Two white guys in a nondescript silver compact sedan [not shown]. Both suddenly bolt out. I can’t make out what the hell they are saying. They flail about like a the B-list actors they are, trying to portray big city Wiseguys. They’re pissed and they are staring right at me. My weapon is not at the ready. I bring my piece to bear. I have no cover, my best chance at surviving is to be a better shot than my opponents. The guy to my right runs behind a tree. I take as careful aim as I can with my ears pulsing . . .
I think to my stepfather’s instructions – pull the trigger smoothly, let it be a surprise when it goes off. I take a fraction of a second to adjust how my finger rests on the trigger. I squeeze, both eyes wide open, trying to be aware of what the asshole behind the tree is doing.
“Jam” I yell. By now my partner has opened up on the threats. “Misfire” I yell again as I drop the mag, slap it back in and yank the slide. Again, nothing. I might as well throw the damn thing. I yank the slide back a third time.
Dan Zimmerman is lighting up the bad guys like the Glock he holds is a natural extension of his arm. The guy firing from behind the hood of the car goes down, then Dan turns his attention to the guy behind the tree who has produced a firearm and is creating muzzle flashes.
Dan and I are guests of Arbon Hairston, proprietor of Fair Warning Systems. He introduces himself to us as “Doc.” He has set up one of his Firearms Training Simulators (F.A.T.S), a construct of computers, projectors and specially modified firearms that simulate defensive gun scenarios.
Doc is a gregarious man. He is medium height and fit, his youth only belied by his grown son and graying hair. He has the easy manner of many of the noncoms who lead my squad and platoon in the Army.
Doc’s obviously proud of what he does and as he puts Dan and I through our paces, I can see why. Screw-ups on this range are painless but very instructive. His work has undoubtedly saved lives.
“For the love of God” I exclaim, “I left the safety on…”
The Beretta pistol I have has an unfamiliar safety selector. Apparently in the course of a “reload” I succeeded in accidentally flipping the lever. Once again, I’ve been boned by a safety.
“Well, that can happen in real life” Doc reminds me, resetting the device to run another scenario. “Better to make that mistake here than to do it out on the street.” Dan, playing John to my Ponch, is too polite to mock my rookie mistake. His restraint is made worse by the self-satisfied grin on his face.
Doc sets up his FATS simulator at gun shows and other public events. Today he’s at the Orlando Gardens show in South St. Louis County, put on by Midwest Arms and Armor. I’ve seen Doc at other gun shows, but this is the first time we’ve met.
Our session begins with simple marksmanship. FATS can simulate pistol ranges as far out as 25 yards. We begin with the silhouette fairly close, at a range of three yards. I take my first shot. The tethered gun “recoils” in my hand, driven by a puff of carbon dioxide.
A laser tells the system where my shot lands and a white dot appears on in the center ring. Dan is relentlessly peppering the 10-ring, so I begin shooting. The rounds are landing true. I watch where the dots appear and recognize grip errors and make adjustments. My hits tighten up. This is like real shooting, only without the noise, smell or throwing .38 cents downrange every time I fire.
“You will experience about 60% recoil” Doc says when we remark on how the guns behave. The FATS system lets the shooter review what they did in slow motion after each session. As Doc advances the playback, we see circled ones and twos appear, indicating Dan’s shots and mine.
“Let’s see who missed the headshot” I taunt as the indicators start showing up in the head area. One flyer missed the head to the right, and it’s mine.
Doc puts us through more marksmanship qualification. The silhouettes become progressively smaller, the last appearing to be not much larger than a sheet of paper. Dan and I pepper it, covering up the target.
“You guys are really good shots – I can tell you shoot a lot” says Doc. “Thanks” we say. It’s probably pretty obvious that we are pleased with ourselves.
Doc spools up a scenario where we are in a patrol car. The video shows a shot from the perspective of the passenger side door. “How can we both squeeze in there?” I ask.
“I think I’m the partner in this scenario. You must be the K9” says Dan, while un-ironically wearing a belt festooned with doggie faces.
