Cutting Edge Training

America’s Combatives and Liability Trainer Training With Real-World Impact

My Problem with Concealed Appendix Carry

by George on August 14, 2014 12:11

A recent argument for the advantages of the inside-the-waistband (IWB) Concealed Appendix Carry came across my virtual desk.  The author did a good job making his case for carrying a concealed handgun inside the belt at the belly.  There are several distinct advantages to carrying the weapon at the front of the waist rather than at the side or rear on the gun-side.  And I won’t carry my concealed handgun in front of my waistband.

My problem with the Concealed Appendix Carry involves the NRA’s Firearms Safety Rule #1: don’t point a firearm at anything you aren’t willing to destroy or kill.  Pointing your weapon at your nether region when you draw or holster your handgun is inviting tragedy.  And everyone I’ve ever seen when holstering or drawing from the front waistband, including me, directs their muzzles at their important parts.  So I don’t do it.  Maybe you might want to reconsider your carry options. 

 

Advantages of Concealed IWB Appendix Carry

As explained in the article, with some modifications, the immediate advantages of the Appendix Carry are:

  1. Greater protection of the weapon.  Whether it’s in a crowd or a suspect attacking your weapon, there are biomechanical advantages to protecting your handgun if carried in the front waistband.  In a crowd, you need not fear someone bumping into steel as is common when carried on your gun-side hip because people don’t normally collide at belly level face-to-face.  If there is a disarm attempt, you are stronger pressing the weapon into your body in front of you than you will be if it is at your side.  Additionally, your torso will fold forward during this effort, creating a mechanical block of both your hand(s) and your torso to removing the weapon.
  2. A more covert deployment.  Because there is less tell-tale physical motion in drawing the weapon—the gun-shoulder rising and/or the gun-elbow floating out to the side—it may be far safer to draw in a situation where the larger motion required to draw the handgun from a gun-side carry is likely to provoke fire.  Additionally, the non-gun hand’s effort to lift and clear the shirt is far less noticeable.
  3. Easier to deploy in a fight, either standing or on the ground.  If deadly force is needed when locked up with the suspect, either on your feet or, especially if grappling, the Appendix Carry permits safer and quicker draws than traditional gun-side carry positions.  Note: In this single point, I disagree.  Teaching defensive tactics for more than 30 years and Tactical Duty Knife classes since 2000 where officers are trained to draw weapons in deadly force situations during intense physical conflict, there is no real problem with drawing from a gun-side carry position (other than the suspect fouling the draw in some manner).  However drawing from an Appendix Carry can be problematic based on the context of the fight and the body position of the officer.  If the officer’s torso is curled forward from effort or simply by positioning, then the Appendix Carry is a much more difficult to draw for the same biomechanics that make it superior for weapon retention—the torso blocks the draw from the holster.  Additionally, if the suspect fouls the draw as or after the weapon leaves the holster and the weapon is pressed against the officer’s belly, the officer is now a five to eight pound trigger press from being disemboweled (Rule #1). 
  4. The Appendix Carry is faster than any other carry position.  There is no question of its speed compared to other concealed carry positions.  Because of its more central positioning, there is less travel time for both hands.  The non-gun hand lifts the shirt on the midline and the gun hand moves naturally forward to the grip.  It is much faster than gun-side carry where the non-gun hand must travel across the body to lift the shirt while the gun-hand (and shoulder) must make larger, longer moves to first reach the handgun, then lift it far enough for the muzzle to clear the holster.
  5. The Appendix Carry is easier to conceal.  Unless obese, the Appendix Carry is less likely to print through a shirt, especially if the shirt is untucked.  It’s not even close to other waist carry options for concealment.

 

Appendix Carry and the Possibility of Unintentional Discharges

The first firearms rule we all learn is to point the muzzle of a weapon in a safer direction.  That means that no matter if it fires either intentionally or unintentionally, no one—including the shooter—will be inadvertently injured.  I’ve learned this after a long life: having any firearm pointed at any part of me is not a good idea.  Pointing it at a region of my body that is critical to survival is worse.

When I was in 7th grade wood shop, the first day our teacher, Mr. Burroughs, told us to look at each of the machines in the shop.  He said each machine had an “automatic cut-off feature”: any part of our body that machine touched, it cut off automatically.  Having never matured beyond junior high school (so my loving wife tells me), I think of the muzzle of any weapon in the same fashion: any part of my body or anyone else’s it points at, it shoots off.

The IWB Appendix Carry puts the muzzle to an area that contains your femoral triangle as well as your…parts.  The femoral triangle is the area from your pubic bone (actually, inguinal line) down the inside front of the leg to approximately four inches below, and includes your femoral artery, vein, and nerve, as well as your great saphenous vein.  A gunshot wound to this area is extremely dangerous and a very real threat to life.  A contact wound to this area, where not only the bullet but the muzzle blast and gases enter into the wound, will likely blow this area apart (at least internally), creating an even greater survival challenge.

If an unintentional discharge occurs when holstering or drawing, it could result in a fatal wound.  If that round happened to miss the vital femoral triangle, it still will likely hit and destroy some or all of the shooter’s reproductive organs.  In either case, taking a self-inflicted round to the femoral region or to one’s package is not a good way to begin a gunfight—or end a day at the range or home or station.

 

Many Dismiss the Possibility of Their Having a UD

Dismissing the possibility of an unintentional discharge (UD) when pointing a firearm’s muzzle at your package or femoral triangle is disingenuous and arrogant.  Every time a handgun is handled, there is a possibility of a UD especially when drawing and holstering.  Discounting that, saying, "Just keep your finger off the trigger and it won’t go off," is absolutely, 100% correct.  It’s also prideful.  And wishful thinking gets people killed.  Arrogance, like alcohol, and firearms gets folks hurt.

Thinking that one is immune to UDs presupposes you will be perfect each and every time you handle a weapon.  Perfection: that quality of being free from all flaws or imperfections; completely faultless.  That means perfect awareness; perfect action; perfect control.  No mistake.  Ever.  There’s a real hitch in that get-along though:  we aren’t perfect, we’re human beings.  And that goes with our weapon-handling.  "It'll never happen to me.  I always keep my finger off the trigger," is betting your life you are just that good—every time, no matter what is about to, is currently, or has just happened.  That's why the first rule is about keeping the muzzle in a safer direction and is the most important failsafe.  If the weapon goes off unexpectedly/unintentionally, no one is injured.

I’ve watched experienced guys to include “operators” on the range—where everyone is supposed to be super safe—dig at their holsters with the muzzle of their weapons.  And not just once, but repeatedly poke and prod around with the weapon angled into the gut until they can finally get the handgun holstered.  One mistake and the contact shot would functionally eviscerate them.  A contact shot to the femoral would likely be non-survivable.  A contact shot to one's package might make one hope it was non-survivable.

Fundamentally, the IWB Appendix Carry automatically points at parts when holstering (and while drawing).  With guys I’ve brought this up to, they swear they never do that, that they actually suck in their gut and point the weapon forward as they holster.  They even demo their belly-dancing moves accompanying their holstering.  Yeah, that’s all good until they don’t, which is all the time except when they’re lying to themselves and explaining how they never do what I just saw them repeatedly do.  Video can be a great learning tool and irrefutable proof.

 

Conclusion

I’ll continue to carry on the waistband at 4 to 5 o’clock (or carry a snubbie .357 in my pocket holster), knowing full well that I will be slower to draw, that it is more difficult to conceal, that it is harder to retain (which is why I always carry my Benchmade Model 810 on my non-gun hand side), and all of the other reasons given as to why the Appendix Carry is superior.

And while I'd like to believe that I am conscious and on top of my game each and every time I handle a weapon, I refuse to assume that I will be perfect and absolutely focused each time I handle a handgun, especially in those times when I am under threat and have other things to do.  One of the very few benefits of being in my dotage is that my arrogance has taken a sufficient number of hits over the years.  I've acted unthinkingly enough times that I understand there can be fierce consequences to being intentionally blind through pride. Instead of thinking, "It'll never happen to me," I think, "If things go wrong, what’s likely to happen?"  After all, Murphy is a loyal friend that I’ve always tried to ditch, but he’s stuck by my side my whole life.  Since I've adopted this less arrogant thinking, I believe I've been safer with my weapons.  Now to work on the other areas of my life where arrogance is blinding me to the fierce consequences of my unthinking actions.

Emotionally Integrated Training

by George on August 5, 2014 13:46

Discipline must be a habit so ingrained that it is stronger than the excitement of battle or the fear of death.
—George S. Patton, General, US Army

 

The late Louis Awerbuck taught that surviving a gunfight is 95% luck.  You just can’t control the suspect’s skills, cunning, or the stray bullet that has your name on it.  You may react perfectly, tactically moving as you empty a magazine into the suspect’s vital areas, inflicting mortal wounds with each round.  But in his dying reflex, he may fire and fatally wound you—and, unfortunately, all ties in a gunfight go to the suspect.

Control in a gunfight is limited.  Within your purview of control are only the preparation of the skills and knowledge you bring to the fight, your decision-making within the law to respond early enough to make a difference, and your ability to control your emotional reaction to the attempt to murder you.

The mechanics of hitting a target is important.  Skill development involves a moderately reliable level of accuracy on a square range rather than focusing only on tight groups.  Teaching officers deadly force policy and the laws of defense of self and others should be a mandatory component of every training session—not just reading the policy or law but actually digging into what it means.  Ease in the application of the law and policy combined with the early recognition of the deadly force threshold can be gained by applying the gained through force-on-force drills and scenario training.  However, this preparation alone is apparently insufficient given the low rates of hits on suspects in many close-range shootings.

Fundamentally, the ability to reliably put bullets through a suspect who is attempting to murder the officer is as much about controlling emotions and overcoming fear as it is about skill alone.  Perhaps more.  All deadly force training and, indeed, all force and tactical training must address the emotional component of responding with force to prepare the officer to meet the combative needs of the job.  

 

Freeze, Flight, Fight

The survival strategy of "Freeze, flight, or fight" is inherent in all mammals.  Prey animals freeze because many predators key on movement.  Like our mammalian counterparts we, too, demonstrate the same survival strategies.  Everyone freezes to some degree when the unexpected happens—think meerkats at the first hint of alarm.  It takes time to orient to the new situation.  We tend to stop moving, hold perfectly still, and look in the direction of the alarm. 

The next natural response is flight, or fleeing from danger.  Fighting tends to be the last response of prey animals and is also the natural last response of untrained non-sociopaths.  Training can change this, but only if the training is relevant to its application in the real world of threat.  Effective police training creates the ability to quickly transition through the freeze state into the fight.  This rapid reaction is necessary for many of the threats that officers face in the street that are in-proximity and unexpected.

Highly experienced military operators say surviving a gunfight is more about controlling emotions than it is about raw shooting ability.  How we train officers through the entire range of skill responses, both on the range, in scenarios, and in the mat room creates the possibility of rapidly transitioning through the freeze and flight responses and into the fight stage where it becomes possible to prevent injury and death.  And it is not simply more reps or more rounds fired downrange that constitutes a trained individual.

 

Transitioning through the fear 

Having sufficient experience to automatically respond to imminent threat means you have had the good fortune to have lived through enough threatening situations that your dominant survival response is to fight.  For the rest of us mere mortals or the inexperienced, training must assist us in transitioning through that fear response to a functional level of skill competency. 

First, recognize that freezing in the face of sudden danger is not a character issue.  It is an emotional issue that must be over-written by a more positive or, put better, a more effective emotional response.  A tiny portion of the brain, the amygdala, acts as the first filter of external stimulus entering the brain.  Even before we consciously recognize something, say, a thin, long, coiled shape on the ground as we turn a corner, the filter of our amygdala causes us to jump back and away well before our rational brain recognizes it to be a coiled hose rather than a dangerous snake. 

The amygdala is the first filter we have to quickly alert us to danger.  It is not reasonable nor is it rational.  It simply interprets a possible danger and sends an alarm to which the body reacts.  It creates emotional integration and learning through association (associative learning)—it is a key part of how our memories embed and are retrieved from long-term memory.  It is able to learn through reward (pleasure or not being injured) and punishment (injury or unpleasant consequences).  In the training environment, the training of our officers’ amygdala response prepares them to transition through the fear and better apply their skills when responding to sudden threat.

 

Mimicking:  training the transition from freezing to fighting

In the training environment, it would be immoral to place officers into a situation where they might actually die to retrain the amygdala.  All training, including the best scenario experience, has some degree of falsity—everyone knows they are not actually going to be shot or stabbed by the suspect/role-player.  How can we override the emotionally-based fear response that degrades actual performance if we are unable to duplicate the fear they must face in real life?  Pushups and running sprints don’t do it.  Being yelled at by up-range instructors won’t either.

We do this by mimicking the body’s fear response.  Emotional responses (via the amygdala) create changes to the body’s systems.  Fear causes physical alterations to cortisol levels in the blood, heart and breathing rates, blood distribution, vision and hearing, muscle tone, and ability to digest food.  It can result in the bladder and/or bowels involuntarily voiding.  It also creates psychological changes in pain tolerance, attentional focus, cognitive flexibility and adaptation, as well as memory and perceptual distortions.  When we become truly fearful, our emotional response changes our physical body and mind, affecting our ability to apply the skills we have so carefully built.  

What does sudden fright—the type that officers experience when they’re suddenly assaulted by a suspect who is close to them—look like?  It looks like a “startle reaction,” simultaneously eliciting the following:

  • Your eyes go wide and your pupils dilate to gain as much light as possible and jerk your head to face the source or direction of that surprise or threat.
  • You gasp, taking in a sharp intake of air.  This is the body preparing for flight or fight.  Most people will hold their breath following the initial gasp (remember: stillness).
  • Your body moves, orienting your chest to that threat as you take an athletic stance (much like a linebacker, with your dominant-side foot back a bit), your body has a slight lean forward from the waist.  Your body actually drops a bit, lowering your center of gravity.
  • Your hands tend to come up to face level, palms out, your non-dominant hand slightly forward.  
  • Your shoulders rise, moving up and forward while your chin sinks a bit to better protect your extremely vulnerable throat and neck.

