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An Inside Look at FBI Handgun Training

by Brian McCombie   |  June 20th, 2013 27

The FBI has changed its training regime based on studies of law enforcement shootings, placing more emphasis on close-range engagements

Last year, and without any fanfare, the Federal Bureau of Investigation made a major change in the agency’s handgun training regime. New handgun training protocols, as well as standardized firearms training packages that went to every FBI field office, were changed to emphasize close-range shooting skills and proficiency. How close? From three to seven yards.

Based on a review of nearly 200 agent-involved shootings over a 17-year period, the FBI discovered that 75 percent of these incidents involved suspects who were within three yards of their agents when shots were exchanged. So FBI top brass decided that some changes were in order to better prepare their agents to survive these life-threatening encounters.

“Until last January, the FBI’s Pistol Qualification Course required agents to fire 50 rounds, more than half of them from between 15 and 25 yards,” FBI Special Agent Ann R. Todd explains. “The new course involves 60 rounds, with 40 of those fired from between three and seven yards. It also requires agents to draw their weapons from holsters concealed by jackets or blazers to replicate the traditional clothing worn by FBI special agents.”

In fact, for all law enforcement the majority of armed confrontations happens at close range. For example, according to data gathered by the Criminal Justice Information Services (a division of the U.S. Justice Department), of the 500 local and state police officers killed “feloniously” in the line of duty by assailants with firearms between 2002 and 2011, 235 of those officers had their lives taken by people who were within five feet of the officers. Another 92 officers were killed by attackers who were between six to 10 feet away. That translates to 65 percent of law enforcement officers killed by assailants who are just 10 feet away or closer.

The FBI did not divulge information about the percentage of hits its agents made when firing at these very close assailants. (Some, of course, were ambushed and unable to fire.) But it would seem logical enough this new emphasis on close-in shooting and tactics was deemed necessary because the percentage of hits wasn’t as high as was hoped for.

But hold on. If you and your pistol can drill a magazine’s worth of bullets into a target’s X ring at 25 yards, you should be able to make every shot count at 10 feet or less, right?

It’s a lot harder than it sounds.  According to an article published by the Police Policy Studies Council (a research-based, law enforcement training and consultation corporation), in Florida between 1990 and 2001, officers with the Metro-Dade Police, “fired about 1,300 bullets at suspects, and missed more than 1,100 times. This suggests that Miami police fared no better than a 15.4% hit ratio…”

In New York City, police who used their firearms in “Gunfights, Other Shootings vs Perpetrator, and Against Dogs,” hit their intended targets only 38 percent of the time at distances between zero and two yards—and just 17 percent of the time at three to seven yards. This data was gathered from 1994 to 2000.

Those misses aren’t a huge surprise to Tiger McKee, owner of and chief trainer at the Shootrite Firearms Academy in Guthrie, Alabama. First off, he notes, there’s a huge difference psychologically between shooting at a target range versus defending yourself from an armed perpetrator actively trying to kill you. The adrenaline surge alone can cause jumpy shot placement by even the best pistol marksmen.

That said, McKee adds that traditional police handgun training at the range does not give officers enough practice in real-life shooting scenarios, and he’s encouraged by what the FBI is doing with its close-range emphasis.

“At three yards away, you just don’t have time to get a perfect sight picture,” McKee says. “The good thing is, at that range you don’t need a perfect sight picture—if you’ve had some real practice.”

At close ranges, McKee teaches law enforcement officers to pull off shots as soon as the pistol’s front sight is over the chest area. He also teaches officers how to fire from the “retention position,” shooting with the handgun close to the body and tucked up near the ribcage. The retention option is advisable when an assailant is so close that extending your arm is impossible.

Based on the training he’s given to law enforcement in general, plus staff from various federal agencies, McKee suspects the FBI is using front sight and retention exercises, among other options.

As part of its overall improvement in handgun training, the FBI has also made a significant investment in virtual simulation. Similar to the technology used in movies such as “Lord of the Rings,” the Virtual Simulator Tactical Training system or VirtSim was implemented into FBI training in February 2012.

VirtSim is a three-dimensional technical simulator using wireless and motion-capture technology to create a virtual 360-degree tactical environment. The system captures full-body motion for each of the participating students and projects corresponding aggressor and hostage actions within the virtual environment.

VirtSim can be used to teach FBI agents the proper way to enter and clear rooms in search of potential suspects, ways to confront armed assailants, and how to determine when deadly force is appropriate.

