I’ve been generous lately in my praise for the skills that competition and competition-orientated practice develop. Note that many range drills are competition-orientated or competition-influenced even if the shooter doesn’t realize it and only thinks he/she is practicing to be “better”. But there are downsides too, of course, and I’ve mentioned some of them in the past: programming yourself to shoot too fast (faster than you can see what’s going on), not learning to use and stay behind cover, and exposing yourself to too many (that is, more than one) BG at a time.
Another related shortcoming of most training is the failure to develop assessment skills before shooting. Most range sessions involve non-judgement targets that the shooter strives to shoot as fast as possible. Shooting fast is a skill, not an objective! Before you can shoot someone you have to first determine that they present an imminent threat of death of grave bodily harm. That requires seeing who they are and what they are doing. Someone who pops up with a gun is not necessarily a threat – they may be an armed good guy, possibly a PO (many blue-on-blue fratricides, for example, were the result of not assessing before shooing).
Paul Howe has addressed this point often, saying “you have to see before you shoot”. He advises that you first assess the whole person, and then collapse your vision to his hands. This advice is gold from a man who has been there a lot. His combat-proven advice is in contrast to the “focus on their hands” instruction that so many “trainers” without actual experience promulgate. If all you see is the gun in someone’s hand, you will be inclined to shoot. By contrast, if you first see the whole person, maybe in uniform, maybe with a badge, or maybe just generally not appearing to be a BG, and then you see the gun in his hands, you will be less inclined to make a bad shoot. We have a moral and legal obligation to assess properly before we shoot, and we have an ethical obligation, if we carry a gun, to train to make those assessments. Force-on-force scenarios, even if with nothing more than blue guns, go a long way here. In his vast experience training SWAT team members, MSG Howe says that he consistently sees a serious lack of F-o-F training, and a corresponding lack of assessment skills.
But, but…there’s a price to be paid for assessing prior to shooting. In general, for a civilian, if you cede the time it takes to assess a potential threat to a person who is actually a threat, then that BG will often have time to shoot/attack you first. There’s no getting around the law of reaction times, assessment times, and OODA loops. You can mitigate but not eliminate this inherent disadvantage by proper positioning, use of cover, and superior observation skills (seeing it coming or developing). The saving grace in a civilian context is that the BGs are usually seriously behind the OODA loop once you start moving (drawing, etc) because they simply don’t expect a fight.
There is after all a price to be paid for living in a a civilized society.