This is not the story I wanted to write this month. I wanted something upbeat, but circumstances have dictated that I write something relevant. The horror of the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting—another crime committed by a mentally disturbed piece of human garbage—was followed by the horror of an Executive Branch gone mad.
The Executive Actions announced on 16 January 2013 did not directly affect our guns and equipment, but the intentions of this Administration—if not readily apparent since 2008—should be now. How the legislature responds to this nonsense is a wild card, but the salient point is that another rash of panic buying has hit our community, in many cases driving up the cost of those products. Additionally, what was once plentiful is now unavailable.
How does all this affect training? The answer is nebulous.
From the positive standpoint, several million new guns were purchased in November and December 2012. Some estimate 3.7 million. Based on personal observations as well as conversations with gun shops I trust, a fair percentage of these people are first-time gun owners.
And those first-time gun owners are seeking very basic training, although the percentage of people needing training vice those actually taking training probably remains the same estimated 97% to 3% that it has always been.
Weyer Tactical in central Ohio is averaging 250 students per month in their CCW classes. Joe Weyer stated that 80% of those students have never had any formal training, and 30% have never fired a gun before.
Another progressive training company in northern Virginia, FPF Training, also runs CCW classes, and owner John Murphy stated that his numbers in regard to the percentage who have received training or have never trained before are similar.
Certainly this push against us has resulted in a terrific pushback, and a great many of those people are new to our community.
The majority of gun owners have very little—if any—training in the use of the gun they are using. Instead, they rely on a gene that every American allegedly possesses that permits them to automatically know everything there is to know about guns and their use. Many states do not require anything more than a familiarity demonstration with a person’s CCW gun, and some states require nothing at all.
And while I am against any government interference relative to guns, the simple fact is that without the training necessary to understand the law as it relates to the use of deadly physical force, the operation of the gun, and the ability to use it efficiently, you are not an asset. You are a liability. As I write this, this weekend five people were shot at three different gun shows. This happened because of gross negligence on the part of several people.
Most gun shows require that any guns carried into the premises be unloaded. They may have a station where guns are checked and tagged/banded. Pretty simple stuff, but stupid people do stupid things because they are unfamiliar with the gun and negligent in how they handle it. And every time someone does something stupid with a gun, it reflects badly on all of us.
So training is necessary and understood. But the majority still refuse to acknowledge this, for a variety of reasons. We’ll consider these poor souls as a lost cause. The big question for now is, “How will training change in the near term?”
.22 PLUSES AND MINUSES
First off, the panic buying that has been going on for the past several months (and the enhanced buying that has been going on for the past 4½ years) means that ammunition is in short supply. Short supply and high demand mean a corresponding increase in price.
We need to maximize our training time and conserve ammunition, since it may become more expensive as well as harder to find.
One solution is to consider the .22 LR. While this is often glossed over by some, the .22 offers something major to the mix. But we need to understand that the .22 is not a substitute for 5.56mm but rather a supplement.
On the plus side, .22 ammo is inexpensive, and while its cost has risen during the panic, it is still affordable. It has less noise and muzzle blast than 5.56mm, especially true of SBRs and those with blast enhancers on the end of the barrel. Recoil is more manageable, but this is a double-edged sword (more on that later).
As for the negatives, most .22 LR is unreliable. It’s dirty. Filthy dirty. Depending on what gun/conversion kit you are shooting, accuracy may be acceptable to outstanding. Depending on what gun/ conversion kit you are shooting, reliability may be spotty to excellent. Recoil is more manageable, which means that follow-up shots will be faster, and that is unrealistic—which is why .22 is a supplement and not a substitute for 5.56mm.
Some malfunction drills will not work well with .22 guns. At EAG Tactical, we have been allowing .22 rifles into our carbine classes for three years, and with positive results. We have found that a good .22 rifle can perform well in both our carbine and shoot house classes.
What works best is for the shooter to use the .22 for most drills, but revert to the 5.56mm gun for certain drills—specifically, malfunction reduction as well as the qual courses. If a student opts to use the .22 for the qual, he will be ineligible for any awards.
There are three ways of looking at .22 Rimfire for the AR community. They are conversion kits, dedicated uppers, and dedicated guns. As with everything else, you need to be a smart consumer.
Many agencies have received military M261 conversion kits through the DRMO. The gun’s bolt carrier group (BCG) is replaced with the M261 kit, and a ten-round .22 magazine is seated in an existing 30-round magazine.
The advantage of the conversion kit is that the shooter uses his own gun, with lights, sights and other mission-essential equipment intact. Reliability can fluctuate, and the kit may not fit in guns that are not made to the milspec (socalled hobby guns).
DEDICATED .22 UPPERS
Conversion kits are notoriously ammunition sensitive. There are dedicated .22 upper assemblies. The barrel, upper receiver and BCG are all purpose-built for the .22 cartridge. It is meant to fit on a standard AR upper, which may or may not be easier for many.
The downside to the dedicated upper is that you will either have to remove your optic and other mission-essential gear from the 5.56mm gun, or buy another set of optics and equipment to use on the .22.
Not all uppers use the same .22-caliber magazines, which may or may not be an issue. Several companies make dedicated uppers with quality that varies from outstanding to acceptable. I run a Tactical Solutions AR22 M4 upper on a dedicated BCM lower, and I’m more than satisfied with it.
