Defensive training in context: even dinosaurs like the FBI evolve!

Defensive training in context: even dinosaurs like the FBI evolve!

A story in USA Today a few weeks ago is potentially good news for defensive shooting training in the private sector: the Federal Bureau of Investigation recently overhauled their own training protocols. (Please go read the article – it’s surprisingly good.)

The FBI went back through 17 years of data and analyzed the kinds of gunfights their agents faced. They concluded their training, which historically emphasized long distance marksmanship, wasn’t applicable to the threats their agents were actually encountering in the field. That data convinced them they needed to instead emphasize fast, close-quarters reactive shooting. Starting in January, handgun training and qualification at the FBI changed to reflect the realities of the field.

This is a major shift for the FBI, an admission that what they’ve been teaching for decades didn’t match the circumstances under which they were actually shooting. They figured out that they needed to train in context: under the plausible conditions their agents would need to shoot. According the linked article, that means a greater emphasis on getting good hits in realistic strings of fire (3 or 4 rounds) at realistic distances (around 3 to 7 yards.)

What they found is surprisingly consistent with what researchers in the private sector have long known: that most defensive shootings come as a surprise and happen within roughly 15 feet, or about a car length (which makes sense when you think about it.)


Why is this good news for the private sector? Because many schools and trainers base their courses, to some degree, on what the FBI does. You’ll find lots of classes that use a variation of the (now ‘old’) FBI qualification course, shooting out to 25 yards and emphasizing tight groups irrespective of the precision required by the target. If these same instructors change to reflect the new FBI protocols they’ll have their students training and shooting at more realistic distances and under more realistic conditions, which will make them safer.

There will, of course, be those who won’t acknowledge what the FBI now knows (and the rest of us have known for years.) Just recently I saw a blog post (with accompanying videos) from a shooting school in California which insisted the only way for a student to be assured of performance in a defensive shooting was to practice precision marksmanship at long distances. If they did that, the article insisted, they would ‘automatically’ be able to shoot closer and faster.

That’s what the FBI used to think, too, but they’ve figured out it just isn’t true. They’ve learned that training under false expectations doesn’t lead to excellent performance when the conditions change; only training under those conditions of use will give the desired results.

The FBI has finally realized what many of the more progressive trainers in the private sector have been saying for years: training needs to be based on the realities of use, and being a “good shooter” at long distances does not magically translate to being able to efficiently defend yourself in a much closer, more rapid encounter. I hope that many instructors follow their lead and evolve their own programs in similar fashion!

-=[ Grant ]=-

  • Posted by Grant Cunningham
  • On February 6, 2013