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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).
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When In Doubt, Whip Out Your Pistol

You can draw your weapon on any call, just as long as you don’t point it at someone without cause.

August 04, 2010  |  by - Also by this author

Image via (OpenSkyMedia).

Perhaps you've been there, finding your sidearm in your hand when you needed it but not recalling that you drew it. Sooner or later, I imagine most of us have.

But whether it was on vehicle approaches, pedestrian stops, or door knocks, I made a habit of having my gun out if I felt there was any possibility of danger. It wasn't as though I was arbitrarily pointing it at everyone. Often, I held it down at my side, then re-holstered when I felt the situation was conducive for doing so.

Most of the time, the people I encountered never knew I had it out and I don't recall ever having been beefed about it. And on those occasions when I found cause to point it at someone, you can bet that I did. And I took comfort in the fact that I didn't have to draw it first.

Of course, maybe you're like Robert Redford's title character in "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and you just love to move and draw. You remember the scene: A prospective employer wants to know if Sundance can shoot. So he has Sundace draw his gun and then he throws out a target and tells him to shoot it. Sundance misses by a mile. The prospective employer shakes his head in disappointment and say he can't hire Sundance because he'd get killed. Then Sundance asks "Can I move?" He spins, slaps leather, and blasts the target multiple times.

If you're that good at drawing and firing, more power to you.

But on those occasions where I encountered signs of non-compliance, I liked having the gun ready.

It wasn't that I didn't practice drawing from my holster. I did. But having the weapon already out of the holster meant there was one less gross motor skill for me to worry about.

While I have heard all manner of horror stories through the years of officers being hesitant to take out firearms because of possible beefs, policy violations, or having to write a memo for doing so, our judicial system has given law enforcement officers quite a bit of latitude when it comes to their doing so. Time and again, courts have ruled that "while police are not entitled to point their guns at citizens when there is no hint of danger, they are allowed to do so when there is a reason to feel danger."

That reason has to be articulable and objectively reasonable. Generally, this means that there has to be a valid sense of danger.

That sense of danger can be based upon the nature of the investigation (e.g., a shots fired call); the sensibilities of the individual detained (PAL known to be armed), or the number and disposition of people being detained (like, say a bunch of bikers who've just stabbed and shot each other in a Laughlin casino).

So long as you can articulate your concerns, you're apt to be covered.

It doesn't always go without a hitch. Innocent people can become victims of circumstance. Certainly, my sympathies go out to one poor couple here in Los Angeles County who were detained naked at gunpoint while investigators searched their home for suspects and evidence related to an identity theft case. Unfortunately, the only thing the two were guilty of was moving into a dwelling that had previously been occupied by those actually culpable for the crime, one of which was known to own a registered handgun (ergo, the presence of police firearms). Sometimes, things just don't play out as nicely as we would hope. At least the cops didn't storm into the wrong address.

Department policies and how officers are trained will often dictate whether or not a cop keeps his finger on the trigger when detaining someone at gunpoint. When I was detaining a possible felony vehicle at gunpoint based solely on color, make, and model of a popular ride, I was less apt to be caressing the trigger than if it was an obvious member of a gang known to be currently at war with some crosstown clique. While I place a high enough premium on my miserable life, the one thing I never wanted to do was to be responsible for taking the life of an innocent, and more than one cop has accidently shot some innocent he was detaining at gunpoint.

As with most things, common sense should dictate one's actions. We've all heard the conventional wisdom that it's better to be tried by 12 than carried by six; yet you still see instances where cops should have their sidearms out but don't.

Then there are those cops who have no business pointing guns at people but do (you dipshits that like to point guns at fellow cops all out of "good fun?" I'm looking at you...). Just reading some of the rulings in which officers were deemed guilty of unreasonable force or 4th Amendment violations can get any reasonable officer scratching his or her head:

  • There was a cop who held a gun to a nine-year-old and threatened to pull the trigger.
  • There was a cop who held a gun on a five-week-old infant. (Dude, what the f___?)
  • You can add your own.

And while we're on the matter of sidearms, I should say that I was obsessive in checking my sidearm, both to make sure it was loaded when I needed it to be and that it wasn't when it wasn't supposed to be.

To be candid, once I did find the damn thing unloaded in the field, and actually had to chamber a round on a call (not that I felt felt too self-conscious about it. After all, cocksure movie cops do that stuff all the time. Of course that's just because idiot directors like the sound of a round being racked as a prelude to an action scene.) Still, might I suggest you periodically press check your chamber to make sure it is loaded, even when you're sure it is.

If you're carrying a semi-, you might want to feel the base of your grip from time to time, too (I was surprised at to find that magazines would occasionally drop from the Beretta's while they were doing some little something, like getting in and out of cars).

