Simulated scenario-based training can range from basic to complex. Firearms scenario training can be used like a capstone training element. After mastering the basics of safety, handling and operation, and marksmanship, turning to scenario simulation training can help to mentally prepare for self-defense incidents. This follows the “crawl, walk, run” teaching philosophy.

Types of Firearms Scenario Training

Any good scenario training will be intense and challenging. It will create opportunities for the student to think and act through plausible situations. The thought of taking a life, even in self-defense, is not one that people regularly partake in. Scenario-based training will force a defender to confront a potentially deadly threat and act in the morning. It can help those reluctant to use force become more willing to protect their own lives.

Here are some of the types of firearms simulation training that is potentially available:

Mental Rehearsal

Mental rehearsal is a technique many instructors, including myself, have taught over the years. It can prepare potential law enforcement officers to react to violent or dangerous situations. Mental rehearsal is essentially thinking through scenarios and plotting how to counter or handle those situations. It involves if-then thinking. For example: If a suspect does (make up an action) then I will do this (make up a reaction). It has long been known that mental rehearsal helps program your neural pathways, allowing you to handle that situation, should it occur. In this way, it won’t feel unfamiliar to you when it happens in real life.

Marksmanship Simulators

There are a number of basic marksmanship systems available for in-home training. While they don’t tend to emphasize decision-making, these simulators can help improve marksmanship in the privacy of your home or apartment. Systems often utilize laser modules inserted in a handgun or a simulated handgun. We used the Beamhit System in our police cadet academy for initial training in basic marksmanship, as well as for remedial training for students having problems with trigger management.

Training Through Live Role-Playing

I have also worked extensively with live role-playing over the years for civilians, cadets and cops. In live role-playing, an instructor runs through situations that defenders have maybe even mentally rehearsed previously. That is a great stepping stone. But it is hard to replace the feelings generated by another human being getting in your face — even when that person is an instructor who you know isn’t going to hurt you. Police departments offering self-defense training classes or martial arts schools may provide this type of training. Don’t neglect unarmed self-defense training.

Computerized Video Simulation

Computerized video training simulations are great systems but are cost-prohibitive for individual purchase. Our police academy is now on its fourth simulator system, having run the gambit from cumbersome VHS video deck up to our current high-speed system on a laptop.

Some advantages of training with video simulation:

  1. Run in a classroom environment
  2. Provide instant feedback
  3. Shots fired can be frozen and reviewed shot-by-shot
  4. Outcomes can be changed based on the trainees’ reactions
  5. Scenarios force the trainee to react verbally and physically
  6. There is no chance of injury

There are various indoor range facilities across the U.S. that incorporate a variety of different types of computerized decision-making simulators.

Live-Fire Simulation Training

While computerized simulation training exists at some indoor ranges, many do not accommodate live fire. An easier way to simulate scenario-based training with your own handguns or shotguns may be to participate in action pistol shooting matches.

Some of these matches are quite elaborate and can involve the use of steel targets, paper targets, shoot/don’t shoot targets, and fire and maneuver techniques. The first match I went to involved a stage where the course began with entry through a wooden door before engaging targets. Another stage involved shooting around an abandoned vehicle. The event was high pressure and very fun. Even if you don’t take home a prize, action pistol matches are a great skill builder.

How Often Should You Train on Scenarios?

One of the things I frequently encountered with simulation training was people wanting to go through it more often than would be beneficial (especially likely on the computer simulators). While preparing the mind for a high-stress event ahead of time is ideal, too much repetition can lead to a gaming mindset. If you find yourself simply going through the motions, stop for a while and return at a later date. Your mind is likely not gaining the necessary benefits of scenario-based training.

As far as action pistol type shooting goes, I can’t emphasize that type of simulation enough—go as often as you can—as long as the match courses of fire are changed. Similarly in action pistol matches; mastering a course may be fun, but doing the same one repeatedly doesn’t push you to further develop your skills.