Tag Archives: Defensive Pistol

Personal Performance Class Announcement

By popular demand, we’ve opened up our biannual Personal Performance Class to men as well as women. It will be held October 20, 2019 in Dahlonega, Georgia.

The focus of this class is a little different than most. There will be some coaching but the class is more about giving our clients a benchmark of where their shooting is at. From that benchmark, our clients will have a program they can follow after leaving the class to measure their ongoing performance level.

This is probably the only group class I will be teaching for the rest of the year. It is a joint effort between myself and Brian and Shelley Hill of The Complete Combatant.

The NRA Defensive Pistol I Marksmanship Qualification Program is the standard we use for the class. I’ve run hundreds of people through the program over the past six years. Having to shoot a Course of Fire that has a 100% hit standard is a quite a surprise for many (90%) of the shooters.

All participants will receive a Patch and rocker at the class. In addition, you will receive Rating rockers for the skill level(s) you achieve during the class. You will also receive a takeaway booklet to help you practice and advance in the Program after you’ve finished this class.

DP I Patch crop

Whether you’re a newer shooter or a more experienced shooter, I think you will find this class to be an eye-opener.

Click here for more details about the class.

Friday Fundamentals (Segment 4) Shooting with a flashlight

Several Negative Outcomes were brought to my attention this week. One was yet another incident of someone shooting their spouse, thinking it was a burglar. She died as a result of one shot to the chest.

The husband told police it was an accident. He told officers he woke up around 4:15 Saturday morning and heard noises in his house … He told investigators he grabbed his gun and when he saw a light on and someone standing in the distance, he took a shot. He said the person he ended up hitting once in the chest was his wife.

This sad situation bolsters my contention that when we pick up a pistol at home, we have to pick up a flashlight at the same time. That’s why I made flashlight shooting an integral part of The Tactical Professor’s Pistol Practice Program. To get some repetitions in and reinforce the habit for myself, I went to the range this week and shot the entire NRA Defensive Pistol I marksmanship program using a flashlight.

DPI tableAs a curiosity, I also used a timer instead of going by the PAR times in the program. The pistol I used was a Beretta Jaguar in .22 Long Rifle. Many in the industry poo-poo the .22 as a defensive tool but .22s have worked for me. An aspect of .22s I like in the practice context is that shooting several hundred rounds in one session isn’t punishing, either physically or financially. I shot it at my gun club but the way Defensive Pistol I is structured, it can be shot at just about any indoor range. That’s an aspect of the program I really like.

What I did was to have my pistol, my flashlight, and the timer on a stool in front of me. The target was downrange at the specified seven yards.

setup finalThe target was a B-27 with the NRA AP-1 8 ring and X ring marked on it with a template.

D-1 template 1When the timer went off, I would pick up my pistol and flashlight simultaneously, assume the cheek position, and then shoot the specified string of fire. For the phases requiring loading the pistol on the clock, I picked up the pistol and magazine, loaded it, and then picked up the flashlight. After each string, I recorded my times. The NRA provides a scoresheet but it is set up for Pass/fail scoring, so I made my own scoring matrix.

MQP scoresheetI checked the target after each string to make sure that I had the required 100 percent hits. At the end of each phase; Pro-Marksman, Marksman, etc., I marked the target with blue dots to cover my hits.

For most of the program, I used the cheek technique.

cheek techniqueThe Expert and Distinguished Expert phases require shooting from behind cover. There weren’t any barricades readily available so I used the dueling tree in the bay to simulate cover.

DE setup finalThe Expert phase requires shooting around both sides of the cover. When shooting around the left side, I continued to use the cheek technique. When shooting around the right side, I used the Harries technique.

Harries techniqueThe Distinguished Expert phase doesn’t specify shooting around both sides of the cover. However, it does requires eight runs instead of four, so I shot four around the right side and four around the left side.

I was able to maintain the 100 percent standard and got a good idea of my times to accomplish each Phase.

finish finalMQP scoresTo finish off the day, I used the dots to create some eyes on the target. Then I shot a couple of groups at five yards.

eyes finalGetting in relevant practice isn’t necessarily hard; it just requires a little creativity and forethought.

