Cover vs. Concealment: Don't Let Cover Become Your Coffin - ITS Tactical

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Cover vs. Concealment: Don’t Let Cover Become Your Coffin

By Jeff Gonzales

Jeff Gonzales

Asking for definitions of the word “cover” have more often than not, resulted in visceral responses of solid, robust and of course, bulletproof. That’s great that most folks know the difference between cover and concealment.

I suppose I would be remiss if I didn’t explain the difference for those just starting out in the art. Concealment obscures your position from the enemy, while cover absorbs the enemy’s bullets.

Cover, Cover All Around

With that being said, how often do you find yourself near cover; true cover? Take a moment to think about your daily activities. How often do you find yourself near a reinforced wall or engine block? The problem I have is that while most folks understand what cover is, there’s this idea that cover will be readily available when you need it.

While teaching an advanced tactics class last month, many of the troopers had a hard time giving up their notion of cover. It took them a while to realize that cover isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be, sometimes your cover can become your coffin. I don’t blame them at all, it seems indicative of today’s tactics being taught.

Jeff Gonzales

The Coffin Theory

In my experience of teaching, many of the TTPs (tactics, techniques and procedures) discussed for active gunfights have a heavy emphasis on seeking cover. I get it, it’s easy to just lump the response into a simple concept. However, it’s much harder to apply in practical terms. Then there’s the whole issue of what to do once you’ve obtained cover.

This is where you get a lot of dumbfounded looks. Ok, so you’ve found cover, now what? If you’re not willing to maneuver/move on the bad guy, they will more than likely outmaneuver you and in doing so, that precious cover you held onto now has become the big “X” you were trying to avoid.

Vertical Fetal Position

Sometimes folks get sucked into cover and it becomes what we call the “vertical fetal position.” You get right up on the corner with no room to do much of anything. The way you need to look at it is that cover is always temporary, I don’t care if you’re buried deep in some presidential bunker, it’s only temporary. Movement is life. If you don’t have a plan for what you’re going to do once you’re behind cover, then it’s only a matter of time before someone decides to take the fight to you. Add quick peeks and it’s just a major recipe for disaster. If you have reason to believe danger is around the corner, don’t do a quick peek. Ever.

Total Cover

We teach some simple concepts when working around cover. First, you have to understand what cover really is. It starts with your bullets, which are the best form of cover. If you’re putting the pain to the bad guy, it’s hard for them to do that to you. Next, you have your body armor to protect you against their bullets, followed by your buddy putting the pain to them. Last is ballistic protection, or what everyone thinks of as cover. See, it’s a lot more complicated that what most are led to believe.

It’s a major mindset shift, from a reactive measure of getting to cover, to employing tactics that emphasize total cover. Believe me, your reactionary gap when someone busts around the corner where you thought you were safe and sound, is too much to catch up from. And that’s how cover becomes a coffin.

Editor-in-Chief’s Note: Jeff Gonzales was a decorated and respected US Navy SEAL, serving as an operator and trainer who participated in numerous combat operations throughout the world. He now uses his modern warfare expertise as President of Trident Concepts, LLC., a battle proven company specializing in weapons, tactics and techniques to meet the evolving threat. Bringing the same high-intensity mindset, operational success and lessons learned from NSW to their training programs, TRICON has been recognized as an industry leader by various federal, state and local units. Organizations interested in training with TRICON can call 928-925-7038 or visit for more information.

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  • Quote: “First, you have to understand what cover really is. It starts with your bullets, which are the best form of cover.”
    Until last August I lived in Seattle. No one needs to teach that city’s cops that their bullets are their cover. The problem is that they turn to them first, last and always. As a result, innocent people die.
    In my neighborhood, they blundered in their pursuit of a guy fleeing from a family disturbance and killed him when he picked up a piece of rebar. Why the heck were they so close to him that rebar became a weapon?  He was unarmed, so 30 feet was all the cover they needed.  And the guy was so overweight, they could have followed him from a safe distance. After few blocks he’d have been lying on the ground, panting and helpless. Stupid, really stupid!
    A little before that in downtown Seattle a newbie cop shot a Native American wood carver who was crossing a street carrying a clasp knife that was folded. No one around him saw him as a danger, only a hyperactive cop who jumped out of his patrol car, yelling at a guy who was hard of hearing. Then, thinking his cover was his bullets, he fired four times, killing the carver and putting a host of others at risk.
    So don’t tell me cover starts “with your bullets.” Cover starts with showing some common sense and doing your best to NOT have to use your gun until the other guy poses a threat a heck of a lot more serious than brandishing a piece of rebar and ambling along with a closed knife.
    And yes, I know that Seattle police are under federal sanctions for their behavior. But they aren’t alone in this. Far too many cops think their bullets are their first, last and best cover. There’s a YouTube that shows a mixed-up homeless guy shot 46 times by cops who believe that. At times the firing is so intense, you can’t even separate the individual shots. You’ll find it here.

