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Why LE agencies need to train for trigger discipline

A training gun equipped with an Unintentional Discharge Sensor can reduce unintentional trigger pulls by imprinting trigger discipline into recruits

Sponsored by Smart Firearms Training Devices

By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff                          

It seems such a small mistake for any police officer to make: forgetting to keep one’s finger on the side of their pistol and putting it on the trigger instead – just in case. But this small mistake has resulted in thousands of ‘Unintentional Trigger Pulls’ (also known as ‘Unintentional Discharges’) by police over the years plus the injuries/deaths, lawsuits, and destroyed law enforcement (LE) careers associated with them.

Smart Firearms Training Devices help reduce unintentional trigger pulls by training officers to keep fingers out of the trigger guard.
Smart Firearms Training Devices help reduce unintentional trigger pulls by training officers to keep fingers out of the trigger guard. (Smart Firearms Training Devices)

The closest thing to comprehensive data on unintentional trigger pulls by U.S. police officers was compiled by the Associated Press (AP) in 2019. Based on media reports going back seven years, the news agency’s research found “1,422 unintentional discharges (UDs) since 2012 at 258 agencies.” These UDs included “21 cases where people died in accidental shootings by police, the AP said. “It identified another 134 where the officer injured himself, and 45 where an accidental discharge injured another officer. An officer accidentally shot bystanders in 34 instances and suspects in 19.”

There are many reasons why unintentional trigger pulls can occur. For instance, an officer might be startled by a sudden loud noise near them and reflexively pull the trigger, or they could trip and pull it as they fall. But whatever the reason, one point seems clear: if the officer’s finger had been positioned above the trigger guard rather than inside it (aka used ‘proper finger indexing’), an unintentional trigger pull should not have happened.

Smart Firearms Training Devices, a ‘made-in-the-USA’ manufacturer of training pistols, rifles, and electric weapons, has developed a simple yet effective solution to this deadly problem: The Unintentional Discharge Sensor. Mounted inside the trigger guards of Smart Firearms’ training guns, the Unintentional Discharge Sensor alerts instructors every time a student rests their finger inside the trigger guard, by setting off a loud alarm in the training room for everyone to hear.

The power of peer pressure

At first glance, the notion that a simple alarm could reduce unintentional trigger pulls and save lives seems a bit of a stretch. But the connection between the two is actually inescapable.

“Firearms training is typically done in a group setting, with one or more instructors and a number of either recruits or officers in for refresher training,” said Smart Firearms’ President Mike Farrell. “When someone’s finger is within the trigger guard and the alarm goes off, everybody notices. The embarrassment caused to the student who made this mistake, and the social pressure they feel from everyone in the room, can be very effective in training the offender to keep their finger outside the trigger guard. Eventually, this correct response becomes ‘muscle memory’ for officers, keeping their fingers safely where they should be whenever their guns are drawn.”

Proper training saves lives and careers

The importance of training police officers to keep fingers out of trigger guards, such that they do so automatically in all situations without conscious thought, cannot be overstated. Lives and careers depend on proper trigger discipline, as does the police’s credibility with an already distrustful public.

This conclusion is backed up by research. For instance, a 2018 study of 171 unintentional discharges by police by the Force Science Institute (FSI) found that, “In most cases, their finger was on the trigger when it shouldn’t have been,” said the AP news report. This is because “routine range practice may facilitate a strong but wrong response of positioning the finger on the trigger immediately after the firearm is drawn,” said the FSI study.

Dedicated to safe effective firearms training

The Unintentional Discharge Sensor is just one of the many innovations that Smart Firearms has brought to the firearms training market. A case in point: This company’s training pistols, rifles, and SF-CEW X2 electric weapons are far more realistic and functional than the traditional red/blue rubber guns used by many police departments. The SF-CEW X2 training devices even come with twin aiming lasers and two IR lasers, to give officers an authentic equipment experience during training.

Equipped with working triggers with simulated resets, speaker systems to emit bullet release sound effects, and simulated adjustable night sights, Smart Firearms’ training pistols are compatible with commonly-used holsters made for Glock, SIG Sauer, and Smith and Wesson weapons. To enhance training, their SF-M4 Training Rifle has a ‘Rumble motor’ to feel like the rifle is actually firing, a working safety selector switch, charging handle, and magazine release, plus a standard 780 infrared laser. (Red laser and other laser options are available.)

Add Unintentional Discharge Sensors, and Smart Firearms has the technology to help police departments reduce unintentional trigger pulls by their officers. The lives and reputations saved by doing so are incalculable, as is the money saved in avoided lawsuits.

After all, as Doug Tangen – firearms program manager at Washington state’s law enforcement training program – told the Associated Press, “guns don’t go off by themselves.”

Visit Smart Firearms Training Devices for more information.

Read next: Spotlight: Smart Firearms Training Devices replaces inert training devices with smart, yet durable devices that actively communicate crucial information to instructors

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