Structured practice (Part II)

Part I of this series focused on Dryfire Practice. Now let’s focus on livefire practice, especially for those who are new to pistol shooting. To learn, maintain, and improve physical skills, we have to practice them regularly. We also need a plan for how we are going to practice. In that regard, shooting a gun is no different from learning to throw or hit a ball.

The problem many people have is that when they go to the range to practice, they have no plan and use no structure. At least a motivated police officer has the course required for periodic qualification as a structure for practice. Competitive shooters have courses of fire, either for Classification purposes or something that was appealing in a match. Few Private Citizens have either of these, which is why the most common ‘practice’ is blasting 50 holes in a silhouette at 5 yards. Shooting a bunch of holes in a silhouette gives familiarity with recoil and muzzle blast but not much else. Something further is needed to develop skill.

A very good starting point for new shooters is the NRA’s Marksmanship Qualification Program,  which is really a marksmanship development program. This is a self-paced and self-administered program that the NRA has made available for decades. There are a number of different courses of fire available within the Program. The one I recommend for those who have just purchased a pistol for personal protection is Defensive Pistol I. DPI is designed to improve skills that contribute to a successful home defense.

Defensive Pistol I includes tasks such as:

  • Hit a target to an accuracy standard
  • Shoot within time limits
  • Pick the loaded gun up from a bench and then engage the target
  • Pick up and load an unloaded gun
  • Move to a position of cover
  • Shoot from behind cover
  • Issue a verbal challenge
  • Reload
Courtesy of NRA Training Division

Courtesy of NRA Training Division

Something I really like about Defensive Pistol I and II is that the accuracy standard is 100%, not a fraction thereof. The allowable area and time limits are generous but you have to make every shot count. As I mention periodically, every bullet you fire in an urban area that doesn’t hit your target is heading for a busload of nuns and orphans being followed by a limousine full of personal injury lawyers on a conference call with the District Attorney. We have to get used to the idea that the only safe backstop for our bullets is the criminal’s body, period.

The target area specified for the NRA program is the 8 ring of the NRA D-1 (Bianchi Tombstone) or equivalent. The 8 ring of the D-1 is 12 inches in diameter. The shooter must place five shots in the 12 inch circle at 7 yards within a time limit of 15 seconds. Many shooters I talk to think this is a very simple marksmanship task. The reality is that because of the 100% standard it’s not as easy as people think. In order to meet the standard for the first level (Pro-Marksman) of the program, the task has to be done four times. Therein lies the rub. I have run over 100 people through the program and only about 10% have passed on the first attempt. What happens is that on one or two runs, one shot will not hit the 12 inch circle. Sorry, you didn’t make it.

The good news is that the four runs don’t have to be done consecutively. If you mess up a run, just shoot another until you have four that meet the standard. My experience has been that 10 percent of shooters can do it in four runs, another 40% will make it in five runs, another 40% will make it in six runs, and the final 10% need a lot of coaching to get through it.

While the Tombstone target isn’t available at all ranges, the allowance for an ‘equivalent’ means you can make a template of the 8 ring and apply it to whatever target is available. Just take your template and a marker with you to the range. I cut mine in half and then taped the halves together with duct tape so it folds and fits easily in my range bag.

8 ring template

Once you get to the range, outline the template on your target and you’re ready to go. Be sure to take some kind of tape or marker with you so you can mark each run. Marking each run is how you learn to shoot well. As a general rule, I mark my targets after no more than 10 shots. When doing this program, you should mark your target after each string of fire, i.e., each five shots.

template on tgt

A new shooter can structure their practice sessions in many ways. What’s important is to plan what you do before you go to the range so you don’t waste your time and resources. The NRA program appeals to me because it’s already made up, it contains relevant skills, and it’s workable at most indoor ranges.

There are also awards available from the NRA for participating in the program. NRA membership is not necessary to participate. The NRA Marksmanship Qualification Program Booklet explains the entire program in detail. It is available for download from the NRA Training Division’s website.


Decision-making in the Kimball shooting

I am 62 and not nearly as strong as I once was. So long as he is only shouting, that’s where it will stay. Touch [me], I’m too old to fight. I will shoot.

