12 critical elements of a modern firearms training program


By Bank Miller and Ben Kurata

Considering the myriad current requirements and budget constraints, law enforcement firearms trainers may find their jobs increasingly challenging. To help build a solid foundation and establish some basic criteria for what a law enforcement training program should include, Action Target Academy has adopted the 12 critical elements outlined below.

The information gathered for this analysis was obtained from several surveys conducted by the California Commission on Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The FBI has collected data on officers killed and assaulted since 1945, and California POST started collecting such data in 1980. The surveys cited in this study encompass those conducted by the FBI from 1995 through 2004. After summarizing these studies, the following guidelines were drawn for police firearms training.

1.  Prepare officers for immediate, spontaneous, lethal attacks.

Based on the above statistics, it becomes obvious that close quarter tactics and techniques are a must for officer survival. Personal communication with unknown individuals is a large part of law enforcement officers’ daily routine. In order to communicate effectively, officers must be close enough to the person to communicate. The difficulty arises when some of these people turn out to be bad guys. When this happens, a mastery of drawing and firing from various close quarter positions, weapon retention, physical strikes and other close-quarter combat skills are critical.
To satisfy the close distance issue, a basic cardboard target holder that is sturdy enough to withstand muzzle blast, palm strikes and an occasional flying ticket book should serve you well. As far as sudden and spontaneous goes, a high-speed turning target system that suddenly presents a bad guy just as the officers glances away can add a tremendous amount of stress to the situation

2.  Prepare officers for assaults by multiple threats and uninvolved subjects.

Statistics tell us that there is about a 60% chance that an assault will involve more than one attacker. At the same time, we need to be aware of uninvolved, innocent bystanders as well. In many domestic abuse calls, the spouse or other family members can start out as uninvolved and quickly join sides against the officer, if a conflict ensues. Learning to break the tunnel vision phenomenon and engage multiple threats with total awareness of uninvolved subjects justifies shoot/no-shoot training, increases survivability and decreases liability issues.

The most obvious approach here is lots of targets. Tall ones, short ones, some closer, some farther away, some clustered in a group and some off by themselves. Another particularly effective technique employs turning targets, although they have to be individually controlled. As your officer is engaging targets 1 and 2 as they edge and face right in front of him, try facing target 6 and see if he notices. Better yet, use a 180 degree turning target that can show you a bad guy or a good guy in the same place at any given time.

3Integrate the sudden transition to firearms from arrest and control techniques, including searching and handcuffing.

Many potentially lethal assaults occur as the officer is searching and/or attempting to handcuff the subject. This sudden shift to a deadly force situation can be exceptionally dangerous if the officer has not been conditioned with the proper response techniques. Glaring examples of insufficient training and conditioning include: a failure of the officer to create distance if the chance arises, or an attempt by the officer to draw his firearm while his handcuffs are still in his hand. The use of drag dummies, CPR dummies and turning targets are all effective here. The dummies provide realism and a platform for practicing control techniques, while the turning targets provide the sudden visual indicator that the situation has escalated.

4.  Base training on the fact that most officers are killed at short distances.

The statistical table presented earlier clearly establishes where most officer fatalities occur. However, it is important to note that this element does not say “Teach your officers how to shoot at close distances.” It says to base your training on the fact that most fatalities occur up close. It’s like the guy who tells his doctor that he broke his leg in two places and the doctor says “So, don’t go to those places!” If most fatalities occur at close distances, we should all be aware of when it is appropriate to be farther away. In addition to the close-quarter combat techniques discussed earlier, a moving target that charges straight at the officer can be extremely effective at illustrating the importance of creating distance, and demonstrating the best ways to move quickly and effectively in various situations.

5.  Base training on the fact that officers will have limited fine and complex motor control.

We should all be aware of the various physiological responses our bodies undergo during a combat situation. Manual dexterity is the one we are focusing on here. As blood flows away from our extremities and toward our core, we lose a degree of fine and complex motor control in our fingers and hands. Unfortunately, elements of good marksmanship like trigger control can be the first to go. Now before a panic ensues, we believe that teaching basic marksmanship skills (like proper trigger manipulation) is absolutely vital and should not be abandoned! However, make room in your training for the fact that fine and complex motor control will be decreased.

The best way to demonstrate the effects of stress to your officers is to immerse them in it. Make them run, get their heart pumping and their adrenaline flowing, then send them into an interactive scenario with dye marking rounds and role-playing bad guys shooting back at them. The breakdowns in technique will be startling.

6.  Integrate two-person contact and cover teams involved in realistic scenarios.     

Just because one of your officers knows how to safely and effectively engage multiple threats, reload efficiently and move from one piece of cover to another doesn’t mean he knows how to do those things with two or three other officers running around him, trying to do the same thing at the same time. Where is my muzzle? Where is my partner? Where is my partner’s muzzle? Proper tactical communication is absolutely critical!
Have two- and three-man teams go through tactical scenarios together. Use portable cardboard and steel targets in a variety of locations and configurations. Have the teams shoot side by side so their partner’s brass is bouncing off the bill of their cap. Condition them to be profoundly muzzle conscious, and make them realize the importance of communication when it comes to moving, reloading and staying in the fight.

