For years we have been told that the single most effective and lethal weapon available to the standard deputy sheriff or police officer is the pump-action 12 gauge shotgun. The shotgun’s ability to use buckshot or slug is touted as making it the most versatile firearm we have. We have been told that a good shotgun is less expensive than a police carbine and more socially acceptable. I submit to you that all of the above is embellishment at best and at worst, made up reasons for not investing in a new weapon. The shotgun is a specialty weapon with a narrow spectrum of use. At close range, in low light, against multiple bad guys with no possibility of a friendly being hit, the shotgun is in its niche. In every other situation in 2014 I’ll take my carbine. I ask that you read this through your own lens, whether you are a police officer or a private citizen. My perspective is that of a user of shotguns throughout my career and that of a trainer. If you believe in the mythical power of the mere mention of your shotgun to stop bad guys in their tracks, stop now. I don’t want to be responsible for bursting your bubble.
It took me awhile to finally put this on paper. What finally prompted me was our most recent recruit class and a thread I read on Warrior Talk. During the three range days of their two-week high-liability post academy training, prior to field training, the recruits are issued a pump shotgun. Like most agencies we issue the Remington 870 with a bead site on an 18’’ barrel. After an hour class on care and maintenance, operation and policy, they shoot four rounds during a practice qualification. The recruits then immediately qualify. Our qualification is a four round course of fire using an 8 pellet, 00 buck reduced recoil load from 15 yards. The shooter has to load the shotgun in a cruiser-safe condition and fire three strings of fire with time limits from a standing position. This is the same course our agency uses for yearly re-qualification. They qualify on a standard B-21 silhouette target and we require that they get 26 out of 32 pellets on the silhouette, even the arms count. The arms started to count when too many people couldn’t qualify. Then they receive our blessing to go forth and use their shotgun in a deadly force situation. Keep in mind that depending on where a person went to the police academy here in Florida they may or may not have had the opportunity to shoot a shotgun and quite possibly did not have to qualify with it.
The following day we conducted transition drills. The deputies load and shoot three rounds from their shotgun while advancing towards a target. Upon squeezing the trigger a fourth time and getting a click they bring the shotgun across their chest with their reactionary hand while drawing and firing their handgun. We did this three times per recruit. On one of the reps the recruits perform a “Combat Reload”. Add 9 more rounds to our total round count from familiarization and qualification. Your math is correct, our recruits have fired a total of 17 rounds from the “most devastating weapon in their arsenal”. When they come to yearly in-service training they will shoot a shotgun drill of some type. And that’s it. We used to have a “Slug” class where deputies could be qualified to use slugs and “extend the range to nearly that of the rifle”. More on that whopper later. We have a carbine program now that has replaced the slug program.
The above description is typical of my experience with the police use of the shotgun over the last twenty years of my career. When I was in the academy we did much more training with the shotgun than recruits get now. Other than our handgun and baton the shotgun was the only other weapon available to us. Recruits have more force options now that they are responsible for. As for the shotgun itself, the only appreciable change is depending on the brand of ammunition we no longer have to aim at the bellybutton of the silhouette to make the pattern hit the chest, now its point of aim/point of impact. Can you imagine telling a handgun shooter that at 15 yards they have to aim a foot low to hit their target? .The shotguns are essentially the same, and so is the training.
Let’s examine the purported attributes of the pump shotgun and some of the things we have been told so often that it’s now gospel.
“A shotgun is versatile because it can shoot slugs or buckshot, making it cost-effective”. After a briefly impressive ballistic life slugs are not as good or effective as a bullet from a rifle. If I took the sights off your carbine and put a bead where the front sight post was would you still be as accurate? Of course not. When was the last time, if ever, you attempted to hit a silhouette at more than 25 yards using a slug with your bead sighted shotgun? In poor lighting? As for buckshot, it is indiscriminate compared to a rifle/carbine. So far that doesn’t sound versatile to me.
“If you need the penetration and range of a slug you can combat load that round into the chamber”. I don’t think so. That’s an advanced skill for people who have lots of on-going training and are capable of essentially unloading and then loading the shotgun in low-light and possibly under fire. How about those that advocate loading the shotgun one round under capacity? That way there’s always room to load a slug in the magazine and chamber it if necessary. A four round capacity, or even six, is not a lot to begin with. If you think you will need slugs for a situation like a vehicle take down, already have them loaded, like the rest of us mere mortals. “Loaded with a slug the shotgun is turned into a .75 caliber rifle”. Your B.S. detector should be screaming by now. Anything a person shooting a slug can do the most marginal carbine shooter can do better. Rifled slugs may help the shotgun achieve brief .75 caliber rifle status but, it is a marginally accurate, short-range, short-lived status. Again, a carbine shooter will do anything a slug shooter can do, and do it better, longer and far more accurately. As for capacity remember this “I wish I had less ammunition………said no one ever who has been in a gunfight”. Four rounds of 12 gauge or 20-28 rounds for the carbine? I know what I’ll pick.
“The use of buckshot increases your hit potential; you only have to point in the general direction of the bad guy to hit him, even if he’s moving”. Sure, and if the bad guy hears you cycle the action he will stop in his tracks, right? “It’s so easy to hit the bad guy the agency can save time in training and ammunition costs”. We just did it last week with less than 20 rounds per deputy, even hits to the arms count. Really? What I glean from this is that lazy and unskilled shooters have some limited potential of hitting a target. With the 00 buck load we use, the pattern is still fist sized at 15 yards. No more simply pointing it in the direction of the target. What about a center mass hit from a 12 gauge, “it will devastate your opponent”. Yes it will, within its appropriate range. Regardless of the firearm, the challenge is not hitting the center mass of the target, i.e. a B-21 silhouette, it’s hitting center mass of what you can see of the target, who is likely trying not to get shot by you.
