March 04, 2013

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Richard Fairburn Law Enforcement Firearms
with Richard Fairburn

Long-range adversaries: Can you make the shot?

If your agency doesn’t offer you such training, get out and do it on your own or with a couple of buddies

The marksmanship requirements of the “average” police gunfight are pretty simple since most of these fights occur up close with a fully exposed target. Once in a while, though, the demands are high.

Think of the conditions an off-duty or retired cop would have faced had they been in the audience during the Batman movie massacre last July in Aurora, Colo. Even without knowing all the details of the event, we can assume a very dark theater, a distance likely measured in yards rather than feet, a shooter wearing all black (possibly including a helmet and body armor), and a hundred or so panicked moviegoers.

The sure stopping zone was a small part of the killer’s face, centered on the eyes. Even a small pocket pistol will ruin his plans if — and only if — the bullet is precisely placed. Can you make that shot?

Well-rounded Firearms Training
While we should properly concentrate most of our pistol training on humanoid targets at close range (from one to 10 yards), a well-rounded firearms training program will include some precision shooting and long-range shooting on occasion.

We generally have cadets engage pepper popper plates at 25-50 yards with at least a few rounds, mostly as a fun familiarization event to illustrate that if you’re caught in a sticky situation with only a sidearm, you can still score hits outside of our “normal” training distances if you concentrate on basic marksmanship skills.

The School Resource Officer at the Columbine High School attack — armed with only his sidearm — faced two active shooters at about 75 yards.

He scored a hit on one shooter’s 9mm carbine. It would have been a center-mass hit on the killer, but for the weapon’s magazine being in the way.

One large agency I know used to have their officers routinely practice slow-fire groups on a bullseye target at 25 yards, using a Camp Perry shooting stance (off hand in your pocket, severely bladed stance with a strong-hand-only grip).

Their head firearms instructor told me “if they can punch a tight group with one hand at 25 yards, a three-yard gunfight will be a piece of cake.”

Our research found that agency’s officers had scored an 11 percent hit rate on felons over the last 10 years, the lowest gunfight performance my research has ever documented. The range officer’s correlation between 25-yard precision fire and short-range gunfighting abilities simply didn’t hold true.

Basics of Marksmanship
While an officer might need to fire a precise “hostage-rescue shot” with their sidearm, such a shot is unlikely to be successful except at close range. To teach the necessary precision, we simply reinforce the basics of marksmanship — sight alignment and trigger control.

I do this with Dot Drills at three to seven yards, rather than bullseye shooting at 25 yards. The dots can range from a couple of inches in diameter down to bullet-hole size as a shooter’s skill progresses. Wrap up the session with humanoid targets holding a hostage so only part of the felon’s head is exposed.

Have your officers engage the hostage-rescue target first at three yards to build confidence and they will soon be making good hits at seven or even 10 yards. We NEVER want them to leave the range with the image of one of their rounds hitting the hostage.

If they “kill” a hostage, move them closer and make sure they score several good hits before wrapping up for the day.

Always coach forward with positive reinforcement.

Someday you may face a long-range adversary or a situation which requires extreme precision, so train for it long before you might face it. If your agency doesn’t offer you such training, get out and do it on your own or with a couple of buddies.

Be the one who can make the shot! The situation may require you to take a life, but you might be able to save a life at the same time.

Not here! Not Today!

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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