Bullseye: Close-Quarters Carbine Tactics
By Warren Wilson
A patrol rifle instead of a handgun may make all the difference using close-quarters carbine tactics.
In the mid 1990s, I attended a force-on-force firearms training class in Colorado. The instructors used paintball guns to add reality and stress to the scenarios. As students worked their way through doors and around corners, the instructors observed and provided critiques. While this level of training is commonplace today, it was a big deal back then, especially to a brand newbie like me. An instructor approached my position and informed me that I was “leading” with my foot. In other words, I was exposing my foot to the threat before exposing the threat to my muzzle. That was a bad thing, of course.
Possessing all of the wisdom that my 25 years on the planet and a whisper of training could offer, I politely corrected that ignorant fellow. I’m certain he, being an experienced police firearms instructor, found me quite an intimidating figure since I was 6 feet, 2 inches, thin as a ghost, with glasses thick enough for a normally sighted person to use for astronomy.
To his credit, he simply shrugged and walked away. Perhaps my undeservedly swollen head kept me from noticing him assume his turn as a role player when I participated in my next practical exercise. The scenario began and, as I deftly cleared the first corner, I felt a strange sensation in my big toe. It felt like…education. As I not so deftly hopped on one foot back behind cover, I caught a glimpse of that same instructor behind a paintball gun. I don’t remember what he looked like exactly, but in my mind’s eye, he was 1980s George Peppard grinning with an unlit cigar in his mouth. All too often since then, pain and humiliation have been my most influential mentors. I’ve worked around a lot of corners since that learning moment, both in practice and for real, but never without consideration for that instant in time.
Another lesson I’ve learned over time is that rifles are almost always better than handguns—a lot better. Few would doubt the advantage of a patrol rifle over a pistol in most aspects. Rifles are vastly superior in both stopping power and accuracy. Police carbines in 5.56 mm NATO/.223 Remington caliber are especially well-suited to law-enforcement defensive situations. The .223 penetrates hard barriers (steel) better than service pistol calibers, but not much, if any, more in softer barriers (wall board, studs, etc.) It’s a nearly ideal tool for today’s street cop. Yet, often times, officers leave their trusty carbines in the trunk when it’s necessary to clear a building. Why? Convenience, plain and simple.
The pistol is easier to wield and already on the user’s person. It’s human nature to default to that which is easiest, but not necessarily best. A handgun might be the better tool for clearing a 900-square-foot residence, but what about a retail outlet, a school, or an office building? That’s not to say that every officer should show up rifle in hand to every alarm call. Someone needs to be able to give chase or go “hands on” if necessary. However, one long gun in the group may make all the difference that one time. Unfortunately, we don’t get to choose when or where that one time will come. However, there are some complications that need to be overcome when clearing buildings with a carbine.
One of the most basic skills needed to safely clear a building is negotiating around corners. For some, “cornering” is a task made more difficult by a carbine. Considering the great advantages of the carbine, it’s worth the extra effort to learn and practice a few additional techniques to ensure familiarity and proficiency in its use. In fact, when space allows, one should almost always favor the carbine over the pistol. Of course, when space doesn’t permit, the rifle can still hang at the ready while the handgun serves as the primary weapon.
Any carbine operator should understand the basics of mechanical offset. Being that the AR-15 style rifle is the most common patrol carbine, it seems to be the best platform on which to focus.
No matter if the AR-style rifle is zeroed at 25, 50, or 100 yards, a round fired from ‘across-the-room’ distances will impact about 2.5 inches low. The shooter must compensate accordingly when up close. Overcoming mechanical offset in regards to cornering and using cover gets a little more complicated. One has to be certain that all of the important parts of the rifle come around the corner simultaneously. The only way to accomplish this is to keep the rifle vertical when negotiating a corner. The tendency is to roll the rifle’s sights/optic outward to minimize the body’s exposure. This makes it easier to see the target, but the muzzle may not clear your cover. In this case, not only does the pill not reach the patient, but the corner’s construction material may come back in the shooter’s face upon firing.
Another consequence of rolling the rifle is that the weapon light changes from illuminating a potential threat to bouncing off the corner and blinding the operator, depending on its mounting location. This is one of the reasons I prefer to mount my weapon light directly under the barrel. Then the barrel is perfectly in between the light and the sight. This way I know that if the light projects where I’m looking, the rifle must be vertical and the muzzle is clear of the cover. Also, this configuration allows negotiating either a strong or weak side corner in exactly the same manner, except in mirror form.
