THE UNSEEN HAZARD
a professional weapons & tactics instructor, the term "liability"
is to me a necessary evil. Necessary in the sense that I have no
choice but to recognize and deal with its existence and evil in
the sense that it greatly restricts my options. Moreover, though
the term is used a great deal these days, most individual police
officers, agencies and even many instructors are unaware that it
actually means several different things.
other words, "liability" is applicable in other areas
besides civil law. And to ignore these other areas -- all just as
disconcerting and influential -- in favor of simple civil liability,
is, in my opinion, a grave error. In the various courses I teach
here at the American Small Arms Academy and elsewhere, I advise
students that, for our purposes, liability takes three forms --
tactical, criminal and civil.
define these, tactical liability -- do we win or lose the altercation?
Do we live or die? -- is obviously the first priority, for unless
we successfully defend ourselves, the other two don't matter! While
without question part of the equation, it isn't enough to say that
tactical liability deals with weapon-handling skills, shooting techniques
and individual tactics.
Handling Skills -- Proper Grip & Stance, Correct Loading/Unloading
and Chamber-Checking procedures, Presentation from both the Holster
and Ready and from Open or Concealed Carry, Responses to the Left,
Right and Rear, Speed and Tactical Reloading, Malfunction Clearing
and Field Shooting Positions are not only part of the package but
"must have" items. Without them, no safety or consistency
in performance is possible. Moreover, tactical flexibility -- the
ability to deal with a wide variety of situations under equally
variable conditions of weather, et al -- demands that we have a
full perspective on these skills.
Shooting Techniques -- the fundamentals of Marksmanship,Target Engagement
Philosophy, Failures To Stop, Vehicle Shooting, Shooting While Moving,
Partial, Obscured or Angled Targets and Close Range Emergency Response
Procedures are equally important, for without them, too, our repertoire
of skills is incomplete.
tactics, the principles that control how we actually behave in a
deadly environment, are no less critical. Using our eyes and ears,
maintaining distance, assuming nothing, keeping our balance, being
careful with corners and watching our sights when actually shooting
are the methods by which we bring both weapon-handling and actual
shooting skill into play. If these principles are ignored, it won't
matter much how fast you can present your weapon or how quickly
or accurately you can shoot.
this point, most training officers and instructors say, "Wow,
I had no idea it was so complex and interrelated!" and they're
right. But there's more. Tactical liability is also influenced by
more mundane things, actions that are taken and decisions made long
before any actual gunfight occurs. For example, it makes a difference
not only what kind of gun you select for on or off-duty use -- SA
auto, DA auto or revolver, or DA-only or Semi-DA auto -- but what
modifications or optional features are authorized on them as well.
departments, individual officers and trainers erroneously think
that the single-action (SA) self-loader ("auto") is somehow
unsafe because it's carried in Condition One (cocked & locked)
when imminent use is expected. Mechanically, this is categorically
untrue, for literally millions of SA autos -- most notably the legendary
Colt Model 1911 .45 and Browning P-35 9mm "High Power"
-- have been carried that way without mishap for seventy years or
the ominous appearance of Condition One carry frightens uninformed
administrators and citizens, causing it to often be prohibited on
the basis of negative public-relations (read that political) or
civil liability. Even though the SA auto is by far the easiest handgun
in the world to shoot well under stress, and even though it doesn't
require any extra training to safely and effectively operate, these
two negative factors have assumed a disproportionate amount of influence.
though their tactical superiority is well-proven, the SA auto has
become a victim of an ill-advised concern about civil liability.
If it looks ominous or threatening, even though that presumption
might be totally erroneous and based on nothing more than ignorance
or hearsay, civil liability inevitably rears its ugly head.
popular "after-market" or "bolt-on" items, too,
are sheer poison when examined from a tactical viewpoint. Extra
tight muzzle bushing to increase accuracy, excessively complex (and
thus fragile) adjustable sights, trigger shoes, ambidextrous and/or
extended slide release levers, extended magazine release buttons
and such are quite literally disasters looking for a place to happen!
they're unnecessary, cumbersome, often fragile and, because many
of them are spin-offs from some form of target shooting endeavor,
are often ill-suited for use on a combat weapon, they hinder maximum
efficiency under stress. As such, they drastically increase tactical
liability. Moreover, they can come back to haunt you from a civil
liability standpoint, too, but more on that later.