An Internet Common Tater

Merrill “Mike” Kimball encountered one of the worst Negative Outcomes, being convicted of murder. Leon Kelley experienced the worst of them all, getting killed.

There are a number of items relating to decision-making, both during the confrontation and preceding it, that bear discussion in this case. Decisions are often made based on attitude and feelings, rather than facts. Most gun control arguments are rooted in feelings and we gunowners belittle anti-gunners for that. However, don’t think that the same reliance on fact rather than feeling can’t come back to haunt us in the courtroom.

An aspect of the Kimball shooting that I find interesting is that the ‘disparity of force’ aspect swayed the jury not at all. Leon Kelly was half a foot taller and outweighed Merrill Kimball by over 100 pounds but the jury didn’t care. The above Common Tater has the same attitude Mike Kimball displayed on October 6, 2013. Unfortunately, the jury didn’t see it that as a justification. A fear of serious bodily injury has to be seen as ‘reasonable.’ As a Maine defense attorney wrote on his blog

note the use of the word ‘reasonably’ [in the Maine statute]. Whimsical or irrational beliefs attributed to the defendant do not suffice.

Just because some of us are older (I’m 60) doesn’t mean we can think every assault is cause to respond with deadly force. This is why I tell every Defensive Pistol class I teach:

Failure to have an Intermediate Force option implies that all you are willing to do to protect yourself and your family is kill someone. That’s not a position I care to put myself in, nor should any rational adult.

For now, I’m not going to address the wisdom of even going to the scene of the confrontation, all things considered. However, if Mr. Kimball had carried a can of pepper spray with him, he probably wouldn’t be facing the probability of spending the rest of his life behind bars. I hear many objections to carrying pepper spray. Without exception, they are foolish, yet speciously alluring. As the prosecutor commented about the Kimball case:

People have a right to carry firearms, but the law only provides for use of firearms in defense in very limited and particular circumstances, and this was not one of them.

I would much rather carry a can of pepper spray than a spare magazine or a defensive knife. The chances you will need a spare magazine are infinitesimal. The reasons I hear for carrying a spare magazine tend to be:

  • Carrying an extra implies you know what you’re doing.
  • That you know that most semi-auto malfunctions are mag-related.
  • That you know to top off after the fight.
  • That you know that 6 rounds of .380 isn’t that much.
  • That there might be another adversary.

The chances you will need a non-lethal response to an ugly situation are much higher than any of those reasons. Being shoved, even repeatedly, is not sufficient legal provocation for a killing. Even if it was, do you want to kill someone in front of your wife and son, as Mr. Kimball did, unless it’s absolutely necessary? But if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Ponder the implications the next time you strap on your heater.

Cells in Alcatraz prison, San Francisco, California Author William Warby from London, England

Cells in Alcatraz prison, San Francisco, California
Author William Warby from London, England

Mistaken identity shootings

None of us can imagine the feelings that must occur in the case of a mistaken identity shooting of a family member. We don’t like to talk about this sort of thing in the gun community but it happens on a regular basis. Don’t let it happen to you, on either end.

I’ve written about this before and probably will again. It’s an avoidable tragedy.

Negative Outcomes: Mistaken Identity Shootings

Shooting yourself by accident

I’m not so sure about the empirical reality of the Farnham [sic] idea: “The person most likely to shoot you is YOU. Why? Because you’re always there.” It just seems incorrect to say, so I am wondering what the broader idea he is conveying is supposed to be.

Since John’s statement generated some incredulity, I will elaborate on it. His comment referred to the often atrocious gunhandling he sees, not people committing suicide. Improper and dangerous gunhandling regularly results in gunowners turning themselves into casualties, although not necessarily fatalities.

The reason I included John’s quote began with a statement he made in the first DTI class I took. The statement was “Eighty percent of police officers who are shot shoot themselves.” Once again, he was not referring to suicide but rather negligent shootings where the officer injured himself or herself. Whether that is still true, I don’t know. I do know that holster manufacturers are sued numerous times each year, unsuccessfully, by police officers who shoot themselves in the process of drawing or holstering. However, given the multiplicity of reports I have about private citizens who accidentally shoot themselves, I wouldn’t be surprised. It happens a lot more often than we like to think. The two casualties I have had on ranges I have been running were self-inflicted non-fatal wounds. One was a highly trained and experienced police officer who had a momentary lapse of concentration and technique.

