Please read all of what follows while keeping in mind the mission of the Civiliangunfighter blog as outlined in this first post we made over 18 months ago.
Several months ago I wrote an article describing how to take classes with a critical eye. When techniques that are taught are questionable due to reasons of inefficiency or poor tactics, we can often chalk that up to a lack of forethought or tactical acumen on the part of the instructor/program designer. However, when flagrant safety violations occur—even in the presence of multiple co-instructors—even novice students should be able to identify such events and call out their instructors.
A few days ago a video appeared on my Facebook feed. As is typical for any shocking video, it was soon picked up by more and more people and shared around the web. Be warned that some of what I will post in this article is merely hearsay, but I will be clear about what parts are “what I heard” and what parts are my own opinion.
The video was supposedly shot during a Tactical Response “Fighting Pistol” class at their home range in Camden, Tennessee, and is only about a minute in length. As Tactical Response says on their website that they have a strict “no videos” policy (odd, considering the number of helmet- and weapon-mounted video footage anyone can find on YouTube from their classes), I am not sure exactly who shot the video. However, just days ago I learned that one of the people seen in the video is Chris Henderson of the band 3 Doors Down. He was recently interviewed on Gunfightercast specifically about this incident, where he revealed that the video was shot by a fellow student. According to Henderson, the class took place about one year ago, and he had no knowledge of the video’s existence until the student who shot it sent it to him. Once it was sent to him, he felt the need to make it public. I would urge everyone reading this article to take the 40 or so minutes from their day to listen to Henderson’s interview linked above. It should put all of what follows in perspective.
The video shows what I would describe as a “typical” walking forward while shooting drill. The students, and it appears that there are about 20 in the class, start at perhaps the 15 yard line and then walk forward while shooting at the targets. I have done this same drill in other classes on a number of occasions (more on that later).
The student in the middle of the shaky frame of most of the video is wheelchair bound. His wheelchair appears to be a “standard”, non-powered, wheelchair with two small wheels at the front and two larger wheels that he pushes in the back.
The viewer may note that the targets are arrayed with about 3-4 feet between them and that every “lane” is occupied for this drill. The viewer also cannot help but notice that the ground of the range is heavily littered with shell casings, mostly spent shotgun shells.
In the video, the students walk slowly forward while shooting slowly at the target in front of each of them. It becomes abundantly clear just seconds into the video that the instructors were executing poor control over the line. The student at the far left of the frame advanced noticeably more quickly (and therefore, further forward) than the other students on the line. Much more troubling, however, was that the student in the wheelchair was really struggling. While pushing his left-side wheel with his left hand, his pistol was up in his right and he was attempting to perform both tasks at once. However, while this might perhaps be possible on a paved range or even one with only gravel, the abundance of shotgun shell casings littered about this range made his forward progress virtually nonexistent. Wisely, in my opinion, he lowered his pistol and seemed to be trying to figure out how to move forward.
Suddenly, an instructor from the far left of the frame abandoned the students he was supervising and came over to assist the instructor who was positioned with the student in the wheelchair. This second instructor then took control of the wheelchair and pushed the student forward while appearing to tell the student to get his pistol up and shoot. By this point, the students in the lanes to either side of the student in the wheelchair had finished their walk forward and were now completing a 360 degree scan of their environment.
The student in the wheelchair was now propelled forward with the instructor pushing him. As instructed, he began shooting at his target while his chair bounced around over the rocks and spent shells on the ground. Once most of the way forward, the video ends.
Let me be VERY clear about something here. Regular readers of this blog know that I am a teacher, though I have never specified exactly who I teach or what subjects I teach. I am a special educator. I work with students with a variety of disabilities including autism, emotional disturbance, intellectual disabilities, and a variety of physical disabilities. I work with a number of students in “regular” and power-assisted wheelchairs. I am also—by trade–as familiar with laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act as any non-lawyer can be. I am a firm believer in the rights of people with disabilities to get an education and have physical access to places that anyone else does (within reason, of course. I do not, for example, expect an historic lighthouse with a spiral staircase to have the ability to lift a wheelchair-bound person to the top).
I mention this because I have seen, online, some blame be directed toward the student in the wheelchair for “wanting to be like everyone else.” This is a terribly ignorant attitude. The student in the wheelchair has every right and, many would argue, more reason than most to want to obtain some self-defense training. The only things the student in the wheelchair did wrong, in my opinion, were choosing to train at this school and obeying the commands of his instructor when he was told to fire while bouncing forward.
ALL of the other many mistakes evident in this video were made by the instructors on hand and, most probably, the school in general.
Facilities—no accommodations were made for the student in the wheelchair. He should have been positioned at the end of the line and been provided with some sort of smooth surface (sheets of plywood, etc.) on which to move forward while performing this drill. At the very least, a surface not covered with spent shotgun shells might have given him the chance to perform this drill on his own.
