tHE PERFECT PISTOL SHOT
I advise most shooters to either lift the thumbs off the weapon or allow them to drop naturally forward. Lifting the thumbs is preferable because it removes a point of leverage for over-gripping which always results in a inward and downward torquing motion. It's harder to over-grip without the thumbs. Not impossible just harder. What lifting the thumbs additionally corrects is trigger-push. Shooters who shoot 1"-2" to the weak side of the bulls-eye will get an instant correction by lifting the thumbs. Some shooters may simply allow the thumbs to drop forward and minimize over-grip. However, the overwhelming majority of shooters ought to lift their thumbs. Many shooters lift the thumbs or allow them to drop forward and receive no benefit from those actions. The reason being those shooters strain the thumbs rather than allowing them to simply hang. The principle is to minimize muscular influence on the handgun and straining is muscular action.
Once again, a vampire has risen from the dead in shooting instruction. Every now and then, some poor soul (who should not be instructing) turns marksmanship orthodoxy upside down by reinventing some old shooting error as a new "practical method." The current foolishness is crossing the thumbs. There is no good reason to cross your thumbs when shooting either a revolver or pistol. In addition to having a rebounding hammer or rearward traveling slide tear your flesh, crossing the thumbs breaks the weld of the hands. You can test this by joining your hands together as if holding a handgun and then crossing your thumbs. You will see an open space appear between the bottoms of your palms. The hands need to come together, crossing thumbs separates them.
Friends, old boring stuff about shooting is often based on generations of successful shooters. We still have improvements ahead of us but they won't conflict with proven fundamentals. Test everything. Marksmanship is based on logic and reason not old wives' tales and intuitive art forms. Let's be critical consumers of shooting information.
American law enforcement applies physical power through a "continuum of force." Each agency has its own in accordance with that jurisdictions laws and regulations. It is difficult to make absolute statements concerning continuums because they are so numerous and often contradictory. Nonetheless, I'll offer an absolute statement: Nobody is allowed to apply a chokehold in less than serious circumstances and no agency teaches chokehold techniques. Chokeholds can easily kill because of the possibility of unintentional damage to the windpipe. Even when pressure is released prior to death or unconsciousness, death may occur due to damage the trachea. So, officers who apply a chokehold do so in the last extreme when it appears no alternative is available. That was not the circumstance in New York when a NYPD detective confronted a black market cigarette salesman, nor was it true that the officer applied a chokehold.
The officer applied what is referred to as a carotid restraint. Unlike a chokehold which restricts air, a carotid restraint only restricts blood. A chokehold requires a forearm across the throat. The carotid is applied by the bicep pressing against one side of the neck and the forearm against the other. Watch the video; the officer does not choke the suspect. Consider that a person who is choked, that is deprived of air, cannot repeatedly say, "I can't breathe." No air flow, no speech.
So what is the legal reasoning for the carotid restraint? It varies from state to state. I worked in one state that considered the carotid to be deadly force whereas another state in which I was employed considered it on par with the police baton. When properly applied the carotid applies no lasting damage. The goal of the technique is cause a temporary unconsciousness in a very short amount of time (a few seconds). Most suspects will realize that unconsciousness is imminent and submit prior to completion of the technique. As a rule, the carotid does much less damage than strikes from fists and batons. If you watch professional MMA matches, you will often see the carotid restraint applied as a submission technique; that's what it is in law enforcement, too.
The New York incident involved a carotid restraint, not a chokehold. It also involved several officers on top of an overweight man with pre-existing medical problems. The restraint was justified. Control of the suspect's hands was not as quick and immediate as it might have been. But that's the nature of law enforcement. Fights are never textbook and nothing works perfectly. It will easy for police defensive tactic instructors to find deficiencies in the response of the on-scene officers, and that's good. There needs to be continual improvement. But we also need to grow up a little bit. Nothing goes well in a fight and no cop knows in advance how far things will go. The real answer in preventing these tragedies is to remember that as a free people in a democratic republic with constitutional protection of God-given rights, we are obliged to submit to the police and make use of our "day in court." Self-restraint is the mark of a truly self-governing people. Let's fix that first.
Among the current foolishness over the Ferguson, Missouri shooting is the allegation that the officer did not "shoot to wound." In the age of modern, formalized law enforcement training, police are taught to aim for center-mass which translates into the middle of the human torso. We must understand that police practice disallows "shooting to kill," in favor of shooting to "stop the immediate threat." Bullet wounds to the body are much more likely to stop a charge than are wounds to the extremities. According to the CDC, about sixty percent of gunshot victims survive. According to FBI statistics, about 6 out of 10 police shots miss their target. Those misses occur while intending to strike the middle of the torso, making arm and leg shots a practical impossibility. Fear, adrenaline, injury, movement, and diminished control over fine motor skills make defensive shooting difficult. "Shooting to wound" is not a realistic possibility for peace officers. Officer Wilson fired at Mister Brown about a dozen times, striking him with about half those rounds (beating the national average). Since the stopping round was the last one fired we may deduce that all previous rounds which struck Mister Brown were insufficient to stop the threat. Our police certainly need better and more frequent training but training will never end the practical problems associated with these shootings. It is the job of local law enforcement to educate the communities they serve concerning the lawful use of deadly force--a job at which they are currently failing.
