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April 26, 2012
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Tim Dees Police Tech & Gear
with Tim Dees

High-tech targets and gun accessories

Some ingenious solutions for firearms training

Firearms and use of force topics have always been popular subject matter at conferences of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), and the 2012 conference was no exception. The conference includes a trade show/expo of training products and services, also with a big emphasis on firearms, and I saw a few products that were ingenious, useful, and perhaps most importantly, low-cost.

I usually confine my columns to things that blink, buzz, and require electrical power, but I also like to think of myself as one of the sheepdogs who knows when and how to use a gun, can carry one lawfully, and usually does.

Thus, innovations in this market interest me as much as the techie stuff you usually see discussed here.

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Targets Online
If someone had told me there would be a significant development in paper firearms targets, I’d attribute their enthusiasm to hyperbole. You print a picture or pattern on some paper, you shoot at it, so what’s to invent? The display from Targets Online proved me wrong. These are paper targets that literally add a new dimension to firearms training.

One of their products is a cardboard box-like frame that supports conventional clothing on the outside and a balloon on the inside. You construct the “box” from some flat-folding components and dress it (with discarded thrift-store clothing) to produce a 3-D human-size target.

The inflated balloon goes on the inside of the box, and attaches to an overhead support wire with a binder clip. When the shooter hits the target’s virtual X-ring, the balloon pops and the target assembly falls to the ground. A reset requires only a fresh balloon, although obviously the cardboard frame will have to be replaced now and then.

The 3-D targets are enhanced with life-size card stock overlays of facial and upper-body photographs of various models (sorry, no political figures or law enforcement administrators), which are attached with spray adhesive to the underlying target frame. The card stock paper that Targets Online uses is specially treated to resist moisture. A display at their booth had a steady stream of water running over a paper target, with virtually no degradation of the material.

The photographic paper overlays employ another innovation — an overlay for the overlay. With conventional photographic image targets, there are a finite number of images available, and an observant shooter can quickly learn that the guy in the gray sweatshirt is going to have a gun, while the women in the blue blouse is holding a cell phone.

The Targets Online solution to this problem is a small overlay, matched to the underlying image, of a hand holding a gun, a knife, a badge, a cell phone, a water bottle, etc. Their catalog has six variations for each of four life-size targets, so it’s not necessary to buy a whole large target for each threat/non-threat type. You just change the “weapon” by applying a new overlay. This is an innovative and inexpensive way to add more variation and realism to firearms training.

Challenge Targets
The gear sold by Challenge Targets has more of a hardware approach. Firearms instructors like moving and pop-up targets because bad guys don’t remain stationary and wait to get shot. They use cover, move around, and generally make the encounter more difficult.

Moving and pop-up targets are nothing new, but they are traditionally expensive and require an electrical connection between the target and the rangemaster to cue the movement. Challenge Targets achieves motion via an unpowered mechanism run via counterbalances and springs. When a target is knocked down by a hit, it resets itself automatically after a brief delay.

Lateral movement is achieved with simple pull cords that can be operated from a safe position. The targets are less expensive than electrically-operated pop-up or lateral movement targets, and less prone to failure because of their simple design.

Train Safe
The third product that impressed me was a safety device for handguns. Sometimes it’s necessary to bring a functional weapon into a classroom or other non-range environment, and there have been some tragic results when the operator thought the chamber was empty, but wasn’t.

Train Safe is a plastic rod, roughly the size of a popsicle stick, that inserts into the barrel of a variety of handguns. Once there, it advertises its presence with the end visible at the muzzle, but not protruding. The gun can be holstered or stored as usual. The rod extends to the rear of the barrel, making it impossible to chamber a round.

The handler can still work the action and operate the trigger mechanism, but the gun is disabled from firing until the rod is removed. The rod inserts and is removed by field-stripping the slide and barrel. The firearm blocks retail for $5.00, and are custom-sized for most popular handguns. 

About the author

Tim Dees is a writer, editor, trainer, and former law enforcement officer. After 15 years as a police officer with the Reno Police Department and elsewhere in Northern Nevada, Tim taught criminal justice as a full-time professor and instructor at colleges in Wisconsin, West Virginia, Georgia, and Oregon.

He was also a regional training coordinator for the Oregon Dept. of Public Safety Standards & Training, providing in-service training to 65 criminal justice agencies in central and eastern Oregon.

Tim has written more than 300 articles for nearly every national law enforcement publication in the United States, and is the author of The Truth About Cops, published by Hyperink Press. In 2005, Tim became the first editor-in-chief for Officer.com, moving to the same position for LawOfficer.com at the beginning of 2008. He now writes on applications of technology in law enforcement from his home in SE Washington state.

Tim holds a bachelor’s degree in biological science from San José State University, a master’s degree in criminal justice from The University of Alabama, and the Certified Protection Professional credential from ASIS International. He serves on the executive board of the Public Safety Writers Association.

Dees can be reached at tim.dees@policeone.com.

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