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Firearms Training Trends

Are we headed down the right path with law enforcement firearms training? Just because we are heading in a certain direction doesn’t mean it is the right direction. Of course, the right direction for law enforcement firearms training may depend on whom you ask.

Marksmanship Foundation

Chris Cerino, law enforcement training officer with the Ohio Peace Officer Training Academy (OPOTA), believes that the firearms instructor is responsible for building a strong foundation. Cerino said combat marksmanship, a combination of marksmanship and tactics, is a necessary “back to the basics” component.

“We are relatively certain that you will not have the time or the ability to focus on your sights when your actual shooting occurs, so we need to build good motor programs. These motor programs start a proper combat platform, grip, draw and presentation. Shooters must be forced to work with their gear, the way they carry it,” Cerino said.

No one can argue that establishing a strong firearms training foundation is wrong. Still, the POST Council for each state has different guidelines for what is proper firearms training and what is not proper firearms training. Basic firearms training standards for recruit officers are where many POST Council training standards and mandates end. Then, the firearms training standards are left to the standards that are set by each agency.

Realistic but Safe

The general trend in ongoing firearms training is to make the training as realistic as possible, with close scrutiny in the area of safety. Too many officers die as a result of non-compliance to safety standards. Unfortunately, the firearms instructors break or bend proper safety standards. Since firearms instructors lead by example, “do as I do” takes precedent over “do as I say.”

Firearms safety rules must followed by everyone, including instructors. Most non-intentional discharges on the range clearly violate general firearms safety principles. If your agency conducts “live” firearms training at an indoor range, count the bullet holes behind the firing line. Only “no bullet holes” is acceptable.

A shooting range is not an autonomous unit that has zero accountability. The rangemaster and all firearms instructors need to be adequately supervised. If the rangemaster supervises firearms instructors, that’s fine. Someone also supervises the rangemaster. This is especially true when it concerns adherence to firearms safety.

Reverse Engineering

Dr. Brian Kinnaird, PhD, editor of the ILEETA Use of Force Journal and director of research and training of the Kansas-based Forceology Research Group, said, “We might come out of a training environment scored as “proficient,” but the data on the streets often say something else. Reverse-engineering our training objectives and responses based upon what we are seeing (instead of what we anticipate seeing) is a more agile, flexible, and adaptive way to improve firearms training.” It seems that realistic firearms training and firearms training that is closely correlated to reality may not be the same.

“We can no longer just “fill the air with gun smoke” and call it firearms training. The advent of scenario training cannot just be viewed to be an arcade game for officers. Each range exercise must end with a properly written report concerning the actions of the officer, and then it must be critiqued by someone professional enough not to just “rubber stamp” it. Firearms training can’t end with just a bunch of brass on the ground; there must be a bunch of words that are expertly crafted to document the event.

Trained to Articulate

Until officers can articulate professionally with a comprehensive report, they will continue to hesitate responding to deadly force encounters. Officers continue to fear litigation and/or job action. Police suicides will also continue to rise because officers do not have the ability to self-assess. Report writing is the first self-assessment,” said Robert Willis, a firearms instructor with Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay.

Willis is right on target. Firearms training must go beyond the ability to just punch holes in paper with a .40 cal. pencil. “Firearms training” is not an independent training topic. It should be looked at as a component of “deadly force training” that also includes all aspects of use of force, from talking to shooting.

Repetitive Dry Training

Sergeant Bill Campbell of the Gilbert, AZ Police Department is a staff “train-the-trainer” instructor with the NRA’s Law Enforcement Activities Division. He believes that there may be some past firearms training activities that are still valuable. Campbell said, “I would like to see more emphasis placed on returning to multiple dry repetitions.

When I went through my first academy 23 years ago, we were required to practice our draw and magazine reloads 100 times per night prior to going to bed the first week that we had guns authorized. We were required to practice immediate action (tap, rack, access) another 100 times a night during the second week of handgun training.

“Repetitive exercises have made gun handling feel instinctive regardless of the stress, and they are the foundation of my firearms training for my entire career. Today, I often see young officers who have sloppy draws and poor handling skills and find that these types of repetitive skills are no longer required at the academy level. We need to remember that during high stress situations, officers will revert to their training. This is a huge reason why instructors must put an emphasis on realistic training and try to recreate as many of the environmental conditions that exist in a real gunfight as possible.”

Use New Technology

Shannon Bohrer, rangemaster with the Maryland Police and Correctional Training Commission, believe that new technologies can add value to firearms training. He said, “We should embrace technology for two reasons. The first reason is that technology can assist us in teaching individuals how to shoot at a target and fire a qualifying score, a closed motor skill. Using simulator weapons can assist the instructor in diagnosing problems and can reduce training time.”

The second reason is that technology can be used in decision / judgment training, which is an open skill. Using video and simulators is an excellent starting phase for teaching decision-making skills. Using paint ball and Simunition™ training simulates the open skills with decision / judgment elements, which is the terminal objective in weapons training.

Harvey Hedden, chief of the Village of Paddock Lake, WI Police Department, said video game manufacturers may revolutionize law enforcement firearms training in the future. “PC simulations are getting closer to virtual reality, which could revolutionize simulation training. Usually, whatever is sold exclusively to the military and law enforcement is the most expensive. Many developments in electronic simulations have been the result of consumer demands, especially for video games.”

Firearms Instructors

Firearms instructors should keep their minds open concerning new training and equipment that is developed for law enforcement purposes. Law enforcement firearms instructors should join the International Association of Law Enforcement Firearms Instructors (IALEFI). IALEFI publishes a periodical, The Firearms Instructor, in addition to providing many other benefits ( for its members. IALEFI also holds an annual training conference, in addition to a number of regional training conferences.

Instructors should join the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA). This association has the primary goal of making any instructor a better instructor. ILEETA holds an annual conference during April of each year in the greater Chicago area.

The intentional use of a firearm by an officer to shoot a human being is a difficult journey that starts on the street and usually ends in the courts. Deadly force training, which includes firearms training, must constantly move forward to address all aspects of deadly force, and firearms instructors must take the point.

Ed Nowicki, a nationally recognized use-of-force expert, is a part-time officer for the Twin Lakes (WI) Police Department. He presents use-of-force instructor certification courses across the nation and is the executive director of ILEETA. He can be reached at

Published in Law and Order, Jan 2009

Rating : 9.7

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