June 2005 incident
A Yuma, Ariz., police officer takes cover behind a vehicle at a call of shots fired.
FEATURED IN TRAINING
The handguns we carry are not ornamental. For us, the handgun is a tool to be used when we are faced with the actions of the most dangerous criminals. Every officer must be competent under extreme stress. In truth, the majority of officers haven’t mastered the most basic skills that will make them effective shooters and fighters.
Many departments have no training system, only a requirement that officers “qualify.” Qualification may be as simple as firing 30–50 rounds standing still, in full light, in front of an unmoving piece of paper, with no induced stress, no verbalization and no realistic time limitations. Question: What are these officers qualified for? To fight the next piece of paper they encounter?
This isn’t what a street fight is like. What we’re doing is confusing a most basic level of mechanical firearms use with the most advanced physical demands of an armed confrontation. There’s no equivalence, and those who hold to this standard do so in the hope that it “won’t happen here.” But it can and will.
Example: In the 1970s, a WWII Pacific Campaign vet who was a police lieutenant in a town near me—let’s call him Jack—stood in line at a grocery store counter off duty. Suddenly an armed robber shoved a .38 snub revolver into his side and took Jack hostage. Jack pushed the robber away as he drew his Model 39 S&W 9 mm. The offender fired all five rounds at the cop at arm’s length. None of the rounds struck Jack, who returned multiple rounds—all hits—and killed the gunman. Jack was a man of great experience and knowledge earned in fierce combat.
This isn’t an isolated example. Numerous gunfights have been reported in which handguns are emptied—by officers and bad guys—at very short distances with no hits. Why? Because of the lack of movement, stress, low light and unrealistic training.
Need to Train
Doing our firearms training for agencies in the Chicago area, we work with our state-supported law enforcement training group MTU #3/North East Multi Regional Training. In recent years, we have combined Henk Iverson’s Strike Tactical Level 1 advanced pistol skills course (www.StrikeTactical.com) with our basic shooting skills class. Iverson has led the way for us in defining the reality of armed confrontation. His knowledge and experience have stripped our discussion down to, “Would you really do that in a fight?” If so, prove it. Don’t tell me; show me.
What do we do? Day one, we start with an explanation of what police officers face during violent incidents. Many officers have no experience with violence and haven’t been in a fight of any type. It’s essential that we instill in every officer the will to overcome and win in any fight.
But we also caution that a time will come when you can’t prevail with what you face; fast, purposeful movement out of the line of the threat or the area of danger is essential. When I ask officers how they feel about the word retreat, universally, they say it’s synonymous with weakness or cowardice. Yet retreat may be exactly what will save their lives. So we change the word retreat to “advance in another direction at a high rate of speed.” When I ask if that’s OK, they smile and say that makes sense.
We then ask about physical skills and body dynamics: “What’s the stance in a gunfight?” A free-flowing discussion follows to illustrate that there’s no classic stance, because fights involve movement. Example: Iverson opens his folding knife and extends the tip of the blade forward. For safety purposes, he then closes the blade but keeps his arm and knife handle extended. A student officer stands directly in line of Iverson’s arm as Iverson moves forward in a simulated attack. He asks: “Would you stand where you are as the knife closes on you?” “No way!” says the officer, as they move laterally off the line of attack. Then, asks Iverson, “Why would you stand unmoving in the path of a bullet?” Answer: Officers haven’t been trained to move. They are forced to remain within the shooting booth on the range for “safety purposes.”
On the Draw
Next we look at how we draw and present the handgun. Fighting is about time. The more time we take to address the threat, the less likely we are to win. When the decision is made to draw the handgun, the movement should be smooth and efficient, and get the muzzle on the threat immediately. What we often see instead is a draw that has the muzzle starting in a down mode and swinging in an arc. We call this swinging motion “digging potatoes.” With the muzzle toward the ground, the pistol is open to deflection or disarm, no round can be delivered on the threat—and we’ve lost vital time.