Recent events have brought to light a general confusion over the legal use of deadly force. Each state has its own laws concerning the use of force and every citizen ought to be familiar with the laws for the jurisdiction in which he lives. However, there is a common basis for all American deadly force law. Reasonableness and practicality are the two points that guide deadly force law. We can summarize the legal justification for all deadly force: to be in fear of an imminent danger of serious injury, great bodily harm or death. That's the meat of every deadly force statute in this country.
The law, like the moral justification for force is never based on weapons or specific circumstances. There is no clear line because of the innumerable situations in which people may find themselves. That is why the law must deal with intent and reasonable standards rather than shoot/don't shoot declarations.
An 80 year old lady armed with a butter knife is no threat to an able-bodied man. Things change if the woman is fifty, armed with a butcher knife, and both parties are confined in an elevator. It's never the weapon; it's always about the threat balanced between the parties. The old lady with the butter knife would be a deadly threat to a newborn, for instance. The court must consider the entirety of circumstances surrounding every case.
Let's consider the recent Ferguson, Missouri police shooting. A police officer was found legally justified for shooting an unarmed man. That was a foregone conclusion for those informed on deadly force matters and it is regrettable that even now no one in authority has attempted to explain the reasoning behind the legal use of deadly force. Here's the two elements that justified that shooting:
1. The officer had no reasonable alternative to the use of his firearm. Due to the previous assault which occurred inside the police car, the officer pursued with his gun in hand. Holstering the handgun and drawing another weapon would have taken about 2 seconds using both hands. A young man can cover over 30 feet in that time. Mr. Brown could have overrun Officer Wilson before Wilson could have drawn another weapon. If Wilson was hit by the larger running man while holding his service weapon, he would either lose the weapon or, if retaining it, be forced to fight with one hand while moving backward or falling down. Mr. Brown had already demonstrated a willingness to disarm Officer Wilson. For Wilson to choose to hold the gun during a tackle would have been extraordinarily reckless. Other nearby weapons were inadequate. I assume Wilson had pepper spray. Pepper spray is fine for use on a non-compliant, stationary subject. A charging man will not be stopped by spray. In short order, he will suffer watery eyes, a runny nose, coughing, and skin irritation but nothing that is likely to stop his charge. In my experience, nearly as many officers get sprayed as suspects. Wind matters. If Officer Wilson had a stun weapon instead of a gun, he would have had no more than one chance to hit Mr. Brown before the collision. Like the sprays, the stun guns don't work on everyone. Side-handled batons are too light to do much instant damage unless they are used as deadly weapons and swung tomahawk style at the head (prohibited by police agencies). Old wood batons were better but it is extremely unlikely that a charging man will be stopped with one hit. Finally, Wilson had good reason to believe that Brown could win a fist fight particularly if he wound up on top of Wilson. Time and distance combined with available options meant the handgun would have to be fired in the Wilson/Brown incident.
2. The officer had reason to believe that he was about to suffer serious injury or death. Mr. Brown had already struck him in the head and tried to remove his weapon. Brown charged Wilson without regard for the obvious presence of the handgun. Aside from the struggle previous to the shooting, Wilson would have been foolish to allow himself to be knocked down by a an angry, heavier man who had dismissed the warning presented by the officer's handgun.
So, we all need to know what local laws require for the use of deadly force. But we also need to understand that the law is reasonable and depends on an honest answer to a simple question: "Do you have to shoot?" For Officer Wilson, the answer was "yes."
I confess to being tedious. If it were up to me, marksmanship would be like everything else, constantly changing, based on popular whim and fashion. If that were the case I could constantly sell new books on the same old subject. Unfortunately, marksmanship is science. There is only one way to use a firearm to accurately strike a target at distance.
The other day, I read another shooters' blog in which the members were debating whether one should focus on the front sight, rear sight or target. It astounds me that these discussions did not end when fixed sights were placed on muzzle loaders.
The human eye can only focus to one depth at a time. Therefore, please consider the following:
1. The purpose of marksmanship is to control the flight path of the bullet with the intent of striking a predetermined target. Wherever the muzzle is at the instant the round leaves the barrel is the sole determiner of accuracy. Nothing can be done to correct bullet flight and impact once the round has left the barrel. The front sight is the shooter's guide to muzzle location. By controlling the front sight, the shooter is controlling the muzzle. The front sight must be the point of focus.
2. Angle of error increases dramatically over distance. A fraction of error in sight alignment can result in a miss of several feet at 15 or 25 yards. In order to properly align the sights, constant adjustments must be made to within fractions of an inch. The adjustments are constant because the body (muscle, circulation, respiration) is in constant motion. In order for the hand to make those adjustments, the eye must gather accurate information relating to sight picture and sight alignment. Focus must be fanatical and constant if the shooter hopes to know and control front sight location.
None of the above is open to opinion. If you focus on the target and claim to always hit your target, then we know two things about you: you use large targets, and you fire at very close distances. The same applies if you focus on the rear sight. Let's not fool ourselves into believing that point-and-jerk is "realistically practical" for self defense. The recent unpleasantness in Missouri will confirm that firing at a fast. closing target is tough and accuracy takes effort. The issue of marksmanship was settled centuries ago. Further reading can be found in The Perfect Pistol Shot.
The new book is still progressing and on target for an early 2015 release. The subject is the comprehensive and defensive use of the handgun. Practics Holistic Handgun will be available in Kindle and paperback. For more information: www.practicsusa.com
Albert League is a former Marine Corps and law enforcement firearm instructor who consults on a variety of security topics. He is the founder of the Practics firearms defense system and author of the Practics book series.(www.practicsusa.com)