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Republished from a Force Science Institute email blast:

In terms of reacting fast to a sudden deadly threat, does it matter how you carry an unholstered or unslung weapon or where you rest your trigger finger before making the decision to shoot? In other words, does any one of the various ready positions commonly taught in police firearms training really give you a significant edge in response time? A two-part study by the Force Science Institute reported in the current issue of the peer-reviewed journal Law Enforcement Executive Forum provide some answers that may surprise you if you’re a strong advocate for particular positioning . . .

“The findings have implications for training and can also be of critical use to investigators in certain officer-involved shootings,” says Dr. Bill Lewinski, FSI’s executive director and lead researcher in the study, believed to be the first of its kind in police circles.

Here are the highlights:

PART 1: HANDGUN FINGER PLACEMENT. “The first, and seemingly most basic, position officers learn during their firearms training,” the researchers write, “is where to index, or place, their finger outside of the trigger well when handling their gun to minimize the risk” of accidental or premature discharge while still allowing the fastest possible response to a deadly threat.

With 52 federal officer volunteers from the Dept. of Homeland Security, Lewinski’s team tested four handgun finger-indexing positions “predominately taught and practiced” by LEOs and military personnel:

• the index finger points straight ahead, resting across the trigger guard

• essentially the same position, but with the finger bent slightly so the tip rests against the vertical side of the trigger guard

• the pad of the straight index finger rests slightly above the trigger guard, on the pistol’s frame

• the straight finger is angled more sharply upward, with the pad resting on the gun’s slide.

On a hot range, each participant fired from each finger position three times with his or her duty handgun. Once a member of the research team gave a signal, the officers could shoot whenever they wanted. They were instructed to move their finger to the trigger as fast as they could and, after firing, to wait for at least five seconds between rounds to assure that the finger was repositioned properly before the next shot.

The shooting was captured by high-speed digital cameras that allowed for precise, frame-by-frame computer analysis later to measure the time in hundredths of a second from the initial movement of the finger to its contact with the trigger.

RESULTS. “Until this analysis was completed, it was unknown what time differences might exist between these various positions and whether any position had a significant benefit of speed,” Lewinski told Force Science News.

What is now known?

“[C]ontrary to what many officers are commonly taught,” the researchers report, “there is no significant difference in contact time” between the various finger-indexing positions–with one exception: Positioning the finger to rest on the pistol slide is statistically significantly slower than the other options.

Starting from that position, the officers on average “were roughly 0.08 second slower in making contact with the trigger and over 0.10 second [slower] to fire than all other positions…. While many law enforcement officers argue that indexing the finger on the trigger guard, curved or straight, is faster than on the frame, the difference in mean time to trigger contact [among positions other than the slide position] is less than 0.04 second.”

That difference, Lewinski says, “would likely be inconsequential in a gunfight.”

PART 2: TACTICAL READY POSITIONS. Another area that “little to no research has examined” prior to the new study is the amount of time it takes officers to react to a threat and move their weapon from an unholstered ready position to a firing position. “Therefore,” the researchers state, “it is unknown what positions may most benefit officers with the quickest responses during deadly use-of-force situations.”

To fill that informational void, Lewinski’s team tested 68 volunteers from the Los Angeles PD at the department’s training facility. All were measured for how fast they could fire their duty handgun from various starting positions; nine were also checked for speed with a Remington 870 shotgun.

The drawn-handgun ready positions, commonly trained for use “when entering a threatening situation,” included:

• the Bootleg, where the pistol is held one-handed, pointing down and slightly concealed behind the officer’s leg

• the Belt Tuck, where the gun is held with two hands, pulled in close to the body at navel level

• the Close-Ready, with the gun pulled in somewhat higher than the beltline with the muzzle pointed slightly down

• the High-Ready, with the gun thrust forward in an isosceles grip at shoulder height, muzzle slightly depressed

• the Low-Ready, same grip but with the arms and gun pointing down at about a 45-degree angle

• the High-Guard, gun pointing up and held single-handed beside an officer’s head, a position widely trained in England but not generally favored in the US (except in Hollywood entertainment productions!).

Three shotgun ready positions were tested:

• the traditional Port carry

• the High-Ready, with the butt against the dominant-side hip and the barrel pointing up at about a 45-degree angle

• the Low-Ready, with the weapon shouldered and the barrel pointing down at 45 degrees.

Participating officers were told to bring their weapon to a shooting position and fire as fast as they could, once they heard a signal from a shot-timer. Their responses, including auditory reaction time as well as movement time, were measured to within 0.01 second accuracy.

RESULTS. When officers took time to aim, they were fastest in firing a handgun when starting their movement from the High-Ready position, at an average of 0.83 second. This contrasted sharply, for example, with the Bootleg and High-Guard positions, where the respective averages were 1.32 and 1.13 seconds. “A suspect can fire several rounds into you in that amount of time, while you’re just getting into position to defend yourself,” Lewinski says.

