Firearms Training for Law Enforcement

Federal Way recently had an unfortunate incident where a law enforcement officer (LEO) shot at a man that was threatening the officer with a gun that looked like a real gun; shooting the subject would have been justified. But why did the officer shoot twice and miss?

Officers are trained not to shoot unless an opponent presents deadly force. An officer is trained to aim for center of body mass. The primary objective is to stop an opponent from inflicting death or grave bodily harm. If the LEO hesitates or misses, the risk is that the officer or bystanders will become victims. The fact that the Federal Way incident occurred at a strip mall raises the issue of bystanders being hit by the LEO’s shots. The officer missed his shots. This raises the issue of whether the officer would be alive had the subject been carrying a real gun.

LEOs justifiably hold Monday morning quarterbacks, including many lawyers, in disdain. Every time an LEO shoots at an assailant, no matter how justified, lawyers reconstruct every moment before, during and after the shooting. A few thoughts on training are in order, nevertheless.

LEO firearms training starts with the LEO’s desire to return alive to loved ones at the end of the shift! Although officers must meet basic proficiency standards, many of them have never fired a shot in self-defense. Many competent “civilians” can and do take the time to become trained and acquire gun handling skill that equals or exceeds the average LEO’s skill.

Consider the effect on motor skills as adrenaline starts pumping along with the heavy first trigger-pull that commonly causes LEOs to jerk the first shot with some semi-automatics under stress. Studies have proven that officers and civilians that participate in exercises simulating real-life scenarios have a much better chance of surviving a gun fight. Competitions that combine speed, movement, shooting from cover and multiple targets create the stress necessary to increase LEO and civilian survivability.

Studies show that mistaken shootings are more likely to happen in low light. Shooting an innocent subject as he presents his identification may be blamed on racism when lack of low-light training is to blame. How many departments have a house where officers can shoot at targets in a darkened environment? It is unlikely such opportunities are available unless the LEO pays for private training.

FWPD trains its LEOs beyond the minimal levels required by law enforcement; neverthless, a defensive handgun class like the one at the Firearms Academy of Seattle teaches civilians and LEOS how to survive without incurring legal liability and the experience will enhance your appreciation for LEOs protecting us on the street. Marty Hayes told me that it is not uncommon for LEOs to attend FAS as a unit at their own expense. Whether or not you are an LEO, you owe it to your family to remain alive. If you are a civilian with a CPL and exercise your right to bear arms, you are responsible to know the laws, be safe and be proficient.

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