There’s no timer in a gunfight!

Dressing it up and painting it black doesn’t change what it is.

If you’ve been on gun forums for more than ten minutes, you’ve probably heard that statement before. Forums can be a great source for information and networking, but they can also become echo chambers for dumb ideas, including a bunch of “tactical” clichés that often excuse poor performance and low standards. I use the word “tactical” in quotes there because I want to make it clear that there’s an artificial “tactical” way of thinking out there which shows up all over the place. To give you some idea of what I’m talking about, consider the pictured rifle.

It’s a lever action rifle with the traditional wooden stock and bluing replaced by black plastic furniture and a matte black paint job. To Mossberg’s credit, they’ve dubbed the rifle with the title “464 ZMB”, which shows they’re making the gun with a sense of humor. I’ve seen that very rifle marketed by people in gun stores as “tactical!” with absolutely no sense of humor. The person making the argument went so far as trying to explain the advantages that a flash hider has for a lever-action rifle to the point of claiming the non-flash hider equipped model was totally unsuitable for serious social purposes. This typifies what’s wrong with the “tactical” branding effort: No matter how black you paint it, or how many bits of railed plastic you affix to it, the reality of the thing doesn’t change. This is true of rifles, holsters, techniques, and even performance.

The seeker of knowledge often comes to a forum looking to perform better, or for better equipment. They ask simple questions, something like “How fast should my draw be?” and the descent into madness begins. Someone means well and mentions the use of a timer and without fail someone will come along and scream “There’s no timer in a gunfight!”

…and they’re right. There is no timer in a gunfight. There’s just another dude who is trying to kill you. A gunfight is a limited opportunity offer, folks. You have only so much time in which you can positively impact the outcome of events to a favorable conclusion for you. But don’t take my word for it:

For the attention deficit folks, you can skip forward to the three minute mark as that’s where things start to get interesting. At 3:48 the perp throws open the door and gets out of the car…and as he’s clearing the passenger compartment you can see the gun in his hand. The first shot is fired by the bad guy at 3:49, at a range measured by the hood of a Ford Crown Vic Police Interceptor. The bad guy is throwing out a rate of fire of about 2 shots per second. I can’t pinpoint when exactly the officer inside the cruiser began to return fire (I think it’s late in 3:51), but at 3:52 the perp is hit in the head by the officer he attacked first and collapses on the hood of the vehicle. From 3:49 to 3:51 I count six shots fired at the officer in the cruiser, and then the suspect appears to turn and fire at the other officer in the chase, getting off two shots before taking a hollowpoint to the CNS. (See the discussion on head shots from last week)  Two shots per second is actually a pretty slow rate of fire from the perp. A large federal agency once broke down a lot of gunfight footage and found that the average rate of fire exhibited by people in an exchange of gunfire hovered around 4 shots per second.

So let’s mentally take the place of the police officer in that cruiser. How fast does our draw to first shot need to be? Pretty darn fast given that we get about a second’s notice that we’re about to get shot from roughly six feet away. The officer who prevailed in this situation was on a SWAT team, which likely meant he had more training, more practice, and more demanding standards to meet than your average patrol officer. When you factor in having to stop the car, draw his weapon from a retention holster in a seated position and engage through the windshield of his own cruiser, the officer’s response time was pretty darn good. Looking at that situation, would you be willing to spot the bad guy another second with a slower draw? Another half second? Quarter second? How soon would you want the guy pumping rounds in your direction to be forced to stop shooting at you?

In a life threatening situation, time is opportunity. In the gunfight variety of life threatening situation, those who make a deliberate effort to develop speed will be able to claim more of that opportunity for themselves. That’s why it’s absurd to see people online yakking about no timers in gunfights. Instead of the benign beep you get the report of incoming gunfire from the person who is trying to kill you.

Now for the average Joe/Jane on the street who isn’t trying to beat Bob Vogel at the next world shoot, is it possible to expend too much effort developing speed while neglecting other important aspects of self defense? Absolutely…but rarely do I see people investing so much effort in refining their ability to deliver fast, accurate hits on demand that they’re completely neglecting other bits of the self defense equation. That’s much more of a theoretical problem than a real one, I’m afraid. Assuming you’re not trying to become the next USPSA champion, there’s certainly a rational balance to be reached, but the clichés parroted endlessly don’t encourage the employment of reason in finding that balance. They tend to drive the conversation towards eschewing the use of a timer or the use of standards to measure performance because once you start to put things up against hard standards it becomes pretty clear that a lot of “tactical!” is just suck dressed up with black paint and silly furniture. Nobody likes to admit that they suck.

Dress it up with all the furniture you can find and paint it multicam if you want, but the bottom line is that being slower on the draw or to deliver solid hits wouldn’t have helped the officer in this video. There is such a thing as an ambush (yes, they happen to ordinary civilians, too) and if you’re unfortunate enough to be caught in one the most tactical thing you can possibly do is put bullets into the anatomy of your attacker(s) as quickly as possible. The ability to deliver fast, accurate hits is a force multiplier…meaning it makes the person employing that capability a bigger factor in the fight than they would otherwise be.

While it’s true that there are no timers in gunfights, there darn well ought to be one in your range bag. If you’re serious about self defense the timer is just as much a friend to you as to the USPSA/IPSC competitor. Those who preach otherwise are doing so out of ignorance…either benign or willful, neither benefitting you in the slightest.


  1. Tim, if you keep writing like this, I may be forced to accept that common sense is beginning to become common again…who knew. Fantastic article, great points made. Thanks for the good read.

  2. Very well put. I occasionally train with a good friend. And every time, we pull out sheets he’s drawn up and we have time standards to meet or beat. Each drill is repeated 5 times and to the total tallied. I usually blow one or 2 of the repeats. Why? I’m always trying to push to be faster at an acceptable level of accuracy (we only count hits to the rectangle of an IDPA silhouette).

    As much as it pains me to write it, most of the “tacticool” stuff out there’s has but 2 purposes and they are 1) part someone with their hard earned cash ; and 2) feed the buyer’s inner “Walter Mitty”.

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