Firearms Training and Use of Force
by Sara Ahrens

There is an old adage in training that says training caters to the ‘lowest common denominator.’ This is especially true if a training session consists of shooters with a mixture of experience levels. A firearms training session tends to move at a pace that accommodates the weakest students in the class.

This slow pace ensures safety. Yet, boredom can cause frustration for more advanced participants and instructors since there is so much training that can, and should occur, to prepare students. As I recently prepared my own curriculum to teach concealed carry in Illinois, my past experiences in training came flooding back. How can I pack it all in, and still present the material in a way that can accommodate a true novice? I have a fear that students will leave my training unprepared for the realities of a gunfight and not even realize it.

I can’t control the scope of the training. There is a set amount of time and criteria that Illinois State Police allow for the concealed carry curriculum, which meets their basic requirements to achieve certification. Given the responsibility that accompanies such a certification, I think they don’t go far enough. It’s sort of ironic that the curriculum is so elementary, considering that Illinois was the last state to adopt concealed carry. My hope is that through this post (and my explanation in training), students will recognize these classes are minimum standards for certification – and only a begining for what may be necessary to prepare for deadly force encounters.

Unfortunately, these classes will be taught to the lowest common denominator. The standards dictate it. As an instructor and law enforcement officer, I have one piece of advice to give those who wish to carry concealed: Find more advanced ones that prepare you for ‘Plan B.’

When I was assigned the supervisor in my agency’s training unit, one area of responsibility that taught me the most was analyzing officers’ use of force incidents. Reading every report on force allowed me to see patterns and red flags in our training program. I discovered that this ‘lowest common denominator training’ had not prepared officers, nor will it prepare students, adequately. The results of this method of training at best – sets us up for lawsuits, and at worst – for an imminent loss of life.

Use of force training programs should adequately prepare students to implement a ‘Plan B.’ What I found was that an eight-hour training day only allowed for the covering of the fundamentals. A training day consisted of a review of safety instructions, the shooting fundamentals, loading, unloading and reloading drills, malfunction drills, qualifications, scanning and assessing, and – if time permitted – some shooting and moving. Even moving briskly through these skills, I found time was too short for this sort of lesson plan. Our prior training program had not adequately prepared officers for the reality of a violent encounter…that at some point something would go wrong.

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