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Training for Reality: Reloads and Situational Awareness

Have we been training incorrectly?  Incorporating certain illogical concepts into the finite reality of the "square range" and if we have, should we change it?  This question comes up, from time to time, and it did after I wrote The Carry Reload in early 2017.  There was a lot of research that needed to be done, so I sought out people who I knew had the experience I was looking to reference, to contrast against my own, and I wanted to get other information from various sources because I wanted this to be as unbiased as possible, I wanted the facts to lead me.  The problem which we are constantly plagued with in the training industry is that we try to reinvent the wheel, we try to stick to the known, friendly and acceptable methods of instruction.  The issue which comes out of this type of dogmatic training paradigm is that we find ourselves repeating drills based on nothing more than perceived need of doing so, or attempting to achieve some sort of status.  Reloading is one those aspects of various drills which a lot of instructors incorporate in their coursework, and it should be, but should it be regarded to at such a high level as to completely detach itself from the requirements of reality?

Before we get into the meat of the issue, I want to say that I carry a reload at all times.  A larger capacity magazine than what is in my pistol while I am carrying.  This is because of three real world applicable reasons.  No one can tell what type of situation they will find themselves in, and I want to be as prepared as possible for as many situations as possible, that means having more ammo on my person at all times, and not less.  Glock makes these 24 round 9mm magazines now, and I carry one at all times as a backup.  If you are involved in the extremely unlikely situation that requires you to reload from your empty Glock 19 or 17, you are probably going to need more ammo than you walk around with in your gun, substantially more.  Every pistol is a tool, and tools break, they malfunction, they are effected by issues which we may not know at the time of initially putting them on due to unknown circumstances or lack of awareness for the status of your tools, sometimes at no fault of the user.  Magazines can go bad, ammo can break and render the magazine inoperable, lots of issues exist that may be instantly fixed by simply dropping the magazine in your gun and putting in a backup magazine.  Carrying an extra magazine is not difficult, uncomfortable or taboo.  It is logical and absolutely required.  We also have to remember that, even modern, pistol ammunition is unlikely to quickly stop a human adversary.  So that means you may have to shoot someone a lot more with a pistol than you would with a rifle, regardless of caliber or type of ammunition.

I do not, however, carry this reload in a pouch on the front of my belt or inside the waist.  I do not carry it on my belt at all.  I carry it in my back pocket, some guys I train with, and respect, carry their reloads in the front pocket of their pants.  We train to reload quickly when the gun goes dry, this is more for repetition (rep'ing) of urgency than anything.  Every time my gun goes dry I want to have that blood rushing away from my lower gut feeling of "oh shit" and my movements, actions and thoughts need to reflect this situation.  This is as much a mindset concept as it is a training concept.  With all the "standards" out there on various forums, social media and especially from instructors who make their money from competition shooting involving compelled reloading, the training industry has ended up accepting reloads, in my opinion, in an illogical manner.  One that is completely counter to reality, and research proves it concretely.

I've never seen a combat reload save anyone's life.

I have heard this quote from numerous been there, done that types of instructors and all around experienced guys from the spectrum of service from LE to GOV to MIL.  I sought out to refute this concept, and as it would apply to the everyday lives of the average responsible armed citizen.  Surely there have been instances of organic combat reloads which saved a good guys life?  Why else would there be drills, instruction, forced reloads during competition (that are supposed to reflect reality) and a slew of equipment being manufactured to support that concept?

Lets get some parameters out of the way first, a "combat reload" (in this context) is a forced reload due to a pistol containing an empty magazine from discharging all ammunition, done under stress to potentially save the life of the good guy.   Example: I shot all the ammo in my pistol and the slide locked back, I did a combat reload, because the guy I was shooting at was still shooting at me, if I did not do a combat reload I would have been killed.