“Woof” I respond.
We’ve pulled over a guy in a mini-van. As the driver of the squad car gets out, the minivan lurches backward, and our “partner” drops out of sight. The driver of the minivan gets out, agitated. Dan and I are both aiming at him, squared off in a weaver stance.
“Hands – I need to see your hands!” I shout, getting into the whole thing.
The man spins around and produces a weapon. We light his ass up. He falls, and the tally is taken. Both Dan and I rack up several non lethal strikes. Two of my shots land to the left of the bad guy’s groin.
“Crap, I jerked the trigger – I was aiming at his nads.” I joke.
The replay finally reaches a series of killing shots. Dan and I both land at least one. Between us we missed the target nine or more times.
“Holy crap, that’s NYPD bad.” I say to the amusement of the onlookers. “At least there wasn’t anyone behind him.” I actually took the time to look before opening fire.
“Do cops usually have their guns holstered before running through a scenario?” I ask.
“Yes,” Doc explains “We have un-tethered pistols that they keep in their holsters. They have to respond with their gun in its rig.” Dan and I hold the sidearms at our hip until we need them. I soon discover that the time between seeing the threat and bringing the weapon to bear is an eternity, much less landing a fight-ending shot.
“As a concealed carry permit holder, I think I would want to take cover. As it is, I’m standing square like Frank Cannon.”
“We often will set up cover for people to improve the realism. Taking cover is a good instinct to have.” Doc says.
Dan and I run another scenario. We are chasing two hoodlums who crash their car into a fence. I keep my weapon in front of me, finger carefully off the trigger and pointing the muzzle downward. “Hands – let me see your hands!” I yell as a big lunk starts to exit the vehicle. On the passenger side, an arm sheathed in plaid flannel dangles out the window, apparently caught between the central roof pillar and a fencepost.
The lummox holds his hands up, as if he can hear me. Doc is at the controls, I am not sure if he kicks the simulator to reward me with compliance from the suspect, but the small mountain keeps his back toward Dan and I, and puts his hands on his head.
In a flash, the man drops to one knee and produces a small firearm. Dan and I both concentrate fire on him. A muzzle flash appears by the dangling arm back by the car. Another appears before I can train my weapon over there. I land shots all around the target, but the shooter is well-concealed. We each shoot until we are bingo ammo.
The after action replay shows how few of our shots land in lethal sections of the target. The system is able to keep track of the threat’s body position, so a round that might have been aimed at center of mass becomes a non-lethal strike on an arm as the target moves.
Between the realistic action and accuracy of the weapon and the function of the simulator, I think I’ve experienced a sobering snapshot into a defensive gun use situation. What I learned includes:
- Safeties suck
- Practice. Bad shooting will not get better under stress.
- You probably will not have the initiative. Drawing your weapon takes time.
- You may get hit. Don’t stop shooting.
- Rule # 4 still applies.
In one of the final scenarios, I tried to force myself to think about following the fundamentals (I mean, beside taking the safety off) and take the extra instance to make a good shot. In my head, it seemed reasonable that my threat was likely not as good a shot as I am. Since 80% of gunshot wounds are survived, landing a better aimed shot might save my life if I deliver the 20% bullet while the bad guy is throwing around eighty-percenters.
Doc and his crew market refurbished training systems to gun clubs, ranges, training centers and law enforcement agencies. In the St. Louis area, he’ll bring a unit out to your event for a lead- and gunsmoke-free shooting party. He can set it up in a space roughly 10’ x 20’. According to the brochure, you can rent it for 4 hours for $350 bucks. Eight men and women could each train for half an hour for less than $50 each.
Dan and I shot the equivalent of eight full magazines of 9mm in about 20-25 minutes. That’s more than three boxes of ammo, depending on the gun. Add in range time, and just punching holes in targets will cost you north of fifty bucks.
Doc goes to many gun shows in the St. Louis metro area. If you see him, stand in line for some time on the FATS simulator. It’s a great value in training and it will give you a lot to reflect on afterwards; FATS training could save your life.