Monday, October 31, 2005

Brass in the Pocket

My brother the cop returned from the firing range, where he and his colleagues had undergone firearms training using new techniques. It was good, he said, to have their thinking periodically challenged. Qualifying by firing at paper targets from a stationary position, with no one shooting back, made it easy to fall into a routine. To forget what you were really trying to do out there — that it's about survival, not marksmanship.

The new training, he explained, did more to simulate stressful situations where the officers would be under fire, requiring them to move and make decisions on the fly. (As someone once said, if you really want to practice for an actual shoot-out, first, poop in your pants.)

Back in 1970, a tragic shoot-out involving two bad guys and four California Highway Patrolmen helped change how officers are trained to deal with dangerous situations. Reconstruction of the incident in which the CHiPs were overpowered revealed that some officers had paused to fully reload. The brass from their expended cartridges was found in their pockets — a repetition of what they did on the firing range, so the range master didn't have to clean up the empties at the end of the day.

Under stress, the men had reenacted what they'd practiced — good range etiquette.

Most of us will never have to perform in such a life-and-death situation. We should respect those who are called upon to defend us, and be careful to presume how people will act under extreme pressure. And I wonder in my own life, what habits am I grooving that could come back to bite me when I act reflexively?

Where is the brass in my pocket?


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