Training & Shooting

My Response to Competitive Shooters

Late in 2010, I began began to shoot competitively on a regular basis. I am typically shooting two matches per month and sometimes three. A frequent theme that I hear professed or see posted online by competitive shooters is snide references to their perceived lack of accuracy on the part of peace officers when involved in deadly force situations. These statements both amuse and miff me at the same time. This piece is my response to those who have such a mindset as I would like to put some perspective into play.

Truth be told, the percentage of peace officers that are “gun people” is rather low. By “gun people”, I mean those people who actively participate in voluntary training and become true students of the art of shooting. Unfortunately, on a profession-wide basis, the standards for qualification are too low, and too many peace officers are satisfied with turning in a passing score on the range only to not come back to the range until the next mandatory qualification day. Simply put, too many peace officers view qualifying and training (note I make a distinction as they aren’t the same thing) as a necessary evil. Where the competitive shooters make a mistake of logic is that they tend to look at peace officers as a single entity while discounting that the percentage of competitive shooters compared to the proverbial average gun owner is actually quite low as well.

The typical pistol match involves either a set course of fire that is known to the shooters, or the shooters are briefed and get a walkthrough of the stages prior to their run. Competitors know when they go to a match that they will be involved in a shooting activity. Competitors get to pick their firearm and ammunition and all of their equipment within the rules of their respective sport, and said ammunition usually consists of low recoiling loads, and the firearms are often modified. Shooting “non-threat” targets results in a time or points penalty, and the targets don’t shoot back. Contrast all of that with the fact that peace officers are usually get a standard issue firearm with modifications prohibited by the ever present liability fears. The ammunition issued to the peace officer is defense loads designed to stop threats and not simply punch holes in paper, and while we all accept the fact that any call may be the call that erupts into a gunfight, I have yet to read an after action report from a shooting in which a range officer asked the peace officer if they understood the course of fire, if they were ready, and then activated a buzzer to signal that the shooting could commence. Oh yeah, the bad guys do shoot back, and shooting those innocent bystanders and hostages brings a whole host of consequences.

I propose the following: I’ll post a sign up sheet for all of my competitive shooting friends, and sometime between now and in the next 20 years I’ll set up a surprise scenario and spring it on you with no advanced notice or walkthrough. We’ll figure up your score and establish a true baseline for comparing the combat accuracy of peace officers and competitive shooters. It’s only fair, right?

On Trainers and Training

While some denotations of the term make it technically correct, I don’t like using the term “civilian” to differentiate between peace officers and citizens; however, for the purposes of this writing it will simplify things; so, I’ll operate in typical government fashion and give myself an exception to my own rules. By civilian training, I mean firearms training for those people that are not actively serving in the military or acting as sworn peace officers, basically the proverbial average citizen. Recently, I had a discussion with a “civilian” firearms instructor whose opinion I highly value. That discussion prompted me to formally address the topic off our conversation with this article, which will focus on the credibility of instructors and the validity of certain training approaches.

I am certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council (POST) as both a general and firearms instructor thus allowing to me train Georgia’s peace officers in the use of firearms and other general topics to include the use of force, and at the time I write this, I am certified by the National Rifle Association (NRA) to conduct their Basic Pistol, a pure safety and target shooting course, and Personal Protection In The Home (PPITH) courses, both of which are “civilian” firearms classes. The PPITH course does involve some defensive shooting techniques, but it approaches the subject matter from the perspective of a person defending themselves from a home intruder. I offer this information simply to illustrate that I am engaged in firearms training for both peace officers and civilians.

I strongly encourage those seeking firearms training to verify their prospective instructors’ qualifications and claims, especially when it comes to awards and certifications. For instance, there is one instructor in Georgia that claims numerous awards and has them listed on his web page. The fact is that those awards he is claiming simply do not exist; at least they do not exist in the manner in which he is portraying them. It’s also common for instructors to point to the fact that they are competitive shooters. Well, are they winning, and what is the nature and competitiveness of their contest? I shoot competitively, but somehow I don’t think my having won a Diet Coke as a trophy in the Monday night league at the Firing Lane puts me in the same class as Jerry Miculek or Rob Leatham.

There is no accrediting body for firearms instructor certifications, and there isn’t a legal requirement that a person or company offering firearms training actually be certified to do so unless such a requirement is specified as part of a license or permitting process. It is up to the individual seeking instruction to ascertain whether the prospective instructor has the legitimate credentials to be teaching the course(s) in question.

As for instructor certifications, just what do they mean? As for the NRA certifications, they simply mean that the holder is deemed qualified by the NRA to teach NRA developed and backed courses. They do not mean that the NRA deems the holder qualified to teach any other courses. With this is mind, consider a person that is certified as an NRA Basic Pistol instructor and that comes from a background in bullseye style target shooting with no substantial training in defensive shooting disciplines or tactics. Is this person really qualified to teach courses in combat shooting? Compare that to a person whose only formal instructor certification is NRA Basic Pistol but spent years in a SWAT unit or in a combat arms unit of the military. Their teaching a combat shooting course holds a lot more credibility, does it not?

Another issue to consider is the entity issuing the instructor credential. What is its credibility? Was the certification issued by a reputable organization, or did a person hoping to make a few bucks form a company and certify them self or employees as instructors? While this may be legitimate provided the instructors have other experience and credentials to stand on, but is it legitimate to simply issue a piece of paper to a person stating that they are certified to teach a “tactical” course? I should add that a company credentialing its own instructors in and of itself isn’t an indicator of chicanery. It could be a matter of insurance requirements or copyrighting. I am simply urging the potential student to verify the actual credentials and experience of the instructor.

Validity of training is another important piece of the puzzle. By validity, I mean more than the simple notion of whether or not the techniques being taught are fundamentally sound. Validity also entails the question of whether or not the techniques being taught are applicable to the world of the average citizen that chooses to carry a firearm. I recently saw a clip from a civilian training class in which students were formed into two and three man fire teams and were moving across the range as if they were clearing a street in Falujah. How is that a realistic scenario for a civilian: three shooting buddies shopping at the Gap forming a fire team and moving down the mall’s promenade to take on an active shooter or armed robbery in progress maybe? I typically refer to such classes as Advanced Tactical Weekend Ninja training. Another instructor group has clip of a student conducting a mock traffic stop. My first problem with this is when is the average civilian going to be legally conducting routine traffic stops much less a high risk felony style stop? The student was completely out of his element and had no fundamental foundation upon which to draw. He lost complete control of the “stop”, yet, the instructors told him how wonderful a job he did with the scenario.

I’m not arguing in the least that civilians shouldn’t be getting top quality and tactically sound training. What I am arguing is that the scenarios should encompass incidents that are likely to be faced by a civilian that also take into account the differing responsibilities and priorities of the civilian and the peace officer. For instance, in an active shooter situation I would expect a peace officer to actively engage the threat. For a civilian, a defensive mindset to include escaping the situation is perfectly acceptable. Taking three civilian students and teaching them a three-man stack and then sending them storming into a building towards the sound of the gunfire has a certain “cool factor” to it, but would I really be doing the students a service by focusing on such tactics when we could be spending time and ammunition on shooting while moving, shooting from cover, and target identification drills?

This piece was aimed at students and instructors alike. I hope that it encourages students to closely scrutinize prospective instructors and the classes they offer prior to putting out money to take such courses. I also hope that it encourages instructors to examine their course content with the validity question in mind. Perhaps it will cause a few of them to also examine their claims as well.