“Without aiming,” the researchers report, “officers moving from the Low-Ready position were fastest overall, firing in an average time of 0.64 second.”

“Overall,” Lewinski says, “the handgun timings indicate that the closer the ready position is to a final firing position, the faster the officer is likely to be in getting off his first round.”

While constituting no more than a pilot sampling, the handful of shotgun timings showed that officers were fastest when starting from the High-Ready position, 0.84 second on average. The Low-Ready average was 0.99, Port 1.28 seconds.

The fastest firing from the High-Ready position was about 0.60 second, but “unfortunately,” the researchers write, “some officers took well over 1.0 second to fire from each of the shotgun positions, leaving far too much opportunity for an assailant to attack.” Lack of practice was blamed for this deficiency.

IMPLICATIONS. “As with any skill, regular, high amounts of repetition in practice at high speeds will greatly benefit officers in reacting and moving as quickly as possible,” the researchers write. Indeed, Lewinski estimates that with diligent practice, you can cut your times for getting your finger on the trigger and your weapon on target by at least 50%.

So far as finger placement is concerned, given the study finding of negligible differences, he suggests that you pick whatever indexing position is most comfortable for you and practice improving your movement speed from there. With a rifle or shotgun, he recommends that you practice moving fromeach of the ready positions because each may be tactically desirable, depending on the circumstances you face.

Lewinski believes, however, that more important than improving the mechanics of weaponcraft is teaching officers to read potentially hazard scenarios early on, so they can detect threat cues quicker and better anticipate an adversary’s actions, thereby getting ahead of the reactionary curve before the crisis point. “Without that skill,” he says, “they’re likely to end up so far behind the action that things like the most desirable finger indexing and ready positioning won’t really matter.”

For investigators, he says that consulting some of the time measurements revealed in this study can help determine the dynamics of certain officer-involved shootings.

For example, “we now know the average times it takes for an officer to move from a finger position or from a ready posture once he or she has made a decision to shoot. In that time before the officer can actually fire, a suspect’s position can change substantially, causing the officer’s rounds to impact in unanticipated places, like the suspect’s back, for instance.

“The more investigators understand about the fractional time frames within a shooting event, the better they can accurately explain what really happened,” Lewinski says.

LOOKING AHEAD. Within the full study, some other time measurements are also revealed and discussed, including the speeds of drawing from snapped vs. unsnapped holsters and point shooting vs. sighted fire.

In the future, Lewinski and his researchers intend to explore a variety of related issues, including:

• the effect of finger placement on the risk of unintentional discharge

• the speed and retention benefits of different types of holsters

• methods for improving training and officer performance with long-barreled weapons

• the expansion of this initial study to multiple departments to verify the results.

The current study will be posted free of charge on the Force Science website at a future date yet to be determined. The full study, including photographs of positions analyzed and detailed statistical tables, is scheduled to be published soon in the Law Enforcement Executive Forum.

Besides Lewinski, the research team included: Jennifer Dysterheft, a doctoral student in kinesiology at the University of Illinois and a research assistant at FSI; Jacob Bushey, a master’s student in exercise physiology at Minnesota State University-Mankato; and Nathan Dicks, an assistant professor in the Dept. of Human Performance at Minnesota State.

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  1. I’ve heard that you’ll fight like you train. To be honest, I hope that I don’t have to find out. 8>) I do work on indexing my finger when I draw so as to avoid an embarrassing ND.

  2. It’s *extremely* important.
    Just keep your finger inside that trigger guard, and you’ll always be ready to shoot. No matter what.

      • It makes sense if you keep it in the holster until you need to use it. By that time your finger might as well be on the trigger.

        When I’m attacked while carrying, I draw, aim, and put my finger directly on the trigger, because I’m shooting in the next second if I don’t see a VERY good reason not to shoot.

        When I grab a pistol to investigate a noise in the night, I do it with the muzzle pointed at the floor and my finger outside the trigger guard (placing the fingertip on the edge of the trigger guard seems to be asking for trouble if you ask me).

        That pretty much covers the two reasons I might legitimately be holding a loaded gun with a need to use it quickly.

        • Completely disagree with this. Just because you’re in a position to draw your firearm doesn’t guarantee you will be justified in pulling the trigger. if you practice drawing and keeping your finger on the trigger, you will do it real world, and drawing a firearm on a real person that you may have to shoot is extremely stressful, and could lead to you shooting the subject even if he no longer poses an immediate threat (ie guy accosts you on the street armed with a crowbar from 30 feet, you draw, he pivots to flee and you end up shooting him).
          While he may have gotten what he probably deserved, we have all seen how eye witness testimony can turn the event in the eyes of the public and the police from you legitimately defending yourself to suddenly in their eyes you have shot someone in the back, which could spell legal disaster for you. It’s just not worth it to train with your finger on the trigger.

