As predicted, gun grabbers are using the New York City Police Department’s failure to exercise discretion and restraint in the arrest of boss killer Jeffrey Johnson as a reason why civilians shouldn’t be armed. Newsday’s Alvin Bessent: “If highly trained officers shooting on a crowded street during a tense crisis inadvertently hit nine bystanders, it’s not likely that untrained civilians blasting away in a dark, chaotic theater, or any similar situation, would have been more accurate.” Blasting away. Love it. Or not. More importantly, is that right? Are armed civilians more dangerous than cops? I’ve seen both at the gun rage. Obviously, it’s not a representative sample; my ballistic BFFs are trained (if not DGU experienced) civilians. That said, if we’re talking about an actual gunfight—rather than the perp’s perceptions or the cops’ ability to call-in the cavalry—I’d rather have one of my gun buds by my side than a cop. You?

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67 Responses to Question of the Day: Who’s Better at Shooting Bad Guys, Cops or Civilians?

  1. All police officers should be “people of the gun” for their own safety and ours too.

    I’d rather have a friend backing me up than a cop I don’t know.

  2. if a cop is there i have no reason to engage. once the police make their arrival i unass in a hurry. before they get there if possible. if i’m forced to engage, i want support and i’ll take it from whomever is willing.

  3. Without a doubt I’d rather have a “civilian” than an enforcement drone by my side, on average. Some cops go two years between firing their guns and assume they can safely use them because they carry one every day.

  4. I do not believe this question is a fair one to police or armed civilians, and here’s why. The late Jeff Cooper once said that being a marksman is an individual choice separate from police agency or state CCW training rules, and I believe this description is accurate. Some LE officers want to be great shooters,and some citizens want to be excellent shots, so both parties hit the range and get advanced training as time and resources allow. If official policy or state law mandates that practice anyway, so much the better. But the core point is that a great shooter got that way because they choose to be regardless of profession or law.

    As such, state mandated training & mandatory police fire training cannot turn someone uninterested in being a marksman into Rob Leatham. A lot of civilians either don’t think they need training or think that pointing and pulling is all they need to know, just like a lot of police think their 100 round semi-annual qualifier is in fact too much practice for a tool they’ll never use in a 20 year career. Neither person is someone I want next to me in a social situation.

    If we want more cops and citizens to be better shots, we have to put aside nonsensical debate regarding “Open carry vs Concealed Carry”/ Isocoles vs Weaver / and start giving people reasons to hit the range. Once upon a time marksmanship was a cultural foundation all over America, and we must rebuild that tradition to solve the problem of untrained people carrying weapons they cannot capably use.

    In this way, the future lawmen and gun toting citizenry will have a foundation of useful shooting skills going back to childhood even if they’re not personally interested in advanced training.

  5. The phrase “untrained civilians” is the key phrase here. Consider the damage any “untrained civilian” behind the wheel of a car or truck could do. I think it’s obvious that just because you own a gun doesn’t mean that you know how to use it properly.

    • Exactly… how often, in the wake of a careless, but not necessarily drunk driver that hurts and or kills a bunch of people, is there a call for more control over who gets (and keeps) a license to drive, or a call for “better driver training?”

    • Right? Look at driving. There is a huge amount of training and practice that separates you sunday driver from your indy car drivers or Formula One racers. To assume that because they have a drivers license they are qualified for such a feat is done so in poor judgement.

      Training for law enforcement should be conducted regularly, and mandated by the county or state. At the very least a couple hundred rounds each month. I’ve shot well over 10k rounds in the last year or so through my pistol alone. That is not a huge amount and certainly does not qualify me as some kind of marksman. I dont like in a city where LTC/CCW is authorized , unless you’re a movie star/politician/scientologist. Yup, Los Angeles. Anyways, if the day every came where LTC was authorized, I refuse to accept my level of “training” as satisfactory. I recognize that if I was an EDC kind of guy, I would have to supplement a large portion of that 10k rounds with proper instruction before I could honestly say I’m safe and responsible. Sadly, that’s my own opinion, and I know for a fact that there are people, that I’m sure some of us know of, who would just be happy to carry a gun, and not accept the fact they are in no way qualified to operate in any type of shooting scenario outside of punching holes in paper with 1-shot-per-second and no double tap rules. Drawing from the holster what? My range doesn’t allow it unless you take a training class.

  6. All I really want in a SHTF situation is someone who is a better shot than me, cop, friend, stranger, don’t care. I’m not a bad shot, by any means, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want someone better helping me.

  7. “Cops or Civilians?”

