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Reconsidering the Designated Marksman

The guy who wrote the Army manual on rifle marksmanship has thoughts on improving the DM role.

Story and Photos by Ash Hess

The role of the designated marksman, or DM, has been around since firearms came into battle. Out of
every formation, someone always rises to the top when it comes to shooting prowess. The difference between this individual and a sniper is that the DM is part of the squad, not an attachment. This is clear in the US Army’s field manual, ATP 3-21.8 Infantry Rifle Platoon and Squad. The DM does not operate independently of the squad, nor engage targets at extreme range. The DM will have an “optically enhanced rifle” compared to the rest of the squad and, more recently, a specialized rifle for the role.

I served as a squad designated marksman (SDM) over the course of two deployments in Afghanistan. While
most of the formation had red dot optics, I first had an Advanced Combat Optical Gunsight (ACOG), then a low power variable optic. Since then, I founded and built a company that runs matches focused on the role. You can say I have been living this life for over a decade, and I have learned a thing or two.

THE FIRST IS that many are misguided about the role. They will say the DM’s role is to engage targets from 300 to 600 yards. That leads them to look for optics and rifles that are effective at those ranges. This is false. The DM is part of the squad, which means they must be able to engage from 0 to 600 yards. The DM must be effective for any mission assigned to the squad, from room clearance to mountain warfare.

Engaging targets from 300 to 600 yards is a whole different equipment set. Those who think this way create
the situation where the already limited members are down a man due to not being able to conduct one or more missions effectively. The US Army recognized this (eventually) and chose a 1-6x optic for their Squad Designated Marksman Rifle (SDM-R). It was a fight, though, as the first version had a 3-9x optic. While much of the fighting in the cities of Iraq was conducted using 4x ACOGs, few, if any, would recommend that much magnification for close work.

Second, the role is highly overrated. In my own experience and in talking to many other veterans, not one time has the DM changed the outcome of a fight. There are stories of a good shooter changing the outcome, but it’s usually someone other than the one assigned as the DM. As part of the squad, odds are low that one person will be in the proper location to get the call from the squad leader to engage a low-probability-hit target.

Third, training for the role comes from inside the unit, as there are either no or limited training opportunities for those assigned as DM. Training will then come from one of two places: the squad leader and their understanding of ballistics, complex engagements and equipment use, or the unit’s sniper section. This results in two different DMs.

The first type is trained by the squad leader (SL). Sometimes, the SL has a good working knowledge of needed skills but keeps the DM focused on squad things. This yields a DM who focuses on door-kicking and
shoots distance sometimes but does not practice enough to really be a force multiplier when the moment comes.

The second type goes and trains with the snipers at their ranges. He or she focuses on distance shooting
and begins to think like a sniper. You will hear them trying to separate from the squad to overwatch or otherwise act like a baby sniper. This DM does not focus on close work and does not integrate with the squad effectively. Either way, the training does not properly prepare them for the role. It is not an integrated approach based in doctrine, which means DMs from squad to squad and company to company will be different. That makes it impossible to gauge the effectiveness at any level.

Finally, the selection for the role is unsatisfactory. Everyone in a squad has a job or two. Many times, the role will be assigned to the best shooter in the squad based on qualification scores. While there is merit in this, it is not the way. As a former senior noncommissioned officer, I do not want my squad or team leaders focusing on a single target to eliminate. They need to be leading, as their title implies. Obviously, the machine gunner and the grenadier have jobs to do too. This leaves the rifleman, the newest person to the squad, with the space to do the job. Odds of this being your best shooter are low, but it is their job to shoot whatever the squad leader tells them to. Thus, the wrong person gets selected for the job. The follow-on to this is that by the time someone gets to the level of being a good DM, they are promoted away from the role.

