Often we talk about ways to better our application of force. How to shoot faster, how to shoot straighter. But do we give enough time to understand best practices for gun handling and develop mental processes to help us not make mistakes in target identification? We give the issue a passing glance and say things like “be sure of your target” or “know what you are shooting at.” True statements, but they don’t really give us much to work with.
Oftentimes, our mind will see what it expects to see. I see this often in FoF (Force-on-Force) training I have participated in, where people are expecting to find a bad guy around a corner, but instead, find an innocent bystander. Since the good guy anticipated the need to shoot a bad guy, that innocent bystander, more often than not, will soak up a round or two before the good guy realizes their mistake. They expected to shoot, so when their brain saw a “target,” it short-circuited trying to get a proper target ID and just started shooting. These mistaken shootings are a combination of not having an ID process programmed in and poor gun handling. We will address the former for now.
Instead of just saying we need to “know our target,” let’s give ourselves a process to follow for proper identification. By training ourselves to follow an identification process, in combination with sound gun handling, we hope to avoid these types of mistakes. This is a process I was exposed to through ALERRT, but I believe it has applications outside of that program and even outside of the law enforcement application. This has usefulness for anyone who might be in the public space having to make critical use of force decisions under intense time pressure and high levels of stress.
Whole Person – We start by looking at the whole person. We are essentially looking for a uniform or some other identifying feature (i.e., a badge, a known face, etc.)
Hands – Is there a weapon? That is what we want to know, but the presence of a weapon does not automatically mean bad guy. There are a lot of people that might be carrying guns out there, including other good guys. Depending on the circumstances, seeing someone with a gun in their hand might be expected. This is a data point, but we need to continue our process.
Waist – This is where weapons are most often produced from, so if the hand are empty, this is where we look next. Again, the presence of a weapon still does not automatically equal bad guy. We must go on.
Surrounding Area – If the person doesn’t have a weapon in their hand, doesn’t have a weapon visible on their body, we start checking the area within the arm’s reach. Could they acquire a weapon from their environment? Just another data point.
Demeanor and/or Compliance – This is the real storyteller. What does the person appear to be doing? How are they acting? Do they appear to be agitated, are they, are they actively causing harm, or preparing to? This is where we find our answers about what to do next.
How to Practice
This process can be done fairly quickly with a bit of practice. We don’t have to have guns in our hands to practice this either. We can run through this process with anyone, anywhere. Even walking the aisles at the local big box store, to stay sharp and work on our processing speed.
One important addition, when we do start doing this with guns, having the ability to see is critical to success. How we manage the gun in our hands can make or break us here. The gun needs to be low enough in our vision that it is not obstructing our view or drawing our attention to where it doesn’t need to be. Having a good low ready position is very valuable here, but more on that later. Until then, hit the mean streets of your local shopping spots and start learning to use this process without a gun in your hand.