Beretta Blog

Effective Gun Training

Posted by William Starnes

on Jul 21, 2014 8:59:00 AM


I approached the scene with extreme caution. The dispatcher had relayed the complaint of a man who had been drinking all day long and was now discharging his firearm inside his home. No other information was given, and the complainant wasn’t available. I stopped a block away and asked how long before backup would be on-scene and for more information. As the dispatcher verified that no more information was available, I noticed the second unit pull in behind my car. I motioned, and we both pulled up about five houses from the suspect home.

Neither of us had long guns available, and no more units were on the way. The sounds of gunfire erupted and we could hear yelling.

“Call in the choppers! I’ve been hit! I’ve been hit!”

Also see: Gun Training Done Right - Six Shooting Range Etiquette Tips

I looked over at my partner and saw his raised eyebrow and confused look. The gunfire and yelling continued as we drew closer to the home.

“The front door is open,” my partner said.

I put my hand on his shoulder to stop him and said that we needed to call for a special response team or at least a K-9 unit to assist. I was told that none were available, and he moved in the direction of the front door with me following close behind.

“You can’t go in there!” I gasped. “That’s where he is expecting us to come. We need to choose an alternate entry point, and we need some sort of distraction.”

“Nope! We’ve got to go through the front door!” He moved away from me rapidly with his pistol in his hand. We took up positions on either side of the door and yelled to try to establish contact with the suspect. The suspect replied with more shots, and we both crouched low instinctively. “I’m going in!” And with that, he jumped up on the small cement pad outside the front door and ran through the door. I heard shots from my partner and from the suspect, who appeared to be in another room. I darted in the door as well with my pistol ready and saw my partner laying on the floor bleeding. He had obviously taken a shot to the upper torso that had not been stopped by his vest. I had not moved far into the room when shots rang out again. I returned fire in the direction where they came from and scrambled for cover ducking behind a water heater in a small alcove off to one side. I looked over to assess my partner and decided that I was going to pull him out and try to get help for him. Just as I grabbed the back of his vest and started to drag him, his heart stopped pumping and he slumped over.

At this point, I had no choice. I examined the room and the several doorways that could be seen. It was then that I noticed my hands violently shaking and that I was covered with sweat. The room that I was in was clear, but I could see three doorways in the direction of the suspect and had no idea which room he occupied. I told myself to focus on deep breaths to control my body then moved to begin clearing the house as I had been taught - slowly “slicing the pie” to peer into the doorways. My heart raced as I was able to see the last corner of the first room, and I let out a small sigh of relief. One down; two to go!

More shots rang out and I ducked.

“That’s it!” came the loud voice. “You’re dead!” The chief instructor walked into the room and called that the exercise was over. I tapped my chest in my best Captain Kirk move and said, “Beam me up Scotty! There’s no intelligent life here.” A glare came from the instructor.

This was my first taste of the Kobayashi Maru. My partner got up and brushed off his khakis.

“Thanks for trying to save me, man.”

“No problem!” I patted him on the back.


The scene depicted above accurately portrays a “realistic” gun training scenario from my police academy days. As a student, I was angry. I wanted to win. As a firearms instructor and trainer, I was frustrated at the design of the scenario. I had spent weeks going learning the proper ways to respond to situations, yet when I got to the practical problems range, none of the things I had been taught were permitted.

Nope, no perimeter team was available to secure the area.

Nope, there were no negotiators available.

Nope, I couldn’t call in and attempt negotiation myself.

Nope, SWAT and K-9 units were not available.

Nope, no weapons or other devices were available.

Once it was established that no hostages were present, we couldn’t disengage.

No alternate approaches were available.

I think you get the picture.

What the scenario amounted to was a chance for police officers to go into a house and learn what it’s like to die. There was no strategy available that would have resulted in a win for the officers.

So, I want to give my training rules (or some of them anyway).

Rule 1

Rule number one for training is that you have to have a way for the students to do things RIGHT!

You have to have a way for them to win or to pass. They might not get it right the first time or the second, but that’s what training is for; you do it until you complete it successfully. As an instructor, you should insist that they succeed.

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Rule 2

Rule number two is that the practical scenario be designed in such a way that the skills taught in the classroom are acted out and corrected as needed.

People learn by doing. They can sit in classrooms, watch films, and listen to the best instructors in the world, but until the practice it themselves, they don’t know how to do it.

Rule 3

Rule number three is that the skills taught be based on reality and not some instructor’s imagination of what might happen.

I was reading the other day about flashlight use in low-light situations and the suggestion that a flashlight has to be used sparingly and be held far from the body because it would be the focus of hostile fire from the bad guys. (Look up FBI flashlight technique to learn more). The only problem with this is that there are no cases that I’m aware of where this has been reported. It’s based on a theory - a thought. Should the theory turn out to be true, then the technique is valid and should be taught, but…

We should spend our valuable training time learning techniques that would have ensured success in actual reported situations. I’ve mentioned trigger reset before; this is the same thing. Most people can’t focus on trigger reset when bullets start flying their direction. The instinctive reaction is to draw and fire as fast as you can.

Please don’t get me wrong; every police officer that I know has the understanding that he may face tough situations and that he may not survive the encounter. To use a popular phrase, “excrement happens!” They also know that they can’t possibly get enough training to be able to handle every situation that may come up. But as a police instructor, it has been my job to try to present training that was realistic, fun, and more importantly, effective in most situations.

If you’re a police officer, concealed carry permit holder, or just a homeowner planning for the worst case scenario, you have to make the most of your training time. Read about real situations and gear your training toward solving the situation and surviving it. Start with the basics of shooting, then move to more advanced topics like shooting while moving, using cover and concealment, learning about low-light shooting or any of the other skills that would contribute to your survival. Once you’ve got the basics, don’t waste time shooting from a standing position at a static target. Learn to engage multiple targets, learn to use lasers and lights to your advantage. All of these are skills that the student of the art should know about.

“The trick,” as a fellow trainer of mine said, “is to gain years of experience as fast as possible rather than just living the first year over and over again.”

Make sure that you seek instruction (when you’re ready for it) that is realistic, challenging, and expands your skills. The more you learn, the better your chances of survival when things go wrong.

And…Carry On!

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Topics: Law Enforcement & Military, Dynamic Shooting


Written by William Starnes

William Starnes has been involved in firearms for over 40 years. This includes recreational shooting, hunting, competitive shooting with both rifle and handgun (plus a little Trapshooting as well). He is an experienced NRA Instructor in multiple disciplines, Concealed Carry Instructor, and Police Firearms Instructor. His law enforcement career spans more than ten years – most of which he served as an instructor, firearms instructor and an instructional designer. He has been designing firearms courses and teaching professionally since 2005 and has also taught courses on self-defense (with and without firearms) for women across South Carolina. Currently, he teaches a variety of NRA courses as well as private instruction by appointment.