Gun guru Gabe Suarez and I got into it a bit when I called him insane. Setting aside any question of whether or not Mr. Suarez’s past behavior indicates less than robust mental health (Jesus loves him this I know), I took Suarez to task for suggesting that a shooter should keep his finger on the trigger whilst pointing a gun at a bad guy, when not in the actual process of shooting them. This struck me as the worst kind of advice: the kind that can get innocent people killed. Again, Suarez knows more about gunfighting than I’ll ever know. But that doesn’t make him right. In fact, in this, Suarez is dead wrong. First, let’s take another look at what he actually said on the subject on his warriortalknews.com blog . . .
I am well aware of all so-called safety rules, but being anal retentive about this sort of thing only hurts your survivability n the real world for which we train.
Lets set the dogma aside and actually think about this.
Certainly there is a place for “finger off trigger”, but holding an adversary at gunpoint while he decides how to respond to your challenge and determines whether you will shoot him or not may not be it . . .
I have never pointed a gun at a bad guy with my finger off the trigger, just like I have never challenged anyone from low ready. And I had plenty of opportunity when working night watch patrol, gangs, dope, crime impact and SWAT.
I also went to all the schools that taught the finger – off methodology. Yet everytime I challenged a bad guy I did it “pointed in” and with my finger firmly touching the trigger. Everyone I worked with did the same thing.
Know what? Nobody ever got shot that didn’t have it coming.
So no one that Gabe worked with ever shot the wrong person. And all of them pointed their guns at a bad guy with their finger ON the trigger, contrary to official procedure. Let’s take that at face value and not dwell on the wider implications for police training and discipline.
Suarez is talking about two very different situations: holding a bad guy at gunpoint and challenging a bad guy. Both of which should NOT be attempted with your finger on the trigger. Before I explain why that’s a very, very bad idea, Suarez explains why it’s a good idea.
In my experiments, a bad guy role player was often able to get the drop on a “low ready using, finger in register, good guy”, while the good guy that was pointed in with “finger on his trigger” made it much more difficult for the bad guy role player. Sure it was a matter of quarters of seconds, but those gaps are what make the deciding factor in gunfights.
First, it’s not a matter of quarters (plural) of seconds. The rabbi and I went to the range yesterday. Using a Surefire shot timer app, we tested my shot speed. I am by no means an expert shooter. But the test—illustrated but not demonstrated in the video above—confirmed what other studies have shown.
The response time differential with my finger off the trigger vs. my finger on the trigger: one-tenth of one second. I repeat: I was 1/10th of a second slower to fire with my finger off the trigger than on. During my worst performance, the difference was two-tenths of a second. Either way, you can round the number down to zero. There is no practical difference in shooting speed between starting with your finger on or off the trigger.
In the first instance, holding a bad guy at bay, that one-tenth of a second reaction time is not going to be the critical factor. In that case, you’ve identified the threat. The bad guy’s stationary. You’re free to focus your mind on looking for cues as to whether or not to shoot (e.g. a threatening movement with a weapon).
In other words, your mental processing challenges are relatively few. If you need to shoot, you can do so extremely quickly without analyzing complex variables (e.g. the target moving across a space, determining their intentions, IDing accomplices etc.) You have time to decide NOT to shoot. To issue commands, back up, seek alternative solutions.
If you’re challenging a bad guy—-FREEZE—it’s a more complicated business. The meaning of sensory information may not be clear, and you may have been taken “by surprise” (which slows down reaction time and reduces the likelihood that you’ll use your sights). You have less time to analyze the situation, and there’s more to analyze.
But again, the one-tenth of a second trigger finger placement difference is not the crucial consideration. In that situation, the decision of whether or not to shoot and where to aim will take up all your mental bandwidth and eat up all your time. As it should. Your ability to process that information quickly and accurately will determine the outcome—not trigger finger placement.
Actually, that’s not true. If your finger’s on the trigger when holding or challenging the bad guy, your odds of a negligent discharge increase astronomically.
Suarez raises and then dismisses studies that show that a parasympathetic nerve response (squeezing one hand causing the other to squeeze) accounts for hundreds of negligent discharges. The “startle response” gets similar short shrift. Apparently, expertise and training can forestall/eliminate all trigger finger-related negligence.
Only it doesn’t. Poor training—defined here as aiming and shooting your weapon with your finger on the trigger—increases the likelihood of a negligent discharge. Why wouldn’t it? If you practice aiming and firing without an intermediary step thousands of times, that process becomes the default option.
Many of Suarez’s supporters, and some TTAG commentators, are down with that. If you aim your gun at someone, you’ve already made the decision to fire. That’s nuts.
Self-defense situations are fluid. In the blink of an eye, an assailant can go from a deadly threat to a less-than-deadly threat. A person walking towards you with a knife may stop. The “weapon” a supposed bad guy’s drawing can turn out to be a police badge. You can instantly recognize that home invader as your daughter’s horny boyfriend. The bad guy may simply run away.
Leaving your finger off the trigger before firing, and practicing that way, gives you the option of not shooting. If necessary, you can blow past that option in one-tenth of a second. Macho posturing aside, putting your finger on the trigger while deciding whether or not to shoot increases the possibility that you may shoot when you don’t want to. A mistake that may cost the life of an innocent person, perhaps one of your children. Or yourself.
In my mind, the question is this: why NOT start with your finger off the trigger?
I can think of one example where one tenth of one second could be the difference between life and death: a shoot-out, where both combatants are equally equipped, and start the firing sequence at exactly the same time. Something like, say, a Wild West high-noon style gunfight. Which occurred (at least fictionally) in a tactically sterile battlefield.
Accuracy is another issue. The motion of drawing the finger down the slide, into the guard and onto the trigger jerked the gun slightly—enough to spread my groups out by about half an inch at five yards. [We’ll recreate this test in full later.] At combat distances, that’s simply not an issue.
At longer distances, you may want to take an extra second to aim at your adversary before squeezing (rather than yanking) the trigger. The nine-tenths of a second you’ve given yourself are the more important part of that calculation, if you know what I mean.
In short, follow the safety rule. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot your target. As in actually in the process of shooting. Anyone who suggest anything else is, I’m afraid to say (but I’ll say it) meshuggah.