One Hand or Two? Instinct Conditioning?

THE CLERK had never touched a gun prior to receiving training, less than two months prior to this shooting.

THE CLERK had never touched a gun prior to receiving training, less than two months prior to this shooting.

In a recent gun magazine there was an article proposing that drawing a handgun to a one-handed shooting position was “instinctive,” and therefore we should be training students to do so as a default technique.

The armed robber entered the store and drew a large handgun from his waistband.

The armed robber entered the store and drew a large handgun from his waistband.

Ordinarily, I resist the temptation to respond to this type of article, but this one really rankled me.

First, I checked my trusty dictionary. It gives the primary definition of “instinct” as “an inborn pattern of activity and response common to a given biological stock.” Since handguns have only been around 500 years (the blink of an eye in geologic or biologic terms) there is obviously no instinctive way to handle a gun, or any other mechanical device. We have to teach people to drive cars, because there is no instinctive mental model for that activity. The same applies to firearms.

My school teaches a large number of private citizens each year. Most have little or no prior experience with handguns before we get them. Each year we have several students involved in defensive gunplay, and they always win. At the National Tactical Invitational a couple of years ago, I gave a PowerPoint presentation on ten shootings involving civilian students.

These were simply a representative sampling that showed certain trends. Among other items of interest was the fact that in these ten self defense shootings, against armed criminal attackers, the students fired a total of 38 shots and scored a total of 36 hits. That is a 95% hit ratio. This astonishingly high hit ratio came from two-handed, eye level accurate fire.

 

I suspect that the “stick it out in one hand” form of shooting is not instinctive, but rather cultural in origin.

 

One of those shootings is extremely instructional. It occurred inside a convenience store, with the surveillance cameras rolling. The entire fight was captured in good quality color video, from two angles, so there is no guess work involved in seeing what happened and how it happened. In brief, an armed robber entered the store, walked toward the clerk, and as he got near, drew a large handgun from underneath the waistband of a hoodie.

The clerk quickly sidestepped to the left, presented a 9mm handgun, in both hands, to eye level, and fired one shot, which struck the suspect in the upper chest. The suspect bent over and hobbled out of the store to a waiting getaway car, again seen on the outside cameras. The thug never got off a shot.

The most interesting thing about this episode to me is the fact that the student involved was a 53-year-old Thai immigrant female, who had never touched a gun prior to receiving training here, less than two months prior to this shooting. There is no gun culture in Thailand, and this lady was a blank slate when we trained her. This was a classic, close range, reactive, surprise gunfight, and she did as trained.

I suspect that the “stick it out in one hand” form of shooting is not instinctive, but rather cultural in origin. The Thai lady had not spent her formative years watching people shoot that way on TV, so we had no ingrained mental image to overcome. The other nine students in this ten shooting sample were, however, all American males, yet most of them also went to two hands and eye level, with the exception of two involved in contact distance shootings.

We teach two default responses: two-handed eye level sighted fire if the target is beyond arm’s reach, and retention position firing if it is not. One-handed shooting is taught strictly as the choice when one hand is disabled or otherwise unavailable. If we have both hands, we put them on the gun. This simplified training works.

 

Two-handed fire allows better recoil management, faster follow up shots, and fewer blown shots (misses).

 

Now, as to the “test” in the original article, I have some real heartburn with the methodology. I have two major gripes. First, the goal was “a hit anywhere on the IALEFI silhouette target.” By now, everyone should be well aware that peripheral hits with handgun cartridges are ineffective.

The second was limiting the firing to one shot. See the last statement. Since handgun rounds are so anemic, compared to rifles and shotguns, several fast hits are often required to incapacitate a suspect. One of the main advantages of firing with two hands is the increase in ability to accurately place follow-up shots on target.

With these thoughts in mind, I arranged the same range setup as the one in the article; one IALEFI target at 5 yards. I then put twelve of our staff members through this test. On the first stage, each shooter was to draw and fire three rounds as quickly as possible, with the dominant hand only, keeping all hits inside the 10-inch chest circle of the target. On the second run, each shooter would draw and fire three rounds into the chest circle using both hands.

Two handed firing was .68 seconds faster (an almost 25% advantage) than one-handed shooting.

Two handed firing was .68 seconds faster (an almost 25% advantage) than one-handed shooting.

Each shooter went through the one-handed firing first, then after everyone had fired, each shooter used both hands. This provided a cooling off period between strings, to avoid skewing the results. Each shooter performed the drill three times with one hand, and three times using both hands.

When the test was complete, I had 36 iterations of one handed firing, and 36 of two handed firing. I felt this would be a representative sample. I then averaged the times.

Firing with one hand, the average time was 2.91 seconds, for three good hits. Firing with two hands, the average time was 2.23 seconds for three good hits. Thus, two handed firing was .68 seconds faster (an almost 25 percent advantage). This group of twelve shooters represented a broad range of skill development, with some of the shooters more highly trained and experienced than others. To see if the same spread held true for a highly trained shooter, I repeated the test myself.

In my case, I fired five three-shot strings, drawing and firing with the dominant hand only, plus five three-shot strings drawing and firing with both hands. Again, the requirement was to keep all hits inside the IALEFI-Q chest circle. The results were as follows:

One-handed/Two-handed results

One-handed/Two-handed results

Thus, with two hands, I was 19 percent faster than with one hand. As I suspected, with a highly experienced shooter, the difference was less, but still significant.

Two-handed fire allows better recoil management, faster follow up shots, and fewer blown shots (misses). Proper training includes explanation of the situation, presentation of proper technique, dry practice of proper technique, and repetitive practice in live fire. Our cultural predisposition to poor technique certainly can be overcome, as our students illustrate year after year. As instructors, it is our responsibility to have them do so.

 

[ Tom Givens is the owner of Rangemaster in Memphis, TN. For over 30 years Tom’s duties have included firearms instruction. He is certified as an expert witness on firearms and firearms training, giving testimony in both state and federal courts. He serves as an adjunct instructor at the Memphis Police Department Training Academy, the largest in the state. Tom’s training resume includes certification from the FBI Police Firearms Instructor School, NRA Law Enforcement Instructor Development School, NRA Law Enforcement Tactical Shooting Instructor School, Gunsite 499 under Jeff Cooper, and more. ]

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