It Depends On Your Needs at the Time
By George T. Williams
The question of whether or not to train officers to remain stationary during a gunfight to maintain a stable shooting platform or to move while hitting continues to be argued among law-enforcement firearms instructors. Proponents of each figuratively fire back and forth at each other with their beliefs that one is superior while negating the other.
This is a question with life and death ramifications for every officer whether you are a firearms instructor or not. As an instructor, officers depend upon your program for their survival, trusting in your judgment and counting on your lessons for their lives. If you are not an instructor, you must make decisions about what you will accept and reject from your agency instructors. Blindly drinking the Kool-Aid of someone saying, “This is the Way. Follow me,” is just that, blind. Blind people stumble and bump into obstacles all of the time. Having incoming rounds flying at you is a poor time to discover your training didn’t consider a particular obstacle. Making a purposeful decision is the only rational way of approaching this important concept leading to you prevailing or your murder.
One problem with the question, “Stationary or moving?” is the lack of context. This is not an either/or question. It is like asking, “Which tool should I use?” Well, it depends on your needs. A hammer is an ineffective saw, and a saw is an ineffective pipe wrench. Given the context, you decide which tool—moving or stationary—will be most effective for you to bet your life on.
What is the context?
The first question in any decision about tactics or skill development is that of context. What may be critical knowledge and skills for a military sniper in Afghanistan is not even mildly interesting for a police officer when exchanging rounds with a suspect who is 2 feet away. To every tactical question, the first inquiry must be into the context of the particular event.
What are the likely circumstances where an officer may be forced to fire in defense of life? A beginning point is the available statistics surrounding police shootings. Statistics cannot necessarily answer the question of “What is your shooting going to look like?” but they are representative of the officers’ experience in the past and, well, they’re all we have.
• It will likely be very close.
• The suspect is likely to get off the first shot.”
• Strict sight alignment likely won’t occur.
• Hits at close distances are not assured.
• You will likely hit better in daylight and lighted situations than in the dark.
• Bullets do not “knock people down” so you will need to continue hitting the suspect until you perceive he is no longer an imminent deadly threat.
• Combat Accuracy, rather than tight groups, is all that is needed.
• Suspects don’t always stand still, and may move as a natural reaction to being shot at.
If these statistics are valid for your shooting, the context you may be faced with is a moving imminent deadly threat who is zero to three steps away in either lighted or darkened conditions, and you will be late in responding. You cannot depend upon your first round stopping the suspect’s ability to shoot you, so you will likely exchange rounds while continuing to fire until you no longer perceive an imminent threat.
What does it say about your tactics, and subsequently your training, to meet this threat? Preparing to meet a shooting threat at any distance is mandatory; however, your training should likely be weighted in favor of dealing with imminent threats who are between touching distances and up to several steps away. This is, not surprisingly, where you conduct the majority of your business with suspects.
Mechanics of Hitting
Putting a bullet into an intended target is theoretically very simple: direct the bore axis to the point to be hit and manipulate the trigger, firing the weapon without disturbing the bore axis’ aim. Practically, however, many varieties of this are taught and advocated. Hitting is fundamentally a visual activity. Reliable hits, generally, can be made only if there is a consistent visual pattern between the target/suspect, the weapon, and the eyes.
Universally, hits are more consistent when the handgun, rifle or shotgun is brought up to interrupt the eye-target line, gaining a visual reference of the weapon superimposed on the target. The sighting strategy you employ to get the hit is determined by the context of the gunfight. Like it or not, every shooter who brings the weapon to eye level is a “reference shooter,” that is, the officer looks at, through, or beyond the sights (or uses the silhouette of the weapon as a sighting strategy, imposing it over the suspect’s chest) as the situation demands. Hits then follow.
What is the visual reference achieved? It will be different in each circumstance based on your perception of threat. If you’re behind cover with the suspect some distance away, you will probably depend on your marksmanship skills based on your sights. If you are within a few steps’ distance of a suspect shooting at you, you will probably be threat focused with the weapon shoved between your eyes and what you’re looking at, and your weapon sights will likely not be a factor in this shooting. However, if the suspect is holding someone hostage with a knife only a few steps away, you are able to use your sights to make the precision shot because you have a lower perception of personal threat. Different situations, mostly based on your perception of threat, permit different sighting capabilities and require varying degrees of marksmanship.
