It’s not an entirely fair question, obviously. Police have to “resolve” their encounters with criminals while civilians can (and should) use their firearms to get the hell out of Dodge. That said, police marksmanship and gunfighting skills are, deservedly, legendary. And not in a good way. The more of these dashcam videos of close encounters of the ballistic kind we see, the more obvious it’s become that these are not the gun guys we’re looking for. Then again, I’ve seen enough civilian gun handling to conclude that standing directly in front of the shooter would be the safest place to be in a SHTF scenario. If push come to shove, who would you bet on in a gunfight?

29 Responses to Question of the Day: Who’s Better at Shooting, Cops or Civilians?

  1. Its a trick question as both cops and ‘civilians’ equally are bad shots.Being a good shot requires a personal desire to work at being good at shooting.Thus only a select few in either category will be considered good shots.

  2. You’ve got some examples of bad shooting from the cops, but I know quite a few cops who are ex-military. Many of them have been in real SHTF situations prior to ever being a cop. I’d put my money, on the whole, on cops. However you’ll keep getting dashcams like this one, and it’s unlikely you’ll ever see some of the clean shootings that do occur.

    I practice relatively often compared to the average ‘guy with a gun’ (6+ times this last year) at all sorts of ranges. I don’t trust myself to shoot anything farther than 10 feet away when you are fighting down the adrenaline.

    • Scott, yeah, but a lot of civilians were soldiers and in SHTF situations too.

      Either you compare civilians straight up to cops in gunfight shooting accuracy, or you control for military experience and break it out from there.

      • or a lot of civilians make it a habit to train. I have put 3,000 rds thru my glock 26 since I got it in June. That is not just spray and pray. Double and triple taps, all difference range lengths, weak/strong hand, point and shoot, intense aiming, you name it, and then I do rapid fire drills when I am dead tired. Cops can be good shots, but many only fire when they have to qualify.

      • I agree, a lot of civilians were soldiers. However in my City at least, the ratio of ex military is close to 1 in 3. Significantly higher than the regular population

  3. If surprised and confronted by a perp with a gun I think most people, cop or no, would pull the trigger until it goes click while trying to get the hell outta there. Truth is, none of us know how we’re gonna react in a DGU situation because odds are we’ll never have to find out. That being said, 90% of the guys and gals I work with are excellent shots and much more so thanp my non LEO peers. The two guys I work with that have actually had to use their weapons on duty did so accurately and without excessive use of ammunition. So when it comes down to it, unless one of my fellow well trained colleagues at TTAG is by my side, I’ll take my local cops any day of the week.

    • What he said.

      Just because you spend your time and money perforating paper doesn’t mean that you will be successful in a gunfight when someone is shooting back. Until you get that experience you are just another range cowboy.

      One more thing, do you think that videos showing cops nailing the bad guy with one shot end up on Youtube or the news? Cop shoots perp is not news.

  4. In order to teach NRA Personal Protection Outside The Home, you have to go through the class as a student, so in my class, there was a Federal Air Marshall and a Maricopa County SWAT officer along with schlubs like me.

    When it came time to head to the range, lil’ ol’ me, a barely C Class USPSA shooter, went toe-to-toe with the two LEO’s on the stress-fire shoots. Because I had inoculated myself with artificial stress via competition, I ended up shooting as well and as fast as both of them in the drills.

    Are drills reality? Of course not. But can they help when the SHTF? Probably. Now, cops have a whole lot of other things to worry about besides shooting, and the ones who make accurate shooting their passion shoot quite well. But that passion is not present in every cop.

  5. Any current LEOs have a take on the number of rounds their department allows/requires in firearms training each year? When I was in the Army (1970s), we had a once a year qualification shoot with about 50 rounds. Pathetic. I used to go to the base range and shoot on my own, but the qualification requirement was a joke. I understand that the Army is taking marksmanship/stress shooting a lot more seriously, now. I would think that police departments would require at least a monthly range day, but that is probably wishful thinking.

    • In the Sheriff’s Office I work for we do quals twice a year, day and night. Each course of fire is 18 rounds. We also have firearms training every month. While attendance is not required per se, everyone who can shows up. You shoot between 50-100 rounds during those and those who stick around because they aren’t on duty or have other commitments will shoot until our instructor runs out of ammo. I think the most I’ve shot is around 300 at one of the trainings. So you’re looking at bare minimum around 700 rounds a year.

      • Aye, there’s the rub.

        I shoot an USPSA or IDPA and a 3 gun match once a month, (two matches a month total), and I try to squeeze in an hour of .22 practice each week and a 100 round+ training session each month for both pistol and rifle.

        That’s 300 rounds of 9mm and .223, 100 or so scattergun rounds (with some slugs in there too), and 400 or so rounds of .22. That’s 800 rounds in just one month’s worth of range time.

        Each month. And that’s not counting major matches (at least 2 a year) that have 400+ round counts.

        And my match schedule is NOTHING compared to other people I know.

        All that practice adds up.

  6. It seems as though when anyone post something that seems even subtly anti-(pick your choice[LEO, Military, Civilian, etc]), the pro-(pick)’s come out in full force to defend their honor regardless of the fact that this is simply an intellectual and philosophical exercise – nothing is meant personally (unless it is).

    In any case – you’d have to look at the statistics, but my gut feeling is this. The likelihood is that a cop, being required to shoot at some point in their training or job, would be more successful than a “civilian” (whatever that truly means). I don’t think it is all that complicated of a question. Yes, there are Vets out there – but if you had two choices, Joe Blow or Johnny Cop, to pick from – the Cop would make the most sense.

