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Reload Image

Let’s face reality. We live in a society where many people would rather watch a movie or a YouTube video instead of physically going to a class to learn something. That’s the easy path, which in turn causes us to be spectators, making our life more about watching, and not about the action of actually and repetitively engaging or experiencing a new skill. Without that physical activity, we don’t cause our bodies to acquire new gross motor functions or fine motor skills.

If you think you can learn how to handle yourself during gunfire exchange from watching movies or Googled videos, you’re putting your life at risk, and the lives of those around you, as well. To truly prepare for a real-life gunfight, you need to know what will AND WON’T work.

For the last 30 years, I have been a technical advisor and armorer on some major Hollywood films and video games. Films such as “Heat,” “The Rock,” “Untouchables,” and games like “Rainbow Six,” “Splinter Cell” and “Ghost Recon.”

Let me fill you in on Hollywood’s best kept secret: It’s not real. But the scary fact is that I’ve actually seen other instructors reference these films and games and the associated techniques as part of their coaching.

What you see is Hollywood, not reality, and it doesn’t work the same.

Movie Mistake
Discarding Your Weapon for Another

How many times have you seen the good guy’s weapon go dry and he dumps it on the ground, conveniently finding another, and then picks that one up and continues the fight?

How does he know it’s loaded?
How does he know it’s still functioning?
How does he know the bad guy didn’t discard it because it was empty or malfunctioning?
The weapon in your hand is yours, you trained with it, you kept it running. Hey, maybe Gray Guns built it, for goodness sake, it’s the one that you’re used to shooting, STICK WITH IT!

There are many different ways to single load a firearm, if you’re using a common caliber, and I suggest you do, just take the magazine from the discarded weapon. You can load your mags later if this is going to be a whole-day affair, otherwise, every time your slide locks back, strip a round with your support thumb directly into the chamber, release the slide and shoot, repeat if necessary. This is probably quicker than reloading, loading a magazine or hoping to find something compatible or even lucking out and finding a completely loaded firearm on the ground. Unless the prop people put it there because it’s in the script. Bottom line: Carry more ammo.

Movie Mistake
One Shot, One Kill

Sorry, this just doesn’t happen when your life is on the line. Any law enforcement officer will tell you that an OIS (officer involved shooting) is based on the concept of stopping the suspect’s threat. Killing doesn’t come into the equation. The object, of course, is to stop the threatening action. You do this by firing into the central nervous system (CNS) – the spine. Imagine a two-by-four and you’re shooting at the two-inch edge, that’s the central nervous system. This leads me into another section which we will call…

Movie Mistake
Believing in Stopping Power

Bigger is better, correct? If you have to pick one, do you go for a Desert Eagle 50AE or a .45 ACP? When you hit the bad guy with one of these, the car flips, right? He flies backward through a window, correct?

Size is not necessarily the major factor. In fact, in 1986 there was a shooting in Florida where eight FBI agents took on two suspects. The first round fired by the FBI that started the actual shootout was a non-survivable wound impacting one of the suspects. Unfortunately, it was not a CNS hit, but passed through the heart. Within the next two minutes, that suspect caused the death of two FBI Agents and the wounding of five more. The lesson for you here is, caliber is not as important as shooting something with which you can be consistent. If you take into consideration the availability, it’s not a bad thought to think of calibers that are manufactured in the highest numbers.

If I can’t see it, I can’t hit it — use a light.

Crossplatform Consistency

No matter how fancy the house and how fancy the tools are used to build it, if the house is not built on a firm foundation, it’s going to collapse. The same is true of firearms training. The best way to achieve better performance in all firearms is to be consistent in your training and tools.

Most people have a number of different handguns, shotguns and rifles, so as you collect and train, do your best to make those platforms consistent. One of the simplest ways to achieve this is with the sighting systems. I myself like a U-Notch rear sight with a gold dot or fiber optic front, it works for me in low light or outdoors and can be utilized on a handgun, subgun or even a shotgun. If you have a sight picture that you respond well to, use it across your platforms. This small change allows you to consistently achieve a sight picture you are familiar with no matter the firearm you go for, in the bedroom, den, basement or out on the town.

Movie Mistake
Cocking Your Weapon

How many times have we seen the good guy get to the door and just before entering, cock the hammer back on his weapon? First of all, if it’s a single-action weapon, the hammer should be cocked with the safety on, it’s called “Condition One.” If it’s a double-action weapon, cocking the hammer just took your trigger weight from 12 pounds to 5 pounds. Now, let’s add adrenaline to that … Oh, that equals negligent discharge doesn’t it? You’re gaining no real advantage, but are creating a disadvantage because whoever is nearby just heard you.

A single-action firearm should already be carried cocked and locked if the intent is to use it for self-defense.