In order for the research to make sense, I removed all LE and bad guy shoots, limiting the research to conceal carry citizens in the USA.  This was required because there are three issues with including LE and bad guy shoots.  The biggest is intent, the willingness to get involved in a deadly force confrontation without hesitation.  LEO's and bad guys go out knowing that they may get involved in a shootout, because of statistics, probability or just simple intent to get into a shootout (on the bad guy side) and because of this LEO's and bad guys, alike, carry reloads in advantageous positions.  Nearly all patrol LEO's carry a reload magazine overtly, outside the waist band usually in a pouch.  Bad guys carry extra magazines in their pockets, and will sometimes hold extra magazines in their hands while beginning a felonious shooting (I've personally seen this occur, and have watched videos of these occurrences).  This is a level of premeditated intent which the average responsible armed citizen does not walk out of their house with everyday.  LEO's and bad guys train to be involved in a shootout, bad guys sometimes more often and more appropriately then LEO's.  There is a never ending list of videos which show this very clearly, from the low jean, bandana wearing thug shooting his hi-point at the range sideways to the average LEO who qualifies every year with his duty gun.  This is something which is standard in the LE world and it is very close to becoming standard in the bad guy world (if it isn't already, we wouldn't know anyway, there is no data).  Then there is the issue of responsibility of force, on the LEO side it requires a LEO to have enough equipment (ammo/mags/etc) to stop an active shooter threat, to take on numerous shooters, and to do so without retreating.  On the bad guy side, their responsibility of force is usually split between killing the other bad guy they set out to shoot at, and then having enough ammo to get away in case any other bad guy or LEO returns fire or tries to stop them from escaping.  I also removed all revolver related shootings.  Yes, that narrows it done a little bit more, but the Glock pistol has been around for more than twenty years, Sig's and 1911's longer than that, I want to stay within the "modern" concepts of conceal carry as much as possible.

The average responsible armed citizen carries their pistol for their personal application and for their immediate area of responsibility (family, work, etc).  I am not saying this is good or bad, I am just saying this is true.  I'd love to see those that carry apply a more deliberate mindset and carry a full size pistol with a larger than average capacity reload, along with other tools.  But that's a totally different article that I already wrote.

I began to search, to send emails, to post on various forums and I began to receive feedback.  The question was simple:

Does anyone have any videos or police reports which show that a speed reload saved a good guy during a pistol fight / DGU ? LEO shoots and revolver involved shoots do not count, try to keep it in the last 20 or so years. Looking for verifiable real situations, no "my buddy's brother's cousin..." type stuff.

I was advised to send an email to Claude Werner at The Tactical Professor, who responded by stating that out of 5000 shootings he researched only 3 involved use of reloads by citizens, one involved a reload of a revolver to kill an escaped lion and one an off-duty LEO (which wouldn't count anyway).  He had no info on the third and when I asked about documentation about these occurrences he could not provide any.

I also contacted Tom Givens at Rangemaster, who is a considerable authority on not just instruction but in regards to responsible armed citizen involved shootings, as many of his students have overcome deadly force threats using a firearm.  He relayed the following to me:

In over 60 student involved shootings, we had four that went to slidelock. No further shooting was required. No reloads with further shooting after the reload.

Part of the reason for this is a real emphasis in our training on carrying a gun with at least 10 rounds in it. We've only had 2 shootings involving a 5-shot j-frame. The rest are typically guns like a G19, G23, G26, M&P, or similar, with 12-15 rounds in the gun to start with. That seems to pretty much eliminate the need for reloading.

From the various forums, I had two people contact me privately in reference to shootouts where good guys reloaded, both of which were over ten years ago, both of which I attempted to follow up with the assigned investigator through the department referenced.  One of them was unreachable due to the assigned investigator retiring and the other was unreachable because the assigned investigator had died, I could find no news articles on either occurrence at all and both parties who provided me with the information stated that they did not have first hand knowledge of it, only second hand through friends and family.  I did get a few off-duty LEO stories relayed to me, but I am not going to accept those because LEO's, even off duty, have a tendency to carry more (or less) equipment than the average responsible armed citizen.  After doing enough research, having enough conversations, and doing some digging, I was satisfied with the information that I was able to put together.

I could not find a single documented occurrence of a responsible armed citizen using a combat reload to save their life, or the lives of others.  None, zip, zero.  I am hopeful that this article, being shared, will allow for people to come forward with information relating to this topic.  I would love to see evidence of this occurring, because it would validate numerous concepts perpetuated in the industry.  I would gladly update this article when/if that information becomes available.

Moving on to the real world issues that currently plague the training industry of the 2A community.

