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Firearms training after COVID-19 shutdowns

It’s time to get officers back on the range to dust off their marksmanship and weapon-handling skills

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Todd Fletcher

This article is part of a year-long series for Police1 registered members from Todd Fletcher titled “Police Firearms: Discussion, Drills & Demos.” Todd will write about current hot topics related to police firearms training, outline firearms training drills and demonstrate shooting techniques on video. If you have a topic you would like Todd to cover, or a training problem you need to solve, email editor@police1.com.

Firearms trainers around the country have some catching up to do after most training was effectively shut down in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unless your officers have diligently performed dry fire practice drills on their own, their firearms skills have atrophied. It’s time to get officers back on the range to dust off those marksmanship and weapon-handling skills.

There are some crucial skills officers need to work on that are fundamental to their ability to carry a firearm safely and effectively. A proven method for increasing confidence and proficiency is to improve weapon-handling skills. It doesn’t matter if you’re practicing with a patrol rifle, shotgun, or handgun, improving an officer’s ability to get on target, reload and clear malfunctions will build confidence. Increased confidence may result in an increased willingness to practice, and more practice will result in significantly improved skills.

Draw and presentation

A smooth, fluid draw and presentation is the first step.

For handgun practice, make sure officers are acquiring a firm grip high on the backstrap while disengaging the holster retention devices in one smooth motion. The draw continues by lifting the handgun straight up out of the holster.

A bit of advice at this point: If you put slight pressure on the bottom of the trigger guard with your strong hand middle finger, the handgun rotates toward the target with little effort. From this point, acquire the desired grip with the support hand and continue to extend as the sights meet the eye/target line.

Practice at a smooth slow pace until it becomes natural then gradually add speed. Don’t attempt to go beyond 90% of your fastest draw speed. If you try to draw too quickly, things tend to go wrong, including missing your initial grip, failing to release holster retention devices and spearing the gun toward the target. This video reviews additional points of drawing a handgun quickly and smoothly.

Patrol rifles and shotguns are easier to shoot well, but most officers struggle with weapon handling. Dry practice can increase officer confidence and competence. Remember to work the selector switch. That pesky “on/off” switch perplexes many shooters, so practice some turns and presentations while working the selector switch. Don’t let your officers cheat by moving the selector switch before the presentation. We need them to practice the good habits they need to prevail in a gunfight!

Once officers have smoothed out their presentations with dry practice, now is a perfect time to have them work one-, two- and three-shot drills. Practice these from a variety of ready positions including from the holster, low-ready and any other ready positions taught at your department. Add some turns/pivots, movement to cover, verbal warnings and communication between officers, and you have the makings of a great drill to get officers back up to speed.

Reloads

I’ve heard instructors say they aren’t concerned about teaching reloads and malfunction clearance drills because they rarely happen in law enforcement gunfights. The truth is, outside of Hollywood movies, all firearms need to be reloaded, and even reliable modern duty firearms still malfunction. Should it happen in the middle of their fight, officers will be thankful for the time spent practicing these skills.

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Keep the handgun up in front of you so you keep the threat in view in case you need to glance at your gun during the reload. Move the gun only enough to facilitate the reload. More movement = more time.

Todd Fletcher

When practicing reloads, increase efficiency by minimizing movement. Many officers bring the gun up too close to their face. The more the gun is moved off target, the longer it takes to reacquire the target after the reload. The gun should only move enough to make the controls accessible and the reload smooth and comfortable. When doing reloads, the head should be up with the eyes focused downrange. If officers need to glance at the gun during the reload, a quick glance should be all that’s required before the eyes focus back downrange. The handgun won’t move unless they move it, but the bad guy might. You can see more about doing empty reloads here:

Practicing reloads can be accomplished by downloading magazines forcing officers to reload more often, including mandatory reloads during different courses of fire, or by having officers reload following each string of fire during line drills.

Malfunctions

Today’s duty firearms are extremely dependable, so officers rarely get the repetitions necessary to become competent in recognizing and clearing malfunctions. Instructors need to set up specific malfunction clearance practice to improve officer skills. If a malfunction occurs during a gunfight, officers need to quickly and effectively clear the malfunction using the skills refined during quality practice time.

The immediate action drill needs to be practiced until it becomes an automatic response once a malfunction is diagnosed:

  • Tap the magazine aggressively (finger out of trigger guard);
  • Rack/RIP the slide/charging handle to the rear and release – do not ride slide/charging handle forward;
  • Ready/reassess the target and environment.
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The first step to correct a malfunction is to tap the magazine aggressively (finger out of trigger guard). This is the step most officers skip in training.

Todd Fletcher

If the immediate action drill fails to fix the problem, officers should immediately begin to clear the complex malfunction:

  • Lock the slide to the rear to relieve the pressure on the top of your magazine;
  • Rip the magazine out while depressing the magazine release button;
  • Work the slide by quickly racking it to the rear at least three times;
  • Reload the handgun; and,
  • Ready/reassess the target and environment.
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A one-hole drill reinforces good marksmanship skills including sights, shooting platform and trigger control.

Todd Fletcher

Making their shots

You can improve your officers’ marksmanship skills through some simple drills that focus on the fundamentals. A basic one-hole drill where the goal is to shoot each round through the same hole at 3-5 yards can reinforce the importance of applying marksmanship through solid fundamentals. From here, officers should work on target transitions, multiple targets, changing speeds, threat assessment, working from cover and positional shooting. If instructors have officers download their magazines and/or mix in some dummy rounds during these courses of fire, officers will quickly knock the rust off their firearms skills.

Get officers back up to speed

Practicing weapon handling skills until officers can perform them without conscious thought is the only way to ensure officers have the skills necessary to finish the fight. Improved weapon-handling skills lead to more confidence and safer officers.

Extra time working on the fundamentals of marksmanship and building speed and accuracy will lead to officers being better prepared than before the pandemic shut training down.

NEXT: How to buy firearms training equipment

Todd Fletcher is the owner and lead instructor for Combative Firearms Training, LLC providing training for law enforcement firearms instructors from coast to coast. He has over 25 years of training experience as a firearms and defensive tactics instructor. He retired after more than 25 years as a full-time police officer and over 31 years of law enforcement experience.

Todd is a member of the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) and the United States Practical Shooting Association (USPSA). He is a member of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), and was selected as the 2022 ILEETA Trainer-of-the-Year. He is also a member of the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI) and won the 2023 IALEFI Top Gun Award. He can be reached at Todd@CombativeFirearms.com.

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