The Cornered Cat
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Thumb, Finger, Anchor … H-o-l-s-t-e-r

The title of this post should give most of my former students flashbacks. Chant it with me, everyone!  🙂

Moving the finger away from the side of the gun makes room for the holster to fit around the gun.

“Thumb. Finger. Anchor. … Holster.”

That’s the mantra we repeat as we put the gun into the holster. It means check the position of your thumb, check the position of your trigger finger, use your non-shooting hand to anchor any loose clothing well away from the holster area, and then — deliberately, consciously, while paying attention to what you’re doing — slowly ease the gun into the holster.

I hope by now it isn’t necessary to remind everyone why we pay attention when we use a holster. Or why we take a second to holster.

On guns equipped with a grip safety, moving the thumb to the back of the slide also gets your hand off the grip safety.

The trigger finger should be away from the side of the gun during this process. This makes room for the holster to snug itself around the gun without bumping into your finger or dislodging it onto the trigger.

We anchor the non-shooting hand so that it will definitely stay out of the way and will not drift in front of the muzzle either while we draw the gun or while we’re putting it away. And of course we will use that hand to hold onto any loose clothing, so it can’t getting into the holster along with the gun and foul us up.

But what’s this bit about the thumb?

With a 1911 pattern pistol, moving the thumb upwards lets you check the position of the thumb safety (up is on) and sense or prevent any hammer movement.

Well, I strongly suggest that people put the thumb on the back of the slide or alongside the hammer as they put the gun away. Note that we still keep a good firing grip with the other fingers. We never just “drop” the gun somewhere in the vicinity of the holster mouth and then shove it the rest of the way into place with the heel of the hand! 1 Dropping the gun into the holster, without maintaining a solid grip on the gun, is uncontrolled and thus unsafe, which is why we don’t do it that way.

On any gun with an exposed hammer, the thumb can prevent the hammer from moving if the trigger gets bumped as you holster.

Rather, we move the thumb upwards while maintaining full control of the gun with our other fingers wrapped securely around the gun and the trigger finger away from the side of the gun. This way, we have activated any safeties that need to be activated. The trigger finger is away from the trigger and will not be snagged by the holster. And if we need to, we would be able to quickly bring the gun back up and into play without having lost our good firing grip.

It is tempting to think of this thumb placement as being very gear-specific. It really isn’t. Although it has different benefits depending on the type of gun you use, it is beneficial for nearly every type of gun.

Oh! Please note that we are talking here only about how we hold the gun as we put it into the holster. During the draw is a different subject entirely.

In any case, putting the thumb in this location as the gun goes into the holster can be a very good habit, regardless of the gun type being used.

On a gun with a loaded-chamber indicator, moving the thumb to the back of the slide gives you one more check of the gun’s status as you holster.

Here’s why:

  • For any gun equipped with an external thumb safety, this is your opportunity to double-check that your thumb safety is on as your thumb sweeps up into its resting place.
  • For any gun equipped with an exposed hammer, this allows you to sense movement in (and perhaps stop the falling of) the hammer.
  • For most semi-auto pistols and especially the striker-fired types such as the Glock, this allows you to hold the slide firmly in battery with your thumb as the gun goes into the holster. If the holster is tight this can be the difference between a gun that functions well on the next draw and one that does not.
  • For any gun equipped with a grip safety, this gets the meat of your palm off the grip safety for additional security as the gun enters the holster.
  • For any gun equipped with a loaded chamber indicator on the back of the slide, you can double-check the status of your gun as you put it into the holster.
  • For a Glock equipped with a ‘Gadget’ (aka Striker Control Device) your thumb placed firmly on the slide cover plate allows you to sense and prevent any trigger movement while you holster.

In every case, it’s a fairly simple practice that has no significant downsides and many potential benefits.

Stay safe.

Notes:

  1. Have you ever seen someone do this? Watch other people using their holsters the next time you’re at a range that allows people to use holsters, and you’re almost sure to catch someone doing it that way.
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Underestimated = Superpower

“I have an idea that the phrase ‘weaker sex’ was coined by some woman to disarm the man she was preparing to overwhelm.” – Ogden Nash

My take: The element of surprise is a true advantage for people interested in self-defense. There are a lot of memes in the self-defense world that talk about “looking like a hard target” or “if you look like food, you will be eaten” and other thoughts along those lines.

