Wednesday, August 24, 2016

A message to instructors…

The firearms training business is booming! I have never seen the large number of folks involved in the business as I do today. Every law enforcement agency in the country has at least one firearms instructor and with every state in the union having some type of CCW certification process, the armed citizen side of the market is exploding. But what are we getting in instructor quality? While some genuinely care, others are just interested in money and notoriety.  Which are you?  How have you prepared for your instructional career? A single NRA instructor course or a battery of courses from a wide variety of instructors and backgrounds? What is your background? Are you teaching a subject matter you really have no concept of?  Are you just recycling information you really do not comprehend?  Do you yell and scream or offer guidance and control?  Hell…do you even know why you do why you do other than you got it from someone else?!

I give careful thought to everything I do and teach in my classes. It is the result of many years of training, interviews and personal experience. I have even thought hard about the targets I use. I’ve shot at a wide variety of targets throughout the years. Some were just paper plates; others were elaborate, electronically controlled human torsos capable of life-like movement. Each type has its place and those of us who have immersed ourselves in perfecting our combative shooting skills understand what each target represents—the relatively small areas of the body vital for sustaining life. Handguns suck as tools of rapid incapacitation, but they’re portable. LEOs rely on them when instant deadly force is reasonable and needed. The shotgun and carbine are much better for this, but what are the chances you’ll have the bigger gun when a threat presents itself? If you know a fight is coming, you might want to take a sick day. Those who understand human conflict understand that no matter how skilled you are, there’s always a chance of losing.

However, if you’re on the job and a hot call comes in, you can arm yourself appropriately before deploying. What if the situation turns bad in front of you without warning? Many claim the handgun should be used “to fight to a better gun” and, although I understand the sentiment, you’ll probably fight with what you have at the time the fight starts, as time is quite restrictive. Reality stinks, doesn’t it?

The fact remains that law officers and armed citizens need to be good with their handguns.  All cops selected the profession voluntarily and that means that you will confront an armed individual sometime before you retire—maybe multiple times. Remember: Your chief will not be there, so your firearms skills are for you… not your agency. If you can’t shoot well enough to save your own life, then it’s you who will die. You owe it to yourself to have the best skills possible, and this will require commitment on your part.  In the case of the armed citizen, YOU decided to go armed…do it well!

Two or three practice sessions a year does not a shooter make, but this is the norm for most cops. If that’s all that’s being provided the officer or citizen needs more so find it! If that is all there is going to be, those sessions should be the very best! A quality program is the result of an innovative and knowledgeable instructor. Yes, having a well-equipped facility is nice, but it won’t make up for an instructor who’s unskilled, which I see quite often within the LE community. Remember: Qualification is not training! It’s merely a test and this is true whether it is a law enforcement program or a CCW certification. Training, on the other hand, is the building and refining of skills. I’m surprised by the number of certified firearms instructors who don’t understand how to look for and correct shooting mistakes…and don’t understand the physiology behind them.

A proper combative firearms training program must include skill building in three areas: fundamentals (how to run a gun), combative aspects (how to fight with the chosen weapon), and interactive aspects (e.g., force-on- force scenarios, crisis decision making and proving the skills taught in the other levels work). Without all three, shooters will never be truly prepared for armed conflict. I’ve had many instructors tell me that they just don’t have the time for all of this. I’ve been there, but this is where one must be innovative. NYPD has 40,000 cops to put through firearms training in any given year. They don’t have a lot of time with each officer, but they win far more confrontations than they loose. How? They study the problem and make the most of the time they have. You can too!

One area you can improve is to give proper thought to what type of targets you use. As I talk with instructors across the country, I always ask what targets they use. I want to hear their thoughts on how and why they do what they do. I’m disappointed, for the most part, that many instructors are more fixated on having their own agency or company target than truly understanding what they want the target for. Many of these targets have so many shapes, symbols and add-on targeting devices on them that they look less like targets and more like circus advertisements. Oftentimes, the target is created based on a target design used by an instructor/institution that they attended. Understand that such targets are often designed to build certain skills or complete certain drills and may not be the best choice for a more rounded combative level of training.

Ask yourself, “What am I trying to accomplish?” We have known since the research of S.L.A. Marshall and Lt. Col. Dave Grossman that targets are important. They prepare fighters to engage the enemy where bull’s-eyes and other non-human shapes do not. The soldier, cop or armed citizen who trains on a target that looks like a actual person is more likely to engage a living, breathing attacker than one who has never done so.
In addition, training on a realistic target better prepares the student for the combative and interactive aspects of the process. Have you ever experienced someone who just can’t bring him or herself to point a gun at another human? They often express safety concerns (never point your gun at anything you’re not willing to shoot, kill or destroy) as the reason they’re refusing to do so. But you can see the look on their face and know they’re simply uncomfortable pointing a gun at a human.  Not good…

During my classes, I’ll have my students disable their guns by plugging the barrel of their pistol in such a way so the gun cannot physically chamber a round. Afterward, I walk in front of the line so I can see how they present their gun from both ready position and the holster, because this angle just gives me a better view of the physical process. I correct them as necessary. REMEMBER…I KNOW they are unloaded and incapable of firing, so keep the snarky, know it all comments to yourself, Dickweed (you know who you are).

