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Armed Civilians Don’t Train the Way They Fight, But They Will

May 28, 2017

When it comes to self-defense, there is always a trade-off between realism and safety.  We don’t train the way we want to fight.   That may change as technology goes up and prices come down to let civilians afford more realism in their self-defense training.  For a long time we set aside realism as we made training safer.  This affects even the new student who is working on basic skills.  This may be true now, but it is changing for the better each day.

Step away from the student’s perspective for a minute.  The instructor wants to see exactly what the student is doing.  As an instructor, how will you make sure your student is safe as he presents a loaded handgun to a target from inside a concealment garment?  Out of sight isn’t necessarily safe, and we’ve been talking about carrying in the conventional position on the strongside hip where the instructor can have a good view.  Some carry positions are harder for the instructor to see.

Today we have appendix carry where the gun is holstered between the hip and midline.  We have purse carry where holster is carried in an external bag.  Add in pocket carry and carrying in a bellyband under tight clothing.  Now you see the routine risks we face in training to present a firearm.  Even the customary carry position behind the hip can be a concern when you cant the gun to get a better grip angle.  From these positions, either the student or people standing nearby can be swept by the muzzle unless the student is already skilled and consistent. Those are the routine problems instructors deal with today.

I’m not arguing against those carry positions.  I’m simply pointing out the difficulties of providing good instruction..and we haven’t gotten the gun up and on target yet.  How can we train so a student safely acquires the skills he needs?  One problem comes from the fact that we are training with firearms and that poses an inherent risk.  Avoiding that risk and not training brings its own risks as well.  We are slowly developing alternatives.

Firearms owners are hardly the first to face this training dilemma.  There are a number of occupations where live training is impractical because it is either too slow, too expensive, or too dangerous.  Airline pilots and industrial plant operators can’t afford to induce real equipment failures and learn “on the job”.  As with self-defense training, we can’t afford to let them crash.  We can and do expose these students to a vast array of difficult situations in a simulator.  They will gain more experience in a week of simulator training than they would see in a lifetime of normal operation.  Gun owners are not far behind.

We are slowly seeing the same techniques brought to civilian firearms education.  The good news is our options are growing and costs are coming down.

  • At its simplest, we’ve have blue guns which are inert firearms made of plastic.  We’ve had them for several years.
  • We can use real firearms that have a barrel block installed.  They are routinely used for dry practice training.
  • We have laser training “guns” that project a visible light beam as the trigger is pressed.  They cost a third the price of a firearm.
  • There are dedicated simulated firearms that need to be “reloaded” with a realistic magazine during use.  They may emit an infrared optical beam that is easily seen by modified web-cameras.
  • Some simulated pistols move the slide as they are fired.  Now the training gives the student some of the physical sensations he gets at a live fire range.
  • Training with a simulated weapons can be combined with video presentations of a threat.  Now the training feels emotionally real.
  • Some training firearms are modified to shoot a marking cartridge.  These training guns are used in force-on-force training where the participants are padded and masked.  We’ve consciously increased the risk of injury in order to get better realism during a training exercise.
  • Some software programs augment a training “gun” by adding sound effects that provide the expected bang..or the click of a malfunction that needs to be cleared.  We can do this safely indoors.
  • We have inexpensive software that runs on a personal computer or smart phone and records where the shot landed and how the simulated “gun” was moving during the shot.

For particular skills, these simulated guns are an improvement over training with real firearms.  They are safer because we reduced the threat of a negligent discharge.  Students also find it easier to learn from the experience because there is no explosion at arms length.  As time goes by, these training aids are accepted by more instructors and more students.

These learning tools won’t replace live-fire training.  There is a small downside risk that real firearms could be treated as toys after training in a simulator.  That risk is real and manageable.  We don’t see pilots crashing airplanes because they once trained on a simulator.  A greater risk is that firearms instruction becomes edu-tainment.

Costs for realistic training continue to drop.  Flight simulators were once the exclusive tools of the military and the airlines.  Now we see them used by general aviation pilots.  Firearms simulators were once the tools of elite government agencies and the military.  Now they are making their way into civilian use.

We face a bit of a chicken and egg problem.  Many instructors teach the same way they were taught.  Many firearms students don’t know the tools are available.  It takes time to change the expectations of an industry and its customers.

When will armed civilians ask for realistic training?  A parking lot at night is one of the most common time and place for a robbery.  We could use simulated munitions, rent a parking garage, rent a fleet of cars and hire a number of actors.  Few of us can afford that.  Instead, we can run a wrap-around video that lets a student walk through the garage.  Better yet, we can build an experience where sometimes you’re attacked and sometimes you are not.  It is a better way to train.  It is coming to a future near you..if you look for it.


How do you train? RM

11 Comments leave one →
  1. Butch Watkins permalink
    May 30, 2017 6:24 am

    I attended the Troygate civilian training in Lenoir, North Carolina back in April. It is vastly superior anything you have mentioned in this article.
    In my 50 years of pistol shooting, it is the finest training I’ve ever received.


    • May 30, 2017 9:56 am

      Hi, Butch. I’m glad you found some training you like. Please tell us why the training impressed you.


      • Butch Watkins permalink
        May 30, 2017 11:01 am

        The Troysgate training facility in Lenoir, North Carolina provided me with civilian training that was the most profoundly moving experience I have ever had in 50 years of firearms training.

        While there, I discovered that they are the ‘goto’ training contractor of choice to provide actual training, as well as their proprietary, patented facilities design, construction project management, and maintenance for the following:

        United States Navy Seals
        United States Army Rangers / Delta
        United States Marine Corps MARSOC
        FBI, etc.
        Various state and local law-enforcement offices across the nation.
        Just to name a few.

        Randy Martin, the founder, President, and CEO of Troysgate is “retired” law-enforcement. He is a remarkable gentleman, and someone I hope that you get to know over time. Our class of 10 participants was only the second class ever offered to civilians. 5 of us were VCDL members.

        The Troysgate theater is a large room with a concrete wall running down the middle. Using a $2000 mylar mirror, the actors on the right hand side of the wall can stage whatever scenario you want. When you and your instructor on the left-hand side of the wall, confront them, it’s just like you were standing right in front of them in real life. In reality everyone is shooting at each other into the mirror with a bullet-safetrap backstop. The ability to face bad guys (trained actors) in a live-fire scenario with real loaded guns, using my loaded EDC pistol, is as close to the “real deal” as I can ever imagine. Their secret is their actors. They are trained, experienced military and law-enforcement personnel, as well as real, reformed bad guys who walk the walk and talk the talk. Whether it’s a traffic stop, a parking lot confrontation, home invasion, or restaurant robbery in progress-whatever you can dream up, they have a scenario for it and they can act it out perfectly. The list of possibilities is endless and infinite, unlike computer simulations which I can memorize after a certain period of time. This video demonstrates:


      • May 30, 2017 12:12 pm

        What does it cost?


    • Roger V. Tranfaglia permalink
      May 31, 2017 8:04 am

      Mr. Watkins….How much does the civilian portion cost???


  2. Roger V. Tranfaglia permalink
    May 31, 2017 8:00 am

    Thank you ROB!


  3. BOBO permalink
    May 31, 2017 7:05 pm

    With all the video game tec out there it would be nice to see interactive training games with shoot no shoot scenarios and instead of a controller a simulated weapon or an add on to let an individuals weapon be used with the game consol



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