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August 10, 2009
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Mike Rayburn Combat Gunfighting
with Mike Rayburn

Retention shooting: What is it?

One only needs to look at the Unified Crime Reports from the FBI to determine that the majority of officer-involved shootings are up close and personal. According to the reports, well over 50 percent of all officer-involved shootings are at a distance of five feet or less. Considering the amount of training material that is out there regarding officer safety and keeping a reactionary gap, why is this percentage so high?

Think about your job for a minute. We deal with people at close distances all the time. For the most part, a lot of the time getting in close to someone can’t be avoided. Can you handcuff someone from twenty-one feet away? Can you perform a sobriety check on an intoxicated person, or obtain someone’s driver’s license, from ten feet away? Of course you can’t. We deal with people in close proximity all the time, every day.

Because of this fact, we need to be prepared and train for the possibility of an up close, smell the bad guy’s breath, fight for your life. This is where retention shooting comes in. Not only for the possibility of the bad guy going for your gun, but to be prepared and train to shoot in close quarters when the threat is right on top of you. Retention shooting means the ability to shoot the bad guy in close quarters, while retaining possession of your firearm.

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First, let’s talk about your draw. Think of this simple phrase, “Elbow up – elbow down.” As you undo any snaps or retention devices on your holster, and get a high on the backstrap grip on the gun, draw your firearm out of the holster by raising your elbow up. Now drop your elbow down into your side, “elbow up – elbow down.” Slam your elbow into your side and tighten up the muscles in your arm. This will not only help you retain possession of the gun, but it will help you absorb any recoil from the firearm as well.

It’s as simple as that, elbow up – elbow down. This isn’t a new tactic. This elbow up – elbow down method has been around for a long time, since the early 1900’s. For you history buffs, this is known as Fairbairn’s ¼ position from the Shanghai Police Department.

From this ¼ position, you can easily go into an even closer retention position. Keep the muscles tightened in your arm, and just move your elbow straight back to where your forearm is indexed into your side. Can’t the firearm slightly away from your body, so the slide on your semiautomatic doesn’t get caught on any bulky clothing you might be wearing. You also want to avoid the slide coming straight back and striking your body. Either of these two could result in the gun being taken out of battery and unable to fire, forcing you to clear a jam in the middle of an up close and personal gunfight; which is never a good thing.

With your elbow dropped back, and your forearm locked into your side, you have a great deal of control and power over the firearm. Think about opening that really stubborn jar of pickles. Do you hold the jar out at arm’s length to try and twist off the top? Or, do you bring the jar in close to your body to open it? Obviously, you bring the jar in close to your body where you can exert the most amount of force/power over the jar to twist the top off. Use that same concept with your handgun by keeping it in close to your body.

As with any firearms tactic, this needs to be practiced on the range, as well as with force on force training. Force on force training with Simunitions, or Airsoft, is law enforcement’s laboratory. Unfortunately, we don’t get to have expensive wind tunnels, or state of the art laboratories where we can test our theories. Our lessons are learned on the street, and they’re sometimes paid for in blood. But with these training tools we can run officers through some force on force simulations to see what works, and more importantly, what doesn’t work.

Let’s head out to the range for some live fire training. Put up a realistic looking paper target, and stand about five feet away from the target, as if you were making a street contact to obtain some information or identification. Face the target in your interview stance with your body bladed and your strong side leg slightly dropped back, protecting you gun from a possible gun grab.

Now draw your handgun using the elbow up – elbow down method, locking your elbow into your side. As you do this, turn into the target by pivoting on the ball of your strong side foot, so you’re square to the target. While you’re doing this, drop your center of gravity by getting into a crouched position. This “combat crouch” will allow you to absorb any blows while at the same time giving you a base of power to work from. Your off arm should be out of the way and blocking any incoming blows. This position sounds kind of complicated, but once you do it a couple of times you realize how simple it really is. You’ll also realize that this is a natural stance, especially under stress.

Once you’re in position, fire two rounds into the target. You’ll notice that your rounds are not center of mass, don’t worry about it. At this distance, all we’re looking for is hits on a man-sized target. This is an up close fight for your life. Get this bad guy off of you as quickly as you can to try and get some reactionary distance between the two of you. Get a quick couple of shots into the bad guy to get him off of you, once you’ve accomplished that, then you can worry about a center mass shot(s).

Now practice the second phase of the retention drill by dropping your elbow back, locking your forearm into your side. Remember to keep the muscles in your arm tightened to help you absorb the recoil from the firearm, and fire two rounds into the target. At this point you might want to have your off arm up high to protect your vital head and neck areas from any incoming blows. Practice both of these shooting positions while moving away from the target shooting multiple rounds.

We’ll go over one last retention drill here, just to give you an additional tool for your tactical toolbox. This isn’t a tactic you would use all the time, but it’s something to consider using if the bad guy was able to close the distance on you and has grabbed your gun after you have taken it out of the holster. If this happens there is the possibility that the gun will not fire because it has been taken out of battery. This happens on some semiautomatics when the slide is pushed rearward. You can wrestle back and forth over the gun, and hope that the better man wins, or you can perform this simple tactic.

We need to get one thing out in the open first. If a bad guy grabs a hold of your gun, he’s not trying to take it away from you to scare you with it. He plans on killing you. At the very least, he plans on shooting you so he can make his getaway. At this point, deadly force is justified; I don’t care what State you’re from. Some officers are under the misconception that you can’t shoot an unarmed man. Every call you go on there is a gun present, your gun. You have to handle every call with that tactical mindset.

Now back to this simple tactic. You are in your retention position and the bad guy has grabbed your gun, and the gun has been taken out of battery and can’t be fired. You could try to deliver some counter strikes against the bad guy with your off hand, but suppose he’s much bigger than you, or hopped up on crystal meth. Your counter strikes may have no effect on him.

You have to end this confrontation quickly before you run out of energy. Depending on what kind of shape you’re in, you’ve got about 30 – 60 seconds of all out fight in you. You have to end this confrontation before your energy level drops.

If you can get both of your hands on the gun, do it. Make sure you have a firm grip on the gun before you attempt this. Now just simply, and quickly, drop back onto your buttocks. Even if the bad guy out weighs you by 100 pounds, there is no way he can hold your body weight by holding onto the end of your gun. Once you break free from his grasp, hit the rear of your slide with the heel of your hand, forcing the slide forward, bringing the gun back into battery. From here you can determine if this is a shoot situation or not.

This drill also needs to be practiced on the range with live fire, and all three need to be practiced with force on force using Simunitions or Airsoft. You need to build your confidence and your skill level, and the only way to do that is through training. Getting up close and personal with the people we deal with can’t be avoided, but how you deal with a threat that comes from that close quarters contact, is up to you.

About the author

Michael T. Rayburn has more than 30 years of experience in the law enforcement field, and is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of Vehicle Stops, Officer Safety, and Firearms Tactics and Training. Rayburn is an adjunct instructor at the Smith & Wesson Academy, has written numerous articles for various police magazines and Law Enforcement related web sites, and is the author of four books, "Advanced Vehicle Stop Tactics," "Advanced Patrol Tactics," “Combat Gunfighting,” and “Combat Shotgun.”

Mike Rayburn can be reached at www.combatgunfighting.com.



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