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Departments : Officer Survival


Few survival skills are more critical for police officers than weapons retention.

August 01, 2003  |  by Bob Bragg

Long Guns

Officers have long had the option to carry a long gun, most notably a shotgun. However, with the welcome trend of arming officers with patrol rifles, you may now be more likely to carry a long gun on building searches or into other places where such a weapon may present a bad guy with an opportunity for a disarming attack.

Too often, trainers simply rely on transitioning to the handgun as a retention tactic, but this creates in the officer a false sense of security. If an attacker is able to close the distance and make contact, a battle for balance and the gun will quickly ensue. It is difficult (and goes against your reflexes) to draw your handgun when your balance is disrupted or you are falling to the ground. Simply put, if you carry a long gun, you need to learn long-gun retention tactics.

Essential Training

Don Gulla and Gary Drake of demonstrate the use of a collapsible baton in countering a weapons grab.

When training to fight off a disarming attack, you need to take into account the following factors: it's usually a surprise attack, you and your attacker will be moving, you will need to deliver counter strikes to not only cause pain but also true dysfunction, and you will have to follow up once there is an apparent separation from the attacker and your gun. Your training should focus on both general fighting skills and weapons retention/disarming tactics.

Phil Messina, training consultant and retired New York City police officer, says the fight is not about your gun, it's about the individual who is trying to take your gun.

"From a tactical standpoint the biggest mistake seems to be that the officer tries to turn it into a contest over a gun, rather than a fight with a person who happens to be trying to take [his or her] gun," Messina says. "In the real world, it is likely that you will have to literally disable that person (at least temporarily) before you can realistically have sole control of your own gun. The officer often moves away, turning the fight into a tug of war, which usually goes to the stronger or bigger person, rather than moving in and winning the fight. Moving inward gives you multiple opportunities to retain your weapon, while moving away usually only gives you one."

Messina offers this advice to trainers: "Trainers have officers spend too much time practicing by sight and not enough time practicing blindfolded. Often the first indication that someone is trying to take your gun is feeling the attack rather than seeing it, so more work should be done blindfolded."

Ounce of Prevention

The more accessible a backup gun, the more useful it will be in fending off a disarming attack.

Although the ability to retain your firearm during a disarming attempt is extremely important, it's even more important to prevent the attack.

"By the time an assailant has grabbed onto an officer's weapon, that officer has already made several mistakes," says Jim Lindell, one of the world's leading authorities on weapons retention.

According to Lindell, the main point to remember is that "once an assailant has grabbed your weapon and you are struggling for control of it, your options are now limited, including your ability to shoot the assailant."

The best way to prevent someone disarming you is to not give them the chance. Your training should not only raise weapon awareness and teach proper distancing, but also appropriate weapons carry when the gun is deployed in uncertain environments. And don't forget to practice with your off-duty weapons as well.

Fitness and Winning

When some street hoodlum or crazed citizen tries to take your gun, you are involved in the fight of your life. You need to be physically fit to win such a fight.

Curtis J. Cope, California police consultant and longtime defensive tactics master instructor, says the following about the recent disarming attack in Alabama. "I don't know if physical fitness played any role in the story of an 18-year-old suspect who disarmed, shot, and killed two officers and a dispatcher. But I do know that, typically, law enforcement officers give up at least 10 years of youth to our attackers. That means that the attacker is often quicker in reflexes and probably stronger. Each officer and department must do everything that they can to make sure the officer is prepared for a confrontation that might happen tomorrow."


Probably the most efficient way to train for weapons retention training is to develop a set of movement patterns that are applicable to a wide variety of situations. This concept has been called "commonality of training" or "commonality of movement" and has the underlying premise that there is a contiguous or connected conditioning of movement patterns. Some agencies, such as the Texas Dept. of Public Safety, arrange their equipment (gun, baton, and OC) all placed next to each other, to take advantage of this concept.

But remember, your weapons retention training is only as good as you are able to adapt it to your total environment. If you attend a compartmentalized training program, be sure to take it home and work it into your current training regimen.

Bob Bragg is director of instructor training at the Washington State Criminal Justice Academy in Seattle.

For more information on Lindell Weapon Retention Systems, contact Jim Lindell at the National Law Enforcement Training Center at (800) 445-0857.

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