Front Sight Resorts Interviews Student John Harrold
July 1st, 2006
Interviewed by Jim McMahon
John Harrold is a police inspector for a large urban metropolis in the Western United States. He has not only been around guns in his profession, but throughout his entire life, from his early youth shooting targets and with the high school rifle team in Florida, to hunting in his later teens in Oklahoma. John has also taught firearms instruction while in the military at the Naval Academy.
But even with his lifetime-full firearms experience under his belt, John was not quite prepared for the training he was to experience one day in 1999, when he first came to Front Sight to “check out” the Free Sub-Machine Gun Course. On that day, John decided this was the place that would train his wife, his three sons and himself, in the skills of firearms handling.
John and his wife are both Gold First Family Members. Not only does John have a lot to say about firearms training, he has a refreshingly incisive view on the importance of safeguarding the Second Amendment, and how it affects all of us Americans.
I met up with John at his home, one afternoon after coming off duty, where he was as interested as ever to share his experiences and views with me.
FSR: What event or reason prompted you to search out firearms training?
John: Back when my sons were 12, 14 and 16 years old, I got an email regarding a Free Sub-Machine Gun Course. It was right before their Easter break at school, and at the time I thought to myself that my children might never fire an automatic weapon if they did not serve in the military. I took the two older ones down for that, and that was my first exposure to Front Sight. Back in 1999.
FSR: Did you have any previous firearms training experience prior to attending Front Sight?
John: My dad taught me basic firearms safety. I certainly was shooting targets under supervision at 11 or 12 years old, with a .22 rifle. I shot on the Key West High School rifle team in Florida, then began hunting when we moved back to Oklahoma.
My military training began with the M1 Garand, and the .45 Colt Government. I was able to shoot Expert with the .45, but will always remember missing an Expert rifle qual by two points.
FSR: How did you find out about Front Sight?
John: I had never heard of Front Sight until someone forwarded me the email describing the Free Sub-Machine Gun Course.
FSR: What made you choose Front Sight over all the other choices in the firearms training industry?
John: I was aware of one other firearms training site from years before, but never pursued it. But the sub-gun course seemed unique, and caught my interest.
FSR: What was your impression of your first course?
John: Before going, I was leery of the safety aspect of the course. When I was twenty years old and in the military, I was training on the “grease gun”, a .45 caliber sub-machine gun. I was very nearly a shooting victim of another’s carelessness, and wound up face down in the dirt on the firing line. With this personal experience, I felt extremely cautious about exposing my sons to any danger like this.
I briefed my boys ahead of time about how they were to fire in the second relay, staging themselves for slots #1 and #2. I knew that lining up all the way to the left would be the safest spots for a shoulder-fired weapon. A right-hander need only look in one direction, glancing to the right for any problems. I planned to take the #3 sport, between my sons and the other shooters.
They didn’t like hearing it, but I said, “If this place looks the least bit ‘iffy’ regarding safety, we’re going to bail, I want us out of there before I even finish my sentence! “ So, I felt I’d prepped them with a lot of advice to ensure we would be safe. I was fully prepared for this place to be something we would need to just scamper away from. Wrong. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. I was stunned. Amazed at the thoroughness, the depth of instruction we were being given for nothing. I should add that my background includes both formal instruction and course development during my service as a Naval officer, along with my firearms background. One summer I had, what some would consider a dream job, teaching a basic familiarization course in small arms to Naval Academy Midshipmen. For a month I demonstrated and fired weapons like the .30 caliber light machine gun, a tripod-fired weapon; the BAR-Browning Automatic Rifle; the M-79 grenade launcher; and the .45 caliber Thompson sub-machine gun, the Tommy gun. With this blend of weapons knowledge and teaching experience, I believe I can evaluate effective training.
I feared I might find a course like, “Here’s the gun, this is the business end, get up there and blaze away!” What I did find was systematic, effective training, administered and supervised by great teachers. And it was given away. I was truly and totally amazed. I remember thinking, “How in the world can Front Sight do this? They feed us. They provide the hardware. They provide the ammo. And this is real instruction.”
As I watched the sequence of events unfold in this course, those early doubts began to evaporate. I was heartened that we didn’t even touch a live round for something like an hour. There was an introduction and history given to the weapon, followed by a description of its parts and functions. An instructor demonstrated how the controls worked, along with proper grip and stance. I continued to relax. The students were then taken, closely supervised, to demonstrate proper skills with a dry, empty, sub-gun. Only then, after showing a level of competence, were we given live rounds and began firing. As I experienced this process I thought to myself, “This is exactly how it should be done. There’s absolutely no place here for people who get their jollies doing crazy stuff, banging off a 30-round magazine into the sky. This is real instruction.” Then came the factor that sold me on the value of Front Sight, and it contrasts my police training with that of the free course.