Here are a few recent examples:

Man shoots himself in hand while driving in Portsmouth

Utah teacher accidentally shoots self in leg at school

Woman Accidentally Shoots Herself While Scaring off Intruder

This is an excerpt from a detailed incident report by the LAPD Board of Police Commissioners.

Incident Summary

Officer A was off-duty and inside his residence. Officer A was seated alone in the living room of the residence cleaning and putting tactical lights on his personally owned handguns. Officer A indicated that he had completed cleaning his .40 caliber Springfield Arms semi-automatic pistol and during this process he had inadvertently seated a partially loaded magazine and released the pistol slide that chambered a round. Officer A mistakenly believed the weapon was not loaded, so he pulled the trigger and caused the weapon to discharge.

Officer A received a through and through bullet wound to his left hand just below the little finger. The bullet traveled through Officer A’s hand, then through the back of a couch [the interior decorator in me thinks it was a sofa and not a couch], and the living room wall adjacent to the couch, entering the garage and striking the metal back of a clothes dryer before falling to the garage floor.

Officer A was treated and released from the hospital the day of the shooting.

The BOPC found that Officer A’s use of force was negligent, requiring Administrative Disapproval.

Unfortunately, some incidents prove fatal. Gunshot wounds to the upper leg can sever the femoral artery, resulting in rapid death. RIP Sgt. Davis, who was an experienced officer with 8 years of service, including on SWAT.

This video of Tex Grebner shooting himself contains explicit language. I give him credit for taking responsibility and showing how easily this can happen.

There is an image I see used on Internet websites that makes me cringe whenever I look at it.


That’s a good way to shoot yourself in the support hand. The number of beginners I see doing this at IDPA matches is legion. I warn them immediately to stop doing that. If your holster doesn’t allow you to draw from it with one hand, then you need to stop using it immediately and get a new holster.

If IDPA and USPSA Production Class do nothing else other than to train people to draw their gun without putting their support hand on the holster, that’s a great contribution to the shooting community. For those who say IDPA isn’t training, I would counter that it’s excellent training in safe gunhandling. There’s nothing like getting disqualified for a safety violation to make the point that someone’s gunhandling needs work.

So the point of John’s Master Lesson is twofold:

  1. Proper gunhandling has to be at the forefront of our minds anytime we handle a firearm. Firearms are mechanical devices; they do no more and no less than we make them do. Consequently, they are relentlessly unforgiving of carelessness and/or stupidity.
  2. Pointing your weapon at yourself can have serious consequences. Some holsters force us to point our weapons at ourselves. But placing your hand in front of the muzzle when the pistol is out of the holster is a prescription for an unhappy outcome. One of my personal peeves is the devices that shotguns shooters put on their shoes to rest the muzzle on. I have some really nasty pictures of feet with holes from shotguns in them. Those people are unlikely to ever walk right again. Similarly, taking a high performance anti-personnel bullet in the hand at point blank range is unlikely to enhance your ability to play the piano.

Competition, Practice, Training, and Testing

Driven by hunger, a fox tried to reach some grapes hanging high on the vine but was unable to, although he leaped with all his strength. As he went away, the fox remarked ‘Oh, you aren’t even ripe yet! I don’t need any sour grapes.’ People who speak disparagingly of things that they cannot attain would do well to apply this story to themselves.

–Aesop’s Fables, The Fox and the Grapes,

Periodically, I see comments in the tactical/concealed carry community downplaying the value of competition for someone interested in personal protection. The commentary usually revolves around “the stress isn’t the same as a two way range” or “competition isn’t realistic; the targets don’t move, you don’t move” or some other blah, blah, blah. Oftentimes, the person making the statement is from the ‘tactical training’ side of the house.

