The purpose of fighting is to win. There is no possible victory in defense. The sword is more important than the shield and skill is more important than either. The final weapon is the brain. All else is supplemental.
John Steinbeck (and props to Wes Doss for the use of such an awesome quote in LSL)
Let me make one thing clear from the outset: Wes Doss is the man. He didn’t even pay me to say that. And there’s something else: if anyone has ever told you that running around your house at night when no one else is home making pewpew sounds and getting in some dry fire practice with a weapon mounted light is not legitimate training, they don’t know what they’re talking about. Because this class made a couple of things very apparent to myself and all of the other participants I talked to. First, we as shooters, trainers, or law enforcement officers simply do not train enough in low light conditions. Second, running around at night with a weapon mounted light (and a small amount of low light shooting in the past) made me a lot more comfortable with the functions on the lights I choose to use for self-defense than I would have been otherwise. And without jumping too far ahead, I will just reiterate that familiarity with your equipment is a key part of making my first point less glaring, should you ever have to use that equipment.
Lights Sights and Lasers is a seminar designed by Wes Doss, founder of Khyber Interactive Associates, LLC, and taught around the country each year, but it is different than a lot of other classes in that it is entirely sponsor-funded. What that means is that the law enforcement officers, military members, and trainers who take this class don’t have to fork over the $500 per person fee that a lot of other classes charge for this type of instruction (most of the time, justifiably). Wes doesn’t want the cost to keep law enforcement or military guys from being able to get training that he will make clear in the first hour of instruction is very necessary but also very under-appreciated in most departments’ curriculum.
LSL originated with a collaboration between Doss and XS sights in 2012, and the tour was born in 2013 after a lot of logistics talk with sponsors and departments around the country. Khyber aims to reach as many law enforcement officers and military personnel as the venues will support. Wes wants people to get this training because he cares about the lives of first responders and military guys out there risking everything on a daily basis.
The first portion of the class was spent in the classroom session and then we all hit the range. As a history buff, I really appreciated what Wes had to say in the classroom. First off, he laid a solid foundation from the outset for why this training is important. The gist of that conversation was that officer-involved shootings around the country are patently visible evidence of training deficiencies that no region is immune from. San Bernardino, for instance, in 2015, involved officers firing 485 rounds. Of those 485, an estimated 102 hit the vehicle. “We have to train past this,” Doss said. He then proceeded to walk through a history law enforcement hit ratios, which remained more or less constant at about 23-25% from 1953 to the present date. And this should not shock us when all sorts of other professions require more than the 6-16 hour average of annual training required by most police departments annually.
Wes has been involved in various law enforcement and military roles for a long time, and he doesn’t mind looking people in their faces and telling them to step their training game up if they value their lives. Doss, who also holds a PhD in Performance Psychology, explained that he went into the field he chose because it was the closest thing he could study to what law enforcement and military encounter on a regular basis. The study of what your mind does and how you react when under duress is what inspired parts of the LSL curriculum, which Doss describes as an advanced skill program rather than a basic marksmanship class. In other words, it focuses on what you need to do—it leaves the how component up to whatever training you have, in part because of all the different methods taught in departments across the country. So if Wes tells attendees to put two shots on a target in 1.5 seconds, he is expecting that every person in attendance has enough experience with a firearm to at least attempt it without endangering themselves or anyone else.
Wes set a clear goal from the outset: think critically about how you are conducting your training. This is analogous to the Socratic paradox—know that you know nothing. Bottom line: if you can’t look at your training and understand what you need to change about it, you are not thinking critically about it. Granted, there are some problems that are difficult to train around, and Wes highlights them. For one thing, there is a correlation associated with a phenomena called emotional contagion—the more officers involved in a shooting, the lower the hit percentage typically is. And it’s true that it’s difficult to predict how anyone will react when rounds start flying in both directions and their fellow officers begin shooting out of fear for their lives. But not trying to train for a better result should not be the alternative.
Likewise, misleading threat cues can be a major problem with training programs. The percentage of officers who either (a) shoot unarmed persons or (b) are shot by persons they do not realize are armed is indicative of the fact that a whistle or a buzzer being all that we train with makes it very difficult to determine the proper time to escalate one’s use of force. Too early and you risk an innocent life; too late, and you risk your own. And while there isn’t any great way to train for this either, Wes does what he can to make sure the buzzer does not always mean “shoot now,” which makes you think about what you’re doing when you hear it in his class. By mixing up what the stimuli mean, he hopes attendees will leave thinking about what they’re doing rather than simply waiting for a beep or a whistle on the street.
