Hardware versus Software

We tend to talk about guns & gear a whole lot.  Matter-of-fact, just this week a supervisor from the county sheriff whose range my agency leases mocked the revolver I was carrying one day.  When I showed him the qualification target I had just shot with it, amazingly he quieted down.


Yes, I had carried that S&W Model 66 on duty for his own agency as a deputy when he was probably still in high school (or even earlier, sigh…).  That six shooter served me well for years.  Yes, it only has six shots in the cylinder.  Yes, it’s a little more work to reload it under stress even with the Safariland speedloaders I carried.  But, I can shoot it really well and I’ve learned to run that gun.  An 18 shot 9mm is not intrinsically better than a .357 revolver.

Further, if I had my druthers, I would not buy a $1,500.00 custom made pistol, I would buy a good $400 dollar pistol and $1,100.00 worth of ammunition and practice, practice, practice.

It is not the hardware but the software including the motor programs associated with shooting and tactics, as well as the mindset and mental aspects which will save your butt on the street.  But those are hard to develop versus how easy it is to just buy some new gadget or piece of kit.

The Mind and Winning

My wife and I were talking just this evening as we were returning home.  I talked about the deterioration of society which permeates the news and how hard it is to be a police officer nowadays.  My wife exclaimed, “My God, police officers are ambushed sitting in their patrol cars!  Who would want to do that job in today’s world?”  I referred to a video which showed an officer involved shooting in North Dakota.  The officer faced an offender who was armed with a handgun (later to be found to be a BB gun after the shooting).  By my count the officer took 39 seconds and gave the suspect 19 verbal orders to, “Drop the gun!” or similar.

Now, we want to learn from these incidents and the officer was able to win the encounter so we won’t be critical.  Suffice to say that if the offender had a real gun capable of firing, the officer could have been shot during the incident.  Was this an officer reluctant to shoot based on an aversion to using deadly force as Col. Dave Grossman has suggested in his book On Killing?  Or was this a case similar to others nationwide where the officer was reluctant based on his fear of what society and his agency would do to him?  Regardless of why, we see this occur and cost officers their lives.  If we examine the last ten years (2004 to 2013) of FBI LEOKA – Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, we find that 511 officers were feloniously killed.  Of this number 111 officers were ambushed.  Of the remaining 400, 251 officers did not use or attempt to use their own weapon.  That means that 63% of officers killed did not use or attempt to use their own firearm.  Why?  In many cases we don’t know but we must, as much as we can, to train our officers in the legal aspects of use of force, in their firearm and suspect control skills, and in decision making under stress.  Only through solid training can we improve officer’s abilities to make sound decisions in armed encounters.

This is the same for the armed citizen.  It is simply not enough to be armed.  You must be aware of your surroundings and developing threats, knowledge about the laws of self-defense and be able to make sound decisions on when and when not to engage and use deadly or non-deadly force.

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On Motor Programs

What many people refer to as muscle memory are called motor programs by human motor control scientists and researchers.  These motor programs, like the drawing and firing of a handgun from a holster, can be developed well while engaging in proper practice.  Certainly hundreds if not thousands of repetitions help (there is no magical number of reps necessary but suffice to say that quality repetitions) develop skill.  The good news is that dry fire and practice using a Bluegun or SIRT pistol will suffice and permit more reps than live fire.  Reloads using inert training ammunition can be done, reducing the risk of an unintentional discharge.  In this way, skills can be developed soundly without buying mass amounts of ammunition.

Some motor performance and learning theories and rules can help guide your practice:

ChunkingWhen practicing a new skill, break the skill down into three parts: the beginning, middle and end.  As an example, we break the draw-stroke down into three or four parts, i.e. the grip and draw, indexing at the pectoral area, hands meeting in front of the sternum and then the press out and firing.

Static Practicestatic training refers to non-moving repetitions done at slow speed.

Fluid PracticeAfter the skill is learned through chunking in a static mode, you try to smooth out the skill.

Dynamic PracticeWe begin picking up the pace of the motor movements.  We can react to shot timers, or calls of “Threat!” by instructors or partners, whistle blows, target turns, etc.  We begin moving prior to or while shooting.  Ideally we want to match our skill to a simulated threat.  This training is called Stimulus/Response.  *Think using those excellent Omaha Targets here!

Blocked PracticeWe isolate one skill such as drawing and firing from the holster at 21 feet.

Random PracticeIdeally we need to do more training here where we are forced to download our skills from our short term memory.  Random training is like real life where we are confronted with a problem and must use our skills to solve it.

Confrontation Simulation Training – Using shoot/don’t shoot targets, or role-players, and possibly marking cartridges or airsoft, we engage in mock scenarios. 

What we see is that the fundamentals are developed by chunking the techniques, in a static fashion while engaging in blocked practice.

Once the basics are learned we begin moving in a dynamic method while matching our motor skill to a perceived threat and the parameters: time, distance, number of threats, use of cover, are randomly presented.

Finally we can engage in confrontation simulation training.  This can be live fire where we maneuver with a partner or by ourselves in a “scrambler” using real or simulated cover as targets appear or become available to us.  Or it can be non-live fire where we are outfitted with safety gear and engaged suitably attired role-players who represent deadly or non-deadly threats.


No, this is not easily accomplished.  It is much easier to buy a new pistol, holster or some other doodad or thing-a-ma-jig.

But you know, back in the day of Wyatt Earp into the modern age with Jelly Bryce, lawmen and armed citizens successfully stopped a whole lot of bad buys with those old six shooters.  They did it with a proper mindset and carefully developed skill – not hardware.  Deadly is deadly regardless of the tools used to accomplish the mission!

Kevin Davis

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