Thursday, July 4, 2019

Advanced Low Light Course

In Mid-May 2019, I conducted an advanced Low Light course with two students who have progressed to this level. For the qualification, we fired the MAG 20 Live Fire course. I tossed in an extra challenge by covering each target with a new t-shirt so the students did not have a reference aiming point.

We used the San Antonio Police Department target and scored it as five points in the inner “bottle,” four points inside the next scoring area, and zero points outside the four point ring or for misses.

⁣We shot a single speed qualifier in daylight for a control score and then in low light with no moon. I shot the qualifier as well and achieved a 300 with a 5-5/8ths inch group. I used a P320 Carry with Lima Module, a Trijicon Red Dot and a Fenix hand-held flashlight.

To learn more about the MAG20 qualifier, go to the link here.


SIG P320 Carry with the LIMA Module
At 15 yards the standard MAG20 qualifier has six shots using the Weaver stance, six shots using the modified Chapman, and six shots using the Isosceles with a reload between each string. The only challenge with the qualifier was using the Isosceles stance at 15 yards—very difficult with a hand-held light unless you are using the syringe technique and then the pistol/light grip will shift with every shot. With the Fenix light I was using, the tailcap design makes the syringe technique almost impossible. The student’s flashlights had a similar design.

Given these challenges, I allowed the students to use the Isosceles or if they preferred the modified Chapman or Weaver. At 15 yards, I shot it using the Weaver, then Chapman, then Weaver and used the 
Harries flashlight technique.

Harries Technique
Harries Technique
You must practice low light techniques to have any hope of using them under stress. The students in this course have mastered low light shooting through practice and taking more advanced classes. 

You can practice these techniques with live fire during daylight if your range won’t allow night shooting. If your local range has IDPA matches, shoot the course of fire using your flashlight if the match director will permit it. You won’t win the match; however, you will learn how to shoot and manipulate your pistol under some stress.

To my knowledge, no data exists concerning private citizen-involved shootings with criminals under low light conditions; however, since a lot of criminal activity occurs after dark we can assume that there is a likely correlation. There are several reasons to use a flashlight: to observe and detect, to illuminate and navigate, to eliminate anonymity, and to identify and engage threats. Used properly, a flashlight lets you see danger before it can affect you and it can encourage the danger waiting in the dark to go elsewhere.

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Sunday, June 30, 2019

Don't Get Shot: Dealing With Police During a Traffic Stop

March 6, 2014, Opelika, Alabama: Air Force Airman 1st Class Michael Davidson was travelling on I-85 headed to his next duty assignment at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. While driving through the Opelika, Davidson (who was driving an SUV) lightly sideswiped a tractor-trailer so both drivers pulled over to report the accident. Coincidently, just prior to this accident the Opelika Police Department had received a phone call about an SUV driving erratically along I-85 and Opelika Police Officer Phillip Hancock was in the area attempting to locate the erratic driver.

When the accident call came in Officer Hancock quickly arrived at the scene and pulled up behind the two vehicles just as they both exited the roadway. The police dashcam shows Airman Davidson attempting to get out of his vehicle; however, because he had pulled his SUV off the road shoulder, the vehicle was tilted slightly to the right. This caused to door to close as the Airman tried to exit.

As he struggled with the door, Airman Davidson made a movement with his right arm that is similar to someone drawing a weapon--and apparently similar to removing a wallet from your back pocket since that is what the Airman was actually doing (see picture #1 below). However, as Davidson exited the vehicle, he held the wallet in an unusual manner in both hands, pointing toward Officer Hancock (see picture number #2). In the video, Airman Davidson looks exactly like someone pointing a weapon as though he was preparing to shoot.

#1: Airman Davidson Exiting Vehicle
 
#2: Airman Davidson Holding Wallet


Officer Hancock yells at Davidson to “Let me see your hands” two times before firing almost immediately (0.25 seconds) after he yells the second command. Officer Hancock fired two rounds within approximately 0.25 seconds, one bullet struck Airman Davidson in the lower abdomen and the second bullet struck the road next to Davidson’s right foot.

A furtive movement is a suspicion provoking movement that (under the totality of circumstances) is consistent with accessing a weapon, but is not reasonably consistent with doing something else. The totality of the circumstances is the key element in this discussion since Davidson was drawing his wallet, not a pistol. It would be a gross overreaction on your part to draw a weapon while standing in a cash register line at a store when the person in front of you reached for their wallet. Their actions would be consistent with paying for merchandise given the totality of the circumstances.

When dealing with an uncertain situation, it is perfectly reasonable for an officer to be acutely aware of the ability, or inability, to see a person's hands to ensure he is not clutching or reaching for a weapon. However, yelling show me your hands and then shooting when the person does exactly that is obviously problematic as we see in this incident. Officer Hancock yelling “show me your hands” provided Davidson no effective warning that he was about to shoot him. Davidson later stated that he was in fact showing his hands just as the officer commanded.

In this incident, Davidson’s movement with his right hand and then extending his arms while clutching his black wallet with both hands clearly made Officer Hancock believe that Davidson was holding a firearm and advancing toward him. How quickly can someone exit a vehicle and start shooting?

We did an experiment to determine how fast someone could do this. I exited my vehicle while simultaneously drawing my pistol from a strong-side holster and firing three rounds while advancing. From the time someone could see that I had a pistol in my hand until I began firing was a 0.81 second average time for five runs. My fastest time to begin shooting was 0.47 seconds. My average split time between shots was 0.20 seconds as I advanced toward the remote camera. (see video here).

Many studies have shown that the average person’s reaction time to a stimulus is between 0.70 and 1.5 seconds or longer depending upon the circumstances. Added to the reaction time is the time necessary to complete the physical action the stimulus requires (e.g. pushing the brake on a car or drawing a pistol).* As we see in my experiment, the time between your ability to recognize that someone has a pistol until that person begins shooting can be as short as 0.47 seconds.

