Cutting Edge Training

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Why Do We Teach? Move: Proximity and Distance Shootings

by George on November 26, 2012 07:22

Time “…is like a fire—it could either destroy us or keep us warm…we live or we die by the clock…We never turn our backs on it and we never allow ourselves the sin of losing track of time…That’s how much time we have before this pulsating, accursed, relentless taskmaster tries to put us out of business.

—Chuck Nolan in the movie, “Castaway”, 2000

While most think that bullets are their enemy in a shooting, the real enemy is time—not enough of it to effectively respond to a Threat (a person who is an actual or imminent threat to your life, or the life of another) by putting bullets through him while avoiding bullets sent their way.  Not seeing a Threat in time, not recognizing the threat in time, not reacting in time, or not hitting him in time can be fatal.  Your job in a gunfight is save or create sufficient time for you to safely move beyond the Threat’s initial assault by controlling his perception of the time he has in the gunfight.  The goal in your tactical response is to destroy his accurate perception of current time and the actual unfolding of events.  Oh yeah.  And you have to hit him with enough bullets to finish the job.

We teach that when in proximity to the Threat, move and hit the Threat.  When at distance or forced to take a technical shot, move to cover, then hit the Threat.  The inevitable question is asked, “Why move?  Why not just stand, get a solid shooting stance, and get your accurate hits?” 

These questions generally come from a misunderstanding of the basic context of how police and responsibly-armed civilians get involved in shootings.  Because we aren’t bad guys who get the drop on a targeted person and shoot him/her down, our force response is generally to an actual or imminent deadly threat—the Threat is approaching with a knife, is reaching for a gun, or has begun firing before we realize we are in a deadly force event.  That we know we need to respond means we used up time recognizing and identifying a specific threatening act, orienting to the need to physically respond.  And even more time is required to reach for and draw our handgun, present and fire our first bullet as several of his rounds are already in the air.

Let’s use an example of a Threat drawing a handgun from his waist with the intent of shooting you down and killing you.  Responding takes time—a lot of time, often measured in a second or more of actual time before you meaningfully react.  This is time you just don’t have.

Inescapably, it takes time to observe the Threat’s action, orient to the change of status, decide what to do, and then react to the new environment.  Just because you see a movement does not mean you understand what the movement means.  Orienting, or contextualizing the subject’s actions takes time.  Once you understand the threatening intent of that movement, that person becomes a Threat requiring a response. 

Until you are able to identify that movement as threatening, it’s just a guy who is moving his hand.  The actual time for a subject to become a Threat may be less than a tenth of a second as his hand moves to his waistband, grasps the handgun, points the weapon at you and fires his first round.  Untrained trigger fingers are able to easily fire four rounds per second, or one every quarter of a second. 

Many people, generally due to improper training concepts, operate from the misconception that they can actually perceive reality the moment something is happening and instantly react.  It just ain’t true.  No matter how switched on you are—or think you are—instant reaction is simply impossible.  It takes time to recognize and react to changes in the status quo.

Lots of things slow down our putting into context his threatening actions.  If you are not looking in the right place, you won’t notice the unfolding threat.  If your attention set is absorbed elsewhere, thinking about something else, you may observe his action but not take note.  If you have to make decisions based on your moral beliefs, uncertainty about the law, or fear of legal repercussions, it will increase the time you need to mount your defense. 

Expectations play a huge role in slowing our response to threat.  If your expectations are that he is doing something benign, it will take longer for you to recognize a threat.  If you expect a specific result, such as movement and are rewarded with movement different from that expected, it will take you much longer to recognize that something different from your expectations is occurring, and then what that difference is.  If you are not expecting someone to draw a handgun at that moment, it will take you longer to recognize that you are under threat than if you anticipated there might be a problem. 

If you are anticipating a very simple action, and are fully prepared and mentally ready, your reaction time will be approximately 0.1-0.2 seconds—that is, the time for you make a simple decision that a physical response should be made.  Once the decision is made, it will take a unit of time for your response to be initiated.  Human reaction-response time is the time it takes to observe, orient, and decide what that response might be plus the time it takes to physically respond.  If that is shooting, you then have the time for the bullets to hit him.  And it will depend upon the percentage of bullets you fire actually hitting him to take effect and cause a change in him before it begins to save your life. 

When it takes an average of three-quarters of a second up to a second and a half to draw and fire when you anticipate the command, how much longer is it going to take when you are surprised?  And even if you are Johnny-on-the-spot, rough-and-ready to go, how many bullets are being sent your way during that three-fourths to one and a half seconds you are drawing and getting ready to fire? 

