The “Pregnant Woman” Target Controversy

Written by Greg Ellifritz

Topics: Articles

  • SumoMe


Written by: Greg Ellifritz


Why is the Department of Homeland Security purchasing photographic silhouette targets depicting armed pregnant women as threats?



Last week, the internet was abuzz with news articles (like this one) proclaiming that the government was preparing to wage war against its own citizens.  Is the uproar justified?



Maybe.  Maybe not.



This isn’t anything new.  I’ve occasionally used targets like this in my training for more than 15 years.



The goal of using any photographic target is twofold…we want to create some realism in training and we want to teach correct threat evaluation.  Military firearms instructors learned during World War II that rifle training on bullseye targets didn’t adequately prepare soldiers for battle.  By the time of the Vietnam conflict, the military was doing more training on silhouettes and reactive targets.  The battlefield rates of fire increased, as did the hit rates.



Statistically, most officers aren’t likely to face an armed pregnant woman as an adversary, so that’s a strike against realism. But does that mean that every target we shoot should always be a white guy between 25- 30 years old?  After all, that’s the “profile” of  the most likely cop killer.



Most people would think that it’s ridiculous to mandate all targets be white males because it’s discriminatory.  It wouldn’t be right.   Then how can it be wrong to use photographs of school children and women?  Have those demographics been threats in the past?  Yes, they have.  We want to prepare officers for all possible threats.





On the threat evaluation side, these kind of targets actually work well. They teach the officer to look for the threat, not for the person.  That’s a good thing. It seems discriminatory, but in actuality these kind of targets reduce discriminatory shootings by training the officer to react to on an actual threat rather than making the officer evaluate criminal conduct by the physical characteristics of the target.



One side note…in using targets like this, I’ve seen some complete meltdowns in the shoot houses at TDI. Some guys are absolutely not mentally prepared to shoot a woman. They physically can’t pull the trigger in the shoot house when a female target is pointing a gun at them.



That’s bad. We don’t want to allow that to occur. The only way to fix it is to use targets like these that make officers actually imagine a threat that is a little different from what they normally picture in their heads.



What the inflammatory news articles are leaving out is that most of these targets come with target overlays using alternate “weapons” that turn them from “shoot” targets into “no shoot” targets.  No one seems to complain about pictures of women or children being used as “no-shoot” targets.  And I’m certain that is the role of some of these targets purchased by the government.


Woman with a gun…



…or not



When an officer enters a house in pursuit of an armed criminal, it’s reasonable that the officer will encounter innocent people in the house as well.  That officer needs to be able to instantly discriminate between a criminal threat and an innocent bystander.  And we can’t train him to do that based solely on the physical characteristics of the “target”.



Setting up target arrays with threats from different weapons and different types of people forces the officer to learn faster threat evaluation techniques.  That ultimately leads to fewer “bad” shootings.



I understand that these targets look bad.



I also understand that our Federal government doesn’t have the best track record with regards to keeping its citizens’ best interests in mind.  I too am fearful of the erosion of our constitutional rights and being seen as a “target” by Federal law enforcement officers.



If I saw a “shoothouse” set up with all women and kids as targets, I would be appalled.  But in over 17 years of police experience and having trained with all of the federal agencies, I’ve never seen that.



Let’s remember the principle of “Occam’s Razor”.  That’s the idea that in the absence of other corroborating information, the simplest hypothesis is usually the correct one.



Ask yourself what is more likely, a vast secret inter-agency government conspiracy to murder women and children or some federal firearms instructors trying to teach better threat discrimination?



I’m voting for the latter explanation.  You can call me a government shill if you want, but I hope logic will tell you otherwise.  When women and children stop killing people, I’ll be the first one to dump my female silhouettes.  But until then, I’m going to use them to help my officers learn to focus on what they should be evaluating…the presence or absence of a lethal force threat.





