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Why You Need to Learn to Move With a Loaded Firearm

Why You Need to Learn to Move With a Loaded Firearm

Why You Need to Learn to Move With a Loaded Firearm

Years ago when I was working for a certain federal agency, I was instructing on the firing line with my friend Evan Marshall (the shooter and author, not the mandolinist). During a lull in shooting, the agents were asked to unload and show clear, which brought a chuckle from Evan.

Knowing that Evan often has an astute observation to share after such a chuckle, I gave him an inquisitive look and he commented, “Ever notice that the only place that police and military aren’t trusted with loaded firearms is on the range?”

That pithy little comment struck a chord with me because I had had the same treatment for years from the military, and this is one of the reasons that we train people to move on the range with loaded firearms. An approach that is unique in the firearms training industry and loaded with controversy.

Now you might be saying “I currently train with a “hot” firearm on range… I load, unload, and draw from the holster and shoot, and even do box drills, so what’s the big deal?”

Allow me to clarify: When I talk about moving with a loaded firearm I am not talking about simply carrying hot, drawing, shooting, re-holstering, nor am I talking about training typical box drills or group choreographed movement, or some contrived “run up range but keep your firearm pointed down range” silliness.

What I am talking about is when individual students – on a line full of students and instructors – shoot (often while on the move), actively assess their situation, select the cover that best suits them, move to their selected cover safely and quickly, and finally utilize the cover appropriately. The cover they seek may be in front of them, it may be to the right or left of them, or the cover they select may be behind them.

I know that some would say (and have) that training a client to shoot and move with a loaded firearm is unsafe. Yet I would argue that not training a client to shoot and move safely with a loaded firearm does more harm than it does good, as doing so only transfers the training risk from the relative safety of the range to the much more hazardous real world environment where the safety net is not present. In the end, I would say that training and learning to safely move with a loaded firearm is safer than not training to safely move with a loaded firearm.

Although the training industry goes to great lengths to train the rituals and procedures that are necessary to assure you have an unloaded firearm, but none of these are 100% effective, and I believe that’s because these rituals and procedures build in a sense of complacency rather than training people to be 100% responsible for their firearms 100% of the time (see my article Buddy Checks, Why They Aren’t to get a flavor for this). In my opinion, this kind of poor training leads to improper gun handling habits, which in turn leads to ND’s and accidents.

Some have stated that there are legitimate liability and safety issues about training people to move with loaded firearms. I say exactly the opposite; that by training individuals to move with a loaded firearm, you in fact increase safety and decrease potential liabilities. Why? Permit me to explain:

At Pulse O2DA we train our clients to safely move with loaded firearms because learning to do so is preparing the client for reality. You see, reality is what it is, not what we wish for it to be, and if we hope to successfully prepare ourselves and our clients for real life lethal force encounter, we need to engage in realistic training that will prepare us for the most unusual events a person can face – a fight for life – yours or your adversaries.

One of the many things preparing for a real no-holds-barred fight for life means is that we need to be able to safely and confidently move with our firearm at the earliest possible time in our training, not years down the road when we have reached some arbitrary skill level.

Why train these skills at the earliest time?

  • Because training correctly is an ethical obligation on the training organizations part, especially when training for a fight instead of a competitive event
  • Because training properly requires learning all fundamental skills early on so you receive the needed repetition required to gain these vital skill at the earliest possible time
  • Because you will have little to no control of when you will be faced with a lethal force encounter… you don’t know if it will happen next week, next year, or tomorrow
  • Because just like the firearms safety habits/rules, the ability to safely maneuver with your firearm is a basic skill of paramount importance if you wish to be a danger to the bad guys and not innocent people

As both a student and instructor I have attended training for protective security details where most often the training is all done on-line without any cover, and if a shooter get’s too far in front of someone else on the firing line the instructors have a conniption fit. But why is this? We trust these operators to carry loaded firearms around dignitaries where they form a protective formation around their client, and we expect them to then fight from these formations. Yet we don’t provide them the appropriate live fire formation training to do so safely on the range where there are both qualified instructors and safety measures and equipment in place to do so safely.

