Competitive Shooting

The Reaction Time Deficit

A gun shooter holds 9mm automatic pistol in right hand in front

In the July of 2022 article Quick to Action: The Overlooked Carry Option, I wrote the following in an attempt to explain the deficit in the reaction time curve that civilian defenders find themselves faced with when trying to react to a deadly encounter.

“Herein lies the concealed carry holder’s dilemma. If you wait for the “in fear of your life” threshold to be met, you are at least 3–5 seconds behind the curve before you can even begin to react.

Todd Jarrett shooting during a stage at the Steel Challenge
Todd Jarrett shooting during a stage at the Steel Challenge in 2.31 seconds.

Three to 5 seconds is an eternity when someone is trying to hurt you. Okay, so my slow mind finally recognizes a threat exists. Now, I must determine what action to take. Next, I must ‘will’ my body to start doing something. That is one helluva deficit to overcome when bullets are coming your way.

If I am carrying in any of the previously mentioned positions, I have to start by clearing the garment or garments, depending on how I dressed. Then, and only then, can I start my presentation. Depending on how dedicated I am at practicing, we can add another 3–5 seconds.

That’s 6–10 seconds before you are responding, moving, and/or returning fire. That is way too long, and you are probably wounded or dead by then. Have we been fooled into thinking that if we carry, we are safe? If we are properly trained and think things through beforehand, we might prevail.”

I thought that was clear without going into a great amount of detail, but apparently, I was wrong. RKC responded on July 3, 2022, at 4:20 PM with the following:

“6-10 seconds before you are able to return fire? My “maw-in-law is 83 and can cut that in half or more! She practices a bit though.

Shootout on a New York city street
Ambushed and shot from behind on a New York City street.

While ridiculously fast times are often quoted, two seconds from under a covering garment is average — if you practice daily as you should. Unless you adopt a ponderous slow tuckable or ankle holster, or just don’t get it.”

If RKC didn’t get it, I am sure others did not as well. It is such an important part of the self-defense equation, I felt I should attempt to clarify what I meant. First, let me say that I am sure that RKC’s 83-year-old “maw-in-law” can beat Rob Leatham on the range with targets, timers, trainers, and tacticians, but that’s not what I am talking about.

When we are shooting in a competition or practicing at the range, we are in our fastest gear with no cover garment to impede us in any way. We also know when the buzzer will sound because we have audible cues and respond. Stand By! Shooter Ready! BEEEEEP! It is not a surprise by any stretch of the imagination that we are expected to draw and fire at a known target of targets. We are prepared mentally and physically for what will happen and when.

Patrons eating at a diner.
What if there is an armed robbery at the local diner while you are having breakfast with a friend?

We can do some meditative and warm-up exercises, get hydrated, and whatever else you need to do to be at the top of your game before hand. But what happens to the 83 year old “maw-in-law” when she needs to perform when it is totally unexpected and totally out of context? I’ll bet she is even further behind than those 6 to 10 seconds I mentioned earlier.

First, we must consider the fact that no matter how badass one thinks they are, we never really know how we will respond until we are tested. Fortunately, most people never have to go through the crucible of combat, let alone a gunfight. There is no test to simulate it except the real thing. Hence our response to things such as Buck Fever or the Fight, Flight, or Freeze syndrome are not the type of things that we can know ahead of time.

Fight, Flight, or Freeze

In this column, I will limit the discussion to Fight, Flight, or Freeze syndrome and will not address the phenomenon of Buck Fever. The fight, flight, or freeze response is your body’s natural reaction to danger. It’s a type of stress response that helps you react to perceived threats. It’s a survival instinct that our ancient ancestors developed when we emerged from caves as a way of dealing with danger.

Crime scene after a shopper was attacked in a mall parking lot
How about being attacked while waiting in line in a crowded parking lot.

Simply put, fight or flight is a defensive response where you prepare to fight or run like hell. Your heart rate increases, getting more oxygen to your major muscles. Your pain perception drops, and your hearing sharpens along with other physiological changes. Hopefully, those changes will help you to act quickly — or not.