Instead, we instruct the officer to gain a full grip on the pistol by first driving the gun hand down into the pistol, breaking through all retention devices before the pistol is drawn upward. As the muzzle clears the holster, the gun-arm elbow is bent 90º to the rear. The gun hand then rotates 90º to place the pistol directly under the pectoral muscle. From this position we can fight in close, fire on target and effectively protect the pistol. Safety note: Ported barrel/slide handguns must not be used for this type of close-quarters shooting. The blast from the ports directly below the face and eyes is a serious issue. At the same time, the support side hand and arm are moved into a defensive/offensive position that Iverson refers to as a “shield arm.” Why would we hold our non-gun-side hand against our body as we draw? Such hand placement is often a vestige of academy training intended to prevent the untrained and unknowing from covering the muzzle with the support-side hand.
Henk demonstrates fighting skills from the Zulu warriors of his South Africa. He shows the Zulu shield and spear techniques that made them the most feared of close-battle warriors. The support side/non-gun hand used in this technique can strike, parry and not be jammed against the body. By making use of both arms and hands, we can also gain position, time and control. Take the non-gun hand from the ready position, and we’re less capable and more vulnerable.
Next, we move into trigger control issues. Years back we developed a system of dry fire that demands an unloaded and “sterilized” pistol. Important: Officers must not do this exercise without taking proper safety measures. We employ a strict safety protocol and use a device that renders the pistol incapable of being loaded but still able to dry fire. A safe backstop, such as a set of body armor, is also a must.
The officers place a piece of tape with a small open circle drawn on it at nose height on the safe backstop. The officer touches the muzzle to the piece of paper in the center of the circle. The muzzle is moved back an inch or so, and then the dry fire begins. This allows the officer to concentrate on the front sight and the center of the circle at the same time. If the officer crushes or snaps the trigger, they see the front sight drop out of the circle. The purpose: to achieve no movement of the sight. Correcting the bad habits exposed by this drill—trigger jerk, crush, flinch, etc.—is our next task.
One common point of trouble is too little finger on the trigger. Using the tip of the finger creates a downward and sideways force combined with the final crush at the end of the movement. Against everything they’ve been trained to do, we have them move their trigger finger close to or on the first joint contacting the trigger. Some hands are too small to do this, and we try to get to the center of the finger tip. The bottom line: Small hands and Glock 21s and similar large-frame pistols don’t match up; if you can’t get proper trigger finger placement, find a pistol of proper size: One size does not fit all.
For these drills, both shoulders must be forward of the hips because shoulders even with or behind the hips defeats proper balance. Again, I demonstrate by having the biggest officer in the class stand with his hands in a shooting position, holding a blue gun over my shoulder. I have him sway back slightly so his shoulders are behind his hips. With the tip of my little finger, I walk him backward across the room. I then have him shift his body forward so his shoulders are forward of his hips. I then grasp the slide of the blue gun with both hands and can’t move him at all. Shoulders forward is built into all we do. Remember: Keep training simple and efficient.
The classroom moves to live-fire range. In the early 1980s, we were introduced to “Dots.” Friends at the FBI challenged us to try out a system developed by a group of dot shooters. Caliber-specific dot targets are posted at face height, with a shooting line three yards from the target. Ten dot sets are printed on each target. Each dot set looks like a triangle, with a dot at each corner. Only one shot is fired on each dot set, for a total of 10 rounds. If the shooter hits one dot in the triangle, they score one point, hit two for two points, and if you shoot through the center and touch each dot, you get four points. The total possible score is 40. Many shooters score zero, and this is only at nine feet. Of all exercises we’ve used to improve trigger control, dots have made the greatest positive impact. Time limit per target is one minute or less. Most officers will shoot too fast. See bottom of article to download dots.
So finishes Day One Basics. The officers will next move into the reality of a fight that demands they move fast, shoot accurately, scan 360 and communicate. Get ready!
Editor’s note: When conducting range training at short distances, it’s imperative that shooters wear eye protection and that the range backstop material not generate flying shrapnel.
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