A gun safety failure that goes deep into a flawed training methodology.

A gun safety failure that goes deep into a flawed training methodology.

From Washington state, our neighbor to the north, comes an interesting news article about a fellow who managed to put a round into a neighbor’s abode while practicing his “quick draw”.

There’s a lot to say about this incident beyond just the safety failures. What struck me, however, wasn’t his gun handling stupidity; is was the erroneous training decisions he made before he ever committed a safety violation. It’s one of those decisions that I want to discuss today.

First, an illustrative digression: many years back I was in (ironically) Washington state shooting a “tactical” match. One of the stages had the shooter standing in front of a single cardboard target with simple directions: at the buzzer, draw and put one round into the IPSC “A” zone as fast as you can; re-holster, and repeat for a total of five shots.

I was using a Colt Python in a straight-drop tunnel-loop holster and realized that I could easily ‘game’ the stage. The target was set abnormally low for a person of average height, which made it just right for me. All I needed to do was pull the gun from the holster, raise the muzzle to place it parallel with the ground at roughly my mid-torso, and fire. I never reached extension; it looked very much like an old FBI point shooting technique. My first draw and fire was .85 seconds and they got a little faster from there. If my memory is accurate, the fastest was something like .70 seconds. All were hits.

It was an interesting exercise and I’m sure that there are those out there who think it a good defensive shooting drill, but it’s not. I was standing in front of a target which had been identified for me, the area of precision I needed to hit was predefined, I had already determined exactly what I was going to do, and I had my hands in the perfect place waiting for a buzzer which I knew was my permission to shoot. It meant nothing other than I was really fast under those artificial conditions, regardless of the importance given it by anyone else.

The fellow from the news account made a similar error of concluding that his “quick draw” was a significant thing to practice — so much so that he absolutely needed a realistically weighted magazine to make the drill complete. There are legions of people out there just like him, oblivious to the reality that how fast one can draw is really not the most important part of their response  in a defensive shooting encounter. Far more important is the ability to first recognize that an attack is happening, then efficiently process that information and recall the skills necessary to respond appropriately. Watch enough surveillance video of defensive shootings and you’ll quickly notice that the biggest time sink isn’t the execution of the learned skills — the quick draw — it’s almost always in the recognition and recall.

Practicing the drawstroke by itself is called “skills in isolation”, and it’s a common error people make in practicing for defensive shooting. Is getting the gun out of the holster important? Yes, it is. But learning to react to a threat stimulus, efficiently process that information and develop the mental linkage which allows relevant skills to be performed without cognitive thought, is more important. Skills need context, a real relationship to the circumstances in which they’ll be used, in order to be useful.

Draw practice, pulling the gun from the holster after getting ready and knowing ahead of time what you’re going to do, is a simple mechanical action. It’s an athletic skill, nothing more, and relative to all the other things you need to do in a critical situation not even the most important. Figuring out that you actually have a situation where you need to shoot, and figuring out WHO you need to shoot, is more important and usually the most time consuming.

How should one realistically practice? A good defensive practice routine involves processing information and making decisions. It requires a random start command, one that forces the shooter to think about what he’s doing, identify what he’s dealing with, recognize the precision required, and recall the skills necessary to make the shot(s).

Can this be done at home? To a certain extent, yes. Having a training partner, or a smartphone app which randomizes the target calls and rounds needed, is a must. Couple that with one of the laser shot designators which are affordably available allows the kind of contextual training which is actually valid to developing self defense skills.

(There is a caveat: this is no substitute for doing the exercises in live fire. Shooting multiple ‘shots’ without recoil and muzzle blast is of no use. This kind of training is really only valuable to the extent of developing the necessary processing skills and verifying that the first ‘shot’ hits.)

The way I see it, this fellow set himself up for failure by insisting on practicing something of relatively minor importance, and doing so without any context to a real need. Forget about the safety rule violations for now — his first mistake was making a poor decision about what he was going to “practice”. The rest was simple negligence.

-=[ Grant ]=-

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On December 7, 2011