Vehicular Long Barrel Weapons Mount
By David W. Pisenti
Special Agent Firearms Training Unit
Concealment, Security, Accessibility–These three factors are critical to the storage of long-barrel weapons in unmarked law enforcement vehicles. However, until recently, addressing all three of these factors simultaneously was not feasible. For the most part, law enforcement personnel had no other choice than to store such weapons in the trunks of unmarked vehicles, thereby sacrificing accessibility for concealment and security. Unfortunately, this practice led to many tragic situations that resulted in injury or death for a number of local, State, and Federal law enforcement officers. On June 26, 1975, FBI Special Agents Jack Coler and Ron Williams were surrounded by adversaries at Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Special Agent Coler was shot while attempting to remove shoulder weapons from the trunk of the Bureau vehicle. As Special Agent Williams administered first aid to his wounded colleague, he too was shot. Both Agents were killed at point-blank range.
Obviously, for maximum personal protection, law enforcement personnel should have immediate access to shoulder weapons when necessary. In response to this need, the FBI developed and tested an innovative vehicular long-barrel weapons mount that provides for the concealment, security, and accessibility of shoulder weapons. This article discusses the versatility of this new weapons mounting system, which accommodates a variety of shoulder weapons and is adjustable to fit a number of vehicles.
The Firearms Training Unit (FTU) at the FBI Academy began conducting extensive research to devise a passenger compartment storage system for long-barrel weapons in the late 1970s. Initially, a system was developed to mount the weapon forward of the front seat cushion. This system, while providing for storage and accessibility, did not conceal the weapon effectively and could not be used in vehicles with bucket seats or a center console. Also, because this system could not be locked, the vehicle could not be left unattended. Thus, while the system filled immediate needs, it did not satisfy long-term objectives.
In the early 1980s, the concept of a mounting system on the vehicles ceiling was proposed. Such a system would improve concealability and would facilitate storage and accessibility of the weapon, regardless of interior design variations.
Along these lines, a manufacturer developed a two-piece shotgun mount that attached to the outside edges of the vehicle headliner. The mount consisted of two components–the butt assembly, which encompassed the entire circumference of the shotgun recoil pad, and the barrel assembly, which accommodated the barrel end of the weapon. A synthetic spring-loaded dowel inserted into the muzzle applied sufficient pressure to the butt assembly to hold the weapon in place.
To remove the shotgun from this mount, horizontal pressure needed to be applied to the weapons muzzle. This freed the butt from the mount so that it could pivot forward until it was clear of the unit. Then, by releasing the tension of the spring-loaded dowel, the shotgun was ready for use.
However, for most individuals, both hands were needed to remove the shotgun from this mount. This required that the vehicle be stationary, which resulted in reduced response time during a crisis. Furthermore, this particular mount accommodated only one barrel length of shotgun, and the unit could not be locked.
REDESIGNED WEAPONS MOUNT
Then, in 1986, the Firearms Training Unit initiated a research and development project to design a new ceiling-mounted vehicular weapons mount system. In addition to concealment, security, and accessibility, the FTU set other requirements for a weapons mount:
1) The ability to fit any vehicle, and
2) the ability to accommodate a variety of weapons.
With these specific requirements in mind, FTU Agents drafted detailed specifications for a weapons mount, which were sent to interested manufacturers in the industry. A final prototype was fashioned and submitted to the FTU for testing.
TESTING THE NEW WEAPONS MOUNT
To evaluate the effectiveness of the new weapons mount, FTU Agents conducted a series of tests. These tests involved installing the mount in various types of vehicles to ensure its adaptability to vehicles used by law enforcement personnel. Then, these vehicles were driven at speeds of up to 65 m.p.h. to see if the occupants, regardless of seating position, could dislodge the weapon easily from the mount while the vehicle was in motion. Also, shotguns with different barrel lengths were placed in the mount to test its versatility. After extensive evaluation, this prototype was accepted for use in Bureau vehicles.
INSTALLING THE MOUNT
The major problem with equipment that is not installed in the factory is adapting the unit to individual automobile designs. Specifically, automobile ceiling construction varies from manufacturer to manufacturer and even among models built by one manufacturer. For example, some manufacturers install secondary roof supports from front to back, while others use supports that run side to side. Also, the distance between supports depends on the model. Knowing where secondary supports are located is important for proper installation of the weapons mount.
However, regardless of manufacturer or model design, a common feature in vehicle roof structures is the steel beam support that runs the length of the roof above the side windows. Therefore, specially designed brackets were attached to the ends of the vehicle weapons mount to accommodate curve variations in the roof. These roof-line variations make it necessary at times to reshape the end brackets so that the unit can be fitted as close to the headliner as possible. With the brackets properly shaped, the mount can be expanded telescopically to fit virtually any automobile, small truck, or van by adjusting the screws on the back of the center mount insert. Also, each bracket is affixed to the body of the mount by four screws to facilitate removal for reshaping. Once the vehicular weapons mount is properly adjusted, it can be installed in the vehicle.
