During my law enforcement career, I had the opportunity to train with countless revolvers, pistols, rifles, submachine guns and shotguns. After I retired and became a freelance writer, I continued to field-test and train with numerous firearms. If there is one concept that I would stress as important over all others from the totality of my years of firearms-related experiences, it’s confidence.
When a rookie law enforcement officer attends the police academy, he or she fires roughly 2,000 rounds of ammunition and is required to achieve a certain level of proficiency. Even though some officers are more proficient with firearms than others, each one has to meet the minimum training standards or face the consequences of failing to do so.
Unless there is a training requirement in your jurisdiction, the average legally armed citizen is under no obligation to establish a level of proficiency, let alone maintain one, with the firearms he or she chooses to carry. It is critical that every legally armed citizen hold himself or herself accountable, which means training at the same level as a police officer. The good news is that you don’t have to actually be a police officer to do so.
‘P for Pathetic’
In the early 1990s, I found myself qualifying with other U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel. After we finished shooting, we checked our targets. When one of our firearms instructors put the letter “P” on my target, I jokingly remarked, “P for Perfect.” As soon as I made that comment, this particular firearms instructor shot me a look of annoyance and told me it stood for “Pass or, as some of us put it, Pathetic.”
According to this veteran firearms instructor, the transition to a “pass/fail” scoring policy was being instituted to prevent sworn officers who weren’t good shots from feeling bad about their low shooting scores. Regardless of the motivation behind the implementation of this new policy, most officers would continue to strive to achieve perfect scores.
Confidence Is Vital
The best firearms training I had during my career was through U.S. Customs and Border Protection. One reason for this was because, unlike some agencies that qualified once a year, we qualified four times each year. We also had to achieve a passing score with every firearm we elected to carry. So if you wanted to carry a pair of S&W revolvers or a pair of 9mm SIG P228 pistols, you had to qualify with both handguns, even though the guns were identical. This policy was strictly enforced to ensure that every firearm you carried was fully functional.
Despite the pass/fail scoring policy, individual firearms instructors pushed us to be better than just average. We trained under the most realistic circumstances imaginable and with live ammunition. In addition to engaging targets from a seated position (as from sitting in a vehicle), we also went through a combat course that was designed by the firearms instructors assigned to Miami Air Operations. This involved moving alone and with other sworn personnel and from one position of cover to another — all while engaging targets and executing reloading drills. Atop that, we performed downed-officer drills and engaged rows of metal plates while moving from multiple positions.
This training was designed to be comprehensive and intense, because like other sworn personnel, U.S. Customs Officers and Special Agents operate in varying circumstances and environments. This includes operating on land, at sea, in the air, in remote locations and even in foreign territory, with little or no support. Conducting armed vessel-boarding operations in Customs waters, flying air interdiction missions and participating in ground-based border area enforcement actions also often compelled us to perform our duties while outnumbered. This included when we worked undercover and met one or more major violators.
Law enforcement officers routinely go into harm’s way, often while outnumbered or, at the very least, while being compelled to engage a single combative, hostile individual.
We also executed high-risk sting operations known as “controlled deliveries.” A controlled delivery usually included an investigative component, an undercover component and a surveillance activity and ended with a tactical operation or enforcement action. These usually involved executing an open-air assault, a well-staged motor vehicle takedown or the dynamic entry of a dwelling, storage facility, hangar, marina or commercial building to arrest major violators.
In the post-9/11 era, U.S. Customs and other law enforcement aviation personnel began training as Aerial Rifle Operators. This highly specialized firearms training prepares designated sworn personnel to accurately engage threats from a moving or hovering helicopter. After I retired, I had the opportunity to become familiar with this type of advanced firearms training at the Dillon Aero facility in Arizona.
Law enforcement officers routinely go into harm’s way, often while outnumbered or, at the very least, while being compelled to engage a single combative, hostile individual. I mention all this to drive home the following point: Combining the proper training with experience enables an armed professional to develop the necessary confidence and to effectively cope with different types of threats when necessary. In fact, as a result of this training and experience, I always felt comfortable going in harm’s way, regardless of the firearms that I carried.
