Don Zaidle, our illustrious Editor-in-Chief, and a person well acquainted with guns and gunfighting, just sent Dustin and me a lecture syllabus called Police Gunfighting. It seems to originate from California State University at Fresno, written by Mark Stevens, Lt. Col. United States Marine Corps, for a class in Criminal Justice.
It is full of valuable information on police gunfights and you will undoubtedly see more of it in these columns in the future, but for the moment, what I want to touch on is one simple, or not-so-simple, statement that caught my attention: "However, the nature of police gunfighting has changed little [since the 19th Century], and always seems to involve the worst of circumstances: close proximity, poor lighting, foot chases, inadequate facts, and innocent bystanders."
You undoubtedly took notice of the fact that the statement is aimed at police encounters, but I want to point out to you something that may not have occurred to you. Every one of those things, with the possible exception of foot chases, will most likely prevail if and when you are called upon to use your personal weapon in self-defense.
Most gunfights take place at less than 7 steps; most of them occur in poor lighting; you will almost never have enough information, except that the person confronting you intends to do you or someone else personal harm; and last but certainly not least, there will very often be other persons around that could be injured or killed by a stray bullet should you roll the dice.
Before you are confronted by such a situation you need to think about what you will do, in advance. You need to go to your firing range, do your practice, and think about these things, because you will almost certainly not have time to contemplate what you will do when the time comes to act, or not act. To demonstrate, I will tell you a story.
I once got into a situation where I should have been killed. To this day I believe that God Almighty was watching over me that day.
I was patrolling the Rio Grande with a fellow agent named Joe Martinez. We pulled up to a high bluff and saw a boat in the water on the other side of the river. Several people were loading suitcases into the boat. We decided that it was a family of illegal aliens being boated across by one of the many such "boatmen" who charged a fee for rowing prospective illegal entrants across the deeper parts of the river.
Since it appeared to be a situation in which no real danger was involved, and since we could not forecast which direction the group would go once they reached the U.S., we split up; I went downstream and Joe went upstream.
I found a notch in the bluff on the river trail and hid to see what transpired. In a few minutes I heard footsteps coming my direction. When the group got to me I stepped out in front of them and told them to stop, that they were under arrest. That was when I discovered that the one in front was a mean-looking cholo with a nickel plated semi-automatic stuck in his belt, butt to the front in the typical "Mexican carry."
At that point I should have pulled my gun and stepped back to cover the group. Instead I reached out and grabbed the gun in the head cholos belt. The next thing I knew I was in a life-and-death struggle for the gun. Also, there had been three of them and I did not know where the others were. Thank God they did not just shoot me. They ran.
I fought the one I had hold of with teeth, knees, and anything else I could use. I had his gun and he reached over and grabbed the butt of my .357. Again, thank God, the thumb snap did not let go and he couldnt get my gun out of the holster. After what felt like a few centuries I managed to yank his gun from his belt.
When the fight was over I grabbed my radio and called Joe, yelling that it was a load of Marijuana and the mules were armed.
Joe caught one of them at the edge of the water and managed to capture him without gunfire. After it was all over we discovered that all three were armed and that all the other two would have had to do was step up and pop me in the head while I was fighting the leader. I made a grave error, but I learned from it. From then on I did not step out in front of anyone without my gun ready for action. It turned out that the gun I took from the leader was a nice Star 9mm.
The average cop is a pitiful shot. He carries his handgun because he has to. He shoots it only when he is required to qualify. If he is given ammunition for practice he hoards it instead of shooting it and becoming more proficient.
The average cop, when faced with an armed opponent fails entirely to do what he was taught. He grabs his gun and sprays the countryside, often shooting until the gun in empty without touching his opponent. I am astounded with the number of gunfights in which nobody is hit. Often this happens at almost contact distance. For instance the Internet just carried a story about two 15-year veteran police officers with New York City who killed an armed opponent in front of the Empire State Building - and wounded 9 innocent civilians in the process. The bad guy killed his target person in the building and wounded no one else.
If you are going to carry a gun, practice with it. And dont just stand in front of a target and shoot for score. Practice realistic scenarios. Shoot and move. Shoot from different positions - from prone and from flat on your back or on your side. Shoot with your off hand. Shoot at a target that you can only see a small part of.
Gunfighting ability is not genetic. Just because you are a Texan does not mean you have some inherent skill with a handgun. The best gunfighters in the world practice almost every day. They shoot many thousands of rounds in practice for every one they shoot in combat. I am told that the Navy SEALs have no limit on the amount of ammunition they can fire in practice. Wouldnt it be wonderful if all our law enforcement agencies could have such "limitations?"