    And no, barking out orders is no excuse, particularly with someone who is obviously mentally deranged and probably has serious health issues. Your bullets are not your “best form of cover,” particularly in many of the situations where today’s gun-crazed cops use them. That’s why you’ll not find me recommending TRICON for training.
    And for the record, I’ve worked with homeless people, drug addicts, and the mentally ill. I’ve dealt with dangerous situations by not behaving like these cops. If you want to calm someone down, calm down yourself and don’t threaten them or scream at them like an idiot. Lot of them come out of dreadful childhoods and have their heads badly screwed up by drugs and alcohol. None of that is a capital offense. Even ordinary people don’t respond well to being screamed at by someone brandishing a gun.
    There are alternatives. Were I a police chief, I’d required every cop starting out skip showering or shaving for a couple of days, dress rough, and spend a weekend living on the street and in a homeless shelter. They might learn a bit more about dealing with such people than they learn in TRICON training taught by a former SEAL who seems to confuse ordinary city life with a combat zone.
    Sorry to have worded this so bluntly, but this is something I feel strongly about.
    –Michael W. Perry

    • 3916pete

      InklingBooks Hi, I have been in law enforcement for 10 years. I work at a Sheriff’s Office but it is a large department with most of the problems of a big city, just more spread out and less patrol deputies. I understand your concern regarding the number of rounds fired and the short amount of time which it occurred in.  I have been in several deadly force situations and I can promise you that the number of rounds fired is usually a lot more than you think. This is do to the body entering what is sometimes called survival mode or “Fight or Flight”. Common reactions include auditory exclusion, tunnel vision, and blank spots in your memory. With that said if youre experiencing these symptoms you will not know how fast you are firing or if you partners are firing at all.  You will stop shooting when the threat stops coming at you. Your comment about the man being armed with rebar and very overweight seemed to imply he was not a threat at all and the officers should have let him walk away until he got tired. That is not an option for police officers at that point because the suspect could walk down the nearest street and pound some innocent person to death with the rebar. Then the officers are liable because they did not prevent that tragedy. Secondly in all of my training both attending and teaching, the standard for reactionary gap is between 21-28 feet depending on the school of thought and other environmental/physical factors involved. The reactionary gap is not a magic zone that means you will always stop the threat and walk away unhurt, it means you will likely be able to get on target and fire your weapon. You could still easily be stabbed or hit. In the example you listed, you stated the suspect was about 30 feet away and the officers should not have been that close. I have already explained why they cant let him walk away and are therefore forced to be close to the suspect.  As for the rebar not being a deadly weapon, I can assure you I don’t want to be hit with rebar. Im sure if a person was hitting you with rebar in the head or anywhere else, you would think you were in serious trouble and be concerned about serious injury or death. With that type of threat the only reasonable answer is deadly force. You should not armchair quarterback a situation you were not there to experience.

    • KenJones61

      InklingBooks  The author didn’t state specifically that he was talking about engaging someone in a fire fight as he probably thought any idiot would know that, but apparently you didn’t.

      “Bullets as Cover” means that by firing at the bad he is ducking and taking cover so he can’t fire at you or it works as you’re actually putting bullets into him so that he can’t accurately fire back at you.

      Also, were you a police chief it would mean, hopefully, you’ve been a police officer for a number of years.  That would mean your attitude and outlook would be completely different.  You would know why EMS calls police to make sure the scene is safe on a suicidal subject call.  Why Protective Services have a police officer standing by on in-home mental evaluations.  It’s because using your mouth isn’t always an option.

      Sorry to be so blunt, but that’s just the way it is.

