Book Review: The Art of Modern Gunfighting, Volume 1 by Scott Reitz
A couple of weeks ago I went on a bit of a rant about people I termed “gunstore lawyers”, those who pontificate on the legal concerns surrounding the use of force without having any actual study, or relevant background that makes their opinion valid in an objective sense. In the article I linked to a book written by Scott Reitz as an indication of input from someone who actually does have the requisite experience and background to make his opinions worthy of consideration. I figured instead of just linking to the book I probably should do a proper review, so here goes:
Scott Reitz was a member of the Los Angeles Police Department, joining in the late 1970’s and retiring in 2006. He cut his teeth on the streets of Los Angeles in the bad old days during the explosion of gang and drug activity in LA that accompanied the crack epidemic. Southern California law enforcement has always been pretty sporty due to a number of factors (not least of which is proximity to Mexico) but this period saw a dramatic uptick of criminal violence even by SoCal standards. Scott advanced in the LAPD eventually moving to the Metro Division and eventually into “D Platoon”, better known to the rest of the world as LAPD SWAT. The Los Angeles police department pioneered the development of SWAT and over the years has built the reputation of being one of the world’s finest tactical units with a broad range of experience, high standards for conduct and proficiency, and a knack for developing effective means of battling criminals with minimal loss of life. Other organizations from around the world have come to Los Angeles to learn from LAPD SWAT, giving a local police unit a much bigger influence on the globe than you would ordinarily believe to be possible.
Scott begins his book by qualifying his experience and discussing his overall philosophy: “There are no masters in gunfighting, only students, and that includes myself. One can perform flawlessly in one instance and in another instance make one or more simple mistakes and everything will break down.” He bases this statement on not only his own experiences, but on having investigated on-duty shootings by other police officers and on having had a role in training literally hundreds of police officers that had to use lethal force in the course of their career on the street. When it comes to obtaining repeatable results, sample size is everything. Anything can work once or twice, but something that succeeds over and over again in a number of different circumstances with lots of different people is more than just luck. Mr. Reitz draws upon everything he saw while serving with the LAPD as well as his own experiences in the use of lethal force to inform the approach to gunfighting he goes on to discuss later in the book.
An entire chapter of the book is dedicated to recounting the lethal force events he was personally involved in while on duty. An easily digestible narrative of each shooting is provided along with lessons learned from each. They range from the sort of shooting you’d expect when serving search warrants to the truly surreal and bizarre. Scott was on LAPD SWAT during the LA Riots of 1992. I remember watching the news coverage of the riots and thinking it was pretty bad, but Scott’s first-hand account of the events paint a picture far worse than those of us watching on the news knew. His description would probably line up with eerie symmetry to accounts coming out of Baghdad in terms of the dangers and behaviors of the gangbangers that were practically hunting police officers at the time.
From a description of his personal experiences he transitions to detailing his understanding of gunfighting including describing the nature of gunfights, the universal truths of gunfighting, a description of the physiological effects of extreme stress, and a bit of insight into the sort of person the law-abiding good guy is likely to need a gun to deal with. After that comes a brief chapter on the legal considerations of deadly force. While it is a brief section and it is generalized for a wide audience (it would be unreasonable to expect Mr. Reitz to comment on the specific laws and court decisions in my jurisdiction) the information presented is none-the-less valuable. Deadly force is presented as a last resort only used when certain sensible circumstances are met. He defines what a “reasonable fear” of death or grave injury looks like and discusses what the ability and intent to use lethal force means in practical terms that are easy to understand. While laws and jurisprudence varies across the country, these basics are a cornerstone of sound self defense doctrine everywhere.
The book then transitions into discussing the technical details of manipulating and using a handgun (sections for semi-autos and revolvers are included) successfully and safely. Of particular interest to me was the considerable amount of time Mr. Reitz spent discussing the use of sights and the utility of sighted fire in general. Often on the internet we hear people insist that you can’t use sights effectively in combat situations. Indeed, some people have made an entire training doctrine out of the idea that sights don’t work under stress. Mr. Reitz would beg to differ with them, as he used sighted fire successfully in combat situations and helped build a training doctrine that relied on sighted fire and has proven to give excellent results on the street. Other experiences SoCal law enforcement officers and trainers (like Daryl Bolke) have also testified to the effectiveness of teaching sighted fire.
I don’t agree with everything that Mr. Reitz talks about in the book in terms of the technical details of grip or drawstroke or manipulations, but while I may do some things differently I can safely say that what he presents in the book is going to be effective (and has proven so) even if I don’t do it exactly the same way.
This is a solid work with a great deal of useful information for the defense-minded individual, especially if they haven’t done a lot of independent study and formal training yet. Often people who are new to use of a firearm for self defense wonder where they should start. I believe a book like this would lay an excellent foundation, as it covers all the relevant bases from proper safety procedures to combat mindset and reliable weapon manipulations. If someone reads and digests the information in the book they will have a more sophisticated understanding of the important things and, in turn, will become a more informed consumer of equipment and of training opportunities.
For those who have a bit more study under their belt, some of the sections covering details of manipulations may seem basic, but the book still holds plenty of value for even the experienced or well trained individual, particularly the sections on gunfighting and combat mindset.
I purchased the Kindle Edition of the book from Amazon for just under $20.00, and I’m quite pleased with the value I’ve gotten from the book. If you’re looking for a book to place in the hands of a beginner or for a solid reference to better understand the nature of using a firearm in self defense, this book has a lot to offer you. I recommend it highly.