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Monday, January 03, 2011

Finger Off The Trigger - Sacred Cow In Need Of Butchering

My article of 17 December about Finger On The Trigger generated a great deal of interest, and even some hate mail (imagine that).  Most readers agreed with my perspectives, but many did not.  Of those who did not, their main issues were those of liability, startle effects, and something we will call “interlimb reaction”.  So in this article I want to examine each of those and shed light on the matter. My focus is simple…to help my good guys win their gunfights.  A department’s liability averse policy is not even of marginal interest to me. Neither is whether something is “established” or “accepted”.  Good heavens if we followed that line of thinking we would still be trying to perfect our weaver stances and sight pictures for groups at 3 yards. 

One thing that I saw was a very lock step “all or nothing” world view.  Thus if I said finger on, it was always on, and vise versa.  If gunfighting were so simple, we would not need any training in it would we since everyone would be an expert.  In the circles I move in, it is impossible to have an intelligent conversation with another martial adult if one takes such a point of view.  In the real world, things are not black and white, all or nothing, and one size never fits all.

IMG_1323 To reiterate.  I am advocating the finger off the trigger as a default position.  In other words, unless there is a better place for it, the finger will be indexed along side the frame of the firearm.  This is where it would normally be when moving or generally covering a danger area.  But when approaching a specific danger point, or challenging or covering a human adversary at gun point (only a fool covers from low ready) the finger should be touching the trigger to reduce your reaction time, and thus increase your safety.

So here we go.

First thing that I did was to contact Shawn Dodson at FirearmsTactical.com.  Shawn has a very thorough collection of Dr. Fackler’s work and since his article was one of the reasons I conducted the research I did, I wanted to go over it again to make sure I did not miss anything.

The article in question was written by Dr. Martin Fackler and Ernest J. Tobin.  It was titled Officer Decision Time In Firing A Handgun, and appeared in the International Wound Ballistics Association magazine – Wound Ballistics Review.  It is a scholarly study on how long it takes the average officer to decide to shoot.  They determined that it takes approximately .677 seconds to react and fire a handgun that is already pointed at a threat with the finger out of the triggerguard.  That is an additional time of .312 seconds over those whose fingers were already on the trigger. Fackler suggested, quite correctly from my perspective, that it was unsafe  to require officer’s fingers to be outside the triggerguard until they had made the decision to shoot.

IMG_6678 Now as a trainer of some experience I will be the first to say that it makes the training job very easy to require novice shooters to keep their fingers off the trigger and out of the trigger guard until they are well aligned on the target.  But that is simply a vehicle to get them to a point in their development safely and I know that people do not fight like that outside of the learning environment. The problem is that very few officers ever really leave the range in the sense of their development as gunfighters.  Most are not interested and would be just as happy to show up, be driven through the game of qualifying, and go back to whatever else they were doing once finished.  You will not find the state of the art in the rank and file of police officers thus few will ever leave the basic level of development.

Something else that Fackler points out in some later correspondence relating to his article is that police administrators are not so much concerned about combat competence as they are about liability avoidance.  In fact, police policies are largely created to reduce a department’s liability whether or not that reduction creates more danger for the officer. What invariably happens is that officers, not being fools, will ignore such policies at critical times.  That means that should there be any fallout over a certain event, it is relatively easy for a department to find the officer at fault, transferring the liability to him.  In turn it creates a situation where an officer will say that he has in fact done as the policy demanded…even though he had not.

I saw such a development first hand at a force on force class that I taught a few years ago.  The man in question was an officer at a very modern technique based school.  Looking at how they handled themselves on the range I would have half-expected to see a small raven logo on their badges.  In any case, after a particularly hairy force on force scenario, I queried the officer about what he had seen as far as a sight picture.  He stood tall and reported to everyone that he had seen a perfectly clear and sharp front sight.  It was then that I asked for the airsoft pistol he was using.  It was one of mine and had no sights on it at all.  One can imagine what sorts of inaccuracies such an institutionally forced thought process creates.      

Uzischool-9 Now the problem may be limited to the police world, but since so many firearms instructors either come from the police world, or are affected in training by it, what the cops do trickles down, for good or for ill, to the private citizen CCW crowd. Since so few private citizens actually get involved in gun battles, and since few police officers talk openly about their experiences (can’t tell internal affairs one thing and the students in gun class something else) these perspectives get passed along.    

The startle response is another matter. 

When we are startled will our hands clench?  Will our trigger fingers automatically and reflexively contract? That has not been my experience. Several times in the old days other officers fired their weapons around me and the shots did in fact startle me, but my hands did not register the sort of reaction the gun gurus say we will have.  Two events were notable.  One a flash bang thrown into a room hit an obstruction and bounced right back at our feet.  Very exciting but no involuntary clenching.  Another time an officer fired a shotgun slightly to my right side rear at an approaching pit bull dog.  No involuntary anything took place.

FOF-PHOTO-30 Finally, I want to discuss the issue of “interlimb reaction”.  This is another thing that inexperienced gun trainers talk about for hours.  They heard it somewhere, read it somewhere, and accept is a fact of life.  The issue was first presented at an IALEFI  conference.  You can guess what happened next as gun writers and inexperienced trainers began parroting the theory. The original piece had to do with the human reaction to a sudden loss of balance and not evident anywhere else.  It has nothing to do with exertion as a matter of fact.  At a recent class we had advanced students hold a Glock 17 on a target, finger on the trigger and slack taken out while they did very rigorous kettle bell snatches with a 24kg KB.  No unintentional shots were fired due to so called interlimb reactions.