 The reciprocal of that process also holds true: mimicking the physical response to sudden threat—the startle response—activates to some degree the amygdala’s emotional fear response.  Emotional reprogramming can take place by mimicking the body’s reactions to fear.  By taking in a sharp gasp, suddenly opening your eyes wide, while jerking your shoulders up and forward and quickly lowering your center of gravity, most people experience a slight to moderate cortisol (adrenaline) reaction.  While some officers are too salty to try this, the large percentage quickly identify that there is an element of validity to the concept of duplicating in training the emotional environment where skills application intersects with the existential fear experienced in the street.

For example, in our range training, we ask you to close your eyes and imagine the face of the last person you thought was going to kill you.  Every cop with a few weeks of street experience can conjure up this person's face.  Rather than paper targets, this is the person the shooter is shooting in response to their imminently threatening actions.  We then ask each person to explain or demonstrate what that imminent threat is doing to cause him/her to shoot the suspect.  Upon every initiation command of "Threat!" (short for "imminent threat," or that action by the suspect to which the officer is legally justified to respond with deadly force), the officer is directed to take a quick, sharp intake of breath, jerk his shoulders up and lower his center of gravity.  This physical action creates an emotional tie (and a small adrenaline cocktail dump) to the response (hit the threat).  The mind associates sudden threat with moving, drawing, and hitting the suspect rather than freezing as a survival strategy.

Same-same in Defensive Tactics.  During some of our drills, we will have the coach (not the "suspect") begin a monologue in a low, menacing voice of how this coach wants to kill the officer and how they're going to do it.  At first, many officers react with fear (strange how in a safe environment with someone that officer KNOWS won't harm them, yet the brain reacts with a degree of survival emotions and fear).  Just this monologue often causes the officer to speed up or become inappropriately intense.  So instructors begin to coach these officers to calm down, to breathe, to focus on their skills as the coach continues his/her threats.  Soon the officer is able to over-write previous programming and work comfortably with the coach.  Then we change coaches’ instructions to produce a low, menacing, animal-like growl.  We see officers instantly ratchet up in intensity, eyes-wide, breathing faster than the physical requirements demand even though there's no change in the intensity of the coach working with that officer.  Again, instructors coach them to breathe, to work at speed, to continue to problem-solve and function effectively.  When the officer is able to calm down and work through the growling, we then have the coaches begin shrieking insanely.  Officers often instantly seize up emotionally and physically, and are again coached back to effective emotional response—and reasonable physical response.

 

Scenario “failures”

Incorporating this emotional integration into all aspects of training pays off in scenario training where, if the officer hitches up, we hit the pause button, and talk privately about not only what that officer is seeing but, as importantly, what he/she is feeling.  If the officer is unable to identify his or her emotional response (or unwilling to share it), the instructor then describes what it looked like from the outside, how that emotion is negatively affecting the officer’s performance, and how to take the steps to counter it.  We then rewind and continue to replay the event where the emotionally charged hitch occurred, with the officer taking that sharp intake of breath and bodily reaction to simulate being startled, until the officer signals that he/she can continue on without undue or negative emotional reactions.  We then rewind and play forward toward success. 

Sometimes we are forced to go back to our force-on-force exercises or even back to our drills to get the proper emotional reprogramming.  For instance, one very experienced officer from a very busy large city was excellent in DT and fearless in contact simulations.  On the range, he was very competent, handling his live-fire weapon competently while gaining solid hits.  However, during force-on-force drills using Airsoft pellet weapons (face/eye protection with long-sleeve t-shirts only) prior to scenario exercises, he literally melted down.  The first time the “suspect” drew his weapon, the officer literally pirouetted, non-gun hand curled around his head, and emptied the magazine by blindly shooting behind him in the general direction of the suspect while being pelted by the suspect’s “bullets.” 

The exercise was halted and he removed his protective mask.  He was breathing as if he’d run a world record mile up stairs.  His face was pale and he really couldn’t articulate what had just happened to him.  We removed him from the exercise and talked about what he experienced.  Embarrassed, he literally had a blank spot in his memory.  Other than he knew he had been hit a lot, it hurt, and that meant he was dead—he had no clue what his physical response was.

Helping him to emotionally reprogram is the key.  This officer’s response was not due to a lack of skills or deficiency of character.  It was due to an overwhelming and inappropriate emotional programming.  So we went back to the foundations of programming a positive physical response within his emotional experience.

  • Intellectual foundation.  This is a combination of reinforcing his understanding of "Early Orientation Markers,"© or what threatening behavior looks like and how the body moves when the suspect is obtaining a deadly weapon or about to initiate an assault.  It covered in depth the legal/policy basis for response.  It also provided tactical suggestions such as movement and why that is often beneficial.  Emotional reprogramming also included a discussion about mimicking the body’s startle response in training and why that was important. 
  • Drills.  Drills including seeing a “suspect”/coach access a hidden firearm dozens of times with the officer mimicking the startle response and moving appropriately.  As soon as the officer was successful, the next step was to have the coach draw and fire where the officer had been standing just a moment ago.  That was sped up until it was “at speed.” 
  • Force-on-force drills.  With the coach self-initiating a hidden draw, the officer gasped and moved.  At first, the coach was tasked with firing around the officer (behind or in front) as the officer successfully moved and hit the coach.  At one point, the officer became lackadaisical and arrogant in his movement because he wasn’t being hit.  The coach was quietly directed to hit the officer twice if it happened again.  Two sharp hits to the officer reinforced the need to remain focused.  After that happened, the officer was properly motivated and continued to move and hit.  Finally, the two combatants were directed to work “at speed.” 
  • Scenario exercise.  The officer was able to complete the scenario satisfactorily. 

Cops aren’t machines, even though most of the training they undergo treats them as if we just need to give them the correct number of parts in a specific sequence and all will come together in a combative environment.  Human beings are far more subject to their emotional programming than many care to admit.  Every person has some aspect of his or her life where their emotional fluency hampers their effectiveness.  When this negative emotional programming intersects their ability to competently respond with their skills on the street, it endangers their lives and the lives of officers and citizens.

Creating a training environment where each officer is able to condition themselves to operate competently through drills where the normal emotional response is tied to the proper physical reaction assists them in responding competently in dangerous, high-risk situations.  By simulating the physical response to overwhelming emotions, officers are better able to function and win.

 

How Not to Shoot Off-Duty Officers: The Other Side of the Coin

by George on July 14, 2014 07:28

In an earlier blog-entry, I wrote the article, "How Not to Get Shot Off-Duty by Other Officers” (pubished in "The Police Marksman", March/April 2014 issue).  This is the companion piece to that article, examining how patrol officers can maximize their own safety through tactical principles while decreasing the likelihood of shooting another officer.

You’re responding to a call of a man-with-a-gun with multiple 9-1-1 calls.  Out of your patrol car, you’re moving toward the reported location behind the house when you suddenly hear some shouting and then a series of gunshots and believe they’re from the alley just a few feet from the corner of the fence you are moving along.  Slicing around the corner, you see a male with a handgun in his hand, his back to you, shouting something you can’t understand.  Another male is down, holding his belly, slowly rocking back and forth as blood pools beneath him.  Just as you take in this information, out of the corner of your eye you see your uniformed backup officer step around the corner a few steps, directly into alley.  He’s wide-eyed with his rifle aimed at the armed subject’s back.  You’re about to tell him to get back behind cover when he calls out, “Police!  Freeze!  Drop the…!”  The armed subject turns his head and shoulders, his face hard with surprise, the handgun swinging in your general direction as he moves.  You and your backup officer don’t see the badge hanging around his neck…

The problem of uniformed on-duty officers intentionally shooting an armed subject who later turns out to be an off-duty or plainclothes cop continues to plague law enforcement.  A large responsibility for this problem falls on the armed off-duty officer by failing to recognize the peril he is in from responding officers, especially when he turns toward armed officers.  The responding officers believe that an unidentified individual is a criminal involved in a shooting in-progress or just-occurred.  A badge may be even visible, worn around the neck or clipped to their belt, or even held in their hand.  Even though visibly displayed, badges are not be seen because the officers’ attentional focus is locked on that firearm as it is moving or lifting toward the officer.  Problematically, there is nothing about that badge that is sufficiently salient or conspicuous enough to rip their attention away from the firearm that is now threatening them.  They fire in what they believe to be in defense of their lives, and, too often, two or more cops and their families are smothered in tragedy. 

Training programs have been developed focusing on the responding officer.  These programs revolve around recognizing badges and essentially slowing down the deadly force response to apparent threat.  This may be an ill-considered attempt to rectify a problem that probably should be directed more to training officers in safer off-duty conduct as well as how to more safely arrive at the scene of a shooting or the presence of a firearm.  Slowing an officer’s response to a perceived threat involving a visible handgun is counter to an officer’s safety. 

That said, there are steps that responding officers can to confidently respond to an apparent imminent deadly threat while providing them with a method making it less likely to fire upon an off-duty or plainclothes officer. 

 

CHANGE THE BASIS OF DEFENSIVE FIREARMS TRAINING 

As a trainer, it is a highly useful and beneficial goal to train officers to recognize a deadly force threat and to respond with little need for thinking about how to fire their weapon.  This is performed through stimulus-response training.  As the officer learns to associate an imminent threat with a proper response (fire accurately until the threat is over), that response starts out as, “Threat?  Yes—Shoot!’  As training progresses, the response becomes, “Threat-Shoot!”  A well-prepared officer will exhibit a “Thr-Shoot!” response.  In the split-second, high threat world of surviving the typical close range gunfight where the suspect is first to move and almost always gets the first shot (according to the FBI), an unconsciously competent, nearly automatic response to a perceived imminent deadly threat is a life-saver.

Many officer survival and firearms training programs emphasize recognition of the weapon as the trip-wire for response.  “If you see a gun, shoot him.”  “If you see a knife, shoot…”  It is also common in academies as well as in-service training to use the command, “Gun!” as the drill execution command (the military command of “Fire!” has no relevance to policing; neither does the current “cool-guy” command of “Up!”).  Upon hearing, “Gun!” officers initiate their string of fire.  This translates as “Gun = shoot.”  Problematically, this range execution command is the same as the street communication between officers of “Gun!”  In the street, this is a warning that there is a firearm present but should not be an initiation signal to begin firing.  The use of the same word for two incompatible purposes—to fire or to inform—creates internal and potentially fatal conflict within an officer. 

TRAINING POINT:  Deadly force should be a behavior-based response rather than a simple response to the hardware an individual possesses.

Training should provide what we call "Early Orientation Markers,"© providing threat pattern-matching capabilities for officers.  By training officers in what threatening behavior looks like, how the body moves when the suspect is obtaining a deadly weapon, the officer is likely to make better decisions. 

While this discussion is not intended to be a primer on deadly force standards, the individual officer’s reasonable belief the suspect’s actions, based on everything known to the officer at that moment, is creating an imminent (about to shoot) or actual (the subject is firing) danger of being killed or seriously injured is required. The mere possession of a deadly weapon absent any other indication of on-going or imminent threat is difficult to justify.  If the suspect is simply armed, the officer likely needs more information to shoot.

Training should emphasize the concept of “threatening behavior plus reasonable belief of capability equals deadly force response.”  While a suspected criminal subject with a firearm turning rapidly with the weapon would reasonably justify shooting that person in self-defense, there are other behaviors that might be evaluated if there is time.

For example, identifying expected criminal behavior after a shooting is valuable information.  There is a difference between criminal use of a firearm and police or legally armed citizens’ defensive use of a firearm.  Fleeing after a shooting (or quickly robbing the victim) is likely the most common reaction for a criminal suspect. 

Off-duty officers, on the other hand, will likely be acting, well, like cops:

  • Armed and holding someone at gunpoint with the suspect holding up his hands or putting his hands on his head.
  • Standing over someone who is proned out.
  • After shooting somebody, guarding that person until help arrives. 
  • After shooting someone, holding the suspect’s associates at bay by pointing his/her handgun and shouting at them to “Stay back!” or “Get on the ground!”

Another example of behavior-based response in very threatening circumstances is the first responding sergeant to the Trolley Square Mall shooting (an active shooter event on February 12, 2007).  An off-duty officer disrupted the suspect’s attack, exchanging gunfire with the suspect.  The sergeant stated he did not fire on the armed off-duty officer because of the officer’s behavior—though the plainclothes, off-duty officer was armed with a weapon in-hand and was maneuvering in a tactical manner—the sergeant instantly recognized that this armed individual was not a problem. Simply put, the off-duty officer was not acting in a criminal manner that prompted his needing to be shot.  That sergeant’s instant evaluation in a high-threat environment is the behavior-based decision-making that must be reinforced in training. Our job is to create in our officers a capability of evaluating threat behavior very quickly: “Is the behavior I see right now like a criminal (threatening) or like a cop (protective even though tactical)?

Fundamentally, it is not solely hardware that creates the justification and need to shoot, but the person’s actions, whether armed or not, that creates a reasonable and imminent fear of serious physical injury and provokes a police deadly force response.

 

TACTICS CREATE TIME, TIME EQUALS BETTER DECISIONS

Many tactically minded cops complain that many of their co-workers are not “tactical.”  Why is this so?  I would submit the reason lies in “prescriptive training” (a how-to list that is unique to each type of incident).  It’s impossible to remember every step in a unique list that is just one of dozens or hundreds of lists.  Eventually, many officers’ response becomes standard—they show up at a call.  And since no one has killed them yet, they keep doing what they do because they misinterpret luck for skill.  Pulling up to the reported location, stepping out into the open where people are or have just been shooting at each other, and letting everyone know that you have arrived before you have identified who the problem might be—or even what the problem is—affords little time to do anything other than react to a perceived threat.  And that may turn out to be an off-duty cop, forgetting that you have no idea who he is, who is justifiably shot because of his reaction to your presence.

