Lessons From The Polite Society Tactical Conference

By Massad Ayoob

Many years ago, ex-cop Tom Givens founded a training center in Memphis, Tenn. called Rangemaster, and some years after that, created the Polite Society event. (As per the Robert Heinlein quote: “An armed society is a polite society.”) The organization’s annual conclave came to be known as the National Tactical Conference. Though the event is open to all law-abiding armed citizens, it’s heavy with cops, and its instructor staff is particularly so.

Guns And Fights

hen you get into the topic, one of the first things you realize is “gunfight” is a misnomer. The guns don’t fight, the people do. Ohio cop and tactical trainer Greg Ellifretz did a splendid presentation on integrating hand-to-hand work with belly-to-belly death duels, including how to stall the other man’s draw in time to get your own gun into play; and how (and why) it’s sometimes best to flow from your blocking of his gun into a disarm instead of a draw-and-shoot tactic. The circumstances dictate the response.

If you’ve been studying the tactics of police use of force for a while, the name “Southnarc” will ring a bell. It’s the nom de guerre of a cop I’ve known for 20 years or so, and who finally upon retirement can come out from undercover work and reveal his true identity: Craig Douglas. A compact man who learned to win bare-handed against men twice his size, Craig is a gunfight winner, whose learning credentials include a deaf ear from a near-miss gunshot by a would-be killer, and a skull fractured with a socket wrench by a scumbag trying to rip him off in a buy-bust. His “management of unknown contacts” program should in my opinion be taught in every police academy in America. He integrates body language with action/reaction paradigms and shows you how to keep from being outflanked.

There were people who taught how to get into the mind of the perpetrator. One was psychologist William Aprill, who has psychoanalyzed many killers. We can’t defeat an enemy we don’t understand. Dr. Aprill, a master competitive shooter by the way, understands the enemy and shows you how to do the same, citing study after peer-reviewed study. Skip Gochenauer, who used to run the National Tactical Invitational event, demonstrated how to teach the same with videotaped role-play training.

Problem One, Problem Two

The late Col. Jeff Cooper famously said Problem One was surviving the gunfight; Problem Two was surviving its aftermath in court. Chuck Haggard of the Topeka, Kan. PD is one of our leading tactical police trainers, and his topic was the “active shooter.” Taking a moment to agree this “term of art” is what we’re currently stuck with, and we’re really talking about “active murderers,” he supported the current theory of Ohio SWAT trainer Ron Borsch, a single well-trained and committed officer can stop mass murders by himself with swift, positive intervention. He speaks from experience: Haggard himself has responded to two such incidents, both of which ended in the suspect’s death upon his first confrontation with a resolute police officer. Haggard’s presentation also included the single best debriefing on the Columbine incident I’ve experienced.

Part of any deadly force encounter is the opponent is killing people, or trying to. The ability to deliver effective first aid for life-threatening wounds, including self-treatment, is priceless. This was addressed at Polite Society by multiple MDs with directly relevant hands-on experience. It’s not about shooting bad guys (though that may certainly be necessary) so much as it’s about saving good guys, and that takes place in many ways, none of which can be neglected.

If you don’t know for sure you can face the Problem Two aftermath, you may hesitate fatally when dealing with Problem One. My topic was lessons learned from recent homicide trials in which I’d participated, both criminal and civil, and encompassing both officer-involved and armed citizen shootings. We won them, but there were lessons learned from those “fights.”

We barely touched the surface of the three intense days of real-world expertise and collected experience presented to 150 students, by 25 vetted instructors at this conference. The 2014 Polite Society event is scheduled for February 21-23 in Memphis. Information is available at www.rangemaster.com.

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