3 police firearms training tips for novice shooters

Police officers know that a person will never get good at any physical skill without the right training, and that includes the operation of a firearm


The following is paid content sponsored by ICDC College.

By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff

If a person spends enough time at a gun range where civilian shooters are present, they will see some remarkably foolish things — from poor (but not hazardous) marksmanship skills up to downright unsafe weapons handling.

The collective expertise of policing’s best shooters and shooting instructors can be useful to individuals who have an interest in undertaking firearms training. (Image Pixbay)
The collective expertise of policing’s best shooters and shooting instructors can be useful to individuals who have an interest in undertaking firearms training. (Image Pixbay)

Through academy and in-service training, many law enforcement officers achieve high levels of competence with their firearms. Even those police officers who choose to only do the minimum required firearm training possess knowledge about shooting that is far superior to a novice shooter.

The collective expertise of policing’s best shooters and shooting instructors can be useful to individuals who have an interest in undertaking firearms training, whether for personal protection or professional requirements. Here are some fundamental advice a typical police firearm expert would offer novice shooters so they understand how to use a firearm.

1. Know the Rules

Every range has some version of the rules posted — most ranges require shooters to read a copy of the rules and sign a document. For any shooter, these rules are not to be merely memorized — they are to be memorized and understood before ever setting foot on the firing line:

  1. Keep your firearm pointed in a safe direction — downrange!
  2. Never point a firearm at something you’re unwilling to completely destroy.
  3. Know your target. Be aware of what’s behind it, what’s beside it, and what’s before it.
  4. Know how to safely handle and operate the firearm you are using.
  5. Use the appropriate ammunition, and keep your gun unloaded until you are ready to use it.
  6. Ensure that the gun you are using is clean, well maintained and in proper working condition.
  7. Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you’ve made the conscious decision to fire.
  8. Never operate a firearm when under the influence of alcohol, drugs or prescription medication likely to impair normal mental or physical bodily functions.
  9. If you experience a malfunction, put the gun down with the muzzle pointing downrange, and seek the assistance of the rangemaster. Do not attempt to clear the malfunction yourself.
  10. Use eye and ear protection at all times, and wear appropriate clothing.
  11. Understand that during some courses of fire, additional safety rules may be required.

2. Learn the Fundamentals

Mastery of the basics creates mastery. Far too often, novice shooters fail to take the necessary time to learn — from a top-quality, qualified firearm instructor —fundamentals that are essential to good marksmanship.

One of the most important fundamentals is having a solid grip on the gun — if a shooter’s grip on the weapon is not good, their performance in shooting also will be poor.

Many grip problems stem from the fact that a shooter is not using a gun well-suited to their hand. A person with small hands may have difficulty wrapping their hand around a double-stack magazine grip, for example. Other grip problems are caused by not properly holding the weapon in the hand. For example, a shooter should hold the gun with the web between the thumb and the trigger finger high and deep into the tang, because holding it lower on the grip will allow the gun to jump.

An often-ignored element to grip is the stance. A shooter’s grip/stance goes beyond where they place their feet — it involves the entire body. A weapon should be held at about shoulder level, and the shooter’s shoulders should roll forward slightly while standing with a very slight lean forward. This prepares the shooter for the pushing contest between shooter and the gun.

Another mistake novice shooters often make is using poor trigger control. For example, many novice shooters will slap the trigger, as opposed to doing a smooth pull on the trigger until it breaks, sending the round downrange. This is common when a novice shooter is operating a single-action, striker-fired handgun because those guns tend to have short, light pulls.

Conversely, it’s close to impossible to slap the trigger of a double-action revolver and have it go bang —a DA trigger all but requires a proper pull in order to launch a round. In fact, some instructors will use a DA revolver to help break someone with a trigger pull problem, telling the student: “Show me how long you can take to pull this trigger without stopping.”

A qualified firearms instructor will be able to diagnose a novice shooter’s grip, stance and trigger control then quickly correct any problems early in the learning process so bad habits do not form.

3. Prepare the Brain

Finally, a good firearm instructor can address issues like mindset and mental preparation. Training the brain is essential for the safe operation of a firearm. Even if a novice is seeking strictly non-combat shooting (for hunting and/or competition shooting only, for example) mental preparation and visualization are important for success.

For self-defense shooting and the protection of others, once a student has mastered the basics, they will never shoot at a “target” again. A good trainer will always create the image of an “attacker” when training on the line, changing the gender, age and race so the brain is prepared to deal with anyone who presents a threat.

Brain training also should include “book work” on topics such as human performance factors in high-stress events as well as case law, which governs what is (and what isn’t) a legal and a justifiable use of force. Further, there are excellent training resources — online videos, for example — that a qualified instructor can point a student to as “homework” to be done while not doing live-fire work.

A novice shooter is best served by seeking out top-quality training from an expert firearms instructor. Cops regularly train in the use of their firearm — on their own time and on their own dime, in many cases — because they know failure to train is the same thing as training to fail.

With persistent, quality training, a firearm novice can become a firearm expert and confidently be ready to protect their life or the lives of others using their training and knowledge. 

For more information, visit ICDC College.

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