Were Officer Hancock’s actions reasonable given the totality of the circumstances? Look at picture #3 below. The left picture is of Airman Davidson drawing his wallet; the right picture is me drawing a pistol.  Do the actions look similar? 

Drawing Wallet                          Drawing Pistol

In January 2017, the United States Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit upheld a lower court's ruling that Officer Hancock acted reasonably when he shot Davidson. "After careful consideration and review of a video recording of the shooting, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Davidson, we conclude that a reasonable officer in Hancock's position would have feared for his life," the three-judge panel wrote in the ruling.**

The court’s decision hinged on a single issue: “whether, given the circumstances, Davidson would have appeared to reasonable police officers to have been gravely dangerous.” The Eleventh Circuit justices clearly believed that was the case.

Something people often misunderstand is that the law does not require us to make perfect decisions in a self-defense incident nor does it demand that the threat against which we defend ourselves be an actual threat. The law demands that you must have a reasonably objective belief that you are responding to an imminent deadly threat. Many states have an apparent danger clause which aligns with the concept that in a given set of circumstances, an antagonist’s furtive movement could cross the threshold of apparent danger in the mind of a reasonable and prudent person. If you wait to see the gun, you may well see what comes out of it as we demonstrated in our experiment.

If it later turns out that perception was mistaken, that’s legally acceptable so long as the perception was reasonable and therefore the mistake, a reasonable mistake. All of this is true even if it turns out that the perceived attacker never actually possessed a weapon as in this instance.

In a separate case with similar circumstances the Fifth Circuit held in Young v. City of Killeen, Tex.: "If Young's movements gave (Police Officer) Olson cause to believe that there was a threat of serious physical harm, Olson's use of deadly force was not a constitutional violation.... We hold that no right is guaranteed by federal law that one will be free from circumstances where he will be endangered by the misinterpretation of his acts." ***

So how should you conduct yourself during a traffic stop to lessen chances that your actions will be perceived as a potentially deadly threat?

 -- Stay in your vehicle. A well-known tactic of police killers at traffic stops is to quickly exit the vehicle and advance on the officer while shooting. Bank robbers, terrorists, and other felons have been doing this since at least the late 1970’s and probably much earlier. Although Airman Davidson probably did not know this, his actions mimicked this tactic.

 -- Roll down the driver’s window and place your hands on the steering wheel. Don’t worry about turning on an interior light—at night the officer will light up your vehicle with their spotlight anyway so this is unnecessary. However, your movement can increase the officer’s suspicion that you are doing something nefarious.  

-- Wait for the officer’ further instructions.

This was truly a tragic and very unfortunate event--nothing in this article should be see as placing blame on either Airman Davidson or Officer Hancock. Police officers don’t want to get shot nor do they want to shoot innocent citizens. In reality, both parties want the same outcome. Ensure that your actions cannot be mistaken for threatening behavior when you interact with the police during a traffic stop.

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____________

* http://www.technology-assoc.com/articles/reaction-time.htmlhttps://www.visualexpert.com/Resources/reactiontime.html


** United States Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit. Michael Davidson, Plaintiff - Appellant, V. City Of Opelika, Alabama, Phillip Hancock, John Mceachern, Defendants - Appellees. No. 16-10857, Decided: January 17, 2017


Before Wilson, Rosenbaum and Jill Pryor, Circuit Judges. Michael Davidson was shot by Opelika, Alabama police officer Phillip Hancock just after exiting his vehicle alongside the highway. Davidson was unarmed. He survived the incident but was grievously injured. Davidson subsequently sued Hancock, Opelika Chief of Police John McEachern, and the City of Opelika for claims arising from the shooting. The shooting was undeniably a tragedy, but it resulted from the unique and lamentable position of Davidson's hands holding his wallet the moment before the shooting. After careful consideration and review of a video recording of the shooting, viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to Davidson, we conclude that a reasonable officer in Hancock's position would have feared for his life. Accordingly, we affirm the district court's grant of summary judgment based on qualified immunity in favor of Hancock on all claims. 

*** In Young v. City of Killeen, Tex., 775 F.2d 1349 (5th Cir. 1985), Carolyn Young brought a 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and wrongful death action against police officers and the City of Killeen for the shooting and killing of her husband David Young. The Fifth Circuit stated the material facts:

"David Young, with a friend, drove to a parking lot in an area of Killeen where they could buy marijuana. Officer Olson observed the apparent drug transaction between the two men in Young's car and a pedestrian. Olson directed his patrol car, with lights flashing, at the participants in the attempt to apprehend them. Olson successfully blocked Young by pulling his patrol car in front of Young's car. Olson left his car and ordered Young and his passenger to exit theirs. Young apparently reached down to the seat or floorboard of his car and Olson, believing that Young had a gun, fired his own weapon. The shot was fatal." 

The Fifth Circuit held that Mrs. Young could not recover under Sec. 1983, stating: "If Young's movements gave Olson cause to believe that there was a threat of serious physical harm, Olson's use of deadly force was not a constitutional violation.... The only fault found against Olson was his negligence in creating a situation where the danger of such a mistake would exist. We hold that no right is guaranteed by federal law that one will be free from circumstances where he will be endangered by the misinterpretation of his acts."



Sunday, June 23, 2019

Trespassers Will be Shot! Survivors Will be Shot Again!

19 April 2019. St. Paul, MN police were chasing a car thief when he crashed the car and took off running. Moments later, police heard gunfire and found Jalik Combs lying wounded in Vincent Trotter’s yard. Police identified Combs as the driver of the stolen car.

