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How Fast Should You Shoot In Self Defense?

When talking about using a gun in self-defense, sometimes the following question comes up; “how fast should I shoot if someone attacks me?” It's a thoughtful question.

I guess the simple answer is “as fast as necessary.” While that is true, it doesn't really give us any metric or standard or concept of what it means. So if you're like me and want to dig a bit deeper into the question, read on.

To answer accurately, requires we first put the question into the proper context. I also think that uncovering the answer to the “how fast” question helps understand a foundational principle of shooting.

Setting the Context—

When shooting multiple shots, we can measure how fast someone shoots by their “split time” or the time between shots. Of course, there are many more metrics, such as time to recognize and identify a threat, scan the area, determine a response, draw the firearm, aim the gun, and squeeze the trigger.

But for the sake of the question of how fast one should shoot in a self defense incident, let's focus on split times.

Things like target size, distance, transitions, along with the shooter's abilities all affect split times. However, there is another factor that influences our split time from a self defense standpoint. And that would be the requirement that we assess the threat and environment during a shooting.

We are accountable for every shot we fire in a self defense incident. This means that we can't continue to shoot if the attacker no longer poses a reasonable threat of death or serious bodily injury.

Additionally, we need to be prepared for and respond to the unexpected. An example of this would be an innocent person running in front of our muzzle, or a second attacker coming from another angle.

The Issue of Time—

While our brain is fast, it still takes time to recognize and respond to everything we must consider. If we don't, we could kill an innocent person or face legal issues by using excessive force.

On average, we take 0.25, 0.17, and 0.15 seconds to react to visual, auditory, and touch stimuli, respectively. This response time is a reactionary time, not the time to employ some cognitive action or strategy.

For example, I shoot someone. They take 0.15 seconds to even realize I have shot them and respond by starting to drop the weapon from their hand. Now, it takes me 0.25 seconds to respond to the visual stimuli, and decide if I should fire another round or not.

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Even without much training, most everyone can achieve hits on a human-sized, stationary target a 7 yards with 0.25 splits. In the scenario above, we have at least half of a second just from the first shot to the time I'm able to assess everything and decide if another shot is necessary.

Now consider that 0.15 splits are normal for those who train. One could easily fire 4 rounds on a stationary, human-sized target before they could recognize the effectiveness of the first shot.

To further complicate things, people rarely stop with one shot, and an attack at close distances means greater reason to fire multiple rounds and stop the attacker immediately.

This time delay between what the person sees and their ability to react, along with the necessity of shooting multiple rounds to achieve a result, can look like someone shooting unnecessary shots, or shooting someone in the back.

Acheiving Accuracey—

So how fast should someone shoot multiple rounds in a self-defense context?

Before answering, we have to address one more factor, the technical aspect of aiming. We should only shoot when we have an acceptable aim. Up close, my aiming may be unsighted or what people call “point shooting.” As distance increases or the hit zone shrinks, my sight picture drives how fast I shoot.

I should see a sight picture with each shot. The sight picture may not need to be perfect depending on how accurate I need to be, or the difficulty of the shot. I may not even need a traditional sight picture. Perhaps I just need to place my front sight over the target and press the trigger.

A shot that requires a more precise sight picture will naturally result in longer split times. Two shots that require the same sight picture should theoretically have the same split times.

Therefore, we shouldn't shoot faster than we can see our sights, or in the instance of point shooting, ensure our muzzle is on target if we want accurate hits. The actual split times depend on the factors mentioned earlier, and the technical aspects of how to achieve an accurate shot.

In practice, this could look like0.10 splits on 5 shots at 3 yards on an attacker. As feedback from those shots comes in, we gain distance or the environment changes, our split times would naturally change. I offer this explanation as a distinction from shooting a predetermined number of rounds as fast as possible, assessing, and then shooting another volley.

Answering the Question—

It's my opinion that because real life incidents are so dynamic and change so fast, that assessment should be an ongoing process, not simply something we do periodically. So shoot as fast as the situation dictates, and you can be confident you'll get hits. This naturally requires us to know our abilities, which underscores the purpose of setting standards and benchmarks.

Have you thought about this topic as it relates to how you train? Leave a comment below, and let me know what you think.

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7 Responses to How Fast Should You Shoot In Self Defense?

  1. DEFENDER August 2, 2022 at 8:05 am #

    If I put say 2-3 shots – High Center Mass – And see No Effect, then I am likely to then put a shot to each hip. Thinking he is wearing body armor above. ??

    Assuming I am not totally geeked out and can still function.
    But I train a LOT for this(Tactical Shooting) – so maybe.

  2. Seeking Automaticity August 2, 2022 at 9:20 am #

    Every deadly force encounter is different. We all drive automobiles but who here can win a NASCAR Race on demand? Imagine if the other drivers are intentionally trying to stop you from winning, even if they crash? Train with the best firearms instructors and think about joining your local IDPA or USPSA club. Know your own ability under stress if you want to remain free and happy as the founders intended.

  3. John L August 2, 2022 at 9:34 am #

    Having trained as a LEO for over 20 years and as a tactical team member I rarely train single shots at 7 yards and under. That being said in a dynamic situation with adrenaline surge at that range I will have fired at least 2 shots with a split of .10 to .07 before being able to access the effect. At 7 yards and under the attacker is already on you. At 10 yards and more accessing the effect of shots becomes more doable.

    • Freedom Fred August 2, 2022 at 1:20 pm #

      Wow. You shoot faster than Jerry Miculek.I have to put my boots on now.

  4. Clark Kent August 3, 2022 at 5:59 pm #

    ‘You can’t miss fast enough’. ‘Nuff said.

  5. Jared August 4, 2022 at 8:27 pm #

    There is no one correct answer. I believe that I read the average split time in LEO involved shootings is roughly .25 seconds. Most people with a defensive use handgun with a stock trigger will struggle to shoot more the 4 to 5 rounds a second. Also cognitive ability drops dramatically under stress especially if you are not used to operating under high levels of stress. This will affect your ability to process the information around you. It’s common for people to not even know how many rounds were fired in a shooting incident. The best answer is shoot as fast as you can, while still knowing what is happening in the situation. Unless you have access to train force on force regularly you will likely not have an accurate way to judge this. Just because you can shoot a 2 second Bill Drill does not mean you can process anything around you at the same time. The industry really needs to move into making force on force with simmunition or similar options the standard instead of the rarity.

    • Rich August 25, 2022 at 7:21 pm #

      Agreed 👍

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