Context: Imminent Threat in Proximity
The most likely circumstance will find the imminent threat within touching to normal talking distances. If there is nothing close by to put between the two of you, moving while hitting the suspect may be the best survival option.
The objective in moving is to create a tougher target for the suspect to hit while confusing him by your movement. Standing one to five steps away from the suspect as he pounds away while you desperately attempt to draw and then respond does not seem to be a successful survival strategy. Believing you will always be first to draw may be wishful thinking. Prudence demands you prepare for the worst—he is already shooting at you before you realize you are under imminent threat—while hoping for the best.
At the first indication, the suspect may be armed, move either to his flank or his rear, or to cover while getting a firearm in-hand. Shoot-No Shoot decisions, if possible, should be made with a firearm in-hand, and not be delayed until a weapon is confirmed. Sudden movement quickly achieved is the objective. Force-on-force training confirms the best angles are forward and lateral at approximately 45 degrees (to either the 10 or 2 o’clock positions). Expected wounds from this movement are to the flanks and back of the imminently threatening suspect. One benefit of immediate movement is the creation of perceptual time, perhaps allowing you to recognize what you thought was a gun is not, helping to prevent mistake-of-fact shootings.
How do you move and hit? Walk normally at first, then speed it up to a very brisk walk as you gain familiarity. Forget “Groucho-walking,” side-stepping, or drag-stepping. Anything that is unnatural will not be used. Simply walk in the direction you want to go and turn your upper body like a tank turret at the suspect. As the angles increase, you may need to shoot one-handed to maintain fire on the suspect as you move past or away from him. Proxemic Threats require greater speed and significantly less pure accuracy.
Whether the movement is forward, to the suspect’s flanks, or laterally at 90 degrees, movement while hitting the suspect, especially if it is toward available cover, is a potential life-saver to a proxemic deadly threat. Where movement is less useful is over broken or uneven terrain, or in the dark where footing or obstacles are not clearly seen.
The question of whether or not to fire while moving to cover comes up. Context, again, determines the practicality and wisdom of this. What is your distance and background? If in proximity where the chances are greater you will be hit, firing through the suspect while moving to cover is likely called for. If the suspect is 30 yards away and the corner is a couple of steps away, moving to cover may occur before you even draw. Sometimes running to cover, then fighting from a corner is called for. Is it better to go to a corner or to move and hit? It depends on the moment.
Context: Stationary—Fight from Corners
If given the opportunity, use a corner to initially contact subjects, call subjects to you, and to fight from. The use of cover or concealment is a fundamental survival strategy in a gunfight.
Your tactical world is about corners, cleared and uncleared. Corners are vertical or horizontal, defining the limits of a structure or object, preventing you from observing (or being observed by) what is beyond until you have secured the threat of the uncleared angles. This is where a stationary fighting platform is most beneficial—standing in the open returning fire while someone is shooting at you from any distance is reckless. If a precision shot is called for, even if under fire, there is a greater likelihood of obtaining that hit when you feel better protected by the corner. Corners give you time. Time is marksmanship, and marksmanship equals hits in a gunfight.
Pure marksmanship (putting small groups of holes in a paper target) is a perishable skill that takes lots of practice to become proficient, followed by plenty more practice or the proficiency will degrade. Extensive practice is not necessary for the simple activity of briskly walking and shooting. Putting metal into meat at typical police distances does not require a lot of pure shooting skill. Instead, it is mostly the ability to recognize threat early enough, the will to press the trigger on another human being, and the ability to handle the body alarm reaction sufficiently to perform the shooting fundamentals to hit the guy before he puts you down. Whether you stand or move is irrelevant to getting hits, but completely relevant to your tactical needs at the time. PM
George T. Williams is the Director of Training for Cutting Edge Training, LLC. A Police Training Specialist for over three decades training officers internationally in all skill and tactical domains, he also serves as an expert witness in federal and state courts in areas of force, procedures, and tactics. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.