Do we seriously believe that liability is somehow diminished by not training properly on the range? Do we believe that we can wash our hands from liability should there be a blue-on-blue due to the lack of appropriate training? Or do we believe that the previous training the students received in the military will be sufficient to win the day? If any previous training is sufficient, why even risk any further training at all?

I have watched civilians training to the same standard. Always on line, always tightly controlled with silly box drill type movements, rarely allowed a foot in front of their counterparts on the firing line, and certainly not allowed to move independently. Again, why is this? Do we expect that the individual will always be alone? Do we suppose he will he never be walking with or around others? Do we believe that if he is around others, they will all be on-line with him? Will he never need to sweep a loved one to the side, step laterally, or step forward to shoot past innocents?

Before I go further I want to tell you that I believe any decent firearms training is better than none at all. Even if it is training that does not incorporate moving with a loaded firearm I am still a full-throated supporter of gun-owners getting training. There are thousands of NRA certified instructors who can provide basic gun handling training. Just understand that after having gone through that kind of training, you are only starting the journey that will lead you to the destination you need to be at in order to decisively win the fight of your life.

Why don’t more firearms training firms and instructors train their clients to move with a loaded firearm? The reason is two-fold; economic and experience.

First, most firearms training groups follow a volume-based business model designed to drive down the price of the course, and in doing so pay their instructors as little as possible in order to squeak out a profit. The economic realities of this business model are that you need to minimize the instructor to pupil ratio in order to make money. Second, most firearms training groups can only afford to employ instructors with limited experience. Which means you have a limited number of inexperienced instructors supervising a large number of students. The student to instructor ratio combined with the limited experience of the instructors makes training with a loaded firearm impractical and unsafe.

Yet we believe that learning to safely shoot and move with a loaded firearm is such an important skill that at we teach it as a fundamental building block during all of our two and four-day courses. By the end of the client’s first full day of training, our clients are accomplishing all of the aforementioned, all on their own – not waiting for someone else’s prompting or instructions – and they do so safely, independently, and at their own pace. The further along our clients progress in their training, the more confident and skilled they become.

To the casual observer this movement is pure beauty to behold; the motions seem too smooth to be anything but tightly choreographed actions executed by seasoned instructors – yet such an assessment would be incorrect. The movements come from both novice and seasoned clients who are learning an innate understanding of true firearms safety principles. These skills can be learned by anyone in short order – if the students, curriculum, and the instructors are up to the task.

This type of training can only be achieved by turning the traditional firearms training business model upside down. That means you need limit the number of students to your classes, hire only the best instructors, pay them well, and follow a proprietary training method developed by over 25 years of experience training military, Special Forces (Seals, Rangers, Ghurkas etc.), Federal Agents, Law Enforcement and civilians – lots of civilians – on how to safely shoot and move with a loaded firearms. Then charge a fair price for your services and surround your classes with unprecedented training support resources. And this is exactly what we do.

We strongly believe that if you don’t learn how to move safely and confidently with a loaded firearm then you are not even a marginally safe firearms handler, let alone a competent operator. We strongly believe that if you don’t have the ability to safely, confidently, and quickly move with a loaded firearm you are unnecessarily hamstringing yourself, potentially during a time when you need such skills and abilities the most.

One can reasonably ask, “If I am not incorporating moving safely with a loaded firearm on the range as part of my normal training routine, where and when am I supposed to safely learn this vital skill?” Surely, with todays focus on “Train the way you fight because you will fight the way you train,” no one would argue that we should not be training to move with a loaded firearm.

As a gun owner who believes he is training for the fight, ask yourself: “Would I rather learn to move with a loaded firearm on the range where the safety and support system is in place for my learning, or should I improvise around my loved ones in the middle of a stressful and chaotic lethal force situation?”

