The Importance of Target Identification

Deputies found a 32-year-old man who said that he and his wife were sleeping when they heard a noise in the kitchen.

The husband took his handgun and walked in the kitchen area, where he shot the victim.

After the shooting the husband recognized the victim as his younger teenage brother.

Man shoots, kills brother thinking he was burglarizing home

Yet another tragic example of why I stress target identification so much. These situations are absolutely preventable. As I’ve said before, if you live with anyone else, my analysis is that there is a 97 percent probability that the ‘bump in the night’ is a member of your own household. With those kinds of numbers, gunowners cannot take the risk of shooting someone at home without establishing a positive ID.

This kind of situation is a further example of why I say we have to be very cautious of what we take of from our training, and even more so, what we read. Much of the good training available is conducted by former law enforcement or military personnel. Just as much as any of us, they are subject to unconscious biases resulting from their experiences and training. Since most reading now is done on the Internet, you have to assume everything you read is wrong because most of it IS wrong.

Responding with a firearm to a noise at night in the home absolutely requires that you visually verify your target before shooting. You probably will need a flashlight for that. And stealth is not your friend, it is your enemy. Therein lies a major divergence from the law enforcement officer or soldier, to whom stealth is an ally. The notions that ‘the light draws fire’ or that criminals will wait in ambush for you if they hear you coming are nonsensical. Those are bad paradigms for us to insert in our thinking. If your background is such that having assassins waiting in ambush for you in your own home is a concern, you need to work on some serious hardening of access points to your home.

If you keep a gun at home, put a flashlight next to your gun; no ifs, ands, or buts about it.

pistol and light

Next time you go to the range, take the flashlight with you. Instead of just blasting 50 holes in a silhouette, shoot two shots at the silhouette 25 times. Sequence is very important in how you do this.

  • Have your gun in your shooting hand and your flashlight in your support hand. The gun is not pointing at the target and the light is off.
  • Before each two shot string, say out loud “Who’s there?”
  • Wait to listen for an answer. If you go to the range with someone, have them stand behind you and sometimes respond with “it’s me, Daddy” or something similar.
  • If they say that, immediately put your gun down on the bench and abort that sequence.
  • Then illuminate the target without pointing the gun at it.
  • Finally, bring the gun up and fire the two shots.

One of the things you will find when using this sequence is that the worthwhile two handed shooting techniques don’t work well for it. Harries is both clumsy and dangerous to assume when you already have the light on the target and are keeping it illuminated while presenting the pistol. The Rogers/Surefire technique takes some time and manipulation skill to assume. What you will discover is that only the Cheek Technique or the FBI Technique work well in this context.

6 LL Dryfire cheek ready

That means you have to learn to:

  • Speak while holding your gun.
  • Abort the shooting sequence if there is not a threat.
  • Do a dissimilar task with the other hand, i.e., orient the flashlight and work the switch, while keeping your gun off target and your finger off the trigger.
  • Shoot with one hand only while continuing to perform the dissimilar task.
  • Manipulate the safety or decocker of your weapon with one hand while holding something in the other.

For the final 5 repetitions (10 rounds), put up a clean silhouette target and shoot the LAPD Retired Officer Course (10 rounds at seven yards). Measure how well you do. You’re going to find it’s a lot harder than you think.

That sequence is obviously rather involved; practice it before you have to do it for real or you’ll forget to do it or get it wrong. Forgetting to do it is what leads to tragedies.

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10 responses

  1. Reblogged this on Brittius and commented:
    Excellent! Also practice for kill zones of stairways.

  2. Nicely done, Claude. This addresses the most overlooked part of shooting, whether promulgated in training or in various written/Errornet formats — thinking, and training the mind through pre-programmed cognitive sequences for durability under stress. What your approach does is train the brain of the engaged shooter so as to enhance the decision making process while under stress. Having this experience, even without stressors during training, will translate to a better performance under stress than without the previous exposure. It’s more challenging to the preconceptions/wants of much of the shooting audience, as its not “fun” or “cool” nor overtly “tactic-cool” but certainly way more real-world than much of the “training” that meets those other wants.

    Nothing wrong with fun, cool, and tacit-cool — but for training that translates to real world and will stick under the adrenal-cocktail dump of a fight, this is the way to go. IMHO.

    Thanks for sharing your expertise!

    cheers, m

  3. Reblogged this on The Obsession Engine and commented:
    More thoughts on common home defense scenarios from a mentor, and homework.

  4. Reblogged this on Bitterroot Women's Shooting School and commented:
    Thank you (yet again), Claude Werner, for providing civilian defensive shooting students with a practical training regimen that is based on what they need to know how to do under stress ‒ even though it’s not sexy and counters what too many civilians believe they need to do when confronted with “bump in the night” events. In previous blog posts, I’ve echoed Werner’s consternation that too many civilians attempt to echo techniques and tactics that are used by combat warriors and law enforcement officers (LEOs) when clearing buildings in their training, practice, and mindset. Knowing how to do what is done by soldiers and LEOs is not the issue, but emulating them is if you’re not considering the odds and are focusing on long-shot worst-case scenarios. For example, I’ve often had people take issue with the fact that I counsel family members to communicate with one another and never attempt to “surprise” one another if there is a personal protection firearm in the household. People will counter my counsel with, “But what if my spouse/son/daughter is under duress? I’d be giving up a tactical advantage by calling out.” [//Sigh// Fine. Share a duress word, but target identification is still necessary. No shooting into the dark or through a door or window at bumps in the night!] Anyhow, I use the following Werner quote from an older blog post of his with my defensive shooting students:

    “It is 32 times more likely that the sound or shadow is a member of the household than it is an intruder. Las Vegas would really like those odds. If we’re going to be the slightest bit responsible, we have to look at ALL the possibilities, not just the ones that scare us the most. Shooting through the door without doing any kind of identification is just plain wrong.” ~ Claude Werner, The Tactical Professor

  5. smokemasterjohn | Reply

    An excellent piece on improving the judgement and manual skills associated with making the right call in the first place. I also think there is a critical need to deal with the extremely over-hyped insecurity that is the critical bread and butter of every fear monger and arms salesman, but the bane of our overall social existence as humans today. Playing on the massive case of social insecurity and FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) has made those boys a bundle and killed a lot of innocents. I would recommend this “skill session” as reading for anyone,regardless of their arms philosophy, because it highlights that YOU have the control, not the nightmares and the fear. Thanks!!

  6. Reblogged this on disturbeddeputy and commented:
    Be a good example, not a horrible warning

  7. […] a structured live fire practice routine.  You’ll also want to read Claude’s post on Target Identification.  My cop friends will also want to look at his new audio recording.  Claude has narrated the […]

  8. […] “I’m going to shoot anyone I find in my house.” That’s repeated so much by gunowners, it has become a meme. It’s a perfect example of bringing problem solving (gunfire) into the decision process (how to best protect my home and, by extension, my family). As I bring up on a regular basis, doing so periodically results in Negative Outcomes. […]

  9. […] sleep as long as they live. The saddest part of these incidents is how avoidable they are. A flashlight and the ability to verbalize ‘who’s there?’ would have prevented almost all of them. A small flashlight was included in […]

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