The freezing part of fight or flight puts everything on hold. It’s also called reactive immobility or attentive immobility. It involves similar physiological changes. You stay completely still or freeze. You pray that the Saber Tooth Tiger will not see you. Hopefully, you’ll prepare yourself for the next move — if there is one. Unfortunately, being immobile places you in more danger of which you might never recover. Understand that fight, flight, or freeze isn’t a conscious decision. It’s an automatic reaction that you can’t control.

The fight, flight, or freeze response is triggered by fear. And fear is a conditioned response, which means you’ve associated a situation with a thing that you’re scared of. When faced with a perceived threat that causes you to realize that you are in a dangerous, life threatening situation, your body automatically reacts with the fight, flight or freeze response to keep you safe… Hopefully! Perceived threats, or things we consider dangerous, are different for each person. In some circumstances (and with some people) the fight, flight or freeze response can be an overreaction to a non-threatening situation that can trigger the reaction with embarrassing, good-natured ribbing as a result.

It is my firm belief, however, that through proper training and practice you can mitigate the Fight, Flight, or Freeze syndrome and use it to your advantage. The most elite fighting forces understand that you will fight the way you train as the expression goes… “Train hard, fight easy!” That being said, the civilian who is out with family or friends does not normally have combat on their mind. The reaction time of soldiers or police officers is faster because they know they are constantly operating in harm’s way.

Ghosted image of a handgun in a concealed carry guest
You can always cut response time by just shooting through your clothes without making a presentation — if the threat is close enough to warrant it.

Attention and Preparation

Even those of us who try to always stay in Condition Yellow are not. Think about all the times you are not in Condition Yellow. While in church, at the doctor’s office, at the gym, while jogging, picking vegetables at the market, in your yard gardening, at your child’s play, recital, sporting event, or graduation, dropping off items at the cleaners, ordering take out, sitting in a nice restaurant, at the movies, coming out of the barber shop, or watching TV in your easy chair. Get the picture? Being armed is only part of the equation.

I can provide evidence of documented criminal acts and shootings that have taken place at all those places and activities, and guess what? No one reacted as fast as they do on the range because action is faster than reaction. The criminal is always the one who initiates the violence. Before we can consider responding, we must realize there is an action occurring, analyze it, and determine the type of action that might be required (and appropriate) on our part — that all requires time.

Next, we must access the proper level of response we are capable of. Remember, you can only use lethal force if you are in fear of your life. By the time it gets to that level, you are behind the reaction curve. The amount of time you are behind depends on one’s training, awareness, physical ability, skill, and age. Yeah, I know, but age catches up to all of us (if we are lucky enough).

Sequence of drawing a handgun from a pants pocket
Having your hand on your gun ahead of time shaves seconds off the reaction deficit.

Back to RKC’s 83-year-old “maw-in-law,” I don’t know how fast she is or isn’t, but I just turned 77 with some mobility issues. On the range, I can shoot a Mozambique from the surrender position in under 1.5 seconds. When I’m out and about, I know I will most likely have to come from behind those 3 to 5 seconds that I mentioned at the beginning. It will be longer because my recognition and reaction time are not what they once were.

I do have one dubious advantage that “maw-in-law” does not. Unfortunately, I have been shot at, and fortunately, I know how I will likely respond. Train often and correctly. Stay frosty, and practice, practice, practice!

What’s your reaction time in a competition or training/practice? What do you think it would be in a real situation where you were surprised? Share your answers in the Comment section.

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Comments (20)


    Thank you for commenting but unfortunately for what ever reason you missed the entire point of the article so I will state it more plainly for you.

    First of all it was a response to another comment regarding a statement in a previous article entitled: Quick to Action: The Overlooked Carry Option.

