Never before in our nation's history have our neighborhood patrol officers been more heavily armed. Whether it was due to the famous bank robbery that pitted two machine-gun toting robbers against the LAPD or the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, street cops in the United States are now carrying weapons that were once only issued to SWAT personnel and military troops.
Below, I'll discuss some of the latest and greatest patrol-capable rifles I've had an opportunity to shoot. I'll also discuss two rifles I haven't had a chance to personally test: the Auto Ordnance M1 Carbine and the original Israeli Galil. I have field tested several U.S.-made WWII and refurbished Vietnam-vintage .30 caliber M1 carbines and the Israeli Micro Galil. I've also tested the Golani, a semiautomatic copy of the original full-size Israel Galil.
Stag Arms 2T Quad Rail www.stagarms.com
One of the best M16/M4 values on the market is the Stag Arms 2T carbine with a Samson Star C Quad Rail and an A.R.M.S. Back Up Iron Sight. This particular Stag Arms carbine comes with a flip-up/fold down A.R.M.S Back Up Iron Sight with two apertures, a fixed front-post sight, a full-length quad rail system and a six position collapsible stock. A detachable handle is not provided with this rifle.
The Stag Arms 2T is quite a value for the money because it cost roughly $200 dollars less than similarly equipped M4 carbines made by other manufacturers.
I currently use my Stag Arms 2T with a Trijicon ACOG 032-TA01NSN Optic and a SureFire Scout Light. I also own a Stag Arms Model 1 (an M4-style carbine) with a detachable handle that has been flawlessly reliable and accurate. I use my Model 1 with the detachable handle attached (for use with iron sights) or with the handle removed and an Aimpoint Comp M3 optic attached. For illumination I use a SureFire M900 vertical forward grip with an integral light attached.
M6 Land Warfare Research Corporation International, LLC www.lwrifles.com
The Land Warfare Research Corporation's (LWRC) short-stroke gas piston rifle is an M16/M4-style rifle that uses a different gas system than the direct impingement system found on standard Tier 1 and Tier 2 M16s and M4s. The Land Warfare gas piston rifle runs cleaner and cooler than any of the direct impingement M16s or M4s. I tested a Class III select-fire carbine with a 10.5" barrel and an Aimpoint Comp M2 and an Aimpoint Micro T1 optic. This particular M4 is comfortable and accurate to shoot in semiauto and select-fire modes, and is ideal for SWAT personnel who can use a short-barreled select-fire carbine for close-quarter battle.
SIG 556 SIG SAUER, Inc. www.sigsauer.com
The new SIG Sauer SIG 556 is another assault rifle that you can certainly use as a patrol rifle, but it's not another M4 copy. The primary difference between the SIG 556 and the average M16/M4 can be found in the super-rugged and reliable AK-47 style gas-firing mechanism the SIG uses as opposed to the direct-impingement gas system used on the standard M16/M4. Even the overall design is different enough to make the SIG 556 look considerably more modern than the rather dated-looking M16/M4.
Because the new SIG rifle doesn't use a direct impingement system that deposits burned gasses and gun powder directly onto the bolt and firing mechanism, the SIG 556 will run cleaner than the M16/M4. This means you should be able to run more rounds through a SIG 556 before you must clean it.
I have two complaints with the SIG 556. First, the front portion of the 556 is so heavy I had to stop using my SureFire M900 forward grip with the integral light on this rifle. Second, I don't like the standard iron sights that come on the SIG 556. These sights look like they were made by a group of resistance fighters in a bicycle shop in Holland during World War II. The rear flip-up sight looks like a flat zipper with a hole in it, and the front sight is basically a small piece of slightly curved flat metal that resembles a shark fin. The front sight can be rotated up when it needs to be used and down when the rifle is stored.
Mini 14 Sturm, Ruger & Co., Inc. www.ruger-firearms.com
The Ruger Mini 14 was one of the first modern assault rifles used by patrol officers, correction officers and even federal law enforcement officers in the United States. The Mini 14 is a carbine-size rifle commonly used for personal protection and home defense. It's available in 5.56mm/.223 caliber, 7.62x39mm and more recently 6.8mm.
