One of the latest teaching methods in college and university speech and communication departments is to videotape students while they’re giving speeches. The purpose is to show them what they did well and that upon which they can improve.1 Videotaping allows a student to see the speech in the way an audience would, providing rapid, real-time feedback. The use of videotaping is also useful when it comes to firearms training.

All too often, firearms training involves an instructor telling a student what to do and then showing him or her how to do it, followed by observing the student performing the task on the range. Skills such as marksmanship, trigger control and holstering are all mastered in this way. But how do you prepare for a situation in which two home invaders kick in your door? While a good instructor can tell you how to respond in that situation, it’s difficult to practice it force-on-force.

Difficult … but not impossible.

Real-World Training

David McCullough, of Central Alabama Firearms Training LLC, offers a defensive concealed carry course that provides students with an opportunity to practice under real-world conditions and to understand the risks associated with defensive firearms. He couples this with a video “hotwash” that lets students see, in real time, what they did and what they failed to do.

The training involves a scenario, and keeping with the theme that you won’t know when or why you will need to use a firearm until you do, McCullough does not share with his students what scenario they will encounter. It might be an attack by a rapid mass murderer. It might be an ATM robbery. It could be a beating or an attack with a bladed weapon. Whatever it is, McCullough’s students have to respond in the moment based on their training, make decisions based on that scenario and then play the scenario out to the end. Even though they know this is role-playing, it can still be an intense experience. And for McCullough’s students, part of the intensity comes from experiencing the real perils of a gunfight in a safe and controlled environment.

It’s a safe bet that anyone who carries a firearm on a daily basis plans to avoid becoming a victim, and that means he or she plans to avoid being shot or stabbed. If there is a critical incident, he or she plans on doing the shooting to defend himself or herself — not be the one getting shot.

But incidents from around the country involving police officers and self-defenders alike demonstrate the real risks of engaging any violent criminal. If the assailant has a gun or a knife, there is a good chance you will be injured. That is why so many certified trainers like McCullough now offer “Stop the Bleed” classes atop their defensive wares. The risk is real, but how do you demonstrate that risk to individuals undergoing training without causing them physical harm?

Firearms Training with Simunition

McCullough found a solution: Early on, he employed protective gear and used Simunition training ammo from General Dynamics Ordnance and Tactical Systems.

“Simunition restricted what I wanted to do,” he said. “The rounds could not only hurt someone but [also] damage sheetrock, break glass and damage whatever they hit.”

McCullough wasn’t a fan of the protective gear either.

“The other disadvantage was the required protective gear you had to wear,” he stated. “I don’t like the gear because you cannot see a person’s face. It is unrealistic.”

Using the nonlethal firearms training ammo, each participant dressed in protective clothing: a full-face shield to protect the eyes, a drop-down protector for the sensitive throat area and groin protectors. Each student was then placed into a situation where he or she could choose to intervene and shoot (or run away if that was the more practical answer). Each student was armed with a modified Glock 19, and all personal firearms were locked in personal vehicles to prevent an accident.

When I took the course, my scenario involved two attackers beating a man with a baseball bat. While the bat was a whiffle-ball bat, the two gentlemen playing the role were big, vocal and convincing. When I ordered them to stop, the biggest one advanced toward me. I backed up, shouted a warning, then drew and discharged my “weapon.” While McCullough felt the protective gear made it less realistic, at the end of the scenario, my heart rate was well over 100. I had to catch my breath in order to make a mock 911 call. The stress hormones in my system made it difficult to talk.

Each “bad guy” had a helmet-mounted GoPro camera, and there were two stationary cameras mounted around the area where the scenario unfolded. Reviewing the footage afterward with an instructor, each student could see from multiple angles how he or she responded and performed.

A Shocking Switch

For the most part, McCullough has moved away from Simunition to a different system called the StressVest. This system uses laser-based technology with rounds that fire like real ammo but do not send a projectile. Instead, they activate a laser. Each trainee wears a vest that picks up that laser. He or she can wear the vest under his or her shirt and the laser still picks up the contact, and the laser will not harm the eyes under normal use. When the vest detects a hit from an incoming “round,” it delivers a short, safe shock to the abdomen.

“No special protective gear is required, so the role players can really show facial expressions and fully portray an out-of-control character,” McCullough points out.

The shock, while minimal, is enough to get the role players’ attention but not enough to cause harm.

