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Administrative handling of the patrol rifle

A patrol officer primer on daily rifle handling


This is a topic for which a picture is worth a thousand words, so embedded in this article is a video that offers an introduction to or refresher on administrative handling of the semi-automatic police rifle.

The video is 19 minutes, covering topics that deserve hours. Therefore, I recommend you see your agency’s rifle instructor(s) for more detail. They want you to succeed. They may also want to debate what I say in the video or in this article. Wherever there is a difference in curriculum, please follow the training given by your agency.

The video covers:

  • Some nomenclature
  • Four safety reminders
  • Five conditions of the weapon [1]
  • Checking the bore for obstructions
  • Function checking the weapon after reassembly.

Rifle condition checklists

Learning rifle conditions can be confusing for first-time rifle users. Remembering conditions can be difficult for experienced officers whose initial rifle training was too long ago. One way to learn conditions is by the numbers. [2] We use names that refer to the purpose of each condition, making it easier to remember.

Another way to learn conditions is to memorize five lists with a half-dozen elements each. But people tend to forget that kind of listed information soon after training. Checklists are helpful. A simpler way is to use this chart:


Everything revolves around neutral condition. The elements of neutral condition are:

  1. No magazine in the weapon.
  2. The chamber is empty (a chamber-check here is advisable).
  3. Action is closed (the bolt is forward).
  4. Selector is on SAFE.
  5. Dust cover is closed.

Once the elements of neutral are learned, rifle users only need to learn one additional step to move into the other conditions.

The selector cannot rotate to SAFE unless the hammer is cocked. With the selector on SAFE, a cocked hammer is implied in neutral condition. An argument can be made that cocking should be listed as a separate element of neutral. However, only coming out of storage condition will you need to cock the hammer. Standard safety protocol directs you go to inspection condition with any firearm whenever you take it out of storage. Doing so cocks the hammer, so I don’t include cocking on the list of things to remember for neutral. But if you like the extra reminder, use this model:


One of our safety reminders is a directive to always handle the magazine first when loading or unloading the weapon. Don’t confuse neutral’s cocked status with the process of loading or unloading. Loading begins at car-carry condition by inserting a magazine. Loading is completed at deployment condition by cycling the action, which does not cock the hammer because it is already cocked. Cycling for deployment feeds a cartridge.

The chart’s green arrows show greenlighted pathways for moving between conditions. For instance, the rifle user can easily move between neutral and car-carry with one action (by inserting or removing a loaded magazine). From car-carry to deployment is one step; but that green arrow doesn’t go both directions. Going from deployment to car-carry requires the user to go back through neutral.

Experienced rifle users recognize there is at least one shortcut not readily visible in the chart. From deployment condition, I can hop directly to inspection condition (in the direction of that green arrow) without landing on neutral. All I have to do is drop out the magazine and lock back the bolt. That is inspection condition.

The red line between deployment and storage condition represents a hard no-go. If I ignore the green arrow directing me from deployment to neutral – if I take a shortcut and skip from deployment to storage without landing on neutral (or inspection) – then I’ll discharge a round.

From deployment, by following the unloading rule I remove the magazine first and then cycle the action to cause an empty chamber, which puts me in neutral condition. Neutral is the identified pathway to storage condition. Taking the shortcut to inspection condition works well for that, too.

Inspection condition is momentary. We don’t store the weapon or carry it in the vehicle that way. One reason is, when the weapon is jarred the bolt catch can release and slam the bolt forward. Plus, during storage, we want to keep dust (and anything else) out of the action, so we close the action and dust cover. We also want to relieve spring tensions to the degree we can during storage.

As its name suggests, we use inspection condition literally for weapon inspections. Inspection condition is the surest way to confirm a weapon is clear of all ammunition. We can also use inspection condition as a stoppage-clearing method. (More on that another time.)

A note about deployment condition. When you remove the weapon from your vehicle in response to a dangerous situation, that is a rifle deployment. Put the weapon in deployment condition by cycling the action without any delay. Don’t carry the weapon around on a call in car-carry condition, waiting for the moment of truth to suddenly spring upon you. If the rifle is in your hands on a call, then the weapon is in deployment condition, selector on SAFE.

In all conditions except storage, the selector is on SAFE. In deployment condition, the selector remains on SAFE until you identify a justifiably shootable target, you have a clear firing lane at that target, and you decide to shoot that target. When trigger pulling ends, the selector goes back on SAFE.

For administrative purposes, storage is the only condition that involves pressing the trigger. The muzzle must be pointed in a bullet containment system (BCS) any time a trigger is pulled for administrative purposes. A BCS is a bullet trap, berm, loading pit, clearing barrel, whatever your agency designates at your work site for the purpose of administrative trigger pulls. Every gun-cleaning room and police locker room should have one. For rifle storage, if you don’t have a BCS then don’t press the trigger; instead, store the weapon in neutral condition.

For several reasons it is better to have individually assigned rifles, or authorize officers to use rifles they purchase themselves within policy-controlled specifications. But that is not the practical reality at many law enforcement agencies. If you use a pool rifle, or if a department rifle stays in the vehicle as you share the vehicle between shifts, then you need to inspect that weapon at the start of every work shift. Here is a checklist for that:

  1. Take the weapon to inspection condition and verify it is clear of all ammunition.
  2. If there is a BCS nearby, conduct a function check. No BCS, no function check.
  3. Reset the sling optimally for you.
  4. Verify the red dot and gun-mounted light brightly illuminate. If illumination is weak, replace battery/ies.
  5. Verify the magazines are loaded with issued ammunition.
  6. Put the weapon in car-carry condition.
  7. Lock the weapon in the vehicle.

Stay safe. And when you must shoot, shoot straight.

Video by Capt. Alex Charoni, SKFR


1. Rifle conditions should not be confused with rifle setups (accessories and gear). To reinforce the distinction in the video I used the simplest rifle configuration I could assemble.

2. Some U.S. military service members might have learned deployment as condition 1, car-carry as condition 3 and neutral as condition 4. (One source is the Annual Rifle Training Databook Service Rifle/Carbine, NAVMC 11659 (05-09), page 4.)

Deputy Chief Kyle Sumpter has over 30 years of law enforcement service. He was a patrol officer, FTO, training coordinator, major crimes detective, firearms instructor, SWAT officer and team commander, and graduated from the FBINA session 237. Kyle was on two seasons of the reality shooting competition show Top Shot. He teaches deadly force, de-escalation and resolving lethal situations to law enforcement officers throughout the state of Washington. Reach him at