    This article was titled: The Reaction Time Deficit because it was intended to illustrate the amount of time it takes, based on age and other factors… (And this is important so pay close attention) To REALIZE you are under threat and then decide WHAT ACTION TO TAKE and actually take that action if you are capable. Additionally it points out how far ahead of you the aggressors will be no matter how good you are while pointing out how important Situational Awareness is.

    I hope this clears it up for you.


    “The Real Most Interesting Man In The World”

  2. While I agree with most everything stated in the article, I have a major objection to the article as a whole. If you want to teach truth, it isn’t enough to just write true things; you also have to lead your readers to draw true conclusions, and that’s where this article falls short. Whether Mr. Laporta intends it or not, the lesson many people are going to learn from this article is that in a self defense situation, their primary focus should be on drawing their weapon as quickly as possible, and unfortunately, that’s a lesson that will get people killed. Let’s state the obvious: No amount of training is going to help you if you’re already dead. If you find yourself in a self defense situation, either your assailant has failed in their initial attempt to kill you, or else killing you (at least you in particular) is not their primary goal. If there’s an armed robbery at the crowded diner in the example, standing up and whipping your gun out as fast as possible is far more likely to get you killed than taking some extra time to bring your weapon to bear surreptitiously. If bullets are already whizzing past your ears, your priority should not be on getting your gun out, but on making yourself as hard as possible to hit. Use cover or concealment if they’re available, but even if they’re not, MOVE! Don’t stand there like an idiot fumbling for your handgun. Draw it while on the move, and then you can switch from the second mode of your fight or flight response to the first.

  3. Why did the military go to 9mm? Not because it is more effective than the .45 A.C.P. (Because it’s not). But because the military is now full of pussies of both genders! I agree with the writer big bullets are better bullets. John Mose Browning was right all those years ago! 1911A1 hoorahaa!

  4. @Mark Maples. How many GSW victims have you seen? I ask that because I know a myriad of Police officers who would disagree with your statement, “…a hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .45!” As a former Army medic who spent time overseas doing SAR/Recon, as well as 30+ years in metropolitan ERs as a nurse, I have seen hundreds of GSW victims and too many people who counted on sub-par weapons (such as .22, .25 ACP, .32 ACP, and even .380) to defend themselves, found themselves dead.

    The local police officers who frequented the various ERs I was working, dubbed those calibers as The Last Bad Choice of Dead People Everywhere because in their experience as metropolitan police officers, they had seen more people killed as a result of shooting someone with those calibers (and were promptly killed by the shootee) than were saved. I am speaking of reports that I received from dozens of police officers in more than one metro area over more than 30 years. After seeing hundreds of GSW victims who were shot with those calibers, I would say fewer than half succumbed to their wounds and many who did die still managed to kill their shooter before they expired. To me, that is a fail.

    If you have never been under fire or drawn a weapon on another human being (me? BT, DT), you are operating under some grave and possibly fatal misconceptions. It is not like in the movies; it is a life changing experience; and for some it is not a change for the good. If you read my first post on this thread, you may get an understanding of SOME of what I am speaking. It is not as easy as some would make it out to be. As I said, BT, DT.

    There are times when it is better not to carry at all than to carry something that will get you killed. If you shoot someone and all it does is piss them off, you are in deep do. The Army went to the 1911, because the .38 Long Colt was getting soldiers killed and that round was far more effective than the calibers I mentioned above. Look at the numbers for them. It is harder to engage another human being than you think. If that were not the case, there would have been far fewer veterans returning alive from every war, regardless of the side they were on.

    Carrying a weapon for security that is inadequate for the task is a fool’s errand. Now, can those calibers kill people? Yes, if the stars are aligned and it is their day to die. But, in my experience, it is not as likely as many people would have you believe, and it is far more likely that the shooter of those weapons will be listed as a fatality also even if the shootee dies, which he probably will not.

