Police Reform (5/10): “Shoot to Wound” and “Fire Warning Shots”

Dumb Ideas

Advocates of defunding the police are disturbed by the use of deadly force. A plethora of people insist that the police should be trained to “shoot to wound” or “fire warning shots” first.  

“Shoot to Wound” -Fantasy versus Reality and Experience

The recommendation to “shoot to wound” is based on Hollywood fantasy, not reality. The proponents have spent too much time frolicking in the “Land of Rainbows and Unicorns.”

Anyone who makes this absurd proposal has never fired a handgun.  Everyone who has fired a handgun realizes how insane this recommendation is.  

Even in the controlled environment of a firing range, it is difficult to hit a stationary target with a handgun.

Judge versus Paper Target

For example, one of my friends on the bench is brilliant intellectually. However, she lacks street smarts, physical coordination, and common sense. 

She decided to apply for a conceal weapon permit.  The application requires a gun safety course, and the applicant must pass a test proving firearm proficiency.

She went to the range once a week to practice.  After six months, she bragged, “I finally hit the target!” I asked, “You mean you hit the bull’s eye?”  “No, I finally hit the paper.”

She never did qualify.  The thought of her walking around the courthouse with a gun was frightening.  

If shooting a target with a handgun in a controlled environment is difficult, then hitting a moving target under stress, even while aiming at the body’s center mass, is even more difficult. 

How many times have we heard about “gang bangers” shooting innocent children rather than the people they were aiming at?

Armed D.A.. versus Armed Juvenile

I recall a newspaper article about a judge and a D.A. walking out of juvenile court together.  Suddenly, one of the juveniles jumped in front of them pointing a gun.  The D.A. pulled a gun out of her purse, pushed the judge behind her, and said, “I’ve got this.”  The D.A. and the juvenile fired their guns until they were out of ammunition. No one was hit.  Everyone just ran to safety.

Stressful Real-life Conditions

Thus, how can we expect an officer to aim at and hit a moving arm or leg?  

In stressful real-life scenarios, trained police officers only hit the suspect they were aiming at 20% of the time.  That is only 1 out of 5.  That means, even while aiming at center mass, trained police officers miss the suspect target 80% of the time. That is 4 out of 5 misses.

When using a gun, there is no such thing as non-deadly force. Disabling wounds are often deadly.  Even, gunshot wounds to the arms and legs can be fatal, especially is a major artery is nicked.

Police must quickly and totally incapacitate a dangerous armed suspect.  Otherwise, they are risking their own lives and the lives of bystanders.

Some naïve people argue that the officers should wait longer before shooting.  At 20 feet away, it takes a person 1.5 seconds to stab an officer. If the person gets too close, he can get to the gun and wrestle it away from the officer, before he gets off a shot.

I have heard witnesses and family members demand, “Why did the officer have to shoot him, he only had a: gun, knife, screwdriver, brick, or bottle?”  Each of those items is potentially deadly, and the police can reasonably respond with deadly force.

Leading Experts

Dr. William J. Lewinski, a leading international expert in police use of force explains:

“Shooting to wound is naively regarded as a reasonable means of stopping dangerous behavior. In reality, this thinking is a result of ‘training by Hollywood,’…  It reflects a misconception of real-life dynamics and ends up imposing unrealistic expectations of skill on real-life officers.

Hands and arms can be the fastest-moving body parts. For example, an average suspect can move his hand and forearm across his body to a 90-degree angle in 12/100 of a second. He can move his hand from his hip to shoulder height in 18/100 of a second.

“The average officer pulling the trigger as fast as he requires 1/4 second to discharge each round.

“There is no way an officer can react, track, shoot and reliably hit a threatening suspect’s forearm or a weapon in a suspect’s hand in the time spans involved….

“Twenty years ago, officers were trained to ‘shoot then assess.’ They fired 1 or 2 rounds, then stopped to see the effect. …[D]uring which time the suspect could keep firing, if he hadn’t been incapacitated.

“[More recently] they’re taught to ‘shoot and assess,’ to judge the effect of their shots as they continue to fire, an on-going process…. [However], on average, from the time an officer perceives [incapacitation] to the time he is able to process that and actually stop firing, 2 to 3 additional rounds will be expended.

“[‘Shoot then assess,’ and ‘shoot and assess’] hold officers to unrealistic super-human performance.”

“Fire Warning Shots”

Another absurd suggestion is that police should fire “warning shots.” This is another favorite of Hollywood movie and TV directors. It is also a favorite of the “Rainbows and Unicorn” crowd. But firing “warning shots” also has no application to real-life police work.

Sometimes, the military will use “warning shots.” Navy warships and Coast Guard cutters sometimes fire “across the bow” to get another boat to stop. But the shell sinks harmlessly in the ocean.

Where are officers supposed to point their guns when they fire the “warning shots?” In the air? What about Newton’s Universal Law of Gravity? “What goes up, must come down.”

I know of officers who, on New Year’s, park their patrol cars under freeway overpasses because of all the bullets falling from the sky. A lot of people are killed and injured by “celebratory gunfire,” people shooting in the air. Here are just a few examples:

  • Dec. 31,2019: Texas nurse killed by New Year’s Eve celebratory gunfire
  • Jan. 1, 2020: Patron in a restaurant in Florida was killed on New Year’s Day by a celebratory bullet
  • Jan. 1, 2017: A Texas state Representative was hit in the head by a by a stray bullet during a New Year’s celebration
  • Jan. 1, 2015: A Houston father was struck in the head and killed by a New Year’s Day celebratory bullet while he was watching fireworks with his family
  • July 4, 2013: A 7-year old boy was struck on the top of his head and killed by a bullet while walking with his father to a fireworks display in Virginia.
  • Jan. 1, 2013: A 10-year old girl was stuck in the head by and killed by a celebratory bullet while watching fireworks with her family. while watching fireworks.

Maybe officers should fire warning shots into the ground? What about the concept of ricochet? “What goes down, might come up.”

I had a case where a home owner fired a “warning shot” down into his front lawn to scare off some pesky juveniles. One of the bullets stuck a piece of gravel and split in two. One of the fragments went through a teenager’s heart.


In short, police should be defended not defunded.  Law enforcement should be reformed, not rejected, improved, not abandoned.

Notions of “shoot to wound” and “fire warning shots” are naïve unrealistic fantasies. They are bad ideas that should never be taken seriously.  

(“Destroying Myths and Discovering Cold Facts: Why shooting to wound doesn’t make sense scientifically, legally of tactically,” Dr. William J. Lewinski, Force Science Institute, April 6. 2005; “Shooting to Wound is Hollywood Hoopla,” Sam Hoober, USA Carry, Jan. 9, 2017; “Shooting to Wound,” Police Firearms Officers Association, March 10, 2017; “Deadly Force,” “Shooting to Wound,” “Celebratory Gunfire,” Wikipedia.)

(Other Articles: londonedition.net)

2 thoughts on “Police Reform (5/10): “Shoot to Wound” and “Fire Warning Shots”

  1. Hi. I’ve thought for some time that the police tool set is too limited. Specifically tools to incapacitate a person of interest without inflicting damage. Same for a group of people. Clearly the science isn’t there, but at some point I hope the police will have something to with little effort just bring all in front of them into compliance. Tasers don’t do that but perhaps are moving in a direction I can support.

    The police used to rely on the public’s compliance but now need tools to force compliance without causing any permanent injury.

    In the meantime, the police are doing what they can with the tools they have

    Liked by 1 person

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