    Both. Neither. It varies by person. The average person, cop or civilian, is going to put in the bare minimum requirement to get by (pass department quals or state mandated training). Some people will take the time/effort/money to make themselves better. It’s hard to have a apples/apples comparison, unless you look at training requirements department by department. NYPD’s is a bad joke. But there are other departments with much higher standards, which by default makes the average officer in those departments better than the average NYPD. Additional training also comes with regional gun culture. NYC’s overwhelming anti-gun culture gives officers no insentive to train with their weapons off the clock. But go to any range on the weekend in a red state and you’ll find cops there with buddies firing their personal weapons FOR FUN. Because that’s what’s popular to do and encouraged. Not to start a country/city or north/south thing, but if firearms are encouraged locally, there’s a greater likelihood of extracurricular training. And that’s for both cops and civvies (and extends to the military too, from personal experience).

  8. I don’t know any NYC police anymore but when I was younger, living in the City, I knew a few by acquaintance. They took their guns, their training and their shooting ability seriously. And it showed. They were good. Damn good.

    And it used to show in media reports I used to hear. Whenever police were in a firefight, they would always win, overwhelmingly. It was never even close.

    That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore. I don’t know why but I suspect that weapons training has been de-emphasized out of political correctness

  9. Regardless of occupation, the one with the best training should, on average, perform better. Some times the police will be better trained, and some times civilians will be better trained. I don’t think a blanket statement can be made about either civilians or the police in this instance.

  10. Its kind of a false choice. Everyone who has been around shooting for a while has a couple friends or acquaintances who are tactically smart, and great shots. If I get to cherry pick from my friends, I’ll take a retired-but-deadly police officer/firearms trainer, and the guy with 20 years in the Green Berets over the average cop. But, if you want me to choose between the average dude at my range and the average cop, its a harder choice.

    • There is also that confidence in how someone will react under stress. You know how your buds will react, maintain composure and remain level-headed (or not).

  11. Well… my buds or cops from a force that values marksmanship. That doesn’t institute policies like 12 lb trigger Dual Action Only pistols because the department is more concerned with legal liabilities of negligent discharges than making the effort to properly train their officers to use tools designed for the job.

  12. Also, it bothers me when cops aren’t thought of as belonging to the civilian group. Unless they’re MPs, in the National Guard or Reserves, cops are civilians too.

  13. I will start out with the personal. I shoot 700-1000 rounds a month while the average NYPD member might shoot 1000 rounds in a year. I am more proficient at hitting static paper targets than the average NYPD member. Would I do better as a NYPD professional in a live situation? Can’t say but I believe that when I emptied my magazine it would be pretty much on target at 8′.

    I would say that the primary reason that a private citizen would perform better than a typical NYPD officer is accountability. If we cause collateral casualties in an otherwise legitimate DGU we go to jail so we are more likely not to shoot on a crowded street. Federal LEOs and military police face the same threat for screwing up. When you are accountable you adopt tactics that minimize the danger of blue-on-blue. Up until now the NYPD faces no such sanction and will continue to blaze away with reckless disregard for innocent civilians.

  14. YMMV

    Just like the news article, you cannot make a blanket generic statement because Cop, Arm Civilian or bad guy, you will find all levels of good or bad. I am sure there are cops who only shoot to meet requirements and then there are those who practice and participate in IDPA/IPSC. In a previous article, it was discussed that bad guys always shooting at each other actually have good situational awareness. Then there are many of the people who come through my pistol class and take the class, buy a gun and keep it in the night stand.

    It too broad of question. As as the media, never miss an oppurtunity for FUD!

  15. Civilians operate in a world of liability versus cops have protection. If we hit a civilian that becomes an assault charge. So we have to be more careful.

  16. Depends on what cop you are talking about and what civilian.

    If we are talking about your typical, 20 years in and retire, the gun is a tool and I only shoot it on quals street officer the answer is no.

    If we are talking about a SWAT officer with 15 years on the force hands down I take the swat officer.
    The short answer would be I would take one of my average “gun” buddies over your average officer.

  17. I have seen police and military “training” having said that….. I would rather have a civilian with me that shoots as much as I do. A couple of my police friends have boxes of ammo they get every month that has not been touched, I can barely keep myself in ammo and some of my friends are the same way. and the nypd trigger pull wouldn’t bother them if they trained regularly with it I had a sw9ve with the terrible trigger. I got good with that now all the others feel awesome!

  18. Kind of a broad question. Regular “beat” cops are very different from Special TEAMS/SWAT guys. Same with civilians, I know plenty that own 1-2 firearms and have very little training or experience. But we also have a lot that spend quite a bit of time and are as good as or better then some of the best “professionals”.