  5. While we all know that reaction time, in a response to a threat, is always going to be time consuming.
    One should think about buying time, while reacting to the threat.
    Not always a simple thing to do.
    Standing, or freezing, does not by time, so moving can help, as it is difficult to hit a moving target, and by “drawing” while moving could gain needed time as the “threat” must also react to your movement.
    Along with that, another distraction, such as calling out loudly, saying (For Instance) “Bill – he’s got a gun”, could assist also.
    This added distraction could very well give one the needed time to for you to properly react, and/or reach a safe location.
    All this, of course, would depend on distance and one’s own abilities.

  6. Great article, Mr. LaPorta, and hats off to CTD for sending it on.
    Now maybe RKC’s “mawinlaw” is a fit retired Law Enforcement Officer but, even if she is, your numbers on reaction time are much closer to reality that RKC’s speculation. He needs to take a look at some of the highly detailed research on reaction times done by Professor Bill Lewinski and his associates with the Force Science Institute. After viewing his videos on reaction time I don’t know how any person decides to be or continue to be a LEO, especially in today’s MSM/BLM colored environment. When a LEO approaches a car window for a “routine” traffic stop, an untrained bad guy can pull a pistol from the console and fire it in the LEO’s face in anywhere from 0.25 to 0.50 seconds and no one, even RKC’s “mawinlaw” can react in time do anything about it. That is reality. Your reaction time numbers are probably on the conservative end in light of Lewinski’s research.
    Disclaimer: I’m a retired attorney who spent a fair amount of time defending LEO’s in use of force situations. If you haven’t read it, I’d also recommend a book that Lewinski mentioned to me. “In Defense of Self and Others” by Patrick & Hall as there is a wealth of information in there on real world encounters with deadly force. This includes information on just how long it may take the bad guy to succumb to a fatal wound you inflicted (or vice versa for the LEOs.) In the famed shootout in Miami in 1986 one of the robbers received a fatal wound one minute into the gunfight and yet managed to kill two FBI agents 3-4 minutes later. You can put the round right where it needs to be to be fatal but, unless the bad guy decides to give up because he is hit, he can stick around for a long time before his BP drops enough from blood loss.

  7. Last Thanksgiving we were visiting relatives in Florida, staying with them in their condo complex. One evening I decided to take a walk. As I turned a corner I was confronted with three pit bulls. They started running toward me and I started moving towards them yelling trying to get them to back off. I was caring a .380 Taurus holstered in my front right pocket. But I didn’t want to deploy it on the dogs because I have had success with this aggressive tactic. The dogs calmed down but the owner came up to me and punched me in the face. By the time I had recovered from the punch I had drawn the .380 Taurus and was pointing it at his chest. The thought crossed my mind, “do I shoot?’ Fortunately, at that point, my attacker backed up, turned around and walked away. My reaction time was very fast for a person 75 years of age. I attribute that to the fact that I had made up my mind that taking a beating at my age could be life threating to me. I was prepared to use deadly force to avoid that.

  8. Use of lethal force means pulling the trigger, not simply drawing your weapon – although some states criminalize “brandishing.”

    You do not have to waste precious seconds coming to the final, reasoned conclusion that you are facing a threat of serious harm or death before starting the process of drawing your weapon and preparing to fire it. But make sure you have reached that final conclusion before you pull the trigger.

  9. Very interesting article enjoyed the read. However, I don’t care how much I train and how often I hit my target…I will NEVER out draw a cocked handgun rifle or shotgun or in the hands multiple assailants. I wouldn’t even try…but let him take his eyes off me is another story. I don’t think that is the 3f’s….that is being wise, and knowing my limitations. As of the time of this note, my only fear is NOT hitting where I point. It is a very good article

