Dealing With Armored Attackers & The Police PDW Concept

Dallas Sniper Micah Johnson dead. Note the Body Armor Plates.

Dallas Sniper Micah Johnson dead. Note the Body Armor Plates.


By  C.R. Williams

I was recently asked to offer my thoughts about this article  written by Captain Jim Pope of the Columbus, Georgia Police Department. In it, Captain Pope first makes a case for why every officer needs a Personal Defense Weapon for which he offers this general description:

“… it can be generally agreed that the modern personal-defense weapon will be a short-barreled rifle (SBR) chambered in a caliber more powerful than a typical handgun cartridge. Often, the PDW will have select-fire capabilities.”



He then goes on to provide a list of existing weapons that could be pressed into service by law enforcement as well as purpose-built PDW systems currently produced for military and law-enforcement use, suggest a carry method consisting of, in his words ”A hard plastic containment system or BFH (big freakin holster) would need to be designed and incorporated into an external body armor rig. The containment system should be at a 45-degree angle across the torso. The rig/holster would be in a fixed secure position and the gun would basically snap down into a mold the shape and size of the weapon.” and offers his ideas about how to address the inevitable concern (which we knowwould go swiftly beyond hand-wringing and into the area of weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth) which some groups and members of the public would express about offices carrying such weapons systems on a large-scale basis.

Captain Pope’s thoughts and suggestions are well-considered and I find no serious flaws in the article as it is. I do find a few gaps in his coverage of the subject and would like to bring them to your consideration here because the concept of the PDW is being considered and taken up by more and more civilian students of the fight. (For a larger and more detailed study of what I call the C-PDW you can refer to Volume Four of my ‘Gunfighting, and Other Thoughts about Doing Violence’  series). So let me add some thoughts to Captain Pope’s excellent article now.  

First Step: Adjusting Training

Since Captain Pope is writing specifically about the PDW weapon system he does not address two things that any police department or anyone that wants to (or thinks they should) can do to start adjusting for the increasing possibility of body armor (or an explosive vest) on an attacker: Train to be a head-hunter.

This is something that police departments and trainers could start doing right now at very little (if any) cost: Shift a greater part of firearms training to 1) a focus on greater precision and then 2) assign greater priority to shooting the attacker in the head. Part of this training for police can be done in the classroom by offering visual aids that help officers recognize when an attacker is or might be wearing armor. This training would be similar to what is already done for pre-fight indicators and for ‘tells’ about concealed weapons. Besides this, targets should be modified or produced that show partial or full armor on a subject and simulators should have programming added to show suspectswith and without armor and explosive vests. Exposure to such aids will allow officers (and the rest of us once this gets into the broader market as it eventually will) a better chance to recognize when defaulting to Center Of Mass (COM) as a target will not work.

In addition, greater emphasis in firearms training should be placed on shooting not just to the head but to the right places on the head. While it is true that almost any hit on the face or head will at least greatly disrupt an attacker’s thinking, it is also true that people have not just survived but continued to function and fight after being shot there. Counter-offensive shooters should therefore make a study of the head as a target area just like they do the rest of the body with emphasis on hitting the ‘light switch’, that region at the base of the brain that controls autonomous functions in the body. This ‘no-reflex’ point is small and requires a training focus on smaller areas and points than most current ‘tactical’ shooting training emphasizes. ‘Aim small, miss small’ is becoming more than an admonition about proper shooting technique, it is now becoming one of the tactical maxims of the serious counter-offensive shooter.

Second Step (for Police): Adjusting Ammunition

The next step—admittedly far easier for police departments than for anyone else in the US at least—would be to purchase and issue armor-piercing ammunition to each officer. They should not replace every round carried with AP ammo because the vast majority of attackers will not have body armor on and AP rounds will go all the way through a body without pause and without doing a lot of damage along the way. A single magazine of AP for each weapon, however, would allow them some chance of compensating for anything short of hard plate armor as long as they had only a little time to swap that magazine out for what’s in the pistol or rifle at the time.

For someone who is not in law enforcement or the military, however, this option is simply not available. Armor-piercing ammunition is illegal for the rest of us to possess in the US. The closest thing we could get to AP would be some types of Full-Metal-Jacket ammunition and even that is a poor, poor substitute for actual AP ammo. For the rest of us, the answer is simple: Shoot them in the head.

Third Step: Change the Vehicle-Carried Weapon

Something else police departments can do (with, admittedly, varying degrees of difficulty due to the cost involved) is to 1) Get a rifle for every officer or every patrol vehicle, 2) either ditch the shotgun entirely or move it into the trunk for special-circumstance use and then 3) mount the rifle in the front where the shotgun used to be. Too many departments restrict the number of officers that are authorized to keep rifles and too many departments don’t allow even those officers it qualifies to have that rifle immediately available to them in the vehicle. In doing this they make it hard to nearly impossible to quickly bring that rifle to bear on an attacker. Even without AP ammunition the rifle has a better chance of punching through body armor than any pistol they will have on them. Besides that, rifles offer far better precision-shot capability, increasing the officer’s chances of hitting them in the right place in the head and stopping the armored attacker’s action quickly. 

For the rest of us the recommendation is simply that if you carry a long gun in your vehicle then 1) make it a rifle, not a shotgun and 2) set it up so that you can access it from wherever you store it within sixty seconds or less. Also, understand that we are not limited in our choice of caliber like the Patrol Division of the local PD is. We can, if we can afford it and shoot it well, make that rifle into a heavier or magnum caliber that will offer us a better chance of defeating armor than the standard-issue 5.56/.223 has.

