APRIL 7, 2011

Voices from the Field: Gunlights, Switching and Gunpoint: Analysis -- Part II

by Chuck Haggard Cops have, unfortunately, had NDs with fatal consequences for many years before pistol mounted lights were ever invented. Explanations of these incidents have brought to our attention such dynamics as interlimb response (I throw this out for the folks who want to remove pistol/weapon mounted lights and feel that handheld lights are THE answer here) as explanations as to why these can happen, and how to train to avoid such accidents. The real issue here is the failure to abide by the "Four Rules" as codified by the late Col. Jeff Cooper. These are: 1. All guns are loaded 2. Never let your muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy 3. Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target 4. Be sure of your target
Though there is no light on the pistol, our student demonstrates "gunpoint from guard" on the photo-target in the room. Muzzle is depressed allowing the student a full field of view yet allowing high speed shots on target if required.
The one dynamic that we know for sure in both of these unfortunate incidents is that rules 2 and 3 were not heeded. In both of these cases the trigger of the handgun was pulled by the officer, and the weapon was pointed in such a way as to not only be covering the suspect's body, but covering it in a manner that led to a fatal wound. Had either rule 2 or 3 been followed then neither of these suspect would have been killed. It's a fact of life, regardless of lighting conditions or equipment, or any other dynamics involved in these situations. Police work is generally dangerous. Handguns by their very nature are dangerous (they are weapons after all). Taking felons into custody is dangerous work. Taking potentially armed felons into custody in the dark is dangerous. Doing so without proper lighting tools is unacceptably dangerous. Officers must be trained and equipped to do these tasks, under stress, and in low light environments. Having weapon mounted lights is part of modern police equipment. I would submit that with proper training it is rather easy to safely operate weapon mounted lights without violating Rules 2 or 3, while still using the light to accomplish Rule 4. This is a training issue, not a gear issue, or as has been said elsewhere "software, not hardware". High speed gear does not a high speed operator make. Training does. Adding new gear to your armory means you have one more thing to train on. Adding gear to your firearms should not be a move taken lightly, and means that you should not deploy with that gear until you have trained to a level of unconscious competency with said gear. A very real issue in modern law enforcement in general, outside of the use of weapon mounted lights, is the routine violation of Rule 2 during felony arrest situations. Taking a suspect "at gunpoint" is a rather common occurrence in the LE world, and simply put it shouldn't be. Covering the body of another human being with the muzzle of a firearm is a use of force, a threat of deadly force, whether shots are fired or not. In the civilian world this could be charged as an Aggravated Assault or similar charges absent justification plus the ability to explain one's actions. In the LE world this can be a use of force that rises to the level of a civil rights violation. In any case, pointing guns at people is deadly serious business, but is often taken too lightly. This is, again, a training issue. Having only Rule 3 as our failsafe in an arrest situation leaves too little room for error under stress, and is what directly leads to fatal accidents such as those being discussed in these two cases. The beauty of Rule 2 is that if we screw everything else up (as can happen with documented phenomenon such as "trigger affirmation") and we get a loud noise, no one gets hurt. Covering a suspect with the muzzle does nothing to advance officer safety in an arrest scenario, even if it turns into a shooting, and leaves the officer set up for bad things to happen. I would submit that even if you are comfortable placing the "muzzle over meat" that an officer should do so in a low ready stance that covers the suspect's legs, such as the technique taught for many years by Mas Ayoob. This stance is far less likely to lead to a fatal injury if an accident occurs, and leaves the officer able to see the suspect's hands and waistband clearly, information that officers take away from themselves by covering at center mass. This technique allows the use of indirect or splash lighting with the weapon mounted light while operating in a low light environment, and makes it much less likely an officer will wound, fatally or otherwise, a suspect if there is an accidental discharge. To review: Software is far more important than hardware. Training is critical. Keep your "booger hook off the bang switch" till the decision to fire is made AND your sights are on target. Don't point guns at people unless you are legally justified in shooting them at that moment. The Four Rules are there for a reason; violate them at your peril. No one is so special that they can get away with ignoring them. Chuck Haggard is a police lieutenant with more than 24 years in law enforcement, 18 of those with SWAT, including serving as a entry team member, sniper, breecher, and team leader. He's a certified instructor in various firearms, defensive tactics and less-lethal weapon systems.