Randy Smith (courtesy wtok.com)

Randy Smith [above] arrived home after work to find three young men intent on stealing his stuff, one of whom was standing on his porch. Smith “brandished” his carry gun to keep all three bad guys at bay until the cops arrived. “I’ve been broke in once before,” Smith told wtok.com. “I’m just tired of people stealing. I work too hard for what I got and for somebody to just come in and steal it from me. Somebody who’s not working. Just out there looking for somebody to rip off and steal from.” Fair enough. And then . . .

“One of them kinda just act like he wanted to come around the car I fired in the air and told him to stop or the next one would be him.”

Well now, how do we feel about this?

On one hand, a warning shot is highly inadvisable, especially if you don’t live in rural Mississippi. It opens you up to charges of reckless endangerment (or some such thing). And it’s true: you don’t know where the bullet’s going to go. A warning shot also “proves” that you weren’t really in imminent danger of death or grievous bodily harm when you pulled your piece—if you were you would have shot your attacker(s). And strategically, it gives the bad guys an excuse/impetus to attack.

On the other hand, the warning shot worked. The three young men attempting to rob Mr. Smith’s residence remained in place until the cavalry arrived. Bonus! None of them was shot, which would have created a blizzard of paperwork and no end of trouble for Mr. Smith. The perps’ hearing may be a little damaged, as may be the case for Mr. Smith, but everything ended relatively peacefully.

My take: Mr. Smith should have instructed the boys to leave (in no uncertain terms) as he was contacting police and getting to/behind cover/concealment. If one or more of the criminals had made a threatening move towards Mr. Smith he would have been well within his rights to shoot the perp. (Even “better” (i.e. worse) if one of the bad guys had been holding a weapon.) Not a warning shot. Center mass.

I know that’s not the best case scenario (for the more genteel members of society). The best outcome is what actually happened. But the potential downside of a warning shot is too high. It’s an escalation of hostilities. And when you’ve got not one not two but three bad guys in play, the odds of a successful post-warning-shot attack are pretty damn high.

Anyway, as always, result. Note: to wtok: I don’t think Mr. Smith “happened to have his gun on him at the time.” And note to readers: there’s no such thing as a warning shot. You shot at the perp and missed. That is all.

66 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Warning Shot?

  1. Right to bear arms… country of origin is riddle with gun violence even though the police is only allowed to carry them.

    And It may sound harsh, but firing a warning shot means:
    -You are possibly endangering somebody, know what is behind your target, you can’t possibly know what is at the end of the arch as the bullet meets whatever or whoever.
    -True, is rural place, but firing a warning shot opens you up to an ungodly amount of trouble.

    Conclusion, harsh though it may be:
    -Do not give a warning shot
    -If you fire, aim center mass.

      • My First Sergeant’s advice when pulling guard duty, “No warning shots. Always aim to wound. Try to wound his ear.”

        • We got similar advice when the powers that be decided 50 cal couldn’t be used against troops – only to disable or destroy their equipment. “Disable/destroy their helmets” was the revised guideline.

          It was a clean miss, not a warning shot. And in CA, you are now down to 9 bullets. In NY, you’re now down to 6. If shots need to be fired, center of mass is the only place to put them. Unless you can actually hit the brain stem under duress.

    • Can we at least agree that a warning shot on the high seas doesn’t not endanger any others? You don’t have to worry about your backstop, because if you are in that situation, it’s pirates, and you are best served by filling ’em all with hot lead….

      • And if your warning shot happens to go down into your grassy lawn, we can be fairly confident where it will stop – a few inches underground.

      • Actually, the most scared I’ve ever been at a gun shoot was standing topside on a submarine back in the day, shooting the mk-46 (5.56mm SAW) at nothing in the middle of nowhere. Turns out tracers show some pretty wicked ricochets on the water… I was very worried about someing coming back my way off a wave…

        • They might skip like stones if a slight deflection can turn them away from the water, but they won’t make a major change in direction from striking water. Poseidon isn’t going to catch your bullets and throw them back at you.

    • I would have considered it a warning shot for the other two perps…. as first guy takes 3 rounds to center of mass

    • JSanchez you are spot on. I have spent many, many years on the two way range. I have been shot at countless times. I have been hit several times. I will and have never fired a warning shot.

  2. The only warning shot I give is the one I inadvertently missed. However if you want to try one think of the intentional grounding rule in football. Fire at at the ground near your target. If it works you can always say you missed when the cops show up.