I give you this advice because when it comes down to it, it's a helluva lot better to be ready to drop the hammer, than find that someone else has the drop on you and your gun is in your holster or in your hand and not ready to fire.

I'd love to hear comments from fellow officers. When do you draw your duty weapon? How often do you press check to make sure that one is in the chamber? Have you ever found your weapon empty on duty?


Comments (11)

Displaying 1 - 11 of 11

chp7016 @ 8/5/2010 7:27 PM

It's a winner tactic--we learned it way back in the 1960's :)

Didn't have to worry about the magazines then, of course.

ellersieckeh @ 8/5/2010 8:54 PM

One of the keys is the pointing of the weapon aspect. I think most of us have had the weapon out of the holster and up into the lower ready type position without actually aiming in. There may be some debate about having it out and held along the leg and how much advantage that has compared to drawing from the holster.

Checking the weapon as to it's status should be a habitual thing. I have found mine with the chamber empty and traced it back to being in a hurry and interrupted during the process of getting ready to go on duty. Also magazines do fall out, and on occation floorplates fall off and spill the contents without the wearer's knowledge. Good reminder.

Druck @ 8/5/2010 8:57 PM

I'm relatively new with only seven years on and find myself as one of the few at my agency that is comfortable having it in my hand before I need to point it at someone. I am glad that you addressed the difference between having it out and pointing it at a human being. That's a very important distinction. I don't just walk around carrying it for no reason but I have had it in hand on several traffic stops and suspicious vehicle approaches as well as approaching alarm calls and domestic violence incidents. Thankfully, my agency does not require a report just for pulling a firearm (although we do require one for activating the laser sight on a Taser).

Regarding checking the chamber, I check all my equipment before roll call including making sure cuffs are not double-locked, making sure all my mags are there and full and checking the chamber of both my duty weapon and BUG. A few times I have found my cuffs locked or forgot a magazine in my court leather but caught it before hitting the road. Never have found either weapon empty but those same "dipshits" that point guns at each other also like to disassemble weapons found in lockers that someone forgot to lock or left open while they went to the restroom.

dbkraemer @ 8/6/2010 1:00 AM

While some of the author's comments are very valid (status/press check, magazine check, a "feel" about a call), I strongly object to the use of such verbiage as "When In Doubt, Whip Out Your Pistol" and "caressing the trigger" -- both are highly unprofessional terms. ...and leave out the movie analogies!

Having 35 years of sworn experience at a medium (290 sworn) metropolitan agency, I have seen too many officers using their pistols as security blankets and having them in their hands at often inappropriate times (on perimeter, searching a building using the weapon-mounted light and illuminating/menacing a fellow officer). This is a training issue -- absent danger or articulable circumstances, the handgun should be holstered. Not many agencies have their personnel practice "speed reholstering" which is what an officer is going to have to do if the situation requires immediate non-lethal hands-on.

...and if your finger is ON the trigger while detaining someone, you are flirting with, at minimum, a Civil Rights violation if you negligently engage the trigger [“trigger creep" is a real-enough and tragic consequence during the handling of firearms – it even occurs with highly-trained SWATies]. To advocate or even intimate otherwise is reckless and inexcusable.

dscoville @ 8/6/2010 2:27 AM


I’ll be the first to acknowledge that I use the movie and cultural allusions more than I should. Call it the Tarrantino Effect (there I go again!).

But to my arguable defense, the Sundance image is so iconic a one that if you can come up with anything from the literary realm that succinctly illustrates the point and will as readily resonate with the reader, I’ll kiss your ***. I trust I won’t be whipping out any Chapstick soon…

Speaking of “whipping out” –or, “caressing the trigger”, for that matter - when it comes to my choice of rhetoric, listen up: IT’S A BLOG: I’m not writing Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm here. I offer food for thought on matters I think warrant comment. If you want a more neutral, more sanitized, and generally more professional read with my byline, then sample my feature stories.

But when it comes to the patrol blog, ninety-five percent of the time I’m writing stuff that I feel like about writing about - and 100% of the time it’s reflective of my opinion. God bless Bobit Publishing for allowing me the privilege.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the luxury of tailoring every weekly piece so that it will prove inoffensive to all (and the day I do that, I will quit). Still, for those whose sensibilities are so fixated on cadence-friendly words like “whipping out” and “caressing” I would suggest that they forego reading the articles, or not be of such a literalist bent (thankfully, my Germanic blood was diluted enough so as to accommodate a sense of humor). And whatever you do, don’t read my piece on profanity. You’d **** a brick.

I try to evaluate the comments received and the spirit in which they’re made, so consider this responding in kind. I have no problem with people addressing deficiencies of my assertions.