But while it’s good to avoid looking like easy prey, it’s also good to avoid looking like a walking challenge to someone else’s ego. There’s a balance to be had, there.

And some of us have little choice in this matter. A person with a visible impairment — arm in a sling, using a wheelchair, hobbling from a bad hip, very much smaller or weaker-looking than the average, moving slowly from arthritis or old injuries — simply looks easier for a criminal attacker to handle. Even for these folks, paying attention to what other people are doing can definitely change a few criminal minds (“Ugh, that one’s going to see what I’m up to too soon, I’ll choose someone else…”). But realistically we can never erase this factor entirely.

So for those who “look like food” because of physical factors beyond your control: Don’t give up! You have a superpower that the criminal does not know about. It’s the element of suprise, because being underestimated is a superpower. And it’s a superpower that’s really only available to armed people whose physical attributes aren’t intimidating at all.

Being underestimated is a superpower. And like all superpowers, it must be used wisely.

Pay attention to the world around you. Be present in the moment and open to seeing whatever is actually there. And be prepared to use your superpower for good.

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Work in Progress (It’s Okay…)

“We walk a fine line in acknowledging that perfection in equipment and training are not and should not be required, and encouraging the pursuit of the ideal. We don’t want to support spraying wild bullets everywhere on the one hand, but we also don’t want to suggest that only the mostly highly trained elite are the only ones who should be privileged on the other.” – Annette Evans

This is deeply true. It is amazingly hard to explain to people that it’s okay to be in process, okay to not have guns and gear worth a bajillion dollars, okay to be learning and okay to not want to do this stuff every weekend … but also at the same time, to also help them understand that the concealed carry lifestyle is an investment, that it may take time and money and work at first, and that they will be both safer and better able to protect the people they love when they put more into it.

So on the one hand:

Bad gear is not better than good gear.
Bad training or no training is not better than good training.
Unsafe equipment is unsafe, no matter who promotes it.
Incompetence is not better than competence.

But on the other hand:

The important thing is to have a gun – not which brand you have.
An ugly but secure holster is better than no holster.
Some training is better than no training.
Competence is not an absolute – it’s relative.

And on the gripping hand:

After the initial investment, it does not have to be that hard. Honestly, it does not. It does not have to become a geeky, all-absorbing, eats all your time & money obsession (unless that’s what you want & that’s okay too).

It’s okay to love your life and love your family.

Once you have invested in good gear and good training, carrying the gun on a daily basis is almost a walkaway. A fix-it and forget-it type thing, like getting a good lock for your front door and using it every time you enter or leave the house. There’s a little ongoing work — you have to use the lock and keep track of your keys and maybe sometimes put some lube on the lock or something, just as you have to tote the gun and sometimes practice with it — but mostly it’s a walkway.

With good gear, you can carry the gun every day and not usually think any more about that than you do about your wallet or your cell phone or anything else you usually have with you.

With a good baseline of skills, you can practice on a comfortable schedule that fits into your life, and — as long as we are talking about weeks or months rather than years — the skills will mostly still be there for you to use the gun safely and with reasonable efficiency when you need to. Depending how much time passes between practice sessions, you may lose your edge and losing that edge might mean you want to practice more so you don’t lose that edge. But also, once you have a good baseline skill set, you will not forget how to run the gun or handle it safely as long as you refresh your skills occasionally.

Note that this only happens once you have done the work to reach a decent level of skill to begin with, equivalent to being able to drive a car without thinking about which pedal to use to make it stop. You can’t really improve your skills on a casual, get-to-the-range-when-I-feel-like it basis. But once the skills are in place, you can maintain them with surprisingly little ongoing effort.

(And that’s yet another reason I am such a strong advocate of truly excellent training from the very beginning — because it is often far less work in the long run.)

It’s okay to be in process.

It’s okay to not make this way of living a life-consuming chore.

It’s okay to love your life and love your family and want to protect them, while still living your life and spending time with your family at places other than the gun range.

