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Departments : The Winning Edge

Stopping Gun Grabs

Good weapon retention begins at first contact and requires you to use solid tactics.

January 11, 2011  |  by Mike "Ziggy" Siegfried

Editor's note: View our related photo gallery, "Stopping Gun Grabs: 3 Scenarios."

When you make contact with any suspect, there is always a firearm involved. It's on you. And it can be turned against you.

Every year the FBI publishes a report titled "Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted." This detailed document gives the law enforcement community valuable information about the circumstances and trends in assaults on officers. In 2008, 10 percent of officers killed with a firearm were killed with their own handgun. In the past few months, Officer Ryan Bonaminio of the Riverside (Calif.) Police Department and Dep. Sam Brownlee of the Weld County (Colo.) Sheriff's Department were both killed when they lost control of their duty firearms.

Concepts and Techniques

When asked to demonstrate weapon retention, most officers place both hands on their holstered handgun and move their hips violently from side to side. This technique is good. But before you are able to react in this manner, the suspect can bridge the open space between you, lower his shoulders, and extend his hands to touch your holstered firearm. So why don't officers use a technique that provides a faster reaction? The short answer is they were trained not to.

In many academies, weapon retention is taught by an instructor who says, "The key to weapon retention is to keep your handgun in the holster. Now, let your training partner get close and put his or her hands on your gun, then react." This type of training engrains into your muscle memory the concept that you have to wait until the suspect gets a hand on your weapon before you can perform a weapon retention technique. This type of training ignores the concept that you should not let a suspect get anywhere near your duty belt in the first place.

There should be a balance between teaching techniques and concepts. The basic concept is to not let anyone near your gun. If someone does get near your gun, push the person away and prepare to use one of your weapons. If you cannot push him or her away, keep your weapons on your belt and out of the suspect's hands. Teaching concepts provide the why, distance provides the when, and techniques provide the how.

Three Seconds

In training, officers often say, "If they go for my gun, I will just shoot them." But what if you do not have time? Drawing and accurately firing a handgun takes time, which you might not have. A common reference point for reaction time is 1.5 seconds: the time it takes most human beings to realize there is a serious problem. It takes the average officer another 1.5 seconds to draw a firearm and fire the first shot.

How much damage could a suspect inflict in the 3.0 seconds it takes for an officer to recognize, react, and fire the first shot? I have seen many mixed martial artists knocked out in less time. Even an extremely slow runner could get to an officer before the officer can get their first shot off.

A five-year FBI study, "Violent Encounters: A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation's Law Enforcement Officers," confirms that victim officers hit the suspect only 40 percent of the time in deadly encounters. Additionally, if the suspect gets to the officer before the officer gets his firearm out of the holster, the officer will have at least one hand down. Having one hand down when fighting can have devastating consequences.

Law enforcement trainers need to take a good look at how we teach and train for weapon retention. A layered training approach first addresses concepts, then focuses on four areas: defending with space and angles, defending with the legs, defending with the arms, and keeping the firearm secured in the holster. This concept of firearm retention has been referred to as "defense in depth."

Open Space and Angles

From a modern firebase in Afghanistan to an ancient castle, the first layer of defense is a large open area from which the defender can see the enemy coming and engage them from a distance. This open space concept can also work for individual officers.

CONTINUED: Stopping Gun Grabs «   Page 1 of 2   »

Comments (6)

Displaying 1 - 6 of 6

bluedagger @ 1/15/2011 12:55 PM

Good reminder!!!!!

Little Pebbles Academy @ 1/20/2011 11:41 AM

My husband works as security. He is very professional & ready to react to any assult,,,but,,, this statement of the attacker taking the officers weapon is a true fact. One that constantly stays on his mind.

Det. Sgt. M.C. Williams @ 2/7/2011 8:30 PM

I attended Dep. Sam Brownlee's funeral and direct your attention to the after-action investigation report released today. Direct application to this article and a great source of training and discussion. See

motorcop407 @ 2/21/2011 1:56 PM


For some reason or another I cannot access the PDF document. They may have taken the document off the www. Do you have a copy of the document you can e-mail me? If so, i'll give you my email add.


Alan @ 3/7/2011 8:14 PM

I also believe that the best defense is a decisive offense. Many modern retention holsters, while not gun snatch proof, are designed to slow down the abilty to snatch a gun. In fact, many are secure enough to allow the officer to fight by striking with either one or both hands. Rear break holsters such as the Safariland 070 and several others naturally lock when confronted from the front and the officer takes a natural bladed stance or moves away from the assailant. Likewise, front breaks can put the gun in the bad guy's hand when the officer blades. These should be considerations in holster selection and gun retention.

Chilly Willy @ 3/12/2011 10:24 AM

The first thing to remember is to always maintain and create space,
as well as distance from the suspect/ subject. Learn how to read "body language" as well. This is not something you were born with, it is an acquired skill. You can look at a subject in the eyes but still watch their hands at the same time, but remember the attack will always come from the hands! If you can extend your arm out and touch the suspect/ subject, generally speaking he or she is to close to you! As "Ziggy" stated Five to six feet is considered a leveraged distance. Rear break holsters (Safari-land) are far superior than front break holsters; However it is difficult to quickly and efficiently draw your weapon from a seated position in your vehicle. It is even more difficult to draw your weapon if you are over powered and wind up on the ground facing up, not impossible; just difficult... Further if the suspect/ subject manages to get his or her hand on your weapon I would rather use the "peel the onion", or "can opener" method to get their hand off my weapon rather than thrashing... This method is basically the same technique only that your going to step in toward the subject plant your right foot in, lower your center of gravity, and spin 180 degrees opposite from the subject's open palm. Then you could go into a reverse arm bar/ take down, or push the subject away creating space, and distance once again, and showing him or her the door!
I know... all of sounds great, and looks on paper doesn't it...
Well guess what... it really works!!! I can attest to it, and I'm sure there are quite of few other officers out there that can attest to it as well!
In the end nothing beats real live simulated practice, and repetition which creates muscle memory and enhances reaction time!

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