A Culture of Good Marksmanship Makes for a Good Police Force


The news of the death of Laquan Macdonald last year is shining a spotlight on the training and ethics of the Chicago police force. This is a situation that we’ve seen far too often, but my question is, why is it that the police forces of cities like Chicago seem to have problems with basic marksmanship? Is it because there’s no history and culture of civilian marksmanship to flatten the learning curve when it comes to gun safety?

Handguns were banned in Chicago for almost an entire generation, and despite recent changes, it remains a steep uphill climb if you want to own a gun in that city. Something in Chicago and other cities such as Washington D.C., New York, and Los Angeles seems to have affected the quality of the police forces in those cities, and one thing they all have in common is a mistrust of common citizens owning guns. In fact, we’re seeing a trend of over-reaction and ill-advised police shootings in all manner of “gun free” locales.

2 women hurt during L.A. manhunt to receive $4.2 Million

Los Angeles will pay two women $4.2 million for wounds suffered when police mistakenly shot up their truck during the February manhunt for former officer Christopher Dorner, who went on a revenge-fueled killing spree before dying in a Southern California mountain cabin.

Margie Carranza, 47, was shot twice in the back and her 71-year-old mother, Emma Hernandez, was cut by broken glass when seven LAPD officers fired at least 100 rounds into their blue Toyota Tacoma pickup as they delivered papers before dawn Feb. 7.

Police wound 2 bystanders in shooting near Times Square

Two officers fired three shots before the unarmed man was brought down with a Taser, the NYPD said. He has been charged with menacing, obstructing governmental administration, riot, criminal possession of a controlled substance, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct, the NYPD said in a statement issued Sunday morning. Those charges may change once he goes to court, however.

A 54-year-old woman was shot in the knee and a 37-year-old was grazed in the buttocks, police said.

It’s difficult to imagine that police recruits who have never touched a gun until their first day on the training range can step up and deliver the shot when needed. Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York have turned their backs on America’s rich tradition of civilian marksmanship, and it’s beginning to affect the safety of their citizenry. I just can’t imagine that 30-plus years of trying to remove guns from the hands of potential police recruits can have a positive effect on the quality of the recruits walking onto the range. Good marksmen are made, not born, and a few days of gun safety training and pistol qualification will not make up for coming of age in the culture of safe, responsible (and fun!) gun ownership enjoyed by the rest of America.

There’s a common saying in the firearms training community that in a gun battle, “you won’t rise to the occasion, you will sink to your lowest level of training. If the police in Los Angeles are trained to a standard that 91 percent of the “civilians” at a practical shooting match can achieve, what does this say for the quality of LAPD officers who have never touched a gun before they joined the force? I’m positive there are officers on the LAPD and other departments who are well-trained marksmen because I’ve shot alongside them at major practical shooting matches. The ones who can shoot, can shoot very well, but they are the exception, not the rule.

This isn’t the first time in our nation’s history that a lack of a trained, experienced civilians has affected the safety of the general public. The National Rifle Association was founded because of poor accuracy of Union riflemen in the Civil War due to an unfamiliarity with firearms. If we want our police to be better shots, they need make up for lost time and start training with firearms before they join the police force. After all, good marksmen are made, not born.

Published in Guns, Policing
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There are 13 comments.

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  1. Kate Braestrup Member
    Kate Braestrup

    Interesting. This is one reason I don’t bother to qualify with the weapon carried by our department; because it would take a lot of time. Unlike the wardens themselves, I have very little prior familiarity with guns. I’d bet that most game wardens are much better shots that other police officers, simply because, as a group, they tend to be hunters. And hunters shoot. (We have some really, really good marksmen—it’s a pleasure to watch them shoot, even for a non-gun person like me.)

    • #1
  2. DialMforMurder Inactive

    So is this one of those things where you need to get them shooting by age 10 or else they will never get good?

    How much shooting practice does the typical Police recruit do after he has finished training and induction?

    • #2
  3. Al Sparks Coolidge
    Al Sparks

    I read years ago, in one of Joseph Waumbaugh’s novels, that in a typical 20 year career, a Los Angeles police officer had a 15% chance of even drawing his gun in the field. And my understanding is that if a police officer has to draw his gun, much less fire it, it is assumed that he lost control of a situation.

    I can see how that can encourage complacency when it comes to firearms training. But even with up to date training, firing on a person in the United States (and other western democracies) is probably a once in a career event. Unless a person has experienced combat in the armed forces, all the training won’t fully prepare him.

    So your question on marksmenship leaves a lot out.

    • #3
  4. Quietpi Member

    Much has changed since Waumbaugh’s day.  Still, it’s true that few officers will ever have to fire his weapon while on duty.  Now, however, tactics have changed, and the world has changed, and drawing the weapon is much more likely.  So it is not assumed that an officer who draws, much less fires a weapon has lost control of a situation.  That’s a terrible oversimplification.

    Qualification standards vary a lot between departments, but most in California require at least quarterly qualification and training.  And while it’s absolutely true that you never know for sure what you will do when the “SHTF,” training has come a long way since the old days.  Situations are created that simulate to as great a degree as possible the stress and snap decisions that must be made in deadly force situations.

    In my experience, every word of what Kevin says is true.  I know many active and retired peace officers.  The ones I know, none from a big city department, are very good with firearms.  But they aren’t from L.A. or San Francisco or the like.