Combs apparently was not armed and allegedly said that Trotter told him to leave his property. Combs said he told Trotter he was leaving and started to depart when Trotter shot him. Combs was shot in the buttocks, forearm, and legs and received medical treatment for non-life-threatening injuries at a local hospital before police booked him into the Ramsey County jail.

Trotter had a sign in his home’s front window that said, “Warning” “No Trespassing, Violators will be shot. Survivors will be shot again!” Police questioned Trotter and eventually charged him with second degree assault with a deadly weapon.

Police likely charged Trotter because Combs was unarmed and the apparent locations of his wounds may indicate that he was leaving Trotter’s property. Although the sign in Trotter’s window probably didn’t affect the police decision to charge him, prosecutors will no doubt use it against him if he eventually faces trial.

Although Minnesota law does accept the use of force (not deadly force however) when the person using the force reasonably believes it is necessary in resisting a trespass, clearly Trotter’s use of deadly force is excessive absent other potentially mitigating factors that may exist and have not yet come to light.*

Minnesota Statute 609.065 outlines the use of deadly force as follows: “The intentional taking of the life of another is not authorized by section 609.06, except when necessary in resisting or preventing an offense which the actor reasonably believes exposes the actor or another to great bodily harm or death, or preventing the commission of a felony in the actor's place of abode.” Place of abode refers to the actual dwelling and does not include land, detached garage, storage shed, etc.

Minnesota law, like that of most states requires that a person using deadly force must have done so in the belief that it was necessary to avert death or great bodily harm. That the person’s judgment concerning the severity of the danger must have been reasonable under the totality of the circumstances. And that the person’s decision must have been such as a reasonable person would have made in light of the danger perceived and the existence of any alternative way to avoid and (in Minnesota’s case) retreat from the danger.

Were Trotter’s actions in using deadly force reasonable? Probably not. There is no information indicating that Combs was presenting a deadly threat to Trotter nor that Combs was inside or attempting to enter Trotter’s home.

The law typically applies three criteria in determining whether an act is or is not reasonable:

    1. What would a reasonable and prudent person have done?

    2. In the exact same situation?

    3. Knowing what the actor knew at that time within the mainstream of convention and best practice?

Or phrased another way: Knowing what the actor knew within the standard of care that an ordinary person would exercise under the totality of the circumstances as viewed from the actor's standpoint.

It will be interesting to see if Trotter claims self-defense. Remember, self-defense is an affirmative defense and can be a 2-edged sword. To present an affirmative defense, you must admit that you did the act; however, you affirm that your actions were reasonable and that you were legally justified in taking such actions. The prosecution obviously disagrees and will be attempting to demonstrate that your actions were not reasonable nor legally justifiable and that you in fact committed a crime. If the prosecution is successful, your life has just dramatically changed.

As I have written in other articles, anything you post on social media, signs, or other communications can be detrimental to a claim of self-defense and have implications you would rather not have your defense lawyer try to defend at your trial. It is not hard to imagine Trotter's lawyer trying to defend against the following scenario:

    “Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I present "exhibit A," a sign the defendant placed in the window of his home. According to the defendant, he shoots trespassers just like he shot his victim Jalik Combs. Since Mr Combs survived, did the defendant shoot him again? The defendant who, by his own warning sign planned to shoot trespassers used DEADLY HOLLOW POINT KILLER BULLETS from his AUTOMATIC ASSAULT PISTOL (liberal prosecutors always use incorrect nomenclature like clip and assault pistol) to shoot Jalik Combs innocently on Mr Trotter’s lawn. Was Jalik Combs trespasser that should have been shot? Killed?

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* 2018 Minnesota Statutes, 609.06 Authorized Use of Force, Subdivision 1.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Maintaining the Edge—How Much Practice is Enough?

A good friend and I recently explored the topic of how much practice—dry practice and range time—is enough to maintain acceptable levels of defensive shooting skill. I define acceptable skill level from a self-defense perspective as the ability to fire Sharp Shooter on an IDPA classifier, pass the FBI qualification, or achieve similar performance on a state or nationally-recognized course of fire (Massad Ayoob Group’s MAG 20 live fire qualifier for example).

My friend Steve is an IDPA six-gun Master (achieved with the original IDPA 90 round classifier) and his shooting skill level is well documented; however, as a result of medical challenges, Steve was effectively unable to practice his pistol skills for six months. In April 2019 he had recovered enough to begin practicing once again and we documented his progress over five practice sessions.

When he is at his peak, Steve can shoot master on demand on the IDPA 5x5. In the first practice session he wanted to assess his skill level. With no warm up, he fired high Sharp Shooter on the IDPA 5x5 classifier. Clearly his skills had deteriorated; however, he maintained an acceptable level of shooting ability despite no practice.

We then fired the old IDPA 90 round classifier and noted some deterioration in group size and resulting dropped points at the 15 and 20 yard strings. So while his self-defense performance at 10 yards or closer had not appreciably suffered due to no practice, his skills at longer distances clearly had. He also noticed that his ability to correctly draw was not as certain and he fumbled the draw more often that he would have under normal circumstances. Additionally, he was having some difficulty with his sight alignment and noticed a tendency to peek at the front sight and therefore shoot high on the target.

In the first practice session, we identified issues that Steve needed to address or improve. You improve your shooting skills with deliberate practice and the first step in deliberate practice is have a practice plan. Steve used this assessment to develop his deliberate practice plan.

Through documenting these practice sessions, Steve discovered that some skills deteriorated more than others. We recorded several of his shooting strings and identified specific issues that he is focusing on correcting. He identified his goals for improvement, broke down each specific movement or task necessary to accomplish the goal, and planned the next practice sessions.

In subsequent practice, we updated his deliberate practice plan based upon the progress he was making and adjusting for new issues that we discovered. We also shot drills specifically designed to address issues that Steve had identified in the initial skill assessment such as two shot draws, transition drills, 5x5s at varying distances, and others.

