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Even the Score: Point Shooting vs. Aimed Shooting

When it comes to sudden confrontations in the street, which shooting method will prove more effective?

November 01, 2000  |  by Officer Michael T. Rayburn

The point shooting vs. aimed shooting controversy will probably go on forever.  Wait a minute-are you kidding?  There should be absolutely no controversy surrounding whether or not point shooting is more effective than aimed shooting.  As one elder statesman said many years ago, "The proof is in the pudding." In other words, the evidence speaks for itself.

Consider Real-World Experience

Talk to officers who have been involved in an officer-involved shooting (OIS) and ask them if they were able to aim their assailant get the proper sight alignment.  Ask them if they had the time to come up on target, get a good sight picture and slowly squeeze the trigger so that when the round went off it was a surprise to them.  I know you have heard these instructions before.  How many times have you heard your own department's firearms instructor repeat these same instructions to you while you were on the firing line?

Maybe you need the convincing of more than the word of a couple of the guys "who have been there."  In that case, try to get your hands on a few of the 1,000 or so OISs that have been caught on video.  Judge for yourself whether or not the officers involved in these incidents used the point shooting method or utilized an aimed shooting technique.  You'll soon recognize that an overwhelming number of the officers (all of them!) used the point shooting method, regardless of whether or not they were trained in point shooting techniques or had been trained only in aimed shooting.

Basic Instinct

But why would an officer use a technique he was never properly trained in?  Because it's "instinctive."  In know the word "instinctive" has come to be overused in the world of Law Enforcement Training, but in this particular case, it's true.  Point shooting is instinctive.  How else can you explain it?

Listen to the words of officers who have been involved in OIS.  They will tell you the attack was a complete surprise to them, and that they didn't have time to think it through.  They only reacted to the threat that was facing them.  That is why point shooting is "instinctive."  It is an officer's normal reaction when faced with a deadly threat.  You are going to instinctively point you weapon out in front of you, locking your arms and shoulders out, and pull the trigger as quickly as you can.

Why would you do this?  There are a number of reasons why an officer reverts to a point shooting technique.  The biggest one is fear.  Fear causes all kinds of changes to occur within your body, both mentally and physically.

Years ago, the word "fear" was not in the police officer's macho vocabulary.  But over the years we have learned it's OK to say you're afraid.  Fear is a normal reaction to have when someone is trying to take your life.  Society no longer expects us to be men and women of steel.  They realize that we too have emotions, and fear is one of them.

Another reason an officer would use a point shooting method even though he or she has never been properly trained in the mechanics of point shooting is due to the visual performance changes that occur during OIS.  The one we most often hear of is tunnel vision, where an officer's vision can be reduced by up to 70 percent.  Another vision anomaly is the loss of near vision, making it difficult to focus within 4 feet.  This also makes it impossible to even see your front sights, let alone get the proper sight alignment picture.  Additionally, there is a loss of monocular vision, which makes it difficult for the officer to see close one eye.  This forces the officer to shoot with binocular vision (both eyes open).  There is also a loss of the ability to focus on the target.

Combine these vision irregularities with an increased heart rate, the rush of adrenaline that is associated with OIS and the resulting loss of fine and complex motor skills and you soon realize it is impossible for you to "aim shoot" under these conditions.

Shooting in the Dark

If you need further convincing that point shooting is a superior technique to aimed shooting, you should turn to the FBI's statistics on Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Associated in the Line of Duty.  In the FBI's 10-year study, some common areas were discovered in the majority of OISs.  One of these is that most of these incidents occur between the hours of 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.-which means the vast majority of OISs are occurring at low or no light.

How can you possibly get a good sight alignment picture with your weapon in the dark?  It just doesn't happen, especially considering the fact that it takes the average person at least 40 minutes for his or her eyes to adjust to the dark.  If you've ever worked a night shift, you know that your eyes never fully adjust to the dark.  Because of dome lights, computer screens, headlights from passing cars and a number of other lighting sources, our eyes never have the time to fully adjust to the dark.

Comments (1)

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prwillen @ 8/15/2011 10:15 PM

Poppycock. While attention does need to be paid to the actualities of shootouts, like how the brian and senses react to the threat, those officers who routinely practice aimed fire like dry-firing are better point shooters. Their midbrain is versed in the function of lining up the sights and pulling the trigger even if they don't do it in a real-life incident. Let's call it muscle memory. I have heard this system and that system for developing skill at point shooting, but they fall short. A well balanced firearms program should be primarily aimed fire with some instruction and drills to emphasize the realities of gunfighting. Remember to stress dry-firing, which should be about 75 percent of the trigger pulls made by the officer.

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