DEDICATED .22 RIFLES
The final option is a dedicated .22 rifle. There are a large number in this category, ranging from the ubiquitous Ruger 10-22 to some rather bizarre-looking visual modifications to existing guns to make them look like an AR. From my perspective, I prefer a training rifle that mimics the 5.56mm gun to the extent possible.
A dedicated .22 gun solves a lot of issues. Generally, they are less expensive (if for no other reason, consider the cost of the lower receiver). Of course, that savings might be offset somewhat by the fact that you will have to buy an optic and other necessary equipment.
Another way of looking at it is that by setting up a clone carbine, you are making it easier to train with that .22-caliber gun. You don’t have to go through the hassle of changing, re-sighting, changing again, etc, and this will make it more attractive to train with. If you do run a .22 and are on a limited budget but still want a dedicated optic on the .22, consider a Primary Arms optical sight. They are inexpensive and sufficient for this use.
Complete guns have a reputation for being more reliable out of the box, and that has been my experience as well. I have two S&W M&P 15-22s and have found them to be very reliable when using compatible ammunition. Additionally, I have seen more M&P 15-22s in class than all other brands combined. That may be what we in police work call a “clue.”
Regardless of what you choose, make sure your ammo is compatible with it. Most .22 ammo is less than stellar in performance. My guns will run CCI Mini Mags and the much less expensive Federal Bulk Pack that you can (or rather, used to be able to) get at WalMart. None of them will shoot any Remington ammo with any semblance of reliability. The degree of accuracy you can expect will vary with the system you use. If you are running a .22 conversion kit in your existing upper, you are throwing lead out of a 1:9 or 1:7 barrel that is made to stabilize ball ammunition.
Accuracy may be limited to 25 yards with most units. Having said that, 25 yards can be a very useful maximum range to train with the .22. Additionally, inside the shoot house, where engagement distances are normally measured in feet instead of yards, it is not an issue. The dedicated uppers and guns will generally have a 1:15 twist, which can, with proper ammunition, reach out to 50 yards with acceptable accuracy.
The Alliance, Ohio Police Department is a very progressive agency that uses .22s extensively. Det. Mike Jones stated that his guys were shooting a lot, and that degree of training meant they were running short of funding. They went to conversion kits initially—both M261 and Ciener—with excellent results. While they are still using them, they have also purchased some M&P 15-22s.
I recognized the training value of the .22 a long time ago, and as mentioned earlier, have been allowing them in carbine classes for three years. Two years ago, I started running them in the shoot house, and the results have been excellent. The .22s are being used in the carbine course for some (youngsters and those not accustomed to loud noises at the end of their hands), but also by experienced shooters cutting back on ammo costs.
The .22s are especially good in the shoot house, where the lack of muzzle blast is much easier on the ears, and damage to the shoot house and targets is reduced.
OTHER COST SAVERS
What else can we do? Dry practice comes to mind, and that certainly results in increased time with your hands on the gun. If engaging in dry practice properly (focusing on only one or two techniques for short duration), this increases the habitual association that is so important in live fire. However, dry fire is also limited in scope. You can do positions, some weapons manipulation, malfunction clearance drills, and single trigger presses. But that’s about it.
A useful alternative to the mix is Airsoft. Yes, I said that—Airsoft. But I’m not talking about millenniums running around their parents’ basement in their Underoos. I’m talking training. In order to maximize training, we need to have an Airsoft gun that is more than a toy. And as with real-deal guns, the quality of the Airsoft gun may range from fragile to robust.
For our purposes, and based on the recommendation of a good friend (SERIOUS AIRSOFT TRAINING: KWA KM4 SR10, January 2013 S.W.A.T.), I chose a KWA LM4 PTR—the PTR indicating Professional Training Rifle. This is a green gas powered rifle that mimics an M4A1 in almost every respect—weight, balance, 28-round magazine capacity, and operation. It appears sufficiently robust to withstand any normal training issues.
What can we accomplish using an Airsoft gun? While many will state the obvious—force-on-force—we are looking at something else.
The one thing missing from dry practice is actually launching something downrange (hopefully you are not sending anything downrange in dry practice). The result is that any movement drills will generally be without good sight pictures and trigger control. There is no capability to shoot, therefore there is no penalty for doing anything wrong, so why bother?
Consider this: shoot two standing, execute a speed reload while going down to kneeling, and fire two more. During dry practice, you can get only a single trigger press—the first one standing. After that, it’s just movement and reloading—not bad by itself, but not what you need. However, if you run the PTR and use a target and backstop at a realistic distance, you can actually fire two rounds, execute the speed reload by going down to kneeling, fire two more, and get immediate feedback.
The opportunity to launch projectiles— in this case 6mm plastic spheres—downrange can translate into improved efficiency during live fire. The above referenced article by Ethan Johns about using the KWA gun is full of excellent training tips for using Airsoft in this capacity.
CHANGE WITH THE TIMES
Our world has changed, and how we train has changed with it. We need to maximize our training time and conserve ammunition, since it may become more expensive as well as harder to find. But we can gain proficiency and sustain that over the long term if we do it correctly.
We will have a long, hard fight against those who would dismantle our Constitution. They are on a crusade to demonize us and the tools we use. Get involved. Support those organizations that are in this fight. Support politicians who will support us. But you must get engaged.
Pat Rogers is a retired Chief Warrant Officer of Marines and a retired NYPD Sergeant. Pat is the owner of E.A.G. Inc., which provides services to governmental organizations and private citizens. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.