Adam teaching two SWAT teams

Dry Fire With A Live Gun: A Needed Skill

Bill, Dave, Clint and I were in unform and on-duty in the middle of the night when we were dispatched a priority felony menacing call of a white male who'd walked into the front office of Motel 6 and pointed a handgun at the clerk's face across the reception counter. The guy reportedly also had an AR-15 style rifle with an attached weapon mounted light (WML) slung across his body.
The guy reportedly then quickly left the office without face-shooting the clerk but was moving around the hotel and the parking lot, often pointing the gun as he rounded corners or vehicles.

We blazed up to Horizon Dr. in our patrol vehicles, each of us hitting our black-outs and going dark about a half mile away so we didn't alert Mr. Dirtbag that the PoPo were on the way to administer some cop-love.
We parked south of Motel 6 in a darkened parking lot behind another building and out of sight of Motel 6.

At the time, our PD only deemed a few cops worthy of carrying a rifle, so only Clint had an issued H&K G36, the choice for our PD Rifle Team / SWAT rifles at that time.
Now, understand something, this was a good thing. Clint, a man and copper I respect completely and love dearly, is a fantastic rifle shooter, but his hands shake like a meth-head without a dime baggie, dirty hyp needle, bent spoon, and cheapo lighter for several days so his handgun skills could occasionally be a bit iffy.

Dave was/is a decently solid shooter with a handgun – back then, I saw him as god-like with a handgun but I'd bet a $100 bill I can now outshoot that retired, excellent cop every day, all day. Dave told me over and over to never let him promote into the PD administration, and to shoot him if he ever tried…so I may now need to knee-cap him for having eventually moved into the command staff…but that particular command staff needed a cop's cop so…

Bill always claimed to be an excellent shooter with his smoke wagon. Billy and I were brothers, responding to calls together so much that our idiot DC later banned us from working together because I was the (righteous) instigator and Billy would (righteously) back me up, but I never saw real evidence in training that Billy was wickedly good with his handgun. He was passably okay, good enough to pass the stupid-easy Colorado POST without thought, a better shooter than the majority of cops, and the slower he went, the more accurate he became. Unfortunately, most gun fights ain't slow…
Billy is gone now…and I love and miss him so…

Of course, I was a ninja with a gun. It's my story, so I get to be the bestest, fastest, most accurate, the GOAT of hand gunnery, with the truth irrelevantly inconsequential to actuality.

Clint, rifle slung at the ready, moved north, alone and in the dark shadows towards the Motel 6 parking lot. Dave, Billy, and I moved north in the street with handguns at the ready, in the dark shadows just outside the glare of the parking lot lights, moving at a jog to get in front of the hotel and to see around the northwest corner, hoping for a view alternatively into the big front office windows and into the north parking lot.

The lot was full of parked vehicles but no movement in the south or north parking lots. I could not see the clerk through the window and passively hoped while visually searching that this one had been smart enough to quickly lock the front door and hide out of sight once Mr. Dirtbag had left the office.

We three turned towards the hotel driveway entrance and spread out, leaving approximately five or six feet between us as we moved abreast in line towards the front office entrance and northern parking lot.
Suddenly, Mr. Dirtbag came into view, moving quickly towards us, having appeared out of the shadows from an exterior passageway behind the hotel office. He was holding an AR-15 with a WML slung across him and held at the low ready as he moved along the exterior wall towards us and the front office door. He was moving in a fast crouch, as if expecting a fight or trying to quickly sneak up on someone, and it was instantly clear to me that he did not know we were there.
The guy had a handgun holstered on his hip and the rifle's WML was illuminated, which was kinda stupid, given the lighting from the parking lot and because it just helped give away his location as he moved while apparently thinking he was being a NinjaNavySealSwatCop. Freakin' rookies.

All three of us, from approximately fifteen to twenty-five yards away, instantly went gun on, and I began thundering orders at him to drop his weapon. Dave and Bill were likely yelling at him too, but I don't remember hearing them. Said Dirtbag kept stalking another couple of feet towards us, moving just past the hotel's office front door and west wall corner into the view of the flanking Clint, who was probably thirty-five yards away in the parking lot. Clint stopped moving and also went gun on Mr. D. but I don't remember him saying anything.
D-bag froze, as if he suddenly realized that someone(s) was yelling at him. We three were moving aggressively and quickly together in line towards him and I remember distinctly watching my front sight post wavering around on his chest and feeling all the tiny nuances of what my hands were having to do to keep that sight post aimed in and having to smooth out my almost-running steps to keep that bouncing front sight on his chest as we team-moved in towards him.

I grimaced inside as I saw the lit muzzle of that AR-15 begin to sweep up towards us, and I prepped my Glock 21 to the absolute wall before the trigger break. At warp speed, I decided that if Mr. Dirtbag's muzzle rose another inch or two towards us, to a very exact point my mind recognized then, that I would need to break that last hair's breadth of pressure on my own trigger and shoot the guy center mass. I knew I would have to be careful of one or several more follow up shots, as there were cars behind the guy, and I had no idea if anyone was somehow in one of those parked vehicles. I also knew if he began to move or fall after my first shot, that I would need to muzzle-follow him for any necessary secondary shots. Bad guys make decent bullet backstops but innocent people or their cars do not.

