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Written by Greg Ellifritz.
Republished with permission from activeresponsetraining.net

Click the link and watch the short cruiser video of a police gunfight. In the video, Shertz, Texas police officer Richard Kunz is attacked while making a traffic stop. The offender fired 30 rounds out of an AK-47 and then fired 14 more with a 9mm handgun before he was stopped by Kunz’ bullets . . .

Now, place yourself in the role of this officer. Would you shoot back? Look at his backstop. If he misses or the bullets travel through the bad guy he will hit a busy highway full of oncoming traffic. Not good. Would you shoot back?

Of course you would.

Some of you may have been trained well enough to consider your backstop in a combative situation. [Jeff Cooper’s fourth rule: Be sure of your target and of what is beyond it.] That’s good. But I’m going to ask you, in this case, does it really matter?

My guess is that any one of you will be dumping bullets in that guy’s direction as fast as you can until he stopped shooting. I would too. I’d feel really bad if I missed and hit someone else, but ultimately, I’m still going to keep firing.

What is my alternative? Not to shoot because there are some cars coming and get shot myself? Retreat into the path of another vehicle on the road and get run over? Nope, sometimes you have to take the shot and deal with the consequences.


I’ve been in some training classes where we have done elaborate range training drills trying to maneuver under fire to get to a location where we could shoot with a safe backstop. I’ve always thought there is a limited value to such drills. Realize that safe backstops are great, but as you maneuver, you are still taking rounds. How long do you want to delay and take the chance of being hit while you find your safe backstop?

Do you realize that bullets don’t always take a straight path through bodies? Sometimes they bounce around and come out where you least expect them to. It would really suck to take five seconds (and three bullets) to move into a position where I could hit a refrigerator after my through-and-through shot only to have my bullet skip off the bad guy’s skull and hit someone else anyway.

One other thing that most people fail to consider in situations like this is the question of the attacker’s backstop. Where are HIS bullets going? You can bet that the bad guy doesn’t care. The longer you let him take shots, the more innocent people will be killed. It ultimately comes down to one issue, do I trust myself to take the shot and take the chance of missing or do I let him spray rounds with lots of guaranteed misses? Which would cause the most harm? 


This case is a prime example. The bad guy fired 44 rounds (most with a high powered rifle) and missed with them all. The officer fired 16 rounds and missed with 13. If the officer would have refrained from returning fire, in all likelihood the bad guy would have shot even more, increasing the chance that an innocent would be hit, not decreasing it.  None of the officer’s 13 misses hit any person or car.

I’m not telling anyone to ignore the fourth rule about ensuring a suitable backstop for your bullets. If you can move to a position with a safer backstop without risk to yourself, then by all means DO IT!  But sometimes you just have to take the shot.”

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40 Responses to Greg Ellifritz: Is Jeff Cooper’s Fourth Rule Optional?

  1. Active shooter? Take the shot. For every bullet that you don’t put down range your active shooter surely will. In this case the active shooter put 1.57 bullets down range for every one that the Po Po didn’t.

    • “Active shooter? Take the shot.”

      Active shooter name “Kennedy”? Empty your mags & run over his head.

  2. Disclaimer: I have never fired a firearm in a defensive manner. I am not a law enforcement agent. I do not have training of any kind with a firearm aside from the laughable “discharge a firearm” requirement in the course to get my CWFL and the instruction I’ve received on YouTube/the interwebs. I’ve never been responsible for protecting lives other than my own and I probably won’t be any time in the near future. I ain’t been on Earth all that long.

    That said, I view the firearm safety rules and Jeff Cooper’s rules (including the fourth one) as a recipe. As with most recipes, you can alter the instructions/ingredients and still have a decent outcome. You can also alter the recipe and come out with a severely banjaxed outcome.

    If you want the best 100% of the time (and who doesn’t?) you follow the rules/recipe. If you’re pressed for whatever reason – lack of ingredients, time, whatever – you can make due with what you’ve got and hope for the best, trying to stick to as much of the original recipe as possible, but you must understand that your result likely won’t be what you would expect in the “best” circumstances.

    The trials of real life frequently exceed what we are prepared for but we prepare anyway to maximize our chances of success. In this case, as you’ve said, most folks would violate Cooper’s Rule #4 in favor of Life’s Rule #1 – look out for number one. There’s nothing wrong with that; self-preservation should be at the top of any organism’s list of priorities (in most circumstances). Unfortunately, when you have a ranked system (hierarchy) of priorities there are some that won’t be met – here, the whole “only shoot at what you wanna blow away” deal would be one of ’em.