As an instructor, ask yourself: “Do I believe that this vital skill should be practiced in the home for the first time, or around one’s loved ones while under the stress of a fight for life?” Do we instructors foolishly believe that the student will instinctively know how to appropriately move around their family members under the debilitating stress of a lethal force encounter? Do we believe that by training in a sterilized inline/online environment, that such training prepares the clients for the chaotic and dynamic environment that a lethal force encounter is? Shouldn’t we give this basic and vital skill to our clients at the earliest opportunity?

Where is the client supposed to learn these real life skills if not at the range under our direct supervision? Would you ever tell a student “Okay Joe, I don’t trust you or my training staff to practice moving with your loaded firearm here at the range where the best safety net is in place… but I am sure you will do just fine when it hits the fan.”

Of course most professional instructors wouldn’t (shouldn’t) say anything like that. As instructors we realize that we will fight the way we train, and as professional instructors we realize that our clients won’t rise to the occasion if they haven’t been trained correctly, because we know that they will revert to their lowest level of training.

Yet, even with the understanding of this basic training principle, when it comes to training warriors to safely move on the firing line, most instructors and organizations avoid moving with a loaded firearm like the plague.

This in turn begs the question: If a student (who hasn’t received the proper training in how to safely move to cover with a loaded firearm) has a Negligent Discharge or “ND” in the real world – or he is shot, before, after, or during the gunfight because he didn’t immediately safely move to any available cover or concealment – who is responsible?

Do we blame the client who was never taught how to move safely to cover, and who never received the needed training in how do so quickly and safely?

Do we blame the training group that didn’t develop the necessary training exercises needed to provide this vital training, nor trust their instructors and clients to learn the necessary and basic skills?

Or do we blame society for allowing this type of foolish group think, mass preemptive safety hysteria, and risk transferal to take hold in the first place?

The truth, as it so often does, lies somewhere in the middle… we all share some responsibility, and we need to look at the reality of the situation and adapt ourselves and our schools accordingly.
I believe strongly that by not teaching moving safely on the firing line we are both deluding the key ingredient needed for individual liberty (personal responsibility) while at the same time reinforcing the foolish idea that one can eliminate risk.

Risk can’t eliminate unless you completely eliminate the activity. Furthermore, risk can only be mitigated and transferred from one venue to another. In the case of not allowing people to move with loaded firearms on the range, the greatest risk is to the untrained shooter and innocents during a fight for life.

If we realize we can’t eliminate the risk inherent in a fight for life, the only prudent thing to do is to mitigate that risk by training at the front end of a gun owner’s experience.

We can’t eliminate risk at the range, because to eliminate the risk at the range we must eliminate the front end training activity needed to make a safer gun owner in the back end, and by eliminating proper training at the front end, you make a less safe gun owner on the back end – when the individual needs the skill the most, and where there is no safety net available to him.

In a case where firearms organizations eliminate the risk on the range for themselves, they are simply transferring the risk to the student’s home or wherever he may be carrying. This is an attempt to spread the liability to everyone and yet no one, in order to avoid responsibility.

Again, let me clearly state that I fully support any basic training, even if it is less practical in a fight for life than what we offer. To be perfectly honest, this kind of safe yet realistic training isn’t for everyone, and I realize that. Yet for those people who do seek training that will teach them how to win a fight for life, not just feel good about themselves, there is no substitute.

In the end, whether an instructor or a student, we intuitively know that we can not expect any performance out of our students or ourselves that we have not first trained to properly perform.

By properly training clients for reality while on the range we can greatly reduce the chances of them having an accident at home and not finishing the fight as they should.

Isn’t that why they come to us in the first place?

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  • AZSDFT

    I need to meet you, I couldn’t agree more with what you wrote in this article!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      Thanks AZSDFT! I appreciate the support and kind words.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1804968161 Roy Rutledge

    Great article.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      Thanks for the complement Roy, it is appreciated.

  • outtahere

    Real world, real problems. Real training, real solutions, real results. Doesn’t get much better than that. Outstanding point!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      Thanks outtahere, I appreciate the comments and the complement.

  • Tionico

    when we carry full time everywhere, why deny us the opportunity to train that way “on the range” as well? If we always ride with the traning wheels on the bike, we’ll never really ever be able to ride. Guess I’ll have to further investigate this outfit… sounds like its what I should get.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      I would agree Tionico, it’s time to take the training wheels of.