Suddenly, it seemed Mr. D realized there were multiple very determined cops moving towards him, giving him copious amounts of very loud orders at machine-gun speeds, and that we WOULD shoot him post-haste.

He did what they almost all do; he wimped out and it was sudden. He wilted and his muzzle dropped in an instant. I had an almost out-of-body experience, as if seeing Dave, Billy, and myself moving fast and menacingly towards him, feeling how so-very-close my trigger finger pressure was to shooting that guy, and how aggressive each of us were feeling in that moment, and I could almost feel that guy's immediate, palatable terror that came on him like a freight train.

We proned him out and pounced on him with all due officer-safety care and while being tactically conscious of each other's muzzles and movements. I quickly grabbed the AR, suddenly realizing it was a plastic airsoft gun, all tacti-cool-ed out with a cheap flashlight taped below the muzzle, and that the handgun was also plastic airsoft made to look all warlike. We cuffed him up, later stuffing him in jail with numerous felony charges to brag about with his fellow-recidivist buddies before Bubba got to him.

We four later talked at great length about it, with us each concluding that if any one of us had opened fire, then we all might have instantly started shooting too, basically trustful sympathetic fire. The other three said they were also at the walls on their triggers and that another inch or two of upward movement of Mr. D's muzzle was all they each truly needed to also break their own shot; in fact, we all discussed how we each had maybe waited a little too long and had just been lucky said dirtbag did not have a real gun and had wussed out an inch or two before our hard hearts steeled into trigger presses.

We were later given written commendations from our command staff for NOT shooting that guy, even though we easily could have, and that it certainly would have been ruled as justified. We all thought it was reinforcing the wrong message to other cops and our future selves that we didn't shoot the guy and were rewarded for NOT doing so…but with time and wisdom, I'm still glad I didn't finalize my own trigger press that night.

As many such incidents have lived in my mind since, this one helped me learn a lesson I'd never been taught before, even after going through a lot of various military and police trainings and schools.

Here's a conclusion that came from that particular incident: We, the gun carriers of the world, professional or not, must know how to dry fire with a live gun.

Here's a better, more accurate way to say it. We must know how to press the trigger to the wall on our handgun – allllll the way to the wall of the trigger break – and be able to quickly and immediately know how to come off that trigger without breaking the shot.

So much of firearms shooting and training is all about pull gun, shoot gun. Or, drive gun from ready position, shoot gun.

Instead, what if your Mr. Dirtbag suddenly, instantly develops a moral compass, deciding to no longer be a felonious physical threat?
What if you are at the wall of your trigger, or are just going to it or are just starting to press the trigger, but realize it's no longer the right time in that split second to actually finalize your trigger press into a real and deadly shot?
Have you trained to that depth of tactile sensory perception of being able to stop and not just following through with a shot out of the constantly reinforced habit of “pull gun, shoot gun”?

This requires an intimate knowledge of your trigger and it's break point. It requires an intimate knowledge of your own grip, trigger pressures, and more. Have you ever sat and spent time just feeling every consistent, tiny granule of slight resistance in your trigger slack take up and through the actual break itself?

I'm lucky. I love my H&K VP9's ( with their excellent triggers right out of the box that I find to be so much better compared to many other, and I've spent real time deliberately, tenderly, tactilely, and intimately finding that exact break point for my triggers. Intimacy is good.

I believe we gun carriers, professionals or not, need to intimately know our triggers so well that we know the exact break point and can sense the precise pre-break point even under the pressure of a scary, dynamic incident, and be able to instantly stop ourselves from that final, teeny bit before actually breaking the shot.

This is something to learn safely in dry fire through many careful, thoughtful, feel-full dry fire trigger presses, and to be confirmed safely on a live range, so that if we booger it all up and over-estimate the trigger pressure needed, a real shot goes harmlessly into the safe location of a berm. I advocate this skill needs learned long before it may someday be needed on the street or in a defensive encounter.

Furthermore, a good habit to build in is to also re-prep the trigger after a shot for an immediate follow up shot, if needed. Here's an example: say you need to fire five rounds, then even after the fifth round, it is arguably contextual and wise to still prep the trigger again for a possible sixth round, just in case it is urgently needed. That trigger re-prep allows the possibility of a needed follow up shot be to done quickly and with less effort that could move the gun in the press.
Once again, this demands solid tactile experience of knowing exactly where the break point is yet without actually breaking that shot, unless it is truly and vitally needed.

In my classes, I loosely term it “learning to dry fire with a live gun” and it is a lesson I learned in this almost life and death incident when I'd never been taught it or experienced it before. There are a couple ways I've found that seem to work well to teach and learn this skill at speeds, but it would take a bit to describe it here, so I'll just encourage you to come to a class in the near future.

Learn it now before you need it. Guessing that exact pressure in the needful moment can cause a lifetime of occasional shivered ponderance of “what if”, or, worse, under or over-estimating how much pressure is needed out of a lack of thoughtful experimentation would be horrific. I can tell you from experience, it's best to learn it well preceding the moment of need.

Adam Winch
Founder, Defenders USA

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