BALDWIN, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) – Should cops on routine patrol be equipped with assault rifles to fire back in the event of a mass shooting?

The question was debated Thursday in Nassau County, where the police union wants long guns distributed. They say it’s to better protect themselves and the public.

They’re precision rifles, and specialized cops get intensive training because they’re not like the handguns they carry on patrol.

“There is a big difference between the two,” said Dan Reilly, senior firearms instructor of the Nassau County Police Department. “It’s going to travel quite a distance beyond the threat if you don’t hit the threat. So we are making sure an officer is capable of using it the way it should be.”

But Nassau County Police Union leaders say the long guns belong in every patrol car to match the firepower of active shooters.

So why are nearly 100 of them locked away in storage since 2015?

“They need to have these weapons. They are there. They are collecting dust. And they’re precision firearms. They are going to help you take out the threat so there is not mass carnage. It’s a no-brainer,” said Nassau PBA president James McDermott.

The PBA wants the unused rifles to go to street cops, securely locked, one per patrol car.

In a day and age of near-daily mass shootings, they say they are outgunned.

“We don’t have minutes. It’s precious seconds to get there. You’ve got to give it to the guy or girl who is going to get to the scene first and eliminate the threat and save lives,” McDermott said.

Nassau’s police commissioner fired back, detailing the 120 specialized cops who do carry assault rifles, including three per precinct.

“The professional opinion by the professional experts that stand behind me is that not every officer needs to have a long gun,” Patrick Ryder said.

Ryder said the unused rifles, paid for with asset forfeiture funds, not by taxpayers, do not belong in the hands of every rank and file officer.

“Not everybody can be the quarterback. Everybody has to play a position here,” Ryder said. “Everybody has a discipline they must be trained in.”

Training on long guns is ongoing, with a 30 percent dropout rate. Commissioner Ryder says it’s not feasible to train every officer.

Suffolk County is similar to Nassau, where only certain highly trained officers and supervisors and specialized units carry the rifles, reported CBS2’s Carolyn Gusoff.

Law enforcement is grappling with the issue, amid limited resources and unprecedented mass shootings.

There have been 291 mass shootings in the U.S. so far this year.

The NYPD says its special weapons are only used by specialized commands.

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