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.
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.
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.
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.
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.