I also want the student to get used to confronting a live protagonist at the end of their gun. Approximately 30% of students won’t do it! I know the gun can’t fire because I render it inoperable, but they still refuse to point the gun in my direction. Even after I tell them it’s OK and they aren’t violating any safety rules, they still refuse! Once the drill is over, they tell me they’ll point the gun at a “real bad guy” when the time comes—but will they really?  In all truthfulness…I seriously doubt it!

Training targets not only need to reflect reality, they also need to offer different angles of confrontation. Gun- fights are fluid affairs. If a combatant stands still during a fight, it’s probably because they didn’t know they were in a fight. If they did, they’d be moving to some location where it would be less likely they’ll be shot. Thus, training targets must represent a wide variety of possible confrontational angles. A 3-D target would be best, but this is difficult when multiple shooters are on the line, so a training target should also be able to represent the restricted area of proper shot placement as the body offers differing angles. . Ensure your target reflects the reality of confrontation. Don’t accept crappy hits in the interest of getting students “qualified.” As Mel Gibson said in The Patriot, “Aim small; miss small.”

In the end, if you require a high level of skill on the range, you’ll likely get it back on the street. Lack of desire on their part doesn’t justify lackadaisical performance on your part. Stay alert, stay safe and check your 360 often.


  1. Dave
    This is an excelent artical. I have been in law enforcement since 1994. I am now our departments senior firearms instructor. I believe you have hit the nail on the head, knocked this idea out of the park... One thing I do not want our program to do is stagnate. Myself and the other instructors here go to at least one fire arms course a year to keep relevant. We do most of this through the OTOA but this year we have been able to do a three day course with TDI as well. I am a firm believer that as an instructor if I am not continually learning and studying current trends and techniques I should hang it up. We now teach an armed teacher course and civilian CCW at our office. Myself and the two other instructors bring a combined total of about 45 years Tactical team experience to the classroom and I have security experience from the Coast Guard working port security and ship board security in the middle east so we have a little more knowledge than just knowing how to shoot a gun. I believe our (instructors like you and I) real world experience is what sets us apart. Thank you for sharing your knowledge and expertise. You are one of the instructors I recommend for further training.

    David Spicer

  2. I think you are 100% right. If you never experienced confrontation you will no do well. The more you deal with confrontation the better you think while under stress. I'm not saying look for a fight, just learn from your experiences good or bad.

  3. Dave,

    Very well said! Thanks for taking the time to put into words what so many professional firearms instructors think and talk about every day.

    The only people that are going to be offended by what you have said are the posers, phonies and scammers that have entered the training industry to take advantage of folks that don’t know any better.

    The Internet has empowered literally thousands of wannabe firearms instructors with the ability to advertise flashy websites and credentials & experience that cannot be confirmed.

    They advertise “Tacti-Cool” videos that make “playing” with firearms look fun, encouraging nothing more than a weekend of playing Call of Duty with real firearms!

    The essence of learning how to use firearms safely and responsibly has been considerably compromised and the true art of using firearms for personal defense has become blurred.

    I think it’s disgusting to see people on YouTube and social media making videos that demonstrate unsafe and dangerous conduct with firearms, which ultimately encourages others to replicate these asinine actions as well.

    I think all of these things are an embarrassment to our profession and the firearms training industry as a whole.

    Hopefully, some of these folks will heed your words, wake up and go find something else to do and leave this line of work to the real professionals.

    As always, stay safe. Krup

  4. Very, very well stated Dave.

    Strongly concur.

  5. Aaron Cowan,of Sage Dynamics, uses 3d cardboard targets exclusively. In the 4 days I spent with him last year (2 pistol, 2 rifle), they really enhanced the realism of each single-shooter drill. The shoot/no-shoot were marked by "arms" that had gun or knives. Depending on distance, that allowed for some complex problem solving. It also reinforced accuracy when the target isn't squared to you.

  6. Aaron Cowan,of Sage Dynamics, uses 3d cardboard targets exclusively. In the 4 days I spent with him last year (2 pistol, 2 rifle), they really enhanced the realism of each single-shooter drill. The shoot/no-shoot were marked by "arms" that had gun or knives. Depending on distance, that allowed for some complex problem solving. It also reinforced accuracy when the target isn't squared to you.

  7. Thanks for the post. People with guns must know how to fire as they can save your life or you may be killed if you don't know it's proper use. You people can also take help form the Mass Gun License to get guns legally as well as get proper training to help yourself to shoot properly in a situation where you need to.

  8. Very interesting and informative blog and about the Red dot and I must appreciate your work well done keep it up.
    Red dot

  9. Very exclusive blog about training, Quite interesting and nice topic chosen for the post Nice Post keep it up.

    Mental Dynamics

  10. Very good article.

    Just yesterday I contacted a friend of mine to get his input on designing a better general training target that would address all the issues you mentioned.

    Are there examples of such targets as the ones you referred to?