As many in the training community already know, there was an accidental shooting during a training course in Texas recently. An Instructor shot one of his assistant instructors while making a solo run through a dark live fire shoothouse. The individual was apparently either mistaken for a target or was standing adjacent to one when the instructor entered the room with no flashlight or weapon mounted light and shot three times, striking his assistant in the arm twice and torso once. There was also a student in the room at the time, who was reviewing his own performance with the assistant instructor. Based on statements made by the instructor and the range owner, it appears that the incident occurred at the end of a training day and that the instructor assumed (his own word) that the house was empty when he began his run. The Instructor has accepted responsibility for the incident and the victim is in the hospital recovering. Obviously, I am not getting into the exact Who & Where of this incident at this time, because it really isn’t relevant.
In less than an hour, I will begin running an Advanced Pistol Handling Course in St. Augustine, FL. I will do so with a renewed dedication to safety procedures and protocols. An instructor in this industry literally takes the lives of his students, and anyone else within reach of the bullets being fired during training, into his hands every time he runs a course. At I.C.E. Training Company, we stress that safety is solely the Responsibility of the Instructor running the course. If there is an assumption to be made, it is that no one else can be held accountable for rules, procedure or protocol that will keep people safe.
When I wrote the Tenets of Professionalism for Defensive Shooting Instructors, the first one had to address safety:
1. I am committed to the safety of my students, and hold that the expected benefit of any training activity must significantly outweigh any known or perceived risk of that activity.
There are many Known Risks of running live fire training in a shoothouse. Those risks multiply dramatically when there is more than one instructor running the house. They multiply again when it is done in the dark. Violate protocol and they can multiply well beyond acceptable limits. According to the range owner, in this case, anyone running the house was supposed to be guided by an instructor who would literally “hold on the the belt” of the student going through. The Instructor violated that procedure and someone got hurt.
As I get ready to leave my hotel and head to the range, I know that today this class and the students in it will be training in some very unorthodox positions and that we will do some things that some ranges don’t allow and we will be pointing the guns in directions that require special attention (including over the berm, while students are on their back and holding the gun in the ready position). This is an advanced class. The Risks & Benefits of this course have been examined and there are procedures and protocols (such as needing to have successfully completed a Combat Focus Shooting Course prior to attending) in place to mitigate the higher levels of danger involved and control risks. Someone could still get hurt. I could be the subject of another instructor’s blog article at this time tomorrow because of mistakes, misjudgements, negligence or accidents that occur under my watch this afternoon. I could be responsible for someone getting terribly injured or killed today. That is, and should be a sobering thought for anyone in this line of work and for anyone considering being a student in these courses.
The justification for any action that I take or that I allow my students to take today must be that the Expected Benefit significantly outweighs the known or perceived Risks. There cannot be any bravado, complacency or rationalization about why we are going to do what we are going to do the way we are going to do it. The only reason it is worth confronting the dangers of a live fire training environment is because we are developing potentially life saving skills.
As the industry learns more about this most recent accidental shooting in a training environment, if nothing else, let it remind us about our responsibility as instructors to do everything we can to ensure that our students remain safe while developing personal defense skills that might help them protect themselves or others in a worst case scenario. Best wishes for a speedy recovery to the man who was shot and sincere hope that the instructor in question takes the opportunity to rededicate himself to the safety of his students and empowering other instructors and making the industry stronger by continuing to be contrite and honest about the circumstances of the shooting.
Train Well… and that includes training as safely as possible!