Updated: May 13
Firearms for Close Protection: Assault Rifles, Carbines & Sub-Machine Guns
Do assault rifles, carbines and sub-machine guns have a place in the commercial close protection and armed security industry? Well, that depends on the environment and the laws of the area that you’re operating in. Personally, I would say their application is very limited mainly due to the legal restrictions on ownership and use.
Let’s start off with a basic definition of assault rifles, carbines, and sub-machine guns. For this article I will class an assault rifle as a military grade rifle with full-automatic fire capabilities. A carbine as a rifle with semi-automatic only fire capabilities. And a sub-machine gun as a compact firearm with an optional stock that is chambered in a pistol caliber.
Since the use of commercial security guards in Iraq and Afghanistan started after the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the United States there has been a lot of confusion between what providing close protection duties actually entails. The circumstances and situations in Iraq and Afghanistan were unique and not something we are likely to see again in the same scale for many reasons.
Providing close protection services in general means blending in with your client and their environment and working within the laws of the area you are in. If you’re in an area where you can legally carry firearms then the chances are you will be allowed to carry pistols, shotguns and maybe pistol caliber carbines, not assault rifles chambered in 5.56mm or 7.62x39mm etc.
If you’re trying to blend in with your environment, you’re not going to be able to do so if you’re carrying an assault rifle, carbine or a shotgun. And, if you’re serious about your personal security and protecting your clients then you should understand that it’s best that people never know that you’re armed unless you are forced to use defensive tactics.
As I said, the situations in Iraq and Afghanistan were unique and don’t reflect the general application of firearms in the security and close protection industry. One of the major concerns when carrying firearms or supplying armed guards is that you’re in compliance with the local laws, which can vary greatly from country to country. In the United States the laws can vary greatly from State to State.
In most places where firearms can be used and carried for self-defense there is generally added requirements and restriction if you are providing armed security or close protection services. Usually this means the security companies and guards need to be licensed, the armed guards need to pass a firearms qualification and then only be permitted to carry specific types of firearms when on duty.
The general firearms that people are allowed to carry for self-defense in most places are pistols, and maybe security guards, including close protection personnel, being allowed shotguns. In general, the use of assault rifles is only permitted by police and government agencies. But, in some locations there are specific waivers for rifles and carbines for security personnel.
For example, in some States in the United States it’s OK to privately own and keep a semi-auto AK-47 in your home for self-defense. It’s your private firearm and your home is private property. But it would be prohibited for a licensed security guard to carry an AK-47 when on duty as the firearm is permitted for use under the security licensing laws. This is where you must always understand the laws that apply to you in the areas your working in. In the US fully-automatic firearms need to be registered with the ATF and are very expensive when compared to semi-auto firearms, and they would be very restricted for use in the private security industry.
For example, in the US State of Florida, a licensed security guard or private investigator, with the armed security license, while working for a licensed agency, with special State approval (Waver) can only carry a carbine as a secondary weapon for the “Fulfillment of contractual obligations to guard United States, state or local government facilities where the government contract to guard critical infrastructure facilities specifically requires use of these weapons”. Rifles and carbines cannot be used for close protection duties. A 12-gauge pump-action shotgun can be used as a secondary weapon, where the shotgun remains in a vehicle for use only if needed for close protection bodyguard services and other specifically security duties.
Remember the laws in the United States vary from State to State, what’s legal in Florida could be illegal in New York. The legality on specific firearms, ammunition and magazine capacities also varies from State to State and Country to Country.
Assault rifles are generally restricted for security personnel as the rounds they fire are overpowered for most security duties or self-defense. When providing armed security or close protection duties we can only use force defensively and generally in environments where there could be innocent bystanders. When working armed you must consider the safety of innocent bystanders if you need to use your firearm. I am sure many of you reading this are saying “it’s better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6”… Well, I can agree, but understand that if you kill or injure an innocent person, you’re looking at being arrested, charged, and give jail time in addition to civil lawsuits and hefty legal fees.
