Bad guys, especially organized and motivated ones, like those pulling off bank robberies, home invasions, kidnappings, and terrorist acts often roll in packs. So scanning and assessing the area for other threats has become a drill I teach and often see. Unfortunately, many instructors and students don't understand the reason behind the skill; and because of safety concerns and liability, proper execution of the process is not carried out during live fire. What this means is …
… you are learning a technique improperly, and missing the purpose.
I know I am going to rub some people the wrong way, but it is important to me that people understand not only the HOW of what they are doing but the WHY.
Scanning for Additional Threats:
Chances are you already do it. After you shoot you're scanning to the right and left, making sure there are no more threats. You may even look behind you to check for additional threats. Typically I see scanning done with the firearm still extended, finger off the trigger and slowly moved from right to left, maybe in an 11 o'clock to 1 o'clock sweep across the initial threat area.
As the scanning progresses further to the right and left (the shooters 9 o'clock to 4 o'clock) the shooter's position collapses to some variant of a high-ready position. You look behind to your 6 o'clock while keeping the gun pointed toward the original threat area.
There are a couple reasons. First the not so obvious one: Scanning the area, or breaking your focus on one object can stop the tunnel vision that occurs under stress and limits our ability to see things in our periphery.
The second and more obvious reason is that in a true deadly force incident you won't be on a range where all the threats are downrange. There may be one or several attackers, and they may be at your side or behind you. So while scanning for additional attackers you are deliberately looking for people with weapons or preparing to physically assault you.
Why You Have Been Taught Wrong:
If the above description of how you are assessing the area for additional threats sounds familiar, you have been doing it wrong. It is the WHY of what you are doing that should help you understand why I say this.
Remember the reason we are scanning is to locate additional threats so you can also quickly and efficiently engage them. We can quickly and effectively address threats located immediately to the left or right of the original target; because we are already in a good shooting position.
What about as we scan with our heads further to our flanks? If we simply move our head to the right and left, keeping our gun facing the original threat (downrange) we may see the threat, but are not in a position to properly address it.
Now you have to either rotate your torso independently of your feet or change foot position while reorienting the gun toward the threat. This takes a ton of time and is an inefficient way to engage threats.
Think of it this way, you're on the range and want to engage a target quickly. Do you first, face 90° to your right and point your gun in that direction? Then, when you hear the beep of the timer first, look to your left while keeping the gun pointed down the line, identify your target, and only then turn your whole position to address the target? Probably not.
Still tracking …
This problem is exacerbated when we look over our shoulder to check our 6. Again when performing this check, you aren't in any sort of position to use your firearm should you actually see a threat. You don't have a balanced position where you could defend against a close attack, or even just a push.
The Correct Way:
First, think about not being a stationary target. If we are engaging an attacker, we are likely moving toward cover, a better position, creating distance if appropriate, or moving to make ourselves a moving target. Extend this desire to move to your searching for additional threats.
Think about it, if you just subdued an attacker, and are scanning for additional attackers, wouldn't you want to move so you are not a stationary target to those guys too? So movement while assessing for additional threats is appropriate and pretty simple.
- When assessing for additional threats we should be doing it in a way that actually lets us quickly and effectively address them, so we should remain in a good position. Because you were focused in this area, to begin with, you should have a pretty good idea of any additional threats in front of you. See a bad guy, assess and engage if appropriate. You are likely moving during this stage, either shooting on the move or possibly moving, and pausing to get good shots on target, then moving again.
- Scanning our flanks and rear, the process is mostly the same, however, we have no idea what is there. It is even more important to keep from becoming a stationary target. As we assess the area, we rotate our entire position, along with the firearm so we can effectively address any threat.
- The movement involves stepping forward into the area we know is secure. We index our firearm in a compressed, ready position so we can better retain our weapon. We bring our off-hand up to protect us from a close quarters attack. This movement places us in a well-balanced position and allows us to engage a potential threat with our firearm or a hand strike.
A quick note about when to scan: Scanning for additional threats may be appropriate in a lot of situations. However if you find yourself in a location where a threat cannot physically exist behind you or it is impossible for there to be another person, say in an elevator, scanning is unnecessary. In other words, use common sense.
Why Were We Taught the Wrong Way?
The answer is simple, safety. The vast majority of ranges do not allow for 360° or even 180° training. Meaning if we turn our body and orient our firearm down the line or up range, range officers, shooters and basically anyone in the area is going to go berserk. Most ranges and instructors are hesitant to take on the extreme liability that comes with allowing this movement with a loaded firearm (even if it is still pointed at the ground).
In an effort to inject some realism into the scanning process, while still maintaining a level of safety, I have seen at least one instructor instructing students to check their 6, by pointing the firearm straight up in the air and slowly turn around. Generally, I don't think straight up in the air is a safe direction, and scanning to the rear like this really doesn't put the students in an effective position to address a threat.
Another reason some still instruct this way is they just haven't thought about the WHY of scanning for threats. Once you realize why you are looking behind you, it will become evident why quickly glancing behind you is not effective.
What Can You Do?
Okay, I strongly advise against performing 360° turns with your firearm at the local range. That is probably a good way to get banned or shot. I do recommend including some turns to the flank and to your 6 o'clock in your dry-fire routine. Keep that good high ready position and when you turn, assess a threat and engage.
Additionally, seek out an instructor who holds classes that allow for this. Expert instructors like Michael Seeklander, Dave Spaulding, Pat McNamara, Rob Pincus, and Greg Elifritz, to name a few, provide high-level classes that allow advanced tactics. Being able to receive instruction like this is why training from quality instructors is so great.
If you scan ‘the old way' you're not doomed. I actually commend that you have realized the importance of scanning the area for additional bad guys. I just hope with this article I can help you inject a little more realism into that process, so you are ready for that secondary threat that may be right behind you.
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