It’s okay. <3

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Potty Training

David Yamane, of Gun Culture 2.0, tagged me in a Fb post last week. He wrote:

“I just spoke with a reporter about people leaving guns in bathrooms, including 2 recently at UT-Austin. I have to confess in my mind I was picturing guys. Interesting that in both of these cases the guns showed up in WOMEN’S restrooms. Which makes me wonder: WWJKS? What Would Kathy Jackson Say?”

Well, with a flattering intro like that, who could resist!?  🙂

First, here’s an excerpt from the news article [link] that tells the story Yamane mentioned:

A holstered pistol left Tuesday in a women’s bathroom at the University of Texas McCombs School of Business has been claimed by a student who has a license to carry a handgun, according to UT police.

Meanwhile, the police said Wednesday that they received another report of a pistol found unattended in a women’s bathroom, this time at the Commons Learning Center on UT’s Pickle Research Campus, about 9 miles north of the main campus.

This type of news report isn’t anything new, although it is a surprisingly rare event given the number of people with concealed handgun permits (more than 16 million, at last count, according to researcher John Lott). With that many people walking around with firearms, it would be shocking if we didn’t see mistakes like this happening from time to time.

Some people expressed surprise that both of these incidents involved women’s restrooms. That doesn’t surprise me. Although men are more likely to carry firearms in the first place (around 36% of concealed carry permit holders are women), biological differences mean that women who do carry concealed will need to deal with sitting on the toilet more often than men will. To be clear, dealing safely with bathroom issues is something everyone who carries a gun needs to learn how to do, but it’s also true that handling the gun more often means you have more opportunities to make a mistake.

All the same, responsible citizens like us should not be making this type of mistake. Fortunately, this one is relatively easy to avoid with just a little work.

How to avoid making this type of dangerous mistake? Here are a few tips that should help.

1 – The safest place for a loaded firearm is inside a secure holster attached to the user’s body. This remains true even when someone needs to use a toilet. So, leave the gun in the holster.

Tip test

Tip test: using a three-times-checked unloaded gun or (better) a dummy gun, gently tip the holster upside down over a soft surface and give it a shake. If the gun falls out, throw the holster away.

2 – Every holster should pass The Tip Test. This is important! One main job that a holster does is to hold the gun securely with the trigger protected. A “holster” that fails to hold the gun securely is not a holster — no matter what the label says, no matter who promotes it, and no matter how much it sells for. Every holster that attaches to belt or clothing should allow the user to tip it upside down and gently shake it, without the gun falling out. This assures that the trigger will remain protected and the gun will stay where it needs to stay while the user takes care of business, even if there’s a slight bobble along the way. 1 With a secure holster that passes the tip test, you can safely leave the gun in your holster.

3 – Keep your pants off the floor. It always surprises me when people talk about the gun “landing on the floor” when they use the facilities. That’s really icky, and sometimes it’s not very discreet, so don’t do that. Instead, put your palm over the grip of the firearm and then wrap your fingers around the bottom edge of your belt to maintain full control of the holstered gun as you lower your pants to just below your knees. That’s as far as you need them to go. Then you can double your belt back through a loop, or rebuckle your belt loosely, or just spread your knees wide so you can hold tension on your pants while you do your business. There’s no need to drop trou clear to the floor, and this lets you leave the gun in your holster.

4 – Practice at home. It’s a good idea to wear your firearm around the house, especially when first learning how to conceal carry, and this is one reason: it gives you a chance to practice things like this before you need to do them in public. You can easily practice this skill set at home so that when you are in public you can leave the gun in your holster.

5 – Leave the gun in the holster. Leave the gun in the holster. Leave the gun in the holster! If you really, truly have to get the gun off your belt for a moment, leave the gun securely inside its holster with the trigger protected. Leave the gun in your holster as you take the holster off your belt. You can put the holstered gun into your purse, or balance it on your underwear (ick), or tuck the whole thing into your bra, or for crying out loud  take off one shoe and put the holstered gun into your doggone shoe if you have to… or in other words do whatever it takes to be absopositiveolutely sure you won’t leave the gun behind when you leave the bathroom. Don’t rely on your memory, because human memories suck. Put it somewhere completely un-avoidable, not just un-forgettable (because human forgetters work better than human memories). Do whatever adjusting you need to do while the trigger remains well-protected and the holstered gun is in a place where you cannot possibly under any circumstances leave it behind. When you are done, put the holstered gun back onto your belt.

