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Some law enforcement uses of force are analyzed, critiqued, and evaluated for reasonableness by civilians with an incomplete understanding of the sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”), the human fear response, defensive tactics, and close quarter gunfighting.

Such opinions and observations may be founded on media programming and entertainment or a perspective derived from personal experience. Competitive shooters may critique a law enforcement use of force from the perspective of a competitive shooter, a martial artist from the perspective of their specific discipline, and a recreational shooter from that perspective. Tony Blauer, founder of Blauer Tactical Systems, identified four categories of these perspectives. Using martial arts as an example when training for physical violence, Blauer recognized the first, and basic category including all martial arts. Narrowing, a second category may include combat sports. Focusing even further, are reality-based self defense systems, and finally, and most specifically, is training and understanding based on how violent encounters actually occur.

In a recent article published in the journal of the International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), Bruce Champagne explained his preliminary findings on the uniqueness of a handgun grip under a rapid influence of the specific nervous system. Champagne tested law enforcement subjects and measured their grips when presented by an immediate lethal threat. Each test subject’s maximum grip pressure was first measured for a baseline estimate of their maximum grip pressure capacity. The test subjects’ grip was measured again as they addressed the lethal threat. Champagne found that no officers fired their weapons as they were trained (controlled pairs), used sighted fire, or a trigger reset between shots. Interestingly, each officer produced a grip pressure 7-16% greater than their baseline maximum grip pressure. The contact area of a test subject’s hand on the surface of the handgun increased 1-20%. The total contact force generated increased 7-33%. Most of the increased grip pressure and surface distribution was recorded by the heel of the palm and the fingers of the primary hand similarly. However, the surface distribution of the fingers was observed as uneven. These interesting dynamics produced a hit rate of approximately 45%.


How is the response of a sympathetic nervous system stimulated by a perceived lethal threat similar to firearms range and qualification tests or competitive shooting? How might they be different? Do any similarities or differences have a relevance in the objective evaluation of a law enforcement use of force?

How would an incomplete understanding of, or unrealistic expectation of a human being’s capabilities when faced with a perceived lethal threat influence the objective evaluation of a law enforcement use of force? Should they? If not, why? If so, why?

Can basic sympathetic nervous system responses be eliminated or mitigated? If so, how? If not, why? Would the general public finance the required training?


Champagne, B. (2018). The Handgun Grip Under the Influence of the Sympathetic Nervous System; Implications for Training and Performance. ILEETA Spring Journal, pp 10-12.

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