Time equals bullets in the air.  Surviving being shot at is both a question of luck at surviving the initial assault and creating enough time to respond well enough to stop the Threat from harming you.  While luck is not a skill set, movement has been used for millennia to manipulate the relative perception of time between combatants.  The reason why we advocate movement is to manufacture the perception of increased time on the mover's part, and to decrease the perception of time on the attacker's part.

Manipulating Perceptual Time in Proximity Shootings—Contact to 10 yards, or 80% of shootings in the US 

When you are up close on the Threat and he is suddenly attempting to take your life, you need to change the situation:  MOVE!  Sudden, hard movement in any direction is intended to confuse the Threat and create time for you to react and take the fight to him.  While some angles are more advantageous than others, any abrupt movement will be beneficial to your surviving his initial burst of gunfire.

Looking at his mindset, he has made a decision to murder you and has taken action—this is a life-changing decision for both people, and the consequences of his failing are huge: if he fails to shoot you, it’s very likely he will be shot and perhaps killed.  The Threat acts with the expectation of success—his weapon is brought up and pointed where he perceives you to be at the time his decision to act was made—tenths of a second ago.  Whether you move or not, he is pressing the trigger at the position he saw you in when he made the decision to shoot.  He’ll be pressing the trigger as fast as he can because most people believe in volume of fire as a life-saving—or taking—strategy.  His hard intent—to shoot and kill you—is acted upon, and will continue to be acted upon until he receives feedback that the status quo has changed.

If you stand there while drawing your weapon, you will be negatively affected by his time manipulation:  you will be shocked (requiring time to recover), then you draw your weapon (taking time), and then return fire (taking time for the bullets to strike and affect his ability to shoot you).  That's a lot of time when bullets are burning at you at a rate of 4 or 5 per second before you have your first round out.  You have not changed the status quo by standing there absorbing bullets.  If you are lucky, you were missed by his bullets.  Either way, you have done nothing in the first critical half-second or more to alter the situation.  He has no reason to change his program, and he’ll keep shooting until he puts you down, he runs out of rounds, or you are able to weather the storm and finally shoot him. 

The relative perception of time is affected by each individual’s expectation of events.  If the event continues as expected, the perception of time continues smoothly, and even pleasantly slows relative to actual time—you are operating “in the zone,” where everyone but you seems to be moving in slow motion.  If the event is surprising or veers radically from the expected path, perceived time slows to the point where every moment is a desperate struggle against the tide, with the increasing and certain knowledge that your are helpless to change the looming and ominous outcome.  You feel as if you are moving through an impossibly thick gel preventing you from acting in time. 

In this close range shooting situation, his expectation is driving his perception of events, working against him if you move suddenly.  It will take him time—tenths of a second—to realize he's shooting at empty air.  He will be shocked because his expectation is that you will stand there and be shot or fall to the ground.  His confusion continues as he presses the trigger, realizing that he desperately needs to reorient to this unexpected change.  Your moving bought you time to draw your weapon.  He knows he has to quickly find you, move his weapon, and finish you—he started this gunfight but his target somehow disappeared.  He’s now the one who is threatened.  Desperation and confusion decreases his efficiency.

 You continue to move and now begin hitting him.  He becomes very aware that your bullets are now inbound, increasing his desperation making him even less efficient in finding and hitting you.  He may quit the gunfight.  He may be hit and quit the gunfight or be unwilling to quit the gunfight.  He may be hit but not realize he’s been hit, continuing to shoot.  In any case, you continue to move and continually hit him until you reach cover, he goes down, you get hit and go down, or you run out of rounds, move to cover to reload or keep running. 

Moving manufactures relative perceived time because by displacing, you take yourself temporarily out of the line of fire.  Movement is the primary survival mechanism in any proxemic gunfight.  Move and make yourself a more difficult target.  Displacing hard off the line, drawing your handgun while moving, creates the time you need to draw, time you would not have had if you had remained where you were when he started firing.  While you may draw your weapon in the same amount of time whether standing or moving, there is a huge survival difference:  standing and drawing while three to five bullets are fired at you from a couple of steps away may mean you will not be able to respond, whereas moving and confusing him, causing him to fire those three to five bullets where you were standing when he made the decision to fire, may allow you to draw your weapon without being injured. 

Standing and fighting it out when you are waaaay behind is an attritional mindset.  Attrition is defined as a reduction or decrease in resources or personnel.  In this case, it is the willingness to take injury to give injury.  Attrition is about outlasting him.  In an attrition-based gunfight, you may win the gunfight and be killed as well (I guess in this case winning would be knowing you killed him before you die).  Standing and taking unanswered rounds is an attritional mindset.  You may never get the chance to get to your gun. 