Oh, did I mention? Leave the gun in the holster.

Stay safe.

Notes:

  1. Do I need to point out that there are reasonably safe ways to do a tip test and also not-so-safe, not-so-smart ways to do it? Never perform a tip test with a loaded gun or allow an ‘unloaded’ gun to point at yourself at any time during the test.
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Overreacting and Fear

“When you aren’t skilled and confident, you get scared and you over react.” — Greg Ellifritz

My take: In context, Greg was talking to law enforcement officers, but this applies to ordinary people just as much as it does to anyone else.

If you want to reduce the risk of overreacting in a sketchy situation, it pays to get enough training that you are truly confident in your ability to handle whatever comes your way.

Developing your confidence may include working with the firearm until it’s pretty much just another tool you use, like a kitchen knife or the  steering wheel of your car. It means getting to the point where you can think only about the things happening in front of you and around you instead of having to concentrate on how to hold the gun and make it work. A big part of personal confidence is knowing — not hoping, but truly knowing — that you are able to effectively use whatever tools you have on hand.

This type of confidence also means having a realistic understanding of what you yourself are able to do without the firearm. For those inclined to say, “Nothing! That’s why I carry a gun,” I’d like to point out that many fully-grown humans think twice before even reaching toward an angry cat that weighs less than a loaf of bread. No matter who you are, you do have some physical abilities — and if you don’t think you have any at all, you are incorrect and at a higher risk of being that person who overreacts.

And it’s not just physical skills. How confident are you in your ability to talk to people without offending them? To calm someone who’s angry or to safely, effectively end a conversation with someone who appears to be building up toward violence? To get away from a creep without escalating … anything … that’s going on in his or her head? That’s a huge and important skill set. It can be learned, but most people never even realize it’s something we can study and get better at.

Developing this type of confidence includes learning enough about violent crime and how it develops that you become realistically confident in your ability to recognize the danger signs early enough to walk away from most developing situations.

It also means becoming realistically confident in your ability to recognize a situation that isn’t headed that direction. Maybe learning to recognize, for example, when an encounter with a panhandler is just a normal and everyday encounter with a panhandler. A person who is confident and aware should be able to deal with a panhandler without getting all OMG DANGER LOOK OUT BIG ADRENALIN DUMP HERE!!!-ish about what’s really a very everyday and commonplace situation.

Does this mean there’s never any physical danger from panhandlers? Nope. It simply means that once you know what a normal interaction looks like, and know how to deal with that very normal interaction with confident skill, you’re a lot better prepared to deal with the abnormal because you will recognize the signs that something abnormal is going on.

Key point: To a person who doesn’t have a confident knowledge of what normal looks like and how to deal with it, everything is abnormal and therefore scary.

Obviously, we aren’t just talking about panhandlers, here. That’s just one illustration of the principle: learning the signs of impending danger and knowing how to deal with them tends to reduce unnecessary fear and therefore also reduces the risk of a fear-based overreaction.

Ask any dog trainer and they will tell you that “fear biting” is a thing. And while we don’t usually leave teeth marks on our prey, humans do it too. But we don’t have to.

Stay safe.

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Existential Crisis

“We may assume the attacker will be obviously bad, yet that may not be true. They may only be bad in and for that single moment you have to react. There was a church shooting were the perpetrator was member of prayer group and waited to the end to do his evil… In another case a worship leader mentally broke down… Could you deal with someone you have been praying side by side with for weeks or just led the whole church in worship? Defense is defense, it knows no demographic line.” – Warren Abbot of Armoured One Tactical

My take: Planning for self defense in a realistic way means counting the cost — looking at the possible moral, emotional, spiritual, practical, legal, relational, financial impacts of self-defense choices — before deciding to carry a deadly weapon.

These are not easy questions. Only necessary ones.

The middle of a gunfight is no time to be facing an existential crisis. Get that stuff squared away in your head first, and then live the rest of your life with the quiet confidence of someone who knows what choices they are willing to make, and why.

