Since law enforcement gunfights are frequently short and fast, officers must train to fight quickly and effectively in condensed timeframes. Placing quick, threat-stopping hits on target is the core of all gun fighting skills.
Unfortunately, most law enforcement firearms training focuses on teaching-to-the-test: passing qualification. This results in training officers to meet minimum standards instead of preparing them to prevail in a gunfight. Combining speed and accuracy isn’t an either/or proposition if we raise our standards and train beyond the qualification.
Training and qualification are two different things. Qualification is a test of minimum standards. Since it is a test, instructors aren’t actively engaged in training students. Instead, qualification exists to measure whether an officer is minimally qualified to carry a firearm.
In contrast, training is the opportunity for officers to test the boundaries of their skill and push their performance to the next level. This must include more than basic marksmanship and weapon-handling. Training is the place where officers learn and refine situational awareness, threat assessment, shooting well quickly, and doing these things under time duress. Unfortunately, most law enforcement firearms training doesn’t go much beyond qualification to prepare officers for performing on the street.
It’s true that just about anyone can shoot fast since it doesn’t take a lot of skill to point a handgun and press the trigger really fast. But a fast noise doesn’t solve problems. Shooting fast isn’t the same as making fight-stopping hits in compressed timeframes. Developing real-life combative speed and accuracy requires practice and training. Quick, accurate, fight-stopping hits placed into body parts that impede a suspect’s ability for continued aggression should be the goal.
Most shooters, and the majority of law enforcement officers conducting training, spend time on the range shooting slowly and methodically while focusing on the fundamentals of marksmanship. Don’t get me wrong. The fundamentals of marksmanship are the foundation of shooting well and it takes practice to master these skills.
However, firearms training must go beyond the fundamentals of marksmanship to prepare officers for prevailing in a gunfight. Learning to shoot well at combat speed takes practice, and despite what a lot of shooters have been told, speed doesn’t come with mastering the fundamentals. This is like saying that once a driver learns the basic rules of the road, they have the skills needed to compete in a NASCAR race. It doesn’t just happen once you learn the fundamentals. It takes quality practice.
One difference between slow methodical shooting and shooting well quickly is recoil. Practicing slowly does nothing to develop the ability to manage recoil effectively.
Firearms training should allow officers to push themselves to failure and find their “speed limit.” This speed limit is a result of several factors, including the ability to track the sights through multiple shot fired, recoil mitigation, grip maintenance, and threat recognition.
Unfortunately, the concept of pushing skills to failure is foreign on too many law enforcement ranges. Too often, a missed shot on the range results in ridicule and embarrassment. This is unacceptable for many reasons, including the fact that the best place to fail is in training and not on the street with lives on the line.
Instructors must allow shooters to explore the limits of their abilities, and the only way to do this is to allow them to push themselves to failure. Marksmanship accountability on the street and in training is important, but it shouldn’t limit our ability to improve skills and abilities.
Many officer-involved shooting (OIS) videos involve an officer, or officers, under time duress shooting very quickly. One reason for this is it takes time to recognize the threat cues, process what those cues mean, form a plan to overcome the threat’s resistance, and carry out the response. Sounds a lot like the OODA Loop, doesn’t it?
Since this takes time, officers are under time duress and forced to play catch up. When they’re forced to catch up to the threat’s actions, many officers tend to shoot much faster than they’ve ever trained. This is a problem that can be addressed by changing training to match reality.
A tool we can use to create some time duress in training is a shot timer. Using a shot timer doesn’t create the same level of duress as a deadly threat, but it creates a controllable environment where we can push ourselves in training. Even faced with video evidence, there are still firearm instructors who insist there’s no shot timer or stopwatch in a gunfight. This is wrong on so many levels. There is a shot timer in an OIS, and it’s being controlled by the threat.
A properly functioning shot timer does not lie. An officer who can shoot well quickly is better equipped to prevail in a gunfight compared to an officer who is slow, inefficient, and inaccurate. Most shot timers are inexpensive and last for years, so there’s no excuse for not having this important piece of equipment available during training.
Precision shooting and combative accuracy are two different skills. Combative accuracy means making hits on your intended target or target zone while under time duress. It’s hitting a general target zone such as the upper thoracic area. It may also mean using an acceptable, as opposed to a perfect, sight picture, flash sight picture, or directing shots by body index or positioning.
Conversely, precision shooting means placing rounds on a very particular spot on the target or putting one round on top of another repeatedly. This means pressing the trigger straight to the rear while attempting to obtain and maintain the “perfect” sight picture. Speed is secondary when precision shooting is required.
When you’re running a drill, make sure you understand the expected accuracy standard for that drill. Are we conducting a one-hole drill, or are we shooting a drill that simulates a gunfight? The accuracy standard of these drills is different and must be understood.
Accuracy is a must. But who decided that speed and accuracy had to be two different things? If we don’t train at speed, we are setting our people up for failure. If we shoot fast in real-life gunfights, but don’t make this an integral part of our training, we are setting our officers up for failure.
Remember the NASCAR analogy? Ultimately, we can train for speed and accuracy at the same time if we are willing to push ourselves out of our comfort zones. Investing in a shot timer, pushing ourselves to fail safely in training, then continuing to train at that speed until we can consistently make accurate hits on target requires a change in the way “it’s always been done.”
Police officers get a front row seat to the realities of violence. Far too often, we don’t just witness the conflict, we find ourselves in the middle of it defending our lives and the lives of others. Training should improve our ability to prevail in these lethal encounters. If you’re serious about improving skills, invest in a shot timer and push yourself to improve your skills. Challenge yourself to continuously improve instead of limiting yourself to simply passing a qualification course.
Todd Fletcher has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience and 25 years of firearm instructor experience. As co-owner and lead instructor of Combative Firearms Training, LLC, he provides firearm instructor development classes to law enforcement, private security, and military instructors. Fletcher was selected as the 2022 ILEETA Trainer-of-the-Year. He can be contacted at Todd@CombativeFirearms.com.