Sometimes it’s easy to get a little lost in the sea of the firearms industry, especially on the defensive shooting / tactical side of things. Let’s face it, there’s no shortage of stuff out there, a veritable avalanche of information, gear, guns, videos, internet bloggers (guilty), cool guy t-shirts, Molon Labe and Infidel hats in desert tan, etc. You name it, it’s out there. 

Some of this stuff is good, some of it is crap. Either way, sometimes we can get lost in the noise of technique, gear, tactical gurus and bad-ass clothing lines—and this isn’t good. Occasionally we all need a calibration back to center—a reminder what this is all about once you boil away the nonsense: using a tool that’s designed to apply deadly force—kill people.

Is this the only thing the tool is good for? No. There are plenty of other uses and applications (even in real-world tactical settings). But where the rubber meets the road, at the moment of truth, it’s about justly killing another human being, or at least taking action that is likely to do so. (If you’re thinking about doing some other kind of people killing—get off our page; you’re not welcome here.)

Sometimes deadly force is necessary—and the right thing to do, tactically, legally, and morally. It’s never a small thing, but when it’s needed—there are no adequate substitutes for it. In these instances, it needs to be applied, and it generally needs to be applied right now. 

Since such events are relatively rare (even in most professions that require it), and since there won’t be time to dilly-dally during the actual event, it’s worth spending as much time as possible to prepare before-hand. This includes learning from others’ experiences.

Recently I had the opportunity to get a very thorough debrief, complete with video, (sorry, no we can’t share it) of a justified, real-world engagement. The good guy was an off-duty police officer; the bad guy was armed with a knife and hell-bent on killing.

We generally steer clear of discussing tactical information or in-depth technique discussions here in an “open source” setting. However, there were some great take-aways from this event that we believe both need to be shared and are appropriate for this medium. We’re going to do a couple of articles covering them, and discussing how trainers can leverage this vicarious experience to improve their students’ operational capabilities.

Since the basis of BUILDING SHOOTERS is brain-based training system design, this first article will cover some a real-world examples of what happens to the brain functions we commonly rely upon, such as cognitive process and memory recall, during critical incidents.

Event Summary

I’ll give it to the bad guy in this particular scenario, he was one determined dude. The whole engagement was unusually long—over 40 seconds total—and consisted of three distinctly separate engagement sequences. The bad guy took rounds each time (including a headshot).  

One important take-away from the debrief was that, in the immediate aftermath of the event, the officer recalled the order of events differently—specifically the sequencing of the three engagements. It wasn’t until later, when he watched the video, that he realized his recollection of the event was flat out wrong. If he would have given a detailed account of the event—it would have been forensically provable that his story was untrue.

Human beings are unreliable at the best of times. Gunfights are not the best of times…

Speaking of unreliable, there’s another issue associated with high-levels of stress hormones saturating brain tissue that the officer believes manifested during this event. 

Before the shooting started, the officer (off duty, civilian clothes with a badge in his pocket) verbally challenged the bad guy based on his behavior (and the fact that he was holding a knife). There was a pause, then the bad guy charged him.

According to multiple witnesses, the bad guy counted down out-loud before charging the officer, “3, 2, 1…” But, the officer never heard it. His first indication that there was an attack inbound was the charging itself. Keep in mind, this verbal interaction occurred before the shooting or charging started—indicating that the stress hormone levels were still elevated enough to cause this loss of hearing before officer’s life was in jeopardy and deadly force was indicated.

If you aren’t familiar with this, it’s an effect of acute stress that is commonly called auditory exclusion, and it happens all the time.

Lessons Learned

There are a couple of important points to take away from this event based on what we’ve discussed so far.

With respect to the officer’s memory recall not matching what actually happened, there’s a lesson here (especially during domestic operations) for all of us—civilian acting in self-defense, security guard, or police officer. Even though you’re the actual participant in a fight, this doesn’t mean that you’re going to be a good witness about what happened. In fact, let’s go further; especially if you’re the actual participant, you’re probably not going to be a very good witness about what happened.

If you’re the winner of the fight, does this even matter? Maybe. If you kill somebody in a gunfight, what are the chances that a homicide investigation is opened? Pretty much one-hundred percent. What are the chances you’re indicted? It depends. What are the chances that a civil suit is filed against you? Not necessarily one-hundred percent, but much closer to it than to zero.

In any of these legal matters, do you want to be the guy who told the police something that turned out forensically (maybe to include video footage) not to be true—not because you lied, but because your brain lied to you? Do you think this ultimately would increase or decrease your credibility with the police, the DA, a judge, and/or a jury?

We aren’t attorneys, and we can’t and won’t try to give any legal advice here. However, if faced with this type of situation, it’s probably a really good idea to get someone who can give you sound legal advice in the room before making any substantive statements to anybody.

With respect to auditory exclusion, there are two things we want to address.

First, when you train or teach, what percentage of the stimuli that you use to initiate use of the firearm are audible? If you’re like most of the industry, the answer probably is, “the vast majority of it.”

So, here’s a question. How realistic is this in terms of preparing somebody to actually defend themselves? 