In my role as the Georgia/Alabama Area coordinator for IDPA, I was recently reviewing some tweaked stages for the upcoming 2014 GADPA Georgia State Match Championship.  As I was doing so, I was struck by the complexity and marksmanship challenges presented in the match. Some of the aspects of the Championship include:

  • Moving targets
  • Shooting on the move
  • Shooting Strong Hand Only with holding something with the Support Hand
  • Shooting from inside and around vehicles
  • Head shots at distance
  • Steel targets with a concealed hit zone that have to be knocked down to count
  • Engaging targets while moving through a structure

Those tasks have to be accomplished with a limited supply of ammunition, requiring a minimum hit rate of about 60%, just to finish. To be competitive at all, the hit rate on a torso sized target (-0/-1) better be 100% or you’re out of luck. Rapid reloading is an integral part of each stage, requiring a high degree of weapons manipulation skills.

In short, it’s a very demanding test of one’s ability to effectively manipulate a handgun. Hitting the target with a high degree of regularity, while being confronted by awkward shooting positions and scenarios is an integral part of it.

I think of Preparation for Personal Protection as having three components; Training, Practice, and Testing. Training is something you get from someone else. The other person or group structures your experience, almost always outside your comfort zone. Practice is something you do on your own, hopefully with some kind of structure, based on training or re-creation of actual incidents. Then there’s the nasty little question: “Where is my skill level at?” Testing is the only way that question can be answered. In his book POLICE PISTOLCRAFT, Mike Conti mentions Police Officers who are so intimidated by firearms qualification that they become physically ill, simply from the thought of having to do it. That’s a good example of how daunting the testing process can be. Those of us active in the competition world often look at police qualification courses in a bemused way because they are so simple compared to the tests we are used to.

Bill Rogers once said to me “You and I are from the last generation that is comfortable being tested.” I’m not sure if that’s true, but it is quite obvious to me that there is a great deal of cognitive dissonance and ego defense that goes on when discussions about competition v. ‘training’ start. The next time you hear someone disparaging competition, keep The Fox and The Grapes fable in mind. And for those who make negative statements about competition, I invite you to come out and test yourself and see what it’s like. Firearms competition has evolved a great deal since the original Columbia Conference. One of the most ridiculous statements I have ever heard is “I never saw a timer in a gunfight.” It was there every time; it’s called your lifeclock and it’s running all the time, at least until someone stops it.



Understanding the risk of violent aggression

I couldn’t believe it was happening. It didn’t seem real.

–a common statement by victims of criminal violence

The first presentation I attended at Paul-E-Palooza 2  was The 5 Ws of Risk (of Violent Aggression) given by William Aprill of Aprill Risk Consulting. William is a criminal psychologist who gives the most in-depth look into the criminal mind of anyone in the training industry. Frankly, at times, it’s rather creepy hearing how crazy criminals can be.

His presentation used the classic 5 Ws; Who, What, When, Where, and Why to structure a discussion of how risk can develop and aggregate for the Private Citizen. Using that structure allows us to look at the ways we can put ourselves at risk and, conversely, how we can reduce our risk.

Beginning with Who, he explained the value of “pre-need planning.” Then he explained his concept of a ‘risk envelope.’ This concept describes how varying circumstances we put ourselves in can increase or decrease our risk of being victimized. The levels of aggression displayed by potential Violent Criminal Actors are the flip side of ‘Who.’

What explained the difference between being a target and a victim. The concept of ‘advantaging for dominance’ was also included among various factors.

The key point of When was “not at a time of our choosing.” This unpleasant fact resounds throughout the training community. Sage support for this comes from several sources.

  • “When it’s least expected, you’re selected.” –John Farnam
  • “You don’t choose when you’ll need your gun; someone else does. And they will typically only inform you at the last moment.” –Tom Givens
  • “Initiative Deficit – A criminal will stack the odds in his favor and usually only initiates action when there is a high probability of success.” –SouthNarc

The Where component emphasized that “there are no ‘good’ neighborhoods” where crime does not happen. Criminals prefer to choose the location of ‘highest yield.’ He also discussed the limitations of thinking that by avoiding certain situations or locations we can eliminate our risk.

William’s explanation of Why is where he gets into the inner workings of the criminal mind. He detailed the difference between ‘Instrumental Violence’ and ‘Expressive Violence.’

There were numerous concepts and explanations that he used to expand the 5 Ws explanation.

