Training vs. Experience

Most people “know” that criminal attackers don’t take formal training classes and they assume that if an honest citizen has a couple of good target shooting classes under his belt, he will beat the untrained, poorly skilled criminal in a fight. This may be true, but in most cases it’s not. Let’s look at some hard research….
The FBI put out a publication several years ago titled “Violent Encounters: A Study of Felonious Assaults on Our Nation’s Law Enforcement Officers.” In it, the researchers identified 40 cases of serious attacks on police officers and then interviewed both the officers and the attackers involved in each case. They talked to both about the training they received, weapons usage, practice habits, and attitudes towards violence. The results were remarkable. The first thing that the researchers learned is that our assumptions about criminals not training are wrong. Nearly 40% of the criminal attackers in this study had received FORMAL firearms training (mostly in the military). More than 80% of the criminal attackers regularly practiced with their firearms, with an average number of 23 Practice Sessions per Year! They conducted these practice sessions in trash dumps, wooded areas, back yards and “street corners in known drug trafficking areas”. What that means is that the practice sessions were taking place in realistic environments, under conditions similar to those the attackers were likely to face in combat. Does that change your opinion about the abilities of your likely attacker? It should. Let’s compare the criminals’ training program with the programs of the cops they attacked…
The cops involved in these incidents all had some type of formal training at their departments, but on average, only fired their guns 2.5 times per year. All of that training was conducted on a static shooting range that had little relevance to the environmental conditions where the cops actually fought.
So, who do you think is better trained, the criminal or the cop? In this sample study, it was clearly the criminal. If you aren’t a cop and carry a concealed weapon to defend against criminal attack, how does your training stack up against the bad guys in this study? Most educated firearms trainers would barely consider at state concealed carry course as “formal training”. CCW classes are generally geared to novices and focus on safely handling a firearm rather than teaching anything that could be considered “tactical”. Yet many shooters stop their education there. It’s not enough.
What about practice? How many of you shoot your weapons 23 times a year in a realistic environment? I don’t know many people other than Special Forces Operators or SWAT who do that. The average CCW permit holder is clearly outmatched by any violent criminal similar to the type interviewed in this study.
There is another factor that is even more important than training… It’s EXPERIENCE. All training is merely an artificial attempt to simulate a gunfight experience. Clearly experience matters; we try hard doing everything short of putting students into real gunfights to give them as much experience as possible in our training sessions. In the “Violent Encounters” study, how do you think the criminals’ experience levels compared to the cops? More than 40% of the criminals identified in the study had at least one gunfight experience before attacking the officer. 25% of the attackers had been involved in more than five gunfights!
That experience changes one’s perceptions of fighting with a gun. One of the interviewed criminals summed it up perfectly when he stated: “I made up my mind that nobody was going to shoot me again.” Take a look at this guy. He was 29 years old when he was killed by a homeowner during a home invasion. He had previously been shot in 10 other incidents and survived! Do you think that he might have picked up a few insights about gun fighting during some of those shootings?
At CQB Group Intl. we train law enforcement and military for a living. It’s our job to talk to operators in the field about what works and what doesn’t. I don’t currently know a single cop who has been involved in 10 on-the-job gunfights. The officers in the Violent Encounters study had far less actual experience. Less than 25% of the officers had been involved in a shooting incident before their attacks. The largest number of shootings in which any of the officers had been involved was three. On average, each officer had been involved in four incidents in which they were legally justified in shooting a criminal, but they chose not to shoot.
Both groups had different attitudes as a result of their differing levels of training and experience. The officers went out of their way to avoid gunfights. The study noted “It appeared clear that none of the officers were willing to use deadly force against an opponent if other options were available.” Contrast that with the attitude of their attackers. The report noted “Offenders typically displayed no moral or ethical restraints in using firearms.… In fact, the street combat veterans survived by developing a shoot- first mentality.”
This study showed that the police officers were outmatched by their criminal opponents in every domain studied…training, experience, and mindset. If trained police officers are outmatched, where does that put the average citizen? It is actually quite astounding that citizens do as well as they do when they confront violent criminals! So short of becoming a thug yourself, what can you, a cop or armed citizen, do to better his training and experience?
The first thing that you could do is to increase the frequency and reality of your practice sessions. Shorter, more frequent practice sessions are more effective than long sessions that are spaced months apart. Even if you don’t have regular access to a shooting range, you can still practice drawing your gun and dry firing (ALWAYS SAFETY CHECK). There have been several research studies that have shown dry firing to be just as valuable as real shooting for maintaining marksmanship abilities.
Marksmanship and target shooting is easy, you know you are not going to be shot in the face a lying in a closed casket if you lose. Gaining valuable experiences is much more difficult. If you aren’t regularly engaging in gunfights or dealing with criminal violence it is very difficult to acquire this level of experience.
One method is to learn from the experiences of others. Even if it isn’t a direct experience, there are lots of lessons to learn by studying the success and failure of others. If you don’t know any gunfighters, then get training from them. The best type of this training is conducted at professional shooting schools and uses tightly-scripted professional role players. It is costly, but worth the expense. You will learn more in one day of this type of training than you will learn in weeks of practicing by yourself.
The mindset, training, and experiences of your opponent are outside of your sphere of influence. You can’t control them. You can control those factors in your own life. Practice often, study, and do everything you can to make the odds in your favor!

This article is was written by our friends and colleagues from CQB Group International