    Not a simple answer.

  19. Tom Gresham had an interesting discussion about this on “Gun Talk.” Come to find out the NYPD does not require regular training, only annual requalification, which consists largely of teaching the cops how to use their pistols. Unless an individual policeman decides to train more often, he may only fire his pistol once a year, and only to qualify. A man on the show explained that often those coming for requalification can not even get on the paper LEO target from 21 feet, but after 45 minutes of training are able to get shots in a four inch group.

  20. At the range I have seen some cops who are good shots, but that does not seem to be the rule. As noted above, a lot of cops are not gun enthusiasts. My range buddies all are veteran action pistol shooters. I think that, on average, the average competitive shooter is a way better shot than the average police officer.

    I would rather have one of my range buddies by my side any day.

  21. As others have said, this is a VERY broad question with a LOT of variables. Would I be better than the average NYPD cop at shooting a bad guy? Yes if I can shoot the weapon I have, and not be handicapped with the NYPD 12 pound trigger pull piece of crap. The one advantage the typical cop has over the typical guy on the street, is he/she has training in when and when not to shoot. Doesn’t always seem like it from the news, but in any given day, thousands of bad guys get arrested in this country with out anyone (including the dog) being shot by police. Some of the guys I know from the range may be excellent shooters, but just might be inclined to ventilate someone when it really wasn’t the proper thing to do. Something like, “You! Stop and put your hands in the air!” Perp, says “No!” followed by a quick BANG! BANG! (double tap into the bad guy’s head).

  22. As a supervisor of a small township in pa our police chief does not consider himself a gun guy. Bad part our department does the min range time but spend a ton of time on how to not to offend anyone.

  23. the question should be why were the police shooting at a suspect on a crowded street??? Instead of waiting until he was away from people that could potentially become collateral damage… Victims by proxy because the police made a bad choice… Those cops should be brought up on charges because they know better… Charges like a religion of duty malicious intent of harm something along those lines because they know they should not have been firing in a crowded area… This is a perfect example of showing that their gun laws do not work and the police are as dangerous to the public as the criminals are… However we should not expect anything else from them, because new york state has never known what reality even is, not during the Civil War, not when it was first installed, and not now.

  24. “Who’s better at shooting bad guys, cops or civilians?”

    The answer is CIVILIANS hands down. Anyone who doubts this can simply refer me to the dozens of documented examples where civilians have shot bystanders during a defensive gun use. Or not because they don’t exist. We could also look at FBI Uniform Crime Reports which show that CIVILIANS are responsible for more justifiable homicides annually than law enforcement officers.

    The explanation lies in the nature of engagements. When a criminal attacks a civilian, it is pretty much always at point blank range and over in a few seconds. (The attack either ends with criminal running away, going down, or prevailing over the victim in a few seconds.) Because the engagement is at point blank range, it is pretty hard for civilians to miss even if they have not had much training. And the civilian knows exactly who the criminal is. Finally, and most importantly, the civilian usually has the element of surprise.

    On the other hand, when police engage a criminal, they may not be sure who the criminal is at first, the criminal could easily be 10 to 50 feet away at first contact, the criminal could engage the police for a long time, and, most importantly, the police lack the element of surprise since they are wearing uniforms and arrive in cars with bright flashing lights and loud sirens.

    Police officers are definitely at a disadvantage and the numbers show that.

  25. Its not a fair question. If both cop and civilian are great shooters it doesnt mean one can handle pressure better than the other. Some people focus and some break down when both react you are going to get 2 very different results. I would rather have a kid with street smarts next to me than a cop that finished top of his class.

    • It actually gets worse. Many criminals have actual combat experience from previous criminal activity. Thus they have even more experience than most law enforcement officers.

  26. How apropos to the headline from today in Jacksonville, Florida where a citizen with a CWP was able to drop a robber (dead!) in a dollar store and shot NO bystanders in the process. Nicely done! NYPD and Bloomberg need to take note:

    Customer Shoots Robber Dead

  27. I think that most of the statistics would probably support the position that police are worse shooters than civilians when it comes to defensive shooting. However, I don’t think such statistics are really an accurate measurement of reality because they ignore the fact that:

    1) Police are obligated to pursue criminals and will have the majority of their gunfights occur in unfavorably venues such as crowded areas, a cramped hallway in a low income high-rise, the home of their attacker, etc.

    By constrast, I have to suspect that a significant portion of civilians who shoot in self defense will do so in their own homes or businessess, essentially giving them a ‘homefield’ advantage for the encounter.

    2) Police shooting statistics are generally going to include all recorded instances where police discharge their firearms against a threat and/or are fired upon [correct me if i’m wrong].