  • Primacy of pre-need decision-making.
  • Preparation failures
  • Response failures, e.g., “I couldn’t believe it was happening. It didn’t seem real.”
  • And my favorite about relying on ‘gut instinct’ “Remember, your gut has shit for brains.”

William and I will be teaching a Decision Shooting Course on September 27, in the New Orleans area. This course will introduce participants to some of the unaddressed realities of violent criminal aggression and effective defensive responses. He will be covering the 5 Ws and their implications for the Armed Citizen. My portion will be about consciously thinking while being armed, which is the exact opposite of ‘muscle memory.’ It consists of: 1) assessing one’s own skills in relation to the situation, 2) weighing the legal justification for using deadly force, and 3) consciously making appropriate decisions in the presence or absence of justification.

For more information and to register, visit the event website.

Why I hate the -3 zone

There is no substitute for knowledge.

-–W. Edwards Deming

One of the things I enjoyed most about my time at the elite Rogers Shooting School is the intellectual caliber of people I met there, both instructors and students. There were a fair number of highly educated people who came to the School on a regular basis. One said he came every year ‘to get his speedometer reset.” Some of them continue to stay in touch and I enjoy those conversations.

I recently received an email from a physician, who is an annual student, relating to some target design work I had been doing. He sent along his analysis of the IDPA target, based on the “ANTHROPOMETRY AND MASS DISTRIBUTION FOR HUMAN ANALOGUES,” which is the medical profession’s way of saying the dimensions of the human body.

He included a diagram of issues with the IDPA and IPSC Metric targets in relation to the actual size of the average male American. His diagram resonated with me because, for a long time, I have called the -3 zone of the IDPA target “the lawsuit zone.” The reason I say that is that the target is so large by that point that no part of the person’s body is actually going to be there. So a bullet striking that area would, in fact, just sail off into space. Most likely, it will strike “a busload of nuns and orphans being followed by a limousine full of personal injury lawyers having a conference call with the District Attorney.”

The anatomical analysis he did caused me to do some further research in the anthropometry document to create my own diagram. As I did so, it confirmed another unusuality of the targets; they have no neck. The head zone is not too bad of a match for the area of the male head from the eyebrows to the tip of the chin, especially if he has a jaw like Clutch Cargo, but there’s just no neck.

Visual indicators tend to convey information best, so I created a target image with colors to demonstrate the issues I noted.

IDPA target w human dimensions

Disregarding the head aspect, there were several things to be observed.

1) The -3 zone, or the D zone of the USPSA Metric, on the sides of the target is basically where a man’s arms are when they’re hanging by his side. A man holding a weapon at or near eye level would not have anything there below a line approximately even with the middle of the -0 zone. I marked this area in red on my target depiction.

2) The area of the -3 zone below the -1 zone very closely aligns with the area of the male body below the waist. I’m unenthused about that as a targeting area for reasons that will become obvious further on. That area is shaded in pink on my target image.

3) From about two inches above the bottom of the -0 zone down to the bottom of the -1 zone corresponds generally to the area from the xyphoid process to the waist. Emergency room physicians have told me that they consider this entire area to be an abdominal wound and not nearly as serious as a wound in the torso above that line. The yellow striped area on my image shows that zone.

4) Finally, by process of elimination, the area I shaded in orange is where all the “good stuff” is, as one physician put it to me. This is the area of the torso where a bullet has the best probability of quickly stopping a deadly threat to one’s life. Note that this area goes all the way up to the neckless chin.

My image is really a ‘best case’ example. To get an idea of what a true anatomical overlay would look like, my surgeon friend subsequently sent me a couple more images. Since he’s a physician, they’re much more illustrative than my drawing is. He overlaid them on the IPSC Metric target, but for the purposes of this discussion, the -3 and D zones are interchangeable. Note also that the -1 zone or C zone is no great shakes as a targeting area, either.

aorta overlay guts overlay

Note on the gross anatomy target that my yellow striped area corresponds to the infamous “gut shot.” While a serious wound in the long term sense, its ability to stop criminal action quickly is quite suspect.

Several articles have been written describing the geometry necessary to figure out where the vital organs are. Running a geometry problem in my head while someone is trying to do me serious bodily injury seems a bit much. However, I think an understanding of what actually constitutes the “high center chest” is useful. This is especially true since the IDPA and IPSC Metric targets are very commonly used in training classes.