Movie Mistake
Chambering A Round

I think this is my all-time favorite. The good guy steps up to the door, ready to make entry, he raises the pistol to his face (gratuitous weapon and face pose) and racks a round into the chamber. Why would I be carrying a weapon that is not filled to its capacity? The ability to chamber a round in a weapon is telling me that the magazine transferred a round, leaving room in it. So prior to walking out of the house, chamber a round (you now have deleted one round from the magazine) and load another round in the magazine.

This creates both a loaded chamber and a magazine loaded to capacity. I personally can use every single round available. The one that’s missing? That’s probably the one I’ll need most. And how about the sound I’m making, just prior to my surprise entry? If you missed that point, refer back to “Cocking Your Weapon.”

Some of the pieces needed to build a foundation for protection. The 4-inch side is a good starting platform, don’t let an ego push you.

If I Can’t See It, I Can’t Hit It

Another problem we see that’s hardly ever addressed in Hollywood is illumination.

We do often see 10-12 lasers all swarming an area or the occasional light wipe across the lens but we rarely see light used for the “tactical” purpose it was intended, the “If I can’t see it, I can’t hit it.”

Over the years I’ve seen many departments go from blacked-out sights to night sights and then back to blacked-out sights. Night sights are a good tool but they are only half the formula. You not only need to see your sight, you need to “Be sure of your target and what is beyond.”

Use a light-balancing brightness to see what’s hiding. The perfect balance shows the threat but doesn’t wash it out.

A weapon-mounted light is your friend. Put it on your handgun, rifle and shotgun. What kind? What make? How many lumens? What is the candlepower? What type of switch? Coke? Pepsi? Paper? Plastic? Let’s break it down to its simplest form — the light must be bright enough for you recognize the threat it illuminates, but not so bright it washes out the area you are illuminating. So save the “night sun” for those outdoor incidents.

Movie Mistake
Watching Your Hits

The most basic firearms school will teach you to keep your eyes focused on your front sight and not the target you’re shooting at. This will cause the target to be in a slightly out of focus. If you’re only looking at the target and your sites are hazy, you’re probably not hitting the target.

But how many times have we seen in Hollywood the bad guy exploding, obvious body hits, car hoods ripped off cars, exploding walls and other gratuitous things blowing up? All these are things that actually don’t occur.

Here’s a good drill, it’s also the way I normally teach. Take that two-by-four, turn it on its end so the two-inch side is facing you, staple an International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) cardboard target to it. They’re roughly human-torso-shaped (you can also just draw a two-inch set of lines down the cardboard). Go to Goodwill, donate a few bucks and buy some old t-shirts. Slide a t-shirt over the complete target. Load three magazines.

Now, do the following: Firing center mass, shoot a magazine, reload, shoot a second magazine, reload, shoot a third magazine, all the while counting out loud, “One-thousand, two-thousand, three-thousand, four-thousand,” in a rhythmic manner, saying a number every two seconds.

When you are done firing all three magazines, safely stow your weapons and walk forward, slide the T-shirt off the target, remove the cardboard, and look at the two-by-four. How many hits do you have? If you’re not doing as well as you thought you would, try using the four-inch side. When you’re consistently splintering that side, rotate back to the two-inch.

The lesson to be learned here is to shoot at the threat until the threat has stopped, and the best way to stop that threat is to hit the CNS.

Set up the drill using different colors and patterns. The object is to get real, not Hollywood.

Start at a comfortable distance, try 5-7 yards.

A group like this is what you’re aiming for.

Movie Mistake

In the new John Wick film, we see the continuing concept called GunFu, a form of kata-enriched firearms martial art. Mr. Wick takes on numerous bad guys with at least 15 mag changes. (By the way, where are you carrying all those mags?) Spinning around, ballet, kata, floor exercise, synchronized swimming and gymnastics as a part of your shooting regimen is probably not for most of us. You’re better off training with the seven basic rules of marksmanship, using steel, wood, t-shirts and the targets like I described and taking your time. Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

If you do most of your shooting indoors or are keeping costs to a minimum, just take a marker and draw a 2-inch column down your paper or cardboard.

Over the next couple of months, I will continue to bring you practical concepts and drills, which will be advantageous to your gross motor skill and fine motor skill manipulation. Enjoy the YouTube and Hollywood fiction, but leave it at the theater and always follow the 4 basic safety rules.

Four Basic Safety Rules
  • Treat all firearms as if they are loaded.
  • Never let your muzzle cover anything you are not willing to destroy.
  • Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are aligned on the target and you intend to shoot.
  • Be sure of your target and what lies beyond.
Author’s Bio

Michael Grasso is a 34-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department, with such diverse duties as the LAPD Academy’s Senior Tactics Instructor and the Detective Supervisor of a Joint Federal Violent Criminal Apprehension Team (ViCAT). He has had the opportunity to train with and instruct LEO’s throughout the US and has been a Tech Advisor / Armorer in the motion picture industry since 1984. You can read about him further at IMDB or his site,

The author, Michael Grasso.


Editor’s note: A version of this article first appeared in the How To special issue of American Survival Guide.