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Doug  Wyllie

Doug Wyllie

Doug Wyllie has authored more than 1,000 articles and tactical tips aimed at ensuring that police officers are safer and more successful on the streets. Doug is a Western Publishing Association “Maggie Award” winner for Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column. He is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers’ Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

Lou Salseda

Lou Salseda

Lou Salseda is a retired LAPD sergeant with 34 years of law enforcement experience. He is the chief instructor of TAC-1 Defensive Firearms Training in Santa Clarita, Calif., and is a consultant for law enforcement training and litigation.

Nick Jacobellis

Nick Jacobellis

Nick Jacobellis is a medically retired U.S. Customs Agent and former New York police officer who was physically disabled in the line of duty while working undercover as a federal agent.

Motivate Yourself to Improve Your Firearms Proficiency

Firearms are the tools of your trade. Make the choice to become a more accurate shot.

July 06, 2011  |  by Nick Jacobellis - Also by this author

Photo: Nick Jacobellis.
Photo: Nick Jacobellis.

To improve your firearms proficiency, sometimes we need to train the hardest for the tasks we are least likely to perform. In addition to being able to qualify with on- and off-duty firearms, law enforcement officers must also have a thorough understanding of the tactics during an authorized use-of-deadly-force situation.

In this multi-part series, we'll cover various ways to improve your proficiency with firearms. Even if you don't consider yourself a gun enthusiast, you must agree that firearms are the primary tools of the law enforcement profession. We'll give you innovative ways you can implement into your firearms training.

A serious problem facing the law enforcement profession today is the lack of firearms proficiency by some sworn personnel. Law enforcement officers who require more that one chance to qualify or who barely qualify need to improve their skill level with the firearms they carry on and off duty.

It's truly scary that civilians who pay for their own ammunition and, in some cases, firearms instruction can out shoot some of society's protectors. How can LEOs struggle with marksmanship after receiving excellent basic and in-service training and free ammunition for practice?

One reason why law enforcement officers fail to qualify or barely qualify is due to a lack of motivation. How else can you explain why anyone who serves in law enforcement is unable to qualify on the first try or consistently obtains a barely passing qualification score? There are law enforcement officers who work hard to improve their marksmanship capabilities and others who don't.

One problem involves law enforcement agencies that don't make remedial firearms training mandatory for sworn personnel who fail to qualify or barely qualify with their on-duty service handgun. While it's commendable that a law enforcement agency will hold remedial training sessions, the problem occurs when the LEOs who need to improve their firearms proficiency fail to take advantage of this free instruction. Every law enforcement agency that has lousy shots in their department is a time bomb waiting to go off from a liability standpoint.

If you think I am crazy, you need to talk to some civilians who honestly believe that cops should be able to shoot guns and knives out of the hands of criminals. All it takes is one person who believes in this ridiculous premise to contaminate the minds of other jury members in a civil or criminal trial.

I also find it completely idiotic that firearms instructors and members of a law enforcement tactical team are generally required to achieve higher firearms qualification scores than regular law enforcement patrol and investigative personnel. Am I missing something here? Why are firearms instructors and SWAT cops the only ones held to such high standards? Does anyone really believe that law enforcement patrol and investigative personnel are somehow less likely to be required to use firearms in the performance of their duties?

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but all law enforcement officers should be capable of protecting life and property with the different tools of the profession.

Anyone can have an occasional bad day but giving a properly trained law enforcement officer three chances to qualify is absurd. If you're unable to master the basic fundamentals of firearms marksmanship after attending a basic training academy and you are unable to cope with the stress of qualifying with your service handgun, how will you handle the stress of using authorized deadly force in the field?           

My position is simple. If you achieve the same passing score required for firearms instructors and SWAT personnel, you should be permitted to retain your firearms authority. If you fail to qualify on the first try, you should be permitted to try one more time.

Even if you qualify on the second try, you should be required to attend mandatory remedial firearms training to improve your firearms proficiency so you can consistently qualify on your first attempt. I don't think this is asking too much of people who carry a firearm for a living.

Failure to attend mandatory remedial firearms training should be an administrative infraction resulting in immediate transfer to desk duty with the temporary loss of firearms authority until the officer can improve their firearm proficiency to the satisfaction of the agency administrator. If you fail to improve and are still unable to qualify on the first try after receiving remedial training, you should remain in an administrative position until you are able to qualify on the first attempt.

There also should be a reasonable effort to improve the firearms proficiency of officers who consistently barely qualify. How this is resolved should be left up to individual agencies and the entity that certifies training standards for law enforcement agencies.

The only way to improve your hit potential is to train with a proper instructor. Practicing on your own should be done once you master the fundamentals.