With VirtSim, “Instructors can play back every scenario and capture the students’ movements to critique their tactical performance,” says Todd. “The after action allows the instructor to view the students’ actions from several perspectives—overhead view, first person view, even through the eyes of the aggressor.”

To help hone those up-close shooting skills, “The instructor is also able to view the muzzle discipline and eye movement of each student throughout the scenario,” she says. “These features provide unique instructional opportunities that are not possible in other training venues.”

  • TopCat_Texas

    Sounds like progress. The better trained the fewer will be lost to bad guys and the fewer mistakes that good cause good guys to get hit by mistake.

  • Oldtimer

    Real world training is training for what is known: in this example close range shooting. However, shooting out to 25 yards is also realistic and I believe that too should be part of the qualification.

    • jfaletra

      I have to respectfully disagree. There are too many variables at that distance with a handgun to shoot effectively. Far more bystanders, weather, distractions etc. If you are considering shooting to 25 yards you may also want to consider taking cover and waiting for a cleaner shot. Just my 2 pennies.

      • Tran Quilize

        Your thoughts are worth more than Detroit!

    • J Hines

      Yeh, 25 yards shooting has its place. But, the emphasis for close quarter shooting isn’t about adding long range shooting, its about shooting from the “hip” or “braced contact” or “gwraps”. And, largely on point shooting and close quarter tactics.

      25 yards shooting should be in a separate marksman course of fire not close quarter (cqb) course of fire.

      “Train as You Fight”

      • ditchdigger

        Why not train for all of it, in the 60s we set up some of the first PPC type defensive shooting . Some were Sherriff dept. some reserve military, some State narcotics officers. Relatives, freinds. We shot every thing from 3 yards to 7 yards to 100 yards, to 300 yrds. with a pistol. Three good hands can make a rifle dig a hole at 300, if the right tactics are deployed, not with the slop glock.

  • Jonathan Glass

    I would like to see more regular simunition or airsoft training for LEOs. For myself, I can shoot a tight group at 15-25 yards. One day myself and a close friend decided to engage in some role-play in the empty store-front his family owned, using gas powered airsoft replicas and appropriate face/eye protection. These replicas operate externally in every way as a real handgun, including slide blowback which provides minimal recoil. We took turns pretending to be a perp trying to rob the store, and being a clerk defending it. As a perp we made up scenarios on the fly, from talking amicably and then drawing, not drawing at all, and just coming in gun blazing. Both of us are decent shots with real fire-arms. But as we began to play out these scenarios we found that we missed 80-90% of the time at nearly point blank range, with little to no cover or recoil to worry about. Just the intensity of the simulated crisis situations totally ruined our accuracy. There was no time to bring up the sights, and often times we forgot all about stances and wound up shooting one handed around or over cover. After about a dozen of these games, we started to get used to it and regained some accuracy. However that night convinced me forever of the usefulness of simulation training and one handed shooting practice. Maybe not for the average citizen, but certainly for LEOs.

    • Jaye Kuchman

      I am glad to see that real shooters are taking a look at the true effects and results of shooting in high pressure situations. I too would consider myself a good shot when standing on the range. However after having been involved in a home invasion I can tell it if I would of had to shoot I am not sure I would have hit my target. I recommend you look at the newly developed Multiple Impact Bullets for personal / home defense. They are a game changer!

  • Oldtimer

    jfaletra; of course cover is paramount at 25 yards and even retreat should be considered but 25 yard shooting is quite possible and should be practiced by police. Unfortunately many of today’s pistols are much less accurate than 30 years ago. Still Glocks are easily capable of five inches at 25 yards and they have 60% of the police market.

    • dithdigger

      Most decent 1911 .45s are 2 to 3 inches at 25 yards, hostage situation , 5 inches, what are they going to do with that.

      • Emily Jesse

        .357 sig is superior to even .45 acp. That is why USSS and sky marshals use it. .357 Sig GDHP 1400 FPS. 100 pounds more energy than a .45acp and shoots flat and accurate as hell.

  • USPatriotOne

    I am not sure I want Cops to be able to hit people at such close range. Story after story show Cops breaking the Law and Violating Citizens 4th Amendment right breaking through doors without warrants and killing people in their homes at close range. So I am not sure this is good thing, and NO I don’t want Cops injured or killed.

