This might start some verbal wars, but here goes. And for you keyboard commandos who know all about this subject, keep in mind that any arguments you make in favor of point shooting will be in opposition to real-life gunfighters who have lived this stuff and decided that sighted fire is superior to point shooting, even at close range, for staying alive.
We are talking about primarily handguns here because that is the most common type of gun used in personal defense. While many of these points also can also be applied to long guns, they do not apply to wing shooting with a shotgun.
If you care to look, you can find a video on YouTube of a shooting at a school board meeting in December of 2010 that took place in Panama City, Florida. The shooter attempted to shoot five board members from a distance of roughly five yards. He fired multiple rounds and did not hit a single person, despite the fact it is apparent that he was pointing the gun at them. We will never know for sure, but he probably was attempting to point shoot. And it was obviously ineffective.
It is very tempting, and probably human nature, to focus on the target when shooting. And most people who are not trained swear that just pointing and shooting is faster than trying to aim using the sights to shoot.
But the best shooting schools like Gunsite Academy, those that teach gunfighting and not just shooting, teach students to use the sights, even at close ranges like three yards. The method taught is to focus very hard on the front sight, align the sights with the target, let the target and the rear sight become blurry – most people cannot focus on two or three at the same time – and press the trigger while holding them all in alignment. Then they have students repeat the process over and over, doing it many times in order for it to become a habit and automatic.
While some people think that using the sights, especially at close range, is slower – and for an untrained person that might be right – that is not correct for someone who is trained and has practiced sufficiently. So why should a person learn to use the sights, even at close range? Because even at close range, even experienced shooters often miss the target if they point shoot. And, with proper training, using the sights is just as fast as point shooting. That has been proven over and over again.
The key is using the sights correctly and then practicing until doing so is automatic. That’s reaching a level of unconscious competence, which I have discussed before in this series of The What & The Why articles.
An argument often used by advocates of point shooting is that it is natural for a human being to focus on the threat – that’s the target – and not on something else. But just because it is the body’s natural response which probably was inherited from a time when weapons were all contact instruments or stones, is not a good reason to ignore the fact that there might be a better way to do something when a different tool that is more effective is used. That tool is often a gun. And shooting a gun is not a natural thing to do, even if you are a male born in America, so training in how to do it is needed.
Someone always brings up exhibition shooters who have the ability to shoot from the hip, without using the sights, and do it very fast. They are amazingly accurate. And they are, but how much practice have those people been willing to put in to be able to do that consistently? They have shot a lot more rounds to get to that level of competence than the average person has to shoot using sighted fire to become fast and accurate. And, as the distance to the target increases, those exhibition shooters use the sights anyway. So even for the best exhibition shooters, point shooting is a close-range affair.
The average person who is not especially gifted does not have the ammunition or time to devote hours and hours of practice to hit a target using point shooting at close range. So the best gunfighting schools teach students to use the sights. And they teach students to use the sights at all ranges unless they are so close to the target that there is not enough room to bring the gun up to eye level.
At close range, perhaps a person with a little training in point shooting can hit a person in the chest or the head. Maybe, but there is case after case where people, including cops, have missed a man-sized target at close range with multiple shots. And sometimes even a center shot to the heart won’t stop an attacker. It requires a headshot to do so. Okay, the head is still fairly large at close range. That may be true, but to make an effective headshot, the bullet must get through the skull and damage a critical organ, specifically the brain or spinal column.
There are many cases where people have been shot at very close range in the head, and while it may be messy and cause a lot of bleeding, the bullet glances off and does not penetrate the skull. So gunfighters have learned that to increase the odds that a headshot will stop an attacker, they aim for the ocular cavity which is a small triangular area between the eyes and the tip of the nose. The skull is softer and thinner there, so penetration to vital organs is more likely. And that ocular cavity is pretty small, roughly three inches by two inches. So, even at close range, those gunfighters train to use the sights.
Someone who favors point shooting usually says that most gunfights occur at close range, like three yards, so there is no need to practice using the sights. And while most gunfights are close-range affairs, not all are. And the farther away the target, the more critical a good aim is, and that requires the use of sights. Don’t bet your life on the fact that your gunfight may be at close range. It might not be. And plenty of documented cases prove it.
Rob Leatham is a competitive shooter and has won many, many titles. His nickname is The Great One. And he has earned it. He is such a good shooter that elite military and law enforcement units use him as an instructor. He travels all over the world to teach some pretty special people who have a high level of shooting skill. And he teaches sighted fire.
While Leatham says that a hard front sight focus is not critical, he also says that it is critical to align the sights with the target while the trigger is stroked. Remember, he is teaching highly skilled, experienced shooters who know how to aim a gun. These people have gone way beyond the skill level of most shooters. But he still teaches them to use the sights. So while they may not focus hard on the front sight, they still see the sights well enough to at least unconsciously confirm that the sights are aligned with the target.
Other top-level, well experienced gunfighters who also instruct, agree with Leatham. But to get a person to the level that they do not need a hard focus on the front sight takes a great amount of training and many repetitions.
One large metropolitan police force used to teach both point shooting and sighted fire. The point shooting, or unsighted fire, was reserved for very close range. But then, the department stopped teaching point shooting, even for close range, and taught only sighted fire. The rate of accurate hits on targets by officers actually increased significantly after the department started to teach only aimed fire.
The late Jim Cirillo was a legendary member of the New York City Police Department Stake Out Unit. He was involved in many gunfights with felons at close range – inside businesses. Paul Kirchner interviewed Cirillo and wrote a book about him. On page 51 of that book, Jim Cirillo’s Tales of the Stakeout Squad, Kirchner says that, in Cirillo’s first gunfight, Cirillo focused so hard on his front sight that he could see the striations on it. Cirillo killed at least one felon that day and wounded others.
Cirillo also instructed. And he used to teach a technique where he obscured the sights to simulate low light where the sights were not visible. He then taught students to use the silhouette of the gun as a reference for aiming. It was very technical, but the point is that even when the sights were not visible, Cirillo advocated aiming the gun using some method. But he also said in his own book, Guns, Bullets, and Gunfights on page 84 that a shooter would be foolish not to use the sights if he can see them.
And that’s the what and the why of it.