In western movies, it is a common trope that the person to draw first usually loses in a gunfight. Is there any truth to this?

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    Do you have any examples of this? I can’t think of any movies that portray this (no, not even A New Hope). – Konrad Rudolph Jun 9 '11 at 13:47
  • @Konrad - A few examples at tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/FastestGunInTheWest – ChrisW Jun 9 '11 at 13:50
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    @ChrisW exactly. The movie gunfights I remember (and @Konrad I wish I could remember a specific example, but I'm not a huge western fan, so I can't put any scenes to titles) typically involve a dramatic standoff, with both fighters' fingers twitching over their gun, with sweat beading on their faces. Finally, one (typically the "bad guy") reaches for his gun, at which point the opponent's hand flashes down and draws, dropping him before he can get a shot off. – Beofett Jun 9 '11 at 14:24
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    Han drew first.... – Monkey Tuesday Jun 9 '11 at 19:51
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    @Monkey Ah, but Han drew under the table, and Greedo never even got a chance to react! – Beofett Jun 9 '11 at 20:01

Experts draw and shoot pretty darn quickly (link).

There's a "gun-slinger's paradox", but apparently the effect of that is not very significant.

If the assertion is true I'm going to guess it's because the person who draws first is relatively inexperienced/unpracticed/inexpert.

Specifically, an expert can react, draw, and shoot within 300 msec (see link above): so unless their opponent can initiate, draw and shoot in less than 300 msec then they'll 'lose'.

  • I saw THIS guy a year or so ago; he holds 18 world records and his quick draw is clocked at less than 0.02sec. Just another example... – Hendy Jun 9 '11 at 14:24
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    Unless the first one misses :P The article is exactly the kind of information I was looking for, thanks. It seems reaction is faster than action (in this case, at least), but not enough to make the movie portrayals realistic. – Beofett Jun 9 '11 at 14:26
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    @Hendy: Broken URL. 20 milliseconds to draw? Colour me dubious, but I want to see it! – Oddthinking Jun 10 '11 at 2:44
  • @Oddthinking Try youtube.com/watch?v=CqABkG1JpHM – ChrisW Jun 10 '11 at 2:55
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    I watched the video, found Bob Munden's Wikipedia page, followed through to World Fast Draw Association's Word Records. Apparently, Bob Munden's records are pre-digital timers, and since them the new record is 0.219 seconds. I am still impressed, but that's 11 times longer than the claim in the video. – Oddthinking Jun 10 '11 at 8:22

In another fictional reference relating to the time period in question - namely the movie "Unforgiven", how fast you are has little relation to who "wins". It better boils down to the character of the person doing the shooting. Namely, whether that person is capable of killing another human being.

This, on the other hand, is quite well documented. During WWII, Brigadier General S.L.A Marshall conducted several surveys of riflemen who had seen combat and found that only about 15-20% would take any part with their weapons. In fact, most would prefer to put themselves into harms way rather than kill enemy soldiers. His work has been disputed, but tests involving recreations of historical battles using non-lethal laser weapons, and comparing them to historical casualty rates (referenced here) showed that these numbers were fairly accurate.

Another take on the Hollywood gunfight-in-the-street is the reason for the standoff in the first place: namely, that he who goes for his weapon first is the aggressor, and the one who shoots last is acting in self-defence. As such, with witnesses present, the former would likely be convicted of murder, and the latter would not. Which is why in old movies, the one who draws last is always the one who wins. It makes the conclusion less ambiguous and takes less time in the movie.

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