Keep it simple, but a light and an optic have a place on any AR. Photo Courtesy Abner Miranda Keep it simple, but a light and an optic have a place on any AR. Photo Courtesy
FEATURED IN TACTICS AND WEAPONS
Many years ago, I worked for an agency that issued us M4s but didn't allow the use of optics of any kind. Now, granted, even just 10 years ago optics were a bit clunky and overpriced, so agencies tended to steer clear of them. This is no longer the case: Optics are now very small, super rugged and affordable to all.
So why are we still seeing agencies that refuse to allow their use? Ignorance is one reason. Bean counting is another. And of course there's the good old, “I want uniformity among the ranks” mentality. OK, let's have that conversation.
It Starts With Ambi Parts
Ambi parts on guns have been a big point of contention for years. The simple answer as to why they're such a sticking issue is that ambi parts almost always require some level of disassembly to install. This creates the potential of damaging the weapon, so, yes, it's a valid issue.
Further, most righties see ambi parts as a luxury for lefties at their expense. We lefties—that's correct, I'm a southpaw—see ambi parts as an operational necessity, not a luxury. Neither party wants to meet in the middle. But, as luck would have it, things are slowly changing for the better.
It wasn't until attending my first tactical rifle school that I learned that ambi parts are an operational necessity for all shooters. So, what does this have to do with optics? A lot.
A closed mindset restricts the end user from setting up their rifle as they must. “Here’s your rifle; you can't add to or detract from it” is highly dangerous statement. Quite often the folks making decisions for the entire agency are being pressured from the accounting side of the house and are being told “this is what you have to work with and that's it.” So what happens is that agencies, most often, choose a gun based on the lowest bidder, then adopt policies that restrict anything from being added to it.
It's that “you can't add anything to your gun” mentality that's the problem here. Rolling the optics into the anything category makes it impossible for officers to be as accurate as they can be.
I recognize that it's important to restrict what you can and can't do with an issued weapon at the officer level. If officers were given free run of their guns, they'd make them look like Swiss Army Knives with all the cheap crap available on the AR market. This would make for an ineffective gun/officer combo that could prove deadly when that weapon had to be deployed. The simple fix is to restrict the “add on” list to lights and optics from a recognized group of manufacturers.
Now let's look at the other end of the spectrum on this all-or-nothing mentality. The current standard of training is to issue an officer an AR-15. We then ask him to become proficient with the weapon. Things like shoot-or-no-shoot drills and mag changes are fairly simple and easily mastered.
Now, ask that officer to quickly acquire a target standing between and just downrange from two no-shoot targets. Before he does, create combat conditions by ramping his heart rate up with a quick sprint across the range. Now you've created a problem. Unless that officer has an optic on his gun he'll be hard pressed to accomplish that drill without winging one of the no-shoot targets.
Give an officer a weapon capable of blowing holes through cars, then refuse him the one tool that makes that weapon as accurate as it can be and you've just delivered your agency to the opposition.
They Always Have a Lawyer
It's a foregone conclusion that modern law enforcement agencies must, to some degree, make policy based on liability issues. Just as it's a liability to not have AR-15s issued agency wide, it's a bigger liability to not have optics issued with those rifles. Look at it this way: How big of a liability do you think it is to issue a duty pistol without night sights? That's pretty bad, huh? Without those night sights the pistol isn't as accurate as it can be in a high stress situation. To issue a duty rifle without optics is equally as bad.
The first time that an officer deploys his AR-15 and misses, God be with you. Any attorney worth his salts will quickly find at least one officer in your agency that'll roll over on the brass and say, “I fought for optics but was turned down.” Then they'll spend an hour discussing the ways that this tragedy could've been avoided if you had optics. Trust me, I've been on the witness stand before.
If you've been issued an AR, thank your lucky stars that at least your command staff cares enough to drag your agency out of the dark ages and get you the tools that'll help you survive the inevitable. I work for Signal Mountain Police Department in Tennessee. Although my town, for the most part, is a quiet, well behaved place, we still have AR-15s in our cars so as to be able to deal with anything untoward that might arise. These guns are issued to the individual officer and not the car—that needs no explanation. We carry Smith & Wesson M&P-15 ARs with EOTech 512 optics. Even though I have an excellent optic on my AR, I don’t fall into the lull of false security in trusting an electronic device.
Train For Failure
One of the drills that we practice with our ARs is an optics failure. No matter how rugged you may believe your optics are, they can fail you.
Recently, we discovered that our foam-lined cases were turning our optics on and draining the batteries. I happened upon this first because I'm fanatical about maintenance on my duty weapons. I popped open my rifle case six weeks after the initial issuance of the weapon and pressed the “on” button on my EOTech, only to find that it didn't activate. It turns out that the foam that enveloped my AR had made its way around the edge of the optic and the rocking of the vehicle was turning the optic on every day. This could have been one of those things that I discovered on a call where the AR needed to come out. I remedied the problem by cutting a larger swath of foam out of the case from around the optic. Problem solved.
