Qualify or Train? Is there one of these that a law enforcement agency is legally required to do? If not, what about ethical or moral requirements?


If you said Qualify, well, you would generally be mistaken. The courts have consistently addressed the need for agencies to train their officers in their rulings. That training must be recent and relevant. Based on various case law decisions, the relevant part includes reduced light, both officers and targets moving, multiple threats, judgment, and decision-making – such as Don’t Shoot / Shoot scenarios. 


The outside targets are camouflaged to obscure any aiming points. One from Awerbuck’s Yavapai Firearms Academy is on the left, and Gunsite circa 1995 is on the right. In the center is a current target from ShootSteel.

For those of you who are working officers, deputies, troopers, and special agents, which one do you want? Especially in today’s environment where events – that until recently saw the officers given the benefit of the doubt – now result in local, state, or federal prosecutions. Do you want to be deemed qualified, or do you want to be trained?


Other authors and I will dive deeper into the training side of this discussion in future articles. We will keep the discussion on the qualification part of things for now.

How often should your agency make you qualify? That will depend on whatever administrative body is mandating a qualification course. Is once a year reasonable? Twice, maybe? I think more than that is excessive, especially if there is not much more training.


My old organization would qualify with all their issued firearms once a year. They shoot it during the first quarter (or first half of the year for patrol rifles) and spend the remaining use of force dates on training.

One large Oklahoma agency shoots their qualification course once a year but their only other firearms training during the rest of the year is a 4-hour block. 4-hours.  


The results of the Arizona POST course of fire. I marked the score line after the qual was shot. Pretty generous scoring area.


What should the qual course address? What should you be doing if the state does not mandate the specific qual?


The Arizona POST qual includes shooting on the move, clearing a stoppage, and speed and tactical reloads from 3 to 25 yards.


While writing this article, I was sent a qual course from a large, active Midwest agency. At twenty-five yards, they have three two-shot stages. The first, with a holstered pistol, is standing to kneeling and fire two shots. The second starts with the pistol in hand and requires two shots from a standing position. The third, with the gun in hand, is another two shots standing. The shooter has five seconds on each stage to fire two shots.


Recently, an older course known as the Bakersfield qual has been the topic of discussions and videos. It was based on what officers there were regularly encountering on the street. There were ten shots in four strings, with tight time constraints, shot at 10, 20, 30, and 60 feet. More on it in a follow-on article.


How many shots are needed to make it a legitimate course of fire? 10? 20? 50? Or, heck, I’ll throw this out, could it be zero shots?


 Yes, you can have a qualification course with no shots fired. Burbank, California police rangemaster Larry Nichols had a qual course that could only be passed by not firing a single shot. I am guessing that one was heavy on the judgment side of the equation.


 Scoring? I’m not so much asking about the point value for each circle, line, or shape on the paper. I am asking if the scoring areas are reasonable compared to human anatomy and what we know must be hit to turn the bad guy off. And what do you do about rounds that do not hit the silhouette?


The Arizona POST state-wide qual has 50 shots with a minimum of 42 hits. Colorado’s is only 25 shots but requires 100% hits, per my correspondent at a nationwide training organization.


These people want you to be trained. They expect it.


I ask that last question because, historically, regardless of the minimum passing score, if you achieved it, those misses were not a concern in many places. Is that a problem? Yes, yes, it is because those rounds all hit something. The public, the media, the plaintiff’s counsel, and – yes – prosecutors are likely to look at the total number of shots you fired. Or that were fired by you and your co-workers. Those rounds that don’t hit the suspect are still going out into the community without having impacted (pun intended) the suspect’s actions. While I care about the minimum acceptable score, I care about it less than making sure as many rounds as possible only hit the target, the suspect, on a square range.


The officer’s photo was in a press release for shooting 294 out of a possible 300 on a bull’s eye. Accuracy is very important but is it training?


Twelve rounds were fired at a suspect in one local shooting, but she was only hit four times. She was inside a car and spinning the steering wheel while accelerating after hitting an officer with the car. The misses were rounds stopped or deflected by the car. Those are one thing, but we should not be creating allowances for plain old misses in training. 


The state of Georgia’s qual target.



Training is more critical for officers before, during, and after an event than any qualification course. Use a suitable qual course that is strictly scored with little, if any, allowance for misses. And use that after your officers have been trained for what they are likely to encounter.


Author’s note: The target photos are here to show some, but not all, of the acceptable differences in the field.