The Hierarchy of Defensive Firearms Training - Training -

The Hierarchy of Defensive Firearms Training

Ascend the pyramid to achieve proficiency



Dave Spaulding | From the June 2007 Issue Thursday, May 31, 2007

Setting aside all the public-relations stuff that's part and parcel of American law enforcement, your primary function as a street cop is to place yourself between the citizens you serve and those who would prey upon them. An over-simplification? Not really. If there were no criminals looking to rob, rape and murder the citizenry of this great land, there would be no need for police. It's wise to believe these predators will try to hurt or kill you so they may ply their trade without government interference. If this happens, it will be your ability to use your sidearm with a high level of skill that will save your life. All officers in America must be prepared to be an active participant in their own rescue.

According to my Webster's dictionary, training means to instruct so as to make proficient. Instruct means to teach, educate or inform, while proficient means highly competent, skilled. Thus, defensive handgun training means teaching a person to be highly competent and skilled to use a handgun for individual defense. How much skill do you need to proficiently defend yourself? Who knows? For me, it's as much skill as I can develop because it will be my life on the line.

The reality: Very few police officers receive the level of training needed to be highly competent, skilled with their duty sidearm. Most agencies will require their officers to train one to three times a year, and while this sounds like a lot, it's not. (Some agencies qualify their officers and nothing more, which is not training.) None of us would bet $5 on a football game in which we knew the quarterback had practiced with the ball only one to three times in the past year. If we wouldn t bet a few bucks on such a game, why do officers bet their lives on the same odds?

Yes, it s easy to blame the agency, but this is a cop out. Most police departments can afford to get their officers to the range only a few times a year. The cost of ammo, the loss of man-hours and scheduling logistics make such training problematic at best. The truth is, it s up to each and every officer to prepare themselves to prevail in any conflict. After all, it will be your life on the line, not your chief s or sheriff s. Enough said.

I ve come to look at firearms training as a three-tiered pyramid I call the Hierarchy of Defensive Firearms Training. The tiers are 1) fundamentals, 2) combative aspects and 3) interactive aspects. You must properly proceed through each level before you attempt the next level. For example, would you take a counter-terrorist driving course before you take basic driver s training? Of course not. Along these same lines, you should not try to fight with a pistol until you ve learned how to shoot it. Some think they are one in the same, but they re mistaken. If you throw a punch before you ve learned how to make a fist, your punch won t be as effective.

Base Level: Fundamentals

The fundamental level provides what everything else builds upon. Compare it to placing your hands at 10 and 2 on the steering wheel when learning to drive. The fundamentals include safe handling, grip, body position (aka stance), sight alignment, keeping the gun running, loading and unloading, and, most importantly, trigger control.

The grip should use both hands and cover as much of the grip as possible. Any area of the grip left open will provide an avenue for recoil to carry the gun off target, making quick, multiple shots difficult.

I ve quit using the term stance as it relates to shooting a handgun because it really doesn t matter where your feet are situated as a matter of fact, it s quite likely they will not be where you want them when you need to shoot. What proves important is keeping your body in a position that allows you to deliver multiple shots in multiple directions without being thrown off balance. In general, this means you must keep your shoulders over your toes.

Keeping the gun running means being able to correct anything that stops it from working. For auto pistols, you must be able to clear any malfunctions quickly and easily, which is not as hard as it sounds. Someone just has to show you how to do it. Revolvers are a whole different matter. A quality revolver runs under very extreme conditions, but when it malfunctions it usually requires a trip to the gunsmith.

While many wish to debate using sights versus point shooting, I ve found neither is very important if the shooter can t control the trigger. Without trigger control, the muzzle won t stay in alignment with the target, and the shot will miss. Only hits count, so while I admit I m an advocate of sighted fire, I m an even greater advocate of trigger control. Without it, everything else is a waste of time.

Mid Level: Combative Aspects

Once you know how to shoot the gun, you need to know how to fight with it, which is easier said than done. You must be able to shoot in positions other than standing, at very close quarters, at long distances, with both the strong and weak hand alone, at multiple adversaries at varied distances, at moving targets, while the officer is moving and in less-than-perfect light conditions. It s one thing to stand on the line and shoot at a stationary target, it s another to have to punch the target while drawing the gun, moving laterally and delivering multiple shots at double arms-length accurately.

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Dave SpauldingDave Spaulding, the 2010 Law Officer Trainer of the Year and Law Officer's Firearms columnist, is a 28-year law enforcement veteran who retired at the rank of lieutenant.


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