August 06, 2019
Photos by Alfredo Rico
A dangerous trend appearing in training and throughout the internet is the focus on raw shooting speed. While being fast is important, that .11-second split time isn’t as important in self-defense situations as you might believe.
Whether you are an armed citizen or a sworn law enforcement officer (LEO), you are accountable for each and every round that exits the muzzle, and every round has an incredible amount of liability attached to it. I want you to understand that learning to articulate your actions in the wake of a defensive shooting is just as important as learning to shoot accurately or quickly.
While a LEO may have the resources of a department or union behind them, the average citizen does not. Legal expenses can add up quickly. It’s easy to scoff and regurgitate, “I’d rather be judged by 12 rather than carried by six,” but that bravado tends to diminish once in court and faced with the very real possibility of losing your house, your savings and your freedom.
There many more rounds being fired in officer involved shootings compared to statistics 10 years ago. The number of rounds fired in shootings not involving police officers are difficult to track, but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to think that the trends tracking consistently. To answer the “why,” let’s look at some of the recent training methodologies and see what we can glean.
From a law enforcement standpoint, I think the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) mandate of “more rounds, closer and faster” is the culprit. Like all roads to hell, this methodology started with good intentions. Most engagements with pistols are close and fast, so logic should then dictate that training should be too, right? The answer is no.
Gunfights are different than training or qualifying. In a gunfight, you will experience cognitive distortions because of the body’s reaction to stress. These distortions can include tunnel vision, time distortion, perceptual distortion and auditory exclusion. Rather than speak from the theoretical, I’ll tell you what happened to me during my first close-quarter encounter overseas as a Marine, which was more like an urban-police encounter than the typical battlefield event.
I was in a convoy traveling in Iraq and identified an ambush. I jumped out of the vehicle and began engaging the enemy. It was then that I experienced several of these distortions including tunnel vision. This is where my training to scan the environment and quickly process that information saved me. I experienced auditory exclusion; gunshots were muffled thuds. I also encountered perceptual distortion. Engagement distances were further than I thought. While I was certain the enemy was coming through a hole in the wall, the reality was that they were climbing over a wall. These types of distortions can make the closer-and-faster POST methodology problematic because it encourages firing that’s faster than the brain can process the information it’s being presented with.
Prior to 2008, my department stressed a balance of speed and accuracy. We would train no closer than 7 yards and at a cadence no faster than two shots per second, which is about as fast as the brain can process a response to what’s happening. The reasoning was that if a shooter could balance their speed and accuracy, while regularly making 10-ring hits at 7 yards, then they would have no problem getting faster hits at closer distances. For many years, that is exactly what happened.
At one time, California State’s POST believed that they knew better than the collective experience of dozens of instructors with multiple engagements under their belts. They mandated that the next qualification course needed to have a 3-yard event with multiple shots on multiple targets at a faster pace. Since the qualification was now skewed closer and faster, it meant that the training also began to skew faster and closer. This change went against the better judgement of the firearm instructors I worked with.
The results were predictable: the number of shots rose exponentially with administrators wanting answers to why. To my department’s credit, they listened to their instructors and allowed them to do what they could to mitigate the problem including on-going training and qualifications. We moved towards emphasizing a slower cadence with more accuracy at longer distances where we could.
The Armed Citizen
Non-sworn shooting data is difficult to come by, but with the glut of Instagram-famous instructors ripping off seven rounds in a second on a rubber dummy a foot away, it’s not hard to imagine that many law-abiding citizens have their priorities skewed. I’m not going to argue that shooting fast isn’t important, because it absolutely is, but learning one’s physical limits and constantly trying to improve upon them is really what training is all about. So is enjoying the training and the hobby. Who doesn’t like shredding and then posting it to the ‘gram?
Regardless of whether or not you carry a gun for a living, you should understand that the dynamics of a gunfight are chaotic and unpredictable. Most human beings are only able to process and react to information in .38 of a second, which means that if you are conditioning yourself to press the trigger at .08 of a second, you’re setting yourself up for trouble, both legally and ethically. It is impossible to process information and make an accurate assessment in .08 of a second time. To shoot a follow-up shot means that you can be judged on the effectiveness of the first, on a dangerous claim when sitting in a courtroom.
In the aftermath of an armed conflict, you will be asked to describe the effectiveness of every round you fired. When you add cognitive distortions, the adrenaline, the stress and the uncertainty that most people experience after a shooting, articulating how you shot can be a Herculean task. Protect yourself post-shooting. When you train, try to incorporate force-on-force, target discrimination, use of cover, accuracy at reasonable distances and movement.
Surviving the consequences of an armed encounter is just as important as surviving the encounter itself. Many people, including trained warriors, have found the stress to be more than they could bear. Set yourself up for success both pre- and post-shooting. Seek varied training including training outside of the firearms realm so that you don’t always have to rely on your firearm. Having options is a good thing.
Competition is another a great way to improve your gun-handling skills and learn to shoot under stress. I encourage everyone to compete frequently and in as many disciplines as possible. Anyone who thinks that Springfield Armory’s Rob Leatham or Smith & Wesson’s Jerry Miculek wouldn’t do well in a gunfight are crazy. Performance like theirs is why some of the busiest units in the Department of Defense seek instruction from high-level competitors just like them.
Log your training and certifications, as well as your practice sessions in a training journal. Stay current with the laws in your jurisdiction because laws change often and ignorance is not a legal defense. My last piece of advice is to consider carrying insurance offered by a reputable company. The bills in the aftermath of a shooting will add up fast, and the monthly fees for insurance are very reasonable. Being prepared is a burden, but it is a lighter than the weight of being unprepared.
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