Once you can shoot…

Some instructors, including myself, had an interesting discussion on Facebook about the phrase "once you can shoot."

My question to the group was ‘What does that mean?’ I asked it as a serious question. The personal journey I’ve made in answering that question over time has been interesting. My answers to myself about it have changed dramatically as a result of some related research I’ve done. The two most significant areas of research were Negative Outcomes and what higher level thinkers in the POlice community had to say.

A common answer I see when the question comes up is something like: “I personally like to see them score well on the FBI qual. Like 85% or higher. It's an easy qual for good shooters and is a good standard to start with.” In my opinion, other priorities are much more important. Training resources are limited and should be used in the most overall effective way.

Bottom Line Up Front from my perspective: After demonstrating the ability to put 5 shots into a piece of paper at 5 yards twice in a row from Low Ready, it's time to move on to decisional shooting and other aspects of the Use of Force process. There's nothing wrong with continuing to develop marksmanship skill, if you have a lot of time and other resources. But spending a great deal of time with it at the expense of decision-making and other soft skills is misplaced effort.

Some people think I hate the FBI Qual, which is not true. I’ve shot it at 100% several times and it’s certainly okay as a POlice qualification course. In the discussion, let’s not forget that the FBI spends about a month of range time and 4,000 rounds of ammunition for their agents to reach a point where most of them can repeatedly pass it. My principal objection is that it’s as relevant to the needs of Private Citizens as Table VIII (Crew Qualification) for the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, which I’ve also fired and qualified on.

• Table VIII – Crew Qualification (Crew)

o This is a single-vehicle qualification table that evaluates the crew’s ability to acquire and engage targets during various firing conditions; consists of five day and five night engagements.


METT-TC is a real thing.

The idea that the FBI qual is relevant ignores the fact that what the Private Citizen needs to understand and accomplish to defeat a criminal predation is a Justified and legal Use of Force. Marksmanship is only one aspect of Use of Force and in many incidents, not even the most important one. One of the things that makes marksmanship training and practice so attractive is that it is quantifiable, easy to administer, and repeatable. Those characteristics don’t make it useful past a certain point. The phrase ‘meaningless degrees of precision’ comes to mind.

It’s always interesting to me that the training community makes the same mistake that the POlice community does. This may be due to the influence of the POlice community on private sector trainers. We seek out and emphasize the very aspect of Use of Deadly Force training that POlice spend the majority of their time on. This despite the POlice having been chastised by the courts for that very priority for a long time. As long ago as 1985, the Federal courts have penalized POlice agencies for concentrating their efforts solely on marksmanship. The Tuttle v. Oklahoma City decision (10th Circuit Ct.) in 1985 laid out a much better set of priorities. Other cases have followed with much the same message.

In Tuttle, the court held that for law enforcement firearms training to be valid, it must incorporate:

  • stress,
  • decision making,
  • attitude,
  • knowledge,
  • skill, (i.e., marksmanship)
  • shoot-don’t-shoot,
  • moving targets,
  • officer required to move,
  • low light or adverse light shooting,
  • in-service [Use of Force legal and policy] training and
  • shotgun training.

Note that of the 11 aspects listed, only one relates to quantifiable marksmanship training, i.e., qualification. Oddly enough, of the 11 categories of Negative Outcomes I have identified, only one relates to marksmanship. In my research, the marksmanship failures were all related to hitting innocents downrange, a marksmanship subset that is rarely addressed, except in competition shooting.

The International Association of Chiefs of POlice https://www.theiacp.org/ has spent many years developing and refining its ‘Model Policies’ about what to include in Use of Force training. The current iteration is the National Consensus Discussion Paper on Use of Force and Consensus Policy.


Although a few aspects of it are arguable, it certainly is a much better step in the right direction than an excessive emphasis on marksmanship at the expense of other training priorities. The philosophical underpinnings of the Consensus Policy are well considered and the Policy is worth reading in its entirety (15 pages).

Granted that we are not the POlice. However, since we are not, why are we adopting the marksmanship standard of the 'premier' law enforcement agency in the US as our proficiency baseline? The concept is non sequitur.

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