Familiarize Yourself with Firearms

The more you know about firearms, the more likely you are to be proficient and capable in their use. Having this knowledge can have a significant impact on your ability to survive in the field.

Nick Jacobellis Headshot

This may surprise you — there are active law enforcement officers who have sparse knowledge about the firearms they carry. Another group of LEOs has basic knowledge of their service weapons, but aren't well versed in the subject of firearms in general. The third group — the smallest percentage of law enforcement officers — has an extensive, working knowledge of firearms including firearms that they don't carry. 

Typically, law enforcement agencies with a more flexible firearms policy have a higher percentage of sworn personnel in their ranks who are more knowledgeable about firearms. Choosing firearms you wish to carry on or off duty from an authorized list often encourages LEOs to learn more about different firearms so they make the right selection.

Several years ago, the Department of Homeland Security reinstated revolver orientation training for certain federal law enforcement officers. The decision to incorporate a few hours of revolver orientation training at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC) in Georgia was made because some federal law enforcement officers who were only familiar with pistols were unable to unload a revolver when one was recovered in the field.

One federal firearms instructor at FLETC told me recruits responded very positively to revolver orientation training that included being allowed to qualify with a .38 Special wheel gun. Had this training not been conducted, entire basic training classes of at least two federal agencies that seized a decent number of firearms would have headed into the field without the ability to safely unload a revolver.

There's somewhat of a stigma attached to law enforcement officers who shoot exceptionally well and are familiar with firearms. Many of us have heard the term "barrel sucker" and "gun nut" applied to LEOs who have more than a passing interest in firearms. These "barrel suckers" and "gun nuts" are usually the same people that less knowledgeable LEOs call when they recover an unfamiliar firearm in the field and are unable to unload it to make it safe.

I'm fully aware that there are all kinds of people in the law enforcement profession. However, it should not be politically incorrect to be knowledgeable about firearms, especially when you're in a profession that requires you to carry a service handgun and possibly even a patrol rifle, tactical rifle, and shotgun. Unless you break the law or violate administrative policies, it shouldn't matter if you are personally interested in firearms.  Period, end of story!  

You would think from a liability standpoint employing law enforcement officers who are knowledgeable about firearms and proficient in their use would be a positive attribute, because these LEOs are more likely to give a good account of themselves in a tactical situation that may include the use of deadly force. After all, who would you want backing you up, a law enforcement officer who knows very little about firearms and can barely qualify, or a barrel-sucking gun nut who takes the time to practice on his or her own and is tactically capable in the field?

As I have mentioned in other articles, I believe we as a society have created some of the problems that exist by eliminating the numerical scoring of targets. I first noticed a change in the way we looked at certain training issues during the Clinton Administration. It was during this period in our history that it no longer became "politically correct" to recognize certain achievers in firearms training, because it made those who didn't perform as well feel bad that they were unable to do better. 

Instead of encouraging people to improve their skills and capabilities, we began to create a society where it became acceptable for everyone to Pass or Fail but not to recognize the best for being better at performing various tasks. In my years of serving in law enforcement, I don't remember anyone being publicly ridiculed for not getting a higher firearms qualification score.

To be even more specific, when I attended the police academy and various schools and training programs at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center I never saw anyone ridiculed because they were a lousy shot or they failed to qualify with a firearm. I never understood the logic of progressive liberals who determined that recruits who didn't do as well were being psychologically traumatized by the higher achievers. 

I was never a solid A student and as happy as I was to get an occasional close-to-perfect test score, I never felt belittled when I worked hard and scored in the mid to upper 80s. The truth is that I was never a big test taker. When it came to shooting, I finally found something where I excelled. But this didn't happen overnight or by chance. I was able to evolve into a very proficient rifle, pistol, shotgun, submachine gun, and machine gun operator because at an early age I was enrolled in an NRA summer firearms camp program that taught me the fundamentals of firearms safety and marksmanship. 

I grew up in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, not in a place where a kid could routinely head out into the country on a whim to go plinking with a .22.  When it came to practicing with firearms I had everything going against me because I was a city kid who had to wait until the summer months to go away to camp so I could continue to hone my skills with a .22 caliber rifle.  When I later went into law enforcement, I practiced on my own as often as possible. Clearly, I became a very proficient shot who earned two Top Gun awards in the U.S. Customs Service Patrol Officers School as well as in Special Agents School, and I qualified with high scores on a regular basis because I took the time to train and become a proficient marksman.    

I also became knowledgeable about firearms because I read books and an endless number of magazine articles in law enforcement, military, tactical, and firearms magazines.  In addition, I routinely spoke to several firearms experts and other older LEOs who were well versed in the subject of firearms and the proper tactics to use in the street. Much of what I learned was done on my own time.

The bottom line is if I can do this, so can you.  While you may not be able to go back in time to learn how to become a proficient shot at an early age, you can start right now to take firearms training more seriously.

All I ask is that you not wait to qualify once a year to participate in firearms training. It doesn't take more than an hour or so every few weeks or once every two months to conduct some meaningful firearms training with 50-100 rounds of ammunition. If you're serious about improving your firearms proficiency, ask for competent help. You'll waste ammunition and only get frustrated by the lack of improvement if you train while using bad habits. In order to truly become more proficient with firearms, I suggest you swallow your pride and ask a well respected firearms instructor if they'll give you some remedial training. 

I'd also encourage you to buy a few books or CDs on this subject and take the time to read a few appropriate magazines from cover to cover, so you can begin to broaden your base of knowledge about firearms, law enforcement procedures, and tactical issues. You don't have to be a SWAT cop to be proficient with firearms.  

The more you know about firearms, the more likely you are to be proficient and capable in their use. I make this claim because once you become familiar with the different makes and models of firearms that are currently in circulation, you become knowledgeable about the capabilities and the limitations of various firearms. Having this knowledge can have a significant impact on your ability to survive in the field. 

Clearly, it takes plenty of motivation to make the effort to learn more about firearms and to take the time necessary to train so you can become proficient and maintain proficiency. The choice is yours to make

In a perfect world, your employing agency would train you more often and would take the time necessary to educate you about firearms. Since we don't live in a perfect world, I'd suggest you become motivated to train more often and take the time to become more familiar with firearms on your personal time. The life you save by becoming more proficient and more knowledgeable may be your own.

About the Author
Nick Jacobellis Headshot
Special Agent (Ret.)
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