Monday, December 31, 2018

Thugs in the Dark: A Low Light Practice Session

Police say a husband opened fire on two home invasion suspects as they tried to hold his wife at gunpoint as she arrived home around 10:30 p.m. According to the Houston Police, it started when the man’s wife pulled into their driveway. Two armed suspects ran up and tried to rob her. They took her purse and then tried to force her into the house. However, her husband heard the commotion from inside the house, grabbed his gun, and ended up exchanging gunfire with the intruders. Fortunately, the couple weren’t hit; however, the husband shot one of the suspects in the head, the other suspect took off running.

This real-life incident is exactly like one of our decision-based scenarios that we use during our low light classes and practice sessions. I ran this during our final practice session last season and several participants found it difficult, so we did it once again for our first session this season. Situation: The participants were at home expecting their spouse or other family member accompanied by a young child to arrive soon. Headlights appear in their driveway; however, their family members do not come in the house. The participant steps outside to determine the cause for delay; but, cannot see past the headlights. The participant calls out to their family member who immediately responds with cries for help.

This year everyone did fairly well; only one participant clipped the child’s ear with a 9mm round which would have still hit the bad guy. After everyone ran the scenario, the guys reset it for me with different targets. The setup for my run is shown below.

The idea is to “slice the pie” using the wall as cover to determine what you are facing and then to engage any threats from cover. From cover position one, you can engage target one.  Then moving once again (still using the wall as cover), from cover two you can engage T2, etc, until you have solved the problem. As I saw each threat, I engaged it with a head shot. The first shot I fired was at the female and hit her pistol. I thought I hit her in the head, but I probably jerked the trigger a bit. My hit on the pistol would have potentially taken it out of action and probably would have forced her to drop it. I then settled down and did fairly well with the remaining threats one shot each to the head. Distances were from 5-10 yards.

For scenario number two, I had a picture target of a kid with a phone and headphones in his ears (a non-threat) and a police officer (also a non-threat) visible under a street lamp some distance behind the headlights. As soon as the participant cleared the wall the police officer challenged him with “Police, Don’t Move! Hand up!” Amazingly, some participants drew their pistols. Not a good idea. Others turned and ran—also not a good idea. No one did what the police officer was commanding them to do.

I added this scenario because we get too accustomed to thinking that every training scenario is solved with a pistol. I have noticed this over the years, so now I often provide potential choices in the scenario that do not involve shooting someone.

This was the case with scenario three. I told the participant to go get in his car and leave. As soon as he cleared the wall, a man with a knife was demanding his keys. Everyone immediately engaged the knife wielder with gunfire rather than retreating back into their “house” which was closer and quicker. The point of this scenario of course was to avoid the threat if possible—always a better choice if you can do so safely.

As we continue the 2018-19 Low Light season, I plan to hold a class in Jan 19 and more practice sessions in the following months. Once you take the class, you can participate in the practice sessions. I also plan to incorporate more low light decision-based scenarios. These are challenging and I had gotten out of the habit of including them because they were so difficult; however, I see their value and we will do more. I also plan to add force-on-force with airsoft for the more advanced participants to add a little more realism.

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Sunday, December 9, 2018

Gunshot Residue and Personal Carry Ammunition

In September 1997, after 8-1/2 years and four trials, Daniel Bias Jr. began a six-year prison sentence for murdering his wife. One of the key issues associated with the case was the presence or lack of gunshot residue on Lise Bias after the shooting. The defense attorney in Bias’s trial argued that Lise Bias died accidentally as she was pointing a pistol at her head: however, the prosecution argued that the lack of gunshot residue on Lise Bias's nightgown and head wound shows she could not have shot herself.

A prosecution witness and ballistics expert testified that the bullet that killed Lise Bias would have left a powder residue if it had been fired from any distance under 45 inches. However, ballistics testing on the ammunition Lise Bias’s wounds could not be run because the ammunition in the pistol that killed Lise Bias was ammunition that Daniel Bias had reloaded. As a result, there was no way of knowing if the cartridges were all the same reloads or not and therefore they could not be relied upon for gunshot residue (GSR) testing.

Per Massad Ayoob: Defensive shootings are often very close-range affairs in which gunshot residue from your muzzle is deposited on your attacker’s body or clothing. This can become a critical evidentiary factor if the other side insists he was too far away from you to endanger you at the moment he was shot.* With reloaded ammunition, the forensic examiner cannot verify distances because there is no un-biased sample to measure it against. The accused has literally manufactured the evidence; therefore, judge is unlikely to admit the reloaded ammunition as an exhibit in the trial.

Picture #1 below shows powder burns on a white t-shirt when I fired a 9mm pistol with the muzzle in contact with the shirt.

#1: Muzzle Contacting T-Shirt

From a distance perspective, the lead deposits in picture #2 is similar to what happens with gunshot residue. Closer shots deposit more material, while more distant shots deposit less. These are pictures of reloaded ammunition firing plated bullets. The rifling in the barrel will often cut the plating and the bullet will spray an extremely fine mist of lead as it initially leaves the barrel. Bullet “A” was 12 inches away, bullet “B” 24 inches, and bullet “C” was 36 inches from the t-shirt.
#2: Muzzle at 3 Different Distances
Picture #3 shows the same phenomena on cardboard with bullets fired from various distances. Picture #4 is gunshot residue deposited on a target from a pistol approximately six inches away.

#3: Muzzle Various Distances

#4: GSR Six Inches

What can we learn from this? GSR distance testing is often done with exemplar ammunition or ammunition that is identical to what was in your pistol. This is the primary reason to carry factory ammunition for personal defense. When you purchase this ammunition, try to buy several boxes from the same lot. Write the date you entered the ammunition into service on the box. Load all of your carry magazines with the same ammunition from the same box—do not mix ammunition lots or brands in your carry magazines.

After you load your magazines for carry, save at least five rounds in the box. If you find yourself in a short range defensive situation, the forensics examiner can use the ammunition sample from the lot that you have saved to verify distances with powder testing. If the prosecution objects to this, your attorney can request an independent sample from the manufacturer. Large ammunition makers keep samples for each lot for exemplar testing for 10 years. This is why keeping the box intact with the lot numbers is important.

This does not mean you must practice only with expensive carry ammunition, reloads can have a role in this process. Reloading your ammunition can provide a more economical practice round for matches and training if you can match the point of impact for your carry ammunition. For example, I carry the Hornady Critical Defense 135gr standard pressure 9mm round. My reloads with 135gr plated bullets closely match my carry round. In the picture below, you can see a 15-yard group with the Hornady Critical Duty circled in red and three groups of my reloads circled in black. I was shooting my normal P320 carry pistol with a Trijicon RMR06 red dot sight. I adjusted the RMR so the Critical Duty impacted in the center of the one inch square.  Good enough.

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15 Yard Groups of 3 Shots