MY MENTOR ONCE told me to not mention problems without a proposed solution. So here are my thoughts on DM fixes. Onboard every new member of the force with DM training. This should include complex engagements, ballistics, stability and environmental effects. This would effectively train all members of the unit in these skills and over time the effectiveness of the squad would increase. Imagine having 10 DMs versus one. One, though, has the rifle for it. This also adds redundancy because rather than a single point of failure, anyone can grab the DM rifle and do excellent work. Next, training for all should go out to 600 meters or yards. Then and only then will leaders know who is good. It does not have to be often, but it needs to be done. This profoundly changes the squad dynamic, the role and use of the DM, and has the added benefit of becoming a feeder for sniper sections.

While this article focuses on military application, it can apply to law enforcement. The DM role might
be as close as 100 yards, but the rules still apply. The odds of the trained officer being on the scene to do a low-probability hit are low. But if all officers have the basic skill set, equipment and understanding, those odds of someone being on the scene to make that shot are exponentially higher. No, the DM will not save everyone. The DM is not a fix. A good foundation in marksmanship beyond typical engagement ranges for all members of the force will change gunfights in favor of the good guys.

Editor’s note: Ash Hess is a highly seasoned combat veteran of 22 years with four combat deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq, totaling 52 months. His military training includes the US Army Master Marksman Trainer course, as well as rifle marksman instructor, urban combat leaders’, senior leaders’, army basic instructor, high-angle marksman and unit armor courses. He also wrote TC3-22.9, the Army’s marksmanship manual.

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2nd Amendment

Biden Comes Out Swinging Against Second Amendment


In a recent interview on the “SmartLess” podcast, President Joe Biden’s comments regarding gun violence and the Second Amendment have sparked a resounding response from staunch defenders of individual liberty and the right to bear arms.

President Biden’s pledge to prioritize addressing gun violence in a potential second term, alongside his assertion that the Second Amendment “wasn’t absolute ever,” has galvanized advocates of the right to bear arms. His characterization of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines as “bizarre” and his call for stricter regulations have only served to reinforce the resolve of those who stand firm in defense of constitutional freedoms.

By disregarding the historical significance of the Second Amendment and questioning the notion that “the [tree of] liberty is watered with the blood of patriots,” President Biden has revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of American values and the vital role of armed citizens in preserving freedom. His remarks have struck a chord with those who believe in the inherent right of individuals to defend themselves, their families, and their communities.

In response to President Biden’s rhetoric, defenders of the Second Amendment have rallied behind the principles of liberty and self-reliance. They reject any attempts to curtail their constitutional rights and view the proposed gun control measures as nothing more than government overreach. They argue that the right to bear arms is not subject to government approval or restriction but is a God-given right that must be fiercely protected.

President Biden’s proposals for stricter gun control fail to address the root causes of gun violence and unfairly penalize law-abiding citizens. Instead of punishing responsible gun owners, defenders of the Second Amendment advocate for solutions that focus on enforcing existing laws, improving mental health services, and promoting responsible firearm education.

As the debate over gun rights and gun violence rages on, defenders of the Second Amendment remain steadfast in their commitment to freedom and self-defense. They understand that the right to bear arms is not negotiable and will continue to fight against any attempts to undermine this fundamental liberty.

In the face of President Biden’s rhetoric and proposed policies, supporters of the Second Amendment stand united in their determination to protect and preserve the rights of law-abiding citizens. They are the guardians of freedom, standing strong against tyranny and oppression, and ensuring that the flame of liberty burns bright for generations to come.

What do you think of Biden’s attempt to attack Second Amendment rights? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

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Surge in Firearm-Related Crime Exposes Failures of Gun Control in Canada


A recent report by Toronto Star contributor Shaquille Morgan has shed light on the alarming surge in firearm-related crime plaguing heavily gun-controlled Canada. According to data from Canadian police, there were a staggering 9,198 victims of gun-related crime in 2022 alone, marking a ten percent increase compared to the previous year and a staggering 60 percent surge since 2013.

Morgan’s analysis underscores the ineffectiveness of Canada’s stringent gun control measures, particularly in curbing the proliferation of handgun-related violence. A startling 63 percent of gun-related homicides in Canada were committed with handguns, highlighting the urgent need for targeted interventions to address this concerning trend.