“When using buckshot, the shotgun puts out 8-9 .30 something-caliber pellets every time you pull the trigger”. “If the shotgun is cruiser safe loaded and you shoot all four rounds that’s equivalent to firing 32 bullets in a matter of seconds”. No it isn’t. There is no comparing a buckshot pellet to a 55 gr 5.56, or a 115 gr 9mm or a 230 gr 45 ACP bullet.
“It’s more socially acceptable by the public for police to be seen with a shotgun opposed to a carbine”. If that is an argument for use of the shotgun a better solution would be a lever-action 30-30. Don’t get me started on the militarization of law enforcement in the U.S. Suffice to say that I’m totally against it. Having said that, if I perceive a need to arm myself with a carbine I really don’t care what any of you think about that decision or what somebody deems as socially acceptable. It’s socially acceptable for me to come home to my family. If you work at an agency where all you are allowed to have is a shotgun because of public perception you have much bigger problems than can be addressed here. Fortunately, I don’t work at a place like that.
“A shotgun is devastating at “normal” combat ranges, even out to 100 yards with slugs”. For the reasons I explained above, no it isn’t. First paragraph; it is for use at close range against multiple bad guys in low light when we aren’t worried about collateral damage. It is not a 100 yard weapon at all. Hunters use a rifled slug barrel and a low powered scope on their shotgun to shoot game at that range, and usually because state laws forbid their use of a rifle.
“A new shotgun costs considerably less than a suitable carbine”. Of course it does, for good reason.
“The shotgun is so effective we don’t have to train with it as much and we hardly have to shoot it, because it’s that good”. I think we are finding reasons not to deal with a fundamental lack of training most people have that are issued a shotgun. Maybe as group we don’t want to believe that the “perfect anti-personnel weapon” is not perfect and it’s actually difficult to shoot. So we only shoot a couple of rounds from it once a year.
“A 12 gauge pump shotgun can be used to shoot less lethal projectiles, gas or even breaching rounds”. All true and these are specialty munitions not available to the vast majority of us.
The shotgun is not going to disappear from our armories or cruisers. For our newer generation that has limited or no experience with shotguns (or firearms in general), what’s the best possible training we can provide them to build competence and confidence in a limited amount of time?
I suggest the first thing we do is treat the pump shotgun as another tool in our lethal force arsenal and not some magically deadly weapon. Realize it is not an answer to every situation and don’t force it on
Train to use the shotgun with a sling. Although lack of a sling is not a deal breaker it is a beneficial addition to the shotgun. The more simple the design the more likely it will be used. A simple single point loop may be the best example, one that allows you to let the shotgun hang when you need to use your hands. All the sling has to do is keep the gun close to the body and free up the hands for other tasks. I know from hundreds of force on force scenarios that deputies will almost always drop the empty shotgun on the ground when going for their handgun during high stress training. If you want your people to keep the shotgun during a transition get them a decent sling.
Train to deploy the shotgun from the cruiser. Make your people operate their specific vehicle mounted shotgun rack or get it out of the trunk, whichever is applicable. The combination of shotgun racks and all the equipment crowding our cars makes this task harder than you think when you add just a little stress. You practice drawing from a security holster until its muscle memory but for some reason we don’t think it’s important to operate the shotgun rack under stress. Follow thru by forcing them to find the slide release and safety under stress and get the gun in action. Walking down to the firing line for qualification and talking the shooters through the loading process won’t cut it, and that’s not training. Teach weapon retention and applicable defensive tactics while armed with the shotgun. We don’t always have the ability to lock the gun up before going hands on or performing other critical functions. Have trainees shoot their duty load from various ranges, not just optimal or convenient range. It is important they understand what happens to the pattern and how it opens up exponentially in a short time.
What about accessories other than slings, one’s that can make the shotgun more user-friendly or rifle-like? Don’t do it. If you buy into my argument for where the shotgun should be employed you should keep it as light and nimble as possible. The standard butt stock on a Remington 870 is too long. It is designed for sporting purposes and for use in a classic offhand stance, not combat. Cut 2” inches off of it. You can square up to the target more and make allowances for body armor. The excessive length of pull of the shotgun is probably the greatest detriment to smaller shooters, worse than recoil.
If you are a trainer your students are looking at you to help them succeed in one of the most stressful situations they will find themselves in. Remind yourself that you are not training you, with your years of experience and comfort level. For recruits you are likely training a person that has never fired this weapon or experienced its considerable recoil and muzzle blast. For in-service training your student may not have touched a shotgun since their last qualification. Be cautious in encouraging them to take this weapon into battle if they are not 100% confident in their ability to use it. When evaluating your training program or skills ask yourself the following; have I armed myself with the shotgun because it is the best weapon for the job and I have the skills to use it, or am I carrying it because of what somebody else is capable of doing with it?
In the interest of full disclosure I have a Remington 870 within easy reach of where I sleep, albeit for completely different reasons than law enforcement. The butt stock is cut down 2” and the magazine is loaded with 00 buck. My shotgun is part of my own defensive plan for my home and family. My anticipated need for it will be in low-light, at close range and possibly against multiple assailants and I won’t be worried about what’s beyond the target. For professional use I’ll use my carbine.
Shawn Pappas is a twenty year law enforcement veteran. He is currently a deputy sheriff and a fulltime law enforcement trainer for one of the largest sheriff’s offices in the country. He has worked in various specialized assignments and is certified to teach numerous topics.
Gabriel Suarez, Suarez International