Downrange Practice

“It’s a downrange world, better get used to it.”

LAPD Officer Involved Shooting 022-12

In this instance, several officers utilized lethal force in order to defend themselves, their fellow officers and bystanders in a vehicle stopped on the side of the freeway from the perceived imminent threat posed by the Subject. While engaging the Subject in order to stop his actions, the two bystanders inside the vehicle were in the foreground.

Any time an officer (or officers) utilizes lethal force, and the [Board Of Police Commissioners] learns that bystanders were in the foreground, the BOPC takes into consideration the totality of the circumstances, including their articulation of the threat and the psychological effects which occur during high stress situations. Here, there were several officers who not only knew the bystanders were in the foreground, but articulated firing in defense of them. For instance, one of the reasons that Officer E fired was due to the Subject approaching Witness A’s vehicle and there being two people observed inside.

Most people don’t often consider the possibility that innocent persons, perhaps family members, will be downrange during a criminal confrontation. I call this “The Myth of the Lone Gunman.” However, it is a fairly common occurrence. Why? Simply because your family members are with you much of the time. This month’s Armed Citizen column relates several such incidents.

The angle of attack chosen by a criminal predator is unlikely to have anything to do with where your family members are in relation to you at the time. What if a family member, and not you, is the victim of the assault? In that case, you are almost guaranteed to have a family member downrange.

Any armed confrontation is going to be a difficult situation. Throw in the stress of having a loved one or innocent bystander downrange and it’s going to get a lot worse.

Something that very few people consider is the human dynamics of a violent home invasion. In such an incident, it’s very common for the male of the house to become involved in a physical struggle with the invaders. The lady of the house then becomes the one having to do the shooting. Meghan Brown’s incident is a good example of how this often plays out.

In that kind of situation, having little or no marksmanship ability could become a problem. The ability to make a good decision about shooting will be essential to a positive outcome. When talking about Decisional Shooting, the discussion almost always revolves around the legal factors such as Ability, Opportunity, and Jeopardy. However, other key components, just as important, will be:

  • “Do I have the marksmanship ability to pull this off?”
  • “Is my weapon capable of doing this?”
  • “Am I in a position to make this shot or do I need to re-position?”
  • “What will be the effect of having my bullet perforate (go through both sides) of the target?”
  • “Do I have the emotional wherewithal to do this with a loved one downrange?”

Using a shotgun, either long gun or pistol, can greatly complicate that question of weapon capability. There are ways of mitigating the risk with a shoulder fired shotgun but not eliminating it. Except for a contact shot, handheld shotguns, such as ‘The Judge,’ become almost useless when a non-threat is downrange.

The perforation issue has to be considered. In at least one case in Texas, a woman killed her husband, while trying to save him, because of perforation and poor marksmanship. That’s not the outcome she was looking for, I’m sure.

Having the emotional wherewithal is not something that can be taken for granted. I know of students who demonstrated they were perfectly capable of performing the task at the range. When a picture of a friendly face was put on the hostage, they refused to shoot. That’s an issue.

I have watched over 100 iterations of a Force on Force scenario where the defender was deliberately presented with a clear shot on a hostage taker at a range of 10 feet. The hostage was adjacent, at arm’s length, not in front of the attacker. The number of students who chose to take the shot without closing to contact distance could be counted on the fingers of one hand. As Ken Hackathorn says: “You are unlikely to do anything under stress that you are not subconsciously sure you can do well.”

It would probably be wise to practice the obstructed downrange shot regularly. I devised a drill specifically for this.


Even at an indoor range, there are usually hostage targets available. The way to use them is to practice taking one shot at a time, though. Do it for a full magazine, starting each single shot from a ready position. Keep the range short, less than 4 yards, that’s the decision point in terms of proxemics.


Don’t wait to take your practice until the real thing happens. On the Job Training isn’t a ‘best practice’ for this scenario.

3 responses

  1. […] to make a shot on the home invader while I’m actively fighting them. The need to make a ‘downrange friendly’ shot is a very real possibility. It is a more likely shot for average Joe Gunowner than the […]

  2. […] might be a ‘downrange friendly‘ shot. From the brief description here, it sounds very likely that the wife had to shoot with […]

  3. […] to make a shot on the home invader while I’m actively fighting them. The need to make a ‘downrange friendly’ shot is a very real possibility. It is a more likely shot for average Joe Gunowner than the […]

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