Firearms training is harder than you think. Dustin Salomon wrote a book titled “Building shooters: Applying neuroscience research to tactical training system design and training delivery” (2016, Innovative Services and Solutions, LLC). In the early section of the book he addresses training issues trainers and shooters face. What follows is a brief summary of his points.
Training to carry a concealed firearm is not as easy as one might think. Firearms trainers are preparing students to perform an unknown skill or series of skills under unknown conditions at some unknown place and time. These skills, conditions, and locations are unknown because at the time of training the trainers and the students do not know what they will need to survive a self-defense shooting.
As Salomon noted, when that time arrives, “…will the deadly force encounter require close-contact shooting, one-handed shooting, two-handed shooting, ground fighting, shooting on the move, engaging a moving threat, engaging multiple threats, firing multiple rounds, support-handed shooting, close-quarters surgical shooting, positional shooting, distance shooting, shooting from cover, low-light shooting, malfunction clearance, or some unknown combination of skills.”
Another training challenge is teaching students when to use a concealed firearm. It is easy to tell them to use their handgun when faced with a deadly threat. However, shooters must assess and interpret the situation they find themselves in against often vaguely defined parameters such as laws of self-defense and organizational policies (for example, rules of engagement). If the assessment is incorrect or imprecise it can result in the unnecessary loss of life, serious injury, damage to property, and felony criminal conviction of the shooter.
Trainers and students must also consider the effects of biochemistry on a shooter in a defensive shooting situation. Fear triggers the body’s sympathetic nervous system commonly referred to as the fight or flight response. When the sympathetic nervous system is triggered it dumps adrenalin into the body which gives a person significant gross motor strength.
The adrenalin cocktail also interferes with the shooter’s ability to accurately assess the situation. The ability to process information deteriorates. Sizing-up the situation accurately (who is the threat, where is the threat, what is the threat, is it a real threat, is there more than one threat, what options do I have) is next to impossible. Vision and hearing acuity are decreased, sometimes causing something called audio and visual exclusion whereby hearing becomes virtually impossible and vision takes the shape of a tunnel.
As the gross motor skills increase the fine-motor skills needed to manipulate a handgun effectively and accurately decrease. The skills for manipulating a trigger, deactivating the safety, and shifting visual focus to see the front sight clearly become all but impossible to perform quickly. Trainers know that accurate shooting requires some combination of trigger manipulation (fine motor skills) while maintaining proper sight alignment (visual acuity) as well as gross motor skills needed for movement.
Finally, Salomon points out that neuroscience research shows with certainty that in spite of the training that students receive on a flat range shooting at paper and metal targets, when the moment comes for them to use their concealed handgun for self-defense their bodies will physiologically lose their normal capacity to perform most of the functions required for successful skill performance and to achieve a successful outcome.
Some Additional Training Challenges
Given all that students need to learn to carry and use a concealed handgun successfully for self-defense trainers and students are faced with other constraints: cost of training, limited time available to train, scarce training resources, and student capacity to learn and perform complex skills.
Cost of Training
Concealed carry training by national-level experts can be expensive, for example a few days of training can cost upwards of a thousand dollars plus the cost of travel to the training venue, ammunition, and hotel costs if the training is at a distance. Few students can afford those costs more than once a year and perhaps not at all.
Concealed carry training at the local-level by proficient trainers can cost several hundred dollars for a couple of days of training plus the cost of ammunition.
Limited Time Available to Train
Is a couple days of training a year enough to learn to use an unknown set of skills in an unknown set of circumstances in an unknown place and time? Is one or two days a week in a shooting lane at an indoor range enough to develop the skills needed to survive a defensive self-defense shooting?
Ammunition is costly, especially if a person is training regularly. When the owners of Spartan Firearms Training Group train with national-level trainers (Academi
https://www.academi.com/pages/facilities/moyock-nc, Gunsite Academy https://www.gunsite.com/ and TM Torn http://www.tmtorn.com/) they typically take 1000 rounds of rifle and handgun ammunition, and often buy more at the training site). The vice president of Spartan Firearms Training Group shoots 800 – 1200 rounds of handgun ammunition a month in training.
Another scarce resource are gun ranges. In Maryland, there are few public outdoor ranges where students can learn to move and shoot, deal with malfunctions, shoot from behind cover, and shoot from variable distances–skills needed to survive a self-defense gunfight.
There are also few indoor ranges and the ones that are available often have strict safety rules that restrict the kind of skills that can be practiced (for example, shooters can’t draw from a holster) and during peak times they have a wait list to get on a lane.
Students’ Capacity to Learn and Perform
Students are human beings. Human beings come in all shapes and sizes and with all kinds of mental and physical capabilities. This diversity of physical and mental capacity has a significant impact on training. At a minimum, training must help students perform up to their capacity.
Another aspect of the human condition is mind-set. A mind-set is an attitude toward something or someone. Some students come into a firearms training class with a positive mind-set toward firearms and they are motivated to learn. Others come into the training with a neutral mind-set, which means they don’t know if they will enjoy learning to use a firearm. Others will come in with a negative mind-set, one informed by fear of firearms. Still others show up as the most highly trained shooters in the history of the world (which, of course, they are not).
There will also be students who are lazy-minded. They come to the training just to shoot the guns. They are naturally uninterested in learning complex skills and tactics. They just want to shoot paper and hear the ping of rounds hitting metal targets.
Salomon’s discussion about the neuroscience of training and the other additional challenges that trainers and students face beg the questions: How do trainers and students train for an unknown set of circumstances using an unknown set of skills in an unknown place and time? How do trainers and students overcome the other challenges related to scarce resources, among others?
In future blogs in this series ways to deal with the challenges of firearms training will be explored.