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Training day: Gun retention techniques

Gun retention training is essential to help cops survive potentially fatal attacks – incorporate these eight techniques into your police firearms training


Holster technology has advanced to the point that additional retention devices hardly hinder a fast presentation.


Police trivia question: What is the percentage of calls to which an officer responds where someone has a gun at the scene?

Answer: 100 percent.

If an officer is present, there is a gun at the scene.

As I was researching content for this article, I reflected on the academy and in-service training I have had on gun retention. A small percentage of it was based on the premise that someone was going to saunter up to an officer and reach for his or her gun. After reading reports and statistics, I reinforced my theory that this premise was wrong. Most of them were engagements in progress or disengagements. That is, the officer and suspect were already fighting, and the suspect went for the gun.

Based on the numbers, I sought input from experts.

1. Learn to fight on the ground

Going to the ground is not the most desirable outcome, but most experts will tell you that ground-fighting training is a necessary evil.

Fighting on the ground and fighting on the ground with a gun are two different things. When looking for instructors, talk to them about protecting the gun.

The instructors do not need to be LE officers. In fact, I have yet to meet a competent Brazilian JuJitsu (BJJ) instructor who couldn’t teach an officer how to dominate the ground. The important thing is to spend sufficient time on the mats.

2. Your holster must make the gun secure by just putting it in the holster

Holster technology has advanced to the point that additional retention devices hardly hinder a fast presentation. Most retention holster products have at least a single locking device that latches when the gun is replaced.

Holsters last only a couple of years. This is a piece of equipment that should be replaced regularly without question.

3. No mechanical device should ever replace training

Regardless of the holster, it must be combined with gun retention training that goes beyond a bladed, hands high stance.

An informant once told me that his “associates” kept information on how to recognize and overcome the various retention holsters used in their area. He was quite candid when he said that any one of them can be overcome.

Retention holsters are a good investment, but remember, your investment will only buy you time.

You should also bear in mind that almost every method this informant described came from behind.

4. Practice soft tissue strikes

When I approached my instructor Professor Joe Souza (the founder and Senior Grandmaster of Kensujitsu) about gun retention techniques, he told me that one of the best approaches to reclaiming distance is soft tissue strikes. This is logically sound. Most of us don’t spend a lot of time learning to punch, kick, or harden the striking areas of our bodies. Soft tissue strikes require a degree of accuracy but can be performed by anyone, without hardening a striking area.

We teach the bladed stance and turning the gun side away from the suspect. If a person attempts to steal a gun away from an officer, then logically they are within striking distance. For those who do not practice strikes, the simplest responses are blows to the base of the neck. I won’t get technical here: any blow to the base of any part of the neck can at least momentarily “freeze” the situation. The more efficient and targeted the strike, the more time it will purchase the officer.

I’m speaking in general terms because none of this should displace time in the dojo.

If the suspect attempts a grab from the front, quickly lower the center of gravity by deepening the stance. This will help the officer’s base. Pin the hand against the gun by holding it there. Strike the base of the neck. This can be done with a “yoke strike,” where the suspect is hit between the Adam’s apple and the bony part of the chest with the web of the hand, or (better), the officer spears a horizontal hand into the void above where the bones end and the neck begins.

I’m a JuJitsu kind of guy, so if I can pin a limb, finger, wrist, or neck, I don’t let go. In other words, if someone grabs my gun, I get to keep the hand.

Jabbing the neck is going to create distance and time, where the officer can recover and protect the firearm.

A grab from the rear isn’t really different. The mechanics are just applied in reverse. Widen the stance, simultaneously pinning the hand. Spin toward the gun. I know that we teach rotating the body quickly so that the gun side is away from the bad guy. This time, a pinned hand and a quick rotation of the hips will have a different effect on that pinned hand.

How does one buy time to make this technique effective? Thrust the heel of the nearest foot to the top of the assailant’s foot. Ignore the crunching sound and continue to the next technique.

This is a good time for that base of the neck strike.

5. Use a consistent response for any gun grab

What kind of training is best? First, officers should work on skills that are common to LE: handcuffing, verbal skills, movement techniques and shooting.

Second, choose a system. Notice I said “system,” not a series of techniques. Training within a system will cause the techniques to make sense within the concepts of the system. For example, within the system in which I train, our joint locks are quite effective. They are designed to incapacitate the assailant. We, therefore, train in techniques that will set up the locks. That is, none of us are naive enough to think a person can catch a punch in midair and execute a throw. Our system has consistent techniques that get us there.

Your system should get you to the point where a new situation or attack will be addressed according to the goals of your system. For example, if I apply a lock, I can flow to another, as needed. A person who does karate may deliver strikes to set up the finisher.

6. Reaching for a gun is a life and death struggle – respond in a like manner

I researched hundreds of reports for this article. Many officer injuries are a result of not applying decisive, controlling force early in the game. The higher the skill and training level of the officer, the more controlling and precise the force.

If your agency takes gun retention (or any) techniques lightly, remember that your assailant is communicating their intent with their actions. Use something that takes them out of the fight immediately.

Some instructors teach to break the grip of the attacker. This is only partially correct. Really what you want to do is break the will of the attacker. Better, completely strip away any capacity whatsoever for the attacker to continue their effort.

7. Turn the firearm away from the attacker

If your training level is limited to turning the gun away from an attacker, do it decisively. This is still a viable defense. I am talking about spinning like a wide receiver in the playoffs, not like a ballerina in the Nutcracker.

8. Consider post-retention dynamics

You retained your gun, now what? If the possession of your gun is no longer in jeopardy, does the officer’s level of force need to change?

Many of the things that need to be included here are things that can only be taught through experience. These are things like pre-assault indicators, body language and proper pre-positioning long before an assault takes place. Just as I teach shooting and assessing, post-retention dynamics needs to include assessment.

Early in my career, then FTO now retired CPT Jeff Lopes told me, “I don’t care what kind of fighter you are, as long as you keep fighting.” He was full of pearls of wisdom, but this one I wrote down.

Additional Police1 resources on gun retention and firearms training

Lindsey Bertomen is a retired police officer and retired military small arms trainer. He teaches criminal justice at Hartnell College in Salinas, California. He has a BS in Criminal Justice and an MS in Online Teaching and Learning. Lindsey has taught shooting techniques for over a decade. His articles on firearms tactics have appeared in print for over a decade. Lindsey enjoys competing in shooting sports, running, and cycling events.