Tactical response should not be reserved only for high-risk calls.  Training and peer-pressure should emphasize a tactical response to every call to create habits of behavior.  Habitually responding to every call in a tactical manner creates a beneficially automatic pattern of performance that, by definition, makes you safer on the street.  Employing tactical universally applied principles makes better sense than attempting to follow a prescriptive list. 

Employing a principle that is universal—it can be employed in a broad spectrum of incidents—creates a continuity of response that makes sense and becomes habitual.  Doing something the same way call after call, especially when it becomes reflexive and standardized behavior, automatically creates safer behavior.  Safer behavior can be defined as giving the officer more time to assess a subject’s compliance or threat levels and then to beneficially react to possible assault with less surprise. 

TRAINING POINT: Habitual tactical response employing the Universal Tactical Principles© creates time to make better, safer decisions.  In the case of responding to a shots-fired or man-with-a-gun call, some of the Universal Tactical Principles© are:

  • Superior Numbers: work in the “we” mode, not the “me” mode.  Employ backup routinely.  If more officers might be needed, call for help early rather than during an emergency. 
  • Surprise: invisible deployment. Officers deploy on-scene unobtrusively and reveal their presence at a time, place, and timing to their advantage. The subject(s) should be surprised to find an officer contacting them, rather than anticipating where and when the officer will appear.
  • Optimize distance.  Stay as far from the suspected problem as you can and still be able to conduct business. Distance equals time and, as Clint Smith says, “Time equals marksmanship.” While the “optimum” distance is a subjective matter that must balance efficiency and effectiveness with safety, generally the farther you can get from a weapon problem, more time will be available for you to make safer decisions.
  • Corners: minimize exposure.  Working from behind corners (a foundational tactical principle), become as small a target as possible. Cover stops bullets and the effects of bullets (ricochet and spall from the backside of the material) from harming you. Concealment prevents observation but permits bullets to pass through.  All approaches to high-risk, weapon-related calls should be from corners to corners.  All contact with armed/possibly armed-subjects should be from behind a corner.
  • Keep subjects in a narrow field of view.  If you are part of a multiple-officer response, your objective is to contact the subject(s) from positions providing a wide triangulation for you and your fellow officers, giving you intersecting fields of fire as well as a narrow target.  When combined with the Universal Tactical Principle of “invisible deployment,” this method of contact creates an instant, extreme vulnerability for the suspect.  Essentially, it “flanks” the suspect and gives him wide and diverging angles in order to get firing solutions on each officer—a very difficult and unlikely proposition.
  • Hands kill cops.  Hands operate weapons.  Visually clear the subject’s hands as quickly as possible as early as possible.
  • Communicate clearly.  One officer gives commands.  This prevents conflicting orders (“Don’t move!”  “Get down!”  “Come here!”).  Stop yelling at people.  This creates communication that can’t be understood.  Worse, it also projects fear, not only giving the perception of being emotionally out of control but contributing to it.  The rule is: one shout to get their attention (e.g., “Police!”); then speak to the subject loudly enough to be heard.
  • Make the subject come to you.  In all cases, call the subject to your position, even if it is a few steps.  This gives you several advantages: 1) You are able to gauge the subject’s compliance; 2) It establishes your authority over the subject; 3) You are able to take the subject away from his ground (with its possible advantages or weapons) and bring him to yours.
  • Put resisting or threatening subjects to the ground immediately.  When in doubt, everyone goes to the ground.  It is far safer to have one or more subjects on the ground, face down with their hands empty and placed where you want them than it is for them to be standing with their hands up.
  • Move your weapon quickly, aim certainly, hit and put the suspect down.  Survival in a gunfight should not be based on volume and rate of fire.  Surviving a gunfight is about hits.  Tactical response gives you time, and time permits a certainty in aiming.

While some may counter, “This is just another list to remember,” it is actually a practice of response that functions throughout widely diverse tactical circumstances.  Each is employed as needed.  Acting upon each principle provides you with more time to evaluate the situation and to react to the threat-based behavior rather than simply the hardware.

By basing your response to all calls (including those “routine” non-threatening calls that turn into scary-OMG-I’m gonna-die! calls) on threat recognition provided by Early Orientation Markers© gained through the habitually employing Universal Tactical Principles© and creating decision-making time, the likelihood of mistakenly shooting another officer decreases.

While the off-duty officer needs to adopt a safer mindset of assisting responding officers to identify his or her status, so, too, is there a need to respond to all calls for service through habituated tactical principles.  Force response is always behaviorally based.  Responding with deadly force is especially so.  Having the time afforded by habituated tactics to assess whether or not the armed subject is acting like a crook or a cop may save the life of an off-duty officer. 

Cover? It’s All About Context

by George on June 24, 2014 07:49

We all should use cover in a gunfight.  Problematically, rather than routinely contacting subjects from cover, most don’t use it until there is a real possibility of shots fired or a gunfight actually erupts.  When there is an exchange of rounds and you’re not initially hit, especially if there is a chance gunshots will continue, you will likely seek to put something to stop the bullets between your soft body (along with all of its parts) and the shooter’s muzzle.  How you might best employ cover to save your life is dependent upon the context of your gunfight.

When discussing what actually constitutes cover, we’d have to go into a discussion of a second topic that requires context:  bullet caliber, weapon and distance from which it is fired, bullet design, and the material type and thickness of the cover being used, not to mention the difference in material thickness to protect against one round hitting the cover or several bullets striking the same material within a small area.  For our purposes, let’s just agree that cover is any material and thickness that protects against fire and the effects of fire (backface spalling, or fragments that chip off the cover at the same speed the bullet strikes the face of the cover and can be lethal for up to three feet or more) from a particular weapon at a particular distance.  Because there are so many factors in what constitutes actual cover, we are probably better served by considering everything to be concealment (a material that hides one from observation but has little to no ballistic protection, e.g., a wooden fence or car door) and tailoring our tactics to it. 

The use of cover is one of those tactics that everyone has an opinion about.  Their way is the only way.  “Always keep back from the corner.”  “Never move up to cover.”  “Always…”  “Never…”  The truth is, every method ever demonstrated on how to use cover is probably “the right way” within a specific context dictated by the situation.  Too often, tactics trainers attempt to force the situation to the tactic rather than the tactic being determined by the situational necessities of the moment.  Tactics are always based upon the context of the fight.

 

BASICS OF COVER

Whether you treat everything you hide behind as concealment or you have faith that the material you are presently hiding behind can actually stop the bullets being fired at you, there are some universal principles that boil down to understanding angles and corners that can be applied:

  • Plane of cover.  This is the imaginary plane established by the suspect’s position and ability to see beyond the corner of your cover (both vertically, e.g., the side of a fence, wall, or tree, and horizontally, e.g., over a wall, a hood of a patrol car, or under the undercarriage of the car at your feet).  The angle of that plane of cover establishes your “safe zone” and the “kill zone.”  If any part of you is in the kill zone, it can be shot.  Keeping your feet inside the safe zone is foundational to the proper use of cover.  
  • A particular piece of cover’s value can be negated by threat movement.  The value of every piece of cover is dictated by the relative positioning of each of the shooters.  Since the suspect’s position dictates the plane of cover, any lateral (or vertical) movement by the suspect will drastically change that plane—and your vulnerability.  Let’s assume you’re a step and a half behind cover and in a gunfight with a suspect 15 feet away and 90 degrees from the left corner of a vertical cover.  Your plane of cover is 90 degrees and we’ll assume you are properly protected by that barricade.  If he takes four steps to his right (your left) and you don’t move, the plane of cover shifts so dramatically that you are probably fully exposed, negating any advantage of cover.  If he takes four steps to his left (your right), the plane of cover is changed to the point where he is using your cover to mask your fire and observation of him.  In order to more safely re-engage, you will have to reestablish the plane of cover—against an aware and prepared threat.  The same problems occur on a horizontal piece of cover: the suspect’s fore and aft movement, or vertical modifications up and down, will change that plane of cover drastically.  BOTTOM LINE: the farther you are away from cover, the more the suspect’s lateral or vertical movement will affect the protective value of that barricade.
  • Threat elevation negates the value of cover.  The higher the position of the suspect shooting at you, the more it tends to expose your position.  For example, you take cover behind a thick rock and earth wall three feet tall, fifty feet away from a suspect on the roof of a three story building.  Unless you are lying along the wall at its base, most of your body will be exposed to the shooter’s fire.
  • The effectiveness of angle of incidence movement is affected by suspect distance from the corner.  It is a rare officer who has not been taught how to “slice the pie” of a corner.  Formally, this is called “angle of incidence,” extrapolated from Snell’s Law of Light Refraction.  Essentially, by moving past a horizontal or vertical corner of cover employing small degrees or angles of movement, you should be able to glean some indication of the suspect’s position (shadow or reflection) or body part (shoulder, elbow, foot, hair, etc.) before he can locate you.  However, this works well only when the suspect is relatively close to the cover.  The farther the suspect is away from the barricade, the greater the likelihood that he will be able to see you as or just before you can see him.
  • If you can shoot him, he can shoot you.  Aside from simply sticking a weapon around a corner and spraying the countryside, if you are behind your weapon shooting at him, even though everything else is protected, he can still shoot your hands, arms, and head.  To lessen this danger, if the suspect is “shootable” (meeting deadly force standards of behavior) and you find him, seeing his elbow or foot, there is no reason to move farther into the kill zone to shoot him “center mass” as this movement will signal to him to respond with fire.  Instead, shoot that which you can see—the elbow or foot.  Then, if still justified, move to targets that are better suited in stopping him—being hit unexpectedly by bullets is often distracting and possibly disabling the suspect attempting to murder you before he can shoot you is a good goal.
  • Corners are dangerous places.  All corners of cover represent danger: from beyond the corner you can be shot.  When employing cover, another danger is in the form of ricochet off of a hard surface.  This threat is lessened by moving back and away from the cover to allow the ricochet’s angle to miss you) or it may consist of the bullet being able to penetrate the corner of the material that is thinner than the body of the piece of cover (e.g., the diameter of a live 30-inch tree is impervious to almost any .30 caliber rifle round, but the edge of the tree where you operate in a gunfight may not be thick enough to stop a round).
  •  Most individuals without military training will tend to shoot at what they can see rather than through the barricade or object the officer is using.  So it makes sense to stay as small as possible behind cover and to expose as little as possible while shooting or observing.  Problematically, suspects aren’t necessarily good shots.  They will likely hit the cover you’re using, so it’s nice to have real cover rather than concealment.

 

TWO NEEDS, TWO TACTICAL CONTEXTS

All tactics are contextual and how you maneuver to employ the tactic is situationally dependent.  Employing cover is not a one-size fits all exercise.  Contextually, officers tend to employ cover in two situations:  deliberate and hasty.

Deliberate.  The officer employs the cover as a means of protection prior to contacting an individual, in anticipation of gunfire, or as a result of gunfire.  This includes searching for a suspect or attempting to locate the threat’s position employing deliberate angle of incidence movement.  Generally, it is safer and more effective to remain minimally at least one arm’s length from the cover and often up to several steps back from cover while searching.  This makes the danger of corner ricochet much less likely.  Because it is deliberate, the officer is able to maintain a more disciplined posture and avoid giving away his or her location by inadvertently crossing the plane of cover. 

When the context changes and the suspected location of the threat is unknown, for example, “The gunshot came from the west!” it is not a good idea to camp out a distance from the cover until you know exactly where that threat is positioned.  The location of the source of a single gunshot is often confusing.  Any movement must now be predicated upon clearing every angle of incidence of the corner in order to work to the point where the plane of cover can be established.  This clearing will begin at the wall and, as possible threat areas are visually cleared, you then move away from the wall until the suspect is located and plane of cover is established. 

Hasty.  The officer unexpectedly comes under fire from a known location at typical police gunfight distances.  The officer moves while firing toward the cover.  Because there is no time to determine the actual plane of cover by slowly creeping up to it (angle of incidence movement or pie-slicing), the officer instead protects as much of his body as possible by moving directly up on the barricade and concealing as much of his body as possible behind the corner of cover while maintaining fire on the suspect, reaching to or past the corner with the muzzle of the weapon.  This permits the officer to maintain the initiative in the gunfight while hurriedly placing as much of his body behind cover as possible. 

 

BUT WAIT…!

Now is the time dogma begins to rear its head and bark.  Bringing up the hasty barricade position often generates mild to outraged protests:  “We always have to remain at least one arm’s length from cover!  This will prevent us from getting hit by ricochets and prevent someone from disarming us who might be standing on the other side of the barricade!” 

Not really.  Remember the context in which it is employed: you are actively exchanging rounds with a suspect.  Because movement is life—it’s harder to hit you—and cover is a good thing to have in a gunfight, you move abruptly as you respond with fire.  As you get to the corner of the cover, you shove your torso and feet behind the protective material but remain engaged with the suspect as long as you are not taking any wounds.  That also includes any round that is so close that you need to duck behind cover to protect yourself.  Your rate of accurate fire—shooting only as fast as you can hit (which is generally a lot slower than most people practice)—is also of equal value in protecting you.

If we accept that both accurate fire combined with the use of cover are desirable components in surviving a shooting, moving to a barricade while continuing to accurately fire on an imminent threat makes sense.  What does not make sense, absent taking wounds or accurate fire that drives you back from the corner, is to voluntarily move away from the corner of cover and cease firing, losing the initiative.  Stopping your fire gives the suspect respite, a chance to reload, or adjust his position.  He’s no longer under any pressure.  Now to reengage, you will have to pie-slice in angles of incidence against a suspect who knows where you are, has demonstrated willingness to murder you, and will likely be waiting for you to show any sign of your body in the kill zone.  Not a good scenario in typical police shooting distances.  Relinquishing the initiative in any fight gives the other guy the opportunity to bring the fight to you.

Regarding ricochets, while there is always a chance that a bullet may hit the edge and ricochet into you, the difference between it hitting the corner of whatever you are using for cover and directly impacting you is often tenths of an inch.  While that may happen, there is a benefit to the certainty that almost all of your body is behind cover and that only your hands and weapon and as little of your head as possible is vulnerable.  The advantage of this confidence may offset the small possibility of ricochet threats.

