In Defense of Dinosaurs: The Continuing Utility of the Shotgun

The shotgun is more than adequate for the vast majority of law enforcement’s armed confrontations.

In Defense of Dinosaurs: The Continuing Utility of the Shotgun

Many college and municipal law enforcement agencies are abandoning the shotgun for the ArmaLite Rifle (AR, i.e., patrol rifle) platform. Indeed, Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services no longer mandates shotgun training at the basic academy level. As a result, the local police academy has dropped the shotgun proficiency portion from its basic academy curriculum since many agencies no longer issue shotguns to their officers.

Many reasons are cited for this abandonment. These include, but are not limited to:

  • The shotgun lacks the range of the AR
  • Buckshot raises the risk of collateral damages at range beyond 25-30 yards
  • The shotgun’s kick is painful, making it unpopular with many officers
  • Its four-six round capacity is substantially less than the AR’s 30 round capacity
  • Shotgun rounds are unlikely to penetrate body armor.

These criticisms of the shotgun are easily addressed. The NRA Firearms Fact Book states the maximum effective range of a shotgun slug is about 75 yards. This distance is much less than the AR’s maximum effective range of 440-660 yards, but how many engagements beyond 50-75 yards do officers experience, especially those on a school campus?

The shotgun is more than adequate for the vast majority of armed confrontations. Buckshot dispersion is a potential problem, but this problem may be alleviated by using slugs. Furthermore, low recoil slugs can alleviate the discomfort associated with the shotgun. Finally, a slug is unlikely to penetrate body armor, but it transmits sufficient energy through the vest to cause massive and often debilitating injury.

The shotgun’s numerous advantages fall into five broad categories:

  1. Psychological. The sound of a round being racked into a shotgun is unique. This scary noise, sometimes known as the “badass factor,” has been responsible for generating compliance with law enforcement directives. The sound of an AR being made “hot” does not have the same deterrent effect. A second salutary effect of the shotgun derives from its familiarity. It does not suffer the same (wrongly held) criticisms of the AR as being an “assault weapon” and it does not subject an agency to accusations of militarism.
  2. Operational. Despite the AR having an effective range of about 650 yards, few officers, apart from snipers, train with their weapons at these distances; 75-150 yards is closer to the norm. What this suggests is that while the AR’s maximum range far exceeds that of the shotgun, in practice and in terms of officer proficiency, there is not much difference in the expected operational range of these weapons. Of course, an officer could employ an AR far beyond the range in which he or she trained, but this use beyond one’s training could subject a department to liability. Second, shotguns are easier to master than patrol rifles. They have fewer moving parts than ARs, are not as prone to malfunctions, and are easier to get back into action in the event of a malfunction. (However, officers who only train on their shotguns once or twice a year will become deficient in handling it or any weapon.) Third, there is less risk of over-penetrating a target with a slug than an AR round, especially if the rifle has a short barrel. Fourth, shotgun slugs are less likely to be deflected by trees and limbs than lighter and faster AR rounds. Finally, shotguns are easier to operate and clean than ARs.
  3. Additional Uses. There are additional roles for shotgun. For instance, they can be used for breaching, which is easily taught at a range. They may also be used with crowd dispersal and less-lethal ammunition, thereby providing additional tools, short of lethal force, for high-risk encounters.
  4. Professionalism. Inasmuch as many departments still employ shotguns, it is possible that an officer could come to the assistance of an officer from another agency that issues shotguns. It behooves all officers, as professionals, to be familiar with the common tools of our profession.
  5. Cost. Shotguns and shotgun ammunition are much less expensive than AR weapons, associated equipment (e.g., optics), and ammunition.

This essay is not intended to disparage patrol rifles or suggest a department only needs one or the other platform. The shotgun retains valuable and often unique tactical and operational benefits, and many of the concerns associated with shoguns are easily addressed and mitigated.


The views expressed by guest contributors are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, Campus Safety magazine.

About the Author

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Award-winning author Lt. John Weinstein commands Strategic Planning and Outreach for the Northern Virginia Community College Police Department. The views expressed herein represent the personal views of the author and should not be construed as representing the official view of the Northern Virginia Community College or any of its components.

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