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A primer on gun retention

Follow these 5 steps to protect against being disarmed by a suspect


Whatever specific tactics you use for gun retention, make sure you practice them above and beyond standard in-service training.

Photo/Tyson Kilbey

Every year, law enforcement officers are feloniously murdered in the line of duty, most commonly by gunfire. Some fallen officers had their firearms taken from them and were subsequently killed by their own guns.

In this article, I offer five steps for improving gun retention. The following concepts transcend to all use-of-force tools as any tool taken from an officer is a major concern.

1. gun retention starts before the attack

The concept of gun retention starts long before an actual attempt to disarm an officer.

General awareness of the scene, knowing who is present and at what distance, avenues of approach toward the officer, and the side in which the officer’s gun is facing are all considerations while out in public.

The condition of your holster also plays a role. There is no excuse to allow broken or worn equipment to aid an attacker in taking an officer’s gun.

Finally, knowing that when a police officer responds to a scene, there is always at least one gun present is critical. Maintaining a gun retention mindset is imperative.

2. Watch for target glances

It stands to reason that before attempting to grab an officer’s gun the suspect looks at the gun and its holster. If a suspect looks at an officer’s gun this alone is not an attack, but it deserves a heightened level of attention and an adjustment in position. Repeated glances toward an officer’s firearm also warrant verbally addressing with the suspect. Just putting them on notice that you see what they are doing can send a powerful message.

3. Consider yelling “Gun Grab”

When I teach officers principles of gun retention, I suggest yelling “gun grab” for a few reasons. First, it lets everyone in the area (to include backing officers) know what type of threat an officer is dealing with. Second, a loud yell can increase the officer’s adrenaline even more for an elevated response. And if nothing else, yelling will help ensure the officer is breathing under the stressful conditions of the altercation.

4. Know what force is reasonable

When an assailant goes for an officer’s gun or other tools, the chances are high that they are not attempting to field strip it and clean it. The odds are they are willing to use it against the officer. Because of this, a fight for an officer’s gun is a serious situation.

The mission is to keep the gun in the holster unless it is on the officer’s terms. Nearly all types of force are options for the officer, to include the use of improvised weapons and strikes to vulnerable targets.

5. Mentally rehearse

Mentally prepare for attacks before they happen. Every LEO should visualize appropriate responses and plans of action against potential threats. This preparation can be the difference between losing valuable time from being caught off guard, to responding with the appropriate force at the appropriate time. Mental rehearsal is paramount to gun retention and defensive tactics.

The importance of training

Whatever specific tactics you use for gun retention, make sure you practice them above and beyond standard in-service training, ideally against an opponent who offers a realistic level of conviction so you can pressure test your theories.

Understand that gun retention is not limited to a specific set of techniques. It also involves awareness, positioning, properly functioning equipment, and mental and physical training. The ultimate goal is to reduce the number of officers killed by their own guns to zero. Train hard and be safe!

NEXT: 8 gun retention techniques to incorporate into police firearms training

Tyson Kilbey has more than 25 years of experience in law enforcement, consisting of three years as a hotel security supervisor and 22 years as a deputy sheriff for the Johnson County (Kansas) Sheriff’s Office. He has worked in the detention, patrol and training divisions, SWAT and accident investigation units. He is currently a captain of the Training Unit for the Sheriff’s Office.

Tyson authored “Personal Defense Mastery,” a follow-up to his first book “Fundamental Handgun Mastery.” Tyson is a Jiu-Jitsu black belt under UFC Pioneer Royce Gracie. He has numerous defensive tactics and firearms certifications and has received multiple awards in competitive shooting and grappling. He is the Match Director for the Brandon Collins Memorial Shootout, a shooting competition named in honor of a deputy who died in the line of duty. Proceeds from the match go to charitable causes.