Everything in tactics is a compromise.  If, in this context, you were to move toward cover while accurately firing and stop where you think the plane of cover might be while remaining well back of the barricade, in practice, we generally find you, like most officers, will be mostly or even wholly exposed.  It is nearly impossible to concentrate on hitting the suspect, move while hitting, and to precisely determine your position relative to the suspect and your piece of cover.  If this proper alignment happens, it only happens in training on a one-way range.  We see officers in force-on-force training disappear behind cover, losing the initiative and advantage, and then have to fight their way back into the gunfight from a position disadvantage.

As far as a suspect grabbing your weapon if it extends beyond the corner, we must remember context and not base our tactics on unknown ninjas and boogey-men.  This is not a slow incident of angle search where the suspect’s location is unknown and may be immediately on the other side of the door frame within hand’s reach of your weapon.  This is a gunfight.  You know the imminent threat(s), his position, and you are keeping him under observation as you shoot at him.

While it is theoretically possible that someone might remain on the other side of your barricade near the corner you are using as the suspect is shooting at you (with the bullets striking where the ninja/boogeyman is standing), it is unlikely.  Besides, we must train for the usual threat, and not the unusual or possible but improbable threat.  If I’m shooting at a suspect who is shooting at me, and I’m at the corner of cover, I’m not going to worry about a guy on the other side of the concrete block wall grabbing my weapon and disarming me.  If that happens, it will be a combatives problem to solve before resolving my present problem of someone attempting to shoot and murder me.

 

CONCLUSION

The “proper” use of cover is context-dependent.  How it is employed as a protective device is dependent upon many factors, including the type of fight you are in.  If the gunfight begins with you behind cover, remaining back from the cover at least an arm’s distance, employing strict discipline in your posture, leaning into barricade to get your weapon and eyes into the kill zone to shoot rather than stepping into it and fighting from there makes complete tactical sense. 

However, if you are not behind cover when a sudden gunfight begins and you are moving toward cover while hitting the suspect as you reach cover, it makes no sense to disappear behind cover, halting your fire, and then being forced to work your way back into the kill zone as safely as possible to reengage.  Stay in the fight by putting your legs and torso behind the cover and remain at the corner of cover to fight and win.  

Context is all-important in tactics.  It is always the first question that must be answered when someone is introducing a new tactic or skill.  Context is the first consideration in all things, for without it, we are unable to determine if the skill or tactic has any validity at all.  Because so many gunfights begin with the officer away from cover, we must consider how to most efficiently employ it when cover is a hasty tactic.  Moving, hitting, and remaining in the gunfight while almost all of your body is covered and close to the barricade makes sense…in this context.

Why Do We Teach? Handgun Shooting Stances

by George on April 9, 2013 13:51

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training.  Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught.  The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution.  If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable. 

Handgun shooting stances are taught to shooters and reinforced through hours and years of training.  Creating a stable shooting platform, from the soles of the feet through the hands, is necessary to obtain the hits on the target or, more vitally, on the Threat.  Stances are performed with the legs comfortably bent, spine with a bit of a forward lean, with the arms either pushing and pulling, creating the dynamic tension for which the Weaver Stance is known, or pushing the hands forward symmetrically to form the Isosceles Stance.  It is important to focus upon a proper stance in order to be more successful in surviving shootings, right?

Well, no, not really.  Early formal stance training may be useful to a developing shooter.  However, concentrating on perfecting a stance is generally counter to prevailing in a shooting.  Most shootings take place in extremely close distances involving very large targets, are very abrupt, and extremely violent.  Many officers find themselves in awkward positions when the gunfight begins.  Tactics are much more relevant to your survival than your stance. 

Stances May Be Counterproductive in a Gunfight

The mere mention of a “stance” automatically causes the legs to form a solid, well-balanced base supporting the upper body as it fires the weapon.  Marksmanship requires a strong foundation.  However, accuracy, and thus marksmanship, is contextual.  In most gunfights, what the legs are doing is irrelevant to marksmanship needed to survive.  Training to stand solidly in the open and trade shots with a murderous Threat is a sucker’s game—every bullet fired in your direction may end your life.  While being a static target may theoretically have the possibility of increasing your accuracy, being a stationary target definitely assists the bad guy with his marksmanship and putting bullets through you. 

Standing still with bits of red hot lead zipping past while being thumped by muzzle blast generally decreases any shooter’s accuracy potential.  The more vulnerable you perceive you are, the less physically and mentally functional you are likely to become.  Accuracy is more a factor of being able to cope with and overcome your perception of immediate personal vulnerability.  While you are not likely to instantly affect the Threat shooting you (most bullets take time to cause the body to react), you can create a sense of more time that may increase your ability to lay sufficiently accurate fire on the Threat to save your life.  The tactical responses proven to likely increase your survivability is either sudden angular movement or moving to a corner and fighting from there.  Static stances have no place in this lethal environment when you are behind the Threat in the gunfight and need to stretch time to effectively respond.

Developing the capability for precise fire is a necessary skill for any shooter.  However, precision is rarely called for in an actual shooting.  “Combat Accuracy” is all that is necessary for survival.  Paraphrasing Rob Pincus, combat accuracy can be defined as “Any round disrupting the imminent threat to life.”  This may mean a bullet strike to the brain or spine, a hit in the upper thoracic cavity, the pelvis, or any bone.  Sometimes just simple “minute of human” accuracy to any part of the body is sufficient, but no single bullet can be counted on to stop the fight.

For the balance of this discussion, let’s assume that the legs are doing their thing independent of the upper body’s efforts—this may be moving, crouching, or kneeling.  Therefore, this discussion will be about a Modified Weaver or Modified Isosceles and their contextual usefulness. 

Modified Weaver

The position of the arms in the Weaver Stance, characterized by the push-pull tension of both hands on the grip of the handgun, arguably provides a very stable platform for accurate fire.  This shooting method was popularized by Lt. Col. Jeff Cooper as the “Modern Pistol Technique,” permitting more precise shot placement at small targets at any distance.

Fundamentally, the body is bladed and the shooting elbow is locked straight, with the gun-hand pushing the handgun forward.  The support-hand’s palm contacts the shooting hand’s fingers, pulling directly back with the elbow bent and pointing downward.  Many have been taught to shoot with their shooting elbow bent and pushing forward.  This is an error.  Instructors attempting to mimic Col. Cooper’s shooting style are apparently unaware that a combat injury prevented him from extending his arm.  He taught others to straighten their gun-arms. 

The FBI’s “Violent Encounters” study (2006) revealed that more than 97% of shootings begin with the suspect shooting first.  A human’s “startle response” to surprise results in spinning to directly face the threat, hands up at face level and extended to protect the eyes and throat, with the spine forward in a semi-crouched position.  Problematically, human factors and the Weaver-hold are counter to the body’s reactions in a sudden shooting situation. 

It is a rare shooter trained in the Weaver method who does not react to sudden and unexpected gunfire by instantly moving into an Isosceles upper body (regardless of what the legs are doing).  In scenario training where there is no expectation of actual injury—with only minor pain penalties when hit by marking cartridges or Airsoft pellets possible—the sudden response to unexpected “deadly threats” by “Weaver-trained” shooters is almost invariably an Isosceles-type reactive response.  This is even seen on the range where there is no personal peril whatsoever.  Shooters tend to transition into the classic Weaver-hold apparently as they realize they are in the “wrong stance.” 

When wearing body armor, the Weaver stance also presents the non-dominant side’s arm hole to the Threat.  Because the Weaver can only be properly employed in a bladed stance, the strongest part of the body armor (center chest where the shock plate is located) is in an irrelevant position, with the unprotected armpit placed in the most vulnerable position.  Wounds from bullets traversing the body laterally through the axillary region, that is, from side-to-side through the armpit, are incredibly threatening to survival because they tend to pierce multiple organs and vital blood vessels of the upper thoracic region. 

The Weaver-hold is ideal when fighting from a corner.  With most of the body covered by the barricade, the stability of this hold is put to use making longer distance or precision hits.  Corners give you time.  Marksmanship is all about having the time to put the bullet on target. 

Modified Isosceles

The Modified Isosceles is a reactive “stance.”  The Isosceles (upper body square to the threat, hands pushed forward at eye-level, the legs doing what they do in that specific situation) reflects how humans naturally react when faced with a sudden close threat.  The upper body of the Isosceles mimics the natural startle response, as seen in video after video of officers responding to real-life threats by punching their handguns out in front of them.  It is a human instinct to put a weapon between you and the perceived threat. 

While generally not as inherently accurate at distance as the Weaver hold, it doesn’t have to be.  Combat effective accuracy requires only hits on target, preferably in most cases, with bullets impacting within three to six inches of each other, creating as much damage to multiple organs as possible.  At close distances where the Isosceles-style will likely be employed, a high degree of accuracy is generally not necessary for survival.  Hitting him well, quickly and often is more critical to winning. 

If wearing a ballistic vest, the Isosceles-hold keeps the center of your vest facing the threat, affording you maximum protection.  It also supports moving and hitting much better than its well-known counterpart. When the shooter moves in any angular or lateral direction, the Isosceles-hold supports hitting until the angles become too severe, forcing the shooter to transition to a one-hand hold. 

Not a Question of “Either/Or”

Either/or is not a question for warriors or trained professionals.  Paraphrasing Gabe Suarez, the context of the problem determines strategy; strategy determines tactics; and tactics determine the methods and skills employed to solve the problem:

  • Where’s the Threat?  Either close or far, big or small.
  • What’s his weapon?  Firearm, blade, or striking implement.
  • What’s he doing?  Charging you or standing.  Grabbing you or behind cover.
  • Where are you?  In the open, behind concealment, or behind cover?
  • Are you surprised or did you have enough time to prepare?  If you had time to prepare, you are likely behind a corner with a firearm in-hand.
  • Are you willing to shoot him right now or are you still frantically looking for alternatives.  Remember the old saying, “Once you’re in the fight, it is way too late to wonder if this is a good idea.”

These questions will likely not be answered so much as reacted to.  Realistically, this decision is not made as it is a reaction per your training to the situation suddenly erupting in front of you. 

Conclusion

All plans are made for flat terrain and sunny weather regardless of the ground-truth.  Having a rigid plan to engage in a gunfight with a certain weapon hold and stance is not realistic.  Training and expectations of “how it’s going to go down” may not match your immediate needs—especially so if dogma has any part in your decision-making.  Desperately clinging to a “style” or “method” may mean that you are attempting to drive a nail with a screwdriver in a life-and-death situation.  While a screwdriver is a fine and necessary tool, it cannot be applied in every situation.  The same is true of a shooting stance where dogmatic adherence to a “style” due to guru-worship or personal ego-investment may leave you confused, unable to effectively respond, and perhaps horribly injured.

If you’re suddenly attacked at close range and are purely reactive, you’re most likely to shoot (and hopefully move) in some form of a Modified Isosceles platform.  From contact to rock-throwing distances, movement is the highest initial survival priority—hitting him is a very close second.  However, if you are fighting from a corner, employing the Weaver platform is more likely to get the needed hits, especially if the Threat is at distance or behind his own cover.  Fighting from a corner creates the perception time, and if you have the time to make a precision shot, Weaver may help you obtain that hit.

The bottom line in any deadly force response is to interrupt the eye-target line with the weapon, and once the weapon is on-target, to fire repeatedly slowly enough to hit him as long as you perceive the imminent deadly threat remains.  How the body supports this is context dependent and based on the tactics you employ to survive.  The old bromide certainly applies:  “In twenty years, no one will care about which caliber or stance you were using in the gunfight.  All they’ll care about is whether or not you won the fight.”

Why Do We Teach? Punch/Draw Within Touching Distances

by George on March 16, 2013 03:41

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training.  Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught.  The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution.  If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable. 

The Punch/Draw is a technique designed to disrupt a sudden imminent threat who is within touching distance.  As you realize the suspect is reaching for a weapon, you simultaneously strike the suspect in the face or chest with your non-gun hand while drawing your weapon as you step back.  If the Threat remains within touching distance, employ a combat tuck and shoot him.  If not, extend your handgun out, interrupt the eye-target line, reference the sights and/or weapon, and shoot until the imminent deadly threat is stopped.  The strike disorients or delays his ability to shoot you while giving you time to get on target.

So it makes sense to teach this method when responding to close imminent threats, right? 

Well, no, not really as it is generally taught.  We taught this method in the 1980s before it was widely popularized, and continued until the mid-90s when force-on-force drills began to alert us to a problem—the Punch/Draw didn’t seem to work as advertised.  Then came the avalanche of in-car videos, and we began to see officers shoving or striking suspects with too little negative effect, confirming a problem with this method.

 

Reality is Problematic

As many as half of the officers being murdered by gunfire are from contact to three-feet away from the suspects, and suspects almost universally get the first shot off (“Violent Encounters,” FBI, 2006, page 49).  Trainers realize that officers need to even up the timelines in the shooting:  slowing or stopping the suspect from drawing while creating time for the officer to be able to shoot.  The Punch/Draw was developed in response to this perceived need. 

The strike is intended to disorient the Threat through actual injury or by distracting him sufficiently to enable the officer to draw his/her weapon.  The problem with the Punch/Draw is the nature of momentary effects of the strike (if the officer actually makes contact) and the realistic length of time it takes the officer to draw the handgun before the suspect can begin shooting.

 

The Punch

The “punch” is actually a quick palm-heel strike to the face, head, or body concurrent with drawing the handgun.  This strike is properly more a “stiff-arm” to the face, rocking the man’s head back or gaining distance from the suspect—either he moves back or the officer is propelled backward, gaining some distance. 

It is not unusual for any strike to the head to miss completely, or to get only partial contact.  Accuracy is important, but so is speed.  The moment you orient to his drawing a weapon, you must react.  If your hand is not instantly to his face or striking his chest upon orienting, you won’t beat his first shot. 

