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September 20, 2010
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Richard Fairburn Law Enforcement Firearms
with Richard Fairburn

Don’t just survive...prevail!

You must develop a winning mindset — a win-at-all-costs mindset to prevail!

Not long ago I found in some notes an old Jeff Cooper quote:

"The will to survive is not as important as the will to prevail.
The answer to criminal aggression is retaliation."

— Jeff Cooper

Police officers are lectured long and hard that we have no right to “retaliation.” We can use deadly force to protect ourselves and others, but once an attacker is “stopped,” we must also stop our application of deadly force. One dictionary definition of retaliation is: “to take revenge.” Revenge is inappropriate to our role as Sheepdogs. However, another dictionary defines retaliation as: “to repay (as an injury) in kind.” I think I can live with that definition of Cooper’s use of the word “retaliation,” since Jeff Cooper was both a warrior and an accomplished wordsmith, fully understanding the justice of returning force with equal or greater force.

Survival can come from wearing body armor and having it save your life from bullet impacts. Survival can come from the masterful work of a trauma surgeon after you took several hits when you foolishly left your body armor in the closet. But merely surviving won’t do. You must develop a winning mindset — a win-at-all-costs mindset to prevail!

A recent example from the web pages of PoliceOne illustrates the winning mindset. In the story, a young female officer in Pennsylvania was suddenly in a fight for her life with an armed robbery suspect. Before she could cuff both hands, the man struggled free, beat her in the face and pulled his pistol, only to thankfully experience a malfunction. So, he grabbed for the officer’s sidearm. With a winning mindset, she maintained control of her pistol and killed her attacker. Atta girl!

The will to prevail doesn’t always involve a personal threat to the officer. Several years ago in Illinois a young officer not long out of the academy found himself confronting a man holding a knife to his own little daughter’s throat. The man threatened to kill the girl on the count of three if the police officers didn’t back off. The officer resolved the incident with a clean head shot on the count of “two.” No hesitation, no reflection, simply an appropriate delivery of deadly force to a monster who deserved it.

Most of us would agree our agencies don’t provide nearly enough time or ammunition to develop or maintain top marksmanship skills. Yet, I am convinced marksmanship skills have very little to do with winning your next gunfight. Most officer-involved shootings happen very close, where even sloppy marksmanship will likely suffice.

Know Your ROE
One normally-overlooked aspect of firearms training requires no ammunition and little time to accomplish. In order to make an instant, lethal decision, officers must have an intimate knowledge and understanding of their state and agency “rules of engagement.” If you don’t have a total understanding of the rules, your conscious brain will need to process the incoming data to decide whether or not to shoot. That process will take much too long. You must be so intimately familiar with the rules that your sub-conscious mind (mid-brain) can handle the shoot-don’t shoot question while your conscious mind (fore-brain) is concentrating on marksmanship and tactical issues.

Captain Gordon Graham of the California Highway Patrol (retired) speaks on risk management issues and explains that the CHP’s policy manual is several inches thick, but only a scant few pages of the book are printed on red paper. Those few pages relate to the use of force, pursuit policies, and other life or death subjects. The inches and inches of white pages policy information can be looked up as needed. But, the red pages must essentially be committed to memory. You don’t have time to stumble over a bad recollection of these issues, so ensure you and the officers you train and/or supervise are drilled regularly on the use of deadly force policies.

I still occasionally bump into an officer who has not rationalized the application of deadly force in their own mind. Some are finishing up their career, luckily without the need to ever decide if they could truly take another human life, if need be. That decision, whether or not you are capable of killing, cannot be put off until needed. Again, fighting an internal struggle over the application of deadly force takes some time, and most gunfights tend to run rather short on time.

Some of the hesitation on taking a life stems from one’s religious upbringing. The Judeo/Christian ethic includes the Ten Commandments. Most of us remember the 6th Commandment from our childhood learning as “thou shall not kill.” If you dig a little deeper, you will find that the 6th Commandment was mistranslated from the original Hebrew word “rasatch” during the writing of the King James Bible. “Rasatch” refers to an unjustified killing — murder. So, the 6th Commandment does not prohibit the legitimate, justified killing of another human being. In several passages in both the Old and New Testaments, God sent his people on killing missions. Since before the days of King David, killing those who need killing is indeed God’s work.

As Clint Smith — the master trainer of Thunder Ranch — stated so eloquently on an episode of 60 Minutes II, “Some people just need to be shot!”

The Mind’s Eye
Lastly, pre-visualize the deadly force decision and role play it on every call and encounter you face on a daily basis. When-then training costs nothing, takes little time and draws no complaints for a rude statement or drawn weapon.

I’ve been told a reporter saw the following posted over the door of a Marine barracks in Iraq – “Be polite, be professional, have a plan to kill everyone you meet.” The reporter, being the liberal-type, complained about the “insensitive” nature of the warning, but the commander rightly explained the need to reset his Marines’ mindset every time they walked out onto dangerous streets.

Take every available opportunity to practice pre-planning and visualization. They’ll never know what thoughts your benign smile may conceal. And, if a situation does suddenly turn south, you’ve already considered a solution and filed it on your “hard drive” for future reference.

Think about the non-live fire aspects of preparing yourself for the use of deadly force.

• Prepare your mind with an intimate understanding of the rules of engagement
• Pre-decide any reservations you might have about killing another human being
• Pre-plan and visualize yourself WINNING every lethal encounter you may face

The time you invest in these training elements now may buy you the precious seconds you need to win on the street.

Don’t just survive ... PREVAIL!


About the author

Dick Fairburn has more than 30 years of law enforcement experience in both Illinois and Wyoming, working patrol, investigations and administrative assignments. Dick has also served as a Criminal Intelligence Analyst and as the Section Chief of a major academy's Firearms Training Unit and Critical Incident training program. He has a B.S. in Law Enforcement Administration from Western Illinois University and was the Valedictorian of his recruit class at the Illinois State Police Academy. He has published more than 100 feature articles and two books: Police Rifles and Building a Better Gunfighter.

Contact Richard Fairburn





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