The common rounds fired by what are classed as assault rifles (5.56mm & 7.62X39mm) are high-velocity rounds for military applications. 5.56mm & 7.62X39mm caliber rounds can easily travel for over two kilometers and more if unobstructed. So, if a target is missed or the round passed through the target it can still be lethal for a considerable distance.
In December 2021 in Los Angeles, California a 14-year-old girl was fatally shot by a Los Angeles police officer inside a North Hollywood clothing store two days before Christmas. The police officer was responding to a call of an armed man in the store. The police officer fired three rounds from an AR-15 (5.56mm) carbine at a suspect who was holding a bicycle lock. One of the bullets penetrated a wall behind the suspect and struck the girl who died in her mother’s arms inside of the changing room where she was hiding. The suspect was also killed. Was an AR-15 chambered in 5.56mm a suitable weapon for that environment? Personally, I would say not, but the AR-15 has become a favored carbine for US law enforcement.
You always need to consider the capabilities of caliber of the firearms you are selecting to work with or are given to work with. Assault rifles, carbines and sub-machine guns come in a wide variety of calibers. For example, you can get AR-15 platform firearms in 5.56mm, 7.62x39 and 9mm etc. etc.
Again, in most locations there are restrictions on what calibers of firearms civilians can own and what types of ammunition can be used. A common example of this is the use of hollow point ammunition which even in the US is legal in some states and banned in others. There can be further restriction for those performing security duties as to the calibers and types of ammunition that’s permitted for legal use. If your caught working with or using prohibited weapons and ammunition it can lead to hefty fines and licenses being revoked, to start with.
One incident I personally know of that illustrates how using prohibited ammunition can get you into trouble happened on an island in the Caribbean. A guard was involved in a justifiable shooting and killed a criminal. During the autopsy the bullets that the guard fired were removed for the corpse of the criminal and were found to be hollow point bullets. On that island all ammunition had to be imported and sold via the police and there were never any imports or sales of hollow point ammunition. The guard got away with the shooting but was charged with the possession of illegally imported ammunition etc.
An AR-15 platform firearm firing a 5.56mm round will have a lot more accuracy at longer distances that an AR-15 platform firearm firing a 9mm round due to the ballistics of the rounds. According to the US Army Technical Manual, the 5.56mm cartridge has a 500-meter range for individual or point targets with a carbine. Whereas a 9mm carbine has about a 100 to 150-meter range for individual or point targets. Remember both of these rounds will travel and can be lethal for longer distances, on our combat pistol course we have students practicing shooting 9mm pistols out past 200 meters.
You can see from these statistics that the 5.56mm round is meant for what can be classed as long-range military, hunting and target shooting applications. As with the standard AK-47 round, 7.62×39, which has individual target accurate out to about 200 to 300-meters depending on the type of platform, ammo, and the skills of the shooter.
Both of these rounds due to being high-velocity rounds will go further and penetrate a target far deeper than say a 9mm or another pistol caliber round. 5.56mm has the average velocity of about 950 meters per second (M/S), 7.62x39 the average velocity of about 720 M/S and 9mm has the average velocity if about is 380 M/S. These are average velocities, as they all depend on the firearm the rounds are fired from, the weights of the bullets and the powder charge in the cartridge.
So now with this very basic information on ballistics consider what would be the best caliber of a carbine for close protection, security, or law enforcement duties? Do you need a round that will reach out to 300 meters? I would say not! Most defensive shootings and attacks take place at close range with attacks out past 50 meters being extremely rare.
If we look back at the example of the 14-year-old girl that was shot in the Los Angeles clothing store, think again about the firearm the cop was armed with, an AR-15 in 5.56mm caliber. Do you now think it was suitable for that environment? Personally, I would say if a carbine was needed at all, then one in a pistol caliber would be more suitable for that task and environment due to my concerns for the over penetration capabilities of 5.56mm round.
When most people think of assault rifles and carbines they think of the M-4/AR-15/M-16 platforms or the AK-47 platform but there are many more makes and models available in a very wide vary of calibers. In this article I will briefly talk about the AR-15 and AK platforms as they are the most common.
