Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Limitations of your Training: are you willing to accept them?

It's June 20th, 1994, and Dean Mellberg enters the Fairchild Air Force Base hospital carrying a MAK-90 rifle. He heads straight to the office of Major Thomas Brigham and Captain Alan London, both of whom had recommended that Mellberg be discharged from the Air Force following a psychological evaluation. Mellberg opens fires on the two men, killing them both. He then starts walking around the hospital and shooting at everyone, eventually wounding 22 people and killing an additional 2, including an 8-year-old girl.

A quarter of a mile away, Senior Airman Andrew Brown was patrolling base housing on his bicyle, part of his duties with the 92nd Air Force Security Police Squadron, when he gets an emergency call on his radio about trouble at the hospital. As he pedals into the parking lot, he sees Mellberg in the parking lot shooting randomly at people who are trying to flee. Andy ditches his bike, draws his 9mm Beretta handgun, and drops into a kneeling position. He then orders Mellberg to stop, to which Mellberg replies by turning and opening fire on Andy, who fires 4 rounds at Mellberg. Two rounds hit Mellberg - 1 shot in the shoulder and the other literally right between the eyes, killing Mellberg instantly and ending his reign of terror. The distance between the two men was 70 yards.

Massad Ayoob, famed firearms instructor, has this to say about the event:

There are those who will tell you pistols are short-range weapons, and it is indefensible to fire them at distances as far as 70 yards at armed and violent perpetrators. That's bullshit. Andy Brown's experience is a classic example.

 There are those who will tell you you can't hit an opponent 70 yards away if you're only armed with a pistol. That's bullshit, too. On a June afternoon in 1994, Andy Brown proved it, firing a Beretta 9mm issue pistol. The witnesses confirmed at the moment of truth that Mellberg, age 20, was firing at Brown, then 24, with a rifle as Brown simultaneously returned fire with a pistol. Mellberg missed Brown. Brown hit Mellberg with 50-percent of his gunfire and killed him where he stood. End of story.

 When you are the one who is under fire––and, more important as I read Andy Brown's perceptions, when helpless innocent people are under fire and you have sworn an oath to protect them––"minimum" training and practice is not enough. Andy Brown had taken his oath so seriously he bought the closest gun he could afford to the relatively expensive Government-issue Beretta, simply to practice with on his own time, at his own expense. Anyone who doubts this dedication on the part of this individual member of the United States Air Force to serve those within the mantle of protection went above and beyond the call of duty, is probably too clueless to enter a discussion of the matter.

 Even the staunchest advocates of un-aimed "point shooting" agree at longer distances, the sights must be used if you expect to deliver a fight-stopping hit with a handgun. Andy Brown did so, and proved the validity of "focus on your front sight" as the tactic that will win such a fight.

 Andy's experience highlights a fundamental principle of surviving any life-threatening experience: focus on the task, not the goal. Seeing a deadly, well-armed killer shooting at him 70 yards away, a distance he perceived as half that or even closer, Andy didn't think "Oh, my God, I gotta somehow survive!" No, he thought about focusing on his front sight and carefully pressed his trigger straight back, and he hit his opponent with two out of four shots at a distance many would consider "out of range" . . . . and he killed the killer and stopped the mass murders. Starting with a 75-round magazine in his rifle, Mellberg had already shot 26 people at the time Andy Brown stopped him with a bullet literally between the eyes. Andy remembers now, "There were 19 rounds left in his gun at the time he went down. It made me feel good I stopped him before he took any more victims."

Ayoob is absolutely correct (as usual) in that "minimum" training and practice are just not enough. There are plenty of scenarios where just having a weapon won't give you the opportunity to engage with it, just as there are plenty of scenarios where one armed citizen can make all the difference.

In my experience, many people who get their concealed weapons permit, or who attend one training course, or who shoot just a few times a year, have their firearm as a sort of 'talisman' against the bad things in the world. They can put it by their bed, strap it on a belt, put it in their pocket or in their purse, or otherwise have it near them as a sense of comfort or security. Proficiency and practical application are concepts that they don't consider; they don't ask themselves, "What are the limitations of my skills and what are the limitations of my equipment?" While there are many "armed" citizens in this great nation of ours, a relatively low number of them could probably effectively draw and engage an attacker, much less multiple attackers, assuming they are even carrying their firearm.

So the question you must ask yourself is this: If the time comes to use your firearm to save a life, will you actually be ready to do it? Only you truly know what your mindset is and what your firearms skills are. But don't lie yourself - because when the time comes, I'd sure rather be like Andy than Mellberg.

Stay Aware, Stay Safe, and Train Hard.