Training: Winning On The Street & In The Courtroom

Written by: Morgan Ballis

  Many people approach the range from a leisure standpoint.  Shooting firearms is just another fun outdoor activity that combines the thrill of a powerful tool with the excitement of applying skills to hit a target.  There is nothing wrong with promoting the safe use of firearms by enjoying a day in the desert shooting cans or plinking steel at the local range.  What many people fail to do is make the distinction between going to the range for entertainment and going to the range to train.

  Last year there was an excellent article written by Greg Ellifritz, President and Primary Instructor for Active Response Training, regarding the use of a law enforcement shooting course as a standard for preparing students for concealed carry (Shooting Drill-FBI Qualification Test).  Like most savvy instructors, Greg is wise enough to seek out training and advice from others in the community.  This particular idea was adopted from the renowned firearm instructor and sought after expert witness, Massad Ayoob.  Both instructors make a powerful argument that qualifying to the same standard as law enforcement dramatically increases the shooter's ability to defend their proficiency with a firearm in court.  And it makes sense.

    Qualifying to the same standard as law enforcement allows the shooter to present evidence of a very high level of competency with a firearm.  In his article Greg specifically recommends the use of the FBI's pistol qualification course:

The only courses of fire that may have more perceived value to a jury are those shot by various branches of Federal law enforcement. While some citizens in your jury pool might have some bad experiences with local cops, agencies like the FBI usually have a sterling reputation. It couldn’t hurt to be able to pass the FBI pistol qualification standards.

He then expands on the benefits of the FBI's course (see course of fire):

In fact, using the FBI standards might make a lot of sense for the average armed citizen. The FBI recently changed their qualification course to better reflect the scenarios where agents have fired their weapons. Since the FBI agents are plain clothed and carry concealed, the situations where they use their guns are very similar to the situations that the average armed citizen might experience.

  Let me take this moment to hit on a key point; a qualification is not the end of your training.  In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court and many other jurisdictions do not categorize a qualification as training but simply an achievement standard.  If we are going to hold ourselves to the same firearm standards as law enforcement we must also train with moving targets, reduced light, shoot/no-shoot scenarios, simulation in realistic environments, challenge commands, and the application of laws and use of force.  This is where we see the evolution from recreational target practice to training for an armed self-defense scenario.

  Another key aspect of training for law enforcement is documentation.  Simply saying we have qualified is far different than presenting evidence such as a training log, witness testimony, and even the qualification target itself.  I encourage all my students, law enforcement and civilians, to document every time they shoot at the range, conduct firearms training, and clean their firearms.  Some of the documentation should include: logging the specific gun fired, number of rounds fired, courses of fire, training certificates, and qualification scores.  If we are using law enforcement as our model we must adopt their mentality of documentation as well.

  If we are carrying firearms for personal protection it is imperative that we shift from viewing the range as a recreational activity and approaching it with a training mindset.  This means shooting courses of fire based on the statistical reality of armed self-defense.  We must also establish our proficiency with the selected firearm.  This can best be achieved by qualifying to the same standard as law enforcement.  Documentation of these qualifications, especially by law enforcement or a certified instructor, can provide key evidence during a criminal prosecution or civil suit.

Morgan is the owner and Chief Firearms Instructor of Defensive Tactics and Firearms.  Morgan began instructing during his eleven years as an infantryman in the United States Marine Corps.  Morgan is also an NRA Law Enforcement Instructor and a Certified Anti-terrorism Force Protection Specialist.