US Marine Handgun Training Changes Underway

Marine M9

The US Marine Corps appears to be moving to the new Combat Pistol Program (CPP) ahead of schedule.  The pistol qualification course is a replacement for the Entry Level Pistol Program (ELPP), and is supposed to be in place at all commands by November 2014.  However, the Marine Corps Times is reporting that many units are implementing the program well ahead of that date.

According to the Marine Corps Times, the ELPP allowed a Marine 10 minutes to shoot 15 rounds at 25 yards.  The new program has stages from 7 to 25 yards and times of 5 to 12 seconds.

As some of you know, my professional background is in law enforcement.  One of the things that always struck me about military vets that came into police work was the high degree of incompetence most soldiers and Marines demonstrated toward handguns.  With rifles, they were all proficient and most could teach me a few things.  But with handguns, the lack of skill was downright depressing.  That’s not a commentary on the individuals, rather a condemnation of the poor training they were given.

I’m glad to see that the Marine Corps is taking pistol training more seriously, and that the various commands are embracing the new training.  While the use of a pistol in combat is probably a relatively rare occurrence compared to the rifle, the guys carrying a pistol need to know how to use it efficiently.

Richard Johnson

An advocate of gun proliferation zones, Richard is a long time shooter, former cop and internet entrepreneur. Among the many places he calls home is


  • Mike W

    Very few regular troopers get training with or use pistols in the military, so that is part of the reason they have a lack of skills within that frame.

  • asx

    Most enlisted rarely use a pistol. Moar training needed.

    • big daddy

      That will change as the military gets more into small police type engagements and not all out war.

  • Ripley

    You’d have to be authorized by role (MOS) or mission to use a service pistol, then issued and trained for it, then be able to carry. Unless you’re an officer or specialist this is usually not the case.

  • Sid

    Glad to see the Marines are catching up with the other services.
    The Army pistol qualification has been since 1991 (my first pistol qual) several stages from 35 meters up to 7 meters using both strong and weak hand firing and mandatory reloads. Times were short but adequate.
    As other comments have ackowledged, only service members with certain MOSs qualify with pistols. Medics, MPs, or commanders/1SG/CSM. Most service members never qualify with a handgun.

    • Ron

      I have shot the Army course before, found it easier the the ELP
      From FM 3-23.35

      The Combat Pistol Qualification Course requires the Soldier to engage single and multiple targets at
      various ranges using the fundamentals of quick fire.