The weapons mount can also be positioned front to back, from directly behind the rear view mirror and covering the dome light with its lens removed. However, to install the unit in this fashion, the secondary support must also run from front to back. Actually, the vehicular weapons mount can be positioned wherever there is support to anchor the end brackets. For example, mounts could be installed horizontally or vertically on the side wall of a tactical van. Once a mount is installed, the butt assembly can be adjusted to store a particular weapon.
Depending on the width of the vehicle, this weapons mount accepts a 14-inch, 18-inch, or 20-inch pump or auto-loading shotgun of any manufacturer, an H & K or Colt submachinegun, or an AR-15, M16A1, M16A2, M16A1 or A2 carbine. In addition, this unit accepts any shoulder weapon that will fit in both the butt and barrel-housing assemblies.
ADJUSTING THE MOUNT
The vehicular weapons mount can be adjusted by loosening the butt assembly with a wrench and placing the weapon into the unit barrel first. Then, the butt assembly should be slid forward until the butt plate of the weapon is secure. Marking the location of the butt assembly on the mount with a pencil facilitates repositioning once the weapon is removed. The loop of the butt assembly that holds the heel of the stock is also adjustable and should be marked to show a proper fit.
When properly adjusted, the weapon should be worked back and forth into the butt assembly so that it does not rattle when the vehicle is in motion. Once the butt assembly is properly positioned and tightened, the weapon should be removed several times to ensure proper assembly.
REMOVING THE WEAPON
When the mount is installed on the vehicle’s ceiling, a half-moon detent or notch, approximately the diameter of a 12-gauge shotgun barrel, can be seen in the center of the barrel assembly. This detent cradles the weapons muzzle end. If the weapon is equipped with an elaborate, high-profile front sight system, the mount may not accept it.
Directly above the detent is a spring-loaded jaw that pivots on the rear side of the barrel assembly. Therefore, the weapon must be lifted approximately 1 inch and pivoted forward for removal. This mechanical design feature allows the driver to remove the weapon from the mount with one hand, regardless of whether the vehicle is in motion or stationary.
To remove the weapon from the mount, the driver remains seated, with the left hand on the steering wheel and the right hand grasping the weapon close to the muzzle. Then, with palm up, the driver rests the thumb against the front edge of the mount body. By doing this, the weapon can be lifted up and moved forward over the driver’s head. Once the muzzle end is clear of the barrel assembly, the weapon is pivoted against the butt assembly with the weapon’s foregrip resting on the driver’s right forearm. If the vehicle is in motion, the weapon can be placed in a ready position, with the muzzle against the floor or to the left in the driver’s lap.
The weapon can also be removed by the right front seat passenger, if necessary. In this position, the passenger uses the left hand, palm up. The weapon is again eased out of the mount over the driver’s head, pivoted from the butt assembly, and rotated clockwise so that the muzzle end is never pointed at any occupant of the vehicle.
Once the weapon is removed from the mount, a variety of shooting positions can be used with the vehicle as cover. For example, while remaining seated, the driver can place the weapon on the left shoulder and fire from a position above the top door hinge. Or, the driver can fire from the right shoulder with the weapon placed as described above. Using the right or left shoulder position, the driver can also fire the weapon through the open driver’s door window.
For front seat passengers, the weapon can be fired while in the vehicle through the open window from either the left or right shoulder, depending on the exact location of the target. Like the driver, this shooter can also exit the vehicle, kneel, and shoot right or left shoulder from a position above the door hinge or through the window of the open door.
Firing positions can also be taken behind either the front or rear wheels of the vehicle. However, the position taken depends on the demands of the specific tactical situation.
Although there are many tactical advantages to the vehicular weapons mount, safety must always be the first consideration. Whenever the weapon is stored in the mount, it can be loaded, but no round of ammunition should be in the chamber. Also, the weapon should be removed from the mount when transporting a prisoner. If the vehicle is left unattended, the barrel assembly can be locked with a coinbox-type security key.
The unit should not be mounted directly above the driver’s head or near the sun visors. In the event of an accident, body movement could cause injury to the occupants of the vehicle.
As an added feature, headliner fabric matching the interior of the vehicle can be used to make a concealable weapons mount cover. As long as the cover can be fastened in such a manner for easy detachment, it will not impair the quick removal of the weapon from the mount, while providing added concealment.
Providing concealment, security, and accessibility for long-barrel weapons in unmarked vehicles is critical to the well-being of law enforcement personnel. The vehicular weapons mount designed and tested by the FBI’s Firearms Training Unit ensures that these criteria are met, giving an advantage to those deployed to potentially dangerous situations.
To obtain additional information regarding this vehicular weapons mount, write the author at the FBI Academy, Quantico, Virginia, 22135, or call 1-703-640-1159.