The expectation of the effect of the strike must be realistic.  Most punches in a fight miss.  This one just might miss as well.  If you manage to make contact, it will likely be ineffective at stopping his first shot.  He may stumble back if hit well, but that may not give you the added time you need.  It is highly unlikely to disbalance him and cause him to fall, and an instant knockout is very unlikely. 

 

The Draw

It is not unusual for a draw to take more than one-second from a duty holster in normal circumstances.  This means your strike must be effective enough to buy you the time you need to draw your handgun, target the Threat, and fire well enough with enough rounds to stop him from shooting you.  Failing that, you are simply in a gunfight.  Striking and pushing him back will not likely stop him from shooting.

 

Modifying the Punch/Draw

A modification combined with movement may be a better option in certain situations where you choose maneuver to your advantage.  The traditional straight palm-heel strike carries your bodyweight either forward into the Threat (resulting in a more effective strike) or, more likely, backward.  In either case, the linear movement keeps you anchored in front of the Threat.  A static target on his radar is a very dangerous place to be in a gunfight. 

Rather than a straight palm-heel strike to his nose, a quick lateral palm-strike has proven to be useful.  It is similar to a slapping motion and delivered horizontally to his jaw or ear in the same direction you are moving.  The strike is combined with the first step (if moving to the right, the right foot steps as the non-gun left hand strikes).  The striking surface is ideally the open-handed palm heel.  As you move you strike on the way by, draw, circling to keep to his flank or rear as you make your shoot/no-shoot decisions.  If you reasonably believe he is a deadly imminent threat, shoot him in the flank or back.

 

Other Options?

No one can decide pre-fight what is going to work in any given situation—which is one of the reasons techniques are a poor training choice.  Only you will be able to solve your problem.  The principles to abide by in any situation where you are in touching-proximity to a firearm are:

  • Target seek and Put weapons to targets©.  If there is an open target, reasonably strike, bite, knee, shove, or shoot with his weapon or with yours.
  • Move in angles and circles©.  Whether you are moving or you are physically moving him, all movement is at an angle to or from him, or in a circle.
  • Body parts to body mass©.  If you touch him, that body part is welded to your body, forcing him to deal with your body weight rather than just your strength.  If you touch his weapon, it gets welded on to him or to you (paying attention to the muzzle direction at all times).
  • Put the resisting suspect to the ground IMMEDIATELY!©  As soon as possible, get him to the ground—hard. This may involve takedowns or shooting until he is on the ground and no longer a threat.

Some solutions in the past to a weapon being drawn in proximity have included:

  • Don’t fight over a weapon in his waistband or pocket.  If you get a hand on his handgun or over his hand holding a handgun in either his pocket or waistband, don’t fight for it—press the weapon into him and just pull the trigger (making sure your leg(s) is not in the line of fire).  It’s a deadly force situation, so employ deadly force.
  • Divert the muzzle and bring the weapon to you.  Slap at in-hand weapons to divert the muzzle, then press the weapon and his gun-elbow to your body…then fight.  If a weapon is within touching distance, slap it, don’t grab.  Grabbing is muscular and slow, slapping is quick and uses the weight of your hand (average:  three pounds) to move the muzzle.  Close rapidly and pull that weapon sideways into your chest, pressing it as hard as possible.  Keep the muzzle away from your body parts and toward his.  If safe, press the trigger, hitting him or creating a malfunction (and be prepared for the muzzle blast).  Strikes can include your forehead to any part of his lower face and nose, and knee strikes to his soft lower parts (groin and thighs), setting him up for you to shoot him or take him down.  If safe, draw your weapon and shoot him (proximity shots to the femoral triangle, armpit, or supraclavicular triangle are best, as are shots to the side and rear of the head, neck, or back.
  • Divert the muzzle and shove the weapon into hm.  Slap at in-hand weapons to divert the muzzle, then press the weapon into his body…then fight.  After slapping it, he may pull the handgun back toward him.  Wherever the weapon goes, you must immediately follow and divert that muzzle from you.  People are just not prepared to deal with someone shoving something into their body.  Drive into him, push that weapon against him, and press the trigger as soon as you can (and not be hit yourself—again, prepare for the muzzle blast).  Target seek, draw your weapon when it is safe, and make proximity shots safely.
  • Shove the muzzle into your vest, and press the trigger.  A deputy lost his handgun to a suspect and losing the fight, grabbed the suspect’s wrist and pulled the muzzle directly into his ballistic vest, then fired the weapon.  The vest contained the bullet.  The deputy, expecting the hit, continued to fight and saved his life.  Last ditch?  Yes, but good to have in your tool box.

 

Conclusion

Instead of the traditionally taught Punch/Draw, we teach to strike, move and hit (with bullets).  It makes better tactical sense and is more realistic in the real world where someone is actually attempting to murder you within touching distance.  If the Threat is drawing his handgun, it makes better sense to go at him, pin the weapon against his body when it is still in the waistband or pocket, and press the trigger rather than fighting over a handgun.  If the weapon is clear of the clothing and in-hand, slapping to divert the weapon, pressing it against something while maintaining awareness of the muzzle’s direction, fighting to gain some type of advantage, and then either taking him to the ground (safer) or standing, draw your weapon and make proximity shots to less defensible targets makes sense. 

The traditional Punch-Draw technique is problematic, not serving the very real need for which it was designed.  Modifying it, striking and moving at an angle to create a distraction while maneuvering to his flanks or back, or dispensing with it altogether in favor of aggressing the suspect’s weapon and using it against him, or immobilizing it while you access your own has proven to be the way to go. 

Pointing Firearms: Range Safety or Real World?

by George on March 7, 2013 10:17

This article was published by the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors in their magazine, "The Firearms Instructor," Issue 54.  Please note:  revisions to this blog article have been made to reflect changes in the case law that was in force at the time of the original writing. 

Police officers have been armed with firearms almost since the inception of law enforcement in the US.  Since equipping officers with handguns, shotguns, submachineguns, and rifles, officers have pointed those weapons at suspects whom those officers believed to be a reasonable threat.  It is inarguable that many shootings have been prevented as a result.  Is that practice of pointing handguns at suspects without the present intent to immediately shoot wrong?

In the last few years, some well-known gun writers and police trainers have been urging officers, agencies, and law enforcement in general, to consider that unless the officer immediately fires, the pointing of a firearm at a suspect is a “violation” of safety rules.  Pointing a gun, according to them, is therefore an inappropriate, unreasonable tactic.  What is the basis of their beliefs?  Range Safety Rule Number 2:  “Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.”  This new idea will be referred as the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard.”

One trainer wrote that “while not a violation of law,” pointing a gun at a suspect and not shooting is a violation of the safety rules of gunhandling and should subject the officer to discipline by his agency.  This action should be considered as “causing” the officer and agency to be civilly liable.

It is important to understand why these well-intentioned individuals are mistaken in their beliefs, and how to argue against the inevitable accusations by plaintiffs and the media (as well as those in your own agency) who will take up the chorus in claiming that any pointing of a firearm at a suspect without firing it is a violation that should be subject to sanction and/or judgment.  These people are, in effect, attempting to create a new negligence standard for American law enforcement—one which is unnecessary and impractical.

As law enforcement trainers, there really are consequences to everything we do and say—often resulting in life-or-death.  If this misunderstanding of range rules in the street is permitted to grow and become “normalized” as part of training, the courts will sooner or later incorporate it into their understanding of “proper” police work and prevent any officer from muzzling someone without shooting.  From that moment on, any officer who points his or her weapon at a suspect and fails to fire will likely be guilty of excessive force.  The result?  More officers hesitating to draw guns, and more police shootings with suspects who thought they could beat the cop to the draw.  More suspects will be shot with a corresponding drastic increase in liability exposure.  And more officers are going to be shot down.

When addressing an issue with a “new interpretation” of an existing concept, care must be taken to extrapolate the possible consequences.  While well-intentioned, this concept has not been well thought out.  The old adage applies—be careful what you wish for, you may get it.

Bottom line:  When an officer has a reasonable belief that a suspect or situation might be dangerous or threatening, he or she may presently point a firearm at a suspect in order to ensure their safety.  It is lawful to do so.  And it is NOT in any way a safety violation of “range” safety rules to point a gun at a suspect(s) who may be armed, violent, or outnumber officers.

Tactical Reminder:  As I pointed out in an article entitled, “The Proper Weapon Hold on a Suspect” (The Police Marksman, November/December 1993), the proper method of holding a suspect at gunpoint is to keep the weapon pointed at the suspect’s waistband.  This permits observation of the suspect’s waistband and hands, allowing the officer to see threat cues, predatory positioning, and aggressive movement while still “on-target.”

POINTING A GUN CAN BE EXCESSIVE FORCE

An officer can now be subject to discipline and liability by pointing his weapon at an individual or group when the officer is unable to articulate the threat he or she felt existed at the time.  In the federal court's denial for a motion for summary judgment, the court stated that pointing a firearm (in this case, a submachinegun) at a subject is “excessive force” when there is no legal reason to do so is Baird v. Renbarger (7th Cir., 576 F.3d 346, January, 2010).  From the facts of the case it would be apparent to any reasonable officer that pointing a firearm at a person in this situation might be unreasonable:

  • An officer who was verifying a VIN during a visit to an auto shop believed the VIN had been tampered with.
  • Returning the next day with a search warrant, the officer pointed a subgun at the occupants of the business, and forced them at gunpoint to sit on the floor together. 
  • The officer then detained the occupants of adjacent shops at gunpoint, including a group of Amish men, requiring them to sit with the others who were detained.

The federal district court determined that it was “objectively unreasonable” in these circumstances to aim a submachinegun at wholly compliant and non-threatening subjects.  The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals used the major factors within the totality of the facts known to the officer at the time of Graham v. Connor (1989):

  • The severity of the crime at issue:  The crime of altering a VIN is one that is not associated with violence.  The court remarked, “…this is a far cry from crimes that contain the use of force as an element, crimes involving the possession of illegal weapons, or drug crimes, all of which are associated with violence.”
  • The threat of the subject to officers or others:  This officer had been to the auto shop the day before, but articulated no belief that the occupants were threatening in any way.  On the day of the warrant service, all immediately complied with his and other officers’ orders.
  • The active resistance or attempt to flee:  None of the detained subjects resisted at all or attempted to escape.  

Other courts have weighed in on this subject, ruling that an officer pointing a gun at a suspect absent indications of threat is excessive force, including the 9th Circuit in Robinson v. County of Solano (2002) and 3rd Circuit in Baker v. Monroe Township (2005).  Some of the facts in these and other cases leading to a finding of excessive force  or summary judgment motion(s) are:

  • While investigating a crime of illegally shooting dogs, officers pointed a gun at a handcuffed, searched prisoner for an extended period of time.
  • Detaining an infant/child/children at gunpoint.
  • Pointing a gun at the head of an elderly man after he had been handcuffed.
  • Generally it is not justified to point any firearm at a compliant individual when the circumstances are not threatening.  Even if the circumstances were threatening a few moments ago, as soon as that changes, officers must reflect those changes in their behavior and stop pointing guns at compliant or restrained people.

Bottom line:  Point a firearm at a person only when you can articulate your reasonable perception of danger this person poses to you or others, whether it is through their acts or their connection to the dangerous circumstances in which you find yourself.  Failing to be able to explain why you needed to point your weapon at someone can create huge problems for you.

Note: After the submission of this article, the juries in Baird and in Robinson decided in favor of the officers, their verdicts were that there was no excessive force in these cases. That said, the federal circuits are weighing in, and officers should take note that pointing firearms at a person whom the officer does not reasonably perceive as threatening is considered to be excessive force.

THE COURTS SUPPORT OFFICERS POINTING GUNS AT PEOPLE WHEN JUSTIFIED

The US Supreme Court has always held that it is permissible for the police to point guns at people suspected of violent or weapon-related crimes.  This includes those who are suspected of a non-violent crime but who are known to have carried weapons in the past.  Federal Circuit Courts and Courts of Appeal routinely have ruled that officers may hold people at gunpoint when the circumstances reasonably create the fear of violence.  Even the 9th Circuit in Duran v. City of Maywood (2002) stated that two officers moving toward the location of a shots-fired call with their handguns drawn did not increase the likelihood of a shooting.

When an officer reasonably believes the circumstances could be possibly threatening or violent, especially those involving drugs, weapons, or violent individuals, the drawing and pointing of a weapon is wholly permitted.

TOOLS OF INTIMIDATION?

Proponents of this “Rule 2 Negligence Standard” argue that the police firearm is not intended to be “tool of intimidation.”  I would argue that every police tool, from “command presence” to OC Spray, the Taser, baton, Police Service Dog, and every firearm is a tool of intimidation.  The very presence of a police officer who is confronting a criminal suspect is inherently intimidating.  The uniform, bearing, and the weapons the officer carries are designed to be so.

The US Supreme Court in Graham supports this concept of intimidation of suspects, stating, “The right to make an arrest or investigatory stop necessarily carries with it the right to use some form of physical coercion or threat thereof to effect it” (emphasis added).  The Court recognizes that intimidation is part of law enforcement.  It is hard to argue that there is a higher level of intimidation other than directing a muzzle directly at a person and telling them to stop their behavior or they will be shot.  The realization of their mortal vulnerability as well as the officers’ intent causes most suspects to comply to avert a shooting.

VIOLATING “RANGE RULES”?

There can be little question that a firearm is a dangerous tool.  It is designed and intended to harm a living being in defense of life (or hunting for meat).  Its carry and display must be regulated and training imposed upon officers in order to reasonably minimize the chance for tragedy by preventing unintentional discharges. 

Range rules were developed through hard won wisdom.  A moment’s inattention or distraction and someone is needlessly injured or killed.  As the range rules have been promulgated and enforced, injuries from firearms accidents have steadily decreased.  Firing ranges are generally safe places to be as a result.

