ASAA   Europe

1C

LIABILITY: THE UNSEEN HAZARD

As 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.

In 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.

To 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.

Weapon 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.

State-of-the-art 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.

Individual 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.

At 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.

Many 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 more.

Still, 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.

Even 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.

Many 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!

Because 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.

There 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.

It 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!

Holsters 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.

Both 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!

Criminal 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.

There 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!

If 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 ramifications.

Last, 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!

This 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.

Generally 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 levels.

As 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.

 

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Additional information about ASAA is available. Please email me directly at:
chuck@chucktayloramericansmallarmsacademy.com

American Small Arms Academy
PO Box 12111
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