Book Review (Historical Handgun) – Modern Police Firearms (1974, Roberts & Bristow)

I’ve been developing a new course for KR Training, Historical Handgun, that teaches the history & evolution of defensive handgun skills.  Part of that work includes reading as many old books on shooting technique as I can find.

An Introduction to Modern Police Firearms was written in 1969, reprinted in 1974. It’s currently out of print and can be difficult to find. It was recommended to me by Tom Givens.   Authors Duke Roberts and Allen Bristow were Professors of Police Science at California State College in Los Angeles, and the book was written to be used as a class textbook in college level courses on policing, as well as in police academies in the late 60’s and early 70’s.

It’s a detailed time capsule of the status quo in police training of that era, covering all the techniques and drills that were already being rejected and revised by Jeff Cooper and others who were busy redefining the entire concept of defensive pistol training during those years.  The shooting skills content is essentially the same as police training books from the 1930’s I’ve reviewed in other posts.

Chapters

The book’s chapters cover these topics:

  1. Introduction
  2. Firearms Safety
  3. Nomenclature, Maintenance and Ballistics
  4. Basic Marksmanship
  5. Combat Shooting
  6. Courses of Fire
  7. The Police Shotgun
  8. Chemical Agents
  9. Legal and Ethical Use of Firearms
  10. Selecting a Firearm
  11. Police Recreational Shooting

The book’s two appendices include use of deadly force guidelines from a 1967 DOJ report, and from the Rochester, NY police department.

Firearms Safety

The book lists 12 rules for firearms safety (consolidation of the many lists of 10-20 rules into 4 rules by Cooper, later 3 rules by the NRA, was a significant milestone.)

As with older books on shooting, the safety rules are a jumbled mix of range rules and “lifestyle rules” (as Tom Givens describes them).  The rules, with my comments in italics:

  1. When reporting to the range carry personal weapons in a holster or suitable transportation device.
  2. Treat every gun as though it were loaded until you have personally checked it. (This implies that there a different rules for handling an unloaded gun, which is a bad idea.)
  3. Guns are to be pointed downrange only.
  4. Only shooters are allowed on the firing line.
  5. No guns are to be handled behind the firing line.
  6. Unload, load and fire on command only.
  7. Shoot only at designated targets.
  8. Never leave a loaded gun unattended.
  9. The only safe weapon is an empty weapon, and no weapon is empty until it has been checked.  Never lay a weapon down where someone may pick it up, unless it has been checked by you and left open. (Repeats their rule #2 with more words.)
  10. When a weapon is in use, never place your finger into the trigger guard until ready to fire. (The phrase “when a weapon is in use” is unnecessary).
  11. Never point a weapon, loaded or empty, at anything or anybody, that you do not intend to shoot, or in a direction where an accidental discharge may do harm.
  12. On the range, never, turn around at the firing point while holding a loaded weapon in your hand. (Same as Rule #11.)

Advice from the authors to police about “display of firearms”

Children occasionally question a police officer about his firearm or ask to see it.  The refusal to allow this should be tactful, yet firm.  It is generally accepted that one of the indications of an immature, poorly trained, unstable police officer is his unauthorized display of his revolver.  This officer frequently may be observed practicing quick draw before the mirror in his locker room (KR note: a practice recommended in another police training book from this era)…He practices dry firing when assigned to desk duty and shows his weapon to every department visitor, lost child and anyone else who expresses an interest in it.

Basic Marksmanship

The authors assume that a double action revolver will be carried, and much time is spent in the book discussing slow fire target shooting performed by thumb cocking the gun, shooting it single action.  The focus of the text is on group shooting at 25 yards, same as it was in the 1930s.

The student who faces the target directly will have difficulty controlling the elevation of his shots and will have a tendency rock back and forth…if the student shooter stands at a ninety degree angle..he will probably find that the shots spread right to left.

 

Combat Shooting

To the authors, this means using the revolver in double action, and not aiming. In addition to the 1940’s FBI approach of hip shooting, a point-shoulder position is taught.

At distances beyond 7-10 yards, the accuracy of hip shooting falls off rapidly.  This position is the same as the hip shooting position, except the arm is held straight, the gun is raised to eye level…and the shooter does not use the sights, but focuses on the target.