The National Rifle Association’s “Gun Safety Rules” include only three parts:  1. Always keep the gun pointed in a safe direction;  2. Always keep your finger off the trigger until ready to shoot;  3.  Always keep the gun unloaded until ready to use.  This is a good start for gun safety, especially on a cold range where weapons remain unloaded until directed.

The late Jeff Cooper of the American Pistol Institute at Gunsite Ranch in Arizona developed a version of these rules, one that many officers have been trained in.  The four so-called “inviolate” Firearms Safety Rules are:  1.  All guns are always loaded;  2.  Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy;  3.  Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target;  4.  Always be sure of your target.  This article is not intended to discuss the efficacy of these range rules as they are generally stated (which should certainly be up for discussion).  Rather, the application and intention of Safety Rule Number Two will be discussed.

The trainers and writers who are promulgating the “never point a firearm at a suspect unless you intend to shoot” negligence standard explain that while it is legal to point a firearm at a person in limited cases, it is a “violation” of the safety rules.  It is therefore unsafe and should be prohibited.  They agree that having your handgun (or shoulder weapon) in your hands early is a good thing in possibly dangerous circumstances (because, as we all know, the fastest drawn gun is the one that is already in your hand).  They argue the in-hand weapon should be held in a low-ready or off the line of the suspect until the decision to shoot is made.  Additionally they note that there is little difference in reaction-response times between a properly positioned weapon that is held off-target and one that is held on-target.  This, they reason, will reduce or eliminate the possibility of injury due to unintentional discharge and resulting civil liability. 

While some of their reasoning for why they believe an officer should not point guns at people they do not intend to shoot may be useful in limiting liability, the purpose of an officer possessing a firearm is not about civil liability prevention.  It is rather about defense of life and creating compliance.

  • Defense of life.  The main purpose for carrying a firearm is to shoot another person to save life.  Stopping a suspect’s imminent or actual threat to life by shooting bullets through their body is the only reliable and proven method of quickly stopping life-threatening behavior.  Shooting a person necessarily requires the muzzle to be pointed at them.  Proponents of the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard” are not against officers shooting people who earn getting shot.  Their concerns are how and when that muzzle is brought on target.  That is the center of this discussion.
  • Creating Compliance.  Many, if not a universal experience, officers have had the experience of a non-compliant suspect in a dangerous situation, or possibly armed, suddenly become compliant when confronted by the muzzle of a police weapon.  Almost all people understand there is a fine line between a gun being pointed at you and that gun being fired at you.

What creates compliance when muzzling a suspect?  The fear of being shot.  The presence of a handgun in police confrontations is universal—officers carry handguns at all times.  A handgun in an officer’s hand is an increase in the degree of the threat to the suspect.  The suspect’s perception of the threat posed by an officer’s handgun muzzle pointing directly at him is dramatic.  A pistol in-hand is cautionary, a firearm pointing at you is a whole other universe of reality—that’s imminent and real.  Confrontations with an armed suspect results in compliance because that suspect knows that if he tries to outdraw a handgun pointing at him, he’ll lose.  Simply put, many, many shootings are prevented because officers muzzle suspects.

SO HOW DO WE TRAIN IT OUT OF COPS?

So let’s say we do adopt the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard” and declare that pointing a gun without shooting to be a violation of policy, tactics, safety, and, eventually, law.  What will the result be?

  • Slower response to deadly threats.  Most will agree that officers today are much slower to respond with force than their forbearers.  This reflects our society at this time.  It must be considered that by adopting the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard,” officers will likely be even slower to draw and fire their weapons than they are today.  Of course, there will be an attendant increase in shootings, and the resultant increase in both suspect and officer injuries and death.
  • increased allegations of misconduct.  Due to more sophisticated offenders who already take advantage of the system, the allegations (both true and false) of “the officer pointed his weapon at me” will increase.  This will be especially true in both criminal and civil courts.  The “he said/she said” nature of many of these complaints will cast a pall across law enforcement, causing many to leave their handguns in their holsters until the last possible moment before a shooting for fear of being falsely accused of brandishing.
  • A natural response to great threat.  In highly threatening circumstances, officers will point their guns at a suspect due to their own fear and desire to prevent a shooting.  Many officers, if not most, have had the experience of facing a suspect whose actions were so intense and threatening that the officer could have legally shot him but didn’t for one reason or another.  Universally, these incidents were emotionally startling in their intensity and focus.  Having a weapon in one’s hand and, if given time, NOT threatening a dangerous person with it before a shooting is not natural.  It would be a very difficult training issue and a behavior that could not be prevented.

Pointing a firearm at a suspect in a dangerous, possibly imminently threatening situation is something that we cannot “train out of officers.”

  • Hard-wired response.  It is a hard-wired human behavior to throw our hands and arms forward and up between that which we perceive as suddenly threatening and ourselves when startled.  This action has been termed the “startle reflex.”
  • Posturing to prevent violence.  Humans who feel threatened but are not yet engaged in combat, tend to “posture” in an attempt to intimidate their adversary.  They point the most dangerous weapon they have at that other person before blows are exchanged in hopes that the other person will become discouraged and demoralized, and desist or submit.  This intimidation is designed to avoid physical conflict.  When posturing, unarmed combatants will point their fingers or shake their fists.  If armed with a knife, it will be displayed between the two parties and pointed at the other person as a warning.  A club will be ominously swung in the direction of threat, or struck against an object as an example of the consequences of engaging in physical conflict.  Guns are pointed as a display of warning and threat.
  • A threat of last resort.  Pointing a gun is the highest level of threat—short of actually shooting the suspect—an officer has.  A pointed gun and a yelling officer are wholly intended to transmit the message that “There is nothing left except to shoot you, so comply with my orders.”

How is something this instinctive to be trained out of an officer?  It can’t be.  The result of the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard” requirements will be that many officers will be disciplined and possibly lose their jobs as a result of their natural and instinctive response to their perception of great danger.  Citizen complaints will increase.  False accusations of officers brandishing will become the norm by criminal defendants and civil plaintiffs.  Officers will be forced to defend the negative—arguing that something did not occur.  The civil liability exposure for “excessive force” will dramatically increase, resulting in more lawsuits and increased litigation costs, settlements, and adverse judgments.

REASONABLY MUZZLING A SUSPECT IS SIMPLY NOT A “VIOLATION”

There is no “violation” of range safety rules when pointing a weapon at a suspect when the situation is sufficiently threatening.  Rule #2 states:  “Never let the muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.”  It says, “…willing to destroy,” not going to destroy.  This is a paper target rule when taken literally. 

A police officer who muzzles a suspect, as discussed, is conveying the willingness to shoot that person.  However, that officer is communicating to that individual that he simply has not made the decision to shoot him yet, but is very, very close.  The decision as to whether or not the suspect will be shot is now up to the suspect and his actions.

The law as interpreted by the courts permits officers to point guns at suspects in circumstances that justify it.  An officer who points a gun at a suspect is implicitly telling that suspect to change his behavior immediately or he’ll be shot.  As Clint Smith says, “The muzzle of a .45 pretty much means ‘go away’ in any language.”

The “Rule 2 Negligence Standard” is a misunderstanding of the rules intended to increase range safety and safer gun-handling.  Officers in the street work under a different context.  They not only shoot to protect life, but attempt to protect life by reasonably intimidating a threatening suspect by pointing a weapon at him. 

By adopting the “Rule 2 Negligence Standard,” it will likely be sooner rather than later that officers will be prohibited by the courts from employing this important safety practice.  Yes, unintentional discharges occur, but not at a greater frequency than before.  And when they happen, agencies will settle with the plaintiff to compensate for the loss.  But the shooting of more suspects who attempt to fight their way out of an arrest when confronted by an officer who is hamstrung in their last-ditch ability to convince a suspect that the only way out without risking serious injury or death is to comply will be out of proportion to the very limited number of injuries from unintentional discharges.  Sometimes pointing a gun at a suspect is the only chance an officer has to prevent a shooting.

Adopting this misinterpretation of “Safety Rule 2” will increase civil liability beyond anything now seen from the few unintentional discharges that occur annually in the US.  Many more suspects will be shot, injured, and killed as a result of its adoption.  More to the point will be the needless loss of police officers in the line of duty because of a misinterpretation of something that was originally designed to keep them and all gun owners safer. 

Instructors and administrators:  Let’s really think about the very real consequences of this before incorporating it into our legal and tactical doctrine.

Why Do We Teach: “Sul” Position

by George on February 11, 2013 08:36

This is one in a series of "Why Do We Teach?" articles focusing on training subjects in police academies, in-service training. Not just police related, these concepts and methods are often commonly taught. The series details why we either teach that concept, modify it, or reject in favor of a more practical solution. If you teach it, it must be defensible, pragmatic, applicable to real-life combat and survival, and lawfully justifiable.

Many handgun shooters use the “Sul” Position” as a “combat ready” position, both on the range and in the street.  The Sul Position is characterized by the weapon hand being held close to the torso approximately at solar plexus level, muzzle down, with the support-hand in various positions as needed or trained.  The muzzle is intended to be directed just to the side of the lead leg to comply with safety rules of never allowing the muzzle to cover anything you are not willing to destroy or kill.  It is also presently fashionable as seen in many magazines and training videos.  So it makes sense to train cops or responsible citizens to use the Sul Position as a safe combat ready position, right?  Handgun in the "Sul Position"

Well, no, not really.  The Sul Position is not suitable as a combatives ready position, and was never intended for that purpose.  Often, when something becomes a “position” or “technique”—especially when someone gives something everyone does a name—it becomes both fashionable and misunderstood.  Doing anything because someone else does it without knowing why they are doing it that way can lead to wasted years of training, or worse, tragedy, injury, and sometimes loss of life.  The Sul as a ready stance decreases efficiency of the weapon’s presentation and can create a safety problem.

Sul:  a little history and reasoning

“Sul” is Portugese for “south,” and was originally developed in Brazil.  The original intent was to provide a safer way to move with a handgun in-hand through a crowd or past a person without muzzling anyone. 

How it works:  From a practical ready position with the handgun in a one- or two-hand hold, muzzle directed toward the threat area, the Sul is performed by bringing the weapon to the torso with the muzzle directed downward, or south, and pointed off to the side of the support-hand’s leg (if in the right-hand, the muzzle is directed down and just to the side of the left-leg).  As the muzzle moves downward into the Sul, the support-hand either comes off the grip and flattens naturally, palm down on the torso (ready to quickly move into a two-hand grip), or it comes up over the weapon, covering it.

The support-hand is available to reach out and grab a subject if the situation demands (never the first choice with a firearm in-hand, but being forced to go hands-on with a threatening or resistive subject happens far too often to be ignored or simply dismissed by saying, “Never touch anyone with a gun in your hand”).  Your support-hand may reach out and touch a person you are moving past, ensuring you know their position, to let him know you are moving past, and making sure he doesn’t move unexpectedly.

If moving through a crowd, the weapon moves into a safer muzzle position against the body, and the support-hand moves to cover the weapon as the first line of defense against weapon retention threats.  The support-hand comes off the handgun as needed to guide others, creating a path to quickly move through the crowd while still having the handgun in-hand.  As quickly as the support-hand moves from the weapon to reach out, it comes back, covering the weapon as the shooter continues to move. 

When the shooter is past the individual or through the crowd, the muzzle comes up and the weapon again floats away from the mid-torso, pointing wherever the shooter needs it for quick response to imminent threat. 

The Sul as a Ready Position is Problematic

Because so many lawful shootings in defense of life are an immediate response to a reasonable perception of imminent threat behavior, everything the shooter does must be efficient to obtain first rounds hits on target—as well as each subsequent round.  Hits are the only thing that counts in a gunfight, and looking good in a cool stance or weapon hold just before you die doesn’t. 

Neural pathways (muscle-memory) are created by doing the same efficient movement the same way, getting the same consistent results.  The Sul cannot support habits of efficient weapon presentation because it was never intended to be a “Ready Position,” and its fundamental presentation mechanics are faulty.

Flipping the muzzle.  A “ready position” facilitates the weapon smoothly—and rapidly—interrupting the eye-target line with the muzzle (actually, the bore-axis) aligned with the threat and with minimal disturbance to that critical alignment, ready to put a bullet into the target.  The handgun in the Sul Position is both flat against the body and the muzzle is down.  As the handgun is brought up and punched out, the shooter must accomplish a lot more than just presenting the weapon to the target.  The handgun must rotate in two directions—laterally and vertically—while speeding to get on target.  While a three-pound weight held in your hand(s) at the end of your arm(s) doesn’t seem like much, the rotational forces while punching out all combine to create the critical problem of precisely controlling muzzle flip.  Flipping the muzzle creates muzzle over-travel and inconsistent first round hits. 

Rigidity in the body, shoulders, and arms.  Creating a technique creates mental mind-games in many shooters.  It is not unusual to see shooters on the line, handgun in-hand in the Sul Position, waiting for the execute command, their entire body rigid, elbows held out at their sides and sometimes unnaturally forward.  This becomes a variation of a position of attention, locked both mentally and physically.  Brain studies show that if we are “doing something,” the brain must first tell the body to stop “doing this,” and then find the neural pathways to tell the body to begin “doing that.”  This is measured in tenths of a second for each command—first to stop, and then to begin.  Ready stances should be relaxed and as natural as possible. 

Muzzling one’s body parts.  There are safety issues with this position as it is normally practiced.  It is not unusual for a shooter using the Sul to muzzle body parts, whether a foot, leg, or, um…other highly valued body parts.  When the Sul Position becomes a ready position, it is easy to lose track of the muzzle because the eyes are downrange watching the threat target or searching for one.  The most common safety violation we see on the range is from those trained in the Sul pointing their weapon at their own bodies. 

What Should be Taught?

There is nothing wrong with moving the muzzle in any direction safety demands.  On the range, that’s easy—downrange where the backstop is located.  On the street, that can be problematic.  Cutting Edge Training’s Master Trainer, Thomas V. Benge, developed the idea that the weapon should be pointed in the “safer” direction—the area where the least amount of injury or damage will occur if the weapon is discharged.  Sometimes that direction will be downward depending upon the context of the situation.  Sometimes its safest pointing at that person you might be forced to shoot.

