Of the four basic rules of safe firearm handling (All Guns Are Always Loaded, Never Point a Gun at Anything you Don’t Want To Destroy, Don’t Put Your Finger Near/On the Trigger until you have Decided to Shoot, and Be Aware of your Target, and Beyond), my favorite has to be number three – keep your finger off the trigger until you have decided to shoot. As a corollary to rule number three, once you have finished shooting, get that finger off and away from the trigger once again.
“But I may need that one tenth of a second advantage (or less) I might get by having my trigger already on the trigger.” “Hey, I’m super trained, I have amazing skills I’ve honed over many years, even if my finger is on the trigger, I won’t move my finger until I’ve decided to shoot.” And a variety of similar excuses. OK. Right. Well let’s talk about these things.
The Force Science Institute, and others, have done testing in laboratory conditions to test reaction times when using a pistol. The results: from a ready position, on average it takes .31 seconds (three tenths of a second) from a simple stimulus (typically a light or buzzer), to the trigger being pulled – representing the shot being fired. In some studies, with more complicated decisions needed before pulling the trigger (a series of lights needing to be activated), the time increases to an average of .56 seconds.
Now, put move the trigger finger to the side of the firearm, off and away from the trigger, and the time increases on average about .10 second: that’s one-tenth of a second. In an actual shooting situation, of course you want every advantage you can get – and a tenth of a second can be a lot. But if you keep your finger on the trigger to speed up your reaction when not being justified in shooting at that specific moment, you may be setting yourself for trouble. And here’s why.
Your body, as a biological and mechanical entity, has built in capabilities and limitations. Electronic impulses and chemical reactions cause the messages sent by your central nervous system to be transported to parts of your body. The way your body is designed and operates is fixed – you have to accept it, because you can’t change it. One mechanical example: try and touch your right elbow with the fingers on your right hand – guess what, you can’t do it: your arm won’t let you bend that way. Just as you cannot overcome these physical limitations, you also cannot overcome other natural reactions that are hardwired into your brain and nervous system.
Neuro-musculature interactions that you cannot control or stop from happening. I have three examples, the first is referred to the startle effect – this would be jerking or jumping in response to sudden stimulus. Let’s say you go to a scary movie. There’s that scene where the hand reaches out and grabs the hero – it is designed to startle you, and when that happens, your body jerks or jumps. Now, before the movie – you decide that you will use your mind to control this reaction – think you can prevent yourself from doing so, and not jump at the scary parts? I don’t think so.
The second is called postural imbalance – as you are walking down the stairs, you trip or start to fall, your natural reaction will be reaching out and attempt to grab the handrail, clenching your hand around it to help stop your fall. Go ahead and tell yourself that you won’t grab for something as you start to fall next time – you are just going to fall flat on your face, good luck with that.
The third is the exertion of maximum force – when you exert force in one hand to hold tightly to a handle, or struggling to control a person who is fighting with you, it is a natural reaction that force is also exerted in opposite hand. Making a fist in other hand, the other begins to clench as well. Sure you can focus and make only one hand clench – but in doing so you will not be able to generate as much clamping strength.
Now, let’s add a firearm into the mix. It is 3:00am and you are checking out that “bump in the night” with your firearm. You have decided that potential one-tenth of a second advantage may be needed, so instead of keeping your finger on the side of the firearm, you have your finger resting on the trigger, just in case you might need to shoot.
As it turns out, the neighbor’s cat snuck into your house a few hours earlier. As you walk through the living room, it jumps from the top of the table to the couch. Or maybe it runs between your feet – causing you to trip over it. You are startled, or begin to fall because you have lost your balance. Your body’s natural reactions kick in, and without any way to stop it, the hand carrying the pistol involuntarily contracts. As it does so, your index finger moves to tighten against the trigger, and the pistol fires.
In this situation you might only be embarrassed, and possibly have a brand new bullet sized hole in the floor to repair. Examples are plentiful of situations where these involuntary reactions caused the finger resting on a trigger to fire a gun, but instead of a “harmless hole in a wall,” a bullet struck an innocent person, or injured a criminal who the person holding the gun was not justified in shooting at that particular moment.
Case in point: an officer taking a felon into custody. He’s got the guy laying on the ground, face down at gunpoint. As he starts to apply the handcuffs, he twists the felon’s arm a bit causing a flash of pain. In reacting to the sudden pain, the felon’s body jerks a bit. The officer, who still has the gun in his other hand and pointed at the felon, is startled a bit, and then the gun goes off. The officer had his finger on the trigger, and the when the hand holding the gun squeezed suddenly and the gun fired.
While the officer did not intend to do so, the officer has just shot an unarmed man in the back. The man was submitting to being arrested, and not resisting. Other witnesses including police officers were nearby and watching as this occurred. This is not a situation that you want to be involved with, or anywhere close to, for any reason.
If you don’t want to unintentionally shoot someone that you are not justified in doing so, keep your finger off the trigger until you have decided to shoot. Hmmmm…. Where have I heard that before, oh, that’s right, firearms safety rule “Number 3.”
It is just as important to remove your finger off the trigger AFTER you have fired your firearm. Shooting a threat several times, and then keeping your finger on the trigger when the threat is no longer present – can cause similar problems if you shoot someone additional times – after they are no longer a threat. Remember to include this in your training – only have your finger on the trigger when firing your firearm – and then remove it if the threat is no longer present.
I haven’t yet touched on a very likely scenario, and one that is very important – that being the chance that the unintentional shot will be one that hits YOU. You are only inches away from the muzzle of any firearm you are holding, and in many situations you are the most vulnerable to being injured by the bullet when an unintentional round is fired.
To protect yourself, and others, when around guns, always follow ALL the firearms safety rules, but especially my personal favorite – Keep Your Finger Off The Trigger And Out Of The Trigger Guard Until You Have Decided To shoot!