Balancing Safety and Realism in Civilian Firearms Training

The following video was sent to be by a good friend who routinely trains with a former Spetsnaz member. At first glance, most people’s reactions are the same “This is CRAZY!!” but not until the end where Larry “arfcom” Vickers explains these are extremely advanced RUSSIAN FSB MILITARY Courses of Fire, meant for advanced SF MILITARY OPERATORS do things start to make some sense as to the reasoning why somebody would do a drill so risky and potentially lethal!

I had the opportunity to take a 2 day Advanced AK rifle class from a former FSB operator a few years back. I was aware of his background and “unorthodox” training methods well before I ever signed up for the class, and I was extremely excited to get to train with him. What I took away from the class was several things: (1) I need to shoot my rifle more (2) Unlike most firearms classes I had taken before, safety was not continually “harped” on; the training took priority, and because of that, I was able to assimilate much more information. This is not to say the class was unsafe in any way, quite the contrary, it was very safe, it was just that notorious “Gun-Range Safety Nazi” mentality did not exist for this guy; he was not raised around it in Russia, it was not something that was “ingrained” into him; the only thing that mattered to this guy was the training.

What I experienced at that class was what civilian firearms training should and could be. I realized in an instant that the focus and mentality of most civilian training here in the states was skewed. Safety had become the overwhelming priority to the point that a weird “sub-culture” had emerged around it, and now, instead of talking about new and better ways to train and improve our readiness as armed civilians, people were devoting entire online forums to trainers who were “unsafe”. Now let me be clear;  in no way am I trying to advocate that  the “Shoot me at close range” drill in the video above is something civilians should ever attempt or try to implement in their training regimen; NO, ABSOLUTELY NOT! As stated in the video, that is a drill meant for Highly-Trained Military Operators, not civilians! What I am advocating is that we, as concerned, responsible, civilian operators, take a very hard look at how Civilian Firearms Personal Defense Training is done. Is the training really made a priority or is firearms safety too highly emphasized to the point of being “excessive/obsessive-compulsive” about every little thing, ie, “The Gun-Range Safety-Nazi-Syndrome??”

So, what happened to us? Why has this “syndrome” infected almost all gun ranges and firearms training courses in America? In a word: LIABILITY. In our overly “litigious” society, firearm trainers who operate independent facilities simply have to “CYA” in these areas; their very livelihoods and financial futures are at stake otherwise. Lawsuits, Lawyers and Umbrella Liability Insurance Policies are expensive; extended litigation in court for personal injuries or worst, a wrongful death/manslaughter suit, where a judge/jury could find the trainers actions either  “Reckless” or “Criminally Negligent” are basically a death sentence for the trainer and his company, even if he makes it out prison with his company financially soluble and intact, it is assured his reputation, in the internet age, will not be;  just check out some of those online forums I mentioned earlier.

Another reason I believe the “gun-safety nazi” craze is so prevalent is due in large part to the liberal agenda that ATTEMPTS to cast further dispersion on legal gun owners and people who train with weapons for self-defense. Oh, I can hear it now: “OMG!! Now, he is blaming the Liberals, what next, the Illuminati!?” But seriously, ask yourself, haven’t you noticed an inordinate amount of news “reports” or “special documentaries” by shows like Dateline, 20/20, Frontline, etc. on either “gun safety”, “kids and guns”, “accidents with guns by kids”, etc.? I know I am not the only one who has noticed this trend, right? The goal of course for all of this is to try to convince mainstream America that Guns are just”unsafe” and only “certain people” ie, Law Enforcement, need to have access to them. To further this point, consider President Obama’s current nominee for Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy, a rabid anti-gun activist and promoter of the “Orwellian” ideal of combining “healthcare and gun control”. Consider for a moment how that dovetails in nicely with “obamacare” and you get the picture. This is the  man the government wants to put in charge of the entire nation’s “Health and Safety”. Laughable.

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Former Season 3 Top-Shot Champion, Dustin Ellerman , who owns and operates Camp His Way, which offer Marksmanship Classes for both adults and youth (see the Review of the Youth Marksmanship Class HERE) had this to say about the over-emphasis on Firearms Safety:

“Sometimes we get so carried away because of liability and the anti-gun homophobic crowd we can go overboard on safety.  This of course is magnified online and self-appointed “safety-nazis” who will flame a shooter if they see them shooting without ear protection even if it’s a suppressed firearm!”