        • Tile Floor,

          We have to be really careful in this area. Drawing your firearm and pointing it at someone is deadly force whether you pull the trigger or not.

          Remember the standard to legally justify use of deadly force: a reasonable person would have to be in fear of imminent threat of death or great bodily harm from an attacker.

          That means your attacker must have the physical ability to severely injure or kill you, they must have indicated their intent to attack you, and their attack must be under way (to be imminent). When an attacker meets all three criteria, you are legally justified to draw and point your firearm — and pull the trigger if you believe that is in your best interest — to stop the attack.

          Note: my understanding of the legal landscape is a result of years of personal research. I am NOT an attorney and my comments above are NOT legal advice.

        • Hinshelworld,

          When you say “drawing down on someone”:
          — if you mean drawing a handgun and pointing it at someone without pulling the trigger, that is most certainly deadly force. Look it up.
          — if you mean drawing a handgun and having it in hand at your side and pointing down at the ground, that is almost certainly not deadly force. However, a prosecutor could charge you with brandishing.

          I strongly advise you to consult an attorney if you disagree with my comments above. As I stated in my previous comment, my statements are my understanding of the legal landscape and are not legal advise … nor am I an attorney.

        • I think you would be hard pressed to find a lawyer who will tell you that aiming a weapon without firing a shot is the same level of force as shooting and possibly killing someone.

          Most of the case law on this type of thing is regarding law enforcement and much of that is regarding 4th amendment issues.

          I have never heard of any case where simply drawing a weapon on someone resulted any charge based upon a use of unlawful force. If you know of any please let me know as I would be very interested to read about them.

  3. You know what the the only real rule in a gunfight is? Whoever gets the front sight on the target and pulls the trigger first, wins.. Training really counts and you should train the way you’re going to fight but the bottom line is as soon as you see the front sight on the BG, pull the trigger, keep the front sight on him and pull the trigger again.

    Say this mantra over and over again, “front sight, front sight, front sight” and do it while you’re training too

      • actually “point shooting” means pointing the weapon at your target without regard to using the sights.

        “using the front sight” means aiming the pistol using a fixed point of refernce mounted on the end of the barrel or slide.

        “point shooting” is not “aiming”

        Apparently a difficult concept for you but we’re all here to help you learn the basics

        • You don’t need to be rude.

          I think what he was saying was that the only REAL rule of a gunfight is, whoever gets effective rounds on target first wins.

          You don’t always need the front sight, or even sights at all.

  4. Most of the instructors I’ve trained with refer to the “High Guard” (as described) as the “Half Sabrina” – after Kate Jackson’s role in the Charlie’s Angels TV series. If you hold the handgun with both hands, of course it’s the “Full Sabrina.”

    Some of the most popular custom 1911 pistols, like those from Nighthawk Custom, have a recessed end on the slide stop pin, just on the off chance that someone might press on the end hard enough to dislodge it, since the pin is a very handy place to index the trigger finger.

  5. One of the things I like about my px4 compact is that it has a little shelf carved out right in front of the trigger guard which is handy for indexing. Of course, the takedown switch is right there so it’s not completely ideal, but if you don’t mind it digging into your support hand thumb, it can be pretty handy.

  6. • essentially the same position, but with the finger bent slightly so the tip rests against the vertical side of the trigger guard,,,,,usually what I subconsciously do with about any gun.
    • the Close-Ready, with the gun pulled in somewhat higher than the beltline with the muzzle pointed slightly down…….usually what I subconsciously do with about any hand gun..
    shotgun ready positions were tested:
    • the traditional Port carry
    • the Low-Ready, with the weapon shouldered and the barrel pointing down at 45 degrees.
    Either or….it depends what is going on. Usually I employ low ready.

  7. I’m not a cop. Have no need or desire to train, shoot or think like one.

    Getting tired of this kind of garbage, and all the OC bashing at this blog. I think I’ll go find something more relevant to read.

    • This isn’t only for police… this is relevant for anyone who holds a gun in their hand in preparation to fire.

  8. As unpopular as it may seem, bottom line, keep your freaking finger off the switch until you have to throw it. Do not over think a situation.

  9. Moving the gun up and getting a sight picture is the long pole in the tent, not moving your finger onto the trigger. Therefore, the high-index position makes the most sense. 0.04 seconds is statistically insignificant.

    The advantages if high-index are if you fall, your grab reflex won’t cause a loud noise.

  10. Pretty good timing for this post. I’ve been debating whether or not to move my trigger finger farther away than finger-on-the frame and was debating whether to switch to getting it high on the slide, or even on the ejection port. Now I’m not so sure.

    I’m not convinced I would dismiss 0.1 seconds as “inconsequential” in a gunfight. It’s a race to who gets an accurate shot first.

    Some races (no matter how you define that word) have been won and lost by hundredths of a second…or less.

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