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Vehicular Gunfight


According to Department of Transportation statistics, there were 253,639,386 vehicles registered in the United States as of 2012. Census data tells us that as of July, 4, 2014, the United States population was 318,881,992.

With nearly as many cars as people in this country, there's a good chance that if you're attacked, you will be in or at least near a vehicle. This rationale is the impetus of Dave Spaulding's Vehicle Combatives Course.

DaveSpauldingIf you're not familiar with Dave Spaulding, you need to be. Dave spent over 30 years working just about all facets of law enforcement including SWAT and undercover narcotics. Dave was named the 2010 Law Enforcement Trainer of the Year by the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA) and Law Officer Magazine. Dave is a well-known gun writer, but first and foremost he is a trainer. Through his company, Handgun Combatives, Dave travels the country teaching legally-armed citizens about the realities of armed conflict.

I got to know Dave a few years ago while filming together for "Personal Defense TV." Despite having taken other courses that dealt with fighting in and around vehicles, I leapt at the chance to take Dave's Vehicle Combatives Course because I knew his straightforward approach would give me a deeper understanding of the subject. This two-day class did not disappoint.

After a brief introduction, Dave talked about the criminal mind. He stressed that criminals don't think like the average person. They have a goal, and if you stand between them and the attainment of that goal, you are at risk. In most cases it's not personal; it's just business to the criminal. The bad guy will bring the fight to you, so you must be mentally prepared and physically capable of stopping him. If you're not willing to use force (up to and including deadly force) to protect yourself or someone else, you have no business carrying a firearm.

Dave described four types of attacks, the first being an "Attack against Vehicle," in which the vehicle itself is targeted. An "Attack against Person" specifically targets an occupant of the vehicle either for kidnap or assassination. The average U.S. citizen is far more likely to encounter an "Attack in or around Vehicle," such as a battery or robbery, or an "Attack for Vehicle," aka carjacking.

Since the first documented carjacking in the 1980s, there have been around 49,000 carjackings per year (2006 statistics), of which approximately half are successful. In 84 percent of these incidents, no injuries occur. Drivers between the ages of 24 to 49 are most likely to be victimized and men are targeted more often than women. Dave opined this was because men are more complacent.

Parking lots were the most likely spot to be carjacked. Oftentimes, the carjacker will wait for the driver to approach and unlock the vehicle before accosting him. Gas pumps were another hotspot for carjackings, where the perpetrator typically approached the driver from behind.

The vast majority of carjackers are armed. In 79 percent of these cases, carjackers used handguns, while long guns were used 10 percent of the time. Knives, clubs and other makeshift weapons accounted for a lesser number of incidents.

Being Aware

According to G4S International Training Inc., a firm that specializes in counter-terrorism training, students who took only offensive driving training usually failed during an attack. Students who took awareness training only removed themselves from the attack 75 percent of the time. Students who took both training programs were never caught in an attack.

Dave spoke of the importance of scanning and cautioned students that it was different than merely looking. Scanning must be based on a rhythmic pattern where you search for threats from near to far. "You're searching for people who don't fit," said Dave. He wasn't talking about a person of a particular race or ethnicity but rather, someone who seems overly nervous, loitering or the guy wearing the parka when it's 85 degrees outside. After recognizing a potential threat, focus on the hands. "Hands kill." 

Dave shared a video clip of a driver and his passengers who were in a parking lot on the Las Vegas strip when a subject armed with a crowbar began smashing the vehicle. Dave asked whether the occupants would've been legally justified in shooting the vandal with the crowbar. This stirred quite a debate as students with different levels of training discussed whether the crowbar-wielding man posed a deadly threat to the occupants of the vehicle. While there was no clear answer to this question, it stressed to the students the need to consider legal as well as tactical issues surrounding the use of force.