Instruction—the instructor at the far left of the frame at the start of the video committed several errors. He abandoned the students on the part of the line he was supposed to be watching, which allowed the student at the far left to walk well forward of the others. He also seemed to be the one commanding the student in the chair to open fire while he was pushing him forward, creating a dangerous situation for the students in the lanes to either side. The instructors (not sure which or if this is collective) also erred, in making the student in the chair perform this drill at all. For several days I have been trying to imagine a scenario in which a person in a non-powered wheelchair would move forward toward a threat—propelled by only the left arm, which tends to make the chair move forward and to the right—while shooting with one hand. My imagination continues to fail me in this regard.
I posted my opinions on at least one Facebook page that had shared this video, and I was pleased that the vast majority of the viewers saw for themselves the dangerous situation displayed. However, I was shocked by those who defended the video. Most of the latter group admitted to having trained at Tactical Response (they were the ones who identified the location where this was shot, which Henderson has never, to my knowledge, mentioned), many having done so several times. Some of the things they said included:
- Tactical Response has trained 25,000 students (some said this number is a total, others said it is 25,000 per year, a number at which I find, frankly, incredible, but whatever), and no one has ever been shot in class.
- So what if there are shells on the range? Realism, dude. No one will sweep the floor before your deadly encounter!
- None of Cooper’s rules were violated
- So what if students were downrange? In a real encounter, you cannot control who is downrange
- So what if students were downrange? This teaches you to be really good with your accuracy
And the list went on from there.
First of all, for any claiming anything related to “realism” (see points 2, 4, and 5 above), NOTHING about this drill is meant to be realistic. It’s a DRILL. As noted earlier, I have performed similar (I hesitate to say “the same”) drills in at least three classes I have taken. In those cases, the instructor had us vacate every other lane and perform the drill in relays, allowing for more space between students (and targets!). The drill is meant to introduce students to moving while shooting, showing how your sights wobble while moving, how to press the shot when the sights dictate, etc.
For these realism defenders, keep in mind that, in this drill, the students are marching forward slowly like the redcoats at Lexington Green. They are shooting at static targets that obviously do not shoot back. When in “real life” will you be moving forward slowly—along with 20 of your closest friends—while shooting at a slow pace at a line of unmoving adversaries? I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this will NEVER happen. Accordingly, saying that having a questionable surface beneath your feet/wheels adds to the realism is ridiculous.
For those who counter-argue that other instructors use the same/similar drills and static targets, I agree. But none of the ones I have worked with have argued or even hinted that this drill is meant to be “realistic”. It is a drill meant to teach certain things, and tactics and realism are not included in the list of those things.
For those who argue that, in a real encounter, you cannot control who is downrange, this is true. It is also true that in a training session we can and should control who is downrange (hopefully, no one!). If it is more “realistic” to have friendlies downrange, that’s great. But one of MY goals for any training class is to make it out of the class uninjured. So it should be for all training. In one of the knife classes I took with Tom Sotis (see here and here), he was very explicit that going so hard in a class/training/practice that you suffer injury is counterproductive, since it then slows down future training while you heal and also leaves you and your family more vulnerable while you convalesce.
Regarding the claim that none of Cooper’s safety rules was violated, I think that argument was well-addressed in the interview with Henderson. While it is possible that none of the rules was violated (tough to tell in the video if the student in the wheelchair muzzle-swept anyone), the conditions were certainly set for several of them to be broken with ease.
As for the 25,000 students claim, I have no way to confirm or refute such a claim, nor do I care to. But I feel like, if this number is so heavily bragged about that all the students of said program can quote it so readily, then it is telling. It suggests a “quantity over quality” attitude; that bigger is better. I visited the Tactical Response website and read the description of their Fighting Pistol course, and it mentions that they cover what most schools do in a five-day class in just two days. This dubious claim, if true, might explain why the students were not set up in relays with an empty lane to either side of each student (No time! Gotta train! More stuff to cover!). It also might explain why the range was so littered with debris (No time to police the range! Gotta train!). Another explanation for the debris may be that it is left there as a status symbol of just how much training they do there, so that any new student who arrives there sees that this is a busy place, and busy must equal quality. How could 25,000 students be wrong?
Unfortunately, events like that depicted in the video seem to come all too often from this particular training company. Earlier in 2016, this company was banned from a major range in Sacramento, California, after one of their instructors threw his pistol on the deck and then, in an apparent effort to show how safe it was, stepped on it, causing a negligent discharge into a vehicle owned by one of the students. There are also plenty of videos and still photos available of photographers standing between targets on a firing line photographing the students shooting toward them with pistols and carbines! (I refuse to pollute this post with any such photos, but I Googled “Tactical Response Crazy Photography” and saw several right away).
While I am sure that plenty of students—perhaps even some of our readers—train at Tactical Response and have an enjoyable and perhaps even educational experience, I would never recommend this school to anyone. Their cavalier attitude toward safety, their mall-ninja attitude as related in Henderson’s interview linked above, and the fact that their leader has been a less-than exemplary emissary for second amendment rights (see here), turn me off completely. Since I started writing reviews of classes a few years ago, I have several times been offered the chance to train for free with different schools. I am going to say right here that not only would I not train with Tactical Response for free, I would not even attend one of their classes if someone paid me to go.