  7. Too many variables to say. Your average cop vs. a frequent private shooter? Private shooter, usually. Ex-mil cop vs. an infrequent private shooter? Cop, usually.

    The biggest metric for me would be does the cop in question work in a state that requires a trigger pull weight sufficient to move a small planet. In that case, he’d have a hard time out-shooting little Johnny’s BB gun.

  8. I shoot next to LEOs regularly. Most of them couldn’t hit the ocean from a canoe and I outshoot them consistently. I shoot several times a week, and they shoot four times a year, so it figures that I’d be better. The Secret Service guys I saw shooting a few months ago were a whole different story — they were good, accurate and fast.

    All things considered, since I don’t qualify for Secret Service protection, I’ll trust me, myself and I. Oh, and also my personal friends, Smith & Wesson.

  9. From personal observations of local LEO and Febbies compared with non-regs, I would have to go with non-regs. Too many LEOs just spray and pray.

  10. My buddy became a cop in May and he’s a great shot who recently beat the vets and detetives at the police range. He’s been shooting since he was a kid and he’s gone to the range with me for several years. He told me how most of the recruits in class had no clue about shooting and a few almost didn’t pass their range test. I’m not bragging but I can out shoot him everytime, and he might be able to beat me if I were to wear a blindfold. I’ve also shot near LEO’s who are really good and some who are average and others who just plain suck. Same goes for regular citizens.

  11. From GOA website: Armed citizens kill more crooks than do the police. Citizens shoot and kill at least twice as many criminals as police do every year (1,527 to 606)25. And readers of Newsweek learned that “only 2 percent of civilian shootings involved an innocent person mistakenly identified as a criminal. The ‘error rate’ for the police, however, was 11 percent, more than five times as high.”
    From this I would have to vote in favor of civilians being better shots than cops. Many of the folks I shoot with do just that shoot their weapons regularly; both in practice and competition. Many also hunt. While not quite duplicating SHTF situations, try running uphill in the Colorado Rockies at 9000+ feet, dropping to the ground, get on target and pull the trigger. Oh, you have say 3 seconds after you drop to fire.

    • We have been over this ground before. Civilians shoot the wrong guy less often then the police because most DGUs take place in less dynamic situations, i.e., the person roaming around in your house at 2:00AM is probably a bad guy. On the the other hand the cops are facing moving targets where other variables come into play. They have more opportunity to screw up. (Please don’t bring up the red herring of the armed citizens in the Gifford shooting. You generally don’t see news stories that read “police hold their fire until they get the right guy”. That is the norm and not the exception.)

      Just look at the conditions in the video. It’s dark and rounds are flying at the officer in question. Not the best environment for good shooting. How many posters think they would just stand there like they are on the range and take down the bad guys with one or two shots. (Hint, anybody who makes that claim without having been there will probably piss themselves at the first sound of gunfire and those that have know that their accuracy doesn’t match their range or IDPA performance.) The only guy I know who can do that is Leroy Jethro Gibbs and he is a fictional character.

      • Police dont have the liability concerns private individuals do. If a cop screws up, generally at worst he will be fired after a lengthy investigation and paid leave. If a civilian does everything right, there is a good chance the cops will arrest him anyways and let the courts sort it out.

        • Our voice of the illuminati speaks.

          Got news for you. The last thing someone thinks about when the SHTF is his liability. It about survival not having a chance to light up the neighborhood.

          When you are in a gun fight you can’t do very wrong if you send rounds downrange at your attacker. In some tactical situations you want to “spray and pray” to facilitate maneuver. It’s called laying down a base of fire.

          But there is something more fundamental at work here. A sort of generalized application of Gresham’s Law (bad money drives out good). The widespread adaptation of automatic weapons has led to a decline in marksmanship standards. A modern infantryman qualifies at 300yds with a scope. Back in the day the standard was 500yds with iron sites. That went away when the M-16 replaced the M-14. You see the result in Vietnam where it took 25k rounds to produce a casualty instead of the 8k rounds in Korea and WWII.

          When LEOs shifted to automatics from revolvers the same phenonenon happened. Because the bad guys went to 9mm autos the cops responded in kind. With the ability to pump large number of rounds downrange cops and civilians alike just point in the general direction and shoot. I bet that people who rely on the 1911 are better combat shooters than users of 9mm or double stacked 45s. With only seven rounds you have to make every shot count.

    • Another thing to keep in mind is that the armed citizen is usually facing an obvious threat, without the potential ambiguities the LEO is dealing with. Most (not all) civilian self-defense shootings are in the home, or in situations where it is an obvious shoot or die situation.

      Police tend to face “suspects” on the streets or in a car, in the dark, with several other non-shooting “bystanders” in the equation. The police are also dealing with training and policies that mandate the use of non-lethal force, and they have to decide in about 1/2 a second whether to use their mace, baton, taser, or gun. Under stress. Plus the fact that most big-city police know that they will have politicians, review boards, and rioting mobs to deal with if they make a bad decision.

      I do think that many police departments should spend more time and money on firearms training, but you run into budget/time issues that the civilian administrators will decide, not the police. Possible solution? If I were an LEO, I would get as much off-duty range time in as possible, using my own ammo. Think of it as an ongoing payment on a life-insurance policy.

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