everything. The mainstream media filter stories through an ideological narrative that rarely aligns with the facts of the incident, and the public plays both witness and victim to every event. This is particularly true of police encounters.

Matching Firepower
Police are issued a variety of tools to enforce the law, both lethal and non-lethal. The media has demonized the AR-15, whipping up citizens who demand to know why law enforcement officers would need this “weapon of war.”

There are several reasons. The AR-15 — named for its manufacturer, ArmaLite— is actually a smart choice for use in policing. From accuracy to officer safety, the AR gives police the ability to match firepower used by criminals.

Size Matters
The barrel of a handgun is between 4 and 6 inches long and is supported by free floating arms (meaning there is nothing bracing it). The amount of rifling, which creates a spin to the bullet, is also shorter. A good level of accuracy can be achieved at short distances with enough training, but is it the best option all the time?

An AR-15 barrel is between 14 and 16 inches long and is braced against the shoulder, creating extra points of contact on the officer’s body. The longer barrel increases rifling, which results not only in better accuracy but better accuracy at greater distances.

A more accurate weapon used in public lowers the risk of stray bullets hitting innocent bystanders. This applies to accuracy under pressure, as well. A person shooting a gun is 50% less accurate when facing a lethal threat.

Keeping Distance
According to the FBI, 62.2% of police officers murdered on duty with firearms between 2005 and 2014 were within 0 to 10 feet of the perpetrator. Distance from a potential threat (called standoff) is the primary method of increasing safety.

When a target is pushed out to beyond 5 yards, a rifle is a safer tool. This increases officer safety, which allows them to focus on keeping the situation from becoming violent.

Out-Gunned
If you haven’t heard of the 44 minute shootout in California, read about it here. In short, two bank robbers were confronted by police, and a gunfight ensued that resulted in two deaths and 20 injuries, including eight civilians. Despite being outnumbered two to 12, the bank robbers use of homemade body armor and more advanced weaponry to help them out power the pistols and shotguns available to the police. 

The case was pivotal in advancing tactical training and improving weaponry of modern policing. There are gun laws that keep criminals from legally obtaining weapons, but we all know by now that criminals do not follow laws.


The next time you see or hear about law enforcement using a rifle, take a second to think: Is this an example of a scary weapon or a trained officer utilizing the best tool to maximize safety in a dangerous situation? 

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