“Our videos do not show shooters going down when hit,” he said. “Usually, the surprise of being hit makes them flinch and not even think of dropping.”

Video Recording Training Offers Instant Replay

While the StressVest is used by a variety of military, foreign service and police agencies all over the world, it probably is not the most valuable part of this training. Capturing the incidents and participants’ responses on video helps everyone understand what they did right and what they did wrong. Moreover, it helps seasoned instructors spot problems and demonstrate proper techniques in real time. For students, the experience is invaluable.

“Training is where you want people to make mistakes and learn from them,” McCullough declared. “If they have to use that training, that’s where having seen their mistakes helps them be safer and more effective.”

And people do make mistakes, which again demonstrates the value of video footage. While an instructor can tell someone he or she muzzle-swept another trainee, being able to show the footage to the student brings the point home.

One of the videos McCullough discusses shows his trainers running through a scenario with a church security team. The first few seconds of the scenario involve people casually coming in and sitting down inside the church. The individual who will later be identified as the attacker casually comes in and sits down behind another congregant. He surreptitiously draws a handgun and sets it on the pew; no one on the security team notices him do this. Then he gets into an argument with the man in front of him, but not until he stands does anyone notice he has a gun. The attacker fires at the man in front and then shoots at several others before he goes down.

The footage showed a few more trainable moments. In one, a bystander runs directly across a defender’s line of fire, and because of tunnel vision, the defender never even notices. Another team member apparently fails to recognize a colleague and points her sidearm at that team member. One team member even adopts a shooting stance and points her pistol at four different people who are her fellow security team members. While we would not want any of those situations to play out in the real world, the video actually shows more good than bad. It shows a rapid response and good use of cover by the entire team. The participants can learn from their mistakes and improve on what they did successfully.

In a different video, a trainee walks in on an ATM robbery and confronts the robber. He fires, but his gun malfunctions. He then seeks cover, clears the malfunction and takes down the assailant. Again, the video, which in this case is from a GoPro camera mounted on his hat, demonstrates the teaching value of instant replay.

While the use of Simunition and StressVest products by trainers measurably enhances training, the video portion can be accomplished with just a few body-mounted GoPro cameras and one or two tripod-mounted cameras. A few minutes’ work with software like Apple’s Final Cut Pro allow you to see multiple angles simultaneously. And the videos can not only help those being trained but also be used in later classes by instructors to show what should (and, perhaps more importantly, what should not) be done.

Beyond the Class

Training, of course, shouldn’t stop at the end of a class. Video can be useful when you’re practicing at the range.2 But more importantly, it can be used at home in combination with a device such as a shot timer, MantisX or CoolFire Trainer. Using the shot timer for a random initiation signal — and the MantisX for the actual shot timing and splits — makes it possible to train for real-world events. MantisX has built-in drills that allow you to present from concealment, and when you combine it with a CoolFire Trainer, multiple shots with recoil can be the reality of your training sessions. With video from the front and side, the trainee not only gets the benefit of the MantisX feedback but also gets video feedback related to gun movement, target acquisition, fluidity of the draw stroke and time from initiation to firing.

The best part is that you don’t need to go out and purchase an expensive video camera from a big-box store if you already have an iPhone or Android device. Such a device can shoot 1,080-pixel video, and Amazon sells tabletop tripods that hold your phone for this very purpose. Even better, you can edit out the unwanted parts of the video right on your phone.

Video footage can even improve your situational awareness. GoPro makes a hat mount that allows the camera to be fixed to the bill of a baseball cap. Mount the camera to the bill, turn the cap around and wear it like a catcher — then activate the camera and walk around your local mall or Walmart. You’ll be amazed at the things this simple exercise reveals, including the number of people who appear to be giving you the once-over.

Simply put, there is almost no training you can do involving firearms that isn’t made better by later reviewing it on video. Doing so gives you the opportunity to examine your strengths and flaws, which you will not have the opportunity to do in the wake of a real-life incident. As McCullough says, “Better to err during training than real life.”


(1) John Bourhis and Mike Allen, “The Role of Videotaped Feedback in the Instruction of Public Speaking: A Quantitative Synthesis of Published Empirical Research,” Communication Research Reports 15, No. 3 (1998): 256-61.

(2) Anthony L. DeWitt, “Instant Replay: Diagnosing Shooting Problems Through Video Analysis,” Concealed Carry Magazine (November/December 2019): 74-8.


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