I suggest that students of the art look at these so-called theories for themselves and test them.  Open your minds and your eyes.  It is far better to kill a sacred cow, than it is to worship one.

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Excellent Gabe, I cannot say that I am ready to butcher the cow yet, but I love your articles and challenging training concepts (old or new). I need to further research this myself, I have considered it often but pushed the thought aside. Thanks for the read


To paraphrase General George S. Patton, Jr., if everyone is thinking alike, then they are not thinking.

Skewered and BBQ'd sacred cows always taste best.

Happy New Year!

Gabe, you keep doing what you're doing.
I, for one, appreciate it.

Sacred cows make the best hamburger.

I personally knew Dr. Fackler, and spoke to him or corresponded on several occasions regarding many of the concepts and point Mr. Suarez brings out in this and previous articles. I found Dr. Fackler to be interested solely in the truth and not in supporting his position through research. His work also made sense from what I had observed and knew through personal experience.

I would also add that while I, too, teach "Off-threat, off-trigger, on-threat, on-trigger," we cannot teach people to absolutely disregard their own survival needs. As his/her perception of threat increases, the greater the likelihood that the individual will act in a manner that increases their ability to survive. If the firearm in-hand is that means of survival, not only will that individual "muzzle" the perceived threat (contrary to what current safety-fantasists are insisting is a "safety violation"), but as the perceived threat becomes more imminent, the finger will unconsciously move to the trigger as a means of increasing his/her survival. Just like training can't cure stupid, it also is very difficult to train out survival reactions that are so unconscious that most don't remember doing it even when in a non-threat environment like training. It's common to have students shocked when shown the video of them doing what they deny occurred.

I believe we need to deal more with the real-world of humans behind the guns and, while hoping for the ideal, accept the real. A finger on the trigger when in a hairy situation is one of those real deals that training will likely never address.

I agree with Mr. Suarez that "ideally" we want the finger off the trigger until the decision to fire is made, but that is not the real-world of human beings attempting to problem-solve their way through a threat environment.

Gabe, I found your testing of the interlimb reaction interesting. Having read about this several times and thinking back on 8 years military service, one of which was with the US Army in VietNam I could not recall any interlimb reactions. Being a lets see what happens type I tested it for myself quite sometime back and got the same result as you. No unintentional bangs.

Excellently written Gabe, thanks for the info!

Over the years the late Ray Chapman drilled people to "Shoot With Stress" and to grip the gun as hard as you can. While such is not perfect, it does help take out involentery movement.

I always think when I see TV shows where the hero (or nowadays most likely heroine) has the gun pointed at the baddie with the finger indexed firmly on the frame is proving that they have no idea what they're doing. Finger off the trigger *until your sights are aligned on the target*. The bad guy is the target. What's the problem here?

Good point. ;)

Gabe, I like this. I was taught, and yes, I am ancient, to shoot with a single action revolver where one has his/her finger ON the trigger all the time and then fires with the hammer. I have never gone away from that. No matter a Glock, just have your finger on the trigger. I have never involuntarily done a damn thing with gunfire or people yelling or anything else, I suppose I just know where my finger is. I am not in any way going to keep my finger indexed off the frame of the firearm once I decide there may be the most remote possibility of a threat. Until then, fine. However, once I even surmise there's a possibility of firing, I want my finger ready to actuate the weapon.
My 2 cents. And, you're on the right track here. Firearm safety is in the gun holder's head. Not in some rule book.

I agree with you. If I anticipate that I may need my weapon immediately... my finger is on the trigger. If not then it is along side. There is no need to keep your finger off the trigger when you have your target in sight... even if you HOPE you will not have to shoot.

Gabe, this is one topic I think law enforcement has seriously dropped the ball on. When learning to use a defensive weapon, it is true the policies are written by administrators who are trying to avoid liability. In reality not all of their policies are good in practice. So where does the rubber meet the road so to speak. A good defensive shooter will begin to train with the finger off the trigger, over time on the street they should begin to recognize when its time to keep it off the trigger, and time to put it on or at least inside the trigger guard.This skill alone is hard to train, as a the person has to be observant and skilled with their weapon. Along with not being so ingrained into what basic defensive training has taught to realize the differences in situations compared to training. The sad truth is very few officers are avid shooters, or even take the time to practice unless forced too by their department. This alone allows them to think their 50 round annual qualification course makes them truly gun fighters, when in fact it leaves them sorely lacking in skills unless backed up with constant on going training & practice.

I am a retired police officer and was head of firearms training of a 900 man dept. when I retired. That being said as my credentials, I could not agree with you more.
I have always taught that if you are "on target" you are on the trigger, and likewise "off trigger" if you are not on target. I taught "on target" included covering suspects or perps.

I also want to commend you on your concept of the importance of force on force training. Since retiring I have assisted in several force on force training sessions for private citizens and have come to realize that a lot of what is taught by a lot of law enforcement agencies and civilain schools doesn't work in the real world.

I don't feel qualified to answer your questions based on my limited experience in the hypothetical situations posed by you. However I will agree with your answers for the given situations with one observation. When your finger is on the trigger you must train so that trigger pressure control remains a conscious skill and not something that we allow our subconscious mind to control. For once a bullet has left the barrel it cannot be recalled!

Outstanding article. What you teach novice shooters and what is required to prepae for combat situations are two different things. Your spot on with this Gabe!

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About Suarez International

The Suarez International Blog is a "warrior lifestyle" publication dedicated to the modern excellence-seeking martial enthusiast. Every article and video will feature the most up to date weapons, tactics, technology, and training methods available today. Not limited to merely "guns", we include articles on international adventure travel, extreme physical training, and living well in the modern world.