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.


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 and out of the trigger guard 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.


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.

If you are reloading the pistol, apply the MRI process. Assume a proper grip on the pistol (trigger finger properly indexed) and point pistol in a safe direction. 

M – Magazine: insert the magazine

R – Rack: (Pull) the slide to the rear and let it go forward

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

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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