Every year, each law enforcement officer in North Carolina is required by the State to go the to firing range and re-qualify with his or her assigned firearms. In order to qualify, an officer must demonstrate an acceptable level of skill during both day and night shooting.
As part of the range qualification process, each officer must also attend a 4-hour block of classroom instruction about the legal use of force, firearms marksmanship, and firearms safety & maintenance. Additionally, each officer completes a small mountain of paperwork that documents his or her classroom attendance and records that officer's qualification with their weapons.
While the officers attend classes, manufacturer-certified armorers inspect each officer's assigned weapon annually for funtionality, wear & tear. Occasionally, the armorer may replace parts on a police officer's weapon to ensure that it is functioning properly.
At the Greenville Police Department, annual qualification means that about 188 police officers will attend classes and qualify at the firing range. They will shoot approximately 24,000 rounds of ammunition. The qualification process for this many people takes place over a 3-week period, and some officers may not finish their time at the range until 9 or 10 pm at night.
Qualification takes place regardless of the weather, and every officer hopes and prays for clear skies on their qualification day. Over the years, many an officer has qualified in a downpour, though.
For safety's sake, and to assure quality firearms instruction, the accepted ratio of instructors to students is 1 firearms instructor for every 5 students.
All police officers will shoot and qualify with handguns and shotguns. Some officers will also qualify with AR-15 semi-auto rifles. A few officers will qualify with 9mm submachine guns, and a very small handful of officers will qualify with .308 caliber sniper rifles.
Officers shoot a State-accepted course of fire from distances between 3 yards and 25 yards with their handguns. They shoot their shotguns at distances of up to 40 yards away, using buckshot and rifled slugs. Some officers will qualify with rifles and other weapons and shoot from as far away as 100 yards.
A handgun is part of the uniform, like the badge and the whistle, and every police officer who carries the handgun is mindful of the universal responsibility that goes with it. That responsibility to the rest of the community is something bigger than one's self.