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Paul Howe, former Army Delta Force Operator and owner/operator of CSAT, gave us his take from a trainers perspective:

“Many instructors end up screaming at students for safety violations that students are unaware of.  This is counter productive to training.  Remember, students are new to your system and way of doing things.  Some are new students that do not know, some are older students that learned a certain way of doing things and have “training scars” to undo.  Instructors should build a stair-stepped training sequence that builds and ingrains a safe way of doing things.  In short, you have to show the students what you want them to do and how you want them to do it and then they need to practice it to ingrain it so they create a good habit during your training program.  Good instructors take the time to ensure this training sequence is in place.
 
Further, a quiet voice when talking to a student will go a long way to building a positive learning experience.  Also, having patience and taking the time to show them how to do it correctly once again goes a long way in building a solid and lasting relationship”.  

So after experiencing that rifle class, I knew that in addition to doing away with the “safety nazi’s”, the civilian self-defense firearm training paradigm needed to be overhauled if the CO wanted to train realistically and have a real shot at being adequately prepared. After some reflection, I came up with this to guide me.

1. Abandon the Square-Range: Literally if possible, Mentally if NOT possible

We live in a 360 degree world, where threats can come from any direction. In drills, a Square -Range cannot address that. Of course for some, this may be impossible due to not having access to a place to drill live-fire 360 degrees. That is why I added the caveat of abandoning the square range MENTALLY and then implementing live-fire later. Since repetition creates habits (good or bad), most of these drills can be done with dry fire, your goal being to flush those bad habits that the square range has bred.  I will be doing a series of installments on how you can do that incrementally in your training.

2.  Abandon the “Competition” Mentality

This goes along with flushing all the bad habits associated with the square range. Combat Shooting and Competition Shooting are not the same animal.  IDPA and IPSC used timed drills to induce stress to simulate the stress of combat shooting. What was born out of this, was a generation of shooters who placed more emphasis on marksmanship (“tight groups” and “shooting the x ring out”) rather than Combat Accuracy, that is to say, shooting to live and going home rather than points on a scoreboard to boost our ego’s. Bottom line: any hit on the attacker’s boiler-room (chest) or Hard Drive (head) is good for you, bad for them!

Two other “ill” side-effects of the “Competition Mentality” are first, allowing the course of fire to dictate the speed in which you move, regardless of the specific tactical situation and second, always firing a specific number of rounds instead of what the bad guy (or situation) dictates you fire to neutralize them.

Here is what Paul Howe said in his article “Avoiding Fantasy Gunfight Training”:

“Who dictates the speed of a fight? The bad guy and how fast he falls does. It might be a fast or slow process (the bad guy dying), but one should get in the habit of solving one problem at a time before moving on to multiple threats. You can shoot two rounds on paper or ping a piece of steel and move on to the next target, but in reality, two rounds punching paper or the sound of steel being struck may not solve your problem.”

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3.  Coordinate Timed Drills with Cognitive Stress Drills to both Induce Stress and reinforce                           Discretionary Shooting

We saw an example of this in the second drill in the FSB Vid above. When me make the shooter engage the cognitive part of his brain while addressing threats we make him reinforce Discretionary Shooting. The civilian has to remember that in our overly eager “lawsuit happy” litigious society, that for every bullet he fires in self-defense, there will be a lawyer and a lawsuit attached to each one! So, as the LE/Military Operator has to make sure he can control the trajectory of each round he fires to avoid collateral damage, so must the civilian operator be certain that every round he fires is as responsible as possible.

One of the best Cognitive Targets is the multi-colored/shaped and numbered paper targets from LE Targets. We saw something very similar in the video, where a certain number/color/shape had to be shot while at the same time  negotiating various “stressors” (people yelling/pushing him). To be realistic as possible, the CO should use both Environmental and Physiological stressors.  Environmental Stressors would include things such as random gunfire, people yelling and screaming, car horns, etc. Physiological Stressors would include your own body’s reaction to stress, such as: increased heart-rate, sweaty palms, sweat in your eyes, tunnel vision, loss of fine motor skill, slowing down of time, etc. Prior intense exercise combined with timed evolutions and a continuous flow of movement will produce some of these effects.