Although gear has gotten better, the world has become more and more dynamic, and law enforcement officers are under more scrutiny than ever before. So making sure we do what we can to keep our training as dynamic as possible is very important. Because of that, “[w]e cannot continue training the same way,” says Doss.
Law enforcement officers do not dictate the time or the circumstances of engagement, so they have to prepare for something to happen at any time—and many times, criminals pick low light scenarios as opportune times. Most firearms training does not adequately address the element of spontaneity. The rules of engagement place a premium on identification and threat discrimination, but if all training requires is that an officer shoot a target when they already have the pistol at the ready, it isn’t really training officers for reality at all.
Disclaimer: I am not law enforcement or military. And I am not writing this to judge law enforcement training practices. But I do value law enforcement lives, so if Wes standing in front of a room of guys telling them to train more and train better saves one of their lives, the message was worth the risk of offending someone’s sensibilities.
On to the range session…
I didn’t want to run a competition setup when everyone else was running a duty setup, so I took my HK VP9 with a Streamlight TLR-1 attached. The gun rode in a Blackpoint Tactical light-bearing rig. Range time began with some easy warmup drills out of the holster in the middle of the day and progressed steadily from there. Drill 1, which was a great warmup for people whose hands were cold from the classroom time, was a draw and one shot at 3/5/7/10/15 yards. We did this a couple of times to get the blood flowing.
Drill 2 was 50 rounds at 3/5/7/10 yards and involved 2 buzzers. The first buzzer was a draw; the second was to fire 2 shots and reholster.
Drill 2B as I called it, was a variation of the last one that I really liked. Again, two buzzers, but Wes changed what each of them meant. At the first beep, participants drew and fired two shots; at the second, they did nothing and kept their finger indexed. After that, everyone reholstered and got ready to go again. Here, the other wrinkle I liked was that the par time began at 3 seconds and was steadily reduced to 2.5 seconds, 2.25 seconds, 2 seconds, 1.75 seconds, and 1.5 seconds. Wes wanted people in this class (a) thinking about what they were supposed to be doing and (b) pushing the speed envelope once “force time” started. And yes, the sound of rounds popping off after the second buzzer lent a lot of credibility to Wes’ position on the need to train with more than one type of stimulus.
Drill 3 was a target with circles drawn on it (shown). The gun started with three rounds in it and three rounds in each spare magazine. At the whistle, participants drew and fired one shot at the “1” circle, two shots at the “2” circle, reloaded, and fired three shots at the “3” circle. The par time was 7 seconds. Everyone’s numbers were in different orders. I loved this drill and have redone it both as we did it at LSL and as modified for indoor shooting range use without a holster but with a lower par time.
At this point, we started doing moving drills, both forward/backwards and laterally. And as the sun started to sink below the horizon we began doing drills with our backup lights (mine was a Streamlight ProTac 1L-1AA).
At the end of the night there was a shootoff once it was fully dark, and the winner got about $1200 worth of gear from various LSL sponsors. We shot in random order (not the order on the list shown) and were allowed to heckle, shine lights on, yell at, or rattle the shooter in any way we could without touching them—basically anything to cause a feeling of duress—which was both fun and ridiculously entertaining. Each miss was a 5 second penalty, which meant that a single miss knocked you out of the running for the win. For this, I and many other participants chose to use weapon mounted lights. And although my time held up for most of the shootoff, I was eventually bested by the last shooter of the night by .61 second, as you can see from the scores. Media creed—the score I earned has to be shown. Full disclosure: I didn’t win, but I’m not mad about silver. Having said that, though, one sobering aspect of the shootoff for me was the realization that no matter how good of a shooter any of us is, you never know who you will be going up against. Second place in a training class is great, but second place in a gunfight…well…not so great. So I left LSL determined to train even harder moving forward.
Lights Sights and Lasers just opened registration for the 2018 tour, which begins this March. I am hopeful that any LE personnel or military members who are reading this and have the time and the opportunity to register for a class near them will do it. It’s free—because Wes and his sponsors want you to get this training. And hey, it’s a heck of a lot of fun hanging out with a bunch of people who care enough to be there bettering their skillsets just like you. Hope to see some of you out there this time around. HP
Photos by Hye Chong Doss/HCD Action Photography (and author).