Sunday, February 25, 2024

Gunfight Anatomy: The Bruce Lua Incident

This is the first in a series of articles and accompanying videos demonstrating just how fast deadly encounters can evolve. I have heard people say, “there is no timer in a gunfight.” The statement is obviously silly – the timing of your opponent’s actions dictates how fast your reaction (your timer if you will) must be in a gunfight.

One of the challenges anyone faces in a reactive gunfight is their perception-reaction time. The time required to respond to a given stimulus varies greatly across different tasks and even within the same task under different conditions. It can range from less than 0.15 seconds to many seconds depending upon the type of stimulus, the observer’s circumstances, the environment, and the stimulus complexity.

In the discussion below, I analyze the actions of three individuals involved in a gunfight. Two were Chicago Police Officers and one was a run of the mill violent criminal actor.

The Background:

On 16 May 2021, Chicago Police began to receive 911 calls concerning shots being fired in a North Lawndale suburb of Chicago, IL. Simultaneously, the Chicago ShotSpotter system began registering gunfire (see note #1 below). Chicago police responded to the area and a bystander indicated that Bruce L. Lua might have been the shooter. The police (in a marked patrol car and on foot) followed Lua for several blocks; however, Lua did not acknowledge the officers and did not follow their instructions to stop.

Other officers arrived and encountered Lua walking down an alley toward their marked patrol SUV that was stopped in and partially blocking the alley exit facing Lua. Officers Garcia and Nakayama exited their marked SUV and ordered Lua to stop and show his hands. Lua ignored their commands to stop and continued walking toward the officers with his hands concealed in his hoodie pockets.

The Gunfight:

As Officer Garcia exited the passenger side, he drew his Glock 19 to a low ready with his right hand and continued to order Lua to stop as he approached him--Lua ignored his command and continued to walk forward. Officer Nakayama exited the SUV driver’s side and began moving to his left away from the vehicle into Lua's likely path but did not draw his pistol.

When he was within three yards of Officer Garcia, Lua began withdrawing both hands from his hoodie pockets just like the officers had commanded. Lua used his left hand to shield the fact that he had a pistol in his right hand as he fired one shot at Officer Garcia striking Garcia’s pistol and hand. Lua then turned to Officer Nakayama and fired five shots, shooting him in the right shoulder and left hip respectively with the first three rounds.

Gunfight Analysis:

Lua drew and fired his pistol at Officer Garcia in 0.60 seconds; however, Lua’s pistol was only visible to Officer Garcia for 0.52 seconds before Lua fired (see red arrow below).

The Moment Lua's Pistol Becomes Visible
Based upon a review of the body worn camera (BOC) videos and police reporting, I believe the bullet Lua fired at Officer Garcia struck the trigger guard of Officer Garcia’s Glock 19 pistol. The bullet then entered the pistol grip, damaging several rounds in the pistol’s magazine (and partially ejecting the magazine) before entering Officer Garcia’s right palm and exiting the back of his hand. 

Officer Garcia’s pistol fired when Lua’s bullet struck it and this bullet impacted the concrete at Lua’s feet (see red arrow below). In an instant, Officer Garcia’s primary pistol was rendered inoperable. If he had a backup pistol, Officer Garcia never attempted to draw it.

Officer Garcia's Pistol Fires the Moment Lua's Bullet Strikes It

Lua turned and fired his first shot at Officer Nakayama 1.28 seconds into the gunfight and within 0.68 seconds of shooting Officer Garcia striking Officer Nakayama’s right shoulder on his bullet resistant vest. Lua fired a second shot at Officer Nakayama 0.50 seconds after the first which likely missed. Lua fires a third shot 0.33 seconds later likely striking Officer Nakayama in the left hip which caused the officer to stumble backwards and ultimately fall. Lua fires fourth shot 0.25 seconds later and a final shot, both of which miss Officer Nakayama. Lua's fifth shot hits the ground. In the image below left, you can see LUA firing his first shot at Officer Nakayama in the below right, Lua is firing his third shot.  Notice, Lua continued to aggressively advance toward Officer Nakayama as this exchange of gunfire unfolded.

Officer Nakayama drew his pistol and fired his first shot one handed 1.74 seconds after Lua initiated the gunfight and 0.66 seconds after Lua’s first shot had struck him. Officer Nakayama’s first shot appears to have struck the ground—not surprising since he had just taken a hit to his primary shoulder. Even though it was on the vest, the hit likely disrupted his draw to a degree. Nakayama point shoots a second shot with two hands 0.38 seconds later which likely struck Lua in the shin because Lua begins to fall.

