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The police will protect us; they’re professionals!

Yes, it’s a backward mounted sight.

A primary, perennial argument of the anti-liberty Left (I know: redundant) is the great unwashed, the God and gun clinging denizens of flyover country, don’t need guns, in fact, they can’t be trusted with guns. They’re just going to shoot themselves, strangers, or members of their families! Leave it to the police. They’re highly trained professionals!

While some few might make this claim in good faith, most do not. In fact, they’re the very people screaming “black lives matter,” and doing their best to keep the police from doing their jobs. They’re the people encouraging, and bankrolling social justice organizations and the radicals that comprise them that inspire the murder of police officers. They’re the cause of The Ferguson Effect, which prevents the police from protecting the neighborhoods in major cities most in danger from the criminals they court and exalt. They’re the people that delight in “protecting” schools with thin pieces of sheet metal proclaiming “Gun Free School Zones.” They expect Americans to disarm, and when their lives are in danger, call someone with a gun and hope they arrive in time (prayer isn’t acknowledged or allowed).

Most people assume the police are expertly trained in the use of firearms. Raised on a steady diet of TV and movie law enforcement, they think the good guys capable of dropping bad guys with a single well-placed shot from any distance. Often good guys shoot to wound, which invariably instantly incapacitates bad guys, because it’s in the script. Of course, in fiction, the good guys don’t suffer any anxiety from shooting another human being, and they’re never suspended for months on end, subjected to hostile investigations, and even prosecuted for doing their jobs.

This is yet another facet of life where understanding human nature and the truth can save lives. In this case, reality could not be more clear: few police officers are expert shots. Most are mediocre, at best, with firearms.

credit: patch.com

Most police officers are not gun girls and guys. In the homes of many police officers may be found only a single gun: their issued handgun. The firearm experience of many that become police officers is limited to the occasional firing of a .22 rifle, or perhaps a little hunting with a shotgun or bolt action rifle. Women and urban dwellers may have no experience with guns at all. Such officers rarely, if ever, carry off duty. Others—a relatively small number–recognizing the necessity of basic firearm competence, take the responsibility seriously. Rare is the officer that spends their own time and money to buy firearms, ammunition, and undergo the practice and training necessary to develop a high level of skill.

In some places, police officers are significantly hampered by the very bad political choices of their agencies. New York City is a prime example. As I noted in a September, 2013 article—New York City Police Shoot Up the Citizenry Again–where I wrote about one of several shootings where the police, in legitimately (mostly) trying to shoot bad guys, accidently shot citizens instead, in one case, shooting not only the single bad guy at very close range, but nine innocent bystanders

A primary reason for those debacles was the NYPD’s requirement of 12-pound triggers on their officer’s handguns. Glocks available to any purchaser come with standard 5.5 pound triggers. Twelve-pound triggers greatly complicate accurate shooting. The heavier and longer the trigger pull, the more difficult it is to obtain consistent shot to shot accuracy. Heavy triggers predictably cause officers to miss—badly–as the incidents linked in that article chronicle. Combine this with the mediocre training all too common in police work, and it’s a miracle the police are able to hit anything—other than innocent bystanders.

Why would any law enforcement organization (LEO) mandate triggers that all but ensure their officers will miss and shoot innocents? They are inherently anti-gun, particularly in Democrat controlled cities, and they do not trust their officers. In many cases, such LEOs are more worried about their officers having a negligent discharge (ND) than any other potential danger. They think their officers of sub normal intelligence, and actually avoid hiring officers of above average intelligence. 

There are LEAs that provide good and regular training and qualifications, but that is not true for most. Agency-wide qualifications are expensive, not only in ammunition costs, but in manpower costs. Officers must be taken off the street, normally for an entire shift, which requires multiple trainings over multiple days. This requires assigning other officers, usually at overtime rates, to replace missing street officers, as well as the officers administering the training/qualification.

And that’s another problem. Often, the officers assigned to train others in firearm skills are not, themselves, skilled, and they are rarely competent teachers. Police officers are no different than most Americans that believe someone skilled in a given task is capable of teaching others to be skilled in that task. Competent teachers know better. Firearm training positions—and other perks–are often awarded for political reasons, or reasons of favoritism. Such people tend not to be fond of officers that are actually good shots and tactically competent.