The Mini 14 features a 16" barrel and is available in blue steel or corrosive-resistant stainless steel. A select-fire model known as the AC556 and a dedicated law enforcement model known as the GB Model were also manufactured. A variety of 20- and 30-round magazines are available for the Mini 14. Ruger proprietary magazines are known to be the most reliable.
A stainless-steel Mini 14 with a black plastic stock is a very rugged firearm to use in harsh weather conditions and when you operate on or near salt water. You can also get a well-made and useful aftermarket metal folding stock for the Mini 14 from companies like TAPCO (www.tapco.com), CDNNz Sports (www.cdnninvestments.com) and Cheaper than Dirt (www.cheaperthandirt.com).
SOCOM 16 & SOCOM II Springfield Armory www.springfield-armory.com
Rifles and carbines chambered in 7.62mm NATO/.308 Winchester also make excellent patrol rifles, especially for sworn personnel who operate in a rural setting. Why? Because officers who operate in rural areas are more likely to engage targets at greater distances and can use the additional knockdown power provided by rifles chambered in NATO .308 Winchester. The most popular carbine chambered in 7.62mm NATO/.308 Winchester is the Springfield Armory SOCOM 16 and SOCOM II.
Both SOCOM carbines feature a magazine-fed semiautomatic design, a 16" barrel and adjustable sights. Both feature a ported barrel that effectively dampens recoil and enables the operator to make quick follow-up shots. Both accommodate a 10- or 20-round magazine. Having access to 10- and 20-round M14/M1A1/SOCOM magazines enables the operator to lighten the load they carry on patrol. Suggestion: Use a 10-round magazine as a primary magazine, and use 20-round magazines in case it's necessary to execute a combat reload.
One of the main differences between the SOCOM 16 and the SOCOM II is that the second model comes with a quad rail installed from the factory. My favorite is the Springfield Armory SOCOM 16 II with the quad rail that enables the operator to install optics and a forward vertical grip.
SAIGA 308 Russian American Armory Company www.raacfirearms.com
One of the least popular assault rifles among U.S. law enforcement officers is the AK-47. Even though these firearms have a reputation for being amazingly rugged and super reliable, they've never been popular among law enforcement officers in the States.
The AK-style firearm made by SAIGA is worth considering, however. SAIGA produces a wide variety of inexpensive but incredibly rugged and reliable rifles and carbines chambered in .223 caliber, 7.62mm NATO/.308 Winchester and 7.62x39mm.
The SAIGA .308 carbine sports a 16" barrel and accommodates an eight- or 25-round magazine. The 25-round magazine is restricted to law enforcement officers unless certain modifications are made. These modifications require a certain number of parts be made in America. To ensure that you comply with U.S. law, check with the Russian American Armory Corporation before you use high-capacity magazines with a SAIGA rifle, carbine or shotgun.
At press time, the law enforcement price for the SAIGA .308 carbine was less than $300.
Golani Century International Arms Inc. www.centuryarms.biz
The Golani is a copy of the Israeli Galil, which is an improved AK-47 with much better sights and a more useful bolt designed to be used with either hand. The Galil and the Micro Galil are chambered in .223 caliber/5.56mm that utilize 35-round proprietary magazines and an extremely well-made folding paratrooper stock. The Galil features ambidextrous safety and selector controls. The Galil and Micro Galil have a reputation for being flawlessly reliable in a sandy environment. The Belgium FAL assault rifle did not earn the same reputation in desert operations. As a result, the Israel Defense Force eventually replaced the FAL with the Galil.
If you like the original Galil but prefer a semiauto, check out the Golani carbine from Century Arms International. The Golani is chambered in .223 caliber/5.56mm and features an 18" chrome molly barrel. Because the Golani is designed to use the AK-47 style rolling block gas system, it's super reliable and incredibly rugged. The Golani's sights are also a dramatic improvement over the sights normally found on an AK-47 style firearm.