16 Comments For This Post I'd Love to Hear Yours!

  1. David from Alabama says:

    In 1998, a 13 year old and 11 year old murdered four students and a teacher in Jonesboro, AR in one of the first widely publicized school shootings. While assigned as a school resource officer, I was intensely aware that a potential threat could be a juvenile. Do police officers want to face the possibility of having to shoot a student? Of course they don’t. Is it a realistic to believe it might happen? Yes. Should that horrible instance occur, I want officers to be able to separate the threat from the innocent and act quickly to protect those under his or her care. Realistic targets help train officers for both the physical and mental aspects of that vital task.

  2. John says:

    Nice balanced article. One of my fears as an officer has been hesitating to use deadly force due to the demographics of the person threatening me or another. The uproar over the targets would be a lot more understandable if the women and children in the targets were unarmed. May I post a link to this article elsewhere?

  3. Rob G says:

    So, where are all the posters of black males? Or black females? Or Muslims?

    • Greg Ellifritz says:

      They are out there…I’ve used them all. But no one seems to get upset about that.

    • ferndale says:

      i’ve used targets that look like muslim terrorists. the detroit free press covered a local shooting range who had agreed to no longer carry the targets which a local muslim civil rights group felt was problematic.

      i vascilate between thinking that the government is secretly lurking to thinking the governmetn is filled with imbeciles incapable of doing the most simple tasks. talk about these targets certainly have triggered me to wonder if this is part of a desensitization plan. i hope you’re right greg. the alternative is far more ugly.

  4. David says:

    Thanks for this bit of a sanity check on what is sending most people into a conspiracy-based frenzy. I will admit I was put off by these targets at first glance. But then, I gave it a little bit of thought. I agree completely with what you’re saying here. An armed threat is an armed threat. Train for all possible threats.

  5. Brendan Doran says:

    Greg – you’re right as far as your points go, but this conversation is not taking place in a vacuum. It’s idiotic to put that picture out there in the present climate. When you’re citizens have bought out the nations guns and ammunition stores bare, when I am reliably informed Utah for instance has no bullets, when 10 round mags are going 2 for $75 on the web …I can go on…when the nation is in constant anxiety about a government that lurches from one mis-step and crisis to another, perhaps targets certain to be inflamatory should be set aside for calmer days.

    On a related subject should matters further degenerate may I suggest that Law Enforcement consider not involving themselves in political questions. Having witnessed such degeneration myself overseas. IOW when it moves beyond the realm of words.

    God Bless you all.

    • Brendan Doran says:

      “your citizens”

    • Greg Ellifritz says:

      Brendan…you are absolutely correct. People are worried about a tyrannical government…and I think rightfully so. The problem that I see is when certain interest groups generate concern about a long-standing practice and claim that it is new evidence that the government is training to murder citizens.

      These targets have been in use for a LONG while. This is nothing new. My father was a cop and I remember going to police shooting competitions with him when I was a boy in the 1970s. They had “shoothouses” with targets similar to the ones written about even back then.

      I just can’t believe that the use of these targets going back 30+ years is evidence of a multi-generational plan to desensitize all cops to the murders of citizens.

  6. Trevor Shepherd says:

    Well-written; balanced article. Interesting training issues to think about. Maybe I’m just enthusiastically an advocate of equal-opportunity for all, but I am determined not to let anyone, man, woman, child, pregnant woman, whatever, kill me or cause me to suffer serious bodily harm. I don’t care what color, gender, age, etc someone is. If they are going to hurt me, they better expect me to defend myself.

