If we want to become better at something, we practice it. The more realistically can replicate in practice, the thing we want to become good at, the better. This principle applies to activities that are difficult or unsafe to reproduce, like shooting a gun in self-defense.
Defensive Pistol Training—
When it comes to defensive pistol training, we want to include things like stress, decision making, problem solving, along with the technical aspects of using a gun in self-defense. The issue isn't with the principle, it's with not knowing when the danger of specific training isn't worth the benefit of “making it realistic.”
If you're looking for training, find a trainer that uses real-world principles in their training. But beware of trainers that take it to dangerous places.
For example, instructors have had students stand in front of a firing line, while shooters on the line fire at targets beside them. A crazy spin to this is where the instructor himself moves down the line in front of the people shooting, and the students are supposed to regulate their fire accordingly.
The justification for this clearly unsafe behavior is that people need to know what it's like to be shot at. In other words, people say this is good because “the training has to be as realistic as possible.” And arguing that “these are police officers” doesn't change a thing. Police miss, and make poor decisions, just like every other human being.
I've been shot at and it's an uneasy feeling. But, I responded by performing how I trained to respond to such an event. The uneasy feeling wasn't so much as to shut down my ability to perform. Sure, people freeze up under the fear of being shot, but there is nothing to say that standing on a range with people shooting rounds next to your head would prevent this from happening.
And the risk associated with standing down range while people shoot targets next to you is so very high that even if there was some benefit, it's not enough to risk death. Furthermore, when there are safe alternatives like simmunitions (non-lethal, .22 paint cartridges) or airsoft, there is just no rational reason to even attempt such risky behavior.
Damaged Hearing isn't Worth it—
I recently saw a post in an online forum about shooting without hearing protection to simulate what it would be like to be involved in a real life shooting. Of course, the question centered on “training how you fight.”
Again, there is nothing wrong with realistic training. But any potential good from said training, ALWAYS has to be weighed against the risk of performing it.
The question is not IF shooting without hearing protection will damage your hearing, but just how much and how long will it take to manifest? I have constant ringing in my ears (tinnitus), from shooting rifles and other firearm, and flying in helicopters without wearing adequate hearing protection.
I've fired guns in self defense, and the gunshot and don't remember hearing it at all. It doesn't mean my ears weren't damaged from the loud sound, but our bodies do some amazing things under stress, and it seems excluding those high dB gunshot sounds is one of them.
Again, is it worth it to shoot without hearing protection so you “know” what it's like to shoot without hearing protection in a real-life event? If you simply have to experience shooting without hearing protection, go for it. But understand you're purposefully damaging your hearing to some degree and not receiving any training value from it.
Get a good pair of hearing protection and wear them!
Is this the biggest issue in the training world? Probably not. But I hope it helps you stay safe when training with an instructor or on your own.
If you like this content, consider checking out our Concealed Carry Podcast where we discuss all topics relevant to the armed citizen. If you're an instructor, we have the Firearm Trainers Podcast. And if you're a law enforcement officer check out our Off Duty on Duty Podcast.