The AR-15 is the semi-automatic version of the military M-4 carbine. The M-4 carbine is an updated and cut down version of the America Military M-16 rifle. These days there are many companies producing AR-15 platform guns within and outside the United States, some are very good, and some are not due to production quality.
In general, a good quality AR-15 is a very nice light and easy to use carbine. Within the US these guns are very popular, affordable with an abundance of magazines, spare parts, and add-ons available. To me, as I said the AR-15 is a nice light carbine, so it amuses me when I come across those that add a ton of unnecessary sights, lasers, lights, range finders etc. to their carbines.
The AR-15 chambered in 5.56mm is very easy firearm to shoot and the recoil is minimal especially when compared with say a 12g pump action shotgun. The fact the AR-15 is reliable, easy to use, easy to shoot and is very affordable has made it the carbine of choice for US law enforcement. Is the AR-15 an ideal weapon for law enforcement? I would say not, but it’s easy to use, cheap and available.
AR-15’s can accept a variety of magazines holding 3 rounds that are usually used for hunting and up to 100 round drum magazines that can be used for target or tactical applications. Magazines always need to be checked for reliability as some of the fancier large capacity magazines are just gimmicks for gun enthusiasts. You should also check legal capacity for magazines in your area as high-capacity magazines are banned or restricted in some places.
Most law enforcement and armed security firearms qualifications for the AR-15 in 5.56mm are shot at distances of 25 to 50 meters, which is well short of the capabilities of the firearm. A 9mm carbine can shoot as equally as accurate at these distances. And also, up to 50 meters I would say would be the maximum range for most confrontations law enforcement and security personnel are most likely to encounter. So, why are law enforcement personnel and security guards not using pistol caliber carbines?
Firstly, I would say it’s due to limited availability of reliable and affordable 9mm or pistol caliber carbines that are on the market. Yes, there are some very good pistol caliber carbines on the market but there are many more very affordable AR-15’s with plentiful magazines, spare parts, and accessories that are readily available.
Secondly, the AR-15 is a well-known “Brand” of firearm. Yes, such things as brand comes into play in today’s firearms world where looking cool is a higher priority for many than a weapon systems required performance capabilities.
Thirdly, the ego factor, “If the criminals have assault weapons, then we need them to”. Well, if you look at how the Narcos are armed in Mexico... If law enforcement in the US wants to keep up then they should be carrying fragmentation grenades, RPG’s, belt fed machine guns and have .50 sniper rifles in the trunks of their cars for the occasions they need to shoot past 50 meters.
In reality the emphasis should be on training and ensuring people are able to shoot accurately with the firearms they have. A quick 50-meter head-shot with a .22 long rifle round from say a scoped Ruger 10/22, will kill a terrorist armed whatever weapons they choose to carry.
As for the argument that 5.56mm rounds are required as the criminals now have access to body-armor… Well, they also have access to plate carries and plates that will stop 5.56mm rounds… So, it’s best to practice shooting for head-shots if you’re that concerned about body-armor wearing terrorists and criminals. But also remember if your rounds are impacting on a person’s plate carrier the chances are they have passed through their arms first and disabled them. Learning to shoot multiple rounds rapidly and accurately with a pistol or a carbine is an essential and basic skill for defensive shooting.
As the old saying goes “bad workmen always blame their tools”. From a psychological point of view, I am sure for many caring a carbine in 5.56mm it gives them more confidence to deal with hostile situations. For me this is a false confidence, but it makes up for a lack of professional training I suppose.
What can be classed as the AK-47 platform of firearms is as, if not more diverse, than the AR-15 family of firearms. The basics of the AK-47 platform has stayed the same over the years, but the firearms come in a wide variety of sizes, calibers and are produced by many manufactures internationally.
The AK platform of firearms have a reputation for robustness and reliability. They can be viewed as not being so refined as the AR-15/M-16 family of firearms, but they are very effective and battle proven firearms. As with the AR-15 they can also use magazines with a wide variety of capacities.