As previously noted, most people undertake a police career with relatively little firearm experience. They are introduced to their duty handguns at some point during either their basic agency academy or basic state academy. Many states require a common basic academy for all certified officers, and virtually all agencies require their own in-house academy and a field-training program. In most cases, officers won’t be driving a patrol car solo for nearly a year from their hire date. Until then, they provide relatively few direct benefits for their agency or community.

Whether their first handgun experience takes place at their agency or at a state academy, it will normally consist of basic handgun safety, marksmanship and rudimentary, brief maintenance. They may be exposed to some sort of shoot/don’t shoot training, but it is uncommon for anyone to shoot more than 300 rounds in initial training. That’s not nearly enough to build even basic handgun competence. Usually, they fire light-loaded training ammunition, which is much less expensive than duty ammo. This saves money, but is unrealistic as the report, recoil and accuracy of training ammo differs–sometimes dramatically–from duty ammo.

During their first year, an officer will usually have shot for score–qualified–no more than twice. Such qualifications will normally consist of shooting only standard, stationary silhouette targets out to 25 yards on a range. If an indoor range, fifteen yards may be the outer limit. It’s a virtual certainly all shooting will be at known distances, distances that never change. No more than 50 rounds will normally be fired, and passing scores are generous, as low as 70%. Some agencies require at least an 80% score, but all allow reshooting as many times as necessary to pass, because otherwise, many would not qualify.

Thereafter, officers will usually shoot for score no more than once a year. Some agencies will combine some sort of training with qualification shooting. This training may involve practice at clearing a building, but that normally requires modified weapons and ammunition. Few agencies can afford facilities of that kind where live ammunition can be safely used. Some training may involve moving targets, or perhaps shooting multiple targets, or targets rigged to simulate someone hiding behind a hostage.

If they carry shotguns–many agencies still do–qualification will normally be done no more than once a year. The shotguns used will not be those carried by officers in their cars, but a few spare armory guns. Courses of fire usually consist of firing a few rounds of buckshot at a silhouette target. If most of the pattern is more or less centered at 15 yards or so, and if an officer can put a few rounds of slugs on the paper at 25 yards, that’s normally considered sufficient. Of course, this means officers have no idea where the shotguns they may someday have to use will pattern.

The agencies that carry carbines–usually AR-15 pattern rifles–will also usually qualify no more than once a year. Courses of fire commonly use stationary silhouette targets at known distances, usually no greater than 100 yards and often no more than 50 yards, and usually require no more than 50 rounds, though often no more than 30, which is standard, single magazine capacity. Rifle ammunition is expensive.

Some agencies provide cleaning equipment and require cleaning after qualification, but most do not. Some officers rarely, if ever, clean their weapons. A good number don’t own cleaning equipment and don’t know how to properly clean or maintain their handguns.

Apart from agency-mandated training/qualification, most officers will not fire their weapons. Relatively few will take the time and spend the money necessary to regularly practice. Fewer still will actually attend schools like Gunsite to improve their skills.

S&W 686 .357 Magnum Revolver

The agency where I last served may be illustrative. I was given my handgun, a S&W Model 686 in .357 magnum, at my basic state academy. Training consisted of a single day of very basic instruction—“this is where you put the bullets in; this is where they come out”– and qualification. I was told my weapon was “sighted in,” but the sights were badly misaligned for me, and I qualified–barely–by employing the kind of Kentucky windage normally associated with artillery, having to hold the sights a foot high and about 8” to the right to hit the bullseye. The instructors wouldn’t allow me the time or tools necessary to properly align the sights. Apparently I wasn’t qualified. People unfamiliar with handguns would have had no idea why they couldn’t hit anything.

I didn’t see the gun again until I returned home and did a qualification shoot. There, I had the time and tools to sight in the weapon and managed a 100% score. I learned handgun shooting with revolvers, and by then, was an expert shot, but most of my fellow officers had no such experience and were far from confident and capable with their 686s, which are excellent, expensive and heavy revolvers. Both of my experiences with the weapon to that point consisted only of light-loaded .38 special wadcutter ammunition. I noticed that I was one of only perhaps five people in a 100 person agency capable of 100% shooting. At least 10-15 struggled to make a minimally passing score whenever they qualified. About 50 were average and the rest somewhat better or worse. By the time I drove my first solo shift, I had, merely by luck, qualified three times. Most officers do less.

