Winning in the 'Kill Zone'

CAUTION--use only non-functioning training firearms when practicing the techniques contained in this article.

According to Department of Justice statistics on Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted (LEOKA), 532 officers were killed at distances from zero to five feet between 1996 and 2005. In 2005 alone, 50 officers were killed within five feet of the offender. Since about half of officers killed during the past decade were killed at a distance from zero to five feet, dubbing this range the "kill zone" seems morbidly appropriate.

Without question, the closer an offender is to an officer, the greater opportunity he has to injure or kill that officer. After all, rounds fired from this distance have a relatively good chance of finding their target. Additionally, contact distance weapons such as knives and clubs pose a significant threat within zero to five feet. Even unarmed offenders can present a deadly threat from this distance, since they could either attack barehanded or obtain your firearm.

Many officers are conditioned to associate deadly force with the presence of a weapon. However, we can't assume that an unarmed offender is incapable of killing us. A highly trained offender or one who is bigger, stronger, or has accomplices could injure us to such a degree that resorting to deadly force is the only legitimate option. An offender who is on top of you, raining down on your head with punches and elbows, or an offender who is choking you, exemplifies the type of unarmed attacks that may warrant a deadly force response.

The be effective in the kill zone, you must be well-versed in the following skill sets:

Firearm retention (in-holster and in-hand)

53 officers were killed with their own firearms in the ten-year period between 1995 and 2004. Obviously, retaining your firearm is a matter of life and death. If someone grabs or reaches for your firearm, you have to respond immediately! There are several effective techniques for retaining your holstered firearm. The manner in which you execute any of these techniques is probably more important than the technique itself. Here's a viable approach to in-holster firearm retention:

The instant your firearm is grabbed, grab the offender's wrist with your dominant hand to secure the firearm in place. Lower your center of gravity by assuming an athletic stance with your knees slightly bent and your weight evenly distributed. Simultaneously, strike the offender in the face with your non-dominant hand. Strike with your fingers spread and flexed. There is a good chance that one of your fingers will find its way into one of the offender's eyes. The eyes are an inherently vulnerable target and one that cannot be conditioned to withstand blows. If the offender does not let go of your firearm, continue to strike him until he does. A good follow up technique is to strike down on the offender's forearm as hard as you can. This will likely result in his head moving forward, at which point you could deliver an outward blow to his neck with your forearm or the edge of your hand (depending on the distance between you and the offender).

If your firearm is in your hand when the offender grabs it, you have another problem. Depending on the "totality of the circumstances," you might be justified in simply pulling the trigger at that point. However, you have to consider the fact that the offender might not be directly in front of the muzzle when the firearm discharges. Also, the firearm could malfunction after the first round is fired because the offender's hand is preventing the slide from cycling. One effective in-hand firearm retention technique, the push/pull/twist is described below:

This technique involves thrusting the muzzle of your firearm into the offender and then pulling the firearm toward you while twisting the firearm so that your dominant hand is rotating counter-clockwise (clockwise for left handed shooters). This technique can be effective against even a much stronger offender because, since you are holding the frame and the offender is holding the slide, you have a superior grip on the firearm. Twisting the firearm makes it more difficult for the offender to hold and the front sight might cut his hand in the process. (This technique could also cut your training partner's hand, so be careful).

Use of personal body weapons (think outside the belt!)

If you are a realist, you know that drawing your firearm or other tools from your belt against a spontaneous type of attack within five feet is not as easy as it sounds. A safer alternative might be to start out with personal body strikes. Striking the offender's face with the heel of your palm or with your elbow can create an opportunity for you to transition to a more appropriate tool for the job.

Close quarter shooting

There are entire books and training videos devoted to this topic. Buy one! Being able to access your firearm and use it effectively from zero to five feet is vital to your survival. While waiting for the training books and videos that you're going to order to arrive, work on developing these skills:

Practice drawing from your holster until you become better than proficient! Under stress, your ability to perform fine-motor skills, such as manipulating your holster will diminish. Only by performing literally hundreds of draws will you truly be proficient. I know that sounds like a lot but how about 25 draws per day? Ok, how about ten per day? The five or ten minutes per day devoted to drawing your firearm might be the best time you ever spend.

When using a firearm at distances from zero to five feet, you don't need to lock out your arms and achieve a sight picture. In fact, doing so would give the offender an opportunity to grab your firearm and re-direct the muzzle or even disarm you.

Instead, practice drawing to a shooting position with your firearm held close to your body. Placing the bottom portion of your fist against your body will serve as a reference point and ensure that your firearm is properly canted. Canting the firearm outward will prevent the slide from becoming entangled in your clothing, possibly inducing a malfunction. Positioning the firearm as indicated and locking your wrist will ensure consistently accurate rounds. Be sure to keep your non-dominant hand out of the line of fire!

Train hard and stay safe!