Ultimately, the driver in the video drove away. Dave used this video to segue into a discussion on when to drive away from an attacker, when to drive over an attacker and when to exit your vehicle. If the vehicle is mobile, drive on. When an assailant poses a deadly threat and your vehicle is mobile, why not run him over? Dave posed the question, "What has more stopping power, a bullet or a vehicle?" When the vehicle is immobilized, you have little choice but to exit.

Vehicle as Cover

Dave began his discussion of using vehicles as cover by stating, "If an instructor gives you definitive answers about what to do, they're full of shit. Everything is situationally dependent." There are no guarantees when it comes to shooting through vehicles. Vehicles may not be the most reliable cover, but they are far better than no cover.

With regard to vehicle glass, Dave explained that windshields are typically made of laminated glass, which contains a layer of polyvinyl between the two glass panes. This helps prevent passengers from being ejected during a collision and also provides structural integrity to the roof should the vehicle roll over. A windshield will generally stay intact and provide relatively good visibility when shot.

Vehicle windows on the other hand, tend to be made of tempered glass, which is designed to shatter upon impact. This prevents large glass shards from flying through the passenger compartment during a collision. (There is a trend with high-end vehicles to use laminated glass throughout.) When you shoot through tempered glass, it tends to crack severely and can completely obstruct your view.

Ready Positions

After a thorough safety brief, Dave had us shoot from each of the three positions in what he calls the "Arc of Ready." The first position is called Compressed Ready, where the gun is held close to your chest. From there, you simply punch out to achieve a sighted fire position. If necessary, you could fire while punching out. One potential drawback to the Compressed Ready position is that by its very nature the muzzle of your gun is pointed at anyone you're facing.

For times when your gun needs to be in hand but you don't want it pointed at whoever may be in front of you, you could employ what Dave calls Compressed Low Ready. This position is achieved by dipping the muzzle of your gun slightly, so that it would point just below the feet of someone you're facing. With practice, the transition from Compressed Low Ready to on-target and firing can be instantaneous.

The last ready position Dave taught is referred to as High Ready. This position is very similar to Compressed Ready, with the difference being the muzzle of your gun is oriented upward at an approximate 45-degree angle. High Ready has specific application when deploying your gun in an around a vehicle. Inside a vehicle, High Ready could assist you in negotiating your gun around the steering wheel. It's also beneficial when knelt down behind a vehicle because it's conducive to scanning and affords you more maneuverability than the other two positions.

Shooting from Vehicles

Dave stressed the importance of the upside down "L" drawstroke, particularly when seated behind the steering wheel. When you draw an upside down "L" motion, you ensure that your gun clears the steering will, gearshift knob, dash and any other obstructions. In close quarters, the same drawstroke aids in weapon retention.

Before hopping into vehicles and going live, Dave had us practice drawing and firing from plastic chairs situated at different angles to simulate engaging through the windshield and each front passenger window. We started out slowly until Dave was confident that students weren't inadvertently pointing their guns at themselves or each other, and then we picked up the pace. The chair drills culminated with students "de-busing" and moving to what represented the cover of their vehicle.

After entering the vehicles, we fired through windshields and side windows. We practiced shooting and then removing our seatbelt (which would already be off if there was any indication of an impending attack), propping open the door with our foot, scanning for additional threats, and then de-busing to take cover behind the vehicle. Dave pointed out that when you're taking fire, you won't have the luxury of scanning for additional threats prior to de-busing.

The most dynamic element of the course required the driver and front passenger to engage stationary targets through the windshield, de-bus from the same side of the vehicle and each take a position of cover. From there, the shooters had to communicate and engage a moving robotic target with a 3D torso. This drill required us to think on our feet, just as we would need to during a real, unscripted attack.

If you carry a gun, I highly recommend you enroll in Dave's Vehicle Combatives course. As good of a shooter as Dave is, he's an even better instructor with an uncanny ability to connect with his students. In just a couple of days, you'll be vastly more prepared to deal with a deadly force encounter that occurs in or near a vehicle. With 253,639,386 of them on the road, that's not a bad skill to have.

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