Thereafter, we qualified twice a year. Most agencies qualify only once a year. Once a year we fired the duty ammo we were given, and replaced it with fresh ammunition. When we used duty ammo, a much larger number of officers had trouble qualifying. The 100% shooters didn’t. I later learned they, like me, spent the time and money to regularly practice. One hundred percent shooters are 100% shooters for a reason.

Shotgun qualifications were more or less once a year and consisted of shooting a few skeet, a few rounds of buckshot and a few slugs. Other training occurred infrequently: a bit of low light shooting here, a bit of multiple target shooting there, and only once in a decade, a shoot/don’t shoot experience with video and a laser system for recording hits/misses.

We eventually transitioned to Glocks. Officer’s qualification scores increased and fewer had to continually reshoot, but that problem never went away. That agency was above average in the training and number of qualifications required of officers.

What does this mean for citizens? The less familiar officers are with their handguns and ammunition, the less often they train, the less often they shoot, the more likely they are to be more dangerous to the public than to criminals. Consider these statistics from the NYPD.

credit: nyt.com

In 1990, NYPD officer hit potential was only 19%. That means 81% of the rounds they fired at criminals missed. At less than three yards, they hit only 38% of the time. From 3-7 yards, 11.5% and from 7-15 yards, only 9.4%

These statistics comport well with my personal experience, but not necessarily with other studies. Statistics from the Metro-Dade Police Department from 1988-1994 published in a Police Policy Studies Council report show officers fired app. 1300 rounds at suspects, missing more than 1,100 times, hitting about 15.4% of their shots, most of these from near-touching distance. During that period, using revolvers, they missed 65% of the time, but 75% of the time with semiautomatic handguns.

These figures are the opposite of my personal experience and from a variety of other studies I’ve seen that indicate revolvers are much harder to shoot accurately under stress—they are–and officers equipped with semiautomatic handguns tend to substantially increase their hit rates.

More data from the same report for the NYPD during 1994-2000 when the NYPD was far more semiautomatic heavy, are interesting, if frightening. At 0-2 yards, the officer hit rate was 69%, but from 3-7 yards, only 19%. The hit rate dropped precipitously from there, with only 2% from 16-25 yards and 1% at 25 yards and greater distance. This explains how two officers, shooting from only 6-15 feet–2-5 yards–could shoot nine innocents behind their target.

Adding low light conditions only lowers hit probability.

Whether one relies on personal experience or studies, the lessons are clear:

1) Shooting accurately at any distance with a handgun takes regular, correct, training and practice.

2) Police training/qualification often does not adequately improve officer’s hit potential.

3) Hit probabilities of most police officers, not just the NYPD with 12-pound triggers, are mediocre at best, even at inside-a-tanning-booth ranges.

4) Officers are, generally, much more likely to miss than hit their targets.

5) Anyone near a police officer in a deadly force situation would be wise to seek solid cover rather than try to film the action.

6) The more officers involved in a shooting the more likely a greater number of rounds will be fired and the higher the probability of misses. In such cases, we see “me too!” shooting. One officer shoots, so every other officer tries to get in on the fun. The Dorner case, where eight LAPD officers–including a supervisor–unleashed 103 rounds at two innocent women doing nothing more threatening than delivering newspapers, is a case in point. Fortunately, they only wounded both women, but managed to shoot seven nearby homes and nine parked cars.

7) The greater the distance, the lower the police hit probability. The lower the ambient lighting, the lower the hit probability.

8) Police officers cannot be relied upon to be accurate shots, particularly with handguns.

Many citizens are more proficient than police officers. Even if they are not, their shootings tend to take place at very close range, where hit probability is highest, and they tend to have no question about who to shoot and why. Police officers are often forced to rush into ambiguous situations.

Those that would disarm us for our own good, citing the professionalism of the police, are either woefully uninformed, or care nothing for the lives of those about who they claim to care so deeply. We can’t, legally or practically, rely on the police to protect us. We are, and always have been, on our own.