In an earlier article we talked about the importance of developing the same “machine” in training that’s required for real. In a real-world engagement, how likely is it that the determinative stimulus that justifies application of deadly force is audible? Is it possible to hear a stimulus that indicates ability, intent, and means (using FLETC’s deadly force triangle as an example)? Even if it is, how likely is it to occur, and what are the chances that a student will be physiologically capable of actually hearing the stimulus during a real critical incident—where their life is on the line?

Audible stimuli come in through different sensory inputs, and use completely different neural networks, in completely different parts of the brain, than visual stimuli do. So, if you’re only using audible stimuli to initiate action on the range, how likely is it that you’re building and connecting the full spectrum of neural networks necessary for succeeding in real gunfight?

Food for thought…

Training Applications

Let’s talk about some ways to apply this stuff in training. It’s tempting to just talk about stuff like this, maybe add a power point slide in there somewhere, and think that we’ve addressed the issue. However, while talking to students is an important part of teaching, talking doesn’t do much to develop their “machine.” For that to happen, you need to repetitively activate the right neurons in their brains—which you can’t do verbally.

Relating to the brain and memory recall being generally unreliable, there’s not much we can do as trainers to impact this. To use an over-used phrase (at least that I’m very guilty of over-using)—it is what it is. However, knowing that this “terrain feature” of the brain exists can give us a leg up if we teach our students how to interface with law enforcement after a shooting—and make them practice it.

Do you ever have your students practice making a 911 call after a shooting—while you or another instructor role-play the 911 operator? Do you ever have them practice interfacing with a police officer who is responding to the scene and asking them questions? If not, why not?

This doesn’t need to be a complicated process. How long does it really take to practice saying nothing and asking for counsel? It also doesn’t require any equipment that you and your students don’t already have. 

In 2017 it would be incredibly rare to have a student without a cell phone. Why not make them carry it on the line—where they carry it for real—and periodically make them access it, and practice making the call after finishing a shooting iteration? In a group class, try randomly picking a student periodically and have them run through the exercise of first a 911 call, then a quick interface with a responding police officer, or at least a quick, in-person questioning.  

The whole event need not take much longer than 60 seconds—and think of the potential benefits. It’s not just surviving the fight that’s important—we also need to survive the aftermath.

The other students on the line will benefit from this too. They will know their turn “in the hot seat” is coming—so they’ll be thinking through the event too, getting nearly the same benefit as the actual participant. In this format, students can also learn from each other’s mistakes.

With respect to providing a visual stimulus to initiate action on the range, this can be a bit trickier, but it doesn’t necessarily need to be complicated or expensive either.

There are a lot of ways one could take this, but let’s look at a simple example. Let’s say you have some rags that are yellow, green, and orange—available at any hardware store. Define yellow as “deadly force required,” green as “verbal challenge indicated,” and orange as “deadly force indicated but not yet required.”

When the student(s) are on the line, instead of saying “bust ‘em,” or, “fire,” or, “the line is hot,” or, using a buzzer or whistle, simply toss a rag out onto the line. 

This type of training technique does a couple of things, neurologically. First, it uses the visual input sensors, and neurological circuits, and connects this circuitry to the neural networks that comprise the performance of shooting skills.

It also plugs two other critical brain functions, that are part of the actual “machine” required for a gunfight, into the training process—in the right order. The first of these brain functions is applied contextual association. It’s not enough in the real world just to respond to a stimulus, the stimulus must also have a context applied to it. (You can think of this as part of the “orientation” component of Boyd’s OODA Loop—if that’s part of your lexicon.)

For example, if somebody pulls a knife out of their pocket, are you justified in shooting them? The right answer: it depends on the context. In the case of our example above, assigning meaning to colors provides context—engaging this function in the brain.

The second brain function engaged here is decision-making. Depending on the stimulus and context (rag thrown and color) a decision must be made by the student (also part of the OODA Loop). For example, in this simplistic example, the student must decide to conduct a verbal challenge, to draw and cover/verbally challenge, or to draw and shoot.  

Is this super-fancy, “high speed” training? No. Is it complicated decision-making? No. But it doesn’t have to be to provide a lot of tangible benefit, and that’s the point. Even something as simple as tossing a rag is still using the actual machine involved in a real gunfight—visual stimulus input, contextual application, decision-making, physical action—something you don’t do at all when you use just an audible stimulus to initiate a pre-defined physical action.

The more of this we can do—engaging the same mechanisms involved in “the real thing”—during training, the better prepared our students are going to be to perform on the street. Don’t misunderstand, fancy toys, and high-speed training facilities are great tools to have. They can enhance your training. However, don’t think that you can’t train effectively if you don’t have access to them. Ultimately, understanding and defining what you’re training your students for—then repetitively engaging the brain functions involved is the most important facet of delivering effective training.

Subscribe to our Newsletter

Share this post with your friends

"Easily one of the more important books of our time when it comes to preparing police, military and armed civilians for armed lethal combat."
-Kenneth Murray
Author, Training at the Speed of Life
Co-Founder of Simunition