For the past two decades I have seen the law enforcement defensive tactics world explode in size with system after system of defensive tactics methods and subject control techniques. Some of these systems and methods are great. They can provide you with realistic, easily performed techniques for countering attacks and controlling suspects. Some others, unfortunately, are so liability-driven that their proponents fail to truly recognize the threats that officers face every day on the street.
One of the threat areas where many of these liability-driven systems fail is in weapon retention. Let's just state this straight out: When a subject attempts to remove your gun from your holster, he or she is doing so with bad intent. A gun grab is a deadly threat. But not every defensive tactics program treats a gun grab as a potentially lethal attack. And many that do teach officers to treat gun grabs with the seriousness they deserve, in my opinion, fail to teach a violent enough response.
Some agencies have even decided that the best response to gun grabs is better equipment. Instead of properly teaching officers how to defend a real world gun grab, the administrators of some agencies have opted to purchase more sophisticated retention holsters. Retention holsters have their benefits and can help you defeat some gun grabs, but all officers also need to know how to defeat the attacker physically during a gun grab attack.
Keep It Simple
Once an agency, a trainer, or an individual officer acknowledges that a gun grab is a potentially deadly attack and that countering such an attack often requires the physical defeat of the attacker, then the question is what tools and techniques are needed to achieve that goal.
The simpler the techniques the better. Aikido and ju-jitsu techniques that work on a willing partner in a matted room look cool but do nothing for patrol officers who are not masters of these arts and who under stress cannot recall those techniques while they are dealing with violent offenders who are attempting to disarm them.
Law enforcement tactics and techniques, especially those for countering gun grabs, need to fall under four basic guidelines. They must be:
- Easy to learn
- Easy to retain
- Easy to recall under stress
You Have to Train
Officer firearm retention and subject control skills are perishable and officers who only train once or twice a year will find it very difficult to recall the tactics they will need to save their lives in that crisis moment. Constant practice until it is second nature is something we in law enforcement all must strive toward.
Unfortunately, reality shows us that there is a problem with this concept. Officers for whatever reason do not train; I hear repeatedly over and over again, "If the department doesn't pay for it, I'm not going to do it." This is the attitude of many officers.
So knowing this we need to teach and train ourselves to a level of proficiency in the tactics that fall under those aforementioned guidelines.
The tactics you use on the street against gun grabs and your training must be realistic, real world, with no theory interjected. Unfortunately, theory and unsound concepts have crept their way into police use-of-force training.
Fights with violent suspects, especially those who are determined to take your firearm, must be resolved quickly. There is no time to try some fancy martial arts move that is far too technical for most officers to perform under stress on the street.
Breaking the OODA Loop
When you encounter violent offenders who are determined to seriously injure or kill you, you must apply three simple principles to counter that attack:
- Distract the attacker's cognitive thought process
- Inflict continuous pain on the attacker.
- Disrupt the attacker's balance
You have to break up the attacker's OODA loop, his or her ability to observe, orient, decide, and act. This is the attacker's ability to formulate and execute the next move, his or her cognitive thought process.
The plan that the attacker has—in this case, taking your gun—has to be interrupted. You do this by immediately inflicting pain, continuous pain, on the attacker. You need to get the attacker's mind off your gun and make him think about something else; pain is a great distraction. Inflicting pain on the attacker will get his mind off your gun and on finding a way to stop the pain. This will give you the opportunity to create space so you can draw a weapon or to take the subject down with unarmed techniques.
Bring the Pain
Most officers agree that when a subject attempts to grab your weapon, things have escalated to a deadly force situation. Far too many officers have been killed with their own guns. But the public and the news media believe that when an officer uses deadly force against a gun grab that officer is using deadly force against an "unarmed" subject.
This is why many weapon retention systems today interject nerve strikes, or joint manipulation, lowering the officer's force level when they should be immediately responding to the attacker by inflicting serious bodily injury or using deadly force.
Traditional defensive tactics training programs tell officers to clamp down on their guns to keep them in their holsters. But I don't believe that is your best move. The holsters of today are far superior to those of old, and if they work properly, your gun won't come out or it will take the attacker some time to take it. I believe your best defense is a strong offense.
Here's what I believe is fundamentally wrong with the clamp down on your gun method of countering gun grabs:
- It's not coming out quickly from a quality retention holster.
- You are taking your primary and possibly your secondary arm out of the fight.
- You are leaving your attacker's single arm in the fight.
Here's what I believe you should do instead of clamping down on your weapon in your holster. As soon as the offender puts his hand on your gun, you must target and attack the vital areas of his body. His eyes. His throat. And/or his groin. When you bring pain to these areas, you will definitely disrupt the attacker's OODA loop.
Inflicting pain in sensitive areas of the body is an especially important gun grab counter when the officer is smaller than the attacker. When you are not as large or as strong as the person trying to take your gun, then you have to react with extreme speed and violence of action. Many of the joint locks, wrist sweeps, and nerve strikes are very difficult for officers to perform under stress when giving 50 pounds to the attacker. Striking the offender repeatedly in vital areas of the body that inflict serious pain give a smaller officer the best chance to survive and win this attack.
Use an Edged Weapon
One serious problem with training to counter gun grabs is that the attack in the training scenario can't be nearly as vicious as the real thing. In training you have a willing partner who's not really attacking you as a real subject would be.
That doesn't mean you shouldn't train. It just means you should train to do what is necessary in a real situation and not let the training lull you into a false sense of security.
The keys to prevailing in a gun grab attack are to immediately target your attacker's vital areas to get an immediate response.
Another very effective way to counter a gun grab is with an edged weapon such as a small fixed-blade knife. If your agency lets you carry a knife, you can use it to slash your attacker's hand when he or she grabs your gun.
What I tell my students is that my methods are just another way to look at the issue of dealing with attempted disarms. My methods are by no means the only way to deal with gun grabs, but if you are looking for more effective tactics or your current system just isn't filling the bill, give mine a try.
Christophor Periatt is a 22-year veteran of law enforcement and has worked patrol, traffic, warrant/fugitive recovery, SWAT, and K-9 operations. Periatt served more than six years in the U.S. Marine Corps and Marine Corps Reserve. He is the owner and lead instructor of Critical Training Group LLC (www.critical-training-group.com) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.