While police officers and sheriff’s deputies have been taught to be fairly good shots, in the world of SWAT top marksmanship skills are a requirement. Learning the skills and tactics to dominate the bad guys within appropriate force levels is a formidable challenge, and when deadly force, life-and-death decisions are needed, the more tools and training an officer or deputy has to draw upon, the better.
Air Force Master Sergeant (retired) Carl Gingola, an Iraq War veteran and former Chief of the Internal Security Branch of HQ U.S. Central Command, has taught classes on Street Level Tactical Shooting Skills to police officers and sheriff’s deputies at SWAT Round-Ups held annually in Orlando, Fla. These are the same shooting skills and tactics he taught military members at the headquarters located at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida.
MSgt. Gingola's energetic course of instruction is based on focal shooting and other survival gun skills. In turn, these skills are based upon shooting basics the SWAT officers already knew, such as trigger control, control of the gun, and sighting.
Focal shooting is point shooting. It is modeled upon instinctively pointing the gun – the weapon’s barrel is thought of as an extension of the shooter’s finger. William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes spearheaded these methodologies, and during and after World War II, Colonel Rex Applegate taught them. Instinctive Shooting or Combat Point Shooting techniques are based upon the concept that sighted fire with a handgun rarely occurs (if ever) in spontaneous, life-threatening encounters, in which the average distance is 10 feet or less.
Bruce Siddle, president of PPCT Management Systems, Inc., has scientifically validated Instinctive and Combat Point Shooting. In the past, the accepted interpretation of data pointed out that the human animal primarily focuses on the threat. When confronted with an extreme threat, a whole series of contingent, bio-psychological reactions take place.
For example, one is that the lens of the eye reacts in a way that does not allow it to focus at arm's length; this makes trying to focus on the sights in a spontaneous, life-threatening occurrence of no value. In focal shooting, students are taught to target in on a focal point (a specific spot) on the target or bad guy's body. Silhouette targets don’t mean much.
In mastering focal shooting, the shooter can proficiently shoot where he or she wants to and hit the target. In dynamic shooting situations, the same principles of focal shooting apply, even though the target or bad guy might be moving. The shooter shoots at a focal point regardless of where that focal point moves. At night, a focal point tends to be something tiny. With focal shooting, the shooter will hit his target even though under stress.
It is recommended that focal shooting be practiced 2-3 times a week. The more proficient an officer is in his or her tactical and shooting skills, the more confident that officer will be on the job. And the more confident the shooter is as a team member, the more confidence the other members of that team have in him or her.
Focal Shooting Drills
Ideally, focal shooting is done with both eyes open. Closing one eye restricts a shooter’s vision, and peripheral vision is lost. In a stressful situation, a person’s eyes tend to tunnel vision, but with both eyes open, there should still be some peripheral vision. Shooting with both eyes open also works when using night vision.
In the course, the isosceles stance was preferred over the weaver stance. Using the isosceles stance eliminates a weakness in the shooter’s elbow. The non-dominate hand is wrapped tightly around the dominant hand while shooting. The targets were hand drawn with magic markers on pieces of white, silhouette target-sized paper. In this case, however, each shooter drew eight red circles in two up-and-down, parallel rows of four. Focal shooting began with basic individual shooting skills. Each shooter had three ammunition magazines, each one loaded with eight rounds of SPEER Lawman ammunition.
Two yards away from their targets, the shooters responded to the commands, “Ready” and “Gun.” On the instructor’s command, each shooter drew his or her holstered weapon and fired. Four rounds were fired at any one circle in each exercise, and the shooters safely holstered after firing each series of four rounds. This gave the instructor an idea of each shooter’s level of competency and helped him discover if anyone needed special individual attention. While some shooters drew their circles larger than others did, it did not matter. Close shot groupings were what the instructor and shooters worked with to measure any improvements.
Next, the shooters moved back to the seven-yard line and repeated the drill by firing four shots within or very near another of their target’s drawn circles. Shooters were to aim without compensating for where their first shot group had hit; they were aiming at focal points on their targets.
Students also practiced a Movement-Equilibrium exercise, dry firing this drill first. They faced right, then on command, pivoted using the right foot as the base foot and bringing the left foot around in a pivot until they were facing their target, drew their weapons, and shot. Shooters then repeated the drill facing left, then pivoting.
First, the shooters went through this movement drill while standing on grass, and then while standing on concrete. All movement drills were practiced first by dry firing, then live firing. Shooting this drill while wearing body armor is always preferred because the drill can be performed with the shooters drawing their handgun as they pivot.
The next movement exercise was the 180-Degree Turn Drill: turn head, pivot, plant foot, draw and fire. The pivot was done with body weight on the left foot; the pivot foot was not lifted but rather stayed on the ground. For safety, the shooters drew and fired their weapons after the pivot was made and when they faced the target. (Again, this drill can be conducted with the shooters drawing as they pivot).
At the 15-yard line, two of the hand-drawn circles remained on each shooter’s target. The final drill with those targets was not a movement drill. Facing their target and using a regular shooting stance, shooters engaged one of their remaining circles. This exercise was repeated twice.
Reloading their magazines and with fresh targets, walking movement drills were taught. These were basic drills and not advanced shoot-while-moving drills. Shooters began at the seven-yard line. Three commands were given. On the command of “Move,” the line of shooters walked slowly toward their targets. At “Stop," they halted, and on the command of “Gun,” the shooters planted their feet, drew, fired, and holstered. This exercise was also done in reverse, with the shooters facing their targets and walking backwards away from them.
Focal shooting always comes down to the issue of shot groupings. Drills were conducted both right and left-handed. Strong hand and support hand shooting was conducted so that if one hand was out of commission, the shooter would not be out of the fight. Later as shooters advanced in the focal shooting course, they would be taught to shoot while moving. SWAT and tactical officers especially need to be comfortable doing this.
Shooting from the fetal position is a technique that females tend to find more comfortable than males since muscle mass gets in the way of the shooter’s flexibility. Like most focal shooting firing techniques, the dominant hand was reinforced by the shooter's support hand when holding his or her weapon.
For this drill, the weapon was first placed on the grass to the right side of the shooter. The shooter sat down in place facing down range, then lay rolling into his or her right side, and placed both hands between his or her knees. This was to learn the position. Shooters were instructed to lie all the way down because the closer to the ground that their bodies were, the smaller the target their body made.
Next, the shooters picked up their weapons and held them in their dominant hand between their knees, supporting them with their other hands. Shooters’ thumbs were forward along side the weapon’s slide. Shooters did this drill first on their right sides and then on their left sides. Feet were drawn back and the body was in the full fetal position with the shooters’ knees locked about their gun-holding hands. It was important to lock in the knees, and good abdominal muscles helped.
Another method of doing a survival shooting technique was for the shooters to lie on their backs with either the right or left shoulder down, heads, arms, and weapon toward the target, at which point they were to aim and engage their target. This is called the Cirillo Prone, developed by Jim Cirillo member of the old NYPD Stake Out Squad. It and its variations can be utilized by officers who have been knocked down in a fight, or trip over furniture, children, dogs, or rubbish.
The position uses the officer's legs as armor by keeping them tucked toward the threat and providing cover for the rest of the body; hopefully the legs are more treatable than hits taken elsewhere. In executing this survival shooting technique, the shooters in the class leaned back until they were almost lying on their backs with their heads away from the target, and their arms and weapon toward the target as they aimed and engaged it.
According to MSgt. Gingola, living or dying is a matter of mastering these or any shooting techniques. When his military students returned from the war zone, they came back alive. They said the focal shooting techniques were more effective than they had believed. They work.