Steve’s skills began to improve (as you would expect) to the point where he now shoots high Expert on the 5x5 classifier and occasionally shoots Master. He still has not recovered to his pre-hiatus accuracy levels at greater than 10 yards; however, his abilities at 10 yards or closer are getting back to normal. Steve’s normal time splits between shots averages between .15 and .17 seconds with many splits much faster. By practice session three his average splits between shots was .16 seconds and he was able to keep the group in the IDPA zero down ring at 7 yards.

Steve is well on the road to re-sharpening his shooting edge. Steve has regained his trigger speed and overcome the fumbling issues associated with the draw. The arc of motion (and resulting group size) is a bit more challenging; however, as he continues to recover his strength and stamina and focuses on grip and stance this will improve.

Deliberate practice builds confidence. Real confidence comes from being able to consistently nail a qualification course, stage, or a drill and knowing that this isn't a coincidence but that you can do it correctly on demand. Real confidence is knowing precisely how to correct a problem or misstep because you have identified the key movement or physical factors that are necessary to correctly perform the action every time.

We can improve our shooting through specific exercises, standard tests (qualifier or classifier courses of fire), and drills using deliberate practice methods.

I still admire the IDPA classifiers--both the 90-round original and the current 72-round classifier. The team that put the current IDPA classifier courses of fire together captured the 10 major skills you must perform to shoot a match successfully. Conveniently, these are the same skills you should master to improve your defensive shooting skills.

They are:

-- Safely draw the pistol

-- Extend to fire

-- Execute precise shots

-- Transition between targets

-- Reload the pistol

-- Shoot the pistol unsupported with either hand

-- Turning then drawing the pistol

-- Moving while shooting

-- Shooting from cover

-- Moving from one shooting position to another

We can break each major task down into subtasks (that also must be performed correctly), then apply the deliberate practice methodology to hone our skills. We can improve many of these tasks through dry practice as well and thereby save our range time for tasks that can only be performed on the range.

Time is our most valuable commodity, and we will never have enough. If you're going to practice, you might as well do it right. How much practice is necessary to maintain your self-defense shooting skills? Perhaps not as much as we might imagine. If your goal is an acceptable level of self-defense shooting skills then modest dry practice with a periodic focused range session is probably enough. If you wish to improve beyond modest skills, then a planned practice regimen with specific goals and milestones is very helpful.


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Saturday, May 25, 2019

Thugs kicking in the door--Burglar Nikusubila Makwangwala


Kaufman County Texas—23 May 2019: Nikusubila Makwangwala (born in Texas as Bobby Reynard Emerson) probably thought he had picked out the perfect house. A semi-rural neighborhood with really large, expensive houses that were spaced well apart from each other. Makwangwala pulled his red pickup in the driveway and looked the house over.

It was late morning and the homeowners were likely to be at work—perfect. Just to be certain, he went to the front door and banged on it several times. With no response, he went around to the back of the house and discovered a back door he could easily kick open. Several kicks and he was inside. Makwangwala headed for the bedroom where most people keep jewelry, money, guns, and other valuables. Ideal for a quick entry, grab the stuff, and exit back to I-20 and Dallas. 


However, the home was occupied. Makwangwala’s loud banging on the front door awakened the homeowner who did not answer the door because she did not recognize Makwangwala nor his red pickup in the driveway. She immediately called 911; however, the sheriff’s response time can be a bit slow as you would reasonably expect for a rural area. When she heard Makwangwala kick in the back door, she grabbed a gun, retreated to the bedroom, and hid in the closet—all the while telling the 911 dispatcher what was happening.

As Makwangwala started toward the bedroom did he hear her talking? Did he hear her in the closet? We’ll never know. What we do know is that once he entered the bedroom, he opened the closet door and confronted the homeowner who fatally shot him.

Makwangwala was a career criminal with an extensive arrest record dating back to 1989 when he was 16 years old. Makwangwala had twelve felony convictions for Aggravated Robbery, Burglary of a Habitation, a Felon in Possession of a Firearm, Robbery, Theft, and Illegal Drug Possession. He had been in and out of the Texas prison system numerous times and was on probation at the time of his last burglary. Poor Makwangwala, no more felonies for you.

In Texas, using force against an intruder who you know or have reason to believe was unlawfully and with force entering or attempting to enter unlawfully and with force your occupied habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment is presumed reasonable under certain circumstances. Therefore, the homeowner is unlikely to face any criminal charges associated with Makwangwala’s death. Civil action on Makwangwala’s relatives’ part is another issue—you can always be sued civilly.

A key step in home security is to make it as difficult as possible for someone to enter your home. Most pre-hung doors are not very sturdy and therefore it is relatively easy for a burglar to kick them open as shown in this video: Home Burglary

One solution to ensure that no one can simply kick in your exterior doors is to install heavy metal doors and frames, very decorative and somewhat costly; however, no human can kick them in.

For exterior wooden doors (make sure they are solid wood at least 1-3/4 to 2 inches thick), you can install the Strikemaster II Pro or similar products such as the Door Armor Max (formerly EZ Armor), or Door Security Pro to reinforce the door jams and hinges. I did this as the house was being built so it was relatively painless; however, they are not that difficult to install.

Your home security plan should also include a safe room or rooms. A wood bedroom door made from at least 1-1/2 solid wood, with a deadbolt, and reinforced frame and hinges will make it impossible to enter the bedroom without power tools to breach the door. Once you retreat to the secure bedroom or other safe room you can call 911 and prepare to take other necessary action as the homeowner did in this instance.  


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Sunday, April 28, 2019

The New FBI Qualification -- Low Light


In January 2019 the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) adopted a new qualification course for its agents.  This new course is somewhat different that the one the FBI adopted in 2013 which itself represented a substantial departure from the older FBI qualification.

