Training to Fail
"The Mag Flick"
by Richard Nable
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

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

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

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.
Police Author
Richard Nable
Copyright © 2019  Barry M. Baker  
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