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Feelings

In the aftermath of tragedy, we are often treated to a spate of political articles and news stories chiding firearms owners for putting our right to own and carry firearms above the desire of other people to “feel safe.”

Yet “feeling safe” isn’t a right that belongs only to non-gun owners. If a particular feeling can be a “right” at all (a questionable premise, but let’s run with it) — and it’s a right that belongs to any of us, it would be a right that belongs to all of us.

One person may “feel safe” when unarmed; that’s insane to me but somehow it makes sense to that person. And in a free society, that’s their choice.

Other people feel safer when armed. Or when around trusted companions who are armed.

The real question is: why should the fact that that person “feels safe” when helpless trump the fact that you and I “feel safe” when we are armed, trained, and prepared to respond effectively to stop criminal violence in its tracks?

If we are going to pass laws based on personal feelings, let us at least insist that our feelings are equally as valid as anyone else’s.

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Take a second, save a leg

“The fast and/or emphatic reholster is an awesome way to shoot yourself.” – Chuck Haggard

We often see people practicing for a faster draw from the holster, and as they speed up each draw they also start SLAMMING the gun quickly back into the holster on every repetition. That’s a very predictable result of getting a little adrenalin going. “Faster! Go faster!” is the chant in your head, after all, so it’s no surprise that your body reacts to it by going faster.

Even when it shouldn’t.

This pattern creates one of the most common ways that people shoot themselves, as we discussed yesterday. Among experienced and otherwise well-trained gun owners, a habit of jamming the gun into the holster very quickly and without thinking accounts for a huge number of close calls. And for far too many serious injuries.

As Karl Rehn, one of the best and most experienced instructors in the business, says: “The two scariest moments I’ve had occur in classes both were [negligent discharges] while re-holstering.” Pull aside any professional trainer who has been in business for a significant time, and you’ll likely hear similar stories.

This is an error that happens to experienced shooters more often than it happens to utter newbies. And it happens because we naturally pay more attention to the draw than we do to the reholstering procedure.

What to do instead

Here’s the key point:

Practice putting the gun away slowly, smoothly, and with full awareness every time you have drawn the gun.

Slowly. Smoothly. With full awareness.

Do this even when you are drawing and shooting as fast as you can go. Do this even when “only” practicing in dry fire at home. Do this even when your buddies roll their eyes at your caution.

And especially, do this when you are just putting the gun in the holster as the normal start to your day. Build a habit of putting the gun away slowly, smoothly, and with full awareness no matter what else you have been doing and no matter what you are intending to do next.

That’s the key.

“Full awareness” means that we think about what we are doing when we reholster — not about the target, not about the timer, not about the person next to us or behind us.

It means we pay attention …

  • to the trigger finger: is it off the trigger, outside the trigger guard, and away from the side of the gun?
  • to the non-shooting hand: is it anchored in a spot well away from the holster and well away from the muzzle of the gun?
  • to the clothing: is everything away from the mouth of the holster so there’s room for the gun to enter?
  • to the signals we get from our bodies: does everything look and feel ‘right’?

Put the gun into the holster slowly, smoothly, and with full awareness. Every time.

Why is this necessary?

This slow, smooth, full-awareness thing is needed because stopping a preplanned action (such as the motion of putting the gun into the holster) takes time, especially when unexpected new information comes in. Whenever we holster, we want to be sure we have enough time to stop if we need it. And we want to be sure we are paying attention to the signals that might tell us we need to stop.

Here is an excerpt from Motor Control and Learning, by human performance researchers Richard A. Schmidt and Timothy D. Lee:

“Apparently, once the [person] has committed to action, the movement occurs even when some signal is presented in the environment indicating that the action should not be performed. As mentioned in chapter 4, inhibiting preplanned actions requires time and attention…”

The book goes on to explain the factors that can increase or decrease the amount of time it takes a person to process the new information and either change or stop their movement altogether. One key factor: how familiar the motion already is. So if it’s something we’ve practiced doing a lot, it will be harder for us to stop in the middle of that motion than it would be if it were something we were just learning how to do.

That’s one of the reasons people who are very familiar with holster use are not immune to this type of injury. And it’s why experienced shooters should reholster just as slowly and with just as much awareness as they did when they were beginners.

