Balancing REALISM to SAFETY

Realistic firearms training raises dangers yet remains a pivotal role


     Concepts of what sound a tree makes falling with no one around and the idea of a single hand clapping all inspire paradoxes with no clear response. Adding to this list of hypothetical questions is, "How many shots are fired on officers in the street who are standing still without cover?" Combine this with: "How can realism in firearms training be effective yet keep the necessary levels of safety?" That's the trouble with hypothetical questions: there is no answer. To compensate for these hypotheticals, firearms trainers take great caution when employing realistic elements into instruction to ensure realism isn't weighted more heavily than safety.

     The most utilized tactic to inject realism into firearms training — and the term on the tip of most trigger fingers — is "force-on-force" training. With this, stress inoculation rides "shotgun" in officers' firearm-handling education.

     A number of organizations offer firearm training to law enforcement nationwide, including, but are not limited to, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center (FLETC), ArmorGroup International Training Inc. (ITI) and Spartan Tactical Training Group.

     The NRA also offers such training through its Law Enforcement Training Department. Mark Peters, its staff instructor, explains that stress inoculation prepares officers for the chaotic situations they may face. By putting them into those situations in a safe training environment through scenarios and force-on-force training. "If [officers] have dealt with the problem ... repeatedly in their training, they are more likely to respond in that manner," he adds.

     John Krupa, master firearms instructor, president of the Spartan Tactical Training Group and director of training operations for the DS Arms Law Enforcement Training Division, incorporates stress-enhanced shooting drills that acclimate officers to stress inoculation and familiarizes them with the physiological reactions of the body under stress.

     Each organization creates its own firearm training curriculum, which commonly begins with a study of fundamentals, then moves to applying what students learned. Training eventually transitions to an interactive-type program that combines fundamentals and movement with high-stress environments to simulate real life.

     Benjamin Kurata, senior staff instructor of ArmorGroup ITI - Texas, explains ArmorGroup's methodology. He notes that during static training, the officer or trainee is shooting at a known distance in optimal lighting conditions. Dynamic training involves an officer facing multiple threats and non-threats that respond to his reactions with rapidly changing distances and adaptive lighting. "This simulates 'full speed, full power' while maintaining safety for the trainee," he says.

     Under the assumption that students have never seen or fired a handgun before, the FLETC administers its fundamental education with officers in a static position. "The reason for that is we can then instill on them our best safety practices for range training," says Don Savage, FLETC firearms division senior instructor.

     While static down-range training remains the foundation of all firearm handling, Peters points out the inherent drawback: "A lot of times when you do live fire, everybody is very comfortable and standing. You have to do live fire from awkward positions and around cover because that's real world. In real life, you're not going to stand there; you're going to have to move and use available cover, and that's not always the most comfortable shooting position."

     The FLETC answers this dilemma with its dynamic stage of training. The FLETC's final phase involves interaction with an instructor or with role players trained to interact in a particular way based on the scenario. This is intended to reinforce and verify safety principles, reinforce skills and tie in other appropriate training received.

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