The optics failure drill that I train on is very simple. Pop up your “back-up iron sights” or BUIS and co-witness right through the optic. What you find is that acquiring your BUIS picture is actually accomplished more quickly with an optic on your AR than without. For the same reason that your optic, when running, helps you acquire your target quickly, it does the same thing when off. Mind you, the result is a bit sloppier, but still valid.
The confining borders of your given optic create a CQC visual zone that draws your eyes into it. This is actually an accurate enough technique to hit out to 50 yards. Trust me on this: I do it all the time when teaching new shooters. In fact, I want you to fold down your rear BUIS and do this with only your front sight up and your optic turned off. Coincidentally, that may be all you have to work with should things progress quickly enough.
Back To Black
Back to black: This is a phrase that I came up with to go back to the roots of the “black rifle.” Iron sights will never fail you, which is why I harp on the subject of training with them constantly.
One of the drills that's a good combo of target acquisition and stoppage drills follows. Stand at the ready with your target at the 25 yard line. When your range buddy (never shoot alone) says “go,” rack your gun, and bring it up. With the optics turned off, and only your front BUIS up, you should still be able to get a solid lock on the center mass of your target. Squeeze off a few rounds, switch to “safe,” let it hang on the sling, then do it again. If your range buddy has done their job, they'll have hidden a few inert rounds in your round count. When you pull the trigger and get a click, don't just stare at the gun. Tap, rack and bang applies to rifles too.
By looking through the optic you can actually center the front sight inside of the parameters of the reticle. If the front sight is right of center, left of center or top to bottom, your aim is off. Make your correction and pull the trigger. If you didn't hit center mass, it's your range buddy's job to smack the back of your head because this stuff isn't rocket science.
Own the Night
I have a friend who works for a local agency here in Hamilton County, Tenn. He recently shared with me his excitement that his agency was issuing AR-15s agency-wide. The agency heads bought them, trained their armorers and issued them all under 60 days. That's impressive. Because the choice of optics is much more diverse than the choice of lights, and time was of the essence, they chose to issue the guns with a light and get optics later. They went with the SureFire M500A, which is, in my view, up at the top of the food chain when you're talking illumination tools. The rifles were finished off with night sights, and an A2 carry handle.
The reason I mention all of this is because his agency clearly sees the value of going back to black. In a CQC environment, aiming is almost an afterthought. If you've ever done any building clearing, you know that unless you're dealing with hostages in the mix, you're mostly sweeping a room for threats that need to be stopped. You move with a purpose and take action immediately upon identifying the threat. The beauty of having a great light on your gun is that you've just killed two birds with one stone. If you have to choose between optics or a light, and you only have time or money to get one—buy the light!
Buy the Light
One of the first things I do when teaching a new shooter is slap a light on an unloaded gun and take them into a darkened room. I then say, “If the light is on the gun and you see the beam on the target, where do you think the bullet is going to hit?” Point and shoot becomes so “duh” in this environment that it's like having a wide laser beam coming out of the front of your gun.
By installing a strong light on your patrol rifle you have in essence created a target designator for low light deployment. The M500A qualifies as “strong light” trust me, don't stare right into the beam. At 225 lumens, it can overpower closed eyelids and cause an almost physical reaction in your adversary. I’ve seen people physically cower when hit with the beam of a tac light. If the bad guy’s hands are busy trying to shield their eyes, they won’t be busy attacking you—buy the light!
Here’s a great learning drill for you: Take your unloaded rifle, and using your tac light, clear your darkened house. In every room pick a human sized object to be your target. What you find is that you don't even have to aim; the light is aiming for you.
Furthermore, when you put your eyes behind the sights you get a front-sight picture that’s so perfect, you just can't miss. Trust me: I've been doing this for a long time. You'd be surprised how fast you can put seven shots into a target from across a ten foot room without “aiming.” Please understand that I'm not condoning the “pray-and-spray” technique. I'm just saying that in CQC you should not be aiming—there's no time. Remember: Your goal in such an environment is not sight alignment and trigger squeeze and all that crap that we had drummed into us umpteen years ago. This is threat ID, shoot the threat to the ground, and move to the next threat. Don't over think it.
I had an excellent academy, firearms instructor many moons ago named Lance Biddle. Mr. Biddle changed a lot of my thinking for the better. He told me several times, “I don't want to see all your shots in a perfect little hole; I want large jagged areas of coverage within center mass.” Brilliant—nay, genius, I say! What a concept! Shooting to survive instead of score. Target shooting for score is exactly that: shooting for score. You're a cop, train like you mean it. There's a reason that modern LE weapons carry round counts in the double digits. Use them. Bullets are cheap compared to the value of your life.
Author’s note: Many thanks to SureFire for providing me with this great M500A for the article. Thanks also to Hornady for the training ammo that makes this sort of high round count training even possible. And lastly, to you my fellow officers, thanks for training and doing your part to keep our nation safe. See you on the streets.