Unfortunately, you seem less intent on commenting on my opinion, than re-stating it to the point it doesn’t resemble anything I said.

adrian stroud @ 8/6/2010 7:45 AM

Yes! Thank you. I have now met a cop who is EXACTLY like myself. I agree with you 100%, you should draw and be ready when YOU feel the need to, not when some arbitrary policy dictates you should. I think these "use of force" reports that are mandatory when you draw your weapon are a mistake, they hold officers back from drawing when they feel they should. In the 80's, I would often walk up on a MV stop, especially at night, with my pistol tucked just behind my right leg, in case I needed to bring it up. Yes, that's how all those Caliber Press Street Survival films taught us, and the 11 seminars I went to. Thank You.

oncethere @ 8/6/2010 11:35 AM

I considered this technique SOP during my career. As an FTO many moons ago, I use to ask recruits who had just come out of the academy for their practical street training, what is the fastest way to draw your firearm? This was a trick question that none of them could answer. I explained to them that the fastest draw was to have your firearm out before any situation warranted. I explained to them that once you learned your beat and a call came in to an address or area that you knew had high crime and drugs, that your approach should be to have your gun out and at your side once you exited your vehicle. I can recall taking a gun off of a bad guy who later told me that the reason he didn't shoot me was because he noticed that I had my firearm out of the holster and that he felt I had the advantage over him if he had decided to draw his gun.

Wolfshadow @ 8/6/2010 7:18 PM

Don't forget to check your firing pins as well. I've been out of the game for a number of years now, but when I came on in the 70's I would always check my rounds for high primers and my wheel gun firing pin. Easy to do...just drop a pencil, eraser first, down the tube of your EMPTY weapon and pull the trigger. The pencil will jump if the pin is good. The eraser acts as a snap cap, so no harm to the pin. You can do the same trick on your auto. And don't forget to check the slide for oil. A little drop is all you need.

Deadman @ 8/8/2010 1:57 AM

Your first line,finding your sidearm in your hand and you don't remember drawing it,that didn't come from a wayward thought.That comes from training,being aware,knowing your surroundings,knowing that you're the odd man out in the neighborhood,that nobody there likes you ,so your senses should be in overdrive,your training should automatically guide your instincts,you should be aware of everything going on around you and be ready to respond to it.I watched eyes,hands,body language,perspiration and their mouth,everything they do tells you what to do.A change in their words,language,demeanor sends different signals to you,be aware.Late night misdemeanor traffic stop,two miscreants in a possible stolen car with punched door lock,(something simple),isolated neighborhood,you call for back-up,they're ten minutes away finishing dinner or chasing skirts,totally useless.Call in plate ,exit vehicle,unfasten weapon,secure strap,approach vehicle with five d-cell flashlight,light up their life,hand on gun,if you are properly trained,your gun will be in your hand if you need it.What did you do before they invented the Taser,Pepper spray,i used my hands,up close and personal.

Deadman @ 8/8/2010 2:31 AM

Two officers draw their weapons,while chasing alleged armed male who tried to kill two cops,with guns out they wrestle him to the ground but they can't cuff him because two of their hands are holding suspect,two of their hands are holding their weapons,what to do what would you do,i would holster my sidearm.They both threw their weapons on the ground in front of his face,i holstered my weapon,i bent over and grabbed their guns,they both went pale until their gaze traveled up my arms and saw my badge and uniform and my uniform was different than theirs so their brain was still reacting.When all the smoke cleared, (a figure of speech ),i had disappeared,with there being no record of me being there,but i couldn't believe they did that.

I attended Street Survival also,4 times,didn't change much,started getting redundant,i hope it improved,but i still learned alot and it is still called training.

There are citizens out there good and bad that sometimes have to be protected from misguided officers,like the moron down south who tased somebody 9 times and killed him,left his partner in a car in the heat and killed a K-9,like the officers that don't want to mess up their hair,soil their uniform or get their hands dirty,it is part of the job,i did it for 28.5 years.Know your surroundings,be aware of everything,check you service weapon before you go on the road and if your range officer tells you to drop a half filled magazine on the concrete don't listen to him,tell him you can learn bad habits by yourself,you don't need him to teach you any.Don't abuse your equipment unless you're hitting somebody with it---( JUST KIDDING ).With Training,Your Weapon Will Be There When You Need It.

Deadman @ 8/8/2010 2:44 AM

Bobit Publications should be used as a training tool,that means,watch what you write,watch your advise,make sure it is accurate,timely,of use and doesn't get somebody killed-either officer or civilian.New officers are looking for all of the training they can get,they are impressionable,they need help,not B.S.Don't be afraid to argue for better training policy,your life may be in the balance.

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