    • #4
  5. Quietpi Member

    DialMforMurder:So is this one of those things where you need to get them shooting by age 10 or else they will never get good?

    How much shooting practice does the typical Police recruit do after he has finished training and induction?

    No.  You can start at any age.  But it takes time and practice, and good training.

    How much shooting and training after academy?  In California and other western states of which I have knowledge – a lot.

    • #5
  6. wilber forge Inactive
    wilber forge

    This brings a number of issues to mind. How often does an officer need to qualify at the range for one and how often do they practice ? Recall not long ago officers were required to buy their own ammo due to Budget Issues in some locales.

    Another odd ítem in the mix was that DeBlasio mandated all spent brass went to recyclers in place of the customary re-loaders. Politics at it’s finest there.

    Do recall a video of a pólice response to a bank heist recently in a major city. Two perps exited and then the officers exchanged fire with the bad guys. Four bystanders were injured as well as planters and wall tiles. The perps were caught basically unscathed.

    A complex issue truly. The question is, is it reasonable to mandate updating firearms training for officers ? Rather think it is well worth the expense.

    • #6
  7. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt

    I had to qualify quarterly. I always assumed everyone I talked to on the streets were armed. Before I left the house I practiced drawing my Glock ( No magazine and no round in the chamber) approximately 20 times. Slowly at first and then faster. I was reinforcing muscle memory. Before starting my pre-shift practice I always told myself I may have to use my Glock tonight. Mental preparedness so if things went south I didn’t have any hesitation about drawing and shooting.

    When I confronted someone I always tried to shift my position so that the person I was talking to had to shift theirs so I had a good backdrop. If I threw a round there wasn’t a restaurant or store window behind them.

    Part of the qualification course was one round from 25 yards. In a night shooting situation I wasn’t going to waste my time on that. If you’re 25 yards away from someone with a 4″ barrel in the dark you should be looking for cover. Concealment is a bush that is not cover. Cover is a solid object.

    You not only have to learn the mechanics of shooting as a police officer you have to understand that as an officer you are put in the position of having to react to the aggressor. You can even that disadvantage by practicing, and understanding the mental aspects of a shooting situation.

    • #7
  8. Metalheaddoc Member

    Would you feel confident in a cop who has never driven a car before taking driver training at the academy? A professional needs to be deeply familiar with the tools of his trade, even if seldom used.

    • #8
  9. Israel P. Inactive
    Israel P.

    The case of the two women in LA sounds like bad choice of target, not bad marksmanship.

    • #9
  10. Kevin Creighton Contributor
    Kevin Creighton

    DialMforMurder: So is this one of those things where you need to get them shooting by age 10 or else they will never get good?

    Not at all. I didn’t take up shooting until I was easing into middle age, and I breezed thru the HR218 qualifier earlier this year. Punching holes in paper at a range is only tangentially related to putting rounds on-target in a stressful situation. The Army and Marines are using practical shooting as a way to introduce artificial stress into firearms training, I hope the police forces of our country soon do likewise as well.

    • #10
  11. Lensman Inactive

    Massad Ayoob is a prominent columnist and author of many books on firearms and tactical pistol shooting. He is (I believed) now retired after a multi-decade career in law enforcement in the Northeast and a top-rated competitive shooter. In his 2011 book Combat Shooting he opines that police officers who engaged competitive shooting such as USPSA and IDPA are better on the job (with a pistol) than those who don’t.

    Those sports require (1) drawing from holster; (2) movement and firing (i.e., don’t just stand behind the bench and shoot at paper); and (3) scenarios where not hitting the “non-threat” target that is in front of or behind the “real” target goes into the scoring. BTW, all the targets are silhouettes and there is no bullseye on  a target to assist in aiming.

    How much marksmanship training/practice does a police officer need for proficiency?  Based on how much shooting I’ve done in recent years to gain proficiency with a pistol, I would say a minimum of 1500 to 2000 rounds per year. That is as much as $500 of ammo and at least 30-40 hours of time. Only those cops who have gotten into the shooting sports, are likely to make that commitment. The department is not going to give them that much ammo and so it’s an out-of-pocket expense.

    So, my SWAG is that 85% of them are better off reaching for a taser, unless the BG is pointing a gun or rushing him/her with a knife.

    • #11
  12. Ray Kujawa Coolidge
    Ray Kujawa

    Interesting. What do you think the prevalence is of gun ranges that are convenient to Chicago police officers to use in their off hours near the city of Chicago? Nil? That leaves them only the time allotted for using ranges available for officers only. I would guess that using only the gun ranges available only to the police themselves would be barely sufficient to maintain proficiency.

    In the Seattle area, there are multiple gun ranges open to the general public, and I would venture to say that off duty officers use them to keep up and improve their skills. This is one way that the routine issuing of conceal carry permits after background checks in cities other than Chicago might actually contribute to maintaining better marksmanship among officers of the law in those cities, by the widespread availability of shooting ranges open to the public.

    • #12
  13. PJS Coolidge

    Mr S and I were just discussing this.  The New York City Police force has about 35,000 officers, and exactly one gun range.  If the range is open 240 days/year, for each officer to practice once per year, they must send about 150 officers/day through the range.  To practice twice a year they must send 300 officers/day.  Please tell me how this is conducive to good marksmanship.  This little fact explains much of why so many rounds are fired with so few hitting the target.

    • #13
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