Recently I was asked my opinion about competition shooting and the benefits, if any, it had pertaining to law enforcement training. There are a zillion articles out there on the topic, and at first, I was hesitant to add another to the pile. However, the more I thought about it, the more I realized I have my own story to tell. My experience is more based on my observations and evolution as a shooter, instead of tactical philosophies and statistics.
In 2004 I graduated college and entered my chosen career path of law enforcement. When I went to the academy, I already had a couple of years of casual competition shooting under my belt, so I knew the shooting portion would be a breeze. After several months of book work, tests and PT, our academy class got to the fun stuff. Our first day on the range was more classroom than range time. I didn’t really think much of it at the time, but I realize now that many of my classmates had never held a gun, much less tried to pass a qualification with one. The goal of the academy class…get everyone to pass qualifications, without putting any extra holes in anyone.
After I graduated from the academy, I attended a one week firearms class for new officers. This was a small class, and was supposed to be aimed at advancing the students shooting skills. I found out real quick that the instructor’s idea of advancing skills and my idea of advancing skills were slightly different. Our differences were usually settled like any argument a new officer has with an instructor…with me being “wrong” and some push-ups to boot.
The first issue I had was with the statement of “you cannot miss fast enough to win”. Now, to put this in perspective, you have to define the word “miss”. In this case, we were told to stand at the 10 yard line and fire at a USPSA target from the time the command to fire was given, until the cease fire was ordered. On the command to fire, I drew my pistol and ripped off 9 or 10 rounds, 7 of which were “A” zone hits and the rest, “C” zone hits. This is where the definition of the word miss came into question. I was told that I should have not shot so fast, so I could make sure to get all “A” zone hits. My response was, “the guy next to me got 3 shots off, all in the ‘A’ zone…I got more than double the ‘A’ hits and a few ‘C’ zones to go with them in the same amount of time.” Let’s just say that argument didn’t go over so well.
The second issue I had came at the end of the week. The instructor had a discussion with each of us, based on his observations, about what he thought we could improve on. Naturally, throughout the week everyone figured out that I had shot competition, so of course, I was told to slow down. However, the statement that really got me was, “you need to learn that you aren’t playing a game every time you have a gun in your hand“. Now, let me put this in perspective. The statement wasn’t made because I was jacking around on the range all the time or acting like an idiot. It was made because I was always trying to beat someone or myself, whether it be in time or accuracy. When I think back, I realize that, that was the dumbest advise I ever received. The fact is, every time I had a gun in my hand, it was a game. The difference in competition shooting and this game though, was this game was potentially for the highest stakes ever…my life. That was all the motivation I needed to push harder and get better.
That brings me to the topic of discussion: Does competition shooting help or hurt as law enforcement training? My opinion: Competition not only helps, but it should be a standard that departments mandate and administer. Every officer should be an expert with the weapon they are carrying. They should know how to clear every malfunction there is. They should know how and when to reload at lightning speed. They should know their limits, but also have confidence in their abilities. The best way to do that is through competition.
People in the “Tactical” world get all hung up on training vs. competition. They claim that if you shoot competition, you wont know how to transition properly, because you have been transitioning to guns in barrels or on tables, or other crazy things like that. Tactics shouldn’t be taught to someone who sucks at shooting. Teach them to shoot, get them good, then teach them tactics. Why would I want to have my life depend on someone who can clear a house like a boss, but wont be able to hit anything they shoot at in the process? Or, what if their gun malfunctions and they hold their hand up in the air for someone to come help them fix it? Competition is the only way to induce stress and manipulate firearms on the fly, other than some hardcore military training.
The longer I worked in law enforcement, the more I saw my competition experience benefit me. If you asked 90% of officers out there, what the farthest or smallest target they could hit with their handgun, half of them wouldn’t know and the other half would ask how many tries they get. Because I shoot competition on a regular basis, I know exactly how far I can shoot, or how fast. That translated to confidence in myself and my partners confidence in me. Do you want the guy who shoots monthly or national 3gun competitions taking the shot to save your life, or the guy who shoots his gun once a year, because the department makes him qualify, and it takes him 3 tries?
In the decade that I was in law enforcement, I took notice of a few things with this argument. Many of the people never shot in a competition, or they did a couple of times and got their asses handed to them by a dentist or mechanic. There are a few different kinds of law enforcement officers out there. The ones who carry guns because it is part of the job, ones who want to be uber tactical, and the ones who want to be an expert at every level of the job including firearms. Departments expect officers to be experts at law, DWI investigations, etc…why not expert shooters?