      a. Extra Rounds. For each table of the CPQC, the firer is given extra rounds to
      reengage missed targets. Although only 30 targets will be exposed during the entire course,
      each firer will receive 40 rounds of ammunition. Hitting a target with an additional round
      during the exposure time is just as effective as hitting it with the first round. Consequently,
      the firer is not penalized for using or not using the extra ammunition. However, any unused
      ammunition must be turned in at the end of the table, and may not be used in any other
      b. Magazine Changes. Only three magazine changes are required during this course:
      one change in Firing Table II, and two changes in Firing Table V. For safety, each of these
      two tables begins with a magazine loaded only with 1 round. The first target appears, and
      the firer engages it with that round. By the time another target appears 8 seconds later, the
      firer must have reloaded and prepared to engage. He will receive no commands to reload.
      Failure to reload in time to engage the second target is scored as a miss. This teaches the
      Soldier to change magazines instinctively, quickly, and safely under pressure. In Table V, a
      second magazine change is commanded by the control tower.
      c. Double-Action Mode. When firing the 9-mm pistol, the Soldier uses double-action
      to fire the first round in every table.
      d. Range to Target. The range to exposed targets must not exceed 31 meters from the
      firer. Table A-1 shows target exposure times for each firing table.
      The following qualification tables apply for day, night, and CBRN qualification. The
      standing firing position is used throughout the qualification:
      NOTE: 1. The range OIC determines a common target sequence for all lanes. This
      keeps a firer from getting ahead of adjacent firers.
      2. Target sequences vary in distance from the firer, starting with no more than
      two targets at 10 meters and the farthest targets at 31 meters.
      3. The firer will remain in the same firing lane throughout the CPQC.
      a. Table I–Day Standing. For this table, the firer receives one magazine with 7 rounds
      in it. Five targets (single) are exposed. The firer assumes the standing firing position at the
      firing line. He holds the weapon at the ready. The tower operator sets the target sequence.
      b. Table II–Day Standing. For this table, the firer receives two magazines: one
      containing 1 round, and the other containing 7 rounds. Six targets (four single and one set of
      two) are exposed.
      (1) First Magazine. The firer loads the first magazine (containing 1 round). One target
      is exposed.
      (2) Second Magazine. After he fires the round in the first magazine, the firer must
      change magazines at once. He has 8 seconds to load the second magazine (containing
      7 rounds) and prepare to fire before the next target is exposed. Once it appears, he must
      engage in the 3 seconds before it is lowered. Failure to do so is scored as a miss.
      c. Table III–Day Standing. For this table, the firer receives one magazine containing
      7 rounds. Five targets (three single and one set of two) are exposed.
      d. Table IV–Day Standing. For this table, the firer receives one magazine containing
      5 rounds. Four targets (two single and one set of two) are exposed.
      e. Table V–Day Moving Out. For this table, the firer receives three magazines: one
      each with one, seven, and 5 rounds. Ten targets are exposed. The firer begins 10 meters
      behind the firing line, in the middle of the trail.
      (1) The firer loads the first magazine (containing 1 round). He places the second
      magazine (containing 7 rounds) in the magazine pouch closest to his firing hand. He places
      third magazine (containing 5 rounds) in the magazine pouch farthest from his firing hand.
      (2) When the firer reaches the firing line, a single target is exposed. The firer has
      2 seconds to hit it before it is lowered. He then has 8 seconds to load the second magazine
      (containing 7 rounds).
      (3) At the end of 8 seconds, another single target is exposed to the firer. If the firer has
      not loaded the second magazine in time to engage this target, this round is scored as a miss.
      (4) When the tower operator is sure that the firing line has completed the magazine
      change, he commands MOVE OUT. He then exposes two multiple targets, one after the
      other, at various ranges from the firer.
      (5) After two sets of multiple targets are exposed, the Soldier is commanded to load the
      5-round magazine. After the command MOVE OUT is given, the remaining targets are
      presented to the firer in sequence. After the last targets are hit or lowered, the firer clears the
      (6) The firer holds the weapon in the raised pistol position with the slide to the rear. He
      returns to the starting point and places the weapon on the stand. He turns in any excess
      ammunition to the ammunition point. On hearing the order to do so, he moves to the
      firing line.

      f. Table VI–Day Standing, CBRN. All firers will wear protective masks with hoods.
      For this table, the firer receives one magazine containing 7 rounds. Five targets (three single
      and one set of two) are exposed.
      g. Table VII–Night Standing. For this table, the firer receives one magazine
      containing 5 rounds. Four targets (two single and one set of two) are exposed.
      NOTE: Commanders may use the Engagement Skills Trainer (EST) 2000 to conduct
      Firing Tables VI and VII (CBRN and night fire).

      • old soldier

        As a US Army Officer and pilot, I always carry an M9 when deployed. I grew up with guns and always score expert. I can tell you from experience that the ARMY makes going to the range sooooo painful that most soldiers will do most anything to get out of it. God forbid you actually have to run a range. By the time you suit up with full battle rattle (armor vest, helmet, all the bs that goes on it, eye pro, ear pro you really just want to shoot and get out of there no matter what you score. The pic of the marine wearing a soft cap at the range is laughable in the Army. Not to mention that you drew weapons at 6AM, and in the back of a LMTV for an hour.

        I have been an excellent marksman my entire adult life, but going to a range makes me feel like an idiot. I have even been to some where they have a safety guide holding the strap on the back of your armor as you fire to make sure you don’t turn around and start blasting other people….really? BTW I just got back from deployment and they have banned the rear facing shoulder holsters. Apparently guns were going off and shooting people standing behind one another in the chow line. I joke, but they really did ban them.