Within 1.70 seconds of initiating the gunfight, Lua had shot at and hit two police officers with the first four rounds he fired. The entire gunfight lasted 2.62 seconds. (see note #3)

Perception and Reaction -- Is There a Lesson Here?

Events happen very fast in deadly force encounters. Quickly recognizing what is happening and then rapidly executing a pre-programed response is the key to prevailing in a deadly force encounter.

The person who takes the initiative gets to start the fight—all they require is decisiveness. Lua initiated the gunfight which gave him a significant time-advantage over the police officers.

Although Officer Garcia had drawn his pistol, he had no indication that Lua was going to use unlawful deadly force until an instant before Lua shot him. It is unlikely that Officer Garcia could have successfully engaged Lua before he was hit.

Lua’s first shot transition to Officer Nakayama was likely much faster than Officer Nakayama could have drawn his pistol from a retention holster. Nakayama was in the process of drawing his pistol when Lua’s shot struck him.

If we look at this incident using Boyd’s Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) decision cycle from the officer’s and the Lua’s perspective, Lua has already passed through a full OODA cycle. He Observed the officers approaching, Oriented when they parked the car, Decided to engage them, and began Acting while the officers were still in the Observe stage.

The quicker the defender (in this case the officers) perceives what is happening (observe), the quicker the defender can act (i.e. execute a response) (see notes #3 and #4).

The defender is typically behind in the decision cycle because the violent criminal actor is usually in the act stage while the defender is still observing. This is true of police and the private citizen.

Mental awareness and mindset is a critical component to surviving any defensive encounter involving deadly force. However, mindset alone is insufficient. It must be coupled with awareness, proper training, and a willingness to act. The solution to this challenge is to develop mental models of if “X” observation, then “Y” reaction. This allows one to skip the intervening steps in the OODA cycle.

In this example, Chicago Police policy (G03-02-05) permits the use of OC spray against “active resisters.” I am not going to second guess these officers and I recognize the difficulties all officers face in today’s politically charged environment. However, Lua was clearly an active resister and the immediate use of oleoresin capsicum spray may have precluded his ability to effectively engage the officers with deadly force.

The same holds true for the private citizen. If an unknown contact is approaching and attempting to engage you, there are several immediate actions you can take depending upon the totality of the circumstances. The key is to have a set of pre-planned actions to execute in response to a given stimulus.

For example, if I am pulling into my driveway and a car stops at the driveway entrance with young men exiting, I have several options. If I am still in the car, I can simply drive away. If I have exited the car, I can take cover and covertly draw my pistol and challenge them. Going through “what if” scenarios based upon your daily activities and deciding what your action would be in each scenario will significantly speed up your reaction if you are suddenly facing unlawful deadly force.

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(1) ShotSpotter uses a series of microphones and sensors to detect and geolocate gunfire. 

(2) I base my time analysis on the FPS or frames per second of the videos the Chicago PD released which provides data to the 100ths of a second accuracy assuming the frame rates have not been altered.

(3) "Understanding that the simple elements of an officer’s response such as perceiving, deciding, and reacting take time, and understanding how much time is critical in assessing train-ing tactics and in investigating the dynamics of officer-involved use-of-force scenarios." Police Officer Reaction Time to Start and Stop Shooting: The Influence of Decision-Making and Pattern Recognition, William J. Lewinski, PhD; et al.; Law Enforcement Executive Forum, Vol. 14, No. 2 • June 2014

 (4) For an in-depth discussion of Boy’s concepts:

Monday, February 5, 2024

The Dirty Dozen: Twelve Bad Shooting Habits Updated

This is an update to an article I published over seven years ago.

Bad habits are something we all try to guard against, but they often creep into our shooting. Some shooters learn bad habits because the people teaching them do not know any better. Even when taught correctly, others develop bad habits through failing to apply what they have been taught. Flinching, anticipating the shot, chasing the sights, changing your grip, etc., are all bad habits. In this article I examine some of the more interesting variations I typically see.

1. Going too fast for your skill level.

This is an issue for shooters, instructors, and match safety officers. From the shooter perspective, do not try to go faster than you can safely perform the task. I tell novice shooters they must master the fundamentals of safely drawing and presenting the pistol before they try to speed up. 

