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Firearms training that evolves beyond simple marksmanship and into the realm of the martial art.

The Kill Zone

Someone sent me a link and asked me to comment on an event that happened last year when a Douglas County Co. Sheriff’s Deputy was confronted by a motorist with a gun. I thought it was as they say, a learning moment. 

Outside Littleton Co. a Sheriff’s Deputy was making a courtesy stop for a stranded SUV on the side of the road. The Deputy approached the vehicle on the passenger side of the vehicle, sees a man sitting in the SUV, looking over his shoulder; something’s not right. The Deputy moves to the rear of the SUV. the SUV driver emerges from the vehicle and confronts the Deputy with rifle in hand and tries to butt-stroke the Deputy. The Sheriff’s Deputy does what we’ve seen time and time again in Force on Force; he begins the “back peddle” (creating distance) and as happens in most cases, falls, finds himself on his back in the supine position, immobilized and having to shoot through his open legs. The Deputy fires two shots, one hits the motorist, striking him in the arm.

We chose this case as a case study because the outcome was positive; we can’t say the same in similar scenarios. The Sheriff’s Deputy was hailed as a hero; his prevailing in that gun fight on that afternoon was sheer luck and had nothing to do with skill. The Deputy found himself stuck in the kill zone, stayed in the kill zone, fell down in that kill zone. He fired two shots at the driver and stopped. One of the two shots fired hit the SUV operator in a superficial, non-life threatening limb. The SUV driver’s gun it turns out, was unloaded; had it been loaded and the SUV driver had the will to do so, he could have dispatched that Deputy with little effort.

The Kill Zone

An FBI Study
Many years ago the FBI published on its web site, provocative articles on crime, law enforcement and training. This particular article was related to the ratio of hits to misses in law enforcement shootings and the factors that contributed to a very poor performance nationwide. Based on reported statistics from law enforcement agencies, only 19-42% of shots fired from law enforcement officers in lethal force confrontations hit their mark. For documentation purposes, any hit was recorded as a hit. A left ankle, a wrist or center mass, each was considered a hit, equal to the other. One out of five was probable, but not more than half of shots fired hit their mark.
High Desert Training Group Conducts an Informal Experiment:
We found a marginal shooter (representing an unskilled “bad guy”), one who could safely, rapidly fire a pistol one handed “gangster style”. The two pistols used in this experiment were of reputable manufacture, but simple in design (common to police seizure guns). We loaded five rounds into each pistol. instructed the shooter to fire as quickly, but as safely as possible into a standard IPCS target from a distance of 4 yards. To put it simply, milk the trigger, “spray and pray”. The results were:
  • With the smaller .25 auto, the shooter hit an average of 3 out of 5 rounds in just under 4 seconds (60% hit ratio).
  • With the larger, but somewhat easier to control .380 auto, the shooter hit four out of five rounds on the target in just a bit over three seconds (80% ratio).

The shots were spread all over the target as expected, but every target had at least one lethal hit.

The same experiment with the shooter moving back to the 7 yards, which resulted in shot patterns that were all over the place, but contained in a pattern the size of what one student described as “the double doors” (The side by side entrance and exit doors you would see in a typical convenience store); this was the Kill Zone. An area approximately eight foot by eight foot. Despite a shot pattern that was all over the backstop, our untrained entry level shooter was able to deliver at least one lethal hit in every stage of the experiment.

If you compared his performance with the actual “real world” FBI statistics, it’s sad to say but, he exceeded the FBI’s national statistical average in our study.

The Littleton Colorado case confirms what we’ve known for years

Distance is not necessarily your friend. This is an old school axiom. The premise is that a trained professional weapon operator gains advantage over the (presumed) unskilled opponent the greater the distance. Back peddling however, changes nothing. It may be a naturally intuitive way to create distance, but with it comes several problems.

