Even the Score: Point Shooting vs. Aimed Shooting

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.

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.[PAGEBREAK]

Are the Bad Guys Better Shots?

Consider another sobering statistic from the 1997 FBI study, In the Line of Fire: Violence Against Law Enforcement.  In 98 percent of the officer-involved shootings that were studied, the offender fired first.  While the offenders had a 90 percent hit ratio, the officers, while firing second, had a 41 percent hit ratio.  Is it because the bad guys practiced with their weapons more than the officers did? In some cases this may be true, but it is hardly the norm.  Even if the offender has never had the advantage of highly trained and skilled law enforcement firearms instructor drilling into him the benefits of a proper stance and sight alignment.

It is said that the average gun battle, from start to finish, is over in seven seconds or less.  The Los Angeles Police Department has statistics on file indicating that more than 37 percent of OISs occur within one minute of the officer's arrival on the scene.  More than 35 percent occur within the first 30 seconds of the officer's arrival.

The FBI also discovered hat the majority of officer-involved shootings occur at less than 10 feet.  In the dark, at 10 feet or less, with someone already shooting at you within 30 seconds of your arrival on the scene, and knowing that this fire-fight is going to be over in seven seconds or less, are you really going to be worrying about proper sight alignment?

So how do you explain the offender's higher hit ratio?  Obviously some of it can be attributed to the willingness and preparedness on the part of the offender to take the officer's life.  It takes less time for the offender to decide to shoot than it takes for the officer to realize he or she is under attack.  However, a large percentage of it can be attributed to the fact that the offender, while not knowing it, had practiced point shooting.  The offender pointed the weapon out in front of him and pulled the trigger as rapidly as he could.

Chances are the offender practiced this technique.  The FBI has interviewed a number of offenders who have shot police officers and discovered that some of these individuals had practiced with their weapons at least once a month.  How many of you have practiced that often?

To expect an officer to get a good sight picture and slowly squeeze off a round at someone who is hell-bent on trying to kill him or her is unrealistic.  We need to take the natural, instinctive tendency of the officer to point the weapon directly out in front of him or her and pull the trigger as quickly as possible and develop the shooter's skills from that point forward.

Some of you may want to label this tactic as "Spray and Pray."  If so, then why is the offender's hit ratio so much higher than ours?  For those of you who have never heard of the term "Spray and Pray," it is a "scapegoat phrase" that is used to try to explain away the real reason an officer misses his target with a number of rounds when he is involved in an OIS.  It is used to draw attention away from the real problem and that problem is the lack of realistic firearms training.

Getting Real

The cases of Popow vs. City of Margate, N.J.: 476 F.Supp. 1237 (1979) and City of Canton vs. Harris: 109 S.Ct. 1197 (1989) have set the standards in police training in that it must be relevant and realistic.  Since the majority of OISs are sudden confrontations at close range, is aimed shooting relevant and realistic to what really happens in an OIS?

If officers are going to instinctively revert to a point-shooting stance, then it is up to us to train them in the proper fundamentals of a point shooting technique.  It is not only the department's responsibility, it is its duty to give the officer out on the street the tools he or she needs to survive a lethal encounter.

When it comes to an OIS, point shooting is the best weapon an officer can have in his or her tactical arsenal.  It will provide the extra edge he or she needs when forced to confront the element within our society that is willing to take a police officer's life.   With practice and repetition comes proficiency.  The more proficient an officer becomes in point shooting out on the range, the more proficient he or she will become in the real world of an OIS.  After all, the first one to come up on target and place an effective shot into his or her opponent wins the fight.  It's time we started training officers the way they fight-instinctively.

Officer Michael T. Rayburn has more than 22 years of law enforcement experience and is currently a 14-veteran of the Saratoga Springs (N.Y.) Police Department.  He is also the lead instructor for Rayburn Law Enforcement Training and can be reached at (518) 885-8594.

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