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Training to Fail
"The Mag Flick"
by Richard Nable
Fasten your seatbelts for this roller-coaster
rider through gripping accounts of some
extraordinary trials faced by an ordinary
American street cop. Get a glimpse into a
world that few people outside the law
enforcement profession really understand.
In his own words, this veteran police officer
shares his perspectives and draws you into
his experiences with a delightful mixture of
intelligence, compassion, candid familiarly,
and tongue in cheek humor. Add a dash of
irreverent sarcasm and the classic cynicism
you might expect from a grizzled veteran
officer, and you have a truly gripping and
entertaining work.
It is important for police officers to be
students of human behavior. Watching
how people behave and learning their
patterns is not only how we become
adept at catching bad guys, but it is also
how we structure our training to address
real life issues. Not long ago, I used this
approach to develop a program which I
called, “Training to Fail”. Now before you
get all upset, the point of the program
was not to teach people how to fail, it
was to address many of the deficiencies
common in current Law Enforcement
training that do in fact train people to fail.

One of those issues is what I call the
“Mag-Flick”. Recently at a conference I
attended with firearms instructors from
all over the state, I was amazed at the
number of instructors who see nothing
wrong with teaching the mag-flick. What’
s the mag-flick you ask? It’s where you
do like the TV and movie heroes or the
competition shooters and you combat
reload by hitting the magazine release
and “flicking” the gun to get the
magazine to drop out. It’s a great
technique when it works, (I guess) but it
presents a veritable cornucopia of
potential problems for the average police
officer.

Law enforcement has an inherent amount
of risk. It is our job as trainers to help
our officers reduce those risks whenever
possible. As a rule, we train in gross
motor skills and straight-line motions.
We train (or should I say we should
train) in tactics that work as close to
100% of the time as is humanly possible.
Why train in something that only works
most of the time when you have the
option to train in something that works
all the time (or darn near). We also need
to remember to keep it simple. Why train
in three or four completely different
movements for completely different
situations, when one basic movement will
work for all of those situations?

My department, like nearly 75% of
departments in America, uses a variant of
the Glock pistol. Anyone who has
experience with Glock pistols knows that
even though the magazines are touted
as “drop-free”, every now and then they
don’t. Many other pistol brands suffer
the same affliction. If you train to expect
that magazine to drop free every time,
then what happens that one time when it
doesn’t? I see it in training and
qualifications quite regularly. The officer
who has been using (and thereby training
himself subconsciously) the mag-flick is in
the middle of shooting a course of fire
when the mag-flick fails to cause the
magazine to fall out of the gun. The
reaction side hand (non-weapon, or
support hand) already has the next
magazine in it and cannot be used to
facilitate the removal of the empty
magazine so the officer is stuck with a
problem to solve. Most of the time, they
freeze and do nothing while the targets
quietly turn away. I could not expect that
they would do anything differently in an
actual gunfight.

The potential for a “drop-free” magazine
to stick in a magazine well can be
increased exponentially by environmental
factors. Dirt in the magazine well, for
example, can cause it to stick. Dirt can
accumulate there not just from negligent
maintenance, but what about when you
fall on soft ground. We have had several
officers over the years fall in a variety of
circumstances, not the least of which is a
fight with a bad guy. (Hopefully I don’t
have to remind folks that most fights end
up on the ground one way or another.)
When your pistol hits the ground, you
risk having dirt jammed up the magazine
well. You also risk damaging the
magazine base plate or the weapon itself
in ways that can prevent a magazine
from “dropping free”. All of these things
have happened to our officers in the
past. To ignore their potential to happen
again in the future is sheer stupidity.

We all should know that when you are
under stress, your problem solving skills
diminish considerably, and for some
officers those skills disappear entirely.
Add to that the fact that you are
required to override your training with
conscious thought in the middle of a
gunfight and you begin to see how
difficult the mag-flick can make things. In
competition, or even in qualification, if
you lose a second or two (or twelve), it is
really no big deal. In a gunfight, which is
what we train for as police officers, that
one or two seconds could very well mean
your life. Remember Murphy’s 1st Law –
Whatever can go wrong will; and at the
worst possible time. Train with that in
mind.

So what’s the answer? As long as your
support hand is on the gun, use that
hand to rip the magazine out. The
weapon-hand thumb activates the
magazine release (or some other finger if
you are left handed and shooting a right
handed weapon) and the support hand
rips the magazine out. If something
happens to incapacitate the support
hand, then you are still using the weapon-
hand thumb to release the magazine. No
new movements are required, thus no
conscious thought is required.

The second problem caused by the mag-
flick is malfunction clearance. We all
should know that the fastest malfunction
clearance is a new gun but there are way
too many officers out there who haven’t
figured out that a back-up gun is as
necessary as a primary. If they have to
think their way through a malfunction
clearance in a gunfight they will likely end
up dead. The next fastest way to clear
the malfunction is to rip out the
magazine, work the slide, and insert the
new magazine. Again, no new series of
motions has to be thought of and only
one new motion is added to the
equation; that is ‘working the slide’.
What about “TAP, ROLL, RACK, READY?”
you ask. That is something that requires
time and thought to diagnose the
malfunction and determine which drill to
use to clear it. Time and conscious
thought are at a premium in a gunfight.
If you are one of the ones who are
familiar enough with your weapon and
you practice with it, you may be able to
diagnose the malfunction and clear it
correctly – but then again, if you’re that
good you probably have a back-up
weapon. Trainers have to account for the
lowest common denominator. The ugly
truth is that most officers don’t practice
and if they do, they only practice one
thing.

The third problem is the tactical reload. In
an informal query into shootings in our
area, we could not find one single
example of a patrol officer who
performed a tactical reload at any time
under street conditions. That was
amazing to me since I know that every
department in our area at some point
trains in the tactical reload. When we
work tactical reloads into our semi-annual
qualification course, we find that officers
who regularly use the mag-flick are
incapable of performing a tactical reload.
They have so conditioned themselves to
flick the magazine out and get rid of it
that it is the only thing they know. On
the other hand, officers who train to
remove the magazine with the support
hand, generally have little or no difficulty
performing a tactical reload. This is true
even for officers who do not practice
tactical reloads. For officers who train
themselves to use the support hand to
remove the magazine,  only one small
modification to their basic reloading
movement is required, which is placing
the magazine in a pocket (or similar)
rather than throwing it down. Again, the
general reloading motion does not
change and only one small addition to
that movement is necessary as opposed
to consciously thinking of an entirely
different set of motions.

I didn’t sit in an office thinking this stuff
up. For 17 years I worked the street. I
watched officers and studied real life
behavior for years before I realized what
should have been obvious all along. The
KISS principle (Keep it Simple Stupid)
seems to show up in training regularly so
let’s apply it to basic firearms as well. Use
the same, basic, simple, gross-motor
skills and straight line motions to solve
as many problems as you can. As I like to
say, “Train for the Real World – not the
Ideal World.”


-Sgt. R. A. Nable, Fulton County Police
Department, Atlanta , GA.
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Police Author
Richard Nable
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