Are Police Officers Expert Marksmen?
I often get frustrated following an active killer’s attack on a school. Liberals always call for new gun control measures to be implement that often have nothing to do with how the particular gunman obtained the guns that were used to carry out the attack and that would have had no impact on preventing the tragedy had their proposals been in effect before the event occurred. Many conservatives call for arming teachers or placing more armed guards in schools. One prominent conservative radio and television personality, Sean Hannity, often calls for putting retired police or military personnel in schools because of their extensive experience carrying and using firearms. However, the truth of the matter is that except for SWAT officers, police officers are notoriously poor shots, and military personnel primarily rely on the rifle, not the handgun for the shooting that they must do. As a result, a retired policeman or military veteran is no more qualified to carry a gun to defeat an active killer than a teacher or a private citizen is.
Greg Ellifritz recently talked about this in an article about police training (see: https://www.activeresponsetraining.net/are-cops-good-shooters). Greg referenced another article from the Bearing Arms website on this same issue (see https://bearingarms.com/mike-m/2016/06/02/individual-safety-whos-
responsible/). Both articles point out that police are not the “expert marksmen” that most people believe they are. It is not uncommon for police officers to fire dozens of rounds and never hit the person they were shooting at. There have been several instances of those missed shots hitting innocent bystanders. A review of New York police shootings from the early 1990’s found that 81% of the shots fired by police officers missed their target. Indeed, on a national level only an average of 15-20% of the shots fired by police at criminals find their target.
To quote from the Bearing Arms article, “where firearms are involved, the police are
not highly trained professionals.”
Most police officers do not practice shooting regularly and often only do so when they must pass their annual (or semi-annual) firearms qualification course — and some of them fail to achieve a passing score. Greg points out that in Ohio the annual pistol qualification only requires 25 rounds of ammunition to be fired. Passing it is so easy that Greg had one of his friends do it blind-folded and he passed! Greg is a current Ohio police officer, former police department training officer, and firearms instructor, and his experience is that most police officers only fire about 100 rounds per year for practice. The reality is that the majority of a police officer’s time is spent filling out paperwork, driving around looking for suspicious activity, or responding to calls for assistance. They rely on the intimidation factor of them showing up to gain control of the situation, not on their shooting abilities.
In some cases, concerns about liability have caused government officials to further handicap the police that work in their jurisdiction by requiring heavier trigger springs than normal and other “safety features” to prevent inadvertent firearms discharges. Those very features often make it much more difficult to shoot a gun accurately. Many police officers don’t have personal guns at home, only what they may have been issued by their department. Since they do not own guns, they do not participate in recreational shooting activities. Police department budgets often don’t provide a lot of money for training ammunition or duty-time for officers to practice their shooting. Rarely will an officer spend his/her own money for practice ammunition and their off-duty time to go to a shooting range to practice.
No, relying on the shooting abilities of police officers to protect us from harm is a fallacy. And how about those military folks? Well, if they are using a rifle, they can probably hit what they are aiming at, but then, so can any competent deer hunter. They are good at hitting targets that are 100-300 yards away, but that is not the distances that an active killer (or any other armed criminal) would be encountered at. No, the distances would be typically 10 yards or less and a rifle is difficult to use in close quarters and any rifle rounds fired would likely penetrate through the intended target and continue traveling until it hits something or someone else. When it comes to expertise with a handgun, they are no better than most police officers are. And, depending on their particular job, they don’t shoot that often either. Outside of the infantry and a couple of other specialties, using a firearm is not one of their primary responsibilities so practicing with one does not occur all that often.
The military operates under a very different set of rules when it comes to using firearms and those rules do not translate well in protecting civilians from lone active killers in America’s cities or suburbs. My fellow Ho-jutsu students and I shoot more than they do, at least 100 rounds per month. Since I also participate in a weekly bullseye shooting league during the spring and summer, my monthly rounds count is closer to 300. If I throw in training classes and other practice sessions that means I shoot about 2,500 to 3,000 rounds per year. Does that make me a better marksman with a handgun than most police officers and members of the military are? Probably. Does that mean someone like me would be a better choice to provide
armed security at a school to protect students from an active killer? Maybe.