A Critical Truth (With Great Implications For How To    Properly Train) Regarding Real Encounters With Handguns

IT has not only been said by us, but by others as well as ourself, that it is one thing to shoot at paper targets in competition or at a range, and quite another to shoot at “targets” that shoot back.

We wish to emphasize a fact that is even more significant than that of having to contend with live adversaries who also have firearms (or knives, clubs, broken bottles, razors, chains, machetes, hatchets, etc.) as opposed to shooting at mere paper or cardboard cutouts with pictures of armed enemies, when engaging in an honest-to-goodness deadly armed encounter: That is, as a decent human being ––– private citizen or law enforcement officer ––– you will be engaging targets that SHOOT AT YOU FIRST (or at least come at you first, and that more often than not are completely psyched up and ready for combat, while you become aware of the need for action only after the attack against you (and likely the shots fired at you) have already occurred. You will almost always be a complete reactor to the enemy’s initial gesture.

If you are a sane, rational, and decent person, then it is clear that it will not be you who starts the trouble; whether that trouble is unarmed or armed violence. This places a violent attack against you in a wholly different category than a physically violent match between yourself and another party, or an armed engagement for which you totally prepared ––– physically and mentally ––– and for which your “enemy” is a stationary or moving inanimate and insentient target.

Handgun training, at police academies or at the private sector “shooting schools”, prepares the students, at best, to be able to fire their weapons with some degree of accuracy and efficiency when and where they are completely prepared to do so, and necessarily, in complete safety (the “targets that don’t shoot back” observation is after all true enough). But when a citizen or official needs to acquire his weapon and shoot someone whose intention it is to shoot, stab, bludgeon, etc. him, he will not be ready in the sense that he is when normally showing up for training. He will be attacked. He will need to immediately realize that he is under attack, and ready himself and his weapon, and then shoot the enemy before getting shot by the enemy. The usual training offers zero preparation for this near certain fact of life.

Can this problem be addressed in training, or is it something that simply must be accepted?

We believe that it can be addressed in training, and we insist that ––– if training is to be practical, realistic and effective, it must be addressed. Otherwise, whether you call it “combat training” or “target shooting” the procedure for preparing the student to employ his sidearm will remain a mere mechanical exercise in shooting; and in shooting in a place and at a time when one is fully prepared for using his weapon. Not sufficient.

How is a person prepared for the unexpected? Very simply by being exposed to it ––– ahead of time, and often. For police academies this means daily training with one’s duty weapon. The handgun that is carried (by the Officer or private citizen) must become like an extension of himself. Training as is done by the NYPD, for example, which involves taking the recruits to a range on City Island for an intensive week of drill and practice is not a good plan. Instead, recruits at the excellent NYPD Academy should be drilled and trained with their duty weapon every single day for at least two hours. This will make the mechanics of handling and firing his weapon literally second nature for the recruit after the six month academy is concluded. We maintain that officer lives and citizens’ lives that will be saved by this degree of training more than compensates for the course.

Additionally ––– exercises with deactivated sidearms should be incorporated in training during basic academy, at irregular times throughout every training day.

Recruits should be wearing their deactivated weapons throiughout the training day. At any unexpected moment, an “assailant” should emerge (in a classroom, hallway, gym, library, laboratory, mess hall, etc.) who has a deactivated weapon, himself, and who immediately poses the threat of shooting one or more of the recruits. The recruits must be conditioned to drop their books, disregard whatever else they are doing, and DRAW THEIR DEACTIVATED SIDEARMS and “shoot” their assailant. 

What is more, all police recruits should get a feel for what it is like to be shot at. How? By being shot at! Exactly as Fairbairn conducted this exercise it should be conducted today. Have a recruit stand at a distance of about 10-15 feet from the instructor (Fairbairn did this with groups, we recommend doing it with each recruit individually, so as to maximize discomfort and stress. We also would have each recruit experience this from different angles and at least 15 to 20 times during the academy program.) The instructor fires live rounds past the recruit as he remains standing. It will be obvious that each recruit will have a physical reaction to this, and that reaction will be involuntary. After experiencing this exercise ––– done, obviously, by an expert shooter who is also an experienced teacher ––– no recruit will need to betold that if he is shot at in the street it will be even more stressful, and his organism will react involuntarily. This will explain why, for example, it is preposperous to instruct recruits to “pick up the front sight in a classic Weaver stance” when they must engage a would-be killer as close ranges!

                                     Finally . . . Overcome All Mental

                                                 Qualms And Blocks

WE are not going to go into details here, because it is a big subject and demands a lot of attention and explanation, but by using hypnosis with recruits it is possible to solidly condition them for immediate action when necessary. Some very few recruits in any academy class might not need much work with hypnosis . . . but considering the kind of essentially decent persons who are hired for police work, it is probable that the realities of quick action at close quarters and killing another human being with one’s sidearm pose what may be in many cases unadmitted problems. Good people do not find using lethal force against others easy and natural, while violent offenders do. This is an unpleasant fact, and like all facts it must not be swept under the rug for political reasons. Many members of the public will never understand why a police officer must sometimes shoot and kill an offender (“Come on, how come the cop didn’t shoot the gun out of his hand, or shoot him in the leg?”). Too bad. No good cop wants to shoot anyone; but when and if the need arises because someone must be shot to stop him from doing what he is doing, then it must be done. This is no less true for private citizens who may need to defend themselves and their families with personal weapons.

In any case, where and when any tremor of hesitation about acting correctly, efficiently, and immediately with one’s issue weapon arises, the proper use of hyopnosis by a trained and experienced professional can very effectively help to eliminate the problem.

Remember, please, that the handgun is in fact a defensive weapon. It must be utilized offensively, but it is properly regarded as a weapon of close range, quick reaction, self-defense ––– for law enforcement officers and for private citizens. One defends when one is attacked. And attacks precede any defensive measures (even preemptive ones), so it behooves the individual who carries a firearm to train to anticipate that his task of saving his life will be undertaken not merely against a living, breathing, experienced, and dangerous human adversary, but against an adversary who enjoys the initiative, and who makes the first move. An adversary whose mind and body are ready before their intended victim’s!