With a weapon in-hand, there is an anticipated need for a possible immediate response or the handgun would still be holstered.  The muzzle of any in-hand handgun (or firearm) should be pointed in a safer direction toward the possible Threat.  Whether or not the weapon should be leveled at the individual depends upon his behavior and your reasonable perception of imminent danger of death or serious physical injury.  For more about when and when not to point a firearm at a person, see our blog article: “Pointing Firearms: Range Safety vs. Reality.”

We suggest a “floating” ready position, that is, the weapon floats to and away from your body as the situation demands, pointing at the Threat or possible threat location until it is safer to point somewhere else. 

  • With the weapon lightly gripped in your dominant-hand while traveling from one point to another toward the suspect’s threat’s location, both hands on the weapon, your upper body is loose and relaxed.  Loose muscles move faster than tense muscles (fewer neural commands seeking pathways to achieve movement).
  • As your perception of threat increases, your grip will tighten as the weapon naturally floats out farther from your body toward the threat.  We also see the weapon getting higher, nearer to the eye-target line.
  • Upon challenging a possible threat, your arms move to near maximum extension below the eye-target line, generally in the crotch/belt buckle area as you make shoot/no-shoot decisions.  The muzzle is on the subject.  This allows you to see his hands and waistband.  This is a deadly force warning that, if the circumstances permit, will likely be accompanied by an oral warning to comply.
  • If the perception of imminent threat to life is sudden, the weapon is quickly pushed forward and brought up, interrupting the eye-target line well before the arms are extended, and the trigger depressed as the weapon is slowing to a stop. 

Rather than a fixed position, the ready position moves as the situation changes.  The weapon moves up and down, left and right, away and back until it is punched out as a warning or a deadly force response to a reasonably perceived imminent threat. 

The concept of the Sul is absolutely valid—it just is not useful as a “ready position.”  If crossing, either an uninvolved person, a teammate, or through a crowd, the weapon moves against your body, muzzle pointing down and away from body parts, with the support-hand either touching, grabbing, or moving someone, or covering the weapon.  The Sul is useful until it is again time to point the weapon in a safer direction—the suspected or actual position of the Threat. 

What Training is Sufficient for Civilians in Responding to an Active Shooter?

by George on December 20, 2012 09:33

Active shooter.  That phrase creates many strong emotions in many of us.  For example, on December 14, 2012, a gunman shot his way into an elementary school where firearms, by law, are prohibited, murdering 27 children and teachers before taking his own life as law enforcement approached.  Yet on December 16, 2012, an off-duty Bexar County Sheriff’s sergeant shot and wounded a gunman who shot one person at a movie theater in San Antonio, Texas, ending what might have been another massacre of innocents.  As firearms instructors, there is no question that a person who is armed and willing to confront those who willfully and serendipitously murder the unarmed is the best way to stop the killing.  And if we can’t be the one at the tip of the spear, we want to the ones who taught that person how to end this senseless killing.

The question of the sufficiency of training must be addressed by those who not only train police officers, but also instruct legally armed citizens.  Some instructors will flatly state that only the elite military and SWAT operators should intervene, while others will set a more reasonable standard as that of an average police officer.  Due to the inundation of newscasts about the tragedies of Active Shooter events, you, like me, are probably being approached by legally armed citizens asking questions about how they might be able to protect their families and others in these situations.  The questions they are asking are, “What kind of training would be required to effectively stop that level of violence?  How long would that training take?  What kind of reoccurring practice would be required?

Questions such as these indicate thoughtfulness and a serious consideration of what is involved in possibly interrupting this type of attack.  Different individuals are going to gain proficiency differently given the same number of hours training, and then will maintain that proficiency to various degrees of competency.  Shooting is a perishable skill, and regular practice increases familiarity and may create increased skill if—and only if—that training is consciously performed.  When developing training or answering questions related to any training topic, the foundation must be within the context of the problem.  In this case, what training is sufficient to interrupt the murder of innocents, divert the shooting, and either physically stop the shooter, cause him to commit suicide, or create a situation that permits the police time to respond and intervene?

This level of skill development and mental preparation is likely much, much more than most citizens (and just as many police officers) are willing to do.  The reality is that hits with handguns at extended distance are more a matter of luck than skill while being shot at by your target.  Shooting on a square range on a sunny warm day with a range master and a red flag run up the flagpole may allow for consistent slow-fire hits on a man-sized target at 100 yards with a handgun.  However hitting a man who is moving, murdering people, and maybe shooting at you from 25 yards may be beyond what most people can reliably do with a handgun. 

If it is unlikely that the citizen or the officer armed with a handgun will be able to hit the Threat at realistic distances, why train anyone with a handgun to attempt to interdict an Active Shooter event?  Again, we must look at the context of the event.  According to Ron Borsch, 90% of suspects involved in an Active Shooter event commit suicide on-site (http://www.policemag.com/blog/swat/story/2008/05/active-shooter-response-revisited-part-1.aspx).  When confronted by any significant resistance, these people immediately turn their weapons on themselves.  The legally armed citizen who is able to quickly confront the Threat with fire may actually wound the individual.  Significantly, whether or not the Threat is hit, in most situations the murder of innocents is stopped as his attention is diverted and the threat is soon ended.

After decades of studying these events (having coined the term, “Active Shooter” with Jeff Martin in 1999), it is my belief that any intervention by a legally armed citizen or police officer will generally end the attack on the innocent, and the earliest intervention regardless of whether or not the citizen or officer actually hits the Threat (the criminal gunman) will save lives.  If the statistics are correct, approximately two-thirds of these events are stopped by either the legally armed citizen or police officer (Ron Borsch). 

 

WHAT KIND OF TRAINING?

To prepare any person to competently and contextually respond to this type of defensive shooting, I believe the training would minimally entail:

  • Familiarity with the laws of deadly force in your state.  It is vital if you are going to carry a handgun that you understand when you can legally press a trigger, when you cannot, and know what to say and do following that shooting.  Saving your life or someone else's may be a good thing, but spending your life in prison following the shooting because you don’t understand the law or you say the wrong thing to police detectives is probably not on your bucket list.
  • Sufficient marksmanship skills.  While tight groups on a paper target do not automatically translate into solid hits on a gunman who is shooting at you, putting bullets through the bad guy with combat accuracy is how shootings are generally ended.  Combat accuracy is defined as any hit disrupting the imminent threat.  For those who have never felt bullets just missing them, with the corresponding adrenal dump and the well-known effects on perception, decision-making processes, and the ability to accurately fire a weapon, shooting at paper in a slow-fire method without a care in the world is as dissimilar as flying an F-22 combat jet and a single-prop Cessna airplane.  Both are airplanes, both take off and land, and both move through the air, but that is where the similarity ends.  Again, hits matter, but any shots disrupting the gunman’s murder spree is sufficient, and sometimes just knowing he is being shot at may cause him to shoot himself.
  • Sufficiently aggressive mindset.  You have to be willing to make yourself a target: when you move aggressively, it will be different from every other person who is fleeing, inviting him to target you; when you begin firing, you will also invite him to target you.  Your willingness to do this will be answered only when there is lead in the air and blood is flowing.  The moral question of whether or not it is morally acceptable to shoot and possibly kill another human being must be resolved before you hope to act on-time, in-time.  You cannot hope to act decisively when you have sights on the Threat and hesitate, wondering if it is moral to shoot this person.    This question must be resolved prior to carrying a firearm.  An appropriately aggressive mindset will be enhanced by mental imagery, imagining your response to this deadly situation in vivid detail.  In this way, you will create memories of actions, facilitating your schema, or mental maps, to quickly orient to the situation, avoid being shocked, and giving you that feeling of, “Oh yeah.  I know what to do!’  These mental patterns permit you to act decisively in a situation where aggressive action (either fighting or fleeing) is safer than non-action.  Firearms instructor John Farnham accurately said, "A confused countenance always locks you in position and generates a focused response by predators.”
  • Sufficient tactical competency.  Knowing the human limitations of responding to a deadly attack, as well as the tactics that can give you time to react and positively respond allows you to fight when you are surprised by the sudden nearby gunfire.  How to use cover or concealment (and knowing the difference), how to move safely to position yourself to shoot the bad guy, and how to respond when he targets you will be required.  Ensuring you have a clear gun-target line (the imaginary line between the muzzle of your handgun and the targeted area on the Threat) as well as a reasonably clear background (to protect innocents when you miss the Threat) will be necessary.
  • Sufficient understanding of police response.  In this case, police officers responding to this violent event will be both frightened and excited, and will have a high degree of urgency to end the event.  While it is in everyone's best interest for the police to arrive early, they are not your friend at this moment.  Standing in a public place with a handgun in your hand where shots have been fired with innocents down will not be healthy for you when the police arrive.  Understanding how to survive this second threat to your life is as vital as surviving the first.

Practically speaking (rather than the ideal minimum training above), a legally armed citizen actually needs just two things to make a difference disrupting the Active Shooter event:  a loaded weapon that functions every time the trigger is pressed, and the guts to get into the fight. 

 

HOW MUCH TRAINING?

The honest answer to this is:  As much as you think you need and are willing to pay for in range time, ammunition, and training hours.  If I told you that in one week you are going to face a murderous shooter who will attempt to take your life, your family’s lives, and dozens of innocents’ lives, what level of training would you want to have under your belt?  IF this happens to you (a big if, but then again, if it happens to you, it's 100%), what capability do you want to have?  The real question that can only be answered by the student is, “How much preparation is practical for you for an event that can happen, may happen, but likely will not happen to you?” 

For example, I was driving within 5 miles of the Clackamas Town Center  mall shooting when it began (Oregon, 12/11/12).  10,000 people in the mall all have a story to tell about what they experienced in an event that took the lives to two innocents and wounded a third.  This occurred in a metropolitan area of approximately 1.5 million people.  For most of the 10,000, no training was necessary because they fled at the sound of gunshots and sight of people surging past them, or they were locked down in stores.  Perhaps only 300 people in the mall may have been able to make a difference and would have benefitted from being armed and having undergone this training.  There are reports of one concealed pistol permit holder who pointed his handgun at the Threat but did not take the shot because of innocents in the background.  This young man believes the murderer saw him with the handgun, and then took his own life moments later.

For some of us, it was a case study on what these events look like, how they unfold, and to ask how I might better react to protect myself, my family, and those around me as a legally armed citizen or police officer.  After each Active Shooter event, I ask myself, “How might I modify my training courses to better meet the needs of my students?”  For most people, however, it was just another horror-filled event that shocked them out of their denial for a few days before they re-entered their imaginary and safe “gun-free zones” where the police protect them from all harm and their belief that if they are nice people, no harm will come to them. 

The question of how this training should be delivered lies in frequent, short duration, high-intensity training sessions.  This training regimen is far more valuable to skill development and retention than a long course where the same intensity is sustained over days.  Therefore, most training courses should be three to four hours max, with subsequent training sessions weekly or semi-weekly. 

A basic course for a first-time shooter to gain sufficient competence to build upon through independent practice and minimally react to an Active Shooter as a lawfully armed citizen is a minimum of seven classes, each 3 to 4-hours in length. 

  • One 4-hour class on defense/deadly force law and its aftermath, as well as tactical theory.  
  • Four live-fire range sessions, with 1,000 rounds of practice handgun ammo, plus 50 rounds of carry/defensive ammo (to ensure reliability).  This is sufficient to familiarize the new shooter with weapon function and marksmanship capability suitable to hit what they're aiming at on the range at a reasonable distance, from one-foot to 50-yards.  However, it must be emphasized that this may NOT translate to hitting a person at that distance who is shooting at that him in a gunfight).
  • Two 4-hour sessions on tactics (500 rounds).  This is fighting from a barricade as well as movement work. 

At the end of 1,550 rounds over a seven to fourteen week period, this person should be capable of going from a non-shooter to someone who is competent in their tactics and marksmanship and may be able to safely disrupt a mass murder event through their skills and tactics. 

 

MAINTAINING PROFICIENCY

After fundamental marksmanship, tactical, and skills training, the shooter would have to determine the level of proficiency he wishes to maintain.  Firearms proficiency may either be enhanced or degraded with each trigger press in training.  To be of value, training must be conducted with intent to improve the fundamentals with each shot, even during rapid fire, and an understanding of the very real contextual and human factors limitations we all possess.  It is only through conscious training goals and application of effort that any shooter may progress.

With a conscious training plan, that lawfully armed citizen may be able maintain a sufficient degree of proficiency through self-initiated practice.  That practice would include:

  • Regular range training.  Approximately 500-1000 rounds per year in a course of fire that included periodic, regular training that focused on fighting skills as well as marksmanship skills.  This training should emphasize functionality and familiarity with your weapon as a fighting tool.
  • Mental imaging and preparation.  Playing reasonable "If-Then" games prepares you to respond competently to a suddenly evolving event.  Reading about the situations that occur throughout the world and mentally placing yourself at Ground Zero and then "gaming" possible responses will give you options should you be presented with the real thing. 

No matter how conscious your training practices might be, there will be habits you create that become invisible to you.  Most of these habits will serve you, but others will not.  Allot at least one practice session per year, probably only for one-hour or two, with a competent coach who can observe and correct these invisible habits before they degrade your ability to hit, or worse, get you killed. 

 

CONTEXT IS KEY 

In every aspect of this discussion, the context must be considered if the answer is to be addressed.  The answer to the question, “How much training do I need if…?” is different for everyone.  The proper response is, “At what level do you want to operate?”  When that “if” is a question about the training necessary to function as a SWAT team operator on an entry team during a hostage rescue, the answer is going to look much different than, “I have a concealed pistol permit, and I want to learn how to better protect myself.  What do I need to learn?” 

