How To Retain Your Weapon When Conventional Weapon Retention Techiques Won’t Work
By Brian McKenna
With the continuing development and use of even better retention holsters, less attention is now being given to weapon retention training. Some agencies have abandoned it altogether, preferring to depend entirely upon high retention holsters to protect their officers against disarmings, and many officers have done the same. The problem with this trend is that it tends to encourage officers to focus too little attention on weapon retention as they grow to depend entirely upon the holster, and even the best retention holster can be defeated. In addition, it ignores the fact that a large percentage of disarmings occur after the officer has drawn his gun.
This is not to say that retention holsters should not be used. Ideally, officers should carry their duty guns in rugged, high-quality holsters that provide a good balance between speed and adequate weapon retention, train with the holster to a high level of proficiency, and supplement the security of the holster with the best available weapon retention training.
On the other hand, even the best weapon retention techniques have their shortcomings. While they undoubtedly save lives, they tend to involve rather complex, perishable skills that must be applied on the street under exceedingly stressful conditions, sometimes many years after the training was received. To make matters worse, most departments don’t have the time, money or other resources necessary to maintain their officers at the level of proficiency needed to ensure that they can properly apply these techniques in real-world situations.
Furthermore, weapon retention techniques require proper stance, balance, and room to maneuver in order to be effective, and it is unreasonable to expect that such ideal conditions will always be present on the street. In fact, disarmings often occur under the following conditions:
After the officer has been partially or fully disabled from wounds.
After the officer has become exhausted. Studies have shown that even individuals who are in top shape will become exhausted to the point of near incapacitation after 30-60 seconds of simulated full-power, hand-to-hand combat.
During ground fights, in which case the officer is unable to achieve proper stance, balance or maneuver room.
In confined spaces like vehicles, restrooms, crowded rooms, behind counters, etc. Such spaces don’t give officers much room in which to move, and may not allow them to maintain proper stance and/or balance.
On rough, uneven and/or sloping terrain that interferes with the officer’s stance and balance.
Against multiple assailants pressing in on the officer from various angles, leaving the officer little or no room in which to maneuver and interfering with his stance and balance.
During struggles with attackers who are sweaty, wet, greasy, bloody, etc., making it very difficult to hold onto the suspect or gain the leverage needed to properly apply the technique.
Therefore, we need a simple, easily retained, easy-to-execute technique to fall back on in those situations in which conventional weapon retention techniques won’t work. In such cases, the simplest, most effective option is to lock your gun in place—whether in your hand or still holstered—and then immediately counterattack. Aggressively attack vital, exposed parts of your assailant’s anatomy that will cause him to instinctively react to protect them, such as the eyes, throat or groin, and then follow up against one target after another until you have disabled him and/or regained control of your weapon. An eye is often the best target to attack first because it is fragile and easy to reach in most situations. If you damage one eye, the other will tear up and squint, temporarily blinding him and significantly reducing his ability to continue his attack, especially if you can break free and back away from him. Don’t just poke him in the eye. Grab the side of his face and squeeze as you smash the tip of your thumb into his eyeball, and then dig in as hard as you can. This will severely distract him, and, since humans instinctively reach up to protect their eyes when they are threatened, it will almost certainly cause him to let go of your gun. You can then follow up by attacking another key target.
If you can’t attack his eyes, go for his throat or groin, and keep up the attack until you break free or have rendered him incapable of further aggression. Another option is to utilize a backup weapon, but it must be brought into action before he can counterattack. For that reason, it is very important that the backup weapon be carried in a location where it can be drawn and employed rapidly under high-stress conditions. When a backup weapon isn’t available, another option is an improvised weapon, like a pen, walkie-talkie, mini-flashlight or hand¬cuffs. Regardless of the weapon you choose, move decisively and without hesitation, use maximum force, and aim for the most vulnerable and vital target available.
It is important to consider that backup weapons are also vulnerable to disarmings. For this reason, a backup gun can become a serious liability when struggling over your duty sidearm. It may be your only option if the suspect gets your duty gun and is about to use it against you, but it is dangerous to try to draw it as long as you are still struggling for control of your primary gun. On the other hand, a backup knife may still be an option, because its sharp blade and compact size make it less vulnerable to a disarming. Furthermore, it can be used to slash, stab and parry in a variety of ways, it doesn’t need to be reloaded, it won’t jam, it causes fearfully distracting wounds, and it is otherwise extremely effective at very close range.
In the event that the disarming attempt occurs after you have drawn your duty gun, you may want to consider emptying it by dropping the magazine and discharging the remaining round. While this leaves you with an empty gun, it may be your best option if it appears that your assailant is about to get it away from you. But keep in mind that the gun must be fired in a safe direction that doesn’t put any innocent parties at risk. Any object that is large and solid enough to stop the rounds you are carrying will do, and don’t rule out your attacker. Deadly force is clearly justified when someone is trying to disarm you, and shooting him is the surest way to stop his aggression.
If your assailant is holding onto the slide while trying to pry your gun out of your hand, you can probably disable it temporarily by discharging the round in the chamber. In most cases, the slide won’t move back far enough to eject the empty case from the chamber, thereby making it necessary to rack the slide before the gun can be fired again. This will enable you to quickly get the gun back into action if you need it, but it is also puts you at grave risk if your opponent manages to disarm you and knows enough about autoloaders to rack the slide. If that happens, you will have to use your backup weapon, execute a disarming technique, or use hard empty hand techniques to disable him.
While it is vital to be properly trained and mentally prepared to do whatever it takes to retain control of your firearm, it is equally important to maintain a high level of awareness. The best way to do this is to make it a habit to always be aware of the position of your duty gun relative to those around you. Like all habits, this habit is acquired through repetition. Therefore, the best way to develop it is to consciously put it into practice on every call and in every street contact you make, no matter how mundane the situation may seem. This takes commitment and effort, but weapon awareness can eventually become second nature. Once you have established this habit, it will remain in the back of your brain even when your main focus is elsewhere. When coupled with proper training and mental toughness, it will significantly improve your ability to prevent and, if necessary, respond to disarming attempts.
Stay alert, stay safe, and keep fighting no matter what.
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