 4. Movement = Life

Gunfights do not happen in a vacuum; they are dynamic and fluid and a majority of the time, over in under a minute. Despite what you see from Hollywood, when bullets start flying, people start moving, very quickly and to cover if possible. If our training is to be realistic, we must place a higher priority on displacement (ie Getting off the X) and moving toward cover than being able to shoot precisely 100% of the time. I remember a certain instructor once asking me if it was more important to “shoot the enemy” or “not get shot”; being young and full of piss and vinegar, I answered it was more important to be able to kill the enemy, thinking the alternative answer would make me sound like a coward. I was wrong. “If you get shot, your combat efficiency goes to ZERO, you are of no use.” To fully understand this concept, consider the OODA loop; when we move, even if it just a simple lateral sidestep, we reset our opponents OODA loop, he now has to REACT to you versus ACT on you, which puts you seconds ahead of the eight ball in the fight, and seconds count!

5. Fitness and the “Combative Continuum”

The age-old false belief that having a gun solves all your problems needs to be dismissed. It has encouraged laziness and lethargy in the area of CO fitness for some time. Being that most civilian shootings are well under 10 feet, having a set of combative strikes in your toolbox to gain both distance and time from your attacker is mandatory. You also have to understand that not all encounters will call for lethal force. The student must have the mentality of “One Mind, Any Weapon” and believe that no matter what they have in their hand; stick, knife, gun or even bare-fisted, they can still fight and inflict damage (even lethal), if need be. By the same token, if the CO is out of breath 15 seconds into the fight, or has zero upper body strength, everything we just talked about is a moot point. Now before you get discouraged because of age or disability, I am not talking about a “Rambo” Fitness routine, just a basic set of cardio and resistance/strength training that is tailored around handling the effects of stress during a fight. Combative sparring combined with Force-on-Force drills with training weapons is a great way to begin.

6.  The “Sight Continuum” Concept

Simply put, the Sight Continuum poses the question to the student: “When do you have to use your sights?” The KISS answer: “When you need too.” Understanding that the need for accuracy varies in combat shooting, unlike Competition shooting, where a majority of people have learned basic marksmanship (ie, The Modern Technique). Understanding that in Combat Shooting, Distance and Need for Precision are going to be the two biggest factors in having to use your sights. If a bad guy is 6 feet from you and closing with quickly, the need for sighted fire is a moot point, (unless of course he has a hostage and you can only take a head shot, in which case, a fast precision shot comes into play) otherwise, a “metal-on-meat” sight picture (the frame of the gun super-imposed on the attackers center of mass) would allow a much faster response.  The bottom line is that both sighted fire and point shooting have a role in the CO’s training, it is just a matter of understanding that no two combat situations are going to be alike (ie the continuum concept) and we must have both methods in our arsenal to call on equally to be adequately prepared.

This lapel-cam video of a December 13th shooting involving the Albuquerque Police Department involving an attempted officer assault by a hammer wielding maniac shows the speed, distance and sight picture of your average handgun engagement. Note the sight picture that the officer has when he begins firing, around 1:00; although the gun sights are visible, it appears the officer is using more of a “metal-on-meat” sight picture (the super-imposed image of the handgun frame on the attackers center of mass). Could this be because of the effects of stress the officer’s focus was not on the “front sight” but the guy charging his partner with a hammer? The distance (under 6 ft) did not demand a lot of accuracy, but the speed and veracity of the bad guys attack did demand getting rounds on target ASAP; thus the merit’s of point shooting in the CO’s toolbox.

In order to stay prepared, the CO’s  training HAS to reflect STREET reality, not Hollywood Fantasy!

Stay Armed, Stay Real and Stay Dangerous!

How Realistic are your Rifle Drills?

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“The rifle is a weapon. Let there be no mistake about that. It is a tool of power, and thus dependent completely upon the moral stature of its user. It is equally useful in securing meat for the table, destroying group enemies on the battlefield, and resisting tyranny. In fact, it is the only means of resisting tyranny, since a citizenry armed with rifles simply cannot be tyrannized.”

Colonel Jeff Cooper, USMC Ret.

 

Taking this thought into consideration, the CO needs to be constantly evaluating his rifle drills to ensure they are Real-World Applicable and not “Gun Range Fantasy”.

The over-emphasization of accuracy and non-integration of movement and cover are the primary culprits in “Fantasy Gunfighting.”

I have put together a short list of drills that I use regularly. Take into account all of these drills can be “tweaked” to emphasize any number of challenges, such as reloads, malfunctions, multiple targets, etc.

