Can You Make a Shoot or Don’t Shoot Decision in 2 Seconds?

Can You Make a Shoot or Don't Shoot Decision in 2 Seconds?

Can you make an effective split-second decision about employing deadly force in self-defense? Well, scientific research says it should take you and your brain about 13 milliseconds to see and interpret a deadly-force event. So then you have the luxury of about two whole seconds to make your “Shoot-No Shoot” (SNS) decision and take proper action. Researchers at MIT, the Max Planck Institute for Brain Sciences in Germany, Vanderbilt University, and others conclude that our human brain can interpret images and events in just 13 milliseconds. This is because our vision and brain quickly interpret concepts, says MIT Professor of Brain & Cognitive Sciences Mary Potter.

The Problems Of Any Deadly-Force Situation

Several U.S. researchers conclude that the same image and event presented to the brain can be interpreted much differently by different individuals. And to further complicate a decision, individuals analyze identical information differently under SPEED stress than they do under ACCURACY stress, say researchers Heitz and Schall at Vanderbilt University. “There’s the rub,” as Hamlet says in his Shakespeare “To be or not to be…” soliloquy. This is a very difficult problem for shooters in deadly-force situations where their life and the lives of others are dependent upon their instantaneous AND correct decisions. Both speed and accuracy for each SNS decision are critical. But Heitz and Schall conclude from their studies that when faced with a problem (like to shoot or not), the activity of the prefrontal cortex neurons are amplified when speed is required, BUT suppressed when accuracy is paramount. This is in addition to all the STRESS factors and effects which are present. So there is a Speed-Accuracy TRADEOFF, according to these researchers. Can we meet both speed and accuracy in our deadly-force decisions? I am not certain of your reaction to this, but I don’t want to tradeoff one for the other. What’s a conscientious, self-defense shooter to do?

Tunnel Vision Occurs in Deadly-Force Situations
Tunnel Vision Occurs in Deadly-Force Situations

Individual Physiological & Psychological Changes Will Occur

The Violence Policy Center’s Washington, D.C. studies and much deadly-force self-defense literature are replete with proven, well-documented research about individual physiological and psychological changes. Studies by Bruce Siddle, Dr. Laurence Miller, Phil Duran and Dennis Nasci, Jim Fleming, and others conclude in deadly-force dangerous situations that your body WILL experience a complex, high-stress level and significant physiological and psychological reactions and responses will occur. Your vision, cognitive processing, and motor skill performances will break down under stress. “NOT ME,” you say. But these usual major reactions have been proven to occur over and over again in deadly force encounters.

A massive uncontrollable adrenaline dump will accompany your “fight-or-flight” survival reflex from your sympathetic nervous system. Your fine motor skills will be diminished and not be as sharp as you expect. You will have tunnel vision, auditory exclusion (tunnel hearing), trembling, pounding heart, loss of control of some bodily functions, and you will forget much of what you’ve learned in the heat of the stressful moment. Sadly these physical changes can, with known or unknown pre-existing conditions, potentially trigger heart attacks, cardiac arrest, strokes, and other potentially fatal medical emergencies. You must recognize and deal with these changes and doing so is not a matter of personal courage or lack of it. I was aware that one’s ability to think in a rational, creative, and reflective manner would be greatly reduced or even eliminated under the stress and deadly threat conditions. That folks would have a block of the brain’s ability to process rational thoughts and even to clearly decide if a situation requires the use of deadly force, let alone make instantaneous “Shoot or No Shoot” decisions. Or deal effectively with a jammed pistol while under stress. I understand that possibly avoiding these deadly force situations up front does indeed make sense. Again, I thought “Not Me” and I would not experiences these things. I am a rational, organized, and calm thinker. I can make decisions under stress. The stark reality is that although these effects may be lessened by intensive and frequent force-on-force tactical training, they usually will occur. The experts do suggest that it is possible to compensate for the loss of dexterity and some motor skills by proper and frequent training. But the scary truth is that very few of us who carry a gun on a regular basis, in either the police or civilian sectors, commit to this intense and stressful training. I welcomed the Force-on-Force and shooting simulator training at the Sheriff’s Academy, as an introduction to this mini-adrenaline dump and split-second situational decision making. More follows below.

Range fixed-target training and practice without moving and critical decisions are fine for weapon familiarization, basic fundamentals, and some competitions, but if you desire to train for a real-life self-defense encounter with an armed attacker, this static range training has serious limitations. I did not genuinely fully understand this and had to learn for myself about Force-on-Force (FOF) SNS training.

MILO Range Simulator

MILO Range Simulator – Multiple Interactive Learning Objectives

Shown above is the MILO Range System or Multiple Interactive Learning Objectives Range Simulator. This is what I experienced at the Sheriff’s Office and several other agencies, like the FBI and other law enforcement and military departments also use this Virtual Reality training simulator.

