Recently, I sent out a flier for a Lever Action Patrol Rifle course that I am teaching in March of 2013. I received a response from an officer who was appalled that I would teach such a course. In fact, he stated that in doing so, officers might actually take it as an endorsement from me that the lever action platform was worthy of use as a patrol rifle.
My response: I am endorsing the lever action platform as being worthy of use as a patrol rifle.
The lever action platform has been a viable personal defense platform since it came onto the scene in 1860 in the form of the Henry Rifle, and the Henry was itself a reworking for the Volcanic Repeating Rifle. Confederate soldiers facing the Henry Rifle in battle called it “that damned Yankee rifle that you load on Sunday and shoot all week”. Note: The above is not a slight to the Spencer Rifle and others of the same era, rather it is in homage to the direct lineage of the platform as we know it today.
The trend towards the use of patrol rifles was jump started by the North Hollywood Bank Robbery in which two gunmen clad in body armor engaged officers from the Los Angeles Police Department in gunfight lasting for over 40 minutes. The LAPD officers were armed with pistols and shotguns, and their rounds could not penetrate the body armor worn by the bandits. Eventually, officers went to a nearby gun shop where the owner provided AR 15 rifles, and LAPD SWAT officers arrived on scene and ended the battle. I doubt that any of those officers on scene that day would have turned away a Marlin 336 as being unworthy.
Several years ago, a friend of mine was on patrol as a Deputy Sheriff in a rural, northeast Georgia County. He ended up in a protracted gunfight in which the bad guy had a rifle while my friend had his duty pistol and a shotgun. I doubt that he would have turned away a Winchester 94 as unworthy had someone happened upon him and offered it to him. (Note: Since I originally published this piece, I have spoken with the above Deputy, and he assures me that he would have very much welcomed a levergun had one been available to him.)
I am not making an argument that more modern options such as the AR platform be completely abandoned in favor of the levergun. I am simply making an argument that the lever action rifle remains an effective option for use as a patrol or personal protection rifle. In fact, there are some areas in which I believe the levergun offers some advantages.
The biggest advantage that a lever action rifle offers in the firearms market at the time of the writing of this article is availability. The talk of gun control legislation has resulted in a shortage of AR platform and other similar rifles. In the past few weeks I have ventured to out to as many shops I could get to, and the only AR platform rifles I could find still in stock were all class III rifles requiring extensive paperwork and an approval process that is measured in months. However, in several shops I have been able to find leverguns readily available for prices as low as $250.
To go along with this from both an individual peace officer and agency administrator standpoint, the price point makes a fine old levergun an attractive option to perform this function. That trusty deer rifle can do double duty, and an agency that might not be able to afford outfitting all of its personnel with AR platform rifles could more readily purchase leverguns.
Another advantage of the traditional levergun is that it fires heavier bullets than most of the modern semi-auto platforms commonly used as patrol rifles. So as not to overly-bore those readers who for some reason don’t spend their free time studying ballistic performance, what this translates to is that the rounds typically pack more punch and more readily penetrate barriers. This factor comes into play in such instances when a peace officer might have to shoot through a vehicle body or windshield to end a violent confrontation. I have personally witnessed standard .223 ammo (standard AR platform ammo) disintegrate when going through such barriers, but considering a standard .30-30 rifle will be hurling a projectile three times the weight of a standard .223 round this issue is substantially alleviated.
While on the subject of ammunition, I would be remiss if I did not point out that leverguns are also available in several popular pistol calibers such as .357 Magnum and .44 Magnum. While such rounds do not have the range of a rifle round, common loads in each can achieve notable penetration, and considering the elements and range predominant in the proverbial “average gunfight” the effective range such firearms is up to the task.
One should also not discount the inherent reliability of the lever action platform. One need not worry about gas systems or magazines. Simply work the lever and keep going whilst shoving rounds into the tube or action as needed.
Nothing in the above should be taken as an argument for the wholesale adopting of leverguns in place of other platforms. Also, I most certainly am not making an argument concerning what one needs other than that I steadfastly believe that each and every peace officer should go on duty with a rifle at hand. This is about expanding capability, and a rifle is more efficient at ending a violent encounter than is a pistol.
***Note: The above was written with a law enforcement audience in mind. I also wholeheartedly endorse and advocate the use of the lever action platform as a personal defense rifle. This endorsement is not to be construed as an argument that citizens should be unconstitutionally restricted from owning self-loading rifles or unconstitutionally restricted in the ammunition capacity of their rifles.