As a defensive shooting instructor, it is important to ask questions and determine the practical context of the event we are preparing our students for prior to snapping off a pat answer.  While I am willing to train any lawfully armed citizen to operate their weapons at the highest possible skill and tactical levels, I need to remember that they may not have a clue about what they really want.  It is up to me as the instructor to determine the context of the training course I will suggest to them to meet their needs. 

 

Why Do We Teach? Move: Proximity and Distance Shootings

by George on November 26, 2012 07:22

Time “…is like a fire—it could either destroy us or keep us warm…we live or we die by the clock…We never turn our backs on it and we never allow ourselves the sin of losing track of time…That’s how much time we have before this pulsating, accursed, relentless taskmaster tries to put us out of business.

—Chuck Nolan in the movie, “Castaway”, 2000

While most think that bullets are their enemy in a shooting, the real enemy is time—not enough of it to effectively respond to a Threat (a person who is an actual or imminent threat to your life, or the life of another) by putting bullets through him while avoiding bullets sent their way.  Not seeing a Threat in time, not recognizing the threat in time, not reacting in time, or not hitting him in time can be fatal.  Your job in a gunfight is save or create sufficient time for you to safely move beyond the Threat’s initial assault by controlling his perception of the time he has in the gunfight.  The goal in your tactical response is to destroy his accurate perception of current time and the actual unfolding of events.  Oh yeah.  And you have to hit him with enough bullets to finish the job.

We teach that when in proximity to the Threat, move and hit the Threat.  When at distance or forced to take a technical shot, move to cover, then hit the Threat.  The inevitable question is asked, “Why move?  Why not just stand, get a solid shooting stance, and get your accurate hits?” 

These questions generally come from a misunderstanding of the basic context of how police and responsibly-armed civilians get involved in shootings.  Because we aren’t bad guys who get the drop on a targeted person and shoot him/her down, our force response is generally to an actual or imminent deadly threat—the Threat is approaching with a knife, is reaching for a gun, or has begun firing before we realize we are in a deadly force event.  That we know we need to respond means we used up time recognizing and identifying a specific threatening act, orienting to the need to physically respond.  And even more time is required to reach for and draw our handgun, present and fire our first bullet as several of his rounds are already in the air.

Let’s use an example of a Threat drawing a handgun from his waist with the intent of shooting you down and killing you.  Responding takes time—a lot of time, often measured in a second or more of actual time before you meaningfully react.  This is time you just don’t have.

Inescapably, it takes time to observe the Threat’s action, orient to the change of status, decide what to do, and then react to the new environment.  Just because you see a movement does not mean you understand what the movement means.  Orienting, or contextualizing the subject’s actions takes time.  Once you understand the threatening intent of that movement, that person becomes a Threat requiring a response. 

Until you are able to identify that movement as threatening, it’s just a guy who is moving his hand.  The actual time for a subject to become a Threat may be less than a tenth of a second as his hand moves to his waistband, grasps the handgun, points the weapon at you and fires his first round.  Untrained trigger fingers are able to easily fire four rounds per second, or one every quarter of a second. 

Many people, generally due to improper training concepts, operate from the misconception that they can actually perceive reality the moment something is happening and instantly react.  It just ain’t true.  No matter how switched on you are—or think you are—instant reaction is simply impossible.  It takes time to recognize and react to changes in the status quo.

Lots of things slow down our putting into context his threatening actions.  If you are not looking in the right place, you won’t notice the unfolding threat.  If your attention set is absorbed elsewhere, thinking about something else, you may observe his action but not take note.  If you have to make decisions based on your moral beliefs, uncertainty about the law, or fear of legal repercussions, it will increase the time you need to mount your defense. 

Expectations play a huge role in slowing our response to threat.  If your expectations are that he is doing something benign, it will take longer for you to recognize a threat.  If you expect a specific result, such as movement and are rewarded with movement different from that expected, it will take you much longer to recognize that something different from your expectations is occurring, and then what that difference is.  If you are not expecting someone to draw a handgun at that moment, it will take you longer to recognize that you are under threat than if you anticipated there might be a problem. 

If you are anticipating a very simple action, and are fully prepared and mentally ready, your reaction time will be approximately 0.1-0.2 seconds—that is, the time for you make a simple decision that a physical response should be made.  Once the decision is made, it will take a unit of time for your response to be initiated.  Human reaction-response time is the time it takes to observe, orient, and decide what that response might be plus the time it takes to physically respond.  If that is shooting, you then have the time for the bullets to hit him.  And it will depend upon the percentage of bullets you fire actually hitting him to take effect and cause a change in him before it begins to save your life. 

When it takes an average of three-quarters of a second up to a second and a half to draw and fire when you anticipate the command, how much longer is it going to take when you are surprised?  And even if you are Johnny-on-the-spot, rough-and-ready to go, how many bullets are being sent your way during that three-fourths to one and a half seconds you are drawing and getting ready to fire? 

Time equals bullets in the air.  Surviving being shot at is both a question of luck at surviving the initial assault and creating enough time to respond well enough to stop the Threat from harming you.  While luck is not a skill set, movement has been used for millennia to manipulate the relative perception of time between combatants.  The reason why we advocate movement is to manufacture the perception of increased time on the mover's part, and to decrease the perception of time on the attacker's part.

Manipulating Perceptual Time in Proximity Shootings—Contact to 10 yards, or 80% of shootings in the US 

When you are up close on the Threat and he is suddenly attempting to take your life, you need to change the situation:  MOVE!  Sudden, hard movement in any direction is intended to confuse the Threat and create time for you to react and take the fight to him.  While some angles are more advantageous than others, any abrupt movement will be beneficial to your surviving his initial burst of gunfire.

Looking at his mindset, he has made a decision to murder you and has taken action—this is a life-changing decision for both people, and the consequences of his failing are huge: if he fails to shoot you, it’s very likely he will be shot and perhaps killed.  The Threat acts with the expectation of success—his weapon is brought up and pointed where he perceives you to be at the time his decision to act was made—tenths of a second ago.  Whether you move or not, he is pressing the trigger at the position he saw you in when he made the decision to shoot.  He’ll be pressing the trigger as fast as he can because most people believe in volume of fire as a life-saving—or taking—strategy.  His hard intent—to shoot and kill you—is acted upon, and will continue to be acted upon until he receives feedback that the status quo has changed.

If you stand there while drawing your weapon, you will be negatively affected by his time manipulation:  you will be shocked (requiring time to recover), then you draw your weapon (taking time), and then return fire (taking time for the bullets to strike and affect his ability to shoot you).  That's a lot of time when bullets are burning at you at a rate of 4 or 5 per second before you have your first round out.  You have not changed the status quo by standing there absorbing bullets.  If you are lucky, you were missed by his bullets.  Either way, you have done nothing in the first critical half-second or more to alter the situation.  He has no reason to change his program, and he’ll keep shooting until he puts you down, he runs out of rounds, or you are able to weather the storm and finally shoot him. 

The relative perception of time is affected by each individual’s expectation of events.  If the event continues as expected, the perception of time continues smoothly, and even pleasantly slows relative to actual time—you are operating “in the zone,” where everyone but you seems to be moving in slow motion.  If the event is surprising or veers radically from the expected path, perceived time slows to the point where every moment is a desperate struggle against the tide, with the increasing and certain knowledge that your are helpless to change the looming and ominous outcome.  You feel as if you are moving through an impossibly thick gel preventing you from acting in time. 

In this close range shooting situation, his expectation is driving his perception of events, working against him if you move suddenly.  It will take him time—tenths of a second—to realize he's shooting at empty air.  He will be shocked because his expectation is that you will stand there and be shot or fall to the ground.  His confusion continues as he presses the trigger, realizing that he desperately needs to reorient to this unexpected change.  Your moving bought you time to draw your weapon.  He knows he has to quickly find you, move his weapon, and finish you—he started this gunfight but his target somehow disappeared.  He’s now the one who is threatened.  Desperation and confusion decreases his efficiency.

 You continue to move and now begin hitting him.  He becomes very aware that your bullets are now inbound, increasing his desperation making him even less efficient in finding and hitting you.  He may quit the gunfight.  He may be hit and quit the gunfight or be unwilling to quit the gunfight.  He may be hit but not realize he’s been hit, continuing to shoot.  In any case, you continue to move and continually hit him until you reach cover, he goes down, you get hit and go down, or you run out of rounds, move to cover to reload or keep running. 

Moving manufactures relative perceived time because by displacing, you take yourself temporarily out of the line of fire.  Movement is the primary survival mechanism in any proxemic gunfight.  Move and make yourself a more difficult target.  Displacing hard off the line, drawing your handgun while moving, creates the time you need to draw, time you would not have had if you had remained where you were when he started firing.  While you may draw your weapon in the same amount of time whether standing or moving, there is a huge survival difference:  standing and drawing while three to five bullets are fired at you from a couple of steps away may mean you will not be able to respond, whereas moving and confusing him, causing him to fire those three to five bullets where you were standing when he made the decision to fire, may allow you to draw your weapon without being injured. 

Standing and fighting it out when you are waaaay behind is an attritional mindset.  Attrition is defined as a reduction or decrease in resources or personnel.  In this case, it is the willingness to take injury to give injury.  Attrition is about outlasting him.  In an attrition-based gunfight, you may win the gunfight and be killed as well (I guess in this case winning would be knowing you killed him before you die).  Standing and taking unanswered rounds is an attritional mindset.  You may never get the chance to get to your gun. 

Moving and hitting in proximity is a method of negatively multi-tasking the bad guy.  By creating a problem requiring him to deal with more than he can mentally handle, by confusing him, by dividing his attention, by making him more concerned for his welfare than he is in hurting you, you negatively multi-task the Threat and increase your survival odds.  For more on negatively multi-tasking the bad guy, see the article, "Fighting Smart: Negatively Multi-Tasking the Suspect."  http://blog.cuttingedgetraining.org/post/Fighting-Smart-Negatively-Multitasking-the-Suspect.aspx.

While moving and shooting is not necessarily limited to distances of contact-to-ten-yards and can be performed at any distance, moving fast and hard enough to confuse the subject while simultaneously having the real likelihood of hitting the subject is an up-close-and-personal situation.  As the distance between you and the threat increases, the benefits to moving and shooting to hit decrease, although there are times it is justified to fire in the Threat’s general direction while moving for distraction purposes.  At some point, the probability of hitting the Threat is so low that the benefit of simply moving as fast as you can is greater.  At what distance does this cost versus benefit analysis tip to simply running to cover before fighting back?  That will be up to the individual in that particular fight to determine. 

Affecting Perceptual Time At Distance

As the distance increases between you and the Threat, the benefits of moving and hitting will lessen, and will make movement to cover your primary concern.  If you have a choice, not being there would be first on the list, with fighting from cover a very close second.

Hitting at distance is a matter of precise marksmanship.  Technical shooting takes time —think using a handgun to hit a hostage taker who is giving you only his right-eye and part of his forehead at 15 yards, or a life-and-death head shot with a carbine and iron sights at 125 yards.  Movement confounds marksmanship because it decreases the time available to the shooter to obtain a solid firing solution.  If a very good shooter with a rifle at 70 yards takes a minimum of one and a half seconds to acquire, aim, and hit a man-sized target, sudden movement increases the difficulty of getting that hit.  Sharp, abrupt, irregular (as well as short, unpredictable) movements will be your best bet at preventing your being shot because he has less time to make the adjustments he needs to hit you. 

The farther you are away from his muzzle, the more time he’ll need to make the hit.  A 5.56mm bullet takes just over 0.2 seconds to travel 200 meters, and nearly 0.4 seconds to 300 meters.  At distances from 100 meters and beyond, the shooter must not only observe and acquire the target, but understand the trajectory of his round, accurately estimate the distance, and understand the time-on-target delay from trigger press to hit for the bullet’s travel time.  This takes time, making it possible for the bullet to leave the muzzle directly on target and still miss because the target moved casually out of the way.  Unpredictable movement dramatically increases the difficulty.

At distance, movement to cover and then fighting from there makes better sense than standing and fighting.  If you must, go to ground and use the irregularities and depressions in the terrain to shield you.  Avoid going to ground on asphalt and concrete due to ricochet problems which decrease the time necessary for a firing solution—as long as the shot is lined up, dropping a round anywhere within the space of 30 feet in front of you to any part of your body means getting a hit.  Getting a hit on a 30 foot tall target is really not that tough from realistic shooting distances. 

If you have something that will stop bullets very close by, immediately move to cover.  The option of going to the ground or getting behind cover permits you to make yourself a small target.  Being a small target gives you the perception of increased time, providing you time to precisely aim and hit him.  At the same time it negatively increases the time he has to aim and hit you. 

Tactics still count when at distance.  Be as small as possible, keeping those body parts not needed for hitting him behind cover.  Shoot around, not over the cover if you can.  And remember, shooting repeatedly from the same piece of cover or hole gives him time to locate and walk rounds into you.  Shoot and scoot if that is the gunfight you find yourself in.  Be sneaky and expose yourself only for the limited purposes of locating and hitting him.

Conclusion

The reason for moving is all about the context of your gunfight.  If you have put solid cover between you and the Threat, stay there and fight from the corner while staying small.  It becomes a technical shooting problem through precise marksmanship to win that fight.  If you don’t have cover, move, then hit.  Moving creates actual time for you by affecting the Threat’s perceptual time.  Both proximity as well as distance shootings are about manipulating the time the bad guy has to harm you—decreasing his perception of the time he has while increasing the time you perceive you have to effectively respond.

Time is the “relentless, accursed taskmaster” that will put you out of business if you get behind and remain there.  When the Threat acts first, he is able to dominate your perception of time with his bullets (or his knife, his club, and/or his fists) and your fear and confusion, eliminating your effective response.  Movement changes the equation by disrupting his expectations, decreasing the time he has to problem-solve by confusing him while increasing his survival pressure in the gunfight.  Sudden displacement negatively multitasks him, forcing him to find and retarget you while you are shooting him.  It manipulates his relative perception of time in your favor, forcing him into having to perform more than he may be capable of while under fire.  The key is to make time your friend and to use it to control the fight in your favor.  Move.