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Don’t blame the gun: Why the argument against striker-fired guns is flawed

We need to stress situational awareness of safety rules and protocols in actual scenario-based training where this safety is graded and there is a consequence for non-compliance

Bob Owens recently wrote an article for the LA Times titled “Why the police shouldn’t use Glock pistols.” This article was in reference to the Glock handgun being accident prone due to the “short trigger pull and natural human reflexes.”

I have to respectfully disagree with the author’s premise that the Glock is more accident-prone than other handgun types. However, he did inadvertently take the lid off the proverbial “can of worms” with the examples he used of officers operating with a handgun in inappropriate ways.

As a former law enforcement officer and now as a professional firearms trainer and consultant for more than 35 years, I am well aware of the varying levels and types of training, training standards, policies and procedures, and other measures put in place by the police and others to ensure the proper use of firearms in all types of situations and conditions.

Issues of Training and Procedures
However, as the years have gone by, the standard of training by agencies has changed. Some agencies have moved up and most have moved down. Qualifications in many major departments have changed to no more than once or twice a year. Range training has also gone down. Hours spent actually shooting the firearm — not time taken up by classroom lectures, legal and use of force briefings, and other areas — have gone down.

And the number one area of safety proficiency with firearms — that of situational awareness of safety rules and protocols in actual scenario-based training where this safety is graded and there is a consequence for non-compliance — is almost non-existent anywhere but a few academy settings.

Also missing are the AARs of car stops, subject contacts, inappropriate gun handling, etc., where actual steps were taken to remediate or punish careless, mindless, lazy or clueless gun handling.

And don’t think for a minute that the civilian world of CCW and civilian firearms users is exempt from this misuse of firearms. With non-existent formal training or CCW and other firearms training programs that can best be described as minimal, the number of negligent and accidental shootings are keeping pace or surging past law enforcement incidents. Take a walk into any indoor shooting range and look up at the ceiling for bullets holes and wonder just what the heck these people were doing to put a bullet hole above them.

As a professional trainer, I constantly am reminded by actual incidents I see that there are a lot of people out there operating their firearms carelessly or with complete indifference to the standard of care and safety that are proscribed by basic safety rules and protocols.

Glocks are just as safe as any other handgun. I have witnessed negligent discharges with all handgun types. Any time you substitute a mechanical device — trigger weight increase or longer movement as a replacement for judgement and training — then you are trying to cover up a systemic problem with a temporary solution. In this case, you are an enabler of poor standards of care and, if you are in a supervisory capacity, I wonder if vicarious liability would be attached to you for allowing these poor standards to continue when you are the person in charge of the departmental standards.

Mindfulness vs. OWAC
Mindfulness is a state of mind where you are aware of where your muzzle is pointed and where your trigger finger is at all times while simultaneously operating in real world conditions. It is a part of situational awareness and it is a part of a student’s grade when I determine whether they should pass or fail any portion of a firearms program that I run.

I developed an acronym — OWAC — that stands for “Operating Without A Clue.” People in a stressful environment — or that have too much information coming at them — can temporarily shut down the mindful part of gun handling and become unsafe. People that are extremely fatigued mentally or physically or people that are careless, lazy or indifferent to the safety rules in place also fall into this category.

Mindfulness reflects a standard of care and a commitment to the values of safety. It means that safe gun handling is a part of your value system and that you pride yourself on your safe gun handling. When it has been shown to you that your gun handling safety is deficient, you don’t become defensive or argumentative but instead, take active measures to ensure that your gun handling skills rise to acceptable levels.

I have been involved in many situations where I have taken my handgun out of my holster and prepared to use deadly force. I have covered subjects at gunpoint and prepared to shoot them when the threat level rose within the incident. I have had my finger on the trigger, safety off, on a 1911 trigger, which is far shorter than a Glock trigger, preparing to shoot on more than several occasions until, almost at the last second, they complied and stopped being a deadly force threat.

The difference is I knew when I was on the trigger and off the trigger. I knew when my safety was on and when it was off, I had a layered response system in terms of where my muzzle was allowed to be given the threat level presented. I also had a professional standard of behavior and value system in place that respected human life and safety and I put that foremost in my mind when in these types of situations. In other words, I acted mindfully.

There is no substitute for human judgment and standards of care. If you are not putting policies in place and training that actually addresses gun handling and safety in all environments and enforces the standards, then you are simply not doing enough.

Talking about safety is not enough. Going to the range is not enough. Operating in a stressful or active environment while reinforcing safe gun handling while being critiqued — and if necessary, disciplined — is part of the answer.

Fostering a culture of safety, professional standards of care, and policies that meet the needs of professional law enforcement officers and CCW citizens is the long term solution.

There is a reason why competitive shooters in USPSA and other action sports are among the safest gun handlers on the planet. There lies of culture of what some might call extreme gun handling in highly athletic contests. Triggers can be less than 1.5 pounds in weight and yet incidents of careless gun handling are extremely uncommon and dealt with immediately and with finality.

Sympathetic reflex discharges are almost unheard of as well. For example, just last month, I took a heck of a fall where my feet literally flew out from under me as I slipped and fell flat out, while carrying a 1911 style handgun, safety off with a 1.5-pound trigger.

I remembered, as I fell, to point the muzzle in a safe direction and keep my finger where it belonged. I hit very hard, tearing all the skin off the back of my right thumb and other areas of my body. I bled quite a bit but the gun did not discharge, nor have I seen discharges with countless individual engaged in all sorts of activities with gun in-hand.

Don’t Blame the Gun
Take a hard look at the culture you choose to live in and the professional standards you actually uphold in your daily activities that involve gun handling and safety. I have done consulting for many different agencies and individuals and put in place policies and procedures, training and supervisory oversight rules that stop unsafe gun handling when acted upon and enforced.

My bottom line is simply this: the more you know about, train correctly with, and subject yourself to the rules of safe gun handling, the less likely you are to have a problem. It is when you put yourself above these constraints because you think you are a seasoned veteran and don’t have to comply that the problems start.

Ron Avery is President and Director of Training for The Practical Shooting Academy, Inc. and Executive Director of the non-profit, Rocky Mountain Tactical Institute - both training institutions dedicated to professional firearms and tactics courses, higher police standards and training and use of force research.

Ron is a former police officer with many years of street experience, which he brings into the training environment. He is internationally recognized as a researcher, firearms trainer and world class shooter. His training methodology is currently being used by hundreds of agencies and thousands of individuals across the US and internationally.

He has worked as a consultant and trainer for top level federal agencies, special operations military from all branches of the armed forces and law enforcement agencies across the US.

He is a weapons and tactics trainer for, handgun, carbine, select fire, precision rifle and shotgun, as well as advanced instructor schools, defensive tactics, team skills and tactics, low light tactics, arrest and control and officer survival. He is also a consultant for firearms training programs, use of force and firearms research, range development, instructor development and other firearm related topics.

For over 25 years he has consistently ranked among the best shooters in the world in national, international and world championship competitions, winning many different titles including two-time National Law Enforcement Champion. In 2002, he represented his country as a member of the first place, United States Practical Shooting Association’s “Gold Team” in the Standard Division in the World Championships in South Africa.

As a published writer, his articles have been featured in SWAT Magazine, Petersen’s Handguns, American Handgunner, U.S.P.S.A.'s Front Sight, Colorado State Shooting Association and other law enforcement publications and journals.