Generally, it is good practice to shoot a carbine with the butt stock moved inward close to the body’s vertical center and high on the chest. This firing position minimizes the impact of the rifle’s recoil on sight alignment for followup shots, makes moving in different directions easier while staying on target, and keeps the operator’s head up in a natural position. The carbine cop must take a slightly different approach when cornering. The rifle stock must be placed more toward the outer edge of the shoulder. Much like “slicing the pie” with a pistol, the rifle shooter should shift the upper body toward the target area and keep the lower body behind cover as much as possible. It’s equally important for the shooter to tuck his/her elbow into the body to minimize exposure. If all of this sounds awkward, it’s because it is. This position will likely be physically taxing and uncomfortable. It is, however, less painful than taking gunfire. Done properly, the rifleman will see the threat before becoming exposed to it.
To Sling or not to Sling
There are essentially three types of slings: single point, two point and three point. These handy little items can make weak side corners a little more difficult. One advantage of a properly adjusted single-point sling is that it is essentially ambidextrous, especially with a Magpul ASAP or similar sling mount installed. Let the bad guy have a ‘weak’ side. The good guys need to be able to function effectively from either side.
The two-point model sling requires the operator to slip the weak arm out of the sling before moving the rifle to the other side. With a little practice and experimentation, this technique can be readily mastered.
Frankly, the three-point variations are so complicated that their utility is questionable in my mind for this kind of work. Some of them are so difficult to assemble that they come with instructions. As always, simple is best under stress. One must experiment to discover the most successful method for each person and then practice, practice, practice.
Now, I’m not talking mental retention here. It would be difficult for me to impart wisdom on that particular topic since I have the attention span of a caffeine-addled monkey in a disco ball factory. Long-gun weapon retention is what we’re addressing here. Some see the carbine as a disadvantage in close-quarters maneuvering because of the increased risk of a weapon grab. The fact is that a slung long gun is much more difficult to remove from a trained operator than a pistol. I liken such an action to grabbing a rattlesnake by the tail. One might be able to do it, but in a second or two, that plan’s folly will become painfully obvious. Suffice it to say that it is highly unlikely that a rifle-wielding officer with a decent sling and a reasonable amount of training will be successfully disarmed while clearing a building.
Big Bang Factor
Another consideration during a firefight is noise level. There is data that would indicate the body has a defense mechanism during Tachypsychia (what many of us lay people refer to as Fight or Flight Syndrome) that somewhat protects the hearing of the shooter during high-stress events. It’s sometimes called auditory exclusion and most hunters have experienced it. There is some debate as to whether the shooter merely doesn’t hear or perceive the gunshots as well, but still sustains hearing damage or if the inner ear actually does not process the sound and avoids any permanent damage. There is credible data that the .223 fired from a carbine is somewhat more dangerous to the shooter’s hearing than a pistol’s report. This risk is amplified in close quarters. For this reason, well-funded law-enforcement entry teams sometimes purchase short-barrel AR carbines fitted with suppressors. Reading de-briefs from entry teams who have been forced to fire their rifle caliber carbines indoors, the reports are mixed as to whether permanent hearing loss is a certainty. Either way, it is most definitely a factor worthy of consideration.
New things can be overwhelming at first. But, with the mastery of a few relatively simple tactics, a working cop can maximize his/her effectiveness with the carbine indoors and thereby gain more of an advantage in case of an armed encounter.
Is it worth all the work for just an alarm call? A few years ago, a young local officer responded to the third false alarm at a pharmacy in a nicer part of town within a matter of just a few hours. Upon his third approach, he encountered a man in front of the business who had a pistol and was gathering up the narcotics that he’d just burgled from the pharmacy. The previously convicted felon grabbed the Rxs and ran. Of course, our officer gave chase. During the pursuit, the suspect turned and took an errant shot at our hero, nearly striking him in the face. This particular ne’er-do-well was willing to kill a cop to avoid going back to prison. He’s not the only one of his kind out there. At the risk of sounding trite, what are you willing to do to be ready for him? PM
Warren Wilson is a Lieutenant with a municipal police department in Oklahoma. He is a SWAT team member/leader and has been in law enforcement for over 17 years. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.