The picture at right shows a video frame capture of a of a novice shooter trying to draw faster than his skill level. In this draw sequence, he fired the round into the ground approximately 3 feet in front of where he was standing. Although he did not believe he was doing it, he was subconsciously placing his finger on the trigger early in the draw process before his pistol cleared the holster and was pointed toward the target--a negligent discharge waiting to happen. 

This is not just a novice issue. I recently asked several accomplished Expert and Master-level shooters if they had ever felt the pistol muzzle with their support hand when they were trying to draw quickly. In other words, had they ever let the support hand get ahead of the firing hand on a draw? All admitted that had happened at least once when they were learning to draw and shoot quickly. Speed comes with the mastery of the fundamentals. Don't go too fast for your skill level. 

2. Performing ritualistic movements during static range training.

I see this all the time from novice shooters in classes and during pistol matches. One student would rotate the pistol to the left every time after he reloaded — even when doing the reload at speed. When I asked him why he did this, he sheepishly admitted he had seen someone else do it and thought it looked cool.

Unnecessary flourishes and motion might look cool to some, but this does nothing more than add time and inefficiency to the task. That extra half-second required to get your sights back on target adds up and could cost you your life in a self-defense encounter. Efficient pistol manipulation is critical to developing speed and eliminating unnecessary movement is the key.

3. Drawing slower as distance to the target increases.

I routinely see shooters who draw quickly when the target is close and who literally go into slow motion for distant targets. Your draw speed must be the same regardless of distance.

Indeed, the faster you draw for distant targets, the more time you will have to settle the sights and make an accurate shot. Keep your draw speed the same for every distance. 

4. Taking your finger out of the trigger guard between shots.

The only time your finger should be in the trigger guard is when you are intentionally firing a shot. That said, new shooters often take their finger completely out of the trigger guard between shots even when they intend to fire a follow-up shot. Instead, the shooter should release the trigger and allow the sear to reset and prepare for the next shot.

Trigger reset is the distance the trigger moves back toward its "at rest" position before it re-engages the internal linkages (sear, etc.) at which point the pistol may be fired again. This distance varies among pistol designs. All motion equals time, so you want to eliminate unnecessary motion.

For those who wish to advance further, the next step is to train yourself to begin resetting the trigger as soon as you feel the pistol start to recoil. Your goal is to have the sear reset as soon as your gun returns to battery (slide fully closed). Then, as the pistol settles and the sights return to the target after recoil recovery, you are ready to press the trigger once again. 

With practice, most shooters should be able to easily achieve splits (the time between shots) of 0.25 - 0.30 seconds. Many shooters will get in the 0.19 to 0.24 range and truly advanced shooters will get into the 0.14 to 0.18 range with some going beyond. Gordon Carrell, who has more than 60 national, regional and state titles including the 2011 Smith & Wesson Indoor National Championship, once told me his fastest recorded split was 0.11 seconds. A friend of mine who is an IDPA 6-gun Master did it in 0.10 seconds as measured frame-by-frame in a video.

5. Failure to maintain a solid firing grip.

Anytime you have your pistol in your hand, have it in a solid firing grip with your finger along the slide or frame outside the trigger guard. This includes initially loading the pistol. Do not switch hands when loading -- have the magazine in a pouch or pocket accessible to the non-firing hand. When holstering the pistol, some shooters just sort of hold the pistol’s slide and grip--a sure recipe for eventually dropping the loaded pistol when they snag something as they attempt to holster. Maintain a solid grip with the firing hand.

6. Unnecessarily adjusting your grip:

Another common problem is the shooter who unnecessarily adjusts or re-grasps his pistol before and during a firing string. This is a bad habit that always seems to be waiting in the wings. I typically see this immediately after the draw; however I've seen novice and even experienced shooters do it after every shot.

More unnecessary motion. Learn to acquire a solid firing grip as you initially grasp the pistol while it is in the holster, then maintain that grip as your support hand comes into play and you begin to fire. 

7. Pointing the pistol at yourself when you holster: 

Some shooters tend to dig for the holster with the pistol's muzzle when they holster the pistol. This is often accompanied by the shooter pointing the pistol inward toward his hip or waist. 

This is common when the shooter is using an inside-the-waistband holster (IWB) or when using a holster design that allows the mouth of the holster to collapse when the pistol is withdrawn. Although not as much of a problem with outside-the-waistband (OWB) holsters, I've seen shooters do it with this design as well. Don't point a loaded pistol at yourself. (Note: Some IDPA guys had an absolute fit when I originally used this picture.  The pistol had a chamber flag and was clear of ammunition.)