    • Perhaps spiking the ball would be a better analogy? To my mind, firing your gun in the air would be more akin to intentional grounding, in that you don’t know/care where the ball (bullet) lands. Spiking the ball isn’t as good as completing a pass (i.e. scoring a center-mass hit), but its waaaay better than throwing the ball you-know-not-where. Just my perspective.

      • Intentional grounding is throwing the ball away when you are in danger of being sacked inside the tackles. A QB can avoid this penalty when he throws the ball in the vicinity of an eligible receiver in the backfield. The analogy is if you shoot into the air as a warning shot you are subject to legal sanction. If you shoot in the direction of the threat but without the intention of hitting your assailant on the first shot you are going to be covered because you can claim that you missed if challenged by the police thus avoiding the legal penalties for discharging a firearm.

    • [If it works you can always say you missed when the cops show up.]
      This is called “lying to the LEOs.” If they find out, like if your stupid brother-in-law tells them that’s what you told him to do, you just flushed your credibility and justification.
      Either don’t say anything, or stick strictly to the truth.

  3. As minuscule as the chance would be, had that bullet come back to earth and landed in someone he would be charged with manslaughter… And rightfully so

    • If shot straight upward, a returning bullet doesn’t have enough energy to be deadly. The mathematics of terminal velocity, not to mention a very interesting episode of “Mythbusters” demonstrates this. It certainly wouldn’t be pleasant to be doinked on the melon with a 100+ grains of lead, but not fatal under normal circumstances. A bigger fear would be low flying aircraft IMO.

      • But there have been situations of people dying from bullets shot in the air. Not sure how high the angle was that the bullet was shot at, but it has happened.

      • Yeah, Mythbusters represents some very bad non-science.

        Terminal velocity depends on the shape of the projectile more than anything; falling sharpies can be going along at a pretty good clip.

        We’ve all see photographs of a plank transfixed by a straw following a tornado, and the TV of a slug can be in the 200 MPH range — faster than your typical twister. Hell. A relatively low-density human tops at well over 100 MPH.

        One of my customers has his shop in a Morton building in KCMO. His roof (#16 steel) was perforated awhile back by some returning 7.62×39 when a doofus three blocks away let off a load from his AK on New Years.

        That’s good (or bad) enough for me.

        • You’re mixing vertical drop (and terminal velocity) with an arcing trajectory in your third paragraph. There’s a difference.

  4. Not a proponent of warning shots in general, but if you choose to do so, firing in the air like a celebrating terrorist is a horrible idea. Try to hit something which will stop your bullet. Or shoot your door (according to america’s #1 door salesman Joe Biden).

    • I am not a big fan of warning shots either. However, I realize that in some odd situations that may be a viable option. If so, it should be a ground shot for safety purposes.

  5. I try not to armchair quarterback these things unless it’s particularly egregious but if one insists upon a warning shot, go for dirt instead of air.

  6. There have been numerous potential dgu where a warning shot meant jail for the shooter. Unlawful discharge, endangerment, I’ve even heard of a case similar where the defender has been charged with detaining the would be robber.

    • Many states also have an exception to that if the gun is fired in self defense. That is why firing warning shots is a bad idea because it give the bad guys a chance to try and claim they were victims of brandishing.

      • Exactly.
        And it’s true: you don’t know where the bullet’s going to go. A warning shot also “proves” that you weren’t really in imminent danger of death or grievous bodily harm when you pulled your piece—if you were you would have shot your attacker(s). And strategically, it gives the bad guys an excuse/impetus to attack. Amongst other things. On the other hand, the warning shot worked.

        If you point the warning shot down into the dirt or a penetrable home surface, you know where the bullet will go. Firing doesn’t prove you aren’t in immanent danger, only that you’re allowing your attacker .17 of a second to reconsider his assault. Warning shots were not made illegal (punishable) because they were ineffective, but rather (citation not forthcoming…) to simplify law enforcement, preserve the neighbors’ peace, and above all to attempt to reduce the number of unjustified warning shots, also known as threatening shots. That last is exactly the sentiment that led to sanctions against ‘brandishing,’ an act which makes obvious sense when under attack, but appears to all as a crime when it is merely an unjustified element of bullying….which it often enough is.

  7. What? Shoot someone for pointing a gun at you?
    Shouldn’t you show some restraint like the New Haven cop you praised over the weekend?