What unexpected information?

The type of unexpected information we might get when holstering could include the body’s feedback system telling us:

  • “Hey! Your finger is still on the trigger!”
  • “Uh, there’s something blocking your holster.”
  • “Your drawstring just entered the trigger guard… That’s not good.”

… or any number of other things.

We weren’t expecting something to be not-right, so this message is (in human reaction jargon) an “unexpected stimulus.” And it takes time for our  brains to process that unexpected information and react by telling the body to stop the motion.

In every case, when this dangerous, unexpected information presents itself, a smart person who does not want an extra hole in their leg will STOP putting the gun into the holster. But it takes a little time for the unexpected signal from the nerves to get up to the brain, and a little more time for the brain to decide what to do about it (oh, yeah, we should STOP moving now), and then still more time for the STOP signal to get back down to the hand that’s already moving.

We won’t have the time we must have in order to STOP before a loud noise happens, if we are slamming the gun into the holster instead of easing it in gently.

A Key Point

Have you ever gone to throw a set of keys to a friend, then noticed they weren’t looking, tried to stop yourself … and then thrown the keys anyway, even though you tried to stop that motion?

Same thing. Your body was moving faster than your brain could stop the motion after you got the information that your friend wasn’t ready for you to throw the keys.

But the consequence of moving faster than you can stop a trigger press is much more serious than a set of thrown keys.

How slowly is “slowly”?

By now, you’re probably wondering how slow is slow enough. Are we talking about the speed of a three-toed sloth, or just a slow loris type speed?

Are we talking about the speed of a three-toed sloth, or just a slow loris type speed? (Photo by David Haring / Duke Lemur Center)

Generally (very generally!) speaking, the human reaction time to a known and expected stimulus begins at around a quarter of a second (0.25 seconds) for most people. That’s the moment when we first begin to respond to a stimulus. However, this number varies from one person to another. And it changes based on a whole bunch of other factors, too, especially including how we measure it. 1

Now for the tricky part: we are not talking about an expected stimulus, but about a stimulus that we don’t expect. That it’s unexpected and also probably an unfamiliar feeling could add at least another half to three-quarters of a second, and often more — up to around 1.5 seconds, according to most of the literature on this subject.

We can probably cut the time back down a little bit by cultivating the mental habit of expecting to feel resistance or expecting a need to stop moving every time we put the gun into the holster. But human nature being what it is, that’s a mental trick with a limited shelf life. Most of us will lapse back into expecting what happens most often — no STOP signal from the nerves to the brain, and a completion of the holstering movement. So I wouldn’t put a lot of eggs in that particular basket.

So… how slow is slow enough? I’d suggest that from the moment the muzzle of the gun nears the mouth of the holster, to the moment the gun is fully seated and secure inside the holster, should take around one second or a little more.

Please notice that I am only talking about the final moments of the holstering process — from muzzle touch to being fully seated. You can bring the gun back to your ready position as quickly as you like, and even move quickly toward the holster if you need to. But that last little bit, as the gun actually enters the holster and gets put solidly into its place, that is the part that needs to take at least a second of your time and all your attention.

One second. From holster mouth to fully seated.

That sounds fast — it’s just a second, after all! But compared to what most people do most of the time, it’s glacially slow.

Try it and see.

What to do about all this?

Simply this: Put the gun away slowly, smoothly, and with full awarenessEVERY TIME.

Take your time. Every time.

Be present in the moment. Every time.

Every time you holster, make sure your finger is out of the trigger guard and away from the side of the gun. Every time, make sure your non-shooting hand is well away from the holster and anchored in a safe spot. Every time, make sure your clothes are away from the mouth of the holster. And every time, ease the gun gently into the holster while giving your full attention to what you are doing.

Take a second.

Commit yourself to practice a carefully aware reholster with every bit as much diligence as you practice your smooth and efficient draw.

Stay safe.

Notes:

  1. Human reaction time is a complex  subject with a bajillion little variables to define and track. Because it is complex, a short summary such as I’ve provided here cannot do it justice — but hopefully as a practical field guide, this short explanation may be enough to explain why we should holster more slowly than we generally do. See [this link] for an easy to read overview of other things you might want to know about human reaction times.
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