    Since civilian shootings are more likely to end up going unrecorded, as private citizens don’t have dashboard cams and don’t constantly communicate with other citizens via a dispatcher, the statistics likely aren’t fully representative of civilian accuracy in more questionable uses of a firearm where indivuals do not contact the police during or after the incident.

    On the whole, I think the median firearms skill level among police is likely on par with the median skill level for all gun owners collectively [not just true enthusiasts], which is a bit below what it probably should be given the training we are told they receive.

  28. The average Joe (or Jane) who is likely to whip out the jammy and flat blast some bad guy probably is a better shot than the Po-po simply because while all police have to carry a gun–whether they’re into guns or not–citizens who carry daily are probably much more into firearms and their mastery…if not, they probably leave the gun locked up at home day after day.

    So, yeah, I think that’s gonna weight the odds in favor of the “gun guy” being a better shot with better shoot/don’t shoot decision making than the average cop.

  29. Not every cop is an enthusiastic shooter, thus some are only going to do the minimum range time needed to qualify, whatever that may be. However, every civilian at the range is by definition a gun nut (including me and all of my gun-toting buddies), and we’re at the range because we love shooting. So, I’d take any of my shooter pals over a random cop any day. All bets are off if the cop is a gun nut, too. In that case, they’re more than welcome our foxhole. Praise God and pass the ammunition.

  30. By the way, I have found that carrying and practicing with a revolver taught me to be more economical with my shots. I’m not a “blast away” guy with my semiautos. But, the margin of error is smaller with a five shot snubby.

  31. I’m a big fan of training in many aspects of life. I have over 2,000 hours of continuing education in my chosen field (and running). I admit to not having any formal training in “gunmanship” other than my Navy pistol course (qualified Expert) and my CCW class (for what it’s worth). Everything else is self-taught. I think I’m a decent shot. 🙂 My profession involves a fair bit of eye-hand coordination, so I think that has provided an edge in marksmanship.

    So while training is arguably important. What about practice? And, more practice?

    http://i1042.photobucket.com/albums/b425/racer88_bucket/Gun%20Stuff/targets_11-27-11_0005.jpg

    • Reply to self…. I DO intend to get around to taking some real “training” eventually. Family, work, economy, etc… I’ll get to it. I promise! 🙂

    • Practice is very important. I dry fire practice a bit every day, work on presentation, and try to get to the range once a week.

  32. Question of the Day: Who’s Better at Shooting Bad Guys, Cops or Civilians?

    I don’t know, but when it comes to shooting innocent bystanders, the cops are ahead nine to nothing.

  33. Apparently Mr. Alvin Bessent missed this story.

    Armed Citizen. Fires five shots at man attacking police officer (attacker was actually on-top-of said police officer). Five shots hit attacker. Four to center-mass, one to brain. 100% hit ratio. End of attack on police officer. No innocent bystanders injured. The Police officer in extreme close physical proximity to targeted attacker was NOT struck by friendly fire.
    Maybe this fellow will be willing to give lessons to the NYPD.

    http://www.wafb.com/Global/story.asp?S=4527526

    • From the article:

      “Baton Rouge Police Chief Jeff LeDuff stopped short of crediting Stevens with saving the officer’s life.”

      Why? ‘Cause the department is embarrassed that one of their own needed an armed samaritan to save the officer’s life? Nice work, Chief. Maybe next time that citizen will just mind his own business and “move along.” Nothing to see here as the officer gets his head caved in.

  34. I don’t care who is doing the shooting, if it has an NYC trigger on it, forgetaboutit!
    To that end I think there are good cops, and civilians who are crack shots.
    I do have to say that current training mandated in general is less than what I would like to see. Sure there are lots of LEO’s who go shoot on their own time. Many of them belong to TTAG.
    But out of the 700,000 + LEO’s in this country, I have to say as a generalization many do not practice as often as they should. A gun, either shotgun, AR style, or pistol is a tool of their trade. As such it is critical to know how to use the tool to the best of your ability as part of your job.
    I would have to say though that as a generalization most CCW carriers probably practice more then their LEO counterparts. Base don this I would have to lean civilian here.
    Given that CCW in NYC is basically as scarce as a dinosaur it isn’t really a fair question now is it? there wasn’t even an option for a CCW to create havoc as the above writer contends. It is once again a deplorable use of a tragedy to push an agenda while using fear. The facts are pretty clear. The NYPD need more training and the ability to use normal triggers! How CCW comes into this or how a gun ban comes into this makes very little sense to me. The cops did all the shooting!
    Not to sound disgusting, but good old Jeffery didn’t hit anyone but his intended target. Five shots if my memory serves me right. I mean no disrespect to anyone, but simply put the bad guy hit his mark 100%. NYCPD through no fault of the officers manage to send a bunch of folks to the hospital.
    Let’s focus on the real issue here shall we! Our LEO’s in this country don’t have enough training and in the case of NYC have tools which are grossly hampered for them to effectively be used.
    So Mr. Bloomie and the police chief better get their collective heads out of their you know what’s and get these cops some help!

