By Jim Davis
Why use a dummy gun? The reasons are many, but this question is probably the most significant.
“Is it unloaded?”
You’re going to want to check that there is no magazine in place and that the chamber is empty. And then check it another few times. In fact, the procedure when using weapons in training is to have all parties present check to verify that any given weapon being used is, in fact, safe. And ensure that there’s no live ammunition anywhere near the area.
You know what’s better yet? Don’t use real weapons in training at all.
In 2019, three police officers were reportedly killed by gunfire during training accidents. That’s just in one year. Over the years, the number of needless deaths has been shocking and sad. Simply put, such deaths are completely avoidable. They just do not need to happen.
A few years back, a large city not far from where I live suffered one such tragic loss. Officers were conducting training in a classroom, an “unloaded” gun was fired, and a death resulted.
What can be done to prevent these kinds of dangers? One great option is the use of a dummy gun, something often referred to as a “rubber duck.” ASP (Armament Systems and Procedures) meets this need in the form of their “red guns.”
ASP manufactures replicas of most common duty weapons, including pistols, rifles, submachine guns, and shotguns.
For years, these have been helping people in the law enforcement community train safely and effectively. Now ASP has stepped up their game in the form of enhanced red guns. These newer models feature magazines that can be inserted and dropped free, which adds more training options.
The “firearm stand-in” that I received for evaluation is the Enhanced Red Gun in the form of the H&K 416, which resembles most AR-15 and M-4 carbines. The controls are placed just like the real thing. The only one that works is the magazine release. On top of that, the rail system on the top of the receiver and the sides and bottom of the forend are removable.
Any accessories that are normally used on an individual rifle can be added to these rails. Thus you can add your lights, lasers, red dots, scopes, etc. so your training can be as realistic as possible without endangering anyone.
The user can also remove the rails to reconfigure a rifle to his liking.
The sample that I received came with two magazines that resemble those from PMAG, although they are not functional. Just out of curiosity, I grabbed a real PMAG and tried it in the trainer, and it worked perfectly! It’s always nice to be able to practice with the mags you will carry if you want. So now users can practice magazine changes without danger to others.
The red color of these trainers makes it impossible to mistake them for the real thing. Their size and dimensions are precisely like their real life counterparts, although the weight isn’t exactly the same; the training guns are actually slightly lighter than the real thing (although not by a lot).
The balance on the 416 is also slightly off from the real thing. It’s more butt-heavy than muzzle-heavy, which isn’t like the actual HK rifle. Despite that, they will suffice for the intended purpose. As we used to joke on the job, “It’s close enough for government work.”
Aside from the inherent safety, what are some of the added benefits of using red guns for training? Well, a dummy gun won’t corrode (no metal parts), since they’re constructed of steel-reinforced polymer.
And of course, they’re less expensive to replace. If you break a training gun, it’s far less costly than breaking a real H&K 416. Let’s say a trainee is rappelling down a wall and the dummy gun is dropped — at least a real gun isn’t being trashed or sent for a lot of work to an armorer or gunsmith.
On that note, I’ll point out that ASP covers these training tools with a limited lifetime warranty in the event any of their products are found to be defective in materials or workmanship.
If a red gun is dropped on a floor, it won’t mar the floor the way an actual firearm would. Similarly, the polymer gun won’t harm people as much as a metal firearm if it comes in hard contact with their body, considering that polymer is softer than steel.
This really matters during weapons retention training, which typically becomes extremely physical if done correctly. Because of this, injuries can be reduced by using the red guns.
In 2018, four police officers were murdered by suspects who disarmed them and used their own weapons against them, accounting for approximately 13% of the police fatalities for that particular year. Weapon retention is (or at least should be) a huge concern and focus of training for police and corrections personnel.
When I worked in Corrections, we lobbied for years to have weapon retention instruction included in our Use Of Force training blocks, and for a long time it fell upon deaf ears. After years of effort, we were finally successful in convincing management that this was a real issue that needed to be addressed.
They ultimately relented, and eventually included a small block of retention techniques, albeit the barest minimum that they could squeak by with. Nevertheless, we took the ball and ran with it, making the best out of a mediocre package that we could.
These enhanced red guns will go a long way in providing the necessary tools for retention training.
Generally speaking, if a perpetrator or suspect grabs an officer’s weapon, it’s instantly a dire situation. That officer is now fighting for his or her life. If the weapon is a handgun still in its holster, simple strikes and grappling will likely be used for the officer to retain his weapon.
Moving through a structure or in close proximity to bad guys exposes us to additional threats because perps might make a grab for a long gun if that is what we’re deploying.
We all want to respond with, “I’m going to use superior tactics so that no perp will get close enough to grab my weapon!” Let’s face it, though. Stuff happens.
Sure, in our minds we’re all brilliant technicians, but this is the real world. Moving down a hallway with rooms on either side can set us up for a gun grab, and we’d better be well versed in how we’re going to respond.
If the barrel is grabbed, circular movements will usually be the way to go because they work against a suspect’s wrist mechanics and can break their hold. Which way you rotate the barrel will depend on the bad guy’s position and angle of attack. The key is to take action and not freeze because if you freeze, you will likely die.
You know what helps you to train hard and realistically for such a dire situation? A dummy gun.
Check out ASP’s enhanced red gun line, they’re well worth the look.
At the time of this writing, the HK 416 red gun is priced at $355.
Jim Davis served in the PA Dept. of Corrections for 16½ years as a corrections officer in the State Correctional Institute at Graterford and later at SCI Phoenix. He served on the Corrections Emergency Response Team (CERT), several of those years as a sniper, and also the Fire Emergency Response Team (FERT). For 25 years, he was a professional instructor, teaching topics including Defensive Tactics, Riot Control and Tactical Operations, Immediate Responder, and cognitive programs as an adjunct instructor at the DOC Training Academy.