By Ron Danielowski, Principal/Chief Instructor – Pulse O2DA Firearms Training, Inc
In early October Joshua Holland’s penned an article over at The Nation entitled Tactical Experts Destroy the NRA’s Heroic Gunslinger Fantasy: The last thing a chaotic crime scene needs is more untrained civilians.
While the article is drawing a fair amount of justifiable heat from those who don’t see security centralization as solution, it does properly point out the need for proper (and continual) training. For this reason alone, it would be helpful to remember to not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
The training technology referred to in the original article as “force on force” training, is better known as Reality Based Training or “RBT.”
RBT is a type of simulation training that better prepares individuals for future performance through experiential learning. Experiential learning is learning by experiencing and doing as opposed to academic knowledge, which can be learned in a classroom.
A correctly designed RBT program will help to reduce the involuntary stress response called the sympathetic nervous system or “SNS response” in students. This is accomplished by pitting them against well trained actors called “role players” who exactingly follow per-selected scripts which have been crafted to derive specific responses and achieve selected training goals from the scenario being played out for the students benefit.
When properly executed a quality RBT program will reinforce what Kenneth Murray, the father of RBT, refers to as the “Task Triad,” which consists of reinforcing stress resistant skills, promoting stress inoculation, and killing enabling.
This improvement in lethality of the individual operator is achieved through the student’s successful navigation of chaotic and violent scenarios where he learns what violence looks and feels like. The successful navigation of these high stress scenarios helps the student gaining the confidence needed to successfully operate under the normally debilitating stress of a lethal force encounter. Stresses which would cause the normal fighter without this kind of life experience to fold in on themselves.
In other words, RBT can teach the fighter to function effectively before “they’ve been exposed to fire a number a times” precisely because they have successfully rehearsed the same type of scenarios numerous times through proper RBT.
RBT is to the gunfighter what Topgun is to fighter pilots. RBT is the apex of firearms training, there is no substitute, as nothing better prepares students for the fight of their lives than a quality ran RBT program.
Additionally the original article is simply wrong in suggesting that there is some magic or secret formula involved in taking the average individual and training them to be competent gun handler capable of dealing with the stress and uncertainty of a lethal force encounter. We do it at Pulse, a select few other civilian trainers do it, and a few military and police organizations do it every day with people no more inherently capable or qualified than the average civilian.
Notwithstanding the article’s ad hominem attacks on Wayne LaPierre, the NRA does provide the type of introductory training that teaches individuals how to safely use and shoot their firearms for recreational purposes. While these NRA courses do not train people how to effectively defend themselves and other innocents during a lethal force encounter, their instruction in safe gun handling and marksmanship is an excellent foundation, and is used as such by most states in their concealed carry permitting processes.
To put it another way, the RBT training mentioned in the article is the exception, not the standard in military and law enforcement training. Contrary to the undertone of Mr. Holland’s article, it would be wise to recognize that most military and law enforcement aren’t near as proficient in their tactical skills and decision making as his article would lead the average reader to believe.
Regrettably, after valid points made by the interviewees, any good that could have come from the article rapidly degrades as Mr. Holland draws inappropriate assumptions from what he has been told. The reason for this is because Mr. Holland fails to recognize that the professional perspectives, experience, and responsibilities of his interviewees don’t always relate to active shooter scenarios.
Because of Mr. Holland’s personal lack of tactical understanding and prejudice causes him to draw all the wrong conclusions from the interviewees in an attempt to make the disjointed pieces fit his bias against a decentralized security solution.
For instance, the subtitle of the article “The last thing a chaotic crime scene needs is more untrained civilians” misses the reality of active shooter scenarios altogether: While the killer continues to murder innocents unopposed – there is no crime scene, it is the active environment of a slaughter house, and it will continue to be one until the killer is stopped.
A fundamental problem with Mr. Holland’s piece is his failure to recognize that the centralized solution – police response – does not adequately address active shooter incidents due to the tyranny of time, space, and force. Police responders almost always arrive after the shooter has worked his will on his targets, and often, understandably, take minutes more to orient themselves to the situation and intervene. Shooters may stop, flee, or take the own lives when the police arrive, but their damage is largely already done.
Furthermore, the article conveniently ignores the fact that the gunman had at least 5 minutes of relatively free reign because no one was armed and close enough to effect the positive change in the situation. It is important to nothe that positive change finally occurred within 2 minutes of the police arrived and using their guns to stop the gunman. In other words, it wasn’t until good guys with guns arrived and stopped the bad guy with a gun.
Another area the article falls woefully short is not taking into account the various missions and roles of the different interviewees quoted, and how those various missions and roles relate to “active shooter” scenarios – sometimes they don’t.
As an illustration, the article makes use of the of a Secret Service scenario, “Here’s an agency that has all the weaponry that they could ever need, all the training that they could ever need, and they’ve never fired a weapon in defense of a president during an assassination attempt. You’re trained to throw your body in front of the protectee[sic], not to open fire.”
First, this is a disingenuous statement. By way of example, when John Hinckley Jr. shoot Ronald Regan, the agents didn’t need to shoot because the active shooter (Hinckley) had already been tackled and subdued by a swarm of secret service agents and police.
Rest assured, had Hinckley not been tackled, and had he continued to shoot, you can bet your life that the Secret Service agents would have indeed shot. Look at the photos of the immediate scenario, those agents didn’t have their weapons drawn for the heck of it, they were ready to use lethal force had the situation needed it.
Next, the interviewees statement is mixing apples and oranges, as it uses mission incompatible scenarios to make a point that isn’t relevant in a typical active shooter scenario, and it is irresponsible to not clearly delineate the two.
In the former example a Secret Service agent’s objective at the time of a shooting is to swarm the principal as human meat shields and get him off the ‘X’ and away from danger as quickly as possible. This protective detail scenario bares no resemblance whatsoever to either the assets on the ground nor the proper response in the average active shooter scenario.
Why? Because it’s impractical to suggest that there will ever be enough centralized security services close enough to the next active shooter scenario to body-shield and extricate the potential victims of a mass shooting without having to first deal with the active shooter(s).
Think about it, if one were to apply the same tactics to a school, church, or business, one would need thousands of trained agents to meat shield hundreds, if not, thousands of “protectees” and get them off the ‘X.’
Obviously, this isn’t gong to happen, and that’s is why you don’t see hundreds of police swarming the area to shield students.
Instead, law enforcement are being trained to bypass the wounded and dying in order to quickly close with and destroy the active shooter. Because reality dictates that every second the active shooter is up and functioning, is another second more innocent people will be ruthlessly slaughtered.
Finally, Mr. Holiday’s example of the armed citizen missing the criminals and hitting the victim instead – requires the reader to ignore the fact that police regularly have the same problem, yet I don’t believe Mr. Holland is advocating that the police be disarmed for the same lack of skills and decision making the occasional citizen may demonstrate.
In summary, while Mr. Holland’s article is well intentioned and his experts’ testimony is (narrowly) accurate, the missions, training, and scenarios presented are taken out of context to support false conclusions. As Mr. Holland points out in his own article, good intentions are less important than the need to deal with the reality on the ground.
The reality of active shooter incidents can only be adequately addressed by decentralized security solutions: legally armed, well-trained civilians whose mere presence will deter many potential shooters, and who can respond quickly and effectively in the early moments of an incident.
Ron Danielowski is the Principal/Chief Instructor at Pulse O2DA Firearms Training, Inc. www.pulsefirearmstraining.com.
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