As with all mechanical devices there are good AK’s and bad ones, some AK’s are reliable and accurate and some are not. Bad manufacturing can be a problem with all firearms. One issue in the United States can be guns that were put together from foreign “parts kits” on a US made receiver. These guns can have reliability issues due to parts not being properly fitted. I am always wary of guns that have been assembled from parts from different manufacturers or overly modified by their owner. And even though AK’s have a reputation for working in all environments and conditions, like any other firearms they need to be cleaned at take care of.
The original caliber for the AK-47 is 7.62X39 mm, which is a larger round than 5.56mm. I am not going to argue ballistics here, I will just say both rounds are very effective for combat operations. A lot of the modern military production AK’s are chambered in 5.45mm which is a very potent round and extends the individual target accuracy of the AK out to about 300 to 400-meters.
One issue with a lot of the AK platforms is they are not produced with rails etc. for optics to be fitted, and an extra bracket needs to be added. A lot of the newer guns are coming with rails for optics and fore grips that are able to accept accessories.
AK platform firearms are in service with police and military units globally and I expect they will be for a very long time to come. They have a very good “brand”, reputation and are cheaper to buy than AR-15/M-4 platform firearms.
From a legal perspective in most places AK’s and assault rifles in general are only available to serving law enforcement and military personnel. But where possession of assault rifles is allowed, usually in semi-automatic only, you still need to ensure you know the laws 100%. In 2014 the five-man crew of the US salvage ship “Aqua Quest” spent 53 days in jail in Honduras because they entered the country with AK platform firearms. When they declared the weapons to customs officials they were arrested as possession of “soviet” caliber weapons which are banned in Honduras. If they had AR-15’s the chances are they would have been fine…
Over the last 30 years sub-machine guns have fallen out of favor with most police and military forces and have been replaced with assault style rifles. One of the initial ideas behind assault rifles was that they would combine the qualities of the rifle and sub-machine gun; a compact weapon chambered in a high-velocity caliber. For warfare such high-velocity assault weapons are ideal but for security operations I would say sub-machine guns in pistol calibers are better suited.
Sub-machine guns are general chambered in pistol calibers and are compact firearms that bridge the gap between pistols and rifles. They were initially designed for trench warfare during World War One where compact weapons with a high rate of fire were required for clearing trenches and bunkers. They were also issues to support troops and to those that needed a lighter and smaller weapon than a conventional rifle that was also more accurate and easier to use than a pistol.
Being compact with a high rate of fire makes sub-machine guns ideal for close combat. Special Forces have always retained sub-machine guns in their armories, one of the most famed being the MP5 by Heckler & Koch. There are other manufactures of sub-machine guns, but they have had difficulty competing with the AR-15/AK-47 platforms. Guns such as the H&K MP5 are also a lot more expensive than your average AR-15. The cost of a firearm and availability of accessories is a major selection consideration for the military, police and especially for private security companies.
Most military and law enforcement sub-machine guns are fully automatic and are very controllable if the shooters are properly trained. If shooters are not properly trained, they can have issues controlling any firearm that is fully automatic due to the weapons recoil. The recoil of the firearms when it’s being fired on fully automatic will cause the muzzle of the weapon to rise sharply and very quickly. If the weapon is not controlled properly then the rounds its firing will go over and past the target due to the muzzle rise. There have been numerous fatal accidents in United States on gun ranges where shooters have lost control of fully automatic firearms.
Semi-automatic sub-machine guns are easier to shoot than pistols for most people as that are heavier and absorb the recoil of the round more than a pistol can. They are longer so easier to grip and are fitted with a stock which is far better for controlling the weapon as it can be fired from the shoulder position. Close protection personnel should learn how to use folding stock firearms with the stock extended and closed.