While field testing this firearm, I observed several shooters who were able to hit their targets in rapid succession with the Golani because this rifle has excellent ergonomics and excellent sights. Even folks who don't like certain AK-style features (e.g., the magazine release) had to admit the Golani is a very accurate and reliable assault rifle. The Golani test rifle digested all types of 55- and 62-grain ammunition with 100 percent reliability, including bargain-priced Wolf ammo.
Some folks prefer firearms with chrome-lined barrels instead of chrome molly barrels, but the Golani should give you years of fine service, especially if it's well maintained. Century Arms estimates the chrome molly barrel in the Golani should hold up for approximately 12,000 rounds. This is a conservative estimate. According to another well-known firearms manufacturer, chrome molly barrels can withstand approximately 20,000 rounds before you must replace the barrel.
I recommend the Golani to any law enforcement officer authorized to carry a personally owned semiautomatic assault rifle on duty. The folding stock on the Golani makes this rifle easy to transport, pack and carry. The high-capacity proprietary magazines are inexpensive and readily available. The bolt design makes it easy for left- and right-handed shooters to operate this rifle. Simply put, the Golani is built like a tank and should hold up nicely to the type of abuse that law enforcement firearms routinely endure.
Note: After an early recall, Century International Arms fixed a problem that was uncovered with some of the early production Golanis. Now that this repair has been made, you should have no problems operating a Golani.
ACR Bushmaster Firearms International, LLC www.bushmaster.com
The new Bushmaster Adaptive Combat Rifle (ACR) is a revolutionary design that reportedly enables the operator to convert their rifle to another caliber by making some simple modifications that include installing a new barrel. The ACR is the result of a collaboration between Bushmaster and Magpul, the original manufacturers of the MASADA rifle.
The ACR is a true 21st Century assault rifle that can be easily adapted for semiautomatic or select-fire and is expected to be chambered in .223 caliber/5.56mm, 7.62mm NATO/.308 caliber, 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm. The ACR is scheduled to sell for $1,000 $1,300 and should carry a police price in the neighborhood of $900 $1,000 for the basic rifle. A number of accessories will also be available for the ACR. The current speculation is that the ACR will be an ideal rifle for military, law enforcement and certain private security applications.
M1 Auto-Ordnance Corporation www.auto-ordnance.com
Last but not least is the Auto Ordnance .30 caliber M1 carbine. Should .223 caliber/5.56mm ammunition become scarce, it might be better to be armed with a loaded .30 caliber M1 carbine than an empty M16 or M4. And even if .223 caliber/5.56mm ammo remains plentiful, you can still use a brand new Auto-Ordnance M1 as a patrol rifle. The Auto Ordnance M1 is compact, lightweight, reliable and more effective than some of its detractors think. Consider it a viable option.
Before you select one model over another, do enough research to determine which platform will better serve your individual and agency needs. Remember, lighter is better when it comes to installing accessories on your patrol rifle. There's also nothing wrong with using a plain-Jane rifle or carbine equipped with standard iron sights. As long as you can qualify, you should have no problem using a patrol rifle not equipped with various accessories.
And last, don't forget to consider where you will mount the rifle in the vehicle. Physical limitations in the inside of today's patrol car may preclude certain weapons due to length.
The M16/AR15/M4 vs. the Mini 14
The most popular law enforcement patrol rifle caliber in the United States remains 5.56mm/.223 caliber, and the most common patrol rifles of that caliber are the M16, AR15 and M4 carbines. Other rifles, such as the Ruger Mini 14, have also been used as a patrol rifle and law enforcement firearm. But ever since the post-Vietnam War days, variants of the M16 and AR15 have become popular rifles among civilian law enforcement officers when they need to carry something more powerful than a handgun or even a shotgun.
Whether you use a select-fire version or a semiautomatic, the M16/AR15/M4 is a reliable, lightweight rifle chambered in a suitable caliber officers can easily carry and use to engage heavily armed violators with confidence. Rifles and carbines chambered in this caliber enable a law enforcement officer to engage an armed adversary at various close-quarter battle ranges and beyond. Even the longer M16/AR15 variants with a 20" barrel are light enough and compact enough to be easily carried and wielded in an enforcement action or tactical situation.