  • RPG156

    Its easy to see the fault in the advice given if you are not charged with the awesome responsibility that police officers are. I believe that the point, which you missed, was that “cover” isn’t just the object between you and someone else’s bullets trying to find you. An officer and soldier knows that if you stay behind the engine block of your car while someone is shooting at you, then they simply have to walk around the car until the engine block isn’t your cover anymore. And instead of letting the bad guy pin you down, you pin him down.  Not even in Seattle, where you obviously are at odds with those that protect you, do the police want to kill someone. Nor do they want to be killed or watch some innocent person be killed. Yes, there are tragedies and yes, you have the almighty righteousness of hindsight on your side, but for a moment, listen to the story a word at a time and try to decide what you would do and survive the encounter or not shoot the other person. Its quite simple to judge the cops when you know that the guy with the knife was a carver and he didn’t respond because he was hard of hearing. Or was he homicidally bent of committing suicide by forcing an officer to shoot him and was he just ignoring commands? Did you see the other Youtube video about the officer on a traffic stop and a woman from a nearby factory on her break walked up behind him and stabbed him in the back with a pair of scissors?  People do crazy shit. Now, go back and read the article again and just for a moment, imagine that he wasn’t talking about you, in your neighborhood, in Seattle…. and the bad guy wasn’t a cop…. Can you?

  • BillSmerdon

    InklingBooks, I think you missed the whole point of the article.  The author was obviously referring to a deadly force scenario, e g., a bad guy with a gun trying to shoot you.  Whether or not the examples you cite from Seattle where righteous, I will not presume to judge, because I wasn’t there, nor have I been presented all of the evidence.  I am willing to bet you weren’t there either nor have you seen all of the evidence.  

    Go for a ride along some night with your local police department.  Feel what it is like to ride around with a bulls eye on your back for just a few hours, then maybe you won’t be so quick to judge until you see all the evidence.

  • Hello Michael, 

    Thanks for expressing your opinion, however I get the feeling as though you aren’t open to listening. Since you were honest in your opinion, allow me to return the favor. I question your credibility. You are certainly free to speak your opinion, but I find your opinion filled with emotion, not logic or anything constructive. I am more than happy to discuss tactics with anyone, but I have to always temper it with the education of the group. 

    So, what have you done. Because without some credibility it turns into an argument and an argument with someone who is ignorant of the subject so why would I waste my time. Make no mistake, I’m not questioning your right to voice your opinion, just the validity of your opinion. 

    The responses from those who posted all made it clear that you read one thing, truthfully I don’t know what that one thing is or how you came to that conclusion. Then you place a single video as your justification, how does that validate your point of view? In what clinical or scientific environment would one control be sufficient to build an informed opinion. 

    I honestly appreciate your opinion, but just because you disagree doesn’t give credibility to your view point nor does it mean your opinion is correct. 

    If you do have something constructive to add to the discussion I am all ears and will look forward to it, otherwise I wish you well. 


    Jeff L. Gonzales

    • RPG156

      Jeff L Gonzales  Jeff, no worries. You said it right. Michael simply listened to the voice in his head, answered the question it asked, all the while pretending that it was rooted in your article. As you know, you can’t  (or shouldn’t) argue with a fence post…. and this here’s a fence post. 
      Take care and stay safe.

  • Matthew

    In a situation where the crap has already  hit the fan this is practical. Most people have a hard time identifying that situation. In a full on gun fight your bullets would lead, but in a confrontation physical cover you can place between yourself and the aggressor before anything happens is most important.

    Now in a gun fight(paintball being the best simulation we have, we keep it close so the slower projectiles don’t affect the outcome) Standing back from your cover is our preferred tactic.  If you are behind a corner, and space permitting, stranding 2-3ft. back from it allows you to snap instead of peek. Instead of the Hollywood style with their back against the cover, peek then roll around the corner to raise your firearm, we stand back facing the opponent and with the firearm aimed in their direction. We keep our weight as far back as possible so we can bend at the waist to snap out and in, keeping the gun aimed between snaps.This means in about half a second you can be out, shoot, and be back in. The shot placement also benefits and will normally make the opponent cover, allowing you to snap out again within about a second of your previous snap put a few shots down and move to a different position, or hold your bead and wait.

  • Anthony Kemmerlin

    The Plain Truth: Jeff Gonzales’ timely article, “Cover vs. Concealment: Don’t Let Cover Become Your Coffin,” is the best tactical (general approaches) coverage of this subject I have come across. I plan to incorporate his insights into my personal protection and defensive tactics training protocols.

    • Anthony Kemmerlin  Thanks Anthony, glad you enjoyed. Take care and stay safe. Jeff

  • Chris

    Yes exactly! Thank you for this article. Spent five years in law enforcement and just stayed continually pissed at the quick peek theory and general misuse of cover. If you’re going to commit to a shot, then commit! Know that it has a high likelihood of success before you shoot. Otherwise what’s the point? (yes of course, in teams you can use suppressive fire) I’m mainly referring to the personal defense situation down at the corner store. “movement is life” Yes! Always move from your original position. Covertly if possible. Tactical retreat. Repositioning. etc. All valid.

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