        Before I joined, I shot ALL THE TIME. Now I seldom even handle my personal weapons because it isn’t fun anymore.

        • Aaron E

          That is a real tragedy! Sounds like the Army needs to take some advice from Civil War General George Wingate, and Colonel William Church and get the troops shooting more, and more enjoyable.

  • Steve

    Marines are the best trained and need the best equipment. Devil Dogs.

  • Todd Williams

    Actually, I’ve seen this lack of training with pistols by police and the military. I think there has been a mentality that for the military the pistol is the last resort and for the police is how often do I need to pull the trigger outside qualifying. My friends and colleagues that have concealed carry licenses practice real world drills, one handed, left handed, backing away, falling, etc. of course this isn’t at public ranges. The order of our day is if you carry it be ready for anything!!!

    • When I’ve trained officers over the years as one of the instructors they better wear old clothes and hydrate because they will be running, taking cover, engaging moving targets, multiple targets and shooting from an old police car that’s on the range.
      Of course that’s after the stand still and poke paper for score.

    • Christine Guinn

      I still get people who tell me that pistol competitons like IPSC or IDPA are not training, just practice. I disagree. It’s both, and I think the fact that the Marines seem to be moving to more of an “action pistol” type training backs that up. You learn new skills from talking to and watching more experienced shooters, and you get to practice them frequently. I’d trust the pistol skills of a C-Class IPSC shooter over that of a newbie police officer any day.

  • Esh325

    I don’t really see anything wrong with a lack of emphasis on pistol training in the military, since rifles are used mostly.

  • Lance

    The Marines quals are less accuracy and more police style tactical scenarios.

  • JumpIf NotZero

    “One of the things that always struck me about military vets that came
    into police work was the high degree of incompetence most soldiers and
    Marines demonstrated toward handguns. ”

    That’s scary… Because when as a civilian, I shoot with police I’m always struck by the high degree of incompetence most demonstrate towards handguns… So… the military guys must be REALLY bad.

    … Not a police slam…. Just that almost every one I’ve shot with has been mediocre at best with a handgun. Not counting the SWAT guys, they actually practice besides qualification requirements. Just an anecdote.

    • Sadly most officers aren’t gun guys or girls. My first question on the range before qualification was “how many of you have shot your service pistol since last quals?” My reply after a show of hands was dumb s—- That was always one of my pet peeves.

      • big daddy

        In the place I live the police are too busy doing paper work. They work long hours trying to do things they are told by our mayor Bloomberg to do. Since the mayor is anti-gun I guess he would rather the police be handing out tickets to everyone than actually try to do their real job, deter crime. Just look at the shooting incidents in NYC by police. Terrible marksmanship. The police here work long hours doing so many things and not enough true police work.

    • Aaron E

      The new Marine qualification course sounds much more realistic for pistol work. Even at 25 yards, allowing 10 minutes is ridiculous. It is sad that we are 10+ years into war before they changed an archaic shooting test, but at least they are!

      As a cop and SWAT member “zero” you are unfortunately right. A lot of your observation has to do with medium and small departments not having their own range, budget constraints for 5 years now, an unprecedented lack of ammunition, and the incredible lack of interest by individual officers. This may come as a shock, but there are some officers that took the job to be “officer friendly” and abhor the rough aspects of the job – including firearms.

      In many cases you have officers that are barely making ends meet, so to spend extra money on their own training (especially with today’s ammo prices) is something they just cannot afford. Remember that in America, the majority of officers are in rural areas with scarce resources. They should be dry fire practicing though at least.

      As far as the police vs. military comparison, most LE agencies at least spend a full day training and shooting each year before qualifying. If the military is only spending a couple of hours they are setting those soldiers and marines up for failure.

  • Sid

    Bullets? Are they going to give these Marines enough bullets to sustain the training? For civilians, this may seem like a silly question. But for those of us with military experience, it is a very serious question.

