06/03/2013

Richard FairburnLaw Enforcement Firearms
with Richard Fairburn

Throwing down your sidearm: A video game training scar?

If cops are inadvertently training themselves to “throw down” their sidearm, rather than quickly and securely holstering, we can reprogram them by stressing the proper de-escalation cycle

For the last 10 years, I’ve focused my firearms training research more on the effectiveness of instructional techniques rather than actual marksmanship training. The end result of that research is a few conclusions which bother the hell out of some instructors. 

For example, I am convinced any marksmanship technique can only work effectively if training is conducted in a practical, stressful environment.  

In other words, I long ago gave up arguing over Weaver versus Isosceles stance because if you are shooting from any formal “stance” you’re simply not being practical. You should be shooting on the move and from awkward positions, the way gunfights actually occur.

In the course of my constant search for learning, some “Wow!” moments occasionally occur.  Recently, I had two such incidents related to me at training seminars, one here at home in Illinois and another not far from Seattle, Washington. 

In the first, I was told of an officer confronted by an adversary who fired in the officer’s general direction. The officer, with his sidearm already drawn, dove for nearby cover, throwing his pistol ahead of him to the cover point. Wow!  

In the second incident, another officer (with a pistol in hand) gained access to his rifle in a tense situation and instead of holstering the sidearm, threw it to the ground.  

Wow, again!  

At both seminars, I was supposed to be the “expert” firearms instructor in the room, but had to admit I’d never heard of an officer deliberately throwing down a sidearm. 

Yet, two geographically separated officers had done just that.

I discussed these unusual incidents over lunch at another seminar, asking the table full of trainers for their thoughts. Sergeant Jay Stachowiak, of the LaSalle County (Ill.) Sheriff’s Office, stopped eating long enough to offer what might be the root cause of the two sidearm throw downs … video games.  

Since my computer gaming experience is pretty much limited to Minesweeper and Solitaire, Jay explained that many of the “warfare” games only allow a player to have one weapon in their hand at a time. If you want to grab a more effective “battlefield pickup” weapon on the cyber battlefield, you must first drop your current weapon.  

Wow!

We already know computer games can be highly effective training simulators. The military uses computer simulators extensively and every recent active shooter/mass murderer we know of, in the U.S. and abroad, has been an avid player of some sort of “shooting” computer game.  

Adam Lanza was simply the latest in this series who trained himself to murder in the cyber world before transferring those skills to the real world.

Could our two cops who threw down their sidearm have unwittingly trained themselves in such a response while playing “Call of Duty” or “Ghost Recon?”  

I have no science to back up it up, but Jay's theory sure makes sense to me.

Years ago I discovered — when examining police agency shooting records — that negligent discharges in the field often outnumber the incidents where officers deliberately fired at armed adversaries. An article I wrote here in 2007 discusses negligent discharge causes and cures.  

It seems obvious we must include de-escalation as a part of our sidearm training cycle. In other words, teaching an officer when to holster and how to holster efficiently is an important aspect of training a police gunfighter.

There are several circumstances where an officer should holster a drawn sidearm:  Before putting their hands on a suspect to search and/or apply restraints, to transition to a less lethal weapon (TASER, OC spray, impact weapon), and when engaging in violent physical exertion like jumping a ditch, climbing a fence or scrambling up a steep slope.  

An important aspect of holstering during a high-risk event is to ensure the weapon will remain holstered. Once you clear that chain-link barrier in a move T.J. Hooker would admire, it’s nice to still have your sidearm with you. 

So, you should choose a holster that automatically secures the pistol, like a Blackhawk Serpa, or one that can be very quickly secured, like a Safariland ALS (automatic locking system). There are other brands/models that fill our need for simple security, but those are two of the most common models I see in my area.

If some officers are inadvertently training themselves to “throw down” their sidearm, rather than quickly and securely holstering, we can reprogram them by regularly stressing the proper de-escalation cycle during training. 

At the same time, we will be minimizing the potential for deadly negligent discharges in the field.

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.

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