(KR note: 2017 IPSC World Champion shooter and trainer Ben Stoeger often discusses using a “target focus” on targets 10 yards and closer. The key difference between the modern approach and the techniques taught in the 1970s is that even when a target focus is used, modern shooters are looking at and aligning the sights, even if a perfect target shooting sight picture is not used.  Brian Enos referred to this as type 2 focus in his excellent book on practical shooting.  The shooters of the late 60’s/early 70s that were good at the point shoulder position were likely seeing the sights more than they were admitting to others.)

Many statements are made in this chapter that have been disproven or discredited over time, including:

  • Instinctive hip shooter is accurate up to approximately 10 yards (KR: if “any hit on a B27 target is considered “accurate”)
  • With practice, hip shooting is the fastest method of accurate shooting at this distance.
  • It is dangerous to condition the shooter to the use of both hands..as his (non firing) hand may be otherwise occupied.
  • It is important for the officer to begin firing as soon as possible..the first shot may not hit the suspect but it may distract him greatly. The period of time required for the officer to come to the point shoulder position (KR: less than 0.5 second for most shooters) could be sufficient for the suspect to shoot him.
  • from an earlier chapter: When a police officer exhibits lack of skill or judgment in a gun battle, the public is willing to accept such a situation with a “you can’t win them all” attitude.
  • To avoid being blinded by muzzle flash when shooting at night, the officer must be able to place his shots without holding the weapon at eye level.

Courses of Fire

This book is an excellent, detailed resource for those looking for information about how historical courses of fire were run, and their origins.  This was, by far, my favorite chapter of the book.  It included long descriptions of the nuances of the Camp Perry Police Course, National Match Course, International Center Fire Course, (FBI) Practical Pistol Course, NRA Combat Course (Police Practical Course aka PPC), with breakdown of scores required to reach Marksman, Expert, and Sharpshooter for each.

Shotgun

One chapter is spent on shotgun shooting, including hip-shooting the shotgun.

The courses of fire they recommend with the shotgun do all shooting at 25 yards with buckshot, but do not actually test hip shooting skill.

Other Chapters

The chapters on chemical agents, use of force, and recreational shooting for police officers all reflect the conventional wisdom and status quo of that era.  The shooting games recommended to police are the NRA PPC and bullseye sports, as practical shooting competitions (IPSC) did not formally exist until 1976 (and even after it began, was not considered mainstream or allowed at most gun clubs).

The chapter on use of force includes 10 hypothetical law enforcement use of force scenarios that end with questions to the reader about what actions are lawful and which are not.  These were clearly included as discussion questions for classroom use, and unfortunately no answer key is provided giving the authors’ opinions as to what the right answers were. It would have interesting to compare their views on which actions were lawful against current standards.

In the chapter on selecting a firearm, more disproven/discredited statements are made, this time regarding the 1911 semiautomatic pistol. This NRA article explains the 3 “conditions” or modes in correct detail.

  • It must be carried in the holster with the chamber empty (Condition 3)
  • It could be carried loaded with the hammer down, but must be thumbcocked during the drawstroke (Condition 2. In that mode the 1911 is NOT drop-safe, which the authors do not explain, which is a dangerous omission.)
  • When the weapon is carried with the magazine and chamber both loaded and the hammer cocked and safety locked, it is unsafe. (FALSE. Condition 1 is safer than Condition 2) For this reason, most agencies authorizing the 1911 also require a holster which places a leather safety strap between the slide and hammer when the gun is cocked.

If you’ve ever wondered why older shooters often have incorrect ideas about operation and carry of the 1911, look no further than outdated police training from the early 1970’s, where “experts” clearly unfamiliar with, and not advocates of, the semiautomatic pistol for law enforcement use present technically incorrect and tactically poor information to their students.

They recommend that a student spend $80-100 on a handgun, and $12-20 on a holster to carry it in.  Scaled to today’s prices with 500% inflation/devalued currency since the 1970’s, that ratio becomes $400-500 on the gun, and $60-100 on a holster.  They describe a poor quality $3 holster, would equate to today’s $15 nylon gun show special.

Summary

Law enforcement training, military training and even the NRA’s own training programs, all governed by bureaucracies, are slow to change.  When this book was written, major changes were already occurring – in the same state in which the authors were teaching.  Even as late as 1974, when the book was reprinted, the authors make no mention of, or seem to have any awareness of, the innovations that were occurring.  It would take another full decade for the major changes in technique and philosophy would reach the typical police academy recruit.