    Do what you have to do to survive first, do it as best you can, then worry about everything else later… if you fail to take care of that first part the rest won’t matter anyway.

    • ” I view the firearm safety rules and Jeff Cooper’s rules (including the fourth one) as a recipe…”

      Great analogy. While it’s important to consider the background, you must also consider the weapons used and their potential danger to the public. While all firearms are dangerous, some, due to their caliber/firing rate, will require different engagement strategies.

    • Yes, I’m sure you’ll still consider it a ‘recipe change’ if that stray round that cop shot toward oncoming traffic, just happened to land catastrophically inside the car one of your loved ones were driving.

      Gotta love all the hypothetical waxing people mull over, while daydreaming.

      Of course, in that cop’s situation, a normal human response IS to defend oneself at the direction the rounds are coming from.

      That said, IF you do make the quick life & death decision to shoot in the direction without any care toward what’s behind your target and unfortunate enough to cause loss of an innocent life, just know that YOU SHOULD equally pay the consequences, ManSlaughter in the 1st, at the least.

      The most moronic and horrendous legal BS to pop up in the last few decades is the legal FICTION known as “qualified immunity.”

      That’s just a euphemism statist prosecutors/DA’s came up with to cover their own asses. There IS NO SUCH THING as “qualified immunity.”

      Just because you’re a state actor involved in a legitimate role, but commit an illegal act, DOES NOT MAKE YOU immune. It is UNConstitutional, nor is there any historical common law precedence, unless you delude you’re the English King’s viceroy or Praetorian Guard or something.

      If a cop is called on a legitimate domestic disturbance call, and say the situation degraded to where the responding LEO cuffed all parties present, and you have the particularly annoying, but massive male pinned down. Now just because he continues to give you lip and you got pissed off enough to put a round through, initial legitimate call or not, once you moved beyond that line, that is murder/execution. That does not indemnify an officer.

      It’s pathetic how some of pro-gun activists harp freedoms and individual liberties all day, in the abstract, EXCEPT when it comes to having your own SERVANTS violate common laws and go thuggish on a Statist trip.

      You think cops would make such callous decisions if they knew that they’d be personally liable for every round, and not their department’s insurance underwriters and the taxpayers?

      Right, being a Statist douche means never having to say ‘I’m sorry, I was responsible. I take full financial, legal, and moral responsibility.’

      • That’s not what qualified immunity means. Qualified Immunity exists to protect an officer whose actions are not covered by well settled law. I.E. The officer shoots someone in full compliance with Tenn. v Garner & Graham v Connor, then when the case gets to the Supreme Court, the court overturns their “reasonable officer” precedent and sets a new “perfect officer” one. Then the LEO is safe because the law he broke didn’t *exist* when he broke it (the Constitutional prohibition on ex post facto laws is found in Article 1, sections 9 and 10). If an LEO kills someone for giving him “Lip” then that LEO is a murderer and if the DA doesn’t prosecute then the DA is complicit. Where you feel the majority of LEOs fall on the Murderer <-> Not-Murderer continuum is up to you, but the Law doesn’t protect murderers in blue; when they are protected, it’s people doing it. “the calculus of reasonableness must embody allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second judgments–in circumstances that are tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving–about the amount of force that is necessary in a particular situation.” -REHNQUIST in writing the majority for Graham v Connor

        • No idea what happened to the formatting there. Sorry if it’s hard to read. [ED: fixed. We’re having issues. SMs on the case. Your patience is most appreciated.]

  3. I’ve always thought the rule principally absolutely applies when you’re afield – hunting, plinking, etc. In a tactical situation, when you’re being fired at with no cover (and a vehicle provides almost no ballistic cover), you will return fire if you can. You’ll think twice if your family is standing right behind him but you might not if somebody else’s family is.

    The bad guy fired 44 rounds (most with a high powered rifle) …

    To the gun-ignorant mainstream media, every rifle is a “high powered” rifle (or Assault Weapon). You should know better. In the spectrum of center-fire rifle calibers, 7.62 x 39 mm (or 5.56 x 45 mm) are at the lower end.

    • But he wasn’t just comparing it to other rifles. In the spectrum of firearms as a whole, any decent-sized necked rifle cartridge is high-powered. Compared to the handgun rounds both the perp and the officer were firing it’s high-powered. The jacketed warpac rifle round will punch through a lot of things on that busy freeway, including cars. IMHO this was a reasonable use of the term. Usually when the media botches it they’re calling a 10-22 (or something like that) a high-powered rifle.

    • I am thinking that they are referring to the rifle as high powered due to its ability to put out lots of rounds in a short period of time, rather than the technical specs of the ammunition. Just a thought.