Now, about that PDW

One thing I consider a possible flaw in Captain Pope’s reasoning is the proposed carry method for his police PDW system. One of the weaknesses I see is with wearing it in a vehicle. If you’re the driver it’s going to be pretty much out of the question. Easier to just mount a rifle in the front and keep one additional magazine for it on the belt and others in a bag or vest or bandolier. The other is that, if the weapon is not in the officer’s hands, wearing it on the chest makes it vulnerable to being disabled by hits the officer takes in that area. Since a lot of the time an officer is fired upon first, it is unlikely the weapon will be out of that chest carrier every time and so might be rendered useless from the start.

I would recommend a PDW, whether police or privately owned, be slung so that it hangs from the side. UZIs, MP5Ks and other submachine guns could be carried this way even under suit jackets. A PDW carried this way is secure, can be brought into action quickly, and is less likely to be in the line of fire when it does not mean to be.


(Property of CR Williams)


(Property of CR Williams)


Another mild weakness of Captain Pope’s article is his emphasis on over-powering armor. His list of examples and the definition he uses for a PDW are clear indications of this bias. Partially because of this he precludes one option (I bet he never even thought about it, in fact) for a police PDW that could be of lower cost than any of his example weapon systems and easier to carry, employ, and train to use: The stocked pistol.

Stocked pistols were very early attempts to provide soldiers with what we now call a PDW.

The Broomhandle Mauser, the Artillery Luger, and a stocked version of the Browning Hi-Power are among the more interesting examples of this concept. That concept is not limited to history, however. There are modern examples of stocked pistols available and in use today.

(NOTE: Stocked pistols are NFA items in the United States. If you’re going to put an actual stock on a pistol you will need to apply for a tax stamp with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and pay them 200.00. You can, using adapters available, put an arm brace on a pistol [I show an example of that in my book.] but it cannot be put on the shoulder like a stock or you will be in violation of law and regulation. Make sure you understand all of the applicable laws and rules before you undertake this kind of project.)


(Property of CR Williams)


 Stocks are available for some pistols right now, but none of them I am aware of at the time of this writing include the one characteristic that would make them useful to a police officer: A folding mechanism. It should be a matter of simple design and engineering to create a folding stock for any current police-issue handgun that would allow the pistol to be carried in the holster with the stock folded along the outside. This could be retrofitted to existing firearms, would be more affordable than separate purpose-built PDW systems and would not require much additional training for the officer to be able to operate the system (some practice locking the stock out and shooting with the stock would be all it should take). With proper design the folder could be used with existing holsters and stay out-of-the-way and out of the line of fire and allow for one-hand use of the weapon right out of the holster as needed. When greater range and/or precision is required the stock could be unfolded, extended and locked solid to provide the shoulder mount and four points of contact that could then assist with the kind of precision shooting that would allow the officer to finesse their way around any body armor or explosive vest an attacker was wearing.


(Property of CR Williams)


A folding shoulder stock could also allow for a measure of concealment to make the PDW available to plainclothes and undercover police. The shoulder stock could allow easier firing of higher-power ammunition that would increase effective range, accuracy over range, and barrier/armor penetration (some really hot AP ammo in that special-case magazine, for example). It would be bulkier and more liable to brushing against/bumping things when carried on the side whether on a sling or in a holster but design and experience carrying the system could and will minimize this. It would be slightly more awkward and heavier and the balance will be different when using it with the stock folded whether one or two-handed. Again, design and experience working with the system should allow the end user to adapt to those changes.  


(Property of CR Williams)

The same characteristics that make a stocked-pistol PDW useful to police also make it a viable candidate for the Civilian PDW role. Even if you decide to eschew the full stock and go with an arm brace on an adapter, that ‘not-stocked’ pistol can provide a third point of contact by use of a cheek index that could make the difference between a first-shot stop of an attack or a longer gunfight with all the additional risks that adds. We also have the option of setting up a stock on a higher caliber pistol than any police department is issued which—assuming you can handle that higher caliber well—an offer increased capability and a better chance to defeat armor and/or deal with the attacker at greater range than we can with our normal carry weapon.


(Property of CR Williams)

Combined with changes to training and practice, this kind of modified pistol could give you an additional edge in the event you’re facing someone with body armor and ill intent whether you’re a police officer or not. For that reason it is well worth considering the addition of the stocked pistol or it’s braced variant to your list of fighting guns.

You be safe out there. And if you can’t be safe… be DANGEROUS!

You can read more of CR Williams musings at his website, In Shadow In Light.

CR’s books can be purchased through Amazon.


4 thoughts on “Dealing With Armored Attackers & The Police PDW Concept

  1. Our training in the 20th century against vested opponent, was to double tap center mass, and if no response, flex your knees, lowering your shooting platform (turret), and double tap, groin. When I did the face shots during qualifications, the range staff went nuts.
    Incidentally, Three of the seven I shot while On-Duty, were, head shots. Lighting and clothing, the only target I saw with my vision, was, the face. (Right between the eyebrows)

  2. Pingback: Dealing With Armored Attackers & The Police PDW Concept | Rifleman III Journal

  3. Very interesting article. With armor becoming more popular with civilian this is something law enforcement will be forced to deal with. I agree more up to date training and better shot placement is key to stopping armored threats.

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