      Thanks for the comment.

  • ktcole

    I see two problems, both of which are illustrated by our local rod & gun club’s situation. 1) Following complaints by adjoining landowners, the town agreed to allow the club to operate its pistol ranges only if it ensured absolutely that no stray rounds ever crossed over a berm. Specifically, the town required implementation of an SOP that required loaded pistols to be pointed downward and down range at all times. Loaded pistols were not to be holstered on the range, even by law enforcement officers. Firers would have to reload and holster their pistols after having left the range. Drawing a pistol from a holster and firing it while on the range would be a violation of the agreement and, thus, is prohibited. The town has made it quite clear that failure to follow these rules will result in the ranges being shut down. 2) In the NRA range safety officer course, the message is given quite strongly that a safety officer is obligated to follow the range SOP, regardless of whether he or she agrees with it. Therefore, no range safety officer is going to allow violations such as those discussed above to occur, unless he or she wants to lose his or her club membership. While, theoretically, the type of training discussed in the article should be given, the immediate adverse consequences of any mishap can be quite severe. The instructor, the range safety officer and the range owner have a real immediate risk/liability issue. That issue is not present for those people when the trainee encounters the same type of challenge years after having failed to have received that specific training. Good article. I hope it creates much debate.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      Hello ktcole.

      You are quite right, some ranges don’t allow for this type of training. We (Pulse O2DA) are trying to change this attitude… yet it is important that people do follow their ranges rules until the attitudes an rules change.

      Thanks for the feedback, it is much appreciated.

  • Artista_CO

    Excellent article. Unfortunately, in this litigious (sp?) society, I am afraid that there are too many insurers that would have a kinniption at the thought. Thank you for the ideas and press on.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      Thank you Artista_CO, the complement is appreciated, and we will indeed press on.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Dan-Ess/100000666571492 Dan Ess

    Definitely value to learning these steps as indicated, and there are ranges that do have open bay training facilities; they also are not open to just anyone, least not where I train. I liked the article, but I also feel; it could have been much more effective if it were not quite so long. I understand that repetition is the key to safe gun handling, but repetition in instruction begins to lose ones interest.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      Sorry for the length of the article Dan Ess, but as I have previously mentioned, I am not a writer and don’t have an editor… I will try to keep it shorter when I can.

      Thanks for the feedback, it is much appreciated.

  • http://www.facebook.com/wvumounties8 S Michael DeHart

    Excellent article. I am a member of a FOP/FOPA Range and luckily we have the set up and ability to do the “run and gun” exercises. My son and I use the course/range monthly and sometimes 3 times a month (ammo expense permitting). I agree, that it is the only way to learn proper technique and proper execution, when operating with handgun, shotguns or AR’s. .

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      Thanks for the input and feedback S Michael, I am glad you get to get out and train these vital skills.

  • Phil

    Wouldn’t paintball make for a good basic environment to train for that? At least to help create a pattern to follow. Am I off on this?

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      Hello Phil,

      I am dubious (not saying it can’t be done, just dubious). As long as you are paying attention to muzzle awareness (something that most people in a paintball match don’t pay much attention to). If you could rent a range, or play with your palls on the stipulation that everyone on the same team needs to be muzzle conscious, finger off the trigger, etc, and that everyone is looking for such safety violations (especially the referees) – it could work.

      That being said, paintball (if utilized correctly) is a great way to learn to appreciate the benefits of cover, concealment, communications, and shooting on the move.

      If you know what you are doing (safety and training wise) you could use airsoft (with all the safety equipment on) and achieve the same results IF you have a person designated as a Safety Officer who will watch your trigger finger, muzzle consciousness, and you take the corrections well.

