The “Reloading Pause” Fallacy

Since the 1990’s, gun control advocates have insisted that reduced capacity magazines (limited to 10 rounds) were “safer”. The most recent set of talking points relate to active shooter incidents. The claim is that by requiring the active shooter to reload more often, this creates an operational “pause” in which untrained, unarmed people can rush and disarm the shooter.

In the Force Science certification course I just attended, they shared a lot of time measurements made on various movements. Their numbers track the numbers we put together in our recent book, and timing values common to shooting qualification courses. I decided to evaluate the “reloading pause” concept using the FSI information.

Summary

Time to reload an empty gun and fire one shot at 20 feet (approx 7 yards): 2.0-5.0 seconds, for average to novice skill level.

Time for a standing person to move 20 feet with no obstructions: 1.4-2.0 seconds.

Time to get up from a sitting, prone or crouched position and move 20 feet around obstructions: 3.0-5.0 seconds.

Time to draw and hit a target at 20 feet: 1.5-3.0 seconds, depending on skill level. Times are even faster if the gun is already in hand.

Hit probability: 77% or higher depending on skill level.

Conclusion: drawing and shooting is as fast or faster than the tactic of an unarmed person trying to charge at an active shooter during a reload.

Notes: The draw-and-shoot response can occur immediately. If the defender has to wait until the active shooter is reloading, the possibility of more deaths and injuries increases. If the defender shoots from a position of cover at a distance from the active shooter, the odds of the defender being shot are much less than the risk they will be shot at point-blank range if the defender completes the reload before the defender can close distance and attempt to disarm them.

Discussion in depth

How long does it take the average person to reload a pistol from slide lock? Here’s a video from our range safety briefing, showing a basic old-magazine-out, new-magazine-in, rack-the-slide reload. As part of our Three Seconds or Less test, we require students to seat a magazine, rack the slide and fire one shot at 7 yards in 3 seconds. Most complete this task in the 1.5-2.5 second range.

The actual reload process begins when you realize that you need to reload. In FSI terminology, response time is reaction time plus movement time. So reaction time is 0.3 seconds, maybe longer. Call the typical “slow” reload from slide lock 4 seconds total – maybe 0.5 second reaction plus 3.5 sec to complete the task. Skilled shooters can easily do this in half the time (1.5-2.0 seconds).

On the defender side: they have to realize that the shooter is out of ammo and then decide to take action. The absolute best case reaction time is 0.3 seconds, assuming the defender is waiting for that pause and has already made the decision to act.

If we assume the person is standing up (unlikely), they can cover 20 feet (essentially 7 yards) in 1.4 seconds. That means someone standing up, poised and ready to pounce, could get to the shooter in under 2 seconds, before they complete their reload. What do they do when they reach the shooter? None of the “training for unarmed people” programs promoted by government teach weapon disarm skills beyond a vague “fight any way you can” directive. Maybe the unarmed defender did some weapon disarms in their karate class a few times, against an opponent that wasn’t resisting (since many techniques can cause serious injury if performed at full power against a resisting opponent). Unless the training was recent and/or was performed enough times to make the skill automatic under stress, what’s likely to occur is the “technique of no technique”.

That timeline is an extremely optimistic best case scenario that assumes every possible advantage is available to the defender. Starting from a seated, crouched or prone position is going to add as much as a full second to the response time – before a single step forward to close distance is taken. Add the typical array of furniture and possibly other people that might have to be stepped around or over, and the time to move that 20 feet could easily double. That means total response time could be as long as 0.3 (reaction) + 1.0 second (get up) + 2.8 seconds (move around obstacles). That’s 4.1 seconds–slower than the 4 second “slow reload for an average shooter” time.

The typical active shooter spends significant time planning his special day, studying prior events, buying gear, and in many cases putting in range time. If a potential active shooter knew he was going to be limited to 10 round magazines, learning how to do a faster reload (by watching youTube videos) and putting in some time to practice that skill would likely be part of their pre-event work. So assuming that the active shooter will have a 4 second clumsy reload is an extremely unrealistic assumption.

For any of these scenarios to end with a successful defense requires some unarmed person in the room to be mentally prepared and committed to action. Adding any amount of hesitation prior to movement only increases the chance that the shooter will be able to complete the reload and fire on the advancing defender before they can reach him.

Why not just shoot back?

If we assume that someone in the room has the mindset and is willing to act, why not look at alternatives that solve the problem faster with lower risk to the defender? Another common talking point from the gun control movement is that a carry permit level armed person will be incapable of making a 7 yard shot under life threatening stress.

FSI’s study on the “naive shooter” shows that hit probabilities for “novice” shooters, in the 1-5 yard (3-15 feet) zone, are as high as 77%, increasing as skill level increases. Texas requires carry permit holders to shoot at 15 yards (45 feet), and armed teachers must pass the carry permit shooting test with a score of 90% or higher. In 20 years of observing thousands of gun owners shoot the Texas carry permit test, complete misses on the target at 7 yards are extremely rare. The Texas carry permit course includes NO additional range time improving handgun skills, and most taking that course have had no prior formal handgun training. In this video, the Texas LTC course is shot (and passed) blindfolded.

Shooting across a room, from cover, minimizes the risk that the defender will be shot. Will they have time? If a committed defender can be poised and ready to pounce when the active shooter starts a reload, why can’t the armed defender have drawn and be ready to fire, gun in hand, as soon as the active shooter is within range — BEFORE the shooter has fired the rounds necessary to empty the magazine and create the “pause” for the unarmed defender to counterattack?

Typical times for a carry permit level shooter to bring the gun from ready to target and get a hit are anywhere from sub-1 to 3 seconds. The Texas carry permit test uses one shot in 3 seconds, and two shots in 4 seconds at 7 yards as standards. Most students shooting the test are done firing before the time limit is reached. In our Three Seconds or Less test, students have to start with hand on their holstered gun, draw and fire 3 shots in 3 seconds at 7 yards.

FSI’s own studies show that someone with a gun in hand, from a prone position, can get the gun on target and fire one shot in under 1 second.

If you watch any of the thousand-plus videos of actual armed encounters on the Active Self Protection youTube channel, you’ll notice that a very common reaction to being shot at is to run or move to avoid being shot (or shot again). Even if the active shooter isn’t struck by the first shot or shots, the likelihood that they will break off their attack on occupants of that room is very high.

If the armed defender doesn’t begin to draw until the active shooter has started to reload, a 2 second draw to first shot from concealment is not difficult for the average person to perform. In our 4 hour Defensive Pistol Skills 1 class, the vast majority of students are able to meet that time standard. Starting with hand on the gun (concealment garment out of the way) can cut draw time in half, down to under 1 second. So even if the armed defender takes no action until the active shooter starts to reload, drawing and shooting back is going to a faster response in most cases — and more effective.

The real advantage of the draw and shoot back response is that is does NOT require a “reloading pause” and can be done immediately.

KR Training assistant instructor John Daub wrote about this issue back in 2016. His thoughts on this topic are relevant and worth a read.

Hopefully this analysis will help you understand (and explain to others) the time factors involved in the “reloading pause” fallacy. Allowing (and encouraging) armed response, not reducing magazine capacity, is the solution most likely to bring an immediate end to an active shooter’s mass killing. The idea is difficult for those with limited or no experience with firearms or tactics to accept – particularly those that have a confirmation bias toward gun control. The ‘reloading pause’ fallacy comes up as a talking point each time the idea of magazine capacity restrictions is advanced. Perhaps this analysis will be useful for those arguing against those restrictions.

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