Inexplicably, although the 2013 qualification required all draws from concealment, the Bureau dropped this requirement for the 2019 qualification.  Given that FBI agents generally wear plain clothes and carry concealed, this seems counter intuitive (they did not ask my opinion however).

The 2013 qualification was a 60-round course of fire which likely produced a lot of partially filled boxes of ammunition. The new qualification is a 50-round course of fire and agents must achieve a minimum of 80% (40 hits) while instructors need 90% (45 hits) to qualify.   From an admin perspective, a 50 round course certainly makes sense.

The January 2019 qualification uses an FBI QIT-99 silhouette as follows:

3 yards

    -- Draw and fire 3 rds (strong hand only) switch hands and fire 3 rds (support hand only), 6 seconds

5 yards

    -- Draw and fire 3 rds, 3 seconds
    -- From the Ready, fire 3 rds, 2 seconds
    -- From the Ready, fire 6 rds, 4 seconds

7 yards

    -- Draw and fire 5 rds, 5 seconds
    -- From the Ready, fire 4 rounds, reload the empty pistol, and fire 4 more rds, 8 seconds
    -- From the Ready, fire 5 rounds, 4 seconds


15 yards

    -- Draw and fire 3 rds, 6 seconds
    -- From the Ready, fire 3 rds, 5 seconds

25 yards

    -- Draw and fire 4 rds from Standing, drop to kneeling, and fire 4 more rds from kneeling, 20 seconds. 

Scoring:Shooters receive 2 points for every round that lands inside the Q99 target outline.  There is no disqualification or penalty for hitting outside the bottle or for missing the target entirely.

Well everyone and their brother is shooting and pontificating about this new qualification, so . . ., we decided to shoot the FBI qualification under low light conditions with different light systems. We did not have the QIT-99; however, the QIT-97 bottle is the same size so not an issue.

I shot a control qualification in daylight (picture 1), with all draws from concealment scoring a 100. I shot everything within the prescribed time limits with no problem.  I then shot a low light qualification (very dark night) using a handheld flashlight (picture 2).  Given the requirement that you switch hands mid-string, I could not use a light for the 3-yard string and essentially used point shooting. I dropped two shots at 3-yards (weak hand) for a score of 96.


I then shot a low light qualification (picture 3) using a handheld flashlight to initially identify the target and then using a pistol-mounted light for the actual target engagement.  Pistol mounted lights with the proper switch configuration can make hitting a target under low light conditions easier. However, learning the tighten/relax grip to turn the light on and off requires practice—particularly for someone accustomed to maintaining a firm firing grip on the pistol.


In my classes, I always require everyone to master hand held light techniques before I allow them to use a pistol-mounted light for several reasons. Searching with a mounted light virtually guarantees that you will point the pistol in an unsafe direction at some point. For that reason, I ask shooters to search with their hand-held light (as I did in this qualification) and then to release it and go to the pistol mounted light once they identify a threat. I used a San Antonio, TX police target for this qualification and scored a 100.  Even though the target was different, all shots would have been in the FBI QIT-97 target bottle.

Finally, I used the SIG P320 Lima Laser system (with a green laser) to fire the last qualification using the laser sighting system at 3-yards and then a handheld flashlight in combination with the laser thereafter (picture 4).  Although I used the SIG P320 Lima system, I believe any laser sighting system with a grip switch (see picture below) on the market would have worked equally well. I scored a 100 on this qualification also.


The one issue with firing the FBI qualification under low light conditions is the string of fire at 7-yards where you fire 4 rounds, reload the empty pistol, and fire 4 more rds in 8 seconds. I do not believe it is possible to do this with a handheld flashlight within the 8-second time limit.  My normal reload for a semi-automatic pistol is 2.0 – 2.5 seconds, so 4 reload 4 in 8 seconds is no problem.  With a handheld flashlight my reloads averaged 5.5 seconds so 4 reload 4 is problematic when you must release the light, reload, recover the light, reacquire a firing grip, and then engage the target.

This was the first time I used the Lima system in low light (very dark night w/ no moon) and I was very impressed.  It does require a purpose-built holster; however, with a such a holster it carries very well.  I think the laser in combination with a with a handheld flashlight will make a superb low light system.  In a couple of weeks I am teaching a low light, close range gun fighting class and I look forward to seeing how the Lima works under these conditions.

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Saturday, February 23, 2019

Pistol Mounted Lights--A Solution in Search of a Problem?

Denver — A Denver Police officer faces a 10-day suspension for accidentally firing his weapon nearly striking a suspect. Officer Asher Rose accidentally pulled the trigger of his pistol while trying to turn on his pistol mounted light. Officer Rose was attempting to use his light to illuminate a suspect hiding under a truck when he fired a bullet that hit a rear tire inches away from the suspect’s head.

We just started our 6th year of low light classes and we have had several police officers attend our classes and practice sessions--some are issued pistols with mounted lights. These officers did very well; however, in general I don’t believe that issuing pistol mounted flashlights to police officers is a good policy.  Unlike the officers in our classes who come to learn and practice low light techniques, the average officer is unlikely to practice activating and using the light under stress.

Pistol mounted lights with the proper switch configuration can make hitting a target under low light conditions easier. However, searching with a mounted light virtually guarantees that you will point the pistol in an unsafe direction. For that reason, I require students to master hand held light techniques and search with their hand-held light. If they decide to engage a target, they are free to release the hand-held light and go to the pistol mounted light if they have one.

Lights that require you to change your grip or that require you to push a button with your support hand or trigger finger to activate are awkward at best and impossible at worst under stress.