And that’s why I hate the -3 zone. When I ran the Georgia State IDPA Championship for several years, I painted black over the -3 zone of all the targets so hits there would be scored a miss (-5). It caused a certain amount of grumbling but I really think people need to be confronted with the realities of personal protection.

Lessons for the Armed Citizen from the Dorner Incidents

A defensive gun use (DGU) by an Armed Citizen is a balance of doing the right things, doing things right, and not doing the wrong things.

Christopher Dorner was a former LAPD Officer who went crazy in February 2013, murdered several people, and eventually committed suicide when surrounded by the authorities. During the manhunt for Dorner, two mistaken identity shootings by police occurred in the Los Angeles area. One shooting, by Torrance Police Officers, occurred near a checkpoint and the other in the vicinity of a LAPD Captain’s home. The home was being protected by a detail of LAPD Officers because the Captain may have been a specific target of Dorner’s.

A recent settlement for the Torrance Police shooting has revived commentary about the ‘trigger happy police,’ etc. I will be the first to admit I wouldn’t want to be downrange during such an episode but there are also lessons to be learned from the mistaken identity shootings. And those lessons don’t just apply to the law enforcement community.

First of all, note that both shootings occurred during periods of limited visibility, i.e., early morning. Humans have a natural apprehension of the dark. Couple this natural fear with the possibility of dealing with a dangerous criminal and our emotional trigger mechanisms can get stretched pretty tight. In the case of the LAPD shooting, the Officers had been on station for several hours already. They had also been recently informed that Dorner had engaged two police officers nearby and murdered one of them.

How does this apply to the Armed Citizen? Think about how you might feel if you hear a crash in your home in the middle of the night. Likely, you will have been awakened from sleep, you will not know what the situation is, and very probably your spouse will be providing you with a sense of urgency to determine and fix the problem. If you are like most people, your interior lights are not on, so you are operating in conditions of limited visibility. Now throw in the possibility of a heightened sense of danger, for instance, having a daughter who has recently obtained a Protection Order staying with you for safety reasons. The possibility is high that you will not have the same sense of ease and self-control you do when you go to the indoor range and casually prepare to practice shooting some rounds at a bullseye target.

Second, the Police do not train very much to work in groups larger than two. This point was made very succinctly by my Battalion Commander when we were practicing riot control in the National Guard. Watch any multi-officer takedown of a criminal and it’s obvious they do not operate with a sense of military coordination. Police Officers spent almost all of their time working independently, not as part of a team. Only SWAT units generally are trained to work in groups larger than two.

What does the lack of teamwork have to do with the Armed Citizen? Just as the Police don’t spend much time practicing teamwork with each other; neither do Armed Citizens tend to spend much time practicing teamwork with their families and friends. The probability that your spouse and/or children are not going to do what you want them to or what you tell them to do is high. So don’t be surprised if an incident involving more than one potential victim turns out to be a complicated problem to solve.

Third, communications among the Officers left something to be desired. In the case of the Torrance Police shooting, the victim had been identified as a non-threat just a few seconds before. Unfortunately, this had evidently not been communicated to Officers right down the street. When I conduct training for couples, one of the main concerns they express is their ability to communicate during a criminal encounter. The couples I work with tend to already be ‘switched on’ so this is an area that deserves considerable emphasis in our personal practice.

All this is not to defend or justify the mistaken identity shootings. The LAPD Board of Police Commissioners found the LAPD Officers’ actions ‘out of policy’ and rightly so. Rather, it is to point out that a defensive gun use (DGU) by an Armed Citizen, just as by a Law Enforcement Officer, is a balance of doing the right things, doing things right, and not doing the wrong things.

When we take a gun into our hands for defensive purposes, we have a goal in mind, that being to avoid death or serious bodily injury. At the same time, there’s a good possibility we are threading our way through a series of physical and emotional obstacles while trying to reach that goal. Just as soldiers whose objective is on the far side of a minefield must work their way through the minefield carefully, we, as Armed Citizens, must be cautious of our paths and moves, as well.


The full report of the Los Angeles Police Department Board Of Police Commissioners is available here.