  1. In a close quarters fight that averages less than three seconds, short choppy back peddle steps result in little real distance achieved. In force on Force scenarios, a protagonist back peddling is easily run over and dispatched by an aggressive forward moving antagonist.
  2. Back peddling does not change the angular relationship between you and the bad guy, back peddling still puts you in the Kill Zone. The only change you’ve made by back stepping is that his incoming rounds will impact you a nanosecond later than had you stood your ground. There are better methods of creating distance.
  3. Back peddling done too quickly entangles the feet and as was in this case, results in our good guy falling down. The only viable option left is to shoot from the supine position (a process that is actually being taught in some venues). In Force on Force scenarios, when a protagonist falls down on their back, the antagonist simply continues his forward movement ending up behind the protagonist, shooting him from behind.
  4. Once the fall-down happens, defending yourself, shooting from a supine isosceles is extremely tenuous. If the fall down happens, there is a better system; it comes from the world of the Traditional Martial Arts, not the internet and not the shooting range Club House.

Creating distance in a fight that takes place at between 0-7 yards and is over in less than 3 seconds, is most likely counter productive, at best irrelevant. In those short face to face confrontations, you must explorer getting out of the Kill Zone and staying on your feet by changing the relationship of angle between you and the threat.

In Close Quarters Violence, Traditional Marksmanship Falls Apart. As the Deputy’s body-cam shows, when the officer fired on his assailant, the Sheriff’s Deputy’s had no visual line of sight on the weapon. I’ve stopped cataloging body-cam and dash-cam images depicting this, it’s real. My cranky old, cigar chewing curmudgeons will call this a loss of “composure”. We disagree.

When facing violence that is up close and personal, our decision making process needs visual input. This need is insatiable, without this input, we can’t advance in the OODA decision cycle. The adrenaline dump that happens during violence creates tunnel vision as part of the body’s survival system’s fight-flight response. It feeds the need for visual input and helps us advance beyond the observe/orient stage of the OODA loop and onto the decision process. Sticking a gun in front of our face, blocking our visual input of the threat is counter intuitive to our survival as a species.

Once out of the Kill Zone, you will most likely NOT be squared up with your threat, but neither will he. A system of weapon targeting/indexing that does not require you be squared up with your target and that works in harmony with the sympathetic nervous system’s survival response is needed. High Desert Training Group’s Close Quarters handgun series courses introduces the client to the realm of three hundred sixty degree threat focused targeting.

You have Little or No Control Over Your Environment. The traditional pistol shooting range is a square safe zone. A place where shooters line up, straddle an imaginary “X” on the firing line and square up with the target in front of them; it’s a clear unobstructed line of fire. As was seen here, when confronted with environmental anomalies, the Deputy attempted to “run home” to his comfort zone (the need to “square up” to the threat). In doing so, he abandoned an initial, less optimal position of advantage for a text book solution.

In the reactive fight, where you’re the intended victim, you may have little or no control of the environment around you. In many cases, the place will be purposely chosen by your assailant so as to be at your disadvantage. You therefore, must be able to move fluidly 360 degrees while maintaining your firearm on contact with your threat while adjusting to the environmental surroundings. Not an easy task, but do-able.

Stop Shooting in Pairs. It’s a Failed Tactic. This is an out dated system of ammo management and awareness (Why We Shoot in Pairs). Double taps, hammers and accelerated pairs have no business in modern Close Quarters Handgun fights. Firing two rounds only to stop, amounts to training to yourself to quit the fight! The double tap trains the weapon operator to do just that; deliver a one-two punch, then with the bad guy still standing… stop to see what happens next. In a real fight, that’s when the lights go out.

High Desert Training Group has integrated a fight based system of weapon handling skill sets into it’s Close Quarters Handgun series courses that are seamlessly fluid and adaptable to realities of violence. We’re elevating the firearm to the realm of the Martial Art.  

High Desert Training group’s Close Quarters Handgun Course Schedule

“What is essential is to suddenly make a move, totally unexpected by the opponent. Pick up on the advantage of fright and seize victory right then and there.”

Miyamoto Musashi- Samurai Warrior

 

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Ken Williams, Instructor
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