      Thanks for the feedback and your ideas, they are much appreciated.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1295170794 Scott Wilkie

        Bob, to caveat Phil i think using paintball guns with hair triggers are a good way to teach the results of poor muzzle awareness when one goes off because the finger was in the wrong position. the crawl walk run method is the only good way to train and allowing the possible ND with a paintball during training will enforce the fundamentals. I think the use of a course is better for combat training but the use of PB guns prior to live fire training is what Phil may have been referring to. Those of us who have been downrange have an inbred ability and ESP like ability to be aware of our fingers and muzzles….ALL others must be trained!!

  • Nunya

    Ron, as both a military and civilian certified firearms instructor I agree in theory with your point, and I do think that we err too much on the side of caution on our ranges, but I am concerned with the liability issues. I realize that risk can’t be eliminated, but it is ingrained in my skullcap that risk should only be accepted if the benefit outweighs the possible costs, what can you do to mitigate the risk to an acceptable level? I understand having instructors watching for fingers on triggers while shooters are moving, but what else can be done?

    Thank you for a thought provoking article.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      Hello Nunya,

      Thanks for the comments and questions.

      In my opinion, the benefits way outweigh the possible risk, what is more important than teaching someone how to properly be safe with firearms, especially on the move?

      Fingers straight, yes, but muzzle discipline is equally important. This skill set should be taught in building block (crawl, walk, and run) fashion. From simple and easy to control steps, working the way up the complexity ladder. Start simply to begin with – move forward safely (with instructors stationed laterally) then after that is mastered without instructors getting flagged then move diagonally forward, then laterally, then diagonally to the rear, and finally to the rear. Each progression is monitored by a high instructor-to-student ratio. As you move up the difficulty scale you will notice which students need special attention and reminders. Those you will give your full attention while keeping an eye on everyone else in your charge.

      Keep potential safety issues (flagging, finger on trigger, etc.) in proportion to the degree of violation. If an instructor has done his job to begin with the finger off the trigger should happen immediately after shooting, therefor the most you should be correcting on the fly is the muzzle consciousness. Keep that in perspective as well. I have been flagged plenty of times, but because I am first watching that trigger finger I don’t get overly excited. Usually once the flagging issue is brought to the student’s attention, they make the corrections in short order.

      I hope this helps answer some of your questions, and again, thanks for your thoughtful questions. If you would like to chat more, please don’t hesitate to hit me up in an email.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mandie.snyder Mandie Remek Snyder

    My husband & I have taken two classes so far that included moving with a hot gun & shooting at moving targets. It was amazing how much anxiety that created in a controlled environment…I can only imagine if it was for life & death. We continue to train that way & already have plans for more advanced classes to build on what we’ve learned so far. We want to be prepared for real life. Excellent article!

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      Hello Mandle,

      Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts, and thanks for the complement.

  • http://twitter.com/kirk_fleming Kirk Fleming

    I agree 100% and am willing to pay more for training that is more realistic and practical. But, one issue I witnessed first-hand at a very well-known training facility is a potential problem for any training provider. The situation came up with a student who was taking his 3rd training course, each of them 1- or 2-day classes, in rapid sequence. In the first class, taken only days earlier, he had most likely first learned of the rules of gun safety. By his 3rd class, the one I was in with him, he still had not quite ‘learned’ that finger-off-the-trigger rule. So, all he had for experience (and observation) were his past 5 days of training.

    On the other hand, while had gone through the same training classes as this student, between each of them was the passage of many months of practice as well as IPSC and IDPA matches–where at the very least I’m under the scrutiny of an SO and am learning to pay attention.

    I’m just expressing the notion that training at any level of sophistication, especially where distraction is a core component of the training, has to be done with students who can show they’re adequately prepared for the next level of progress. This of course adds even more time (and cost) to delivery, and means your clientele have to understand the added benefit and the higher price.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/SilentBob-AtPulse/100003366002261 SilentBob AtPulse

      Hello Kirk,

      Yip, I am tracking and you do bring up a good point.

      The focus on the article was to encourage people and training groups to learn how to teach this vital skill, and do so safely. There will be problems and concerns, especially as this takes hold. Those problems and concerns will need to be addressed (as we have done and continue to do).

      Thanks for the thoughtful comments.

  • Joe

    Excellent article.