I’ve never had any trouble qualifying at work every six months. I showed up, sometimes with no preparation, and usually shot a high score, year after year. Don’t think I was anyone exceptional, even though we used to fire a 72-shot course, and I probably shot a 72 every third or fourth time. You see, we counted a slight ding to the silhouette’s shoulder the same as one perfectly delivered to center mass. Touch the silhouette anywhere and it was a “hit”. This is not real world, obviously.
So, here I was with a fairly extensive firearms background, far better than average shot, Department standards that is, veteran cop, and I have never heard the concept of After Action Drills. We had been taught that a gunfight will produce tunnel vision, but we didn’t train to counter it. I had to come to a free course to learn this, and was wondering, “Why aren’t we doing this back at our range?” Here was a simple skill that had the potential to save my life, provided to me at no cost. That did it. I was sold on Front Sight. I would like to add that today, our Department does teach a modified version of After Action Drills.
FSR: How did the initial training impact your life?
John: Even having a very good shooting record over years – remember those easy hits? – I would sometimes wonder, “Would I be able to produce the hit necessary, if I ever had to fire at work?” I had doubts, especially looking at past police shootings. Police shootings are not very good places to be. Often, there are many, many shots fired down range, with few hits on the suspect. The Four-Day Defensive Handgun Course was my first course I took, after the Sub-Gun Course. When I completed this course I knew exactly where I was for skill level, and knew what I must do to continue to improve. Most importantly, I left with a much greater sense of reassurance in my ability to do my job, should it ever involve firing my handgun.
FSR: What aspect of the training have you found most valuable?
John: That reassurance I just described, which provides confidence in yourself. If you are confident, it’s easier to keep your head and remain rational. If you doubt your abilities, it’s much harder to think your way out of a problem.
I’d like to mention another aspect, perhaps more applicable to police than others. Cops are hard people to tell things to. They’re stubborn, opinionated, and like to be in charge. I say this as one of the above group. We are not good people to accept criticism or outside change.
I came to the first handgun course with the thought, “My gosh these guys have incredible combat shooting skills. They can teach me something if I’m willing to learn. I’m going to give it a try.” And it required me changing habits I’d used for years, such as point fire and isosceles stance. I was shooting point fire, and isosceles, squared off to the target. I was shooting an older, much less efficient method of shooting. I had nearly twenty years of bad techniques which had become habits, because no one ever worked to correct me. It was a struggle, at first, to overcome the old habits, then replace them with Front Sight’s corrected ones. The instructors demonstrated plenty of patience with me.
FSR: Have you used any of the training to protect yourself, family or friends in a real life situation?
John: Well, actually yes, but not with a handgun. In the context of civilian life, I would like to mention that the Front Sight training is not simply shooting, it teaches thinking. Aggressive, confrontational people are far less likely to attack someone who is not frightened by their actions. These people prefer weakness, but are put off if their target does not flee, cry or cower. They don’t know what to do, and wonder, “Why isn’t that guy afraid?’ I’ve had these potential attackers, when they didn’t know I was a cop, back off and turn away, because they just didn’t know what to do with someone who was not afraid. That kind of confidence is important to everyone, not just an officer dealing with a high-tension situation.
FSR: How many courses have you attended at Front Sight to date?
John: I’ve been to one Four-Day Rifle and one Four-Day Shotgun, and I recommend both. For my profession, however, I feel that I’m likely, literally, to live or die dependent on my skill with a handgun. As a result, I’ve concentrated on the handgun courses. I have been to about six.
FSR: How many other students have you directly or indirectly referred to Front Sight?
John: I have no idea how many people I’ve referred to Front Sight, but I have to answer this one for two sets of circumstances: Dealing with citizens, as a sworn officer; and outside my professional life.
I investigate crimes against people, excepting homicide, so I frequently have victims who are dealing with death threats, stalking, or have been beaten, stabbed or shot. Protecting themselves from future attacks often arises. My counsel is that they should never consider buying a firearm unless they are willing to get professional training and periodically practice. Otherwise, they are simply at risk. If they ask about firearms schools, my response is that a number exist. I add that I have only attended one, was extremely satisfied with it, and refer them to Front Sight if they are still interested.