    • Paul Gianni

      I don’t feel good knowing the Department of Homeland Security purchased 1.6 BILLION rounds of hollow-point ammo. Knowing the Geneva Convention opposes hollow-points, don’t you question who the intended targets are?

      http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2013/03/11/1-6-billion-rounds-of-ammo-for-homeland-security-its-time-for-a-national-conversation/

      • guest

        The Geneva Convention is made for war, not for peacetime. The reason why hollow point ammo is forbidden in war, is that this ammo makes more damage to the human body. The goal is not to kill, but to stop the enemy. So full metal jacket is enough. But in peacetime a fmj is more likely to go through the enemy and hurt an innocent bystander, thats why we use hollow point in law enforcement

        • Paul Gianni

          As a Marine Corps veteran NCO, I am fully aware of this and you merely elaborated upon my point. The question still remains: If not foreigners, who are the intended targets of all those hollow-point rounds?

          • ditchdigger

            They are looking for an foreign invasion, they need to arm them?

          • Dave

            Do you know how to use Google and Wikipedia? Homeland security has 200,000 employees, and two dozen agencies. So assuming your fact is accurate, I imagine the Customs and Border Protection, the Secret Service, the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, and Federal Protective Services are going to fire the vast majority of those rounds into paper targets.

          • Paul Gianni

            Do I know how to use Google and Wikipedia? Yes, I do but apparently you don’t; if you did, you would learn that a small percentage of those 200,000 employees you mentioned are actually field agents and therefore don’t carry a firearm. You might also learn that the Law Enforcement TRAINING Center does not train with hollow-point ammunition. Further, all those agencies you mentioned were not involved with the large ammunition purchase; it was all allocated for the Department of Homeland Security. Put down your cheeseburger, turn off your television and pay attention to what’s happening in your world.

            http://www.americanthinker.com/blog/2012/09/why_does_homeland_security_need_14_billion_rounds_of_ammunition.html

            http://www.infowars.com/dhs-to-buy-360000-more-rounds-of-hollow-point-ammunition/

            http://www.forbes.com/sites/ralphbenko/2013/03/11/1-6-billion-rounds-of-ammo-for-homeland-security-its-time-for-a-national-conversation/

          • Emily Jesse

            DHS does the purchase orders for all those agencies underneath its umbrella. USCG, USSS, FAMS, FPS, ICE, CBP, FLETC. While FLETC uses frangible rounds a lot of agencies qualify with duty ammo since the recoil is slight different. The purchase order was a long term contract as well. Buy in bulk and save money. It entailed. 7.62, 5.56, .50bmg, .40, .357 sig, and 9mm. The bulk of it being .40 and .357 sig given that is the standard sidearm caliber. 85 rounds during qualification 4 times a year plus extra training time. As you can see it will go through quite quickly. Law enforcement shooting standards do not incorporate suppressive fire. Accuracy is more important. Why Hollow points because they are far more effective at stopping people. Intended target is violent criminals. The only reason is there was no restrictions made stateside.

          • Boo0

            Dude you are not thinking. If the HP is taken off te mkt. The only thing left is training loads like rndnose,semi ad cutter. Those do less damage o the brown shirts or blue hats. Get it?

        • Boo0

          TotalBS. They are buying HP because George Soros can bill the government more money! Besides thaqt taking tht ammo off the street makes its safer for the brown shirts.

    • ditchdigger

      Talk to any old time quail hunter, 20 yards, in the bag, 20 feet, 90 % miss. Same deal, cops can’t play that margin.

  • CZ shooter

    I wonder that it has taken such a long time to get the relevant data from the streets.

    Sure it’s fine to be able to place a good shot at 25 yards but for police combat situations it is not the real issue. As a former special police unit member I was taught to shoot at distances max to 12 yards from a handgun. As the attacker can be very
    close some of the instructors even preferred to shoot from the hip and then
    commit a double tap. I myself can draw my Glock 22 very quickly and I prefer
    the kind of instinctive double tap shooting (into the mid of torso) without “real”
    aiming. According to the attackers reaction I would shoot (in a second) double
    tap again.

    • Emily Jesse

      The words best focus on the 700 aggregate and hackthorn as well as the triple nickel courses of fire.

  • Phil

    Practice is the answer; practice at all ranges; practice making head shots, etc. However, practice is expensive. Just two boxes of practice ammunition can easily cost $40 or more and few cops can afford a steady diet of firearms training on their budgets.

  • Keith

    Why do the Feds need to train with hollow points,why not train with less expensive ball ammo like we do

    • Emily Jesse

      We do to minimize the variables between ammunition. That way the government can legally say he was trained with that specific ammo.

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