Back when I first started in law enforcement, the trend on shooting and qualifying emphasized accuracy over speed and the ability to place your shots, albeit slowly, in a nice tight group. We shot out to 50 yards in qualification. We shot with strong hand and support hand and even shot from a sitting and prone position. We also shot at extended distances up to 200 yards or more with our duty handguns when I was training with my friend and mentor, Sgt. Dalton Carr, as a deputy sheriff.
Time went on and new trends appeared. Faster courses of fire of fire came into vogue. These emphasized close quarter and short range shooting skills with the emphasis on more speed, movement off the X, multiple shots, and more realistic time frames.
This was an improvement. But along the way, many agencies started moving away from distance shooting. Many trainers are now calling 25 yards, “long range.” Some even have qualification courses that go out to only 15 yards. They point out that the majority of incidents occur at less than 21 feet with only occasional shootings past 10 yards or so.
This thinking is rational enough — if you only have so much allowed time to train and qualify your people, you have to train them in the most likely form of encounter they will face.
But let’s take a few moments to examine the times we live in and the possibility that cops today may encounter a threat with more than just rudimentary shooting ability, and far more than just a handgun. Consider the events in Mumbai, India, where terrorists armed with long guns and IEDs killed more 100 people and wounded three times that number.
How prepared would you be to face a terrorist or criminal who is armed with a long gun when you are armed only with your current duty weapon or off-duty handgun? Threats like that need to be a consideration as we work in our training to make a handgun function to its true potential.
From my own experience and research into shooting performance under stress, I’ve been measured and have measured human performance at all levels from the very best to the most basic.
One observation involves the use of the handgun versus the carbine.
As a rule of thumb, given the same person (or even two people of similar skill and ability), whatever you can do with a handgun you can do with a carbine at about two (and usually three) times the distance.
What do I mean by that? What you can do at five yards with a handgun, you can probably do at 10 to 15 yards with a carbine.
So if you practice on being proficient at seven yards and under, start to slow down at 10 and have to take two to three seconds to get your first hit at 15 or 25 yards, and two seconds or more for subsequent hits, or four to seven seconds to get hits at 50 yards or farther then you are seriously behind the performance curve against a carbine wielding opponent of similar skill.
Consider having to face a carbine in the hands of a committed terrorist in a mall when you are off duty and armed with only your handgun. You see him at 25 yards and he sees you. For him it’s a fairly easy shot if he chooses to aim and not spray bullets in your direction. For you, it may be pushing the envelope to ask you to place a bullet in him in under 1.2 seconds from a ready position.
Getting fight-stopping hits at distance — and at the speed of the gunfight — against a threat beyond 15 and 25 yards requires a greater level of skill than shooting at distances less than 10 yards. This is especially true when you consider that the threat you’re likely to face in the abovementioned scenario will be moving, shifting, or partial (such as someone wearing body armor).
Although the bulk of your time will still be spent on the threat you’re most likely to encounter — a typical criminal, armed with a handgun at short range is — it is absolutely to your advantage to learn something about facing that carbine-wielding terrorist on your off day.
Time to Ponder
It is time to rethink our strategies about how we are going to deal with a terrorist or a well-trained criminal armed with a long gun when we only have a handgun with us.
The North Hollywood shootout was a wakeup call that started the trend to place patrol rifles in our squad cars. However, unlike military personnel or special operations law enforcement, the carbine is not present on our person at all times for most law enforcement activities.
It is very likely that we will be facing more and more criminals (and yes, possibly terrorists) armed with long guns in future engagements. For law enforcement patrol officers, BOTH the handgun and the carbine are primary weapons. You don’t have the luxury of calling the handgun a “secondary weapon.”
I say it is time to start training at distance again and learn how to make rapid, fight-stopping hits at extended ranges with our handguns. I pledge to make it a priority in my column here on PoliceOne to increase the shooting skills of every law enforcement officer who is willing to work at it.
I believe we need to be as proficient with our handguns as military personnel — if not more so — and we need to get our mindset wrapped around the fact that the handgun will do the job when you need it too. It will never be a carbine, but it will be there when you need it, provided you brought it in the first place and you have the skill to use it effectively.