8. Failure to train with the auto-lock trigger finger manipulation holster:

The auto-lock trigger finger manipulation holster has been commercially available since 2006 with at least four variations currently on the market. As a retention holster, this design protects and retains the pistol well and automatically "locks" the pistol in the holster when it is inserted without the need to manipulate anything.

The retention release mechanism is located on the outboard side, in the pistol's trigger/trigger guard area. To properly operate the release, the shooter establishes a strong-hand grip, extending and straightening the trigger finger exactly like a draw from any style of holster. The shooter then applies finger-pad pressure with the trigger finger to the "release button" that deactivates the retention and allows the shooter to draw the pistol.

However, unless the shooter deactivates the retention before beginning upward pressure as part of the draw, the retention continues to hold the pistol in the holster. Often, the inexperienced shooter then begins tugging on the pistol and tends to transition from finger-pad to finger-tip pressure causing the trigger finger to bend.

When the novice shooter finally manages to deactivate the retention and draws the pistol, this bend in the trigger finger positions the finger near or on the trigger, and the finger tends to stay in motion. As the trigger guard clears the holster, the finger enters the trigger guard and contacts the trigger — occasionally with unpleasant results. I have witnessed two people shoot themselves doing exactly this.

The holster is not the problem, it works exactly as designed. If you are going to use an auto-lock trigger finger manipulation holster, you absolutely must train with the holster until a safe draw is second nature — for that matter, you should do this with any holster you use.

For Safety Officers: You will see the belt rise if someone is doing this. Stop them immediately and explain what they are doing incorrectly.

9. Failure to clear cloth in holster: 

IDPA, USPSA, IPSC, CAS, etc are all active sports, and shooters often have their shirt tails or other garments drift out during the course of a stage. If the shooter fails to clear this cloth from the mouth of the holster when he re-holsters his pistol, this cloth can find its way into the trigger guard.

As the shooter presses the pistol into the holster, the cloth jams, which can lead to an unwelcome loud noise as the cloth tightens around and pulls the trigger. Always visually confirm that your holster is completely clear of any cloth or other obstruction when you holster a loaded pistol.

10. Placing empty or partially empty magazines in your mag pouch:

I cannot guess the number of times I've seen shooters put an empty or partially empty magazine into their mag pouch, then later discover it is not fully charged when they run out of ammunition. In a match, this is cause for laughter at the competitor's expense, but in a self-defense encounter it could be fatal.

Stow your empties in a pocket, not in the pouch.

11. Crowding Cover:

Novices frequently want to crowd (get extremely close to) cover. This limits their available work-space to manipulate the pistol and may lead them to point the pistol in an unsafe direction as they maneuver to the next firing position.

With IDPA fault lines, a shooter is considered behind cover no matter how of much his upper torso is exposed, as long as his feet are not touching the ground on the other side of the fault line. The fault line must extend at least three feet from the cover barrier. Not crowding the cover provides space to manipulate your pistol and maneuver.

On the competition stage design side, I occasionally see stages designed in such a manner that they force shooters to crowd cover. In a IDPA match where I served as safety officer, one stage required the shooter to maneuver in a tight V-shaped barricade space and fire through ports. The stage had a barrel obstacle in the center of the V which forced the shooter to maneuver close to cover and prevented the Safety Officers from staying with the shooter as they fired the stage — obviously a less-than-optimal design.

On a related note, many stages have ports through which the shooter must engage a target. Shooting through the port does not mean you must stick the entire pistol through the port. The time you lose poking your pistol through is doubled when you now must pull it back out before you can move on. More inefficient and unnecessary motion.

12. Hollywood Ready

At some point, film and television producers began directing the actors to hold the pistol vertically next to their face so both were visible in the scene. This generated a bad habit among novice shooters who believe pointing the barrel at the sky is an appropriate ready position.

There are several reasons not to do this, including the fact that if you fire a round with the pistol next to your face you will likely cause permanent hearing loss. 

I often see novice competitors who are crowding cover use the "Hollywood ready" as they move away from a shooting position. Step away from the cover and use a low ready or compressed ready when you move. 

Bad Habits

These are some of the bad habits I've seen — I suspect there are others and welcome comments or input.

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