The police countersniper role was created not on a whim but in proportional response to a specific threat that first emerged in the 1960s after the worst mass-killing in U.S. history.
In August 1966, a 25-year-old University of Texas student, Charles Whitman, wheeled a dolly loaded with a duffel bag and military footlocker onto his campus tower elevator in Austin. At 11:48 A.M., after barricading himself atop the 28-story tower, the husky ex-marine and big-game hunter raised a Remington 6mm Model 700 rifle to his shoulder and peered through his scope.
A few months earlier, Whitman had told a university psychiatrist that he was so upset he'd been "thinking about going up on the tower with a deer rifle and start shooting people." He now lived out that grisly fantasy.
Over the next 90 minutes, Whitman engaged people up to three blocks away, killing 13 and wounding another 31, for a staggering total of 44 casualties. But what's of most interest to us is his choice of dominating terrain and weapons, as well as how he exploited both to the detriment of responding law officers.
Within minutes of Whitman firing his first shot, more than 100 lawmen from the Austin police, Texas Rangers, and local Secret Service office swarmed to the campus, but their problem was one of ballistic and optical disadvantage. Armed only with pistols and shotguns—having an effective
AUSTIN, TEXAS, 1966. Charles Whitman killed 13 and wounded 31 from his 28-story perch, a ghastly episode of mass murder.
range of no more than 50 yards—the lawmen were distinctly outclassed by a man who could hit even an exposed head at six times that distance.
Whitman's tower perch was surrounded by a waist-high ledge of brick and decorative concrete columns, creating many natural loopholes through which he fired. The best countersniper weapons in Austin were the deer rifles of civilian passersby, who shot side by side wrth local police but to little effect against the well-entrenched gunman.
Firing from his heavily reinforced hide, Whitman dominated the flat surrounding terrain, easily hitting several police officers attempting to rush the building. When he needed more firepower,
Firing from the landing just below the clockface, Whitman proved deadly up to three blocks away.
The carnage continued for 90 minutes until finally two lawmen and a deputized civilian entered the building through a subterranean passage, climbed the tower, and rushed Whitman, riddling his body with slugs.
Following the Austin massacre, many local police departments instituted a policy of assigning one rifle-armed officer to each shift. In these early days, a police rifleman's weapon was as likely to be a .30-30 lever action as anything else, since choices frequently were based on personal preferences. I recall that the St. Louis Police Department used .30-06 BAR sporting rifles in the early 1970s. Still, rifle-armed police seemed an oddity barely tolerated by administrators, and the police rifleman remained a relatively untried, seldom-called-upon adjunct, mobilized in only the rarest of cases.
wounding a responding law officer with a stolen rifle, he barricaded himself in a house, intending to kill anyone who came after him. That never happened, thanks to a single, well-placed police marksman's shot.
In Hollywood, Florida, a drunken, depressed man opened fire with an AR-15 from the 10th-floor balcony of an apartment building. Over the next hour, he fired an estimated 150 rounds, including 32 slugs into a responding police squad car, 10 of them through the windshield. By the time a police sniper positioned himself in a facing condominium tower across the street, it was almost dark and the perpetrator had left the balcony. Fifteen minutes later—apparently encouraged by more alcohol—the gunman reappeared and fired two fast shots. Honing in on his muzzle flash, the police sharpshooter fired only once. The incident was over.
Yes, police snipers have come a long way since 1966.
Perhaps the worst mistake a police sniper can make is to imagine he's a military sniper; equally, a military sniper is in grave error if he begins acting like he's a law officer.
There are considerable differences between the two, not merely the result of technical distinctions or silly concerns by officials fearing lawsuits. We must clearly examine these distinctions because they impact your tactics, organization, equipment, planning—every area of a sniper's job. And keeping these differences in mind will help you focus on the applicable data and techniques found in the following chapters.
Before drawing such distinctions, however, realize that the most fundamental sniping skills— marksmanship, fieldcraft, and tactics—are very similar for both police and military. The dramatic differences are in how a sniper applies them.
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Deer hunting is an interesting thing that reminds you of those golden old ages of 19th centuries, where a handsome hunk well equipped with all hunting material rides on horse searching for his target animal either for the purpose of displaying his masculine powers or for enticing and wooing his lady love.