I may as well have put a tin star on my chest and called myself Matt Dillon, the sheriff in the long-running television show “Gunsmoke.”
I’ve been to firing ranges and know the proper way to handle a gun, but when I was handed that mock Glock, all my know-how went out the window as I engaged in two simulations at the Maricopa Police Department’s training room.
It was fun, no doubt, but it was also an experience that fully demonstrated how woefully unprepared I was to handle these situations.
The first simulation involved a mentally unstable man at a park with a tomahawk. “I can’t believe I did three tours and I come back to this?” the man shouts.
Sitting at a picnic table, he starts banging the table with his tomahawk. I had my gun out and ready, but when I realized he wasn’t armed in the same way, I let down my guard.
The next thing I know, that virtual tomahawk is flying right at me.
I may have passed the test for restraint, but I likely would have ended up with a tomahawk lodged in my right thigh.
For heaven’s sake, I thought it was a hammer.
Afterward, training coordinator Adam Pittman alerted me to the danger I was in had it been a real-life situation.
“So, that happened quick, right?” Pittman said. Can you see, that even if it was a hammer, you could have been hurt pretty badly?”
Pittman said Arizona has a brandishing law.
“He’s giving us threatening body language, the tapping of the hatchet on the wood,” he said. “Those are all things he’s doing and saying to try to threaten or intimidate.”
And while the man didn’t have a gun, Pittman explained that drawing my weapon may have communicated the serious nature of the situation to him.
“We’re just trying to respond in kind to make sure we’re safe, so that way we’re not caught well behind the power curve and have to respond super late,” he explained. “Because obviously, that happened pretty quick.”
THE SECOND SIMULATION was a little more straight-forward. I was responding to a call for a couple who requested help. The man’s ex-girlfriend was stalking him and showed up at their residence despite a restraining order.
The stalker sits in a white Ford Explorer, engaged in a shouting match with the man’s current girlfriend. When I show up, the current girlfriend demands I arrest the ex-girlfriend immediately.
The request inflames the ex-girlfriend, who pulls out a gun and starts firing. I had my gun drawn and got off five shots, hitting all around the door and pillar post but missing the woman.
After the shots are fired, she gets out of the SUV, and I order her to drop her weapon and hit the ground.
Of course, once she was on the ground, I anticipated she would go for the gun she had just dropped, and she did. I fired a shot into her chest, killing her and ending the simulation.
I thought I did pretty good. But not really.
“Nice shooting there, Tex,” Pittman quipped, suggesting I should have used a two-arm hold on my weapon instead of the one-armed technique seen on television.
He was right. If I’d used that technique with a real gun, my shoulder would have been sore days later from the recoil and my aim might not have been so accurate.
Elliot Sneezy, the department’s sergeant of training, also noted the verbal commands I missed.
“You should have told the other people to go into the house,” he said. “You have to consider their safety.”
And Sneezy told me where I wasn’t careful enough with my own safety.
“You also didn’t direct the woman where to throw her gun and to stay away from her gun,” he added. “You allowed her to get close enough to it after she put it down to where she might have been able to sneak up on you.”
Sneezy was right. While I shot her before she could shoot me, in real life, better verbal commands on my part may have prevented her death.
This story was first published in the April edition of InMaricopa magazine.