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The Quick and the Dead

The Quick and the Dead

Hollywood fast draws aren't what win the fight.

The belief that we must possess the ability to draw our defensive handgun at blinding speed spans generations. For me and others who grew up during the 1950s and early '60s, the Westerns of film and televison had the heroes almost always winning face-to-face gunfights due to out-drawing the bad guy. The quick-draw craze that took hold had formal contests of blanks-firing competitors engaged in shoot-outs where they dueled against downrange balloons. TV and film stars got into the act as well, with appearances in which they demonstrated their abilities in yanking, twirling and shooting their cowboy guns from quick-draw rigs.

A visibly aggressive draw telegraphs your intent and should be avoided in street situations. Slow, smooth and relaxed is more likely to carry the day.

Adding to the apparent importance of having a quick draw, an exceptionally talented lawman named Bill Jordan, a U.S. Border Patrol Inspector, also appeared on TV where he repeatedly demonstrated his fast draw from a uniform duty rig. He'd showcase his draw by starting with a ping pong ball on the back of his hand, which he held waist-high above his holstered and blanks-loaded revolver. He then drew, fired and hit the ball before it could drop into the holster.

This obsession with a fast draw might have gone away, as do most fads, except for the introduction of a new combat shooting game: IPSC. International Practical Shooting Confederation contests had (and still have) competitors begin most courses of fire with their handguns holstered and, as time was one of the major factors in determining a winner, the quicker the gun was put into action the better the score. (Assuming everyone would also be able to shoot as well as they could draw, of course.)

Rational thinking was quite scarce at the time, as few looked back at the holsters successfully worn and used by generations of armed men, the design of which did little if anything to enhance the ability to draw a handgun quickly. In short, many of us spent altogether too much time developing and maintaining our quick-draw abilities.

In those dark ages of no economically priced electronic timers, defensive handgun quick-draw practice was often simply done by using a coin on the backs of our hands, outstretched and extended at shoulder level. The goal was to draw and fire before the coin hit the floor. (This works out, depending on your height, to about two-fifths of a second.)

I got so good at this that I was able to do it from waist height, but I abruptly stopped such practice when I was so quick that I triggered a round into the floor in front of me. (Others simply shot any number of defenseless mirrors, as well as themselves.)


With this rich history, it's not surprising that this emphasis on drawing one's handgun as fast as possible remains with us today, but I see it as a continuing impediment to learning and practicing more-important self-defense skills.

Let's be clear about one thing. Few, if any, gunfights ever were--or are--won based on a quick draw. If you beat the bad guy's effort and shoot him first, well, he'll simply shoot you second. Of course, you could manage not to be shot if you shoot accurately enough to shut him down right then.

Going along with this, drawing and firing into an already-drawn gun is a final act of desperation, done when you absolutely know you're going to be shot right then. And the aforementioned quick-draw results are still applicable.

Why, then, do we continue such practice, attempting to shave tenths of a second off our draw time? The simplistic answer is because we can, and we can see improvements--and, besides, it's fun.

Sure, there are instances where a fast draw has either stopped the fight without any shots being fired or the quick-draw artist shot first and the opponent stopped his activity simply due to having been shot--not because his "circuitry" had been interrupted.

I've made such a draw probably fewer than six times in my entire career as a lawman and never as a legally armed, non-sworn citizen. However, smoothly producing my handgun has been a fight-stopper countless times. This smoothness, coupled with the lack of posturing before drawing my gun, has been a life saver--both mine and theirs.

Recently, during a defensive tactics seminar I was conducting, one of the participants commented on my draw. He said I drew the gun and shot with the same motion and effort as I might use in handing a newspaper to someone. Well, he nailed it. I explained that what I want to achieve with this draw is not having the threat realize I have drawn a gun until either I fire it or he's looking down its muzzle.

The questioner then pointed out that in a recently held IDPA skills improvement class, Scott Warren, an FBI firearms instructor and national IDPA champion, taught the students to assume and use a very aggressive shooting stance. I explained that both Scott and I are correct; one is for winning a game and the other is for survival. What I suggest doing involves more than the most efficient means of delivering multiple rounds on target in the shortest amount of time. What I suggest is what to do when other options are not workable.

Telegraphing intent by the slightest body movement is something of which both sport and street fighters are well aware. Both read their opponent's pre-attack signals. What I suggest is minimizing if not eliminating these signals when possible and use body movements to misdirect or divert the threat's attention like a magician does.

Assuming a gunfighter stance simply puts the threat on guard; the more relaxed stance tells him nothing. While the aggressive shooting stance may well be quicker, I like "handing newspapers."

One truism remains for both, however: Slow is smooth, and smooth is fast. Or, as this relates to those of us who now have many years to our name: Old age and treachery beat youth and speed every time.

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