is still more. The ammunition you select is also a major source
of tactical concern. Naturally, you want the best ammo performance
possible, but have you really defined your tactical needs before
making your choice. Sure, it must have the ability to feed and function
in a service pistol under the widest-possible variety of conditions,
but for police work, it must offer much, much more.
must also demonstrate acceptable target incapacitation, exhibit
good penetration against light cover/concealment but no so much
as to present too much of a threat to downrange or uninvolved personnel,
produce the lowest possible muzzle flash and recoil and withstand
the abuses of field handling as well. And on top of all of this,
it mustn't cost too much, lest it incur the wrath of the watchdogs
of the budget, preventing its procurement entirely!
and other equipment also falls within this category, as does the
kind of training you receive. Training based on theoretical or competitive
concepts has no place in life and death situations and certificates
from instructors or schools whose training is based on such hold
as little validity in a civil -- and often, criminal -- court as
it does in a knockdown, dragout gunfight on the street.
in actual shoot-outs and courtroom trials, this fact has been proven
over and over again. So, learn techniques intended to work in the
real world, not just on a shooting range, taught by an instructor
with real-world experience and perspective. You'll find the techniques
and tactics utilized by such trainers to be far superior, especially
when the chips are down and the bullets are flying both ways!
liability entails an evaluation of how you performed during the
event as compared with the written law. Again, training is the key,
because the shooting methods and tactics you used will have come
from your training background. To, for example, engage an adversary
armed with an edged or blunt weapon when he is too far away to actually
present a deadly threat to you is guaranteed to get you put in jail
and, of course, lose the civil lawsuit that will inevitably result.
Another example -- to utilize a Ready Position that is too high
and thus points the weapon at the suspect's pelvic area often escalates
the encounter to deadly levels because he doesn't respond the way
you want him too. Put yourself in his shoes -- your attention, too,
would be focused on the gun, not what is being said verbally! In
addition, in many states, this is called "brandishing"
and is often a felony in itself.
are many tactics taught that also can get you in serious legal trouble.
I once saw a magazine article in which the author included a graphic
"how to" photo essay on how to deal with an arm's length
attacker. His method entailed striking the adversary under the chin
with the base of the palm of the shooting hand (a blow which itself,
if properly delivered, will kill or maim), thus snapping his head
rearward. Then, as he toppled over backwards, you step to the rear,
simultaneously presenting your pistol, and then shoot him as he
lies on the ground!
you do this, don't be surprised if you're charged, indicted and
convicted of at least manslaughter, with 2nd and even 1st Degree
Murder being a definite possibility! If you knock the guy silly,
how can you justify the use of Deadly Force afterwards? Things like
this are taught all the time, but have far-reaching and catastrophic
civil liability -- wrongful dead, excessive force, et al, are the
least controlled -- and most theatrical -- form of litigation. In
criminal law, there are limitations and carefully governed procedures
to guarantee due process, but in a civil suit...anything goes!
means that nearly everything you do -- weapon, equipment and ammo
selection, training received, tactical actions -- everything, is
subject to courtroom examination and justification. And if you've
made some poor choices in any of them, look out, because it's going
to get ugly real fast! In fact, a good civil liability philosophy
to have is to expect to be considered guilty until proven innocent,
the direct opposite of what is required in criminal law.
speaking, things that increase your tactical and/or criminal liability
also increase your civil liability as well. Thus is can safely be
said that the three are often irrevocably intertwined. On the other
hand, there can also be occasions in which only one or two of the
three liabilities might surface. Either way, only careful consideration
of your needs, equally careful selections of weapons, equipment,
ammunition and being especially careful when you select a source
of training, can reduce your concerns in all three areas to manageable
you can see, liability is serious business. So, be smart -- be careful,
be realistic and don't look for magic solutions or "screamin'
deals" in any of those areas or you're simply asking for trouble.
There's no such thing as a free lunch, regardless of what sharp
marketers tell you. To protect yourself, get the best, in every
way you can. Not only does your very life depend on it, but so does
your welfare and peace of mind afterwards.