You dont have to shoot a million rounds to be proficient with your chosen weapon, but you do have to practice often and well. Your practice has to be smart, more so than simply copious. Firing 20 rounds a week is better than going out once a year and firing a couple hundred, but firing 50 rounds a week is even better. That comes out to 2600 rounds a year. I have been told that a thousand rounds a year is required for maintaining proficiency. I dont know, but I think it takes more than that, and it certainly takes more than that to gain that proficiency in the first place. Once you have become good with your gun it is probably okay to back off a bit on the practice, but the best of the best continue to shoot as much as they can, even if they have to reload to do it.
When you go out to practice, keep those things mentioned at the beginning of this article in the back of your mind; "close proximity, poor lighting, foot chases, inadequate facts, and innocent bystanders."
The Silent Advantage
A SUPPRESSOR is probably the coolest accessory you can attach to a firearm. Commonly called "silencers", many folks believe the urban legend that suppressors are illegal for civilian ownership. While they are over-regulated by the government, suppressors are legal for civilian ownership if you complete the paperwork, have an extra $200 to submit as a tax and around 9 months to wait for the ATF to clear the transfer.
A CMMG .300 AAC Blackout AR15 with Aimpoint Micro sight, LaRue Tactical mount, and 7.62 GEMTECH Titanium Sandstorm Suppressor, resting on a 5.11 Tactical 42
If the only knowledge you have of suppressors is from Hollywood then youll be pretty surprised when you experience a real one for yourself. Hollywood suppressors sound more like alien laser guns than the actual sound. The industry likes to call "silencers" suppressors because although the muzzle report itself is very muffled the main sound you will hear is the ballistic crack of the bullet itself. Physics do not allow an object traveling over the speed of sound to be silent in the atmosphere, and the ballistic crack can be surprisingly loud. The best comparison of a bullets ballistic crack is about the same as the muzzle report of a standard rifle fired .22LR. Any cartridge firing a bullet over roughly 1,100 feet per second will produce this un-suppressible crack, therefore sounding a bit louder than Hollywoods deceitful sound effects.
If you shoot lower velocity calibers that are below the speed of sound as a pistol .22LR and .45 ACP you will have a major reduction in sound signature comparable to a pellet rifle. But cross the supersonic threshold and the neighbors will definitely know you are up to something. Subsonic specialty ammunition is available for most pistol calibers and even .223 and .308 but it wont cycle in your semi-automatic rifle and will have as little ballistic effectiveness as a flying crochet needle. But with new loads as the .300 AAC Blackout, these AR-15 style rifles will cycle with 220-grain ammunition at a subsonic speed. These bullets drop like a rock, but they sure are easier to throw.
A "Top Shot" built Ruger 22/45 with Tactical Solutions upper, Burris Fastfire sight, Volquartsen trigger set and magazine with GEMTECH Outback IID suppressor. Photo: Cody Conway
The first advantage of a suppressor is of course sound suppression. Most high-end suppressors allow the shooter to not need muffs or plugs while shooting. Some folks may prefer to still use ear protection with centerfire calibers but I find it isnt necessary. It makes a social shoot much more enjoyable because you can all carry on a conversation while shooting. This quieter report is also an advantage in a tactical situation. Firing an unsuppressed weapon in a close quarter area such as a residence will result in hearing loss and reduced situational awareness. Further the noise suppression is also a training aid when introducing beginners to shooting sports. A shooter flinching under noise, muzzle blast and recoil will find themselves shooting a much tighter group with a "can" on the end of the barrel.
Another tactical advantage is the elimination of the muzzle flash. The unburnt powder that would normally light up the darkness like a firework is almost completely eliminated inside the suppressor. A can eliminating this flash guards your night vision by preventing the temporary blindness from muzzle flash. It is also a lifesaver for SWAT entry teams when raiding a drug lab or crime scene where flammable substances are present.
Suppressors also will help reduce recoil because of the extra weight at the end of the barrel as well acting as a muzzle brake. They increase accuracy because they act as a perfect muzzle crown for escaping gasses and finally they also increase velocity by somewhat extending the barrel of the firearms and pushing the bullet a little bit faster.
Texas recently repealed the law banning sound suppressors from hunting game animals so the transfer period might get even longer. If you are considering acquiring one before fall of 2013 youll need to act fast and find a Type III dealer in your area. Silencers are a great for hunting because they will minimize game scare in the area, reduce noise pollution in the community, and reduce hearing loss while hunting. It also lets you hunt more successfully with your kids, and have the coolest firearm accessory available.