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Theory Is Just Theory - Frontline Debriefs (permalink)

Students often ask me: “So and so has a theory about gunfighting—what do you think of it?”

Well, first and foremost, what is he basing this theory on and what is his actual background as it pertains to such a theory? Does he have a real-world background over a protracted period of time upon which to base this theory? Has he ever applied it? Has anyone he has taught applied it successfully? Has it been applied on numerous occasions in documented shootings? Have these numerous applications been successful? Has he ever had to justify this theory, or its application thereof in the field, to a shooting review board or use-of-force investigation? Has anyone he has ever trained had to justify it to the District or City Attorney’s Office or the courts or juries against opposing attorneys?

These are just some of the questions I would personally pose. If the answers keep coming up “no” or “I don’t believe so,” I would be somewhat skeptical of the theory itself.

You can have all the theory you want in ping-pong, badminton and fishing. A ping-pong ball to the lips is a fairly sus-tainable injury. You miss the shuttlecock and perhaps you’ll get the next one. You lose the record trout, then lie about it—what the heck, it’s just your word and that of the mystery trout that can’t seem to be located at the moment.

Gunfighting is altogether different. The stakes are very real and long-lasting. The answers required to your actions are very real. The personal consequences to basing your life on a theory would seem to be self-evident.

Some “theories” are pure marketing spin, which seems to be the standard of the day. I gave up on this some time ago when “experts” began falling from the trees faster than leaves during a New England autumn. Some of this stuff is just pure foolishness and downright unsafe. It is also predictable in its outcome if ever applied in the real world: not so great.

I like to apply a reasoned, common-sense approach to any theory that has the prospect of being put to the litmus test. This is especially true if I am placing my life behind a specific theory. I also know that certain theories have with-stood the test of time in hundreds if not thousands of incidents. I tend to gravitate toward theories that have worked for others.

I can tell you with a fair degree of certainty that you cannot “will” a bullet into the target no matter how hard you concentrate. You can certainly try, yet to date it has not proven itself. This would be analogous to bending a spoon from across the room through psychic force of will.

When I first joined the LAPD, you had to have a hat on at all times. Forgot your shotgun? Forgot your pistol? Forgot your bullets? No problem. Did you have your hat on? Yes. Very good, and remember, this will reflect positively in your rating report!

I was on a bank robbery with suspects, dutifully and tactically deployed behind the patrol car door with the shotgun. The captain came up behind me. “Reitz, where’s your hat?” (He was standing fully upright, by the way.) “See me in the office after this is over.” Later, as I sat across from him in his office, he explained that once upon a time, he had his official LAPD hat on and a suspect tried to kick him in the head. The suspect missed his head and hit the hat instead. (Somehow the captain didn’t account for the fact that had he not had the hat on, the suspect would have missed him altogether.) I could also see why he was a captain.

Bucking the captain’s theory was not then, nor is it now, a great idea when you’re a slick-sleeved patrol type. But it was his theory.

Another theory of his, as he went on to explain during our little tea ceremony, was that the hat made you taller and more authoritative. (Once again, I pondered why a suspect could not simply figure out our height absent the hat and take a swing at us anyway.) I posited that perhaps we should all wear stilts like the characters at Disneyland—which he found totally unamusing. I left the captain’s office contrite and apologetic, with the solemn promise to never, ever again contemplate any activity that did not incorporate my hat.

That captain went on to make commander, which made sense in the grand scheme of things. Sometimes theory is just that—theory!

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