Kevin R. Davis
Nowadays it is routinely tossed about by critics of police and private citizen armed encounters that the officer, homeowner, housewife or citizen in a self-defense shooting should have taken more time. “If the officer had ‘slowed things down’ or taken the time to talk to the armed subject, the shooting could have been prevented,” or “If the homeowner had taken the time to call police instead of shooting the home invasion suspect, the suspect may have been arrested.”
The notion of “all the time in world” to make a decision or “slowing things down” is fraught with many complexities most of which are not understood by the public, the media and special interest groups. For instance, the suspect, intruder or attacker is the one who dictates the time of his violence. Quite simply he may not wait for back-up officers to arrive or police to get there based on a 911 call. He controls the distance, which based on the notion that distance equals time, dictates response. If someone is charging or actively attacking you, you cannot say, “Hold on! If you just wait, we can resolve this nonviolently!” And he points his pistol or draws his knife based on some internal “go” signal. He doesn’t have to wait to respond to anything other than his internal cue…
Throw the human factors or perceptual distortions/narrowing caused by an SNS
– Sympathetic Nervous System reaction a.k.a. fight or flight, such as auditory occlusion, tunnel vision, inattentional blindness and yes, tachypsychia (time distortions such as things going into slow motion or speeding up) and you have a slower response time than normal.
Response time is the correct term and composed of two parts – reaction time (a mental process which involves perceiving the threat in this case a man drawing or bringing a gun into play) and mentally downloading a response (bringing you gun into action); and, movement time (the actual time it takes to draw, lift and begin firing).
What does this mean to the officer or armed citizen? First of all that distance is a factor. Dennis Tueller taught us years ago (SWAT Magazine; How Close is Too Close?; March, 1983) that subjects, armed with contact weapons such as knives or bludgeons, can attack by running and striking, stabbing or slashing from a surprising distance before we can draw and shoot. If time and distance is available we should seek cover but if a man is actively attacking us with these contact weapons they are a deadly threat. Further research was done by Tom Hontz and Ray Rheingans from Scottsdale, AZ PD on this topic. Hontz and Rheingans compared the time it took officers to draw and fire or raise their pistol from low ready and hit either a small or large target based on a visual start signal (light); and how long it took subjects in their study to run a set distance, or draw and fire a pistol in various positions on their belt line (holster, front of the waistband, rear of the waistband). These police trainers then compared the time an average, non-SNS or non-stressed, officer to complete these tasks to the time it takes subjects to complete attacking movements.
What we see is that even if the defender has his pistol out and at low-ready, it took on average 1.15 seconds to respond to a visual signal and fire, versus the suspect’s time of 1.09 seconds to draw from the appendix position inside the waistband and fire. The time, recorded by these instructors, for a suspect to raise and fire when the pistol was out and in hand was .59 of a second. Clearly this indicates that a man with a gun in hand, depending on the totality of the circumstances, is a deadly threat since he can raise and fire before an officer can perceive the threat and respond in time.
In 2011, Blair, Pollock, Montague, Nichols, Curnutt, and Burns published a study Reasonableness and Reaction Time in which they studied how long it took officers, in this case SWAT officers which would normally have much more firearms training, to respond by firing a Simunition pistol at roleplaying subjects who attacked the officers with their Sim pistols, from a position down and to the side of their feet or pointing at their own heads. The question was, is a man with gun in hand a deadly threat to an officer who is pointing a gun at them and challenging them to put the gun down. On average it took the roleplayer/subject .36 of a second to raise and fire from a low gun position, and .40 of a second to fire after pointing at their own head. This is compared to the time it took an officer to respond by shooting – .38 of a second and .40 from a high assault position. Now, keep in mind that these officers were primed and ready to shoot and were un-stressed (non-SNS) in the scenarios. As stated, this would normally slow an officer’s response. These researchers then compared the videos of the mock armed encounters as to who shot first. “Suspects shot faster in 49% of the trials.” “Additionally, even in the situations where the officer was faster, there was less than a .2 second difference, suggesting that the suspect would still get a shot off in most of the encounters.”
What cannot be factored in these studies is the human factors of the suspect. We cannot reasonably expect one or two shots to stop a homicidal suspect. Further, ambulation after death teaches us even if the heart is blown out, a person can stay in the fight long enough to kill you or others.
No, we don’t have “all the time in the world” in an armed encounter but we may have only the rest of our lives to stop an armed man. “Ties” are unacceptable and known as “mutual slays” in the self-defense business, i.e. you kill them but they kill you. Certainly the truth is that based on time and the totality of the circumstances, an armed man, regardless of where his gun is carried or pointed can present a deadly threat to an officer or private citizen. As Steve Miller sang, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’…”