  10. This is by far the best advice I have ever read regarding reaction time. As soon as my life was threatened, I thought having a gun would keep me safe. However, when the time came, I froze. It was almost 30 seconds before I found a way out of the situation. Maybe even a minute. I don’t know because time froze. I froze. No time to draw my pistol due to closeness of the threat. No time to think through what I needed to do. I froze. What a wonderful conversational article on real life versus whatever else you use a gun for. I literally felt my life leaving me and went emotionless & death-like. Like, I had already been killed. I froze. All of my training, knowledge, videos, gone. Just lifeless. Like he won before trying to. Luckily, I got away. I didn’t have to fire a shot. I got to safety, called for help, and cried on the way home. I thought I was safe just because I had a gun for protection. I felt like a failure. My wife reassured me that my thought process was intact & that I didn’t make a mistake. Prior to the incident, I made several mistakes. Ignored my surroundings, didn’t look out for obvious hiding places, etc. But in my actions of persuading the would be death threat to leave, it gave me the opportunity to escape. As soon as I was inside a locked building, I drew, cocked, and awaited help to arrive. None of us are super heroes. None of us, regardless of training, can escape those very few seconds it takes to be caught in the wrong situation at the wrong time. This article has been tremendously helpful. Thank you, “Kirk”, for sharing it with me.

  11. First thing, ranges are not active shooters. As many of you have probably surfed ASD shooting break downs you will notice 10 seconds is nothing. You either get seconds are you do not. If bad guy comes in pointing a gun, you are behind period. Now you have to decide:-break leather-or not. Shoot-do not shoot. Clear line of fire? Is the threat THE threat? Ticking..ticking time Flys bye. The ‘best’ advice is obvious, do not be where stuff typically happens, duh. 2nd: practice both mentally and physically to pull from squatting, kneeling, laying (when they have the drop COMPLIANCE is essential) and moving. Your feet are going out race your brain.

  12. Practicing your draw and learning to be situationally aware are good things to do. Also learning to shoot accurately and the practicing your shooting are another part of the equation.
    I worked in corrections for many years. I was on the range with some who could empty a pistol in seconds. That’s because they were the spray and pray type shooter. They just fired the weapon hoping they hit the target.
    I’m not saying you need to shoot a one inch group at twenty five yards. Likely your target will be moving as should you be also. If you can hit from diaphragm to collar bone and between the breasts you are doing well in my opinion. Some may or may not agree.
    Also be sensible about what you carry where. If you are going to be in a packed crowed then a high energy caliber may not be the best choice. If you are a farmer or rancher out several miles from any other humans you may want a higher energy round to keep bad characters as far away as possible. Also learn what your maximum defense caliber is. What is the highest energy round you can shoot well and shoot comfortably for a extended period and quite a few rounds. No need to carry something you can only shoot five times before it makes your hands and wrists hurt. Also don’t carry just the basic capacity of the weapon. Always have extra ammunition close at hand ready for use. I tell people a hit with a .22 is better than a miss with a .45!

  13. I will forever refer to this as ‘the mawinlaw’ article. Great points as always. Thanks for another article with insights from Ed and thanks to the crew at CTD for keeping these coming.

  14. Great article. Perception, decision, reaction time is something you can train for. Knowing how you will react in a fright of fight moment is critical. Some things you cannot know until you experience them. Your mindset is crucial, be in the fight, stay in the fight, your life (or your loved one’s life) may depend on it. Thank you Ed! Great article.

  15. OODA loop time.
    ‘Everyone’ is ‘fast’ in practice.
    Race day is another matter.
    Rkc’s problem is that he has it upside down.

    He assumes he will be fast enough.

    The mindset SHOULD be ‘assume youre gonna be too slow’.

    I operate in a ‘target rich’ environment (nothing to do with shooting etc). If i let ‘reaction time’ dictate my safety well…it wouldnt be pretty. I KNOW I am fast. Im a professional. But i have to stay in tbe OODA loop 8-10 hours per day. I have to anticipate threats (and they are threats. Just not armed assailant type threats) CONSTANTLY. Because I know I might not be fast enough…

    Got to be ahead of the game ALL the time.

  16. Having a carry permit provides some measure of security until I start thinking about that 6 seconds and wonder how any of us could keep it together well enough to survive. Seems to me that when carrying, being vigilent about your surroundings (looking over your shoulder) is absolutely necessary. Thanks Ed.

