law enforcement and how to handle a gun
in reality (as opposed to fiction)

an essay by allaire mikháil

date: 06 Apr 2006


The following observations are based on the content of a training course I attended in August/September 2004 in connection with my job. I do work in law enforcement, although so far I have never been in a situation in which I would have been forced to actually draw the gun I carry, let alone use it. My knowledge of how to handle a gun correctly is based mostly on what we were taught regarding a Sig Sauer P225, and the standard of knowledge of law enforcement in Germany in 2004, but the following points are not dependent on a make or model - they rely on common sense.

So if you're a writer, please do me a favor and don't blindly reproduce whatever flashy CGI effects cinemas and tv show us, but rather think and attempt to adhere to reality. Thank you.



1.    No gesturing with a drawn gun. I have no idea whether the Four Gun Rules drilled into us are considered valid in other countries, but they appear to be sound advice and should be paid attention to:

1. Every gun is to be considered loaded until a thorough check has proven the opposite to be true.
2. Never point your gun at anything you don't want to shoot.
3. Take your finger from the trigger whenever you are not currently shooting.
4. Be sure of what and where your target is.

So, just for the record -- sex play with a gun in a consensual, loving relationship (and by a law enforcement or military officer) depicted in fanfic should better include the fact that both participants have checked the gun first, and made sure that it is unloaded. Otherwise - unprofessional. Out of character. After all, our protagonists supposedly are not only more than halfway competent in their jobs, but also the good guys. Not counting Alex Krycek et al, of course. *smirk*
 

2.    No uncontrolled movements with the rest of one's body while holding a drawn gun. Never, ever, do anything with your non-gun hand that involves any movement/clenching of the fingers. It is a fact that often the other hand unconsciously repeats what the first one is doing... ergo, grip a door handle with your left hand and watch a bullet slam into your foot because your right hand mirrored the action and, well, gripped when it shouldn't have. Duh.

So - any tv cops jumping over cars and opening doors while wielding a loaded gun are very much unrealistic. Or suicidal/homicidal.
 

3.    Proper procedure for a raid on a room/an apartment. If you enter a room during a raid you'd better have at least two colleagues with you. The first waits next to the door with his gun drawn. The second has his gun holstered and opens the door, then gets out of the way fast. You, the third officer, duck in immediately with your gun in hand to hurry into the closer corner inside - below the arm of the first officer who scans the room above his trained weapon and yells the famous "Freeze!" in case he encounters a human being. The second officer has by now also drawn his gun and ducks in next, going into the other corner inside. You both check your corners for danger, and only when the two of you give the all-clear the first officer enters, and immediately moves out of the open doorway. After all, you possibly could have missed a hidden criminal who'd now be awfully tempted to shoot at the pretty, perhaps even backlit target in the doorway. Then the three of you check the rest of the room and, if there is another room, repeat the same actions at the next door.

For a raid of a bigger complex with more than one room, you need four officers plus three per room (check the building's blueprints first). If the rooms are all lined up one behind the other, each connected to the next one through just one door, you might be able to enter with fewer officers. I'll spare you the details; let's just say that arriving there with less personnel could get you all killed, so you'd better call the local PD for assistance if it's something urgent and your unit lacks manpower.
 

4.    Seeking cover behind a car. Just for the record, the only (temporarily) safe place to hide behind a car is behind the engine block. We were shown various sets of metal plates welded together to clearly depict through how many layers of metal a bullet goes before its momentum is arrested. So don't hide behind anything other than the engine, or normal bullets punch through, hit you, you're dead. End of story.
 
5.    Shooting at a car/a person driving away. Hitting a car's gas tank with a shot from your service weapon is very unlikely due to the tank's location; and even if you're lucky enough to do it, there'll be no "boom". An explosion happens only on tv so the producers can show off their pyrotechnics. In real life, the car in question just keeps losing gas until the motor stops running.

Furthermore, shooting at fleeing subjects, be they on foot or in a vehicle, is considered bad form; after all, unless they have a weapon of mass destruction (which you'd then better not hit, either), road blocks are far more effective. Supposedly you want to arrest the person(s) in question and not riddle them with stray bullets until they end up looking like Swiss cheese.
 

6.    Lack of a "slammed-back-into-the-wall" effect after being hit by a bullet. Hitting a person with a shot never, ever slams the target into the wall or floor behind him. We were told that a colleague of our weapons instructor wore the best bullet-proof equipment there is and let himself be shot at with various types of bullets and guns... and he remained standing the whole time. Even in automatic weapon fire. So, say goodbye to that particular urban legend. You remain standing. Perhaps you crumble to the floor if you're hurt and bleeding a lot (or, of course, dead). You don't demolish plaster by going flying like a rag doll. Ever.
 
7.    Ammunition used by law enforcement. Hitting a person with a shot usually means the bullet will remain in your target, and will not go through to hit other people/things - if you use law enforcement issued ammunition, that is. Said bullets have a plastic tip that's pushed into the hollow body of the bullet and mushrooms the bullet's body so that its speed is slowed considerably upon entering human flesh. Law enforcement would have lots of lawsuits on their hands if they used other ammunition and took down innocent people unlucky enough to happen to stand behind a criminal when he's being apprehended. The damage to the target will be more extensive (and the likelihood of inducing shock in that person will be higher), but that's the price that has to be paid.

As countless blocks of pork gelatine can attest to. Tests showed that their consistency was closest to human flesh - the pictures were quite sobering.
 

8.    The wearing of bullet-proof vests. As another set of pork gelatine has shown, you don't wear your bullet-proof vest on top of your normal clothing. A bullet's momentum is stopped by the vest, but its energy has to go somewhere. It usually bruises you. Only, if you get shot and happened to forget that you wore a shirt with buttons underneath, an underwire bra, or a necklace, or forgot a pen or some loose change in your breast pockets, the ER doctors might have to pick the deformed remains of said items out of your chest. We were told that it's unlikely even metal will penetrate deeply enough to enter the chest cavity itself, but even if you pen's clip doesn't pierce your heart walls - finding it about two inches below the skin is, like, not so pretty. At all. So, wear a t-shirt underneath. Nothing else. Besides, why would you want to wear your vest for all the world to see - so that the criminals you intend to arrest can line up a head shot knowing they'll never bring you down any other way?
 
9.    Shooting at a window. Hitting a non-bullet-proof windshield with a shot means the bullet goes straight through without shards flying everywhere. The deviation from the trajectory is negligible, too.
 
10.    A gun should not replace a heavy object. And, last but not least, you never, ever use your gun to shatter a glass pane. Plays hell with the delicate inner workings of the mechanism. Law enforcement personnel usually have nightsticks which are way better suited for that action. Furthermore, your weapons officer will kill you if you fuck up his baby. Bad, bad idea.

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