Self-Defense: A Drill to Test Reaction Time

It typically takes 1.5 to 3 seconds to draw and shoot a self-defense handgun. In that time an attacker could cover 15 feet. Would you be able to draw and shoot in time?

Defending yourself in an attack requires time, distance, and proficiency with your holster and firearm. While teaching concealed-carry classes, though, I’ve found that many people do not realize or fully understand how a threat affects your ability to react. That’s why I developed a drill that reveals how much distance an attacker can cover in the amount of time it takes you to draw a concealed handgun and fire it accurately, which is shown in the video here.

I first learned this action-versus-reaction drill from firearms instructors during my law-enforcement training at an International of Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association conference many years ago. This drill is effective because it provides the person carrying concealed with a visual representation of the distance an attacker can cover during the same time they are drawing their firearm.

The drill does have a drawback: Participants already know the instructions and goals of the drill, so participants don’t experience the surprise, shock, and threat detection that are parts of any violent encounter. Participants do not have to identify the threat and make a decision. In real life, this is a luxury victims aren’t afforded. Still, the drill is valuable and revealing.

The Drill

Here’s how to set up the drill:

  1. A shooter, carrying a concealed firearm, faces downrange approximately five yards from a paper target. For safety reasons, do not use any concealed-carry holster that allows the gun to be pointed in the direction of anyone on the range.

  2. A second person stands back to back with the shooter. He or she will act as the deadly force assailant.

  3. A third person, preferably a range safety officer, stands to the side of the shooter and deadly force assailant holding a shot timer.

  4. On the sound of the shot timer, the shooter draw his firearm from concealment while, at the same time, the deadly force assailant runs away from the shooter.

  5. The deadly force assailant stops running at the sound of the first shot.

Once this drill is completed, the shooter will be able to see how much ground a determined assailant can cover before the shooter can draw and fire.

It is critical for any concealed-carry handgun owner to recognize the many factors that increase the time needed to effectively draw a firearm from concealment and place rounds on a threat.

There are several factors that will increase or decrease the time and distance:

  1. The physical conditioning of the attacker.

  2. The amount of time it takes to recognize a threat and respond. This typically takes anywhere from 1.5 to 3 seconds.

  3. Ambient light. Low light will slow response times due to difficulty to identify a threat.

  4. The location of the firearm on the shooter's body, and shooter's familiarity with drawing from that position.

  5. Familiarity, or lack of familiarity with the concealed firearm and holster, will also impact time and distance. Be sure to become proficient with external safeties, clearing malfunctions, magazine releases, and holster retentions before carrying any gun in any holster.

In a deadly force encounter, action tends to beat reaction. For those who carry concealed firearms, it is important that they are aware of their surroundings and any potential threats. Only through early recognition of potential threats can a would-be victim have an opportunity to draw a firearm in self-defense. If a spontaneous attack occurs and an aggressor gets the jump on you, your firearm probably isn’t an option. Once you determine the distance you need to draw your firearm in self-defense, anything closer than that means employing another tactic to create time and distance. Many people who carry concealed firearms believe that a gun is the definitive answer to any deadly force encounter, but the truth is we always need to be ready to defend ourselves in other ways first. If you doubt this advice, watch the end of the video.