(The Sidecar AIWB holster from trex-arms.com)

One thing you constantly see on Instagram, Facebook and being talked about during certain pistol shooting courses is the "sub-second draw" and in the same conversation the fun to shoot, but horribly pointless "one shot, reload, one shot" drill.  These drills are almost exclusively done with a holster which has a magazine attachment on it or with a magazine pouch AIWB.  Without getting into specific issues of these types of holster designs or carry issues, the fundamental logical fallacy which is constantly on display on various Instagram pages is the fact there is a reload sitting in a position to not only prevent concealment and comfortable carrying of a pistol, but is designed around the specific purpose of fast reloading.
This really looks like there is some circular logic in effect here.  Social media, like Instagram, enjoys videos from those IG celebs (and their followers) who use these types of holsters (and usually speed up their videos, yeah we can tell) to show off how fast they can draw from the surrender position and how fast they can reload pointlessly to market their product.  The issue is, the drills they are shooting are not designed around real world confrontations, not around real world applications, not around real world, anything.  They are designed and promulgated, in general, by those who have not seen real world deadly force use, those who are not LEOs, those who have no experience in real world concepts as they apply to the average responsible armed citizen in the USA.  There are numerous studies posted online which are easily found, that show there is nearly no difference between a solo LEO and solo responsible armed citizen shooting statistics in reference to distances (3-5 feet), likely time of the day (darkness more often than not) and number of rounds fired (between 2-4) per person, per shooting, save for the extreme rarities of situations.  No where does any statistic show the absolute need for immediate combat reload in order for the good guy to survive.  In fact the opposite is true, there are very real requirements for concealment over speed.  While there are situations which showed malfunctions from pistols during a deadly force use, no where does it show that a good guy would have been killed if they did not have a reload available within less than a second, or two, or three, or even four.  Actually, there is no data on this at all, because it statistically does not happen to the average responsible armed citizen, or LEO. (but I'll save that for a different article)

So why do people enjoy watching videos about these types of holsters and those IG celebs who use them?  Because its entertainment.  Just like watching Tom Cruise in Collateral shooting two guys quickly, it's a lot of fun.  (Notice he did it from a strong side) OWB holster and even though it was only a suit jacket concealment type situation, it was still impressive, vastly more impressive than starting from the surrender position with a clipboard sized holster in the front of your waist.

However, once the clip is over and reality sets in, we have to focus on training for how things happen in the real world, because when push comes to shoot what you saw on Instagram isn't going to help you, only your properly trained skill sets will.  Even Tom Cruise's character waited until the bad guy was inside his reactionary gap and then acted first.  There is a lot of misinformation and loads of misconceptions in the training industry on this topic.

What should we direct our focus on as a community then?  Accurate shooting at distance is always a good place to start.  If you can shoot accurately at 25 yards then you should be able to shoot quickly and accurate at 7 yards.  Precision is often overlooked and even in gaming, if you shoot really fast, you can miss vital areas and still place higher than someone taking their time to get accurate, threat stopping, shots.  This is a huge problem with competition (among others), but its also a big problem in training for drills on a square range instead of training for reality.  How about shooting and moving? Target discrimination drills?  Force on force?

For a responsible armed citizen, I believe you need to have a competent combat reload (2.5-5 seconds from your front pocket) after that spend your time working on things that you will never be good enough at ie; first shot from concealment, weapons retention shooting transitions, indexed shooting, get off the X drill, accuracy at distance, etc..." 
The above is what Bill Rapier, of American Tactical Shooting Instruction, told me when I asked him about this concept.  I completely agree that we need to have a base line of competence but then spend more time on the very real world applicable skill sets which need in order to survive a deadly force confrontation.

Training for purpose, based on logical concepts, and not pointless speed is the direction the training industry should be moving towards.  The reason to draw your pistol, the reason for aiming at a target, and the real world applicable speed at which you will make a shot that will forever be associated with your name is more important than a sub-second shot from concealment, or entertaining your followers with a "one, reload one."  The emphasis should be on reality, beyond the square range, beyond the hype and be only constrained by court precedence, your personal ability and competence with your tools.  Training, based in reality, is the only way anyone of us will make it through any deadly force confrontation we may find ourselves in.  Figure out what type of training concepts you want to associate yourself with, and then invest in them heavily.