As I have said, most sub-machine guns are rated for individual target accuracy for ranges between 100 and 150 meters, depending on the gun, type ammunition and skills of the shooter. Pistol rounds are a lot lower velocity than assault rifle caliber rounds and don’t have the same penetration qualities. This especially applies if the rounds being fired are hollow points. Hollow point rounds expand on impact which causes more trauma to the target and reduces the penetration capabilities of the rounds. But still remember most 9mm rounds for example if fired into the air at a 45-degree angle will still travel for about 1.5 to 2 kilometers or more.
In some schools of thought hollow point rounds are inhuman for causing excessive trauma to those they hit, and in other schools of thought they are safer as they will not over penetrate and go through a target and hit an innocent bystander. If hollow point rounds are to be carried in any pistols or sub-machine guns you should test fire several magazines of the ammunition to ensure there are no feeding or cycling problems with the firearm. Some guns due to being made for military applications with full metal jacket ammunition will have feed problems with hollow point rounds.
Being more compact than assault rifles and in low velocity calibers sub-machine guns should be the choice firearms for close protection, law enforcement and armed security duties. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation were apparently using MP5’s chambered in the very potent 10mm caliber, which is a very nice firearm for close quarters work. But it is also a very expensive firearm, and the ammunition is not cheap, if you can manage to find it available for sale.
As with all firearms the legalities need to always be considered. In the United States for example under Federal law all fully automatic firearms have to be registered with the ATF. Also, all short-barreled rifles need to be registered with the ATF. Short-barreled rifle (SBR) is a legal designation in the United States, referring to a shoulder-fired, rifled firearm, made from a rifle, with a barrel length of less than 16 in (41 cm) or overall length of less than 26 in (66 cm), or a handgun fitted with a butt-stock and a barrel of less than 16 inches length. So, most semi-automatic sub-machine gun with shoulder stocks would be classed as SBR’s. And again remember, even in some States within the US the laws vary greatly, and hollow point ammunition or high-capacity magazines can be illegal to possess.
I hope this article has clarified a few points about the use of assault rifles etc. and their applications for the close protection and armed security duties. I think a lot of the confusion about the applications of firearms for security duties these days is due to the fact that many of those providing the tactical courses are shooting enthusiasts, with no experience of actually providing armed security themselves.
Armed security is purely defensive and you and those employing you are responsible for your actions and every round you fire if you’re unfortunate enough to have to use force in a confrontation. If shots are fired, and even if no one is shot, the chances are you will be arrested, investigated, and possibly charged with an offense. From a close protection perspective our role is not to engage in unnecessary shootouts but to safely move our client out of any danger and using force only if absolutely necessary.
If firearms are needed to be carried, I would personally say a pistol caliber carbine or stocked semi-auto sub-machine gun zeroed out to 100 meters would be ideal for security duties. For close protection a concealed pistol should always be the primary firearm but for such duties as residential security a carbine would be handy and more accurate for most people if shooting at ranges of over 25 meters is required. Also, a pistol caliber carbine is easier to use than a shotgun and safer due to its accuracy. If someone does not understand how a shotgun shell’s pellets can spread at specific ranges, they can end up hitting innocent bystanders with stray pellets.
There are numerous carbines available that take pistol magazines such as the Ruger Firearms PC Carbine. So, with such a carbine the guards pistol magazines will also work in their carbine. Also, there a conversion platforms and attachable stocks for pistols that can enable the gun to be shoulder fired, which can be an ideal solution. But the problem with such conversions is that they could quickly turn a legal pistol into an illegal short barreled rifle. So, AGAIN, always check the laws! Some conversion platforms for pistols are coming with arm braces that can be shoulder fired, but again, check the laws to ensure they are legal to own and use in your location.
And as always, those handing pistols and carbines for close protection and security duties need at a basic level to be properly trained to use their weapons safely, shoot accurately from 0 meters up to 100 meters, be able to shoot from different positions, understand how to effectively use cover from fire and to be able to tactically work with other team members. These are basic requirements if your serious about working armed in the close protection industry.
Books on Amazon
Shoot First & Shoot Last: The Real World Guide To Pistol Craft
Handgun safety, shooting, concealed carry & tactical applications
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