Force on Force Training Dummy

Proper Training Is The Answer

Most of us have heard that “if you train as you will fight, you will fight as you have trained.” A lot of us have had military and/or law enforcement training with a weapon, and some of us have additional training, certifications, and experiences since you can never have enough handguns and self-defense training. Well for most folks, including some law enforcement officers, handgun training is mostly limited to the usual range static live-fire where the shooter stands stationary at the firing line, holds a pistol with both hands, carefully aims it at a non-moving target about 7 to 20 yards away, and presses the trigger. While this sort of range training is essential for new shooters and even experienced shooters, it is not realistic self-defense training for deadly force encounters. While it is better than no training (and again NECESSARY training), if you happen to be in a real life-and-death situation, you may not be optimally prepared to defend your life or the lives of your loved ones and survive.

The shooter must train and practice so he/she can REASONABLY recognize and:

  1. Believe he/she was in danger & have an actual fear of his/her life or lives of nearby innocents
  2. Believe he/she had to defend him/herself immediately, and
  3. Take reasonable & appropriate action to defend him/herself.
MILO Virtual Reality Training Simulator
MILO Virtual Reality Training Simulator

My Law Enforcement Academy Experiences

Well, being aware of these above major considerations and desiring further realistic self-defense training, I enrolled in an 8-weeks Sheriff’s Office Law Enforcement Academy for civilians in Escambia County, Florida. I want to continue to learn about and support our local law enforcement agencies. Also, I knew they have a MILO Shooting Simulator and Force-on-Force training, and I had to experience them for myself. Can I make both quick and correct deadly-force decisions in realistic scenarios, maintaining my goal of staying alive and protecting others? Can I graduate and learn some things to help myself and my students, especially about the justifiable use of Force, split-second self-defense decisions, and when to shoot and not to shoot.

Law Enforcement Academy Training Topics:

  • Force-on-Force Training Scenarios
  • MILO Shoot-No Shoot Training Simulator Scenarios
  • Major Crimes/Homicides
  • Property crimes/Fraud
  • Terrorism and Domestic Security
  • Felony and Misdemeanor Crimes
  • Judicial Processes
  • Criminal Law & Investigations
  • SWAT Procedures and Tactics
  • Gangs and Major Crimes
  • Narcotics and Types of Drugs
  • Patrol/Cruiser Duties
  • K9 Demonstrations
  • Mounted Unit- Horse Demonstrations
  • DUI and Traffic
  • School Resource Officers

Shooting Simulator Experience - Student #1

Shooting Simulator Experience – Student #1

Well, I walked into the Shooting Simulator with positive and very focused intent, like the other students. As students, we were assuming the role of a “Deputy Sheriff.” Of course, law enforcement officers and civilian concealed carriers approach a deadly-force encounter differently and with unique sets of rules, guidelines, considerations, and even laws. The first student “Deputy Sheriff” approached the simulator situation, with simulator gun, taser, and pepper spray on the bench, and the scenario began. She was an experienced shooter and handled the gun very well. I talked to her, and she was very calm, had organized thoughts, was focused and was knowledgeable about deadly-force situations, based on her comments and demeanor. Her Simulator scene was a parking lot with an abandoned car parked at an angle out of the designated parking space lines. The student Deputy approached the parked car and was very close to it. Suddenly, right in front of her, a lady jumped out of the backseat waving her arms overhead, saying don’t shoot. Then a bad guy, hiding behind the lady for concealment, in a split second jumped out of the front seat with a drawn pistol. The student was shot “dead” quickly as the bad guy shooter used the friendly hostage as his concealment from the student’s sight to cause the student to hesitate, not immediately shoot, and he got the drop on her, due to her close positioning. She fired an erratic stray shot that missed but did so after the bad guy mortally shot her. In this case, her hesitancy to shoot partly because she did not want to hit the hostage caused her “death.” She recognized her stress level, its effect on her reactions and responses, her positioning error, and said she appreciated the quick decisions Deputies must make in life-or-death decisions. So, lesson learned for this “dead” student.

Shooting Simulator Experience - Student #2

Shooting Simulator Experience – Student #2

Next, it was Student #2’s turn. This student, Benjamin, kept saying to himself that he was not going to be “killed.” That “Failure” was not an option. He was very focused, knew how to concentrate and identify situations, could handle a pistol well, was a decent shot, and generally knew the law and the use of deadly force.

The Simulator scene was a community public park/playground area with three young teenagers, about age 15 or so, present. Briefly, one teenager was shown climbing on park equipment and then very quickly two other male teenagers came into view. A gun suddenly went off as teenager #1 had it directly pointed at the other teenager #2. The teenager #2 grabbed his stomach and fell to the side after being shot, and then teenager #1 moved the gun’s muzzle and pointed it directly at the student simulated “Deputy Sheriff.” Well, instantaneously flashing in the student’s mind in 2 seconds or so was:

  1. Shot fired
  2. Person hit and falling down
  3. The shooter has a pistol in his hand with his finger on the trigger
  4. Shooter redirected the pistol pointing it at student
  5. Shooter was 9-10 feet away from student in close proximity
  6. This was use of deadly force and a hostile action.

