Firearms: Training for Close-Quarter Combat
By Dave Spaulding
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You may have to poke 'em in the eye
Law enforcement is a profession of close contact with the public at large. To do their job, police officers must constantly come within double-arm's length of other people - an area I call The Hole. In this region, officers face their greatest peril, but there's just no way for them to avoid coming in close contact with citizens and suspects. Imagine the outrage that would result from officers standing back 30–40 feet and yelling to a citizen, "Sir! Please remove your identification and throw it over here to me. I don't want to get too close to you for officer safety purposes!" As for suspects, you can't properly take them into custody in a secure manner without laying hands on them and placing them into handcuffs. We've known for a long, long time the single most dangerous moment for any officer is when the first cuff is placed on the suspect's wrist.
So, it should come as no surprise that the majority of shootings involving police officers occur at distances of less than 10 feet, with many of these inside The Hole. That said, you'd think a major portion of firearms training would take place at similar distances, but nothing could be further from the truth. The reality: Training for close-quarter shootings proves difficult and potentially dangerous, so many agencies just don't do it.
Over the past five years or so, I've thought a lot about how we in law enforcement should prepare for extreme close-quarter shooting situations. I've researched what's being accomplished in this area across the country, and I've interviewed officers who've been involved in such situations. Be it good or bad, I'm also a product of my own experience, and I can't help but compare methods currently being taught to what I've gone through first-hand. After three decades of law enforcement, much of it in assignments such as SWAT, narcotics, undercover operations and night-watch patrol, I have a fair amount of personal experience to draw from - something I find lacking in some of the instructors and researchers currently establishing training doctrine and trends.
With this in mind, and at the risk of poking some of current training doctrine in the eye, I've decided the best way to prepare for a close-quarter shooting situation is to keep things simple and don't over-complicate the process, because history has shown that simple works best. Trying to invent a technique for each possible situation is tempting, but we all know this is impossible. And, considering the majority of police officers will train/practice only when they're scheduled for in-service training, it makes sense to follow the SIG principle: Simple Is Good.
Simple Combat Techniques
In addition, note these three points:
• You cannot draw a holstered pistol against a weapon that is already drawn;
If you can deflect the weapon, then maybe, just maybe, you can bring your sidearm into the fight. But this assumes the officer has solid holster skills. Many officers currently walking the street can't draw their handgun from their threat-level 2, 3 or 4 security holster in less than five seconds, which makes bringing it into play in such a situation doubtful. Yes, weapon retention is important, but not at the expense of being able to deploy your best weapon quickly when needed.
Commit to Do Harm When Necessary
Very early in my life, I realized people must be able to see and breathe in order to do anything physical; interrupting either will affect your opponent's ability to function. This tactic served me well on playground bullies. At the same time, don't think that doing this will be as easy as it sounds - your opponent's head and neck will tend to stay in constant motion. Strikes and claw-like strokes to the face and neck are easy to execute and require little training, but they do require a level of commitment. You must be willing to hurt your opponent - something that many people, even when faced with injury or death, just will not do. Remember: You must be an active participant in your own rescue.
Some will say face smashes and forearm strikes to the neck don't work in real fights, but you'll have to prove this to me. I performed the technique three times (besides my little ambulance ride) during my career, and it worked every time. And keep in mind, I was never trained in the maneuver beyond learning to straight-arm while playing football. All three incidents involved attempts to disarm me, and each time the technique gave me the time and distance I needed to draw my sidearm and control the situation. Had there been a weapon involved, I would have either tried to gain distance (non-firearm) or deflect the weapon before launching a counter-attack. Is a face-rake guaranteed to work? Nope - there are no guarantees in a fight - but I'm willing to go out on a limb and state that if you make solid contact with the eyes, nose or throat, you'll get your opponent's attention.
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Dave Spaulding is a 28-year law-enforcement veteran, retiring at the rank of lieutenant. He currently works for a federal security contractor. He's worked in all facets of law enforcement - corrections, communications, patrol, evidence collection, investigations, undercover operations, training and SWAT, and has authored more than 600 articles for various firearm and law enforcement periodicals. He is also the author of the best-selling books Defensive Living and Handgun Combatives.
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