Speed vs. Accuracy

“Speed is fine, but accuracy is final.” “A slow hit beats a fast miss.” You have probably heard these sayings or a variation of them when discussing which attribute of shooting is more important: speed or accuracy. Of course, the people saying these quotes can’t shoot fast and spend most of their range time trying to shoot small groups, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The truth is that both speed and accuracy are equally important in a defensive shooting scenario. The question is how much accuracy is important and how much speed is important.

When you’re thinking about accuracy, think about the target area for a vital zone. We’ve been trained by the paper targets we shoot at to think that the vital zone on a human being is a large, 8 inch circle in the upper area of their chest. It’s actually much smaller than that if your goal is rapid incapacitating hits. To achieve the rapid blood loss necessary to shut down a violent attacker, the most important organ to hit is the heart or the aortic arch. That target area is about 4 inches. If you’re trying to stop the threat at once, you’re targeting the central nervous system either through the ocular cavity or the spinal column. The spine is located all the way at the back of a person behind layers of bones and organs, making it a very difficult target to intentionally strike with a handgun. The ocular cavity, or t-zone as it’s commonly called is a strip on a person’s face that runs from eye to eye and down their nose. On most people it’s maybe three, four inches wide and about half that tall. Not a big target. Accuracy is more important than you might think.

That’s not to dismiss speed either. As my departed friend Todd Green would say, “speed is a tactic.” Speed coupled with violence of action is an effective tactic to regain the lost initiative in a violent criminal encounter. How much speed though? Top competition shooters routinely shooting 0.20 splits (the time between each aimed shot) but you’d be hard-pressed find a civilian defensive shooting scenario where shooting that fast was a good idea. That’s because shooting at that speed means you’re firing the gun faster than your brain can process information from your eyes. It takes approximately 0.25-0.35 for the average person to see, process, and act on visual stimulus. If you’re firing 0.20 splits, you’re firing the gun faster than you can react to what’s happening to the target. Unfortunately, everyone already knows how to shoot that fast. Ernest Langdon points out in his classes that if someone is trying to kill you and you have a gun, you’re going to beat that trigger up as fast as you can. The problem is that most people can’t get reliable hits when they’re wailing on the trigger like that. This is why in some defensive gun engagements, the badguy will get shot in the front, and then the side, and back. This happens because the shooter is still firing on auto-pilot despite the threat going down. LAPD’s Metro Division, home of their world renowned SWAT team trains their shooters to fire shots on a 0.35-0.50 second cadence. This is still fast by the average shooter’s standards, but gives the officer, or civilian CCW holder as case may be, time to process what’s going on around them.

Instead of answering the question of which is more important, speed or accuracy, I’d rather build shooters that understand the importance of both in a joint setting. You can be too fast, and you can be too slow. I will say this: I don’t think you can be too accurate.

Be as accurate as you can…as fast as you can.

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