Monday, December 29, 2014

Finger on the Trigger?

Earlier this month, I linked to an article by Gabe Suarez suggesting that the finger off the trigger rule was being taken too far. He began by noting that no situation is black or white, and so no general rule is applicable all of the time, and then explained:
... 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. 
He also dismisses the "startle response"--i.e., inadvertently clenching your hand when surprised:
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.
Over at Tactical Sh!t, "Shooter Scope" takes the opposite opinion, writing:
A few years ago, a seasoned shooter and I had a small debate about keeping one’s trigger finger on the trigger when pointing at a “bad guy” or keeping the finger in the index position. The index position, of course, is keeping the trigger finger straight and off the trigger and outside the trigger guard, ideally resting on the frame of the weapon. My stance was to keep the finger off the trigger until I’ve made the conscious decision to shoot. My friend’s position, on the other hand, was to rest the finger on the trigger just in case he had to shoot. 
As I recall this shooter held a master or grandmaster rank in the USPSA and IPSC competitive shooting, so he didn’t lack gun handling experience. In fact, with his military and law enforcement background, I was confident he had pointed a gun at people before, although I can’t be sure how often. That said, because of his background, I was totally shocked he would even suggest such a thing as resting his finger on the trigger when pointing at someone he hasn’t decided to shoot.
He then dismisses any speed advantage as being negligible:
Time was the biggest factor in the debate. Seriously? It takes a nanosecond to move the finger from the frame of the weapon to the trigger. With the finger on the trigger, it takes about the same fraction of the second to pull the trigger. The difference is almost without comparison. Assuming you’re already pointing the gun center mass, the delay, if any, has to do with the time it takes a shooter to make the decision to shoot; the thought goes from the brain, through the brain stem and to the trigger finger. That’s about the same for both shooters—the one with his finger already staged on the trigger and the one with his finger off the trigger and in the index position. Therefore time, albeit very minimal and almost without comparison anyway, isn’t worth the risk. 
When I was training a few years ago with a former Chicago SWAT operator (and IDPA shooting champion) with a heck of a lot of experience pointing guns at people, much more than my aforementioned friend, he said that there were studies that showed that under stress a person will involuntarily tighten both their grip and feet. (He, too, advocated for keeping your finger off the trigger.) 
I’ve been unable to find those studies, however, I recall well the time a Las Vegas police officer was pointing at a guy on the ground that her partner was handcuffing and she had an ND. I happened to be watching the news that day. (Note: This was in the days before I had Internet.) 
After speaking with an officer who worked at that same department, I learned she later quit. But, in her defense, I believe a lot of the blame—if not most of the blame—could be put on the training program at the police department at that time for not emphasizing that the finger must be straight and off the trigger unless there is a conscious decision to shoot.
 I haven't read the Fackler paper, but it is significant to me that Saurez cites a specific study on timing, as compared to "Shooter Scope" resorting to hyperbole, essentially offering up his feeling that he is just as fast with the finger on the trigger as outside the trigger. Perhaps he is, since he only trains with his finger off the trigger, and going outside his training would slow him down. But does that apply to the majority of us?

What say you? Fingers always off the trigger or not?

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