      • I am thinking they’re referring to the rifle as “high-powered” because it sounds good. It’s more attention-grabbing than simply saying “rifle.” No more, no less.

        • True, I shouldn’t give the media the benefit of doubt. They know exactly what they are printing.

        • Read “Cartridges of the World.” Anything bigger than .22LR is high power.

          In competition, there is Small Bore (22LR) and there is High Power. If it’s a centerfire rifle cartridge, it’s high power.

          You can debate where to put the .17 rimfires. There’s really not much room for debate otherwise.

    • Please use a different term. “Assault weapons” don’t really exist. They’re an imaginary category created by people who want to want to take rifles out of the hands of the population.

      I agree with that, though. The AK round is right in the middle. Now, if he had an FN-FAL, it would be fair to call it ‘high powered’.

      • I would add to that:

        That rifle was not an AK47. Cosmetically, it may have been similar to an AK47, but – assuming the sound effects weren’t just added to the video for effect – that was clearly semi-auto fire. Granted, an actual AK47 would have a semi-auto selection, but – again, assuming – if it were an actual AK with full select-fire capability, why would a criminal bent on murder and mayhem not choose the full-auto option?

        Along with terms like “assault weapon” and “high capacity magazine”, labeling anything that looks like an AK47 as an AK47 is another way gun-grabbers skew events and facts to support their misguided crusade.

  4. Cooper’s rules are good. Quality training is good. Cooper knew from his military experience the saying that “no plan ever survives contact with the enemy”. Whether it’s Fallujah or Fort Worth, someone shooting at you is the enemy. Military and law enforcement personnel are obligated to make quick decisions about how best to engage. Civilians have the option and usually the legal obligation, to run away and will be held responsible for every round fired because they are not acting under orders from formal authorization to use deadly force. A self-defense plea is an admission of guilt which requires the defendant to provide proof of innocence by recognized exception to prohibitions against killing. The civilian’s duty is to not become a victim by any means necessary and returning fire is the last resort. I was in uniform for thirteen years and the thought of becoming negligently complicit in the death of the next intended victim because I failed to stop a criminal makes me sick, but I must remember I could die in prison if I ever discharge a firearm anywhere other than a designated firing range. Ignore Cooper’s rules at your own risk.

  5. The prime operative for this officer in this situation was to stop the perpetrator NOW.
    What if the perp had driven off? How many more civilians’ and officers’ lives would have been at risk? From shortly into the exchange of fire, it appears the patrol car might not have been operable and probably not capable of a high speed chase. That stretch if I35 just north of San Antonio is always busy. High speed chases through heavy traffic almost never turn out well, especially with an armed and willing to shoot driver.
    The idea of putting down an active shooter quickly used to be accepted police practice everywhere. We, in Colorado, saw the results of not following that at Columbine. There will always be second guessing, such as this thread, of officers’ decisions and actions but this one turned out as well as could be expected.
    The only casualty was the bad guy, he’s stopped and locked up and the tax payers are only out the cost of the cruiser.

  6. I agree with what Mark says 100%. That said, I submit that Jeff Cooper was no dummy and that he intentionally built some subtleties into the four rules.

    Consider the other rules, in contrast to number four. Like number three: Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re just about to shoot. This one was specifically intended to eliminate a major cause of AD’s and it works wonderfully towards that goal if scrupulously followed. Note the direct and inflexible language.

    Rule four says “be aware of your target and what’s behind it”. We can all see the ready applicability of this to sporting shooters, especially hunters, where you might take shots in unpredictable directions without well-engineered backstops. And of course the rule applies to combat situations too.

    But note that it doesn’t say “never shoot” when you have a bad background. It just says think about it. If you’re target shooting, or even lining up on a once-in-a-lifetime trophy buck, it would be hopelessly irresponsible to shoot with a busy highway behind your target. But in an active shooter scenario like this, things are different, for all the reasons Robert spells out in the article. Even aware of what’s beyond the target, you still shoot, because not shooting is even worse.

    In short: Rule four as written doesn’t prohibit this shot. It just says make sure you think about it, and do so long before you get into a violent shootout. Proper training and mental preparedness–arguably the cornerstones of Cooper’s shooting philosophy–are what really matter here.

  7. The rule states “Be sure of your target, and what’s beyond it.” It doesn’t say “Never take a shot if you might miss and hit something else.”

    I think the most important point here is that the target and background become part of your overall consideration of the situation.

    • Very good point. Proper reading of the rule. It differs a bit from the other rules that do contain the words ‘always’ and ‘never’ depending on your copy.

