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“The five-mile chase that began about 5:30 p.m. Sunday at Polk Street and Francisco Avenue was triggered when officers spotted what turned out to be a paintball gun in a vehicle,” Chicago Police Superintendant Jody Weis told the Chicago Trib. According to the Windy City po-po, the gun guy tried to run over the cops and then headed west on the Stevenson Expressway. Exiting at Damen Avenue, the perp’s whip struck a police vehicle before coming to a stop. The cops [allegedly] saw the [world’s stupidest] perp raise his paintball gun. “One of the officers was in fear for his life, and he fired,” Weis said. “Unfortunately, he hit his partner.” Hmmm. Allow me to take this opportunity to share some of my recent thoughts about combat shooting . . .

Remember that story about the shootout at the Bed-Sty hair salon? An off-duty cop and perp traded shots at twelve feet without either combatant scoring a telling blow. It’s only one of the latest in an endless line of stories about gunfighters missing their target at nearasdammit point blank range.

The thing that bothers me about the hair salon shootout and the oopsie above: the shooters were cops. They received basic marksmanship training, force-on-force combat training, and regular accuracy training. If a trained shooter can’t hit squat in the heat of battle, well, why not?

Civilian self-defense shooters usually blame the quantity and frequency of police training. They rightly point out that self-defense oriented amateurs practice handgun combat skills far more regularly than the average police officer. But I don’t think that’s it. I believe it the type of training the cops receive. Specifically, I believe police are incorrectly taught to shoot using their handgun’s sights.

Handgun sights are completely counter-intuitive. Instead of focusing both eyes on a target—as you would in just about any other object-oriented aggressive activity (e.g. throwing a rock)—you’re supposed to focus one of your eyes on the weapon’s front sight, as seen through the rear sight, superimposed over the target.

I make that three potential focal distances Is it any wonder that police do no such thing in combat? “Flash sight picture” my ass. They look at the target. Period.

As I explained in my earlier post on the Bed-Sty kerfuffle, the cop shot the gun out of the perp’s hand because she focused her eyes on the assailant’s gun, rather than center mass. She shot where she was looking. This happens all the time. Hundreds if not thousands of shooters shoot guns out of attackers’ hands by “accident.”

The traditional analysis: the cop should have used her sights. The alternative theory: she should have used the exact same shooting technique and looked at the perp’s center mass.

The cop was shooting instinctively. Why mess with instinct? Why not shoot instinctively? In fact, why not train to shoot instinctively? After all, who has time to use their sights?

Speaking of which, after an hour’s range time today, I discovered that it’s entirely possible to train a mediocre shooter (that’s me) to shoot a two-inch group at five yards without so much as glancing at the handgun’s sights. And a four inch group at twice that distance.

BUT—accurate instinctive or point shooting isn’t just a matter of using traditional shooting techniques without looking at the sights. It requires an entirely different stance. Try it. First the simple way . . .

Pretend you’re a child shooting something with one finger. After you’ve shot, leave your hand where it is. See how your pretend gun is not in front of your eyes? It’s off to the right (or left). If your hand had sights, you’d have to move it towards the center of your body to see down the sights. (To keep it on target, you’d have to put a lateral break in your wrist).

Don’t move your hand. This your instinctive shooting positon. Now let’s try it with a real (safety checked) gun . . .

Gun gurus will tell you to grip a handgun so that the line of the barrel runs straight up your arm to your shoulder. That way, your whole arm manages the recoil. And it’s easier to aim something in a straight line (e.g. pitching a ball). So safety check a gun and grip it “properly.” Make sure it’s absolutely straight with your arm.

Now assume ye olde one-handed position. Grip the gun with the barrel running up your arm (as above), turn your body sideways to the target, and look down your arm. In this position, you can easily follow the line of your arm to the sights to the target. You know, like a rifle. Your arm is the rifle barrel leading your eyes—working together—to the target.

Use the sights to refine your aim. Or don’t use them at all. Because once you’ve lined up your shot, it doesn’t really matter where you look. You could, in theory, close your eyes and shoot a bullseye.

The big problem with this stance, the reason why it’s relegated to target shooters: it doesn’t translate to combat, where you fire a big ass bullet (with plenty o’ recoil) and you have to constantly move. Leaving your arm out like that all the time is a good way to lose it.

So, now, keep your arm perfectly still in ye olde one-handed stance, leaving the handgun on target. Rotate your body so that your shoulders are square to the target, leaving your arm exactly where it is. Put your weak hand side foot slightly forward. Grab the gun hand with your support hand.

There’s your “instinctive” grip and stance. Notice that you’re looking parellel to the gun, not down it. Notice that your arms form a right triangle, not an isosceles triangle. Most of all, notice how your eyes are free to scan the entire area in front of you. You have total access to your peripheral vision.

[Using the illustration above as a template, the side of the triangle marked C -> B is your shooting arm. Small b marks your head position. The side marked A -> B is your support hand.]

But don’t scan. Focus your eyes EXACTLY where you want the bullet to go. And by God, it will go there. Or thereabouts. As I mentioned above, with practice, combat effective groups are go.

Try at the range. Obviously, you can’t go through all that one-handed rigamarole every time you shoot. So some pointers (so to speak).

First, grip is all. Get the gun in the proper position in your hand. If it’s lined-up correctly and you don’t change your grip, you’ll naturally assume the proper right-triangle stance. ‘Cause if you center the gun, you’ll be aiming WAY left (or right) of the target. Remember: don’t look at or for the sights.

Second, push the gun at the target, as if you were going to push the bullet at the target. It helps to step forward with the opposite foot at the same time. Do not bowl (raising the gun in an arc) or “fish” (lowering the gun in an arc). Push it. Push it good.

Third, don’t use a bullseye target. A white piece of paper at four yards will do. Fire five bullets. Go for groups. Try to get all the bullets to hit the paper in the same place, rather than worrying about the center of the target.

Fourth, maintain fundamentals: thumbs properly positioned, smooth trigger pull, locked out arms, proper recoil management (which should be easier).

Fifth, DO NOT LOOK AT THE GUN. Stare directly and intently at where you want the bullet to go. Intially, you WILL miss. Perhaps by as much as a foot. Again, concentrate on grouping. On NOT changing anything for those five shots.

When you feel a bit more confident. Fire one shot, adjust and fire again. Five shots. No more. I can’t say this enough: don’t look at the gun. And check to make sure you’re NOT centering the gun with your body.

I know it sounds crazy, but it works—for combat style shooting at least. If you have a gun with a laser, your can try it at home. Safety check that bad boy, use the technique above, then switch on the laser and see where your bullet would have gone.

It’s early days with this one, so I’d appreciate any and all feedback. But I have a sneaking suspicion that proper instinctive or point shooting is the future of combat training. Or should be. If cops want to find a better way to shoot the bad guy in battle. Or at least not each other.

Video to follow.

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  1. Have you checked out Center Axis Relock? It is mainly designed for handgun retention and close work. It is pretty interesting.

  2. Hey wow, just checking that with a safety-checked gun, you're completely right. I was pointing almost exactly where I wanted, and with a lot less effort than the classic target stance. I think this technique deserves some serious range time…

  3. Please excuse me for the lack of a specific citation. From what I’ve read and seen about the CAR, the stance will put you in a bladed stance and the shooter’s strong side arm is raised up and away from the torso. If wearing body armor this exposes the armpit, which is not armored. Also, if hit the bullet would completely cut across both lungs and the heart. Also, the arm raised to the side increases your vulnerable profile.

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