Book Excerpt: Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis, Section Three
Section Three: Accuracy with the Handgun
Editor’s Note: At SHOT Show 2014 I was fortunate to finally meet Mike Wood, author of Newhall Shooting: A Tactical Analysis which I think is the most-thoroughly researched account of this shooting available. Wood told me that section three of the book focuses on a subset of the skill element of the model — in particular, the performance of the officers and felons with their handguns during the shooting. “It’s a good representation of the type of analysis contained in the book,” Wood explained.
Three of the four officers killed at Newhall fired a total of 11 shots from their revolvers (Officer Frago fired no shots) before they were murdered by Davis and Twining. Officer Gore fired one shot, Officer Pence fired six shots, and Officer Alleyn fired four shots during the battle at Davis and Twining, but none of these officers managed to hit their intended targets.
In contrast, Davis fired 10 rounds from handguns and Twining fired 14 rounds from handguns during the fight. Davis struck with two of his rounds (hitting Officer Gore at contact range), and Twining struck with seven of his rounds (hitting Officer Frago at short range with two, and Officer Pence at intermediate range — perhaps 7 to 10 yards — with four, and at short range with a fifth).
In the aftermath of Newhall, there has been much discussion about the reasons why the officers did not perform as well with their handguns as their foes. We will probably never know the complete answer to this question, but we can certainly understand some of the issues involved, and they resist simplification. To the dismay of those who are seeking for quick answers, there is no single reason why events occurred the way they did.
One consistent problem for the officers involved in the Newhall shooting is that all of them were forced into a reactionary mode from the very beginning — that is, each of the officers was already being attacked by his foe before he could understand and assimilate the information and begin to respond. In a classic case of “getting inside their OODA loop,” Davis and Twining were already acting on their decisions to kill the officers before the officers even understood what was happening, which placed them at a great disadvantage from the very beginning.
In example, Officer Gore’s first notice that he was facing a deadly threat came when Twining killed Officer Frago then turned his gun on Officer Gore. This placed Officer Gore several steps behind Twining, as Twining was already shooting at him before Officer Gore could even Orient to the threat and Decide to clear leather.
Similarly, Officers Pence and Alleyn came under fire before they had even stopped their vehicle at the scene, placing them even further behind their opponents because they had to stop the vehicle, exit it, locate their opponents, and access their weapons before they could begin to return fire on the people who were already trying to kill them.
This is more than a problem of cognitive lag time or reactionary gap, however. It’s true that the time deficit is difficult to make up, and it places the officer at an immediate disadvantage as he scrambles to catch up to his foe. However, there is also a physiological element that rears its head and makes the situation even more difficult for the officer to recover from.
In circumstances where officers perceive their lives to be threatened, their Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS--which wrests control of bodily functions from the Parasympathetic Nervous System, which controls the body in normal, non-stress environments) activates and directs the body to produce a powerful mix of hormones which are designed to prepare the body for “fight or flight.”
This is especially the case when time and distance to the threat are short, or when an officer is surprised or startled by the threat, as each of the Newhall officers were.
These chemicals produce beneficial results such as increased strength and resistance to pain, but they also produce some negative results, such as: loss of dexterity; muscle tremors; diminished hearing and sight capabilities (to include all forms of perceptual narrowing, such as auditory exclusion, decreased near vision acuity, loss of peripheral vision, loss of depth perception, etc.); loss of processing and decision making abilities; diminished memory, and; overall decreased cognition.
As Bruce Siddle, the pioneering, cutting-edge researcher in the field of survival stress and Combat Human Factors, indicates, activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System makes you “fast, quick and strong,” but also “dumb.”51 Siddle notes that the SNS has a profound effect on “perception, processing, decision-making, motor skills and memory” which, in the most highly stressed individuals, can initiate “a catastrophic failure of the cognitive processing capabilities, leading to fatal increases in reaction time...”
The cognitive and motor precision necessary to fight effectively with firearms deteriorates rapidly in this state, particularly in individuals whose inexperience, lack of proper training, lack of confidence, surprise, or natural demeanor make them more likely to suffer increased levels of stress and less capable of controlling the stress response.
Individuals who start out behind the OODA loop of their adversary are even less fortunate, because, “lost time in a survival encounter initiates a chain reaction of escalating stress” which enhances the negative effects and makes them harder to control.
Thus, the officers in Newhall were not only battling Twining and Davis, they were battling for control of their own bodies. The stress hormones being dumped into their bodies by the SNS made them “deaf, dumb and blind,” and their skills with their handguns plummeted as a result...