  35. I shoot weekly and the local LEOS do not.
    My friends shoot weekly the local LEOS do not.

    I trust myself to shoot better then the police under any circumstances.
    I trust my friends to do the same.

  36. I agree with RichS. Many police shootings occur under adverse conditions, without the element of surprise, and with equipment that is chosen for them by…someone else. Try playing paintball and achieving a 34% accuracy rating while running your a$$ off and dodging incoming fire, and you’ll a more complete perspective on dynamic shooting. Simunition shooting will get you even closer to the real deal.

    Is there a central location where we could all meet for a contest? I would definitely enjoy that. Here’s my caveat: I’d want at least one scenario where you would sprint a good 1/4 to 1/2 mile, do 50 pushups or so, maybe wrestle with somebody for a bit, and then fire for effect (that’s to simulate an adrenaline dump, not to give Nick a heart attack). The TTAG crew vs. the LEO crew, perhaps?

    • 1 of our drills was to high port the weapon, a pump shotgun, run a half mile and chamber and fire 1 shot at a target without pause. quite a number of people missed with oo buck. this has been many years ago but i think the range was 7 yards.

  37. The last post reminded me of an old reality TV show called ‘Pros vs Joes’,the taline of which was that football fans got a chance to play real pro football atheletes on the field .An experiment of random CCW permit holders versus random police officers at a simunition course ought to at the very least make good TV.

  38. My friends and I shoot weekly, and take it as a serious hobby/passion.
    Cops around here lug it around, and maybe shoot twice a year if they feel like it.

    I’ll take my friends.

  39. Out of how many DGUs I’ve read about in the last 6 months was a cop even present? The NY shooting was 1 incident where the PD happened to be close and could engage. One event is not enough to justify that claim. Just more hoplophobic chatter.

    Besides, when the PD does show up it’s in force. Multiple uniforms, guns and misses. Go figure.

  40. Huh? Well, granted, there must be a few singular exceptions; but, as a group, the New York City Police are now considered to be highly skilled gunmen! Wow, I must have missed it. When did this happen? (Has anyone advised the NYPD that they are, now, considered to be a bunch of highly skilled pistoleros? I think someone should tell them; don’t you!)

    Watch out you: IDPA, USPSA, IPSC, & 3 Gun Competition guys. Here comes the awesome pistoleros from the New York City Police Department! Clear the sidewalks, Momma!

  41. I would say the average law abiding armed citizen would be a lot more cautious about taking a shot.. a cop who shoots someone ‘by accident’ in the line of duty isn’t going to face the legal fallout the average citizen will. I’ve been following police marksmanship off and on since the 1980’s when 2 officers engaged a perp separated by the length of a Ford Pinto and over 50% of the rounds fired by the officers missed and went downrange. Recently you had the 9 bystanders shot by police at the Empire State Building. Improved marksmanship should be a goal of anyone who carries a firearm, but that is not a good replacement for sound judgement on when to take the shot.

  42. LE or civilian, Ill take a good guy with a gun over a bad guy with a gun anyday. 99% of the time the perps are cowards and wont engage in a fire fight when met force on force. Ill take my chances on a mishap from either, over letting a looney run rampid unchallenged and able to inflict harm on innocent civilians who are unable to defend themselves. Be smart carry on.

  43. I will put it in true terms. Some Police Officers do train extensively. Most do not. In my career I have observed that most police officers train when they are told to. Qualify when required to and that is it.
    Some officers are recreational shooters as well. Some shoot as much as “Gun Enthusiasts”.

    One difference is shooting at a piece of paper and shooting at a moving human are very different. Target shooting and tactical shooting are different in so many ways. Most cops have at least some tactical shooting training. Many civilians do as well.

    So who is a better shot? Who can stop a bad guy better? It would depend on the particular cop or civilian who was put in that situation.

  44. Just read a statistic that state, “Col. Cooper ran an EXTENSIVE study on bystander shootings and accuracy comparing Cops , criminals and legally armed citizens. Thugs hit their target about 2-5% of the time. Cops about 1 in 5 or 20% while trained citizens had a better than 70% first shot hit rate.” Have not been able to fact check this though.

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