    The US Army and National Guard want soldiers to be as accurate and proficient as 58 rounds of ammunition can make them. Confirm your zero in 18 rounds. Shoot qualification in 40 rounds. They are so magnimous that they will also give you 20 rounds to shoot with a chemical protective mask on and if you are really good they will let you shoot at a near invisible target at night with 20 more rounds. After those 98 rounds, you are ready to fight?

    As a young private going through infantry OSUT, I remember shooting everyday for a week prior to qualification. During our AIT phase, we shot at moving targets, used burst fire, and shot night fire ranges. The goal was competent riflemen. It takes bullets. Lots of bullets, ranges with various scenarios, and good training.

    The Marines have a new pistol qualification course. It appears to be the equivalent of the US Army Combat Pistol Qualification Course. Are they also going to train the Marines prior to the qual? Are they going to shoot for a week before qual? Will the USMC give each shooter enough bullets to be proficient?
    It is not enough to send the individuals on a roster to the range on qual day. There has to be a serious training program leading up the new qualification course.

  • eric

    Do the military make any use 22 training weapons?

    • Jesse Welling

      Or even laser trainers? Seems like one of these would pretty handy for training on a DA/SA like the M9…

    • Christine Guinn

      They had to at some point, because I’ve seen surplus Kimber model 82 .22 LR for sale on CPM’s website.

  • Man pippy

    In what situation would military use a pistol apart from sentry removal? None that I can think of.

  • TheDaywalkersDad

    As an ex Marine, I have to agree with the author’s statement about military men and handguns. The training was very poor when I was in. Bear in mind that was in the late 1980’s.
    The Marines made sure that everyone was proficient in gun handling but didn’t put a lot of effort into handgun marksmanship. We were severely limited in how many rounds we were allowed for practice before qualifying. I was lucky enough to serve in security forces for a couple of years, and we got a little extra handgun training. When I got to the fleet, I saw how bad the pistol training really was.
    Hopefully things have changed over the last few decades.

  • orly?

    I must be a freak, I made pistol expert on my second try.

  • Found out today you were taken

    Wild. When I was in the corps for 11 1/2 years. I NEVER had that much time to qualify. The MAX we had was 15seconds for a full .45 mag. and 30 for a 9 mm

  • 19D Cav

    I didn’t train or qualify with a pistol during my 5 years in the Army, as a Cav Scout… One of the first times I fired a pistol was when I bought my own as a gift to myself.

    • big daddy

      1/11 acr 19D cav scout here.

  • David Sims

    I did my small arms marksmanship thing at Eglin AFB in 1980. We used .38 caliber revolvers and paper targets graded 0 to 10 points per shot. I scored high enough to get the ribbon.

  • Mazryonh

    If they are going to carry handguns into combat, they really should be better-qualified to do so. CCW-carriers love to say “better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it,” and handguns can be useful in military situations when primary weapons are out of ammunition or otherwise disabled during CQB or MOUT situations, but only if those carrying them are sufficiently trained.

    What about force-on-force training with handguns, including surprise scenarios? If civilians can do “kidnapping simulation training” (link below), then what about military personnel? After the Fort Hood shooting, I’m sure the need to be able to deal with infiltrators, “home-grown military terrorists,” or people who are otherwise thought to be green but show their true colours in a hail of lead, with the “good guys” having nothing but their handguns to deal with the threat, has been proven beyond any doubt.

  • AllanC

    I remember “qualifying” with the Army’s sidearm, a .45, one day in 1974. Maybe two hours for the whole Basic Training platoon to shoot a magazine or two. That was the first and only time I handled a sidearm during my enlistment.

  • rocketman21

    I was pistol trained in the Marines back in the sixties. colt 1911. at that time the “range” was camp matthews. It was like a separate boot camp for rifle and pistol training. in those days rifle and pistol qual. was like joining a religous order. I don’t know how they are doing it now but the t.o weapon is a rifle every Marine is rifleman depending on your mos you may never carry a pistol. I was in a company weapons platoon crew served weapons so I carried for over 4 years. shot exp 3 times. semper fi