I'm sure you've heard to one degree or another the phrase "follow through" used as part of the principles of firearms marksmanship. It means keeping the sights on target and staying in a solid shooting position until the round has left the muzzle. It's followed by "calling the shot," a process in which shooters plot in their mind where the sights were in relation to the target at the moment the weapon was fired. Shooters typically apply these tactics when firing on the range in a relaxed, target-shooting mode.
For our purposes as cops on the street, we should address this further with a "combat follow through" mindset. This means that not only must the shooters remain on target until the rounds have left their weapons, they also must stay alive in the gunfight. To accomplish this, students should learn to go through a quick combat status check after firing by asking themselves these three important questions:
1. Did I hit?
2. Do I need more hits?
3. Is there anyone else around me that may harm me?
I was first exposed to the basic format of this mental tactical thought process while attending one of the NRA's Law Enforcement Firearms Instructor courses. It's in keeping with a saying I learned many years ago from Ron McCarthy (LAPD/SWAT, ret.). I've learned a lot from this man, including the rule " Always take your brain to a gunfight."
Did I hit?
The first question seems obvious, but apply it to a lethal-force encounter. In a lethal-force encounter, we must hit our target. At that moment, along with tons of other stress-induced issues, we may mistakenly assume our shots were on target. But if you look at the statistics on hit ratios, the truth is cops don't always get anywhere near the accuracy they should, especially when someone is shooting at them.
It's understandable, but if we miss, we must pick up on that fact quickly and take additional, appropriate steps. The only way we can get that answer is to assess what's happening with the suspect. That translates into getting our eyes and mind on the suspect's actions.
Preferably, we do this from behind cover. What're they doing? Falling to the ground, dropping the weapon, surrendering? Or are they still threatening our lives?
To help answer this, the first question should go through the shooter's mind as soon as they fire the last round, if not before: Did I hit? During a gunfight, you must know the answer.
Do I need more hits?
The second question is equally important. More force is clearly needed if the initial shots hit the target but fail to stop the lethal threat. Imagine a suspect high on drugs and/or wearing body armor. If the initial rounds to center mass fail to stop their actions, additional hits may prove necessary. The officer may even find it appropriate to transition to head shots or, if those are too difficult, shots to the pelvic girdle (hip area) to destroy that bone structure.
The point: The officer must focus on the suspect and determine as quickly as possible the answer to these first two questions. The officer then must follow up with appropriate proactive action, which may include additional shots and other steps, such as tactical reloading and moving to cover.
Is there anyone else who might hurt me?
The final question prompts officers to check their environment. This means an officer should first visually ensure the original suspect no longer poses an immediate threat. The officer then carries out a full, 360-degree scan (including "checking the six" ), and then returns to the suspect unless other action proves necessary.
To do this properly, an officer rotates their head over both shoulders with their trigger finger off the trigger while the weapon remains at the ready position. Unless otherwise necessary, the weapon should remain oriented toward the original suspect.
For decades, traditional law enforcement firearms training has had us focus downrange on one target. For a shooter to look too far to one side or the other, let alone behind them, could bring negative comments from a firearms instructor and/or rangemaster. While safety on the range remains the primary objective for all of us, trainers should blend it in with a more realistic approach to making the training compatible with the reality of a lethal-force encounter on the streets.
By safely incorporating these three questions into firearms training, I firmly believe that officers will be better prepared for the fight.