Law enforcement agencies rigidly document their training and require regular updates of both deadly force law and the actual hands-on shooting tests known as “qualifications.” Why? Because the agencies are sued (often unmeritoriously) in a huge percentage of their shooting incidents and must therefore constantly build their defense.

Some fear that their training will be used against them in court, that the other side will argue that the defendants were so obsessed with the idea of blowing someone away in a gunfight that they went out of their way to learn how to become more efficient killers. While such an accusation might indeed arise, it is easily dealt with. On the other hand, the inability to show that the defendant did the right thing, as he or she was trained to do, seems much more likely to result in an adverse verdict in court.

Consider Case One, where a hiker was violently attacked by a madman in a remote region. As the man lunged at him, as if to take his gun, the hiker shot and killed him with his 1911 pistol. An anti-gun district attorney charged the hiker in the fatal shooting. The defendant was an articulate man who, I believe, would have given a very convincing explanation of his righteous actions on the witness stand. However, his lawyer advised him to not take the stand. He took that advice and wound up convicted of manslaughter and sent to prison.

After his conviction was successfully appealed and he was released, I spoke with the defendant. He told me the reason his lawyer insisted that he not take the stand was that it would have come out in cross-examination that he was a firearms enthusiast who had trained at Gunsite. The lawyer, the defendant told me, said the other side would use this to make him look like Rambo. In my opinion, it was this false belief that kept the defendant’s story from being told, resulting in a wrongful conviction.

My 40 years of experience in firearms training, and 30 years as an expert witness for the courts, tell me that the defense lawyer’s instincts failed him in that case. Working in the training industry myself, I am absolutely certain that, had the defendant in Case One called upon Gunsite, current owner Buz Mills or one of his senior staff would absolutely have spoken for his graduate in court. The jury would have learned that the defendant had been taught how quickly he might have been killed if he hadn’t fired when he did. They would have learned that he did as he was trained, which was the right thing to do in those circumstances.

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  • John Betancourt

    Officer “experienced an unintentional discharge that severely injured the person???” What is defensible about that? Why in the world should any shooting institute come to the aid of and take the stand for a person who has injured somebody with a NEGLIGENT discharge?? That doesn’t make a darn lick of sense!!

    Yes, the trained are defendable, but negligence is NEGLIGENCE. Let’s be reasonable, that office should have been convicted accordigly.