Remedial Handgun Training
By Thomas J. Aveni
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).
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
Remember, once we've
confirmed proper grip and stance in a remedial officer, the
process from that point on becomes one of "hand & head."
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.
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
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.
©2004 The Police Policy Studies Council. All rights reserved.