Eleven Firearms-related Skills Which Most Cops Don’t Practice (but Really Should)

Ralph Mroz

“There’s more to shooting than shooting” is how I often make the point that there’s much more to armed self-defense for cops – both on- and off-duty – than knowing how to shoot.

I will often get nods of agreement in return, but, regrettably, most people continue to think that, if they can hit an eight inch target from five yards in two seconds (without concealment), they are good to go. And, don’t even get me started about cops who haven’t bothered to achieve even that level of skill! I don’t know why some officers seem to hoodwink themselves in this matter, but I suppose it’s related to the reasons why they believe they are eating well, as long as they don’t consume more than a pound of bacon a day.

Anyway, here’s what they’re missing.

  1. Empty hands skills: You are far more likely to need them than gun skills. Moreover, some gun appropriate encounters require empty hands skills initially to buy you the time and/or distance to access your weapon. Also, they build reflexes and athleticism which enhance weapons skills, to say nothing of tactical skills – like movement.
  2. Intermediate weapons: See point one above and, as Andrew Branca (The Law of Self-Defense) points out: Even if you don’t need them, the fact that you had them with you if you have to use your gun shows that you weren’t looking to shoot someone and that you’d thought through the issue of appropriate force response (this applies to plainclothes and off-duty carry).
  3. Presentation from concealment: Most cops never practice this skill. When forced to do so in my classes, they inevitably flub the draw. And, they’re surprised! This is the way you’ll have draw if the “real thing” happens while off duty or in plain clothes.
  4. Concealment skills: Knowing how to effectively and comfortably conceal your gun (and whatever else you’re carrying) requires thought, experimentation, purchases, trial and error, and then looping back to more thought, and so on. Just throwing the gun on your belt and hoping for the best doesn’t lead to a good outcome.  Ditto with just assuming that whatever plainclothes gear your agency gives you is good to go. This is an almost continual process as our bodies change every few years and our off-duty lifestyle and on-duty assignments change as we go through the stages of our career.
  5. Tactics: Standing on a range and shooting doesn’t teach you how to move effectively to cover or through an environment, nor how to do so when you are with someone you are protecting (such as your family or citizens). It doesn’t teach you how to effectively manage a confrontation (including the bystanders), how to de-escalate, how to manage multiple assailants, how to escape flanking, and so on. Most cops have never had to do these things for real, let alone get much practice with them. Shooting on a sunny afternoon doesn’t build much in the way of low light skills, nor does it teach you how to integrate your handheld light with your pistol and movement, while managing the people you are responsible for, and so on.
  6. Legal knowledge: It just makes my jaw drop that most law enforcement professionals (yes, it’s true!) don’t really know how and when they can use deadly force, despite the fact that they all think they do. Read Massad Ayoob’s book, In the Gravest Extreme, or Andrew Branca’s book, The Law of Self-Defense, for that education. Yes, these books are directed at civilians, but the rules for civilians always apply to cops and most certainly do apply when off duty or out of jurisdiction. It doesn’t take much reading of the press to find instances of concealed carriers and cops getting themselves in BIG trouble because they didn’t know the legal whens, whys, and hows of gun use as well as they knew how to shoot.
  7. Challenge technique: If, when and how you challenge plays a critical role in whether you may go to prison, or not, after a shooting. This is not instinctive stuff and most cops – for whom challenging someone with a firearm isn’t going to be unusual – have to learn how to do it.
  8. Simulation experience: This is easy to do with blue guns, so there are no excuses. It’s a whole different experience from just shooting. It builds stress inoculation and…
  9. Judgment training: It’s related to points six, seven, and eight above, but critical.
  10.  Aftermath management training: It’s the same deal as point nine above.
  11. Fitness: You’re far more likely to die an early, avoidable death at the hands of disease than at the hands of a thug. Remember, you can’t save your life (we all die) – you can only prolong it – and fitness and good diet are the highest return investments you can make here. (On the other hand, if you are more likely to die from gunfire than disease, then maybe you ought to consider a lateral transfer.)

Ralph Mroz was a police officer (part-time) in Massachusetts for 20 years, seven of which he was assigned to his county’s drug task force. He has taught at a number of national, regional and international law enforcement conferences. His blog can be read at https://thestreetstandards.wordpress.com/.