Police Need To Train For Longer Rifle Shots

by Tommy Grant

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In a recent article, I shared a lot of disturbing information about the Uvalde response. We already knew that the police had dropped the ball, and badly, but seeing all of the information put together really revealed all of the failings. One of the biggest ones was that there was an opportunity to put the shooter down before he had entered the building, but according to an investigative report, a police officer paused to ask for permission to shoot instead of taking the shot because it was further away than the 100 yards the officer normally trained to shoot at.

Those of us here who have done even semi-serious shooting know that 100 yards is a generally easy shot for a rifle. In fact, 200 to 300 yards is still fairly easy for man-sized targets, even with iron sights, if you’re trained. But, this shot was only about 148 yards, and most officers these days have either a low-power variable optic (LPVO) that can “zoom in,” or a red-dot sight (RDS) that makes such hits relatively easy. Plus, at that distance, there’s really no need to worry about drop or windage, especially on a man-sized target.

Most TTAG readers would probably agree that this was a shot that should have been taken. One hundred and fifty yards isn’t very different from 100, and the situation certainly warranted taking the shot. Not only had the shooter already fired at some people who had tried to help him after he crashed into a ditch, but he also had been firing into windows at the school.

(Note: One reader replied to my original article, and cites a Texas House of Representatives committee report that says this opportunity to shoot didn’t happen. However, a review of the report shows that the officers in question were given a second chance to report on the incident and had changed their story, and that the committee bought it. I personally can’t seriously take that information as credible, because the police officers in question had some motivation to change their story to cover their asses. It’s the old “We investigated ourselves and found no wrongdoing!” nonsense unless there’s some serious evidence to back it and explain the changed story. Politicians also aren’t to be trusted by default, no matter what party they represent. Absent better information than this, I’m not going to change my assumptions. Regardless of whether it’s true, what I’m about to say about police training is still very valid.)

Why Police Should Be Training For 300+ Yards Instead of 100

Let’s start with what the military is doing. On the surface, it might be easy to assume that police have a very different mission and thus do not need to be skilled at longer range shots. But, the concept of “defensive range” is flawed, because it’s not always about self-defense. Third persons who might need defense could be at any distance. While police officers have been found by the Supreme Court to not have a duty to defend, we shouldn’t just abandon the idea entirely and lower our expectations of public servants.

Every service has different training and qualifications. The U.S. Marine Corp shoots at up to 500 meters (almost 550 yards) with a rifle that’s fundamentally the same gun as what most police officers have for a “patrol rifle,” and the military’s guns are often a crappier, cheaper copy. From what I could find, the Army goes out to 300 meters (330 yards). Plus, police officers are allowed to use LPVOs and RDSs, making it even easier than the iron sights soldiers and marines are expected to qual with.

So, asking police, who are often operating in urban and suburban environments, to maintain that level of marksmanship ability isn’t asking the impossible. If anything, it should be easier for them to meet that standard.

Another reason I call for a 300-yard qualifier is that you’re really not much beyond point blank range. A 16-inch AR-15 chambered in .223 and zeroed at 50 yards will be within 2 to 3 inches of target all the way from zero to almost 300 yards. This means that you don’t need to train every officer to factor in drop and do other “sniper” stuff. For shooting a man-sized target, you’re still talking about pointing and shooting here.

There’s Room For Relaxing This Some

All of this having been said, I do want to be reasonable. I do think there’s room for nuance and adaptation for different departments. In some rural places, it might be necessary to train police officers for even longer shots. In some urban areas, it might make more sense to go with a shorter carbine in .300 Blackout and go for a 200-yard qualification instead.

I also don’t think it’s unreasonable at all to allow something other than a standing shot for the longer shots in the qualification course. If I were to take such a shot and lives were depending on it, I’d certainly try to brace my rifle against a wall, kneel, prone out or lay over the hood of a car. There’s no reason that can’t be part of the qualification.

Police Should Do This On Their Own If Their Departments Don’t Require It

I know the current lore for police is that most rifle shots happen at under 50 yards, and that may be technically correct. But, do you want to be average, or exceptional? Even if a police department doesn’t require longer shots, individual police officers should expect it of themselves and train to achieve it. Even if that skill is never used, it will sharpen up those closer shots, so there’s nothing to lose learning to be a better marksman.

But, we know that longer shots are becoming more common, and do happen in the real world. Here’s an example of an officer who took care of the problem from 183 yards:

Is this likely something everyone will need? No. But, you’re better off having this skillset and not needing it than needing it and not having it.

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