As a sidenote, always take time to emphasize marksmanship fundamentals (sights, breathing, trigger, trigger, trigger!!) before moving into real world drills.

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1. Snap Shots

Quite possibly one of the most neglected skills with a rifle but one of the most needed in the field.

A Rifle Snap Shot can be likened to that quick camera shot you have had to make sometimes on a vacation. You did not plan on taking it, but there it is in front of you, either make it or miss the opportunity for a great picture, the difference being of course with a rifle, either kill the enemy or he kills you!

COVER and MOVEMENT IS LIFE.

Cover stops bullets from perforating your body and killing you.

A Moving Target is always harder to hit than a stationary one.

So to tie Snap Shots and Cover together, snap shots CAN BE as much about “COVER FIRE” as anything else, even if you do not have a high percentage shot, I can promise you, if you shoot at somebody it will buy you time to get to cover (if cover is available to move too of course).

Setting up staggered targets at 25, 50 and 75 yards, move to each yardage marker (I use 50 gallon drums for markers and cover) and work on snap shots; emphasizing speed and movement, fire between 1-3 shots at each target while getting to cover.

What should I see?

At these distances, for open sights with an AK or AR, simply super-imposing your front aperture on the mass of the target is sufficient, DO NOT take time to line up the shot with rear and front apertures!

If using a red dot or similar, DO NOT take time to put the dot on the center of mass!! It is sufficient that the target is framed in the “window” of the sight.

Remember: Speed of Movement!

 

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2. Positional Shooting

 

  • Standing

  • Sitting

  • Kneeling

 

2. Shooting from Prone

The ground offers the shooter two BIG advantages that are often overlooked:

  • Makes you a SMALLER target and able to take advantage of cover quickly

  • Gives you STABILITY for more accurate shots

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3. Cognitive Stress Drills

A skill rarely emphasized much less taught in today’s rifle schools is DISCRETIONARY SHOOTING.  Now I know it is of some debate whether “No Shoots” have any place in CIVILIAN Self-Defense shooting as they do in Law Enforcement Training. The argument being; Why teach a civilian to hesitate at all with their weapon when their life is in danger? Isn’t that eventually just creating more risk for the student? After all, a civilian is not under the same scrutiny as a LEO, right? My answer to this is unequivocally NO!! If anything, CS Drills offer more protection for the civilian student. I mean look at the George Zimmerman trial as an example..look at the spotlight put on that man and his actions (granted there were a lot of factors other than self-defense in play there) but still, when you go into a self-defense trial, you want the entirety of your actions to be UNDENIABLY, BEYOND A REASONABLE DOUBT, JUSTIFIED! 

Imagine if Zimmerman had “accidentally” wounded or killed somebody during the shooting? His actions then would have been seen as reckless and indifferent..even though he had still acted out of pure self-defense. Teaching a student to ensure that his background is clear and that they have clearly ID’d their target ensures this; and the only way to TRAIN that into somebody is COGNITIVE STRESS. Now, Cognitive Stress is more than just “CHECKING YOUR BACKGROUND” and “NO SHOOTS” during a course, it is also engaging the “rational” side of the brain during the very exacting mechanical process of shooting a gun. Remember: You can NEVER “Take Back” a bullet…there are no “resets” in real life.

One of the ways to integrate CS Drills is  the use of LE Targets  DT-4C “Command Training, Shape and Color” paper targets. These targets have a variety of shapes, colors and numbers, which allow the instructor to  call out a variety of commands to make the shooter “Think” before pulling the trigger. Commands such as “Squares” or “Number 5”, “All Red” or “Odds” can be called out…this gives the drill variety and makes it engaging to the student also.

The Instructor is also doing his or her students a giant favor in adding this degree of SAFETY (and TACTICAL PRECISION) to the course. If in the event a student is involved in a self-defense shooting, when their personal training records are inevitably pulled by the DA, it will show that they went that extra step to ensure that they trained only to kill the bad guy efficiently and not wound or kill innocent by-standers. In this uber-litigious society that we live in, think of it as extra insurance!

in Closing, when you go out to drill guys, don’t use it as an “Ego Petting” session!! Drill on the stuff you SUCK AT, not just the things you can rock thru and ace! Staying REAL is the mark of a True Warrior..Ego Petting is the for the weak, lame ass mall ninja!

Stay Realistic, Stay Deadly and Stay Dangerous!