Firearms training means life or death for police and civilians

Federal Way recently had an unfortunate incident where a law enforcement officer almost killed a 22-year-old male who was threatening the officer with a “handgun.”

The gun looked like a real gun; shooting the subject was justified. But why did the officer shoot twice and miss?

Officers are trained not to shoot unless an opponent presents deadly force. An officer is trained to aim for center of body mass. The primary objective is to stop an opponent from inflicting death or grave bodily harm. If the officer hesitates or misses, the risk is that the officer or bystanders will become victims.

The Federal Way incident occurred behind the businesses where PJ Pockets is located (at South 324th Street and Pacific Highway). This raises the issue of bystanders being hit by the officer’s shots. The fact that the officer missed his shots also raises the issue of whether the officer would be alive had he been confronted with a real gun.

Law enforcement officers justifiably hold "Monday morning quarterbacks," including many lawyers, in disdain. Every time an officer shoots at an assailant, no matter how justified, the lawyers are apt to reconstruct every moment before, during and after the shooting. A few thoughts on training are in order, nevertheless.

Firearms training starts with the law enforcement officer’s desire to return alive to loved ones at the end of the shift. Although officers must meet basic proficiency standards, many of them have never fired a shot in self-defense. Many competent “civilians” can and do take the time to become trained — and acquire gun handling skill that equals or exceeds the average law enforcement officer’s skill.

Consider the effect on motor skills as adrenaline starts pumping along with the heavy first trigger-pull that commonly causes officers (and non-officers) under stress to jerk the first shot with some semi-automatics. Studies have proven that officers and civilians that participate in exercises simulating real-life scenarios have a much better chance of surviving a gun fight. Competitions that combine speed, movement, shooting from cover and multiple targets create the reactions to stress necessary to increase officer and civilian survivability.

Studies show that mistaken shootings are more likely to happen in low light. Shooting an innocent subject as he presents his identification may be blamed on racism when lack of low-light training is to blame. How many departments have a house where officers can shoot at targets in a darkened environment? It is unlikely such opportunities are available unless the law enforcement officer pays for private training.

The Federal Way Police Department trains officers beyond the level required by law enforcement, but a defensive handgun class like the one at the Firearms Academy of Seattle teaches civilians and officers how to survive without incurring legal liability. The experience will enhance your appreciation for the officers that protect us on the street. Whether or not you are a law enforcement officer, you owe it to your family to remain alive. If you are a civilian with a concealed pistol license and/or carry a gun, you are responsible to know the laws, be safe and be proficient.

Federal Way resident Mark Knapp: knapp.m@comcast.net. Also visit http://firearmslawyer.net/.

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