    As an aside, Greg referred to our WW2 soldiers training and the training targets they used, but he did not specifically mention the frequently quoted study, I think it was done at the end of WW2, wherein the vast majority of our soldiers said they either had never fired their weapons in combat or had intentionally aimed away from an enemy target when they did fire. Since being unwilling to shoot the “threat” is germane to the article above, I want to comment on that often-quoted study. I have never, ever even remotely considered believing that nonsense. I doubt that study even exists, and if it does I would be highly suspect of their methods. But in any event, I do not believe their “results”. Come on, get real: First of all, we won the war, decisively! So, a whole lot of soldiers on our side had to have killed a whole lot of enemy soldiers or we would not have won. More specifically, both the Germans and the Japanese were deploying young and middle teenage boys by the end of the war because of the number of lost adult soldiers killed, wounded, or captured. Second of all, modern humans have been fighting each other in combat and killing each other with impunity for the entire 10,000 years of recorded history since the end of the last ice age (and, there are numerous “ice man” finds that show that pre-modern people violently attacked and killed each other before modern times, too). Third of all, there are thousands of hours of newsreel movies and news service photos of men on our side shooting at enemy soldiers. Fourth, not a single imbedded news reporter published a single story after the war describing actions or words on the part of our soldiers that could back up a claim of widespread unwillingness of our soldiers to shoot at the enemy. Even more than 65 years later, none of those “articles” or books has come to publication. Fifth, many of our soldiers were the sons of World War One soldiers who had brutally fought, and won, the trench wars in Europe. So, people who rely on the supposed study about our men not being willing to shoot the enemy are trying to tell us that for thousands of years humans killed each other without much care or thought, and then all of a sudden WW2 comes around and our soldiers are suddenly unwilling to shoot at the enemy??? But that all got better when we went to Vietnam? Really? The “peace people” of the 60’s were more willing to kill the enemy in Vietnam than their fathers had been in World War 2? Give me a break.

    • Greg Ellifritz says:

      You are absolutely correct Trevor. The “study” to which you refer was done by SLA Marshall. His research is often quoted by Dave Grossman today. Most serious researchers have concluded that Marshall’s “research” was fabricated. I do believe that there were some soldiers who refused to fire their weapons or intentionally missed. I don’t believe it was a significant number.

      The training that really changed rates of fire in Vietnam was of the “stimulus/response” type. Soldiers were introduced to pop up silhouettes rather than bullseyes and trained to shoot them on sight.

      There is certainly an element of desensitization involved both in that training and using female silhouettes. The question we have to ask is “Does the desensitization work to condition an officer to better respond to a life threatening situation or does it turn him into a mindless killing machine?” I think it’s more of the former…

  7. Rob Pincus says:

    Very Well Written, Greg.

    Here’s what I wrote on the topic yesterday:
    “If someone shows me video of an Agency conducting recruit level training on Women & Kid targets exclusively with a briefing about how the protocol is going to be raiding homes during the day when all the men-folk are out at work so that confiscation can be done with less resistance, I’ll completely retract my statements and admit that spreading the Hysterical Conspiracy Theory BS about the Federal Gov’t ordering millions of bullets and training on women & children targets is actually a worthwhile pastime. Until then, spreading that crap just makes it easier for MIDDLE AMERICA to believe gun owners are extremist whacks.”

    And here’s a video with a humorous example of what these targets can do (at 2:15):

  8. “Let’s remember the principle of “Occam’s Razor”. That’s the idea that in the absence of other corroborating information, the simplest hypothesis is usually the correct one.

    Ask yourself what is more likely, a vast secret inter-agency government conspiracy to murder women and children or some federal firearms instructors trying to teach better threat discrimination?”

    Let’s see, how about this for corroborating information:

    – the DHS has recently purchased approximately 2 billion rounds of ammo (enough for a 20-something year long war)

    – the Dmoestic Drone program putting 30,000 drones over American skies

    – the passing of NDAA declaring the entire globe a battle field legalizing the arrest and indefinite detention of American citizens based on suspicion alone

    – the MIAC Report labeling veterans, Libertarians, and End the Feders as terrorists

    – the complete demonization of Gun Owners and the current effort to repeal the 2nd Amendment

    Get your heads out of your asses and look around…there’s plenty of corroborating information if you’d just WAKE UP!

Trackbacks For This Post

  1. Coup d’état in America – more evidence | Conservative News and Views
  2. US Law Enforcement Buys Shooting Targets of Elderly and Pregnant | Top Secret Writers