MARCH 14, 2023

Editor’s Notebook: The Unintentional Target

I’m the last to catch up to the current lingo, but a term keeps popping up in internet scribblings as well as on various podcasts and I had to “look it up.”

The term is “NPC,” “non-player character.” Taken, I see, from table games and video games, it’s come to be an insult to people who put forth statements (I hesitate to call them “opinions”) that make it appear the person is “unable to form thoughts or opinions of their own” – according to Wikipedia.

Yes, I know about Wikipedia. I had to start somewhere.

In our field of operational emergencies, we see non-involved persons, “no-shoot targets” who stand around or wander aimlessly during a gun battle or riot. While they may be clueless, it’s inappropriate to let one of our outgoing rounds come into contact with them.

We have to understand they’re out there – and that reasons beyond inattention and stupidity may be at play. And we have to have our game down such that we don’t inadvertently ventilate them.

In Jim Cirillo’s first engagement – during his very first deployment on the Stake Out Unit in New York City – he had just such a person downrange.

In the classic Jim Cirillo’s Tales of the Stakeout Squad by Paul Kirchner, the story of this event is laid out in detail. At Old MacDonald’s Farm Store, three offenders came in to rob the place. Two moved toward the cashier and manager, who were both behind a counter. When Cirillo stood, the crotch piece of the (now) ancient bullet proof vest fell off. The two offenders nearest the manager and cashier ducked behind the cashier, while the third ran toward them, only his head exposed over the shelves. Cirillo fired on the runner, lost sight of him and he turned to the others, now partially obstructed by the cashier.

His bullets passed within inches of her, striking the offenders.

She never moved. In fact, Jim noted she was standing in the same spot answering questions a considerable time later.

The manager and cashier had both been briefed, told if there was an engagement, they were to immediately drop to the floor.

The manager? He appeared to melt into the floor tiles just before the shooting started. Not the cashier who stood stock still.

How fast do you want to shoot to solve that problem? .11-15 second splits? What --the chances of hitting the ‘no-shoot’ too great?

It is.

In this case, our “NPC” didn’t realize that “movement is life,” but she may have – unpredictably – at any moment. Not all will do what Agnes did … but some may. You have to consider that the ‘frozen’ citizen may suddenly come to life and move in front of your muzzle.

We’re all aware of the body alarm reaction – “fight or flight” – which, we know, doesn’t cover the ground. More appropriately, it’s “fight, flight or freeze” (there’s one more I won’t mention here) – and people can move from one of those to another rather quickly and unexpectedly.

How can you prepare for such an eventuality? How do you know what you can do when it hits the fan? First, you must know what you can do when everything is right with the world. Then you can move from there.

Learn something from every single round you fire. Start with a benchmark – whichever you like. See what you can do when everything is right. Once you know what you can effectively do, start moving out of that comfort zone a little at a time.

Consider other issues, like target size and target distance (but I repeat myself).

You only know your speed -- and accuracy -- if you measure it. Below, specialty targets make the accuracy job more difficult. They don't help with timing either.

An option is a precision training target designed specifically for Combat Shooting & Tactics, Paul Howe’s company, by Action Target. In addition to the sighting grid aiming squares for cold gun zeroing and data collection, there are five “hostage scenario” photo targets with various head positions and faint lines to identify head overlap. Variations include a 90-degree w/ overlap, a full headshot, ¾, ½ and ¼ available target. Using it as a “avoid the citizen” target, opens the door to more than rifle training.

On other targets, it's wise to learn what your elapsed time is between shots for 100% shot accountability, zero misses. You can crank that up on the range – it’s good training to push your limits. But dwell back to operational speed – shooting in assessment time -- before you leave the range.

After that, expect NPCs to get alongside, in front of or behind, armed criminal offenders – or to stand stock-still in the way. And don’t shoot them. You can’t control what others do; you can control what you do.

-- Rich Grassi