Outside work, I wholeheartedly recommend Front Sight to everyone. Additionally, I’ve recommended Front Sight to dozens of my friends, including our current range master.
FSR: What is the biggest challenge you find in trying to encourage friends to attend a course at Front Sight?
John: Many cops think that they already know how to shoot. Evidence to the contrary. I think, on average nationally, police hit their intended target about one time in six. I have passed-on one observation about just how good the training is, and it refers back to that Free One-Day Sub-Gun Course. I tell them that at the end of a single day’s training, I would have been comfortable placing my fourteen-year-old and sixteen-year-old sons behind me in a door stack, following me for a forced entry into a room containing armed opponents. Of course, no one wants someone this age to make a shoot/don’t-shoot decision, I’m simply addressing training effectiveness here, and this free course raised them to a level of competence. I would have been at ease with the two of them going in behind me, having sector responsibility, knowing that once a target was identified, they would engage that target successfully, protecting themselves and me. My point is that one day’s training was very effective, and I would have felt comfortable trusting my life to my sons’ newly acquired skills. I have told this to a number of friends, encouraging them to attend themselves.
FSR: When did you become a Front Sight First Family Member?
John: After the One-Day Sub-gun Course, Dr. Piazza talked about the benefits of the First Family program. When we got home, I spoke to my wife, who was interested for herself. We both signed up a couple days later.
FSR: What level membership did you purchase?
John: Bronze for myself, and Copper for my wife. We were able to upgrade to Gold when Dr. Piazza offered it a little while back.
FSR: Why did you choose to become a First Family member?
John: I thought, “These people are the ones who I want to train my boys, and this is who I want to train my wife to shoot.” You see, my wife is a military nurse whose assignment would be to staff a field hospital, a MASH unit. Medical or not, the necessity for weapons skill might become extremely important to her if deployed, and I wanted the best available. That choice, years ago, continues to pay benefits, since I will soon have three sons who are United States Marines. A warrior’s skill with weapons is a necessity. A civilian’s skill level a choice.
FSR: What is the purpose of the Front Sight Organization?
John: I believe that Front Sight is dedicated to individual liberty. I don’t know that a people can consider themselves free if they are not allowed to protect themselves.
Many good citizens are older, suffer restrictions from injuries, lack Black Belt level martial arts, and are not monstrously strong. Yet, these individuals can protect themselves by acquiring skill with weapons, permitting a life without fear.
FSR: What does Front Sight, and your participation with it, really mean to you and the future of firearms ownership in this country?
John: I believe that the United States’ freedom is based very, very firmly on the First and the Second Amendments. History repeatedly teaches that a people with no ability to defend themselves become enslaved. They become subjects.
I see Front Sight, and the benefits it provides, being the major educational ambassador for the proper use of firearms. There are far too many people who believe that the tool itself is evil. My Department had a cover story on one of its publications with a title of, “Our War Against Guns”. I looked at the cover and remarked to one of my friends in the office, “I thought we were supposed to arrest criminals, not guns, huh?”
I see the United States, in my lifetime, very definitely moving away from personal freedoms and denying the individual’s right to protect himself.
FSR: If you were standing at the speaker’s podium in a large stadium, addressing 100,000 people, and you only had one minute to tell them why they should attend a course at Front Sight, what would you say?
John: As a cop of well over twenty years, I believe that evil certainly exists in the world, and evil does not care what it does to you or yours. From the dawn of time, history has been composed of strife, warfare and aggression, continuing to present day. The same attacks, robberies and thefts occur now just as they did thousands of years ago. And bullies exist in the kindergarten school yards, just as surely as they do as nations. Much as we would like to ignore it, I believe the wise person wisely considers these threats to existence, and makes reasonable preparations.
Government agencies cannot guarantee protection of the individual. Police will do so whenever possible, but the individual must take primary responsibility for his own safety.
Weapons can make the difference, especially if you are attacked by someone who believes they have the advantage of overwhelming force. Front Sight is committed to teaching you the use of weapons, not just firearms but other types, and most importantly use of your mind, with skill and safety. They offer peace of mind, and very possibly a lifetime extended beyond a threat, which you or a loved one survived through training and preparation.
FSR: What course are you going to attend next?
John: It will either be the Handgun Skill Builder, or possibly the Rifle Skill Builder with my third son, who is just about to join the Marine Corps with his brothers.
FSR: Thank you John, we’ll see you at Front Sight!