THP now carrying semiautomatic weapons

By Jennifer Lassiter
Star Staff

With terror levels fluctuating and the use of deadly force on the rise our state's first line of defense, the Tennessee Highway Patrol, is planning for their future as well as ours.
   Tennessee Highway Patrollers are now carrying Bushmaster semiautomatic XM15E25 law enforcement carbines while on patrol. These rifles are in addition to the Glock .357-caliber Magnum handguns and Remmington 870 12-gauge shotguns now issued.
   The THP started training in East Tennessee and are steadily making their way westward throughout the state. This week training is in process for Middle Tennessee, which consists of 11 counties. The Fall Branch Division was the first to receive the new semiautomatic weapons.
   Training consists of a two-day course that requires officers to learn the shooting capabilities and proper care for their weapon. They will be expected to learn how to disassemble and assemble their rifles and how to properly clean them. They will also spend time at the shooting range.
   Training will coincide with the highway patrol's annual firearms training course. By mid-June the entire THP will be carrying the new Bushmaster semiautomatic rifles.
   Bushmasters weapons are currently used by the U.S. Border Patrol, California Highway Patrol, Florida Highway Patrol and many other government and law enforcement agencies.
   The sight system for this particular gun offers two flip-up apertures, which are designed for short range moving targets or long distance. "These rifles were special made to THP specifications," said Israel Anzaldua, Director of Law Enforcement and Government Sales.
   According to Colonel Larry Pitts of the THP, in 2001 three instances were recorded of deadly force being used. In 2002 five instances were recorded, and in 2003 six instances were reported. Pitts said, "With deadly force increasing, these weapons are appropriate for patrollers to carry." Pitts has worked with the THP for 29 years.
   Pitts also stated, "If it saves one officer's life, it is worth it for us."
   The new semiautomatic rifles hold 30 rounds, which fires only when the trigger is held. They have a heavy barrel which stretches to around 16 inches in length, making the total length of the gun 34.75 inches.
   Pitts said, "These rifles lengthen the shooting range of officers to around 300 yards."
   Beth Denton, Tennessee Highway Patrol spokeswoman, said, "A lot of our officers are first responders to the scene, and the new rifles give them another option."
   The new rifles are a last resort, and are mainly used for stand-off situations, or when assailants are using similar weapons. This is a growing trend around the country.