Remember, cops carry guns for a reason. Improving your firearms proficiency will put you in a better position to protect yourself and others. You can also do nothing and remain a substandard shot. The choice is yours to make.

Comments (7)

Displaying 1 - 7 of 7

Frank @ 7/8/2011 4:27 AM

Well said and written! Firearms qualification should be every six months. LEO's who shoot IDPA and USPSA should be given credit or be exempt from qualifying. Chiefs should support and encourage participation in Action-Type competition. Fun way to stay sharp!

John Veit @ 7/9/2011 8:23 AM

Having qualification standards that do not mirror real shooting distances and methods, can ingrain impractical habits which in real life threat situations can fail, and leave an Officer to trust in luck to survive. For example the NYPD's study of thousands of Polioce combat cases, found that with few exceptions, Officers fired with the strong hand. That is one hand shooting, not two hand shooting. (note photo in article which is similar to those found on gun training sites and even in gun maker catalogues.) Most all shootings were at less than 21 feet. If you are going to be shot and or killed, there is an 80% chance that it will happen at less than 20 feet. And to date a connection between range and street performance has not been established.

Rather than deride Officers for not practicing, the brass and trainers should do something that has been lacking for 100+ years, and that is conduct a scientific study of shootings to determine which shooting method/s actually work in them, and then train Officers in those methods, and develop and employ quals that reflect them.

To do otherwise is to recklessly endanger Officers by sending them out in harms way, with no proven shooting method/s to use if they are in an armed encounter.

frank @ 7/10/2011 4:12 AM

most police officers could care less about getting any better with their sidearms and most can't hit a barn. most cities don't know that most agencys have more cop doing officer work than police work so gun proficency is no big deal.
to me i am great with all of my weapons on duty and off duty yet my co-workers try to stall me calling me gung ho well i like that in the event i may have to handle my business out there, most cops only shoot when its time to requalify, and most never clean their guns ever which is crazy.

David Armstrong @ 7/10/2011 11:22 PM

There are a couple of problems with this article as I see it. First there is the assumption that shooting good or shooting poorly on the range equals success off the range. Lots of research says the two often have no relationship. Second is the assumption that "firearms are the primary tools of the law enforcement profession." While firearms are certainly one of our tools arguing they are the primary tool is questionable. Knowing how to use the pen, the computer, driving skills, communication skills, less-lethal training and so on are just as vital to the successful officer, maybe more so. Training resources are limited and we need to remember that. I'm not sure just how serious this problem is, as it seems we win most of our fights, and those we lose are rarely lost as the result of proficiency issues.

scott henck @ 7/11/2011 6:49 AM

I tried to generate interest locally to help officers who are having trouble with their qualifications. Most could care less. Their training is at times over 10 years old and they are still doing it old school. I guess you just have to live and learn.

I disagree with you frank about getting credit for IDPA and USPSA. I have shot these and it goes against everything tactical in my opinion. Whole new ball game when someone is shooting back, plus you cant review it in your head where you are going to shoot and reload. I think it is great you participate and it is good practice. If you really love shooting, you should love your qualification as well. I always love going to the range.

Nick Jacobellis @ 7/14/2011 11:34 PM

First to you John V. Thanks for taking the time to respond. I did not write this article to put anyone down or "deride" LEOs who do fail to improve their firearms proficiency. I wrote this article to raise awareness to this problem and help motivate LE administrators and individual LEOs who are poor shots to take the issue of firearms training a lot more seriously. As I wrote in this article, I do not believe that it makes any sense to require SWAT cops and firearms instructors to qualify with higher scores than patrol personnel and investigators. This is an insane policy.

As far as studies go, there is no shortage of information about LE involved shootings. Good point. Maybe more of this information needs to be made available at roll calls or during in service training sessions.

As you will read in a future article in this series I propose kicking things up a notch and making firearms training a lot more realistic than simply engaging one square target on a square range. The training program that I propose is relatively easy to do, it's challenging and more realistic than engaging a square stationary target and it should be considered an eye opening experience. I hope you like what I have to say.

To Dave A: Thanks for your comments. The great thing about being an American is that we have freedom of expression. I am not familiar with any study that states or claims that there is no correlation or difference between being a poor shot or a proficient marksman when you get into a shootout. All I can say is, who would you want to come to your rescue if you were in a jam, some LEO who takes three times to qualify or a squared away LEO who is a distinguished marksman and as tactically capable as any veteran SWAT Cop? As for your questioning whether firearms are the number one tool of the trade. Yes, you need a pen, you also need various skills as well as coffee and donuts. You make a very valid point but do not think fo

Officer watson @ 8/21/2011 5:20 PM

I want every chance to improve I practice 3 times a month. Show me how to shoot better with my nonweapon hand. The left one. I am listening.

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