Despite Canada’s efforts to tighten gun regulations in recent years, including expanded background checks, bans on assault weapons, and a national handgun freeze, the surge in firearm-related crime persists unabated. The federal government’s commitment of $250 million to address the root causes of gun and gang violence has yet to yield tangible results, leaving communities vulnerable to the scourge of gun violence.

The handgun freeze, which prohibits the sale, purchase, or transfer of handguns within Canada and restricts the importation of newly acquired handguns, has failed to stem the flow of illegal firearms into the hands of criminals. Moreover, the stringent licensing process for gun ownership, which requires individuals to undergo approved gun safety courses, has not deterred those intent on perpetrating acts of violence.

The failure of Canada’s gun control measures to curb firearm-related crime underscores the need for a more comprehensive and evidence-based approach to addressing the root causes of violence. Merely enacting stricter regulations and imposing blanket bans on certain firearms overlooks the complex socio-economic factors driving criminal behavior and fails to provide effective solutions to prevent future violence.

Moving forward, Canada must prioritize holistic strategies that address the underlying social, economic, and systemic factors contributing to gun violence. This includes investing in community-based initiatives, improving access to mental health services, and addressing socio-economic disparities that fuel crime and gang activity.

Furthermore, Canada must enhance collaboration between law enforcement agencies, community organizations, and government entities to implement targeted interventions that disrupt criminal networks and provide support to at-risk individuals. By adopting a proactive and multifaceted approach to addressing gun violence, Canada can work towards creating safer communities for all its residents.

In the face of rising firearm-related crime, Canada cannot afford to rely solely on restrictive gun control measures. It is imperative that policymakers, stakeholders, and communities come together to develop comprehensive solutions that address the root causes of violence and promote lasting peace and security across the nation.

Is there any hope for gun rights in Canada? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

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Did the ATF Just Turn You Into an Unlicensed Gun Dealer?


Amidst the world of firearms and gun ownership, scenarios arise where individuals find themselves downsizing their collections or navigating the complexities of buying and selling firearms. For some, it may involve parting ways with budget guns to fund the acquisition of their dream firearm, while for others, it could entail managing the estate of a deceased family member who left behind a substantial gun collection.

However, recent regulatory changes by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) have introduced new considerations and challenges. With the implementation of ATF Rule 2022R-17, the definition of who qualifies as a firearm dealer has been broadened, potentially impacting individuals engaged in occasional sales or private transactions.

Under the revised regulations, the criteria for determining whether someone is “engaged in the business” as a dealer in firearms have been expanded. This includes factors such as the intention to “predominantly earn a profit” from firearm sales, regardless of the medium or method used for transactions. Additionally, the definition of “dealer” now encompasses individuals conducting firearm transactions through various channels, including online platforms and gun shows.

Despite these changes, the regulations provide clarity on exemptions for individuals selling firearms as part of a personal collection or hobby, as long as sales remain occasional and not primarily for profit. However, navigating these distinctions requires careful attention to detail and adherence to legal requirements to avoid unintentionally falling afoul of the law.

The implications of ATF Rule 2022R-17 extend beyond mere technicalities, potentially impacting the everyday activities of gun owners and enthusiasts. From selling off surplus firearms to acquiring new additions to their collections, individuals must now navigate a regulatory landscape that demands heightened awareness and compliance.

Moreover, the rule underscores broader concerns about government overreach and the erosion of Second Amendment rights. By redefining existing regulations without legislative scrutiny, the ATF’s actions raise questions about transparency and accountability in firearms policy-making.

In light of these developments, individuals involved in firearm transactions must stay informed and adapt to evolving regulatory frameworks. Whether buying, selling, or transferring firearms, adherence to legal requirements and diligent record-keeping is paramount to avoid unintended legal consequences.

Ultimately, as gun owners and enthusiasts navigate the changing landscape of firearms regulation, vigilance and advocacy for Second Amendment rights remain crucial. By staying informed, engaging in responsible firearm ownership practices, and advocating for sensible policy reforms, individuals can uphold their rights while ensuring compliance with legal requirements.

Are you concerned about being on the wrong side of the ATF? Leave your thoughts in the comments below. 

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