By Danielle Breteau
Most people who pick up this magazine or read this blog might have actually handled a firearm, maybe even twice. At some point, you might have had training, whether it was formal i.e., law enforcement academy/military training or a bit more relaxed such as plinking with friends or family, on a range. Either way, there are cardinal rules one must always follow. These rules are usually touted in the same manner that we use to recite the pledge of allegiance in the classroom. It is doctrine. Let me refresh your memory:
1. Treat every firearm as if it’s loaded.
2. Never point a firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy.
3. Always be sure of your target and what is beyond it.
4. Keep your finger off the trigger until you are on target and ready to fire.
There are various versions of this, usually much longer but these four rules are always part of the program. I draw your attention to number four. When an instructor is working one on one with a student, it is usually clear when the student has inappropriately placed their finger in the trigger guard or is not handling the firearm in a safe manner but what if you are teaching many people at once. It is not always obvious when someone might have slipped their finger into the trigger guard, even to the new shooter, who may be uncomfortable or busy considering the other 57 rules they must learn when on the range or handling a firearm.
Lets look at the training aspect here. What can you do to train in a safer environment until the students get it? I know, blue guns (or red, whatever, a plastic molded gun)! Blue guns are great for training people how to hold a firearm, holster it, handle it, deal with it, etc. This was a great idea and another excellent use of those plastic dolphin-molding machines.
Moving on to the 21st century, and the adage “necessity is the mother of invention,” there are products out there that address some the shortcomings of current training tools. Western Shooting Journal recently had the opportunity to interview Mike Farrell, owner and founder of Smart Firearms. Picture a smart blue gun. A training tool that will tell the instructor that the student has let their finger drift into the trigger guard or onto the trigger, at an inappropriate time. This training gun is designed to set off an audible alarm when this “faux pas” happens, but get this … It is smart enough to know when you should and should not be on the trigger. There is an infrared sensor that knows when your finger is inadvertently accessing the trigger or when you actually intend to be there. There is an algorithm set to calculate these actions and unless you are a rocket scientist or electronics engineer, let’s suffice it to say that it is a “smart” tool.
What many do not realize is in the training environment, many bad habits start forming in the blue gun stage. Instructors across the country have adopted the idea that they will simply correct the trigger invasion once they are hot on the range. The problem with this, and one of the reasons it is extremely important to handle any firearm, including a fake one, as if it were loaded, is you build muscle memory every step of the way. I used to think it was ridiculous, when I was in the police academy, that the instructors seemed to overreact when someone muzzled (pass the muzzle of a blue gun over an area not intended for destruction) a fellow cadet. I remember thinking “Surely the instructor knows it’s a piece of plastic.” Having now instructed many students, I have all the respect for that concept and have seen many negligent discharges from new and seasoned shooters.
Another common aspect to training is the “notional” training. The area in training where you do not actually “do” a specific movement but verbalize that at a certain point, you would go through this or that motion. There have been countless times where the notional action has caused a vast amount of confusion between the student and the instructor, much to the exasperation of both. Scientifically, it has been proven that if you do not properly conduct the movement in training, you most likely will not do it when you need your skills the most. The more realistic the training, the more profound the muscle memory and this is where intelligent training tools, create a more realistic environment from the beginning and thwart bad habits.
Smart Firearms is currently distributing their second generation and is already working on the third. Their progressions are directly related to the feedback from law Enforcement agencies nationwide who originally had the units for testing and evaluation purposes. The original algorithms were based on two to three sensors and are now calculating over 121 different feeds. All of that calculation for one movement of the trigger finger.
While talking to Mike, who hails from an in depth pilot background, hence highly technical and subject to perfection, he was passionate about the process and the goals for the unit. There are currently over 42 law enforcement agencies and security companies – nationwide and beyond – which include Dougway Proving grounds and the Phoenix police department who use this device. Mike says the proof is in the returning customer. Most, if not all of his clients who purchased a few to “see how things go” have returned to purchase even more and have fully integrated the Smart Firearm into their curriculums.
When I asked Mike what drove him to start creating this training aid, he said, “We, as a society, ask a lot of our police officers. I believe officers should be provided with nothing but the very best in training equipment if they are to be held to very unforgiving standards. The consequences, for the officer personally, the agency they represent and the citizens they serve, are frankly too high to risk getting it wrong through the use of substandard, outdated training equipment.” Mike went on to say, “We also believe that a PHD level of knowledge exists in the Firearms Tactics/Defensive Tactics units which is, for the most part, completely ignored at the chief level. Our device aside, the answers to most of the use of force issues, confronting police departments around the country, are being answered daily in these units. I have talked at length with hundreds of instructors from all over the country and it is a common theme that most police officers are simply not given enough repetitions in critical functions to properly build correct muscle memory. Muscle memory becomes very important to an officer in a stressful situation. When the heart rate goes up, fine motor function and executive reasoning all starts to suffer. That officer is left to fall back on the training they have received to see them through the day. If a function was not done enough to become ingrained as a gross motor memory, the odds are it will not be carried out correctly.”
We could not have said it better ourselves. I am always open to new concepts and ideas and try my best to see the possibilities in anything I find. What may not be perfect now is possibly a product that is on the way there. We think the concept of this product is fantastic and it appears that agencies that have it, use it and are on the cutting edge of the ever-progressive training standard. – Danielle Breteau