As far as firepower is concerned, the M16 and M4 variants can accommodate 20- and 30-round magazines. In addition, the M16/AR15/M4 can be equipped will all sorts of accessories, including optics, lights, forward vertical grips, a laser and a Taser if necessary.
In some respects, the Ruger Mini 14 is easier to use than an M16/M4 because it operates like a WWII .30-caliber M1 carbine. Should you experience a malfunction, you simply rack the bolt to the rear. You can even use the heel of your shoe to retract the bolt on a Mini 14 in an emergency. Not so with a M16/AR15 or M4.
The standard model Mini 14 and the standard model M4 with a 16" barrel are fairly close in weight and size. Both the Mini 14 and the M16/AR15/M4 have reputations for being flawlessly reliable when they are properly maintained. Both rifles are relatively easy to disassemble, clean and maintain.
The Mini 14 costs less than an M16 or M4, but M16 magazines cost less than Mini 14 magazines. The Mini 14 is also based on an older design, while the M16/M4's more modern modular design has seen continuous improvements over the years.
The Mini 14 doesn't have a reputation for being as capable as the M16/AR15/M4 when it comes to engaging targets at distances beyond 100 yards. However, the Mini 14 is an accurate rifle for police work when used to engage targets and qualify at distances that don't exceed 100 yards. You have more variety when it comes to selecting trigger systems for the M16/AR15/M4, and this feature alone can make the M16 platform more accurate.
The standard Mini 14 isn't designed to be equipped with accessories. In contrast, M16 variants are more flexible platforms you can easily configure for different applications and missions. Example: A SWAT team can use M4s with a 10.5" or 14" barrel, while patrol officers can use an M16 or M4 with a 20" or 16" barrel.
M16s and M4s can also be fielded as flat-top models or used with a fixed or removable carrying handle. The M16/AR15/M4 used with a flat-top rail system can be easily equipped with optics to improve a close-quarter battle capability and/or long range accuracy. You can also install backup iron sights on M16/AR14/M4s that have optics attached.
You can also purchase an M4 with a gas piston system that runs cooler and cleaner than an M4 that is equipped with a traditional direct impingement gas operating system. Agencies can also change the receiver section and barrel on the M16 or M4 and install a receiver with a shorter or longer barrel or a receiver with an improved rail system to mount optics and accessories.
For some time, Mini 14s were only available with a wooden stock. The plastic fixed stock used on any M16 variant is considerably more rugged for police and military applications. Long before aftermarket collapsible stocks were available for the Mini 14, the version of the M16 known as the CAR 15 and later on as the M4 had a fully collapsible high-strength plastic stock that made the rifle easy to carry, transport and use. The use of a collapsible stock on the old Colt CAR15 and the more modern M4 also allows the operator to adjust their shooting position to establish the perfect cheek weld or stock weld on the carbine.
My choice? I prefer the M16/M4 for most law enforcement applications, including patrol work and tactical operations. Investigators who chose to carry a carbine will also be better off with a well-made M4. However, if money is a factor, the Ruger Mini 14 is still a good bargain.
Handle or No Handle?
If you decide to use an M16/M4, one big decision you must make is whether to use an A2 with a fixed carrying handle or an A4 with a removable carrying handle or flat-top design. When you select the A2, you'll get a rifle reminiscent of the original M16/CAR15 used during the Vietnam War. Fixed-handle M16s/M4s are designed with iron sights in the carrying handle and a raised front post sight positioned at the end of the barrel.
Any A4 M16/M4 will feature a removable handle or a flat-top design with an accessory rail to accommodate backup iron sights. An A4 with a single top-mounted Mil STD 1913 rail will accommodate removable optics. An A4 equipped with multiple rails can accommodate a variety of accessories such as optics, a flashlight, a pistol grip and a laser.
Nick Jacobellis is a medically retired U.S. Customs Agent and former police officer who was physically disabled in the line of duty while working undercover as a federal agent.