7.  Emphasize the survival mindset and the will to win in all skills training.    
Quite often, what you bring to the fight will dictate the outcome of the fight. Having a winning mindset and a positive attitude will only enhance the officer’s odds of survival.  While our work is dangerous, we have a high risk of being a victim off the street rather than on the street, and at times the biggest threat we face is the one in the mirror. Particularly with younger officers, movies and television have shaped much of what they perceive as the realities of a gunfight. For example, the guy that flies back 15 feet and crashes into a pile of trash cans after being hit with a single handgun round. Clint Smith said if you get into a fist fight you might get punched, if you get into a knife fight you might get cut, and if you get into a gunfight you might get shot. It doesn’t mean the fight is over, it just means you may have to finish the fight a little differently than you had originally planned.
Knowing how to shoot, reload, and clear malfunctions with only one hand (both left and right) is imperative. Our officers must be confident in their ability to win the fight, even if they are injured. They must also be comfortable with these techniques in order to gain that confidence.

8.  Integrate one-handed firing of a handgun. Include dominant and support hand, plus drawing, reloading and stoppage clearing.

Many law enforcement shootings occur with one hand, and using a single hand is often to your tactical benefit (based on the situation.) Even if you are not injured, a traditional two-handed grip may be impractical or even dangerous if it means giving up too much cover or concealment.
Primarily for safety reasons, one-handed skills training is best executed in small groups. Because officers will be presenting and handling their weapons in untraditional and perhaps unfamiliar ways, muzzle awareness is critically important.

9.  Integrate close-quarter structure searching and clearing, plus indoor combat tactics.

When a family comes home to find their back door kicked in, they call the police. Does the call go to the SWAT team? Of course not–it goes to the nearest officers on patrol. Either alone or with a partner, every single officer needs to know how to perform basic close-quarter techniques like tactical entry, hallway navigation and room clearing. They need to know things like which way a door swings if you can see the hinges (toward you), and they need to know things like: don’t expose body parts around corners, don’t rub you back along the wall as you move and don’t hang out in doorways.

A live-fire ballistic shoothouse is the ultimate training tool for these situations. It provides a structure for all the tactical movement and navigation training, plus it escalates the stress and realism of the training by incorporating threat engagement with actual duty weapons. It’s one thing to fire a gun in a nice straight line out on the qualification range. It is another thing entirely when you are inside a building trying to be aware of 360 degree environment.

10.  Emphasize dim- or no light situations as much as daylight training.

Because 70% or more of law enforcement shootings occur under reduced or diminishing light conditions, significant training with your duty illumination tools is a must. Target identification and threat recognition are critical parts of this training as well. Keep in mind that flashlights are needed in the daytime just as much as at night, because you never know where you may end up. The illumination tools you carry will have a significant impact on how you handle your weapon, and ultimately on how you fight, so you must be extremely comfortable using them under a wide variety of tactical situations. Many departments have adopted the use of lasers, so your training must include the proper use of these tools as well.
If you already have a shoothouse that can be darkened, you have an ideal venue for all kinds of low-light training. An indoor range also serves this purpose well. If you don’t have access to either of these facilities, use your outdoor range.

11.  Integrate “moving then shooting” and “moving while shooting” techniques.

If you maintain a picture-perfect stance during a gunfight, you are not doing it correctly. If you are not moving to create distance, you should be moving to cover. The ability to shoot effectively while incorporating lots of movement gives you a dramatic tactical advantage. It also increases your chances of survival and decreases the chance of hitting something you don’t want to hit. Remember, when shooting while moving you should move no faster than you can hit, see and in some cases, hear.

Effective movement techniques can be taught with just about any target equipment. Running man targets and automated turning targets can make the experience more realistic and intense by allowing the trainer to control the scenario and respond to the trainee’s actions.

12.  Integrate engagement techniques for moving targets, both laterally and charging.

Training on moving targets has become mandatory for law enforcement agencies across the country, and rightfully so. When was the last time you were in a violent confrontation with someone who just stood still? Because running seems to be a part of most gunfights, the ability to fire safely and accurately at moving threats can be one of an officer’s greatest assets. It is important to train for both lateral threat movement and charging movement because each requires a specific skill set and response from the trainee.

Some portable moving target systems are very effective and flexible because they can be configured for both types of threat movement (lateral and charging). A heavier-duty track-mounted system can be equipped with a steel target plate to enhance muscle memory through the immediate positive feedback of clanging steel.

Again, being a law enforcement firearms trainer today is an extremely difficult job. You have to be part teacher, part motivator, part mechanical engineer, part lawyer, part drill sergeant, part counsellor, part maintenance staff, part etc. etc. We pay tribute to you trainers who dedicate your efforts to developing the next generation of warriors, and we hope the information presented here serves to focus and clarify the process. 

For more information, contact Bank Miller and Ben Kurata of the Action Target Academy.
Action Target Academy
PO Box 636
Provo, UT 84603

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