The 'finger off or on the trigger when pointing at bad guy' debate? (VIDEO)

A few years ago, a seasoned shooter and I had a small debate about keeping one’s trigger finger on the trigger when pointing at a “bad guy” or keeping the finger in the index position.  The index position, of course, is keeping the trigger finger straight and off the trigger and outside the trigger guard, ideally resting on the frame of the weapon.  My stance was to keep the finger off the trigger until I’ve made the conscious decision to shoot.  My friend’s position, on the other hand, was to rest the finger on the trigger just in case he had to shoot.

As I recall this shooter held a master or grandmaster rank in the USPSA and IPSC competitive shooting, so he didn’t lack gun handling experience.  In fact, with his military and law enforcement background, I was confident he had pointed a gun at people before, although I can’t be sure how often.  That said, because of his background, I was totally shocked he would even suggest such a thing as resting his finger on the trigger when pointing at someone he hasn’t decided to shoot.

My background in tactical firearms training, including time spent in the military, as a private security contractor, on a SWAT team and as an undercover Federal Air Marshal, also gave me some considerable weapons handling experience.  I’ve pointed my gun at plenty of people under stressful circumstances too.

Honestly, like I said, with my friend’s background and experience, I was shocked that this was even a debate.  Everybody knows to keep your finger off the trigger when giving commands (e.g. “Don’t move!”) or just pointing a gun at a person that you may have to shoot but haven’t decided to shoot yet.  In all my experience, and in working with everyone from LAPD SWAT to tier I Special Operations personnel, I had never met anyone who would even debate this issue.

This shooter, who I’m choosing to not identify, said this to me: “You and I both know that although we get taught to stay in the index position, in reality, we’ll keep our finger on the trigger.”

Uh, no.  “I disagree.”  And the debate was on.

Time was the biggest factor in the debate.  Seriously?  It takes a nanosecond to move the finger from the frame of the weapon to the trigger.  With the finger on the trigger, it takes about the same fraction of the second to pull the trigger.  The difference is almost without comparison.  Assuming you’re already pointing the gun center mass, the delay, if any, has to do with the time it takes a shooter to make the decision to shoot; the thought goes from the brain, through the brain stem and to the trigger finger.  That’s about the same for both shooters—the one with his finger already staged on the trigger and the one with his finger off the trigger and in the index position.  Therefore time, albeit very minimal and almost without comparison anyway, isn’t worth the risk.

When I was training a few years ago with a former Chicago SWAT operator (and IDPA shooting champion) with a heck of a lot of experience pointing guns at people, much more than my aforementioned friend, he said that there were studies that showed that under stress a person will involuntarily tighten both their grip and feet.  (He, too, advocated for keeping your finger off the trigger.)

I’ve been unable to find those studies, however, I recall well the time a Las Vegas police officer was pointing at a guy on the ground that her partner was handcuffing and she had an ND.  I happened to be watching the news that day.  (Note: This was in the days before I had Internet.)

After speaking with an officer who worked at that same department, I learned she later quit.  But, in her defense, I believe a lot of the blame—if not most of the blame—could be put on the training program at the police department at that time for not emphasizing that the finger must be straight and off the trigger unless there is a conscious decision to shoot.

To me, there is no debate.  Keeping your finger on the trigger when pointing at someone you might shoot is as risky as skydiving without a parachute.  Sure, you might live—stranger things have happened—but it isn’t worth the risk.

The views and opinions expressed in this editorial are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position of

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