Moving and hitting in proximity is a method of negatively multi-tasking the bad guy.  By creating a problem requiring him to deal with more than he can mentally handle, by confusing him, by dividing his attention, by making him more concerned for his welfare than he is in hurting you, you negatively multi-task the Threat and increase your survival odds.  For more on negatively multi-tasking the bad guy, see the article, "Fighting Smart: Negatively Multi-Tasking the Suspect."  http://blog.cuttingedgetraining.org/post/Fighting-Smart-Negatively-Multitasking-the-Suspect.aspx.

While moving and shooting is not necessarily limited to distances of contact-to-ten-yards and can be performed at any distance, moving fast and hard enough to confuse the subject while simultaneously having the real likelihood of hitting the subject is an up-close-and-personal situation.  As the distance between you and the threat increases, the benefits to moving and shooting to hit decrease, although there are times it is justified to fire in the Threat’s general direction while moving for distraction purposes.  At some point, the probability of hitting the Threat is so low that the benefit of simply moving as fast as you can is greater.  At what distance does this cost versus benefit analysis tip to simply running to cover before fighting back?  That will be up to the individual in that particular fight to determine. 

Affecting Perceptual Time At Distance

As the distance increases between you and the Threat, the benefits of moving and hitting will lessen, and will make movement to cover your primary concern.  If you have a choice, not being there would be first on the list, with fighting from cover a very close second.

Hitting at distance is a matter of precise marksmanship.  Technical shooting takes time —think using a handgun to hit a hostage taker who is giving you only his right-eye and part of his forehead at 15 yards, or a life-and-death head shot with a carbine and iron sights at 125 yards.  Movement confounds marksmanship because it decreases the time available to the shooter to obtain a solid firing solution.  If a very good shooter with a rifle at 70 yards takes a minimum of one and a half seconds to acquire, aim, and hit a man-sized target, sudden movement increases the difficulty of getting that hit.  Sharp, abrupt, irregular (as well as short, unpredictable) movements will be your best bet at preventing your being shot because he has less time to make the adjustments he needs to hit you. 

The farther you are away from his muzzle, the more time he’ll need to make the hit.  A 5.56mm bullet takes just over 0.2 seconds to travel 200 meters, and nearly 0.4 seconds to 300 meters.  At distances from 100 meters and beyond, the shooter must not only observe and acquire the target, but understand the trajectory of his round, accurately estimate the distance, and understand the time-on-target delay from trigger press to hit for the bullet’s travel time.  This takes time, making it possible for the bullet to leave the muzzle directly on target and still miss because the target moved casually out of the way.  Unpredictable movement dramatically increases the difficulty.

At distance, movement to cover and then fighting from there makes better sense than standing and fighting.  If you must, go to ground and use the irregularities and depressions in the terrain to shield you.  Avoid going to ground on asphalt and concrete due to ricochet problems which decrease the time necessary for a firing solution—as long as the shot is lined up, dropping a round anywhere within the space of 30 feet in front of you to any part of your body means getting a hit.  Getting a hit on a 30 foot tall target is really not that tough from realistic shooting distances. 

If you have something that will stop bullets very close by, immediately move to cover.  The option of going to the ground or getting behind cover permits you to make yourself a small target.  Being a small target gives you the perception of increased time, providing you time to precisely aim and hit him.  At the same time it negatively increases the time he has to aim and hit you. 

Tactics still count when at distance.  Be as small as possible, keeping those body parts not needed for hitting him behind cover.  Shoot around, not over the cover if you can.  And remember, shooting repeatedly from the same piece of cover or hole gives him time to locate and walk rounds into you.  Shoot and scoot if that is the gunfight you find yourself in.  Be sneaky and expose yourself only for the limited purposes of locating and hitting him.

Conclusion

The reason for moving is all about the context of your gunfight.  If you have put solid cover between you and the Threat, stay there and fight from the corner while staying small.  It becomes a technical shooting problem through precise marksmanship to win that fight.  If you don’t have cover, move, then hit.  Moving creates actual time for you by affecting the Threat’s perceptual time.  Both proximity as well as distance shootings are about manipulating the time the bad guy has to harm you—decreasing his perception of the time he has while increasing the time you perceive you have to effectively respond.

Time is the “relentless, accursed taskmaster” that will put you out of business if you get behind and remain there.  When the Threat acts first, he is able to dominate your perception of time with his bullets (or his knife, his club, and/or his fists) and your fear and confusion, eliminating your effective response.  Movement changes the equation by disrupting his expectations, decreasing the time he has to problem-solve by confusing him while increasing his survival pressure in the gunfight.  Sudden displacement negatively multitasks him, forcing him to find and retarget you while you are shooting him.  It manipulates his relative perception of time in your favor, forcing him into having to perform more than he may be capable of while under fire.  The key is to make time your friend and to use it to control the fight in your favor.  Move.