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Departments : Officer Survival

Better Than the Real Thing

Realistic firearms facsimiles give you no excuse for using a live weapon in a training exercise.

September 01, 2004  |  by Dave Spaulding


If you believe the media, it would seem as if negligent shootings of law enforcement officers during training are almost a daily event. In actuality, such incidents are quite rare, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t take every necessary step to prevent these tragedies.

Law enforcement is a dangerous occupation and we all accept a certain amount of risk when we hit the street. We all rely on our training to minimize this risk, and we expect that this training will be as risk-free as possible.

Yes, and we even accept some level of risk during combative training. Body contact in police training can result in personal injury, the same as it can in an organized sport. However, while we may expect bumps and bruises from our training, what we do not expect is gunshot wounds.

A hot weapon, except on the range pointed at a backstop we know will absorb live rounds, is unacceptable. Unfortunately, as noted above, firearms with live ammo do make their way into the training arena…oftentimes with tragic results.

The Brain Safety

All law enforcement officers must understand one simple, but undeniable fact; firearms safety is a function of the brain, period. While it is nice to have products that are manufactured to be “safe,” there is no such thing as a safe firearm.

Remember rule one of firearms safety: All guns are always loaded. If guns were totally safe, they would be of no use to us as defensive tools. Take some time and go review a wide array of involuntary or negligent discharges and you’ll see that the vast majority occur when a firearm is being handled for reasons other than actually shooting. In the training arena, negligent discharges are usually due to the gun being needed as a training prop or aid and a real gun is used for this purpose. Then somehow the empty gun becomes loaded and an unsuspecting officer is shot.

Distraction and Disaster

How do these guns “become loaded?” The majority of the time it is due to someone not paying attention…they are loaded because somebody had what we officers like to call a “brain fart.” For a split second, the instructor or student was not staying switched on to what they were doing and the gun was loaded.

The problem is, people tend to do other things while they are working with firearms. They carry on conversations, they drink coffee, or become distracted in some fashion. This is absolutely unacceptable.

Whenever firearms are being used or handled, total concentration must be paid to the gun and nothing else. Ask yourself if you really remember loading your gun before you went on duty. Some of you will no doubt say, “Yes,” and you will mean it. But some of you, if you are being honest, will not. You were talking to your wife at home or your buddies in the locker room while you went through the motions of loading up. The gun can easily become just another tool on the belt, being handled without due thought. And that’s not good.

Numerous training shootings occur when an instructor or student has thoughtlessly loaded his or her gun and then decided to do one more repetition or one more take-away. If the cops in question had really been paying attention to what they were doing when they loaded their guns, that last rep would have been out of the question. This does not happen to stupid people…it happens to distracted people. I’ll say it again; firearms safety is a function of the brain.

Fake Firearms

And there’s really no reason to have real firearms in the training environment, unless, of course, you are on a range. Training models are now available that can replace firearms in every way.

For force-on-force training scenarios, marking rounds and other products from companies like Simunition allow you to safely but realistically execute force-on-force training. Just be sure to follow the guidelines for protective gear and make sure that no weapons that haven’t been modified to only fire marking rounds are introduced into the training area.

If sims and marking rounds are too expensive for your agency or program, then Airsoft technology may be your answer. These gas-powered model guns shoot plastic pellets at about 350 feet per second, and they have developed a strong following at some police agencies. The models are very detailed, including safeties, mag releases, working slides, and some even weigh as much as a real weapon. Newer models even work the slide with each shot for a somewhat realistic recoil effect.

Using Airsoft guns, you can conduct very realistic force-on-force training involving multiple officers for as little initial outlay of funds as $1,000. Better yet, the cost of consumables is minimal. You can buy thousands of pellets for $10 and enough gas for 3,500 shots for about $12.

Tags: Training Accidents, Realty-Based Training


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