A remote switch that activates when you tighten your grip on the pistol (such as the one in the picture above) greatly simplifies the process of activating the light; however, it also carries a substantial risk of accidentally firing the pistol if you fail to apply proper trigger finger discipline.

KEEP YOUR FINGER OFF THE TRIGGER UNTIL YOU HAVE MADE A CONSCIOUS DECISION TO INTENTIONALLY FIRE A SHOT!

Even with a remote switch, training remains a critical component. The human body’s sympathetic nervous response makes it difficult to tighten your grip without simultaneously tightening your trigger finger. For the same reason, it is difficult to squeeze one hand and not squeeze the other hand. If you have your finger on the trigger and tighten your grip to activate a light, you will likely tighten your finger on the trigger and fire the pistol.

On 13 October 2010, an undercover Plano, Tx police sergeant shot and killed Michael Anthony Alcala as he was trying to turn on his pistol mounted light. The sergeant told investigators he was trying to turn on the light when he accidentally fired his weapon.

The sergeant stated that he never intended to have his finger on the trigger nor did he intend to shoot Alcala. The light the sergeant had mounted on his pistol was a Surefire x300 without the DG remote switch. The sergeant had used remote switches in the past and tightened his grip thinking he was activating the light. Finger on the trigger, tightening his grip, pistol firing--the sympathetic nervous response in action.

During the last practice session we completed the Texas Department of Public Safety (Texas state police) old 60 round qualification course with a possible score of 300 as outlined below. The new qualification deletes the support hand string at seven yards.

3-yard line - 19 shots:

-- Holstered: 2 steps right, 3 shots, 5 seconds

-- Holstered: 2 steps left, 2 shots, 4 seconds

-- Holstered: 2 steps right, 2 shots, 4 seconds

-- Holstered: Strong Hand, 6 shots (3-2-1); 4,3,2 seconds

-- Ready: Support Hand, 6 shots (3-2-1); 4,3,2 seconds

7-yard line - 18 shots:

-- Holstered: 6 shots, while reloading 1 step right, 6 shots, 20 seconds

-- Ready: Pistol in Support Hand (you may use two hands), 6 shots, 15 seconds

15-yard line - 12 shots:

-- Holstered: 6 shots, 1 step left, 6 shots, 20 seconds

25-yard line - 11 shots:

-- Holstered: 6 shots, 1 step right, 5 shots (standing or kneeling), 25 seconds

We used the Austin Police Department modified Q19 target with shots within the Q19 outline (red zone--see picture below) scored as 5 points and shots outside that zone but on the threat as 2 points. Everyone passed (80% or 240 points) and I shot a possible score of 300 with my SIG P320 using a hand-held light with only three shots outside the center rectangle.




Is a light on a long gun a good idea? Absolutely. However, a pistol mounted light may be a solution in search of a problem. They are expensive, speciality lights designed for a single purpose. You can purchase a superb hand-held light for much less and it will serve for everyday use as well as for the rare emergency when you must engage a threat with your pistol under low light conditions.

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Sunday, February 17, 2019

Don't Get Shot -- Interacting with Police at Home

On January 4, 2019 a Knox County Sheriff's Deputy was performing a security check in response to a home alarm. The deputy’s bodycam shows him examining the property and as he approached a rear door on the house, the homeowner yanked open the door pointing a pistol at the deputy. The deputy fired one shot without hitting the homeowner. Although uninjured, you can hear the homeowner ask: “Why did you shoot me?”  (click here for the video)

Well duh! You yanked open a door and pointed a pistol at the deputy—that’s why. Although there is no public information concerning why the homeowner’s alarm was triggered, it is possible that the homeowner inadvertently entered the duress code on his house alarm. A duress code is a secondary, covert signal designed to be entered on the alarm keypad in the event that an intruder ambushes you at home and forces you to disarm the system. On monitored alarm systems, the duress code appears to disarm the alarm; however, it sends send a silent panic alert to a monitoring station that something is amiss in the home. This often causes the alarm company to call the police without calling the house first to see if everything is OK.

I do not believe that the deputy involved in this incident did anything wrong. The deputy was responding to an alarm at a home that indicated that an intruder might be present and his reaction to someone opening a door and pointing a pistol at him was perfectly reasonable and justified. In the end, no one got shot and everything turned out fine; however, this incident could have ended very differently.

How do we prevent situations like this? Although the homeowner believed he was defending his home from a suspicious intruder on his property, in reality there was no reason to open the door. The deputy was in uniform and simply looking out the window would have demonstrated this fact. It is unclear if the homeowner called 911; however, had he done so and provided his address, it is probable that the dispatcher would have told him the police were at his home.

In Texas, using force against an intruder who you know or have reason to believe was unlawfully and with force entering or attempting to enter unlawfully and with force your occupied habitation, vehicle, or place of business or employment is presumed reasonable under certain circumstances. Therefore, someone in similar circumstances can simply wait to see if the intruder attempts to enter their house and respond accordingly from a cover position (in Texas at least—if you live in another state your results may vary).

The first step in home security is to have a plan and that plan should probably not include “exit the home and confront intruder.” I am not a fan of leaving your home to confront intruders. I did that once and learned just how foolish that can be. Exiting your home and confronting a possible intruder outside increases your physical risk and may negate the presumption of reasonableness for your actions depending upon the laws in your jurisdiction.

If you exit your home armed and find yourself facing the police instead of an intruder, you may well finish up on the receiving end of police gunfire as happened on May 7, 2015 when Bryan Heyward called 911 to report armed men attempting to break into his mother’s home. When sheriff's deputies arrived at the scene, Heyward exited the house through the back door holding a gun. A deputy yelled “show me your hands!” and fired twice at Heyward less than a second later. One bullet struck Heyward in the neck and he may be permanently paralyzed.

