Firearms qualifications: The debate continues
The premise behind my recent article is simple: trade out unnecessary, excessive firearms qualifications for more quality range training
An article I authored titled, “Firearms qualification: Is your agency doing too many?” was posted on Police1 in January. I received quite a few positive emails in response. In addition, Police1 received several email responses. Some were in agreement, while others offered opposing viewpoints, which is great. There is nothing wrong with debating a topic. Here I address the main discussion points readers raised in response to my article.
One reader indicated they have never encountered the concept of qualifying only once a year and believed such a practice opens up an agency to increased liability. It doesn’t. At my former agency, we averaged approximately 20-25 officer-involved shootings a year during my 22-year career. We only qualified once a year and it was never an issue in any civil litigation. In fact, AZ POST only requires officers to qualify once a year.
As someone who travels the country training a variety of officers from a variety of agencies, it has been my experience that most agencies only qualify once a year. Qualifying multiple times a year does not add any additional liability protection; it only consumes valuable training time.
Free pass for lazy shooters
Another reader indicated that my perspective was offering a “free pass” for lazy shooters and that qualifying multiple times a year forces officers to go to the range. This reader simply misread what I was proposing, which was to replace excessive qualifications with mandatory training.
A firearms qualification can run anywhere from 30 minutes to 1.5 hours depending on how many attempts you have to conduct for officers who fail. If an agency is doing that four times a year, they are losing anywhere from 1.5 hours to 4.5 hours of training.
All an agency is doing is unnecessarily stressing some officers who have testing anxiety and quadrupling the number of times officers can double-fail or triple-fail a qualification and get pulled from the street. That extra 1.5 hours to 4.5 hours is better spent on training to win gunfights, which can translate into being better prepared to pass the annual qualification. If an agency is using “mandatory quarterly qualification” as a tool to get their officers to the range every quarter, then that just requires a simple policy change to “mandatory quarterly firearms training.”
Stressing out officers
A couple of readers didn’t like the fact that I was concerned about officers being stressed out about the qualification and that officers contending with stress is a good training tool. I completely agree. During training, I encourage instructors to incorporate stress into various drills using a shot timer, requiring multiple tasks to be completed, or forcing officers to process various information to choose their own outcome during a drill (cognitive drill).
However, qualification is not training. It is a test. In fact, it is no different than taking a written test. Does stressing out an officer before taking a written test make them a better police officer? No, it doesn’t. Firearms instructors need to view the qualification as an administrative task, not a life-saving task. Training is a life-saving task.
Another reader mentioned they only do two qualifications a year. One is the state-mandated annual qualification and the other is an agency-implemented night qualification to reduce liability for officers working at night. I would argue that a nighttime qualification is also a waste of valuable low-light training time unless it is state-mandated.
Again, referring back to my former agency where we averaged approximately 20-25 officer-involved shootings a year during my 22-year career, we shot a lot of people at night with pistol, rifle and shotgun. AZ POST never mandated a low-light qualification for any weapon system (except pistol to graduate the academy), we did not have a nighttime qualification for pistol, rifle, or shotgun, and it was never an issue in a civil litigation. If it had become an issue, my agency would have made qualification changes to avoid future liability.
Generally speaking, lawyers don’t care about the type of qualification – daytime vs nighttime, red dot vs iron sights, hand-held flashlight vs weapon-mounted light – they just want to know if the officer was currently qualified on the firearm at the time of their shooting incident. It’s easier for lawyers to attack the lack of training because that is one of the first things to get scrubbed when funding and manpower become an issue for an agency. There is plenty of case law referencing failure to train for low-light shooting. I’m not aware of any case law referencing the need for nighttime qualifications. But, I’m not a legal scholar and I don’t know everything. My recommendation is to scrub the nighttime qualification and use that time for low-light training instead. However, every agency firearms instructor should consult their legal department.
My premise behind this article and the previous article is simple: trade out unnecessary excessive firearms qualifications for more quality range training…that’s it!
If you have not read my article “Firearms qualifications are NOT important!” posted on Police1 in 2019, I encourage you to do so. I received a lot of positive comments in regard to that article as well.