Beyond the Basics

If you have been reading my previous columns, you know how I feel about making sure you have a good grasp of the fundamentals of handgun shooting before you try to move on to other firearms training. Now it seems appropriate to move on to other techniques and skills that will be handy, if not downright essential, to your survival on the street. The following list does not exhaust all the possibilities. However, it will give you some idea of the wide variety of things that need to be addressed in any comprehensive training program. I have touched on some of these in prior columns, so I am only giving an overview of each one here. If you are responsible for training, these should be on your "To Do" list. If you are an individual officer, these are areas that I highly recommend you spend some time and effort with as "self-directed study." They are not, by the way, listed in any particular priority.

Movement and Shooting

One of the most common complaints about the usual range environment is that it is a static, two-dimensional environment and the street is a dynamic three-dimensional world. That is absolutely correct. Movement will be involved in most shooting situations, even if it is only someone ducking for cover as an involuntary reaction. Any movement will decrease your hit potential on your target to some degree. Some types of movement are worse than others. You can be moving, or your opponent can be moving, or you both can be moving. Speed is a factor. Direction is a factor. Even staying more or less in one spot, but having to deal with you or your opponent going to the ground can be a factor. Then there can be vertical movement, such as on stairs or hillsides. In other words, there is enough to work on in just this segment alone to keep folks busy for a good long while. You need to get good at it because movement can mean survival for the person who masters the skills.

Low Light Shooting Tactics and Techniques

Just think about how much time we spend in dark places, and not just on the night shifts. Being able to shoot effectively in poor lighting conditions is more than just knowing a flashlight technique or two, or having night sights on your gun. You need to understand the nature of light, how your eyes function and how to make the most of any low light environment. You need to know the pros and cons of night sights, flashlights and flashlight techniques, laser sights, and the use of ambient lighting. Just as a small example, do you know what effect the muzzle flash of your ammunition will have on your night vision? Or how about your super-duper one gazillion lumens flashlight when it reflects back at you off of a glossy surface? Frankly, it's more about understanding the nature of light and how your eyes react than it is about shooting. And, as many of you know, just finding a place to practice low light tactics and shooting can be a real stumbling block. Our potential opponents are likely to spend a lot of time in dark places, but we need to "own" the dark, when it comes to prevailing in a gunfight.

Shooting from Positions of Disadvantage

Some people call them "Wounded Officer" or "Downed Officer" techniques, but this covers a lot of different situations. One-handed shooting is sometimes derided as being highly unlikely. Not so! In fact, it's quite common. You may be wounded, or grasping something, or carrying something. If you are wounded in the gun hand or arm, you need to be able to transition to your opposite side. And you need to be able to make the gun function one-handed, as in drawing, reloading and malfunction clearing. You may have to shoot from the ground, as in on your side, stomach or your back. Or even in tight spaces. And. if you work somewhere that has ice and snow, or rain and mud, when was the last time you tried to move quickly and shoot well on a slippery surface? It takes awareness and practice, or you'll find yourself working from a "position of disadvantage."

Making Effective Use of Cover

Again, this is more than shooting around a barricade. You need to know how to select cover, move to cover and use it to your best advantage. There are times to be close to the cover, and times to stay back away from it. And, is it cover? Most police agencies spend time evaluating how the ammunition they select for duty use reacts to various types of intervening materials. Clothing, window glass, sheet metal, etc. are usually used for penetration tests. But, what about the bullets coming your way? For example, your 9mm 124 grain +P round should work more or less as tested. But, the bad guy will probably be using some el-cheapo full metal jacket (aka: ball) ammunition that will penetrate a lot more than what you are using. Will your cover stop it? And then there's concealment. A lot of folks know the difference between cover and concealment, but forget that concealment is only truly effective if the other guy doesn't know you're there. If he saw you duck behind a flimsy hollow core door, and knows that you are still there, the door is neither cover nor effective concealment. Whatever your surroundings, you need to have a good handle on how to use your environment as your ally.

Close Quarters Battle (CQB) Techniques

Sometimes trying to beat the other guy to the draw isn't the best plan. You need to spend time on alternatives. You also need to practice shooting at point blank distances. Or not shooting at all, if other control or diversion techniques are appropriate. Gun retention and disarming training can fit into this category, or stand alone, depending on how you study it. But I run into officers all the time who really aren't confident about applying what they have been taught, and don't get the refresher training they feel they need. Officers need to be comfortable with CQB techniques, because when they need them, it's going to be an up close and personal encounter. It may well be an encounter that the other person is better prepared for, because he lives in a world where he is often "man-handling" somebody else. And he doesn't have a review board or internal affairs looking over his shoulder. He just wants to hurt you any way he can.

Finally, let's be realistic. All this stuff (and it's only a partial list, to be sure) takes time and money to practice. No agency ever has enough time or money. Budgets are tight, and getting tighter. Ammunition is scarce in some areas and getting more expensive every time you buy it. Small departments get hit the hardest, but everyone has a gap between what they want to do and what they can afford to do. Certainly, live fire training is essential for some of these skills. But don't overlook opportunities to practice, safely, with dry fire techniques. CQB and gun retention techniques can be practiced with disabled or dummy guns. (NEVER use live guns, even if they are absolutely, positively unloaded! That's just a tragedy waiting to happen.) Some of the other techniques can be discussed and reviewed in a classroom setting, pending live range time. I talk to officers about some of these things and their reaction often is: "I never thought of that!" Well, thinking, for the most part, is not expensive. Going over concepts and techniques in roll call training or the classroom at least makes officers aware of the concepts. It gives them a chance to anticipate possible scenarios they could encounter on the street. Even though there is no substitute for "going live," discussing the issues, reviewing the techniques and planting them into the individual's conscious memory can at least give them something to work with when things go bad. For those who are willing and able to do some individual skill building ("off the clock," so to speak), knowing what to work on can make their training more interesting, more relevant and more effective. One piece of information could make the difference. At the very least, you won't hear anyone say: "I never thought of that!"