Firearms Safety under Stress

Firearms Safety under Stress

Having been in several high-stress incidents where firearms have been in play, I can personally attest to the importance of keeping the firearms safety rules in the front of the mind during such an event. Now this post is not meant to be the ever present Monday Morning Quarterback that is prevalent in any officer involved shooting but instead to illustrate the importance of keeping your dang finger off of the bang button… its saved my bacon a few times.

Here’s the video:

Again… I am not criticizing the officer here. This video is being used as a training tool. Thankfully the subject was only wounded and not killed. I believe that the officer was simply working far faster than he could process and that his training was woefully insufficient.

I do commend the officer for keeping his trash packed and rendering aid to the subject in a very professional manner. This is definitely one of those “Dear Chief….” type moments that all cops hate and I guarantee that it would be worse off if this was a civilian doing the shooting. Bottom line is the officer was correct and followed policy and procedure when drawing a firearm to conduct a felony stop after a pursuit.

Training: Practice Makes Crap. PERFECT PRACTICE Makes PERFECT

We have said it several times before. If you’re not practicing properly, you’re only reinforcing bad habits. The officer involved in this shooting was asked the following:

The detective asked if firearms training 20 days prior when Soppeland fired 50 to 100 rounds was a factor. Soppeland said it was.

“I feel the muscle memory from that recent training of squeezing the trigger contributed to the unintentional discharge during a high stress situation,” Soppeland said in the report. – PoliceOne Article, 25 Jan 2016

Well… any training that I have ever run, both in the Law Enforcement and Civilian realms, has included a safety brief that covers the four basic tenants of firearms safety (in no order of importance):

  • Keep your muzzle pointed in a safe direction at all times, until you have a reason to fire on the target
  • Keep your finger off and away from the trigger, preferably along the ejection port of the weapon, until you are on target with the expressed intent to fire AND an acceptable sight picture is obtained.
  • Maintain Situational Awareness AT ALL TIMES…. YOU are solely responsible for all rounds fired and their intended/unintended impacts.
  • Know the status of your weapon at all times. Period.

Another point of contention with the officer’s statement here is that 50-100 rounds is, while unfortunately normal in law enforcement firearms training, incredibly insufficient to be considered “training”. Its a warm up. Period.

Our annual department qualifications will run each officer through 50-100 rounds just for the course of fire. In Massachusetts there is an additional statutory requirement to fire an additional 100 rounds worth of “training” that is separate from the qualification course of fire.

Clearly here the officer had his finger on the trigger as he brought the gun up. Whether or not this is a true “training scar” will be up for debate but this is clearly a no-no.

This is also why we toss in the random threat commands…. “baby… with a gun, anyone?”

We all know that it isn’t training… although you can get quite a bit done with 100 rounds if you do it right.   Unfortunately it is hard to implement a larger scale training program with budgets getting slashed across the board.

I personally will not be ok with turning around and pointing my finger up the chain for a “lack of training” when I can take action myself to prevent such a negligent discharge from occurring.

Civilians don’t even have the option. Get training and get it often to sustain your skill set.

Take your pistol skills to the next level at Defensive Handgun 1

Take your pistol skills to the next level at Defensive Handgun 1

I will continue to beat folks over the head with these rules for the rest of my life. It’s pretty simple folks… Keep it pointed in a safe direction until you are ready to fire and keep your finger off of the trigger until you have an acceptable target, sight picture, and the ROE allows you to make the shot. Firearms safety is a constant thing… never place anything else at a higher priority.


We are all affected by stress differently. I know from my past experiences that my world seems to slow down a la The Matrix (minus the killer shades and Kieanu Reeves demeanor…. and flexibility) and it almost becomes an out of body experience. Now in real time things are happening lighting fast but the key is understanding that the physiological and psychological effects of the fight or flight mechanism can be controlled, harnessed even, to ensure a positive outcome.

In the instance of the video a pregnant pause would have done wonders and kept the officer from overrunning his sights.

Take a breath… see what you need to see. Process it. Formulate a plan. Enact the plan.

Thanks again for reading and as always, leave us a comment below and give this post a share!

Robert Curran

Rob is co-owner of Tactical Dynamics Firearms Training and is a USMC veteran and active Law Enforcement Officer. Rob is a Sig Sauer Master Rated Firearms Instructor and holds several other ratings from various institutions.

  • Rick
    Posted at 10:53h, 29 January Reply

    WOW. I felt my chest tighten once I realized that the guy pulled over had been shot. At first I thought that the rounds had gone somewhere else. When I teach safety, I put “finger off the trigger” a rule #1, not #3. I figure that if the trigger isn’t pressed, nothing bad should happen.

  • Kurt Weiland
    Posted at 16:24h, 29 January Reply

    Damn! What a bad situation to put yourself in. As a former line Infantryman, I completely understand the need to slow down, process, decide. Like you said, things are moving at light speed in real time but with proper training and lots of it it’s just like you said “matrix like”. Nice lesson.

  • Taylor Bishop
    Posted at 13:14h, 29 May Reply

    Thanks fr these tips for a firearm. I’m glad you mentioned that you should try to make sure that you are aware of the situation at all times. It seems like a good way to prevent any accidents, especially with a gun.

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