Even though I am now retired, I still feel the same way today as I did when I was active. This is why a well-trained and experienced individual doesn’t necessarily need to be armed with a high-capacity pistol in order to survive in every situation, but that is probably a discussion better left for another time.
Perpetual and Versatile Training
But how can the average legally armed citizen effectively cope with a wide range of potential threats when he or she hasn’t had the opportunity to receive any advanced (or even basic) law enforcement firearms and tactical training? For starters, he or she needs to make a commitment to becoming properly trained in general firearms handling, and training is a process that never ends. In other words, as long as you elect to carry firearms, you should never feel like you are “trained enough.”
Your first challenge will be to locate a truly qualified firearms instructor. I recommend that you train under the tutelage of a properly trained and experienced active-duty, honorably retired or honorably separated (former but not retired) armed professional. Training under the right instructor is critical to ensure that your training will be conducted safely.
I recommend that you train under the tutelage of a properly trained and experienced active-duty, honorably retired or honorably separated (former but not retired) armed professional.
Every effort should be made to participate in firearms training outdoors in diverse weather conditions. Your training needs to be diversified, because the day could come when you will have to use deadly force under less-than-ideal conditions and circumstances. This includes training with and without wearing gloves and carrying a firearm concealed under layers of clothing. Lacking experience in this area could make you hesitate and fumble for your handgun during an emergency.
If this sounds like a lot all at once, not to worry. Your training must also be taken in stages, so never think you have to jump right from beginner to drawing from concealment while wearing gloves in a rainstorm in one afternoon. Take your time and make sure not to get out ahead of yourself.
Speaking of which, once you have mastered the basics and are ready to kick things up a notch, you can run through a law enforcement agency firearms qualification course with every firearm that you use for concealed carry and home defense. You should also get into the habit of test-firing every firearm and magazine that you purchase, being certain to use different brands and types of ammunition. I also strongly suggest that you conduct some of your training with the premium hollow-point ammunition that you intend to use for defense.
Learn to Fight by Fighting
One of the best ways to further develop your capabilities is to participate in a properly administered Simunitions Training Exercise. Using a specially converted simunitions firearm enables you to suit up in protective gear and engage other participants in realistic scenarios. Such training is an excellent way to dramatically increase your gunfighting capabilities and your overall confidence. It’s also a great way to test your knowledge of the laws governing the different levels of force, and it gives you a chance to feel and mitigate the adrenaline surge inherent in violent confrontations. That’s tough to do on a static range.
Finding the Right Gun
Since I’m advising you on how to train and carry like a law enforcement officer, I advise that you only carry premium-brand firearms. If you can’t afford a new top-end firearm, locate a used firearm in very good to excellent condition. Any pistol or revolver that you purchase must also be ergonomic (comfortable to grip) and easy to physically manipulate. If necessary, you can improve the ergonomics by adding aftermarket rubber grip augmentations, such as those from Talon Grips.
Any pistol that is carried for personal protection and home defense should also be equipped with night sights. If you can swing it, installing the same brand and type of nights sights on all of your pistols used for personal protection will ensure that you maintain the same sight picture, making operation during emergencies simpler. I also strongly recommend that you purchase additional magazines beyond what each of your firearms sells with.
Any pistol that is carried for personal protection and home defense should also be equipped with night sights.
Mec-Gar manufactures incredibly well-made units that are available both as Mec-Gar-branded mags and as the magazines that ship with plenty of new firearms. If magazine-shopping isn’t as simple as buying Glock 19 boxes, Mec-Gar is a good place to start. Maintaining more magazines than are necessary for your daily carry loadout will enable you to keep a firearm in service at all times by rotating your supply of magazines and not letting the loss or failure of one bring you down to dangerously low on spares.
Every firearm that you carry should be capable of achieving the same results. If you are looking to train and shoot like a top-flight law enforcement officer and are unable to achieve close to a perfect score on a law enforcement qualification course with a five-shot .38 snub-nosed revolver or a micro .380 pocket pistol, maybe it’s time to look into a sidearm that is easier to shoot.
‘Enough’ Training is Never Enough
As you progress in your training, you can increase your training tempo. Regardless of tempo or progression time though, it is critical to continue training. Enough is never enough. Experience and training lead to confidence, and confidence is essential to be a competent and skilled shooter, which is what can — and does — save lives.