Ensure that no one can simply kick in your exterior doors as shown in this video. One solution is heavy metal doors and frames, very decorative (somewhat costly) and no human can kick them in.

Other than metal doors, most pre-hung doors are not very sturdy. For exterior wooden doors (make sure they are solid wood), I personally used the Strikemaster II Pro to reinforce my door jams and hinges. I did this as the house was being built and asked the builder to install them so it was relatively painless. Similar products are the Door Armor Max (formerly EZ Armor) that Armor Concepts produces and Door Security Pro. There are probably others on the market that perform a similar function.

If someone does manage to defeat your door and enters your home, responding from a cover position increases your chances of survival and builds the foundation of “reasonableness” for your actions.

Your home security plan should also include a safe room or rooms. In my house, someone yelling “BEDROOM!” is giving the command for everyone to instantly stop what they are doing and retreat to a secure bedroom with a reinforced bedroom door. From there you can call 911 and prepare to take other necessary action.

The door on you safe room or rooms should be made from at least 1-1/2 solid wood, with a deadbolt, and have a frame reinforced with the Strikemaster or similar product. Even if someone gets in the house, attempting to enter the bedroom is impossible without power tools and significant noise that will alert the homeowner.

Remember, not every possible “intruder” is necessarily a criminal. The homeowner in this incident probably did not have reason to believe that the police would be at his house. Regardless, there was a completely valid reason for the police to be poking around his back yard and coming to his back door. There are many completely legitimate and legal reasons why you could find a police officer, fireman, or utility worker on your property. In most neighborhoods it is more likely that someone on your property is either a neighbor or first responder rather than a criminal.

It is much safer to stay put and deal with a possible intruder on your terms rather than exiting your home and charging into a situation where you may not have enough information nor enough time to make a good decision. Additionally, making contact with police on the scene is much safer if you are not visibly armed.

Police officers don’t want to get shot. Legally armed citizens don’t want to mistakenly shoot a police officer who is trying to help them and certainly don’t want the police to shoot them. In reality, both parties want the same outcome. 

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Saturday, February 9, 2019

Maintain Your Skills--Dry Practice



Dry practice is an excellent way to maintain your firearm manipulation skills—particularly when you cannot get to the range. However, many unintended discharges occur in dry practice due to improper safeguards (see the picture at the right).

Step one in preparing for dry practice is to follow the safety rules (note: I do not use the term dry fire—we don’t want the pistol to fire!). These rules apply every time you handle a firearm.

    -- Treat every firearm as if it is loaded at all times

    -- Always point the firearm in a safe direction—this is dependent upon the environment and circumstances

    -- Keep your finger off the trigger unless you are intentionally firing a shot

    -- Be sure of your target and what is beyond it 

To start your dry practice: Unload your pistol in a different room from the one where you plan to dry practice. I always use the mnemonic MRI (magazine, rack, inspect) for loading and unloading.

First -- assume a proper grip on the pistol (trigger finger properly indexed) and point pistol in a safe direction. Then apply MRI as follows:

M – Magazine: remove the magazine

R – Rack: (Pull) the slide to the rear and lock it to the rear

I -- Inspect: Visually and physically confirm that the pistol is in fact unloaded.

Place the unloaded pistol in a holster or case for transport to the room where you plan to do your dry practice. There must be no live ammunition in the same room where you are doing dry practice.

During dry practice always aim the pistol at something that can safely absorb the most powerful round that your pistol can fire. Level IIIa body armor (even old body armor) hung on a coat hanger over a door is great for this purpose. Other things such as a full bookshelf with no airspace, a wall known to be solid (e.g. an exterior brick wall), or dedicated devices such as the Safe Direction™ dry-fire backstop (a more expensive alternative) all serve as proper dry practice backstops.

It may or may not be a good idea to practice trigger-pulling and reloading in the same session. If you follow the steps outlined in this article 100% of the time without fail, then doing both in one session constitutes little risk. However, if you have any doubt—then dry practice reloading and trigger pulling in different sessions.

When using dummy ammunition, absolutely ensure that no live ammo has migrated into the “dummy cartridge” supply—keep them separate at all times. I designed some heavy-duty dummy training rounds that replicate the weight and feel of live ammunition. To ensure that I did not mix live ammunition with dummy training rounds, I use steel cases with a heavy cannelure to ensure the bullet does not set back in the case when chambering. I also load them with blue bullets. 

The heavy cannelure and the colorful bullets serve as visual indicators that these are dummy rounds. I personally never shoot steel-cased ammunition and I know of no manufacturer that produces steel case ammunition with blue, green, or red bullets. If you wish to purchase a set, click here.

 

After a dry-practice session, do not immediately reload and holster for carry and never do this in the room where you are dry practicing. When you finish, say out loud: “I am finished dry practicing” three times. I know it sounds corny; however doing this resets the mind to the fact that “draw gun, pull trigger” dry practice is finished. When you are finished—YOU ARE FINISHED. Never do one more draw. Place the pistol in its case or holster and return to the room where you unloaded the pistol and safely reload for carry or put the pistol away.

I did one more draw once and the plaque shown in the lead picture above was the result. The metal section is part of an ironing board leg and the wood behind it was a section of wall panel. I shot the ironing board leg with a .357 magnum and the bullet ricocheted off and struck the wall panel. Fortunately, there were no injuries to anyone except me—my injuries were ringing ears and extreme trauma to my pride. My father made the plaque for me as a permanent reminder not to cut corners. 

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Sunday, January 13, 2019

Shots in the Dark: A Low Light Qualification


Research indicates that criminals often choose the darkness or low light conditions to pursue their nefarious profession. A significant number of shootings involving police officers happen at night as well. Criminals view darkness as an asset and use it as an advantage against those whom they would victimize. These realities mean that if you are forced to defend yourself, odds are it will happen under low light conditions; however, few people pursue low light training even when the opportunity exists.

