How fast can someone point, shoot, and turn to run?
In 2000, Force Science began to answer these questions when they published a summary of their research into the speed at which people can shoot and turn from various positions.1 This legacy Force Science research continues to provide some of the most influential human performance insights into dynamic deadly force encounters.
Nearly two decades later, Dr. Bill Lewinski, Senior Researcher and Executive Director at Force Science, was inspired by technological advances to re-evaluate common firearm assaults. Using high-tech body-sensor technology, Force Science joined researchers from Rocky Mountain University, Utah, to investigate dynamic shooting movements.
In Part 1 of this series, we summarized and compared research into how quickly a person inside a vehicle could present and fire a weapon. Now, in Part II, we continue sharing the research results. First, we focus on how fast a person can draw and fire a gun secured in their waistband. We then highlight the speeds in which research subjects were able to shoot and turn, exposing their backs to the target of their “assault.”2 These “time to turn” studies have proven critical when persuading naïve viewers how responsive fire can impact a suspect’s back even when the officer made the decision to fire while the suspect or weapon was still facing them.
Time to Shoot: Drawing from the Waistband
Early Force Science research (2000) evaluated the speed that a standing subject could pull an already gripped handgun from their waistband (front) and fire from a “combat tuck” and “arm extended” position. In both cases, the fastest time to draw and fire was 0.09s, with the average time around 0.25s.
In this latest study, researchers added to the original “arm extended” movement series by having the shooter start with their hand by their side. This modification allowed researchers to measure the time it took to move and grip the weapon before the draw, presentation, and discharge times.
Kantor et al., (2022)
Dr. Bill Lewinski compares and details the research findings, “In this latest study, we added to the motion of the gun draw. In 2000, the gun was in the waistband, but the hand of the subject was already on the gun in a firm grip. The research subjects were instructed to simply pull the gun and fire as fast as they could. In our latest study, we had the subjects start with the hand down by the side. From there we could record the movement of the hand to the waist band, the time to grip, and the times to pull the gun from the waist band, point, and attempt to accurately fire the gun.”
Dr. Lewinski observed, “We are finalizing a White Paper in which we compare the results of our related research projects and detail the specific movement times. What I can report now is that the additional movement — and likely the increased cognitive load — significantly increased the overall time to discharge the weapon. While we consistently saw .25s times to simply pull the gun and fire in the first study, something we routinely see in real-world cases, in the new study the average time to move, grip, pull the gun, point, and fire was 1.13s, with the fastest time at 0.81s. What we were able to validate is that, regardless of whether the suspect pre-grips the pistol, these assaults are going to be way too fast to reasonably expect officers to outdraw the threat.”
(Start: Hand on Gun)
(Start: Hand by Side)
Table 1. Time to Shoot Study Comparison
Threatening Officers and Running
For nearly twenty years, Force Science’s earliest and most critical research has been used to explain how quickly suspects can threaten officers with a firearm and then turn and run.
With this research, civilian oversight members, judges, and juries have been able to compare officer response times against suspect assault times. This critical comparison has led courts, cops, and communities to understand and agree that shots fired by even the most conscientious and skillful officers might reasonably—and lawfully—impact the suspect in the back.
To test the validity and continued application of previous findings, Force Science and Rocky Mountain researchers replicated (and added to) the original Force Science work.
Time to Shoot, Turn, and Run
In the latest “Rocky Mountain” study, subjects were instructed to stand at a 90-degree angle to a target. From there, subjects visually focused on the target, rapidly raised a gun being held behind their thigh (“bootleg” position), pointed the gun at the target, aimed, and fired—all while engaged in a 90 degree turn to simulate running away.3
Lewinski (2000) 90-Degree
Kantor et al., (2022) 90-Degree
In a second experiment, this procedure was repeated. This time, research subjects faced the target and engaged in a 180-degree turn to simulate running away.
Lewinski (2000) 180-Degree
Kantor et al. (2022) 180-Degree
Dr. Lewinski explains, “In our original study, the fastest research subjects pointed the gun toward the “officer” and fired in roughly a quarter of a second –.25s during the 90-degree turn and .27s during the 180-degree turn.
In our latest study, the subjects were asked to point, aim, and fire and were still able to complete the fastest movements in a third of a second or less – .30s for the 90-degree turn and .26s during the 180-degree turn.”4
Dr. Lewinski continued, “These shooting times are fast! Even when we instructed the subject to aim their shots, we continued to see times that approximate the speed of an eye blink.”
|2000 Shoot / Turn Back
|2022 Shoot / Turn Back
Table 2. Time to Shoot Study Comparison
Exposing the Back
In dynamic force encounters, the officers and suspects are moving independently. This means as one side of the encounter is using time to observe the scene, make decisions, and perform—the other side may still be moving. The result is that an assaultive suspect might turn their head, their body, or both—exposing the back of their head or torso before the officer is able to fire in response to lethal threats. Understanding this action/reaction exchange continues to prove critical when explaining why responsive gunfire can impact a suspect in the back.
Shoot and Turn to “Square Back”
To understand the “shot in the back” phenomenon, early Force Science research collected data on the time it took subjects to fire at an “officer” (camera man), turn, and present their back toward the responding officer.
With the gun already in their hand (“bootleg” position), research subjects were able to simultaneously point, turn, and fire—presenting their “square back” to the officer in .89s on average. The fastest square back was presented in .50s.
In the Rocky Mountain study, research subjects holding a gun down at their side were able to raise the weapon, point, aim, fire, and turn in .81s on average. The fastest subject completed the entire movement to square back in .53 seconds, while the slowest was 1.09s.
Conclusion: Context Matters
In our previous article, we cautioned readers to consider the research in the context of the real-world operating environment. Research findings provide a baseline to better understand deadly force encounters. Often the assault times observed in the studies can be slower than those observed in adrenaline-filled real life. That said, we have (collectively) evaluated hundreds of real-world shootings like those simulated in the above cited research. In the real-world, criminal suspects have been observed presenting and firing weapons well under 0.25s. These assaults can be faster than an eyeblink, faster than the brains’ ability to recognize an unexpected stimulus, and much faster than humans can respond effectively – or in some cases – at all.
“Speed of Assault” research is critical to inform officers in making reasonable decisions about de-escalation, disengagement, distance, use of cover, and the ability to avoid “split-second decisions”.
Tactical options are significantly impacted by the speed at which a deadly force encounter can unfold. It is only when officers understand how fast deadly assaults can occur and learn to recognize pre-attack cues, will they be able to mitigate or respond to the threat in time to save lives – including their own.
- Lewinski B. Why is the suspect shot in the back The Police Marksman. 2000;25(6):20-28.
- It has been well-established that armed suspects can remain a lethal threat whether they are facing an officer or not. However, naïve viewers are often critical when shots impact the suspect in the back, wrongly believing the suspect could no longer have posed a threat to officers.
- Careful review of the photos will reveal minor differences in the location of the gun at the starting position.
- In our study, aiming was performed by pointing the firearm at the target and did not require sight alignment or sight picture.