  8. Interesting, it looks like Kunz did the right thing when he moved. From what I saw, it looks like Kunz moved across the front of his car and back, putting more car between himself and the shooter, which also had the benefit of giving the shooter a lousy shooting angle.

  9. Props to the officer for hitting this guy 3 times in a total SHTF situation. And yes, some flex needs to be used regarding “the fourth rule”.

    Slightly off topic note: The narrator mentions, toward the end, that the shooter was given a 75 year sentence (Attempted Capital Murder) for shooting 40+ rounds at, and not hitting, a cop. Contrast this punishment with the 14 year sentence given to the man who shot (and hit) a cop 5 times as noted by TTAC here:
    http://www.thetruthaboutguns.com/2012/05/robert-farago/quote-of-the-day-14-years-for-this-edition/

    These differences bring into focus the sharp differences between the legal systems of Texas and Michigan. I think I know where I’d rather live…

  10. Notice that 00:13 in the clip we see the muzzle of an SKS with bayonet dismounted , not an AK-47(this is part of the lead-in, not event footage). Later on in the clip they appear to pan over an SKS and then show an AK buttstock and receiver. I’m still not sure what kind of rifle the guy was shooting.

    Charlie

  11. I don’t think Mr. Cooper’s 4th rule applies to this situation and I don’t believe he intended for it to.
    I’m feel certain Mr. Cooper was intelligent enough to know you can’t ask an assailant to move from his location to an area which gives you a safer backstop when returning fire.
    I am also certain that Mr. Cooper never meant that anyone ( including himself ) should allow an armed assailant to continue firing at will if the opportunity exist to end the assualt, regardless of the surroundings.
    Having said that, I do believe if you are not the one under direct fire, it would be wise to be as prudent with your shots as reasonably possible.

  12. Is no one else concerned that this officer is only 18% accurate in a firefight? That seems pretty awful for someone who carries a firearm every day as part of his job.
    Unreasonable expectation?

    • You’re new here, aren’t you? 🙂 The (in)accuracy of law enforcement shootings is a long-known and oft-mentioned fact around here.

      He carries every day, not fires every day. I would wager that the average reader of this blog fires 2-3x more rounds (maybe more?) in a given year than the average officer does.

  13. By that point, I would be sucking cover, as low as I can go, and shooting at an upwards angle. That has a few inherent problems of its own, but having a back stop is not one of them.

  14. The officer performed well, especially considering the setting. This was a gun fight in a target rich environment. The video does highlight some training deficiencies that are present. I think that all LEO should attend some of the training at NTC. The cadre there are amazing and the training is top tier.

  15. “18% accurate in a firefight?”

    Typical bean counter….that’s funny…I don’t care who are..that’s funny.

  16. Better a dead cop than an innocent citizen being injured. If you don’t want the danger, quit and find productive work. I am sick and tired of hearing about “officer safety” as the ultimate magic word to excuse any and all conduct by government employees. It is time they start serving the public or time for us to start cutting these excessive paychecks, platinum benefits and early retirements. A citizen is always worth more than a government employee.

    • I agree with your overall point, that “Officer Safety” doesn’t trump the Constitution, but you could’ve been a leeetle less inflamatory.

      “Better a dead cop than an innocent citizen being injured.” and “A citizen is always worth more than a government employee.”

      That was a little over the top, no? I’ve always argued that police, and other armed bureaucrats, shouldn’t be treated differently by the law because they aren’t our superiors. They shouldn’t be given benefits by virtue of their job title alone. Conversely, they shouldn’t be treated worse than everyone else by virtue of their job title alone either.

      In my limited experience, people who don’t trust/like/revere/w.e. the police are almost immediately labeled “Anti-Cop” Saying things like the above quotes, isn’t helping my case and it isn’t helping yours.

      • I am proud to say i’m anti-cop. I’ve been helped by bums, i’ve been helped by criminals, i’ve been helped by little old ladies, but i’ve never, ever been helped by a police officer.

        • Based on your experiences above, why are you “Anti-Cop”? Unless you’ve had bad experiences as well, shouldn’t you be more… Neutral-Cop? 🙂

    • “A citizen is always worth more than a government employee.”

      Are you under the impression that government employees are not citizens?

  17. Something like this happened in Decatur Indiana some years back where a half wit in a junk pick-up truck greased a State Cop ( who died) with a semi-auto AK-47 on Saturday. Being a small town, witnesses IDed the perp and they caught the guy in Church service on Sunday the next morning with his parents.

  18. Thats all well and good, but does anyone else live right next to
    this Rest stop like I do!! HOLY SH&T, I thought I was far
    enough away from the city to avoid this! Glad I carry everywhere!
    V/R C_S

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