  17. Another fantastic article Mr. LaPorta and once again you’re spot on . I think situational awareness is always key but the reality of the matter for 5 to 6 seconds is life and death. I’ve shot a lot more rounds down range in competitions than the average person. I don’t think it really prepared me for real life situations meeting our holsters were made for speed. We didn’t have to worry about printing, or the legality of pulling our guns. I’ve had the pleasure of witnessing your students shoot and you’re the best instructor I’ve ever been around and I’ve been around some good ones believe me.! Your articles have definitely open my eyes and I thank you very much

  18. When discussing Fight or Flight, I have found many people don’t really understand it, and I heartily agree with the author about it being an automatic response over which we have no control. As a retired ER nurse and Nurse Educator, I have spent hours in front of classrooms discussing this topic over quite a number of years and I would like to augment what the author has stated on this subject.

    Fight or Flight is a function of the Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) and is a physiologic response to stressors which are out of our normal daily experiences. And it can arise from a variety of stressors, not just fear; but, anger or any strong emotion can also trigger it.

    I will not go into the complete micro-physiology of these responses, just how those responses generally manifest themselves. When the (SNS) is activated, acetylcholine is released, causing the adrenal glands to dump epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortisol into our blood stream and most of our internal organs are affected. Heart rates, respiratory rates go up, the GI tract slows down and there are other responses that may not be recognized. The radial muscles in the iris contract allowing more light into our eyes, the ciliary muscles in our eyes relax allowing us to see further but we develop tunnel vision as near visual acuity becomes limited when far vision is enhanced; this makes acquiring the front sight and the target simultaneously VERY difficult and sometimes nigh unto impossible.

    With Fight or Flight, it becomes difficult for one to perform tasks that are usually simple when performed in a non-stressful situation, like firing a weapon. Add to that, the weapon one is holding out in front of them may be rising and falling with each heartbeat and the shooter is usually completely unaware of that fact. There may be nausea, dizziness and/or lightheadedness. One may develop sweaty palms to the point that they are unable to hold items or even pick them up. The person’s hands may shake uncontrollably causing that person to be unable to hold a weapon correctly. Many people feel that time is slowing down and they are moving in slow motion.

    As a veteran, I can attest to the reality of these responses as well, and until one becomes, shall we say, inured to these responses after several repetitions of these situations, indicating the Sympathetic Nervous System is not as alarmed as it was initially, then the skills one has trained in are more easily accessible in times of threat.

    I would say that freezing is just one component of the fight or flight response in that the affected individual’s brain, in response to the adrenaline cortisol, et al, cannot sort out the sensory input it is receiving and the person freezes. I have seen that in newby soldiers in training exercises, or when in the field during their first negative contact with people not wanting to play nicely. Freezing also happens with brand new baby nurses, as well as baby docs, who see their first code. It is all tied in to the Sympathetic Nervous System; now, as for buck fever, I mean, look at the list of symptoms people experience with buck fever and compare that list to the list above… Sympathetic Nervous System all the way.

    As a veteran, and a hunter, I can attest to the fact that engaging another person with a firearm leads to much more pronounced responses than when shooting deer, or any big game for that matter, for me at least, and I have done both. After the Army, shooting a deer was just excitement at putting meat in the freezer. There was no hesitation, so much easier. Besides, the deer and elk were not shooting back.

  19. First thing I am 83 years young. I test my reaction time quite frequently. In my twenties it was under .1 seconds Now it is still under a second (.77 seconds). However, reaction time doesn’t mean squat if your situational awareness is lousy. I started in the martial arts in 1955. Way before the “tag” tournaments started. We learned devastating self defense techniques. What we were taught was extremely lethal moves. Kick knees, break joints, gouge eyes et cetra. We were also tought to stay alert and look around us. (Now they call it situational awareness) I’m sorry, if you get in a gun fight you fu*ked up some how. I carry and am ready to deploy, but actively work to avoid it!

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