How Ready Positions can Influence the Outcome of Encounters
Concealed carriers who must actively deploy a handgun in order to defend themselves against another party representing a threat that is both lethal in nature and imminent will likely need to take one of two actions:
- Shoot immediately
- Be prepared to shoot immediately
The focus of this article is on the aspect of being prepared to shoot immediately. In most instances (but not always) this will involve the concealed carrier holding the handgun with both hands and pointing the handgun in the general direction of the potentially deadly threat (hereinafter referred to as the “threat”). What some concealed carriers do not give much thought to is at what angle should the muzzle be pointed in relationship to the threat.
I attended an excellent block of instruction taught by Erick Gelhaus on “Ready Positions and Bad Guy Behaviors” at the 2022 Rangemaster Conference held at the Dallas Pistol Club in Carrollton, Texas. Erick retired from a large northern California sheriff’s office as a patrol sergeant after twenty-nine years of service. During his time as a deputy Gelhaus worked patrol, gang violence suppression, and narcotics investigations as well as being the lead firearms instructor and a field training officer. As a sergeant he supervised a patrol shift and the firearms and field training programs. Erick evaluated numerous uses of force and pursuits and supervised multiple officer-involved shootings and critical incident scenes. He currently is an instructor at the prestigious Gunsite Academy and a member of the Firearms Trainers Association.
I am going to deviate from the way that most articles are written and set out the lessons learned from attending this class right now. When it comes to assuming a ready position with the understanding that the handgun may need to be fired at another person on a moment’s notice, the more the defender can see the greater the chances of a positive outcome. Most defenders will either point the muzzle straight at the threat, on the sternum of the threat, below the waistline and perhaps hands of the threat, or at the ground somewhere in front of the feet of the threat. For the purposes of this article, I am going to refer to these positions as follows:
- Pointed directly at the threat: “High”
- Pointed directly at the sternum: “Mid”
- Pointed directly at the ground somewhere between and in front of the feet: “Low”
I omitted pointing the muzzle below the waistline and the hands of a threat for two reasons. There are trainers out there that I respect that teach the use of that position in their classes and I can absolutely see where it would be useful. However, this article is directed at an extremely broad audience that includes new gun owners. Pointing the muzzle at any part of another person’s body without justifiable cause may be deemed an Aggravated Assault and a violation of one of the four Firearm Safety Rules if the concealed carrier was not then willing to shoot or destroy anything that was in line with their muzzle. I also made no reference to the modern High Ready position in which the muzzle of the pistol is elevated with the elbows bent and close to the body for the simple reason that this position was apparently not included in the research.
Erick discussed in detail research performed in which the test subjects were required to engage in various Don’t Shoot/Shoot scenarios in which they had only a brief window in which to see and assess the level of threat and then make the decision to shoot or not shoot while working from the High, Mid, and Low positions. As a reminder, the use of the word High in this article does not refer to another ready position known as “High Ready.” Findings were that the average time it took to fire a shot from the moment that the test subjects were exposed to the stimulus were as follows:
- High: 0.51 seconds
- Mid: 0.55 seconds
- Low: 0.62 Seconds
In other words, the time difference between High and Low was slightly over one-tenth of a second. However, there was a significant difference in the percentage of shots fired at targets that did not pose a threat. Findings were that the percentages of shots fired at targets that did not represent a threat were as follows:
- High: 62%
- Mid: 56%
- Low: 30%
In my opinion, this data alone strongly tips the favor in adopting a Low Ready position anytime the concealed carrier is an encounter with a Threat and needs to be prepared to shoot immediately. But wait, there is more. Keeping the muzzle at eye level makes it more difficult to see and identify downrange hazards. Erick noted that it was not uncommon for law enforcement officers to shoot at threats with downrange targets (innocent men, women, and children) in the line of fire. My personal and unsubstantiated opinion is that if the High Ready position was included in the study previously discussed that the percentages of bad shootings might be similar to that of the Low position.
While the thrust of this article is how choice of a ready position can affect the outcome of a threat, it does not cover all of the good information Erick set forth in the class. Key points discussed in good detail also included the following:
- Low-light conditions increase the odds of a bad shooting. 75% of mistake-of-fact shootings happen in low light. Gelhaus said that a person with normal 20/20 vision may experience vision as poor as 20/400.
- Our expectations can actually impact our perceptions as to whether a contact may represent a threat to our health and safety.
- Age and manner in which the suspicious contact dresses can impact decision making.
- Threatening postures, regardless of the object in the hands of the suspicious contact, are likely to be viewed as threat. This too can impact decision making.
A reasonable conclusion might be that that in order to make those decisions that are most likely to result in a positive outcome understanding that the more that we can see the greater the likelihood the more information we can take in and process. The better trained and more skilled we are the greater the likelihood that we can not only make good decisions but effectively respond with force proportionate to the circumstances. Erick noted that research indicated that rigorous training showed that the percentage of bad shootings may drop down to as low as 24%. Whether that number is perfectly accurate is irrelevant. What is relevant is that it is confirmation what most defensive firearms trainers already know: concealed carriers who train are not only more likely to prevail in a defensive shooting but less likely to be involved in a bad shooting and something as simple as the angle in which the muzzle of our firearm is projected when confronted by a threat may be the difference between a lawful defensive action and a felony murder charge.