Although shooting accurately with a flashlight is much more challenging than simply using a normal two-handed stance. My experience with students who have been practicing over the past several years is that low light mastery (like all shooting skills) comes with practice and the proper equipment.

For the first practice session in the 18-19 season, we used a modified Texas LTC qualification course. The first run was within Texas LTC time limits; however, we used the San Antonio Police Department target. Shooters started all strings of fire with flashlight in hand, drawing from the holster with the exception of the 2 second strings. My scores on run #1 were an acceptable with a 248 out of a possible 250. I was shooting my SIG P365 with Hornady Critical Duty 135gr standard pressure loads.



The second qualification was a modified Texas LTC qualification course as well with the same parameters. This time we used the International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) target; however, we covered the target’s body with a clean t-shirt and the head with a mask. This makes it impossible to use previous hits, tape, etc. as an aiming reference point. For run #2 I used my SIG P320 with a Trijicon Red Dot, also shooting Hornady Critical Duty 135gr standard pressure loads. My score on run #2 was 250 out of 250.



Using your local or state police targets, qualification course, and (in this case) ammunition allows you to demonstrate your skills if you are ever called upon to prove it in court after a self-defense shooting.  I keep witnessed records of my qualifications and do the same for my students.

Flashlights

Through experimentation over the past several years we have confirmed much of the conventional wisdom concerning low light gear. While the 60 lumens Surefire 6P was certainly state of the art decades ago, modern high intensity lights have come into their own. We have discovered that a powerful light (300 lumens and up) overpowers a weaker light and permits the shooter to identify and engage targets that would otherwise be hidden from view.

The spot size of the flashlight beam is also important. Ideally when you illuminate a threat you want the spot shining directly in their eyes. Some lights have a very small spot designed to throw the light over longer distances. While this works well as a spotlight, it loses effectiveness when used as a self-defense light because the narrow spot requires too much precision to effectively blind the threat.

A flashlight with a large spot requires much less precision and therefore works better. For the last two years I have carried a Fenix FD30 and an older model of the Surefire 6Z. The Fenix has proven to be a good general purpose every day carry and self-defense light. It is small, lightweight, takes rechargeable and standard batteries, and is adjustable from 8-900 lumens. The FD30 has an adjustable spot that works very well as a self-defense light. I keep it adjusted for a wide beam spot which will blind anyone within self-defense distances. If I need the extra throw, I can adjust the spot to a more focused beam. A drawback to the Fenix and many lights like it is the tail cap design which makes using some flashlight techniques difficult.

Surefire lights are also a good choice. I have an older model Surefire 6Z that works very well with some modifications. My Surefire has a modified Malkoff Devices drop-in LED1 which throws 450 lumens and has a generous spot as well. My lights have a modified TorchLAB McClicky tail cap from Oveready.2 This tail cap allows you to click the light on with a press of the button unlike many Surefire lights that you must twist to activate constant on. There are literally dozens of flashlight models on the market today and it is impossible to test them all; although, the members of Candlepowerforums.com certainly try and is a good place to learn about all aspects of modern LED lights and rechargeable batteries.

How about a flashlight on the pistol? We have had several police officers who attend our low light classes and practice sessions and some are issued pistols with mounted lights. I have no objection to pistol mounted lights and they can make firing the pistol much simpler with the proper switch configuration. However, I do require everyone to master the hand-held light techniques for several reasons. Searching with a mounted light virtually guarantees that you will point the pistol in unsafe direction at some point. For that reason, I require shooters to search with their hand-held light and then they are free to release it and go to the pistol mounted light if they wish to engage.

Challenges

When I first started doing low light classes (2014) we discovered that the two biggest challenges for shooters was recognizing the threat targets in decision-based scenarios and then hitting the threats. When initially exposed to low light problems, even very accomplished shooters who have very little difficultly hitting a target under normal lighting conditions often go through an adjustment period as they learn low light techniques.

So what is posing a challenge for them under low lighting conditions? Almost every student initially shoots high on the target or (presumably) over it. We discovered that students were subconsciously tilting the pistol up slightly in order to see the front sight better in the low light. Regardless of the lighting conditions you must properly align the sights and then concentrate on the front sight while simultaneously pressing the trigger. Hard to do under normal circumstances with good light--more difficult to do under low lighting conditions.

You must practice low light techniques to have any hope of using them under stress. As we’ve discovered, students simply don’t master the low light techniques from class--you cannot practice it once and get it down pat. Using a light in conjunction with a handgun is difficult and it requires practice. Thankfully you can practice the techniques with live fire during daylight if your range won’t allow night shooting. So how do you practice engaging multiple threats and shooting on the move with these techniques?

If your local range has IDPA matches, shoot the course of fire using your flashlight if the match director will permit it. Your score won’t win the match; however, you will learn how to shoot and manipulate your pistol under some stress. Practicing how to search a structure (like your house when nobody is home) in the dark is important as well. DO this with AN UNLOADED PISTOL (check it 3 times!). This helps you identify how the various angles and corners in your house make one technique a better option than the other.

To my knowledge, no data exists concerning private citizen-involved shootings with criminals under low light conditions; however, since a lot of criminal activity occurs after dark we can assume that there is a likely correlation. There are several reasons to use a flashlight: to observe and detect, to illuminate and navigate, to eliminate anonymity, and to identify and engage threats. Used properly, a flashlight lets you see danger before it can affect you and it can encourage the danger waiting in the dark to go elsewhere.

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1: https://malkoff-devices.myshopify.com/products/m61-mod-to-fit-surefire-and-malkoff 

2: https://www.oveready.com/flashlight/torchlab-mcclicky-self-installation-clicky-kit-for-z41-p-c-z-g-x/