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PPSC Training Division

Remedial Handgun Training Recommendations



By Thomas J. Aveni

Staff Member, PPSC

    When an officer fails to meet or maintain the base level marksmanship standard established by (1) the agency, or (2) the State or Federal authority that has established those standards, trainers should be able to fall back on a pre-established regimen for remediating the officer whose skills are deficient.

    Trainer's should NOT merely continue to have the officer re-fire the qualification course until he/she has finally met minimum standards. As common as that approach may be, it creates the perception that an officer has been deemed "qualified" even if the officer "failed" the prescribed course of fire ten times before finally meeting the standard. This approach has always invited the comparison, "even the blind squirrel will eventually find an acorn."

    Trainer's must accept the fact that a failed qualification course is indicative of underlying problems that must be specifically diagnosed and then remedied. Anything less may well appear negligent when examined at a later time and in a venue very likely to be unfriendly..

    When proceeding with the diagnostic phase of the remediation process, employ a target medium that will effectively serve that purpose. The PPSC "Two-Yard Shot Break Target" (Illustration Below) is an example of this concept.

    At two yards, we attempt to mentally condition the officer to confine his/her thoughts to the task at hand. That task entails the application of absolute mental focus in firing individual shots. In the drill that we employ, two shots are fired on command, each from the "Ready-Gun" position. The target aiming point is a 1/2"diameter black-dot. In doing this, we assist the officer is visualizing the prescribed task. The visualization process is aided by an on-target representation of the desired sight picture (lower left corner of target).

    Never over-complicate this process. Most trainers tell students that marksmanship is a "95% mental process," but then fail to follow up in reinforcing that concept. Make your point in describing the process involved, and then step back and allow the officer to focus on that task.

    Remember, once we've confirmed proper grip and stance in a remedial officer, the process from that point on becomes one of "hand & head."

(1) Hand:  Input at this stage will depend somewhat on which handgun technique (e.g., Weaver, Isosceles, etc.) is being taught. Generically speaking, one might start by assuring that the strong hand has acquired proper purchase of the handgun before having the officer employ his/her support hand into a two-handed grip. Diagnosis: Is the the bore axis of the handgun in alignment with the officer's strong arm? Is the web of the strong hand as high as we can safely position it on the backstrap of the handgun? Is the first joint of the trigger finger centered on the trigger? Proper grip must be maintained throughout the exercise. Perhaps even more importantly, smooth consistent trigger press must be exhibited until the shot breaks. Coach the student to then only release the trigger far enough to establish trigger reset. Once coached in this manner, we begin to see finger contact with trigger maintained. The reason why our remedial drill requires the officer to fire two rounds per command is to facilitate the trigger reset concept on the follow-up (second) shot.

(2) Head: Remedial shooters, almost without exception, have frail concentration skills while on the range. They may be consumed by thoughts of their own self-fulfilling expectations of failure with a handgun. Trainers should attack this problem without exacerbating it. To do this we must convince the trainee that where his/her last shot went (on target) is NOT as important as where his/her next shot will go. They are informed that if they are so distracted by where their last shot went that they'll surely send their next shot on a similarly errant path.

    Is the conditioning of proper mindset easier said than done? Of course it is. But, some old range wisdom should be resurrected at this point. Applying an expression credited to Jeff Cooper's old Gunsite days, officers should be told to completely block out ALL thoughts from their minds while engaging the target, EXCEPT for one simple phrase: "FRONT-SIGHT...PRESS." The officer is coached into mentally repeating (saying it aloud is counter-productive) the "Sight-Press" phrase in a manner that elicits affirming SIGHT alignment while slowly and smoothly applying the rearward "PRESS" of the trigger. Convince the officer that if they follow this simple mental process they'll see the round go where they mentally willed it to go. There are other fringe benefits that you may wish to share with the officer at a later time. Since the handgun's discharge will generally NOT be anticipated using this approach, common remedial issues such as flinch and the all-too-common anticipatory forward "push" of the handgun are often eliminated.

    When the remedial officer has demonstrated the ability to consistently  fire his/her rounds into the 1/2" aiming dot at two yards, both "Hand & Head" skills have risen to a level commensurate with those needed for successfully completing the qualification course.

   Remember, there is always a "point-of-diminishing-returns" with pushing a remedial officer too long on the range. Drill them for 5-10 minutes, assess their progress, and then allow them to relax. During the relaxation phases, provide them with very concise feedback. Advise them of where they've improved to ease any frustrations, and then address what you perceive to be their most critical error. Remember, being gentle and diplomatic in this feedback process won't make you a wimp. There may be a time and place for the Drill Sergeant approach, but this isn't one of them. Unless of course you don't want them to meet prescribed standards!

    In all of my years working with (over 12,000) firearms trainees, I've come to view remedial training as the defining issue in one's ability as a firearms trainer. I've always told my officers that if they failed to meet standards, I had failed to do my job as a trainer. Having said that, can you reasonably be expected to rehabilitate every officer who fails to meet standards?

Of course not.

    There will be physical disabilities (i.e., hand and arm injuries, arthritic conditions, etc.) that will be difficult to overcome. Perhaps just as troubling are those with an intense psychological aversion to firearms and/or the use of deadly force. People with such a psychological pre-disposition should have been screened-out of the policing profession in the pre-employment phase.  Of course, that doesn't happen as reliably as we'd like it to, and trainer's will ultimately be tasked with advising their administration of such issues when they arise.

    Do your very best with those you've been tasked to work with. Be as fair and impartial as is humanly possible. Document every substantive thing you do as a trainer. Maintain an open and objective mindset to new training concepts, yet resist "new paradigms" until they've been proven productive.

    The core responsibilities you've been tasked with as firearms trainers have never been more important than what they are today. And, the efforts you expend today will likely pay dividends long after you've retired. Endeavor to maintain that faith and outlook when confronted with adversity.

Tom Aveni