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.

The ability to recognize cover from concealment is another essential combative skill, though whether something offers cover or concealment depends on what type of weapon your opponent is shooting. Do not underestimate concealment it s hard to be hit if you can t be seen. Shooting while moving is widely taught these days, and I have no problem with that. Just don t spend too much time trying to shoot accurately while shuffle-stepping if getting out of the way of incoming fire fast is what you need to keep from getting shot.

Combative handgun training is nothing magical, even though many instructors will try to make you believe it is. Police gunfights are fairly well documented, and certain things tend to happen time and again. Re-create these circumstances on the range and learn how to fight through them. Example: Shooting while lying on the ground is not that difficult to do, it s just something you need to work out in training instead of trying to figure it out in the middle of a fight. The ability to respond without conscious thought remains key to prevailing in any altercation. This means you must work the needed skill out in training before an event.

Upper Level: Interactive Aspects

Better known as force-on-force training, the ability to use mock weapons that allow students to shoot back at one another is underutilized. The majority of trainers will use SIMUNITIONS- or Airsoft-type tools for scenario-based training, totally neglecting combative-skill building. Don t misunderstand scenario training is needed, but only after the skills learned at level two are reinforced. Such skills as drawing from the holster while moving, shooting at a moving target, engaging multiple targets, shooting from unconventional positions and from around cover will be better anchored if they re used against a target who is shooting back. Take the drills you do using live fire and paper targets to build combative shooting skills and do the same drills with two or more people who return fire. This is the time to enable a shooter to find and use their front sight under the stress of conflict, if this is a desired skill. It makes sense to me to train in and anchor these skills under fire before attempting to use them in scenarios.

The main reason agencies don t engage in such training is the cost and/or logistics of acquiring the required gear. SIMUNITIONS are the best way to conduct this training, provided the students are not so padded up as to make the hits (i.e., feedback) worthless.

If budget constraints make SIMUNITIONS out of the question, however, Airsoft is the way to go. The easiest way to begin an Airsoft training program is to purchase the pre-packaged kit available from Emerson Knives. The company s founder, Ernest Emerson, is known as one of the best defensive-skills trainers in the world. Having trained law enforcement and military personnel worldwide, Emerson understands the importance of interactive training at all levels of the force continuum.

Seeing a void in the availability of a total Airsoft training kit, Emerson went looking for the best components he could pull together to offer law enforcement agencies. The end result of this search is a kit contained in a zippered nylon case that includes an Airsoft Glock 19 pistol, a spare magazine, a dual-magazine pouch, 3,850 Airsoft BBs, Green Gas propellant, Airsoft gun lubricant and instruction literature. It s truly a complete kit and eliminates a number of hurdles in the way of starting an interactive handgun-training program.

In Summary

You must address all three levels of the pyramid to become properly skilled in defensive-handgun use. Remember: Right now, someone is training so that when they meet you, they beat you. Train hard and stay on guard.

Contact Info 
Emerson Knives, Inc.
P.O. Box 4180
Torrance, CA 90510
Tel. 310/212-7455
www.emersonknives.com




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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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