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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!