The student was afraid for his life and quickly fired the simulated gun. He did not think about the age of the shooter nor the shooter saying something at the very instant the student reacted and fired his double-tap shots. Only the first shot is recorded in scenarios, and the student’s recorded shot hit the left stomach area of the teenager. A return shot was not fired at the Student.

9 Lessons Learned From Shooting Simulator & Use Of Force Scenarios

  1. Understand your actions- reactions, response times, reflexes, priorities, attention to surroundings and details;
  2. Recognize your thought processes- goals, decisions, need to define and analyze each unique situation and its alternatives quickly;
  3. Learn to remain calm, problem solve and make critical decisions QUICKLY Under Stress;
  4. Learn to point shoot naturally;
  5. Learn to shoot while moving;
  6. Train for the physical, emotional, and tactical factors of a realistic threat;
  7. Critically evaluate your surroundings and priorities;
  8. Make use of cover and concealment; and
  9. Properly choose & proficiently manipulate your defensive tools, e.g., handgun, pepper spray, and taser; generally, use non-deadly force before deadly force (but situation specific.)


How would you react in these two SNS scenarios to make quick and accurate decisions about using deadly force? Would you hesitate to take the shot in Scenario #1 because of the hostage in your direct line of fire? How would you handle it? Would you hesitate to shoot in Scenario #2 because the one who used deadly force to shoot someone was a 15-year-old shooter? What do you think you would realistically do in each situation? What decisions would you have made, looking back after the fact?

I don’t know about you, but I certainly have much respect for our law enforcement officers and their quick and accurate decisions when they “serve and protect” us in their daily duties. I appreciate what they do for us! A big thank you to Sheriff David Morgan and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office personnel, including Chief Haines, Colonel Quinata, Captain Greer, Coordinator Craig, Deputy Enderson, and Sergeant Odenbrett, Simulator Training Instructor. Sergeant Odenbrett summed it up nicely by saying “This is an opportunity for real-life training in a safe environment where you can pause, evaluate, and reflect on your critical decisions and improve them for the future.” Thanks for helping me recognize what I do not know and helping me learn some very important use of deadly force and self-defense essentials. I believe that I can now better recognize valid threats, handle stress, de-escalate situations, and predict certain variables. But only actual situations will be the proxy for demonstrating my lessons learned.

I learned the following as a result of my actual deadly-force scenario involvement with a handgun. And I squeaked by to graduate from the Academy.

  • You must recognize and deal with your significant PHYSIOLOGICAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL changes and reactions.
  • Your shooting Accuracy and Decision Making will suffer in an actual Stressful gunfight.
  • The most powerful weapon an individual has in a Deadly-Force encounter is their MIND.
  • Training is necessary so you can perform under STRESS in life-threatening situations.
  • Static training against fixed targets is only PART of what is necessary in preparing against an encounter with an unpredictable, thinking, & moving target that can shoot back.
  • Force-on-Force training provides the most realistic and meaningful close-quarters training for self-defense situations.
  • Force-on-Force training cannot match the intensity of a true LIFE-or-DEATH encounter.
  • Force-on-Force training is COST EFFICIENT and does not cost ammo rounds, but just electricity.
Sheriff Morgan and Ben Findley
Sheriff Morgan and Ben Findley


Photos by Author and Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.

* This personal opinion article is meant for general information & educational purposes only and the author strongly recommends that you seek counsel from an attorney for legal advice and your own personal certified weapons trainer for proper guidance about shooting & using YOUR firearms, self-defense and concealed carry. It should not be relied upon as accurate for all shooters & the author assumes no responsibility for anyone’s use of the information and shall not be liable for any improper or incorrect use of the information or any damages or injuries incurred whatsoever.

© 2018 Col Benjamin Findley. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted or reproduced in whole or in part by mechanical means, photocopying, electronic reproduction, scanning, or any other means without prior written permission. For copyright information, contact Col Ben Findley at

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"Col Ben" is retired with 30 years service in the U.S. Air Force, with joint services Special Ops duty and training, and is Air Force qualified as "Expert" in small arms. He is a Vietnam-era Veteran. Ben is an experienced NRA-Certified Pistol Instructor, NRA Range Safety Officer, and FL Concealed Carry License Instructor. Ben recently wrote the book "Concealed Carry and Handgun Essentials for Personal Protection" (second printing) with 57 comprehensive Chapters about concealed carry and handgun principles, techniques, and tips for both experienced and new shooters. His reference book is endorsed by several organizations and is available on his website at Contact him at
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