  8. I wondered if this story would wind up here…it happened a few days ago in the next county down from where I live. I of course have a few ancillary comments:

    Mr. Smith knew the intruders (per a co-worker familiar with both parties) and didn’t want to kill any of them…the warning shot was fired to prove to them he was prepared to do so if forced. So I understand why he felt that the shot was called-for, though the ground would have been the far better option. Fortunately, there was no unlawful discharge law to break, as it occurred in the county. One of the few perks to living in Boondock Holler…

    Aside from that, I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same thing in the same situation…particularly as it turned out that the perps weren’t armed. While unarmed opponents are more than capable of causing severe injury and/or death, blowing away one or more of them would have looked good before the grand jury, would it not? Just more unnecessary head- and heartache for the homeowner

    Speaking of unnecessary, I certainly wouldn’t have laid it all out for the news media. Now he’s on public record as having done this, which could attract ambulance chasers to try for some jackpot justice. It just opens the door to more misery.

    • The details you provided clarify things. The one and only warning shot I’ve ever made (in the dirt and I’m NOT a believer in warning shots) was for someone familiar. They were going to split my skull open with a pipe. I didn’t want my skull split open but also didn’t want to shoot the idiot unnecessarily. The shot woke him up to the reality that he had better get his homicidal rage in check, otherwise, he was going to get shot. Since you posted that Mr. Smith knew the people; his warning shot makes a lot more sense to me.

    • Thanks for the details. As for ‘laying it all out’ for the media, isn’t there such a thing as an honest miss on the first shot? If discharging a warning shot makes personal sense, and if use of lethal force makes legal sense, then missing on the first shot makes the defender no worse a shooter than most LEOs. No?

  9. Only an idiot fires a warning shot.
    If you shoot its at the criminal.
    Otherwise just yell Ive got a gun and get yourself possibly shot……………..

  10. Well warning shots work just ask any Iraqi civilian that don’t understand the international hand arm signal for stop, the flare bouncing off their windshield, or the .50 caliber machine gun pointed at them prior to the round being fired into the dirt. Personally, I think there is a time and place for warning shots, like when the slimeball is actually in your house and so are you the warning shot is the first controlled pair into center mass, but if you cruise up ad they are walkin out the door then go for it just aim into the dirt.

  11. Warning shot was extremely uncalled for, you shoot the bad guy or you don’t pull your weapon in the first place.

    There have been several such events in recent history where a true DGU involving a warning shot happened and the shooter was arrested and has now lost their rights of gun ownership, at least for now. Reckless endangerment, attempted murder, illegal discharge of a weapon, etc.

    Also, and hopefully to put this to bed. The statement about the hearing of the shooter and the perps being injured. During an adrenaline dump (aka: DGU) the brain secretes a hormone called corticotrophin-releasing factor, CRF, which provides cushion that insulates the small bones of the ear effectively stopping damage to the hearing during fight or flight. The reason hunters and soldiers shoot without hearing protection and have no hearing loss while recreational shooters shoot without earpro and have severe problems.

    Source: http://www.healthyhearing.com/content/articles/Hearing-loss/Protection/47463-Hearing-loss-protection-fight

    • “You shoot the bad guy or you don’t pull your weapon in the first place.”

      I think I forgot to bring that up in my below post. There’s another rule I was raised with. If its not worth shooting, don’t. Follows right into, “If you’re not going to shoot it, don’t aim at it.”

  12. Where I live, if I want to fire 5000 rounds of .50 BMG at the ground, trees, my foundation or whatever, noone’s going to get all butthurt about it.

    Not that I’ve any .50 BMG or anything that fires it, but it’d be fine with the locals and LEOs if I did, did and did.

    In my case, then, a shot at “the mole that was fixin’ t’ attack yer boot” would be perfectly acceptable to all parties — apart of course from the bad guy(s).

    A warning shot shows that the gun is loaded and operable, that you’re comfortable with it and that you don’t mind a little noise or a visit from the constabulary. That can be a powerful inducement to them to set a spell and await your other guests, without all that darned paperwork.

    Since I put in the gas and water lines, I think I can manage t’ miss ’em should push come to shove come to boom.

    Your mileage might of course vary.

  13. The warning shot had the desired effect and the end result of all three burglars arrested, and nobody dead.

    Stop second-guessing the events as they actually occurred.

  14. I was taught to never believe in the “warning shot.” Aside from liability issues, it makes you vulnerable in a lot of ways.

    It tells any compatriots of your assailant that, even though you have a gun, you aren’t willing to use it fatally. Or it tells them you are a poor shot. Either way, you’re encouraging them.

    It shows that you are trying to intimidate. Intimidation comes from intent. As Yoda said, “Do or do not, there is no ‘try.'” Don’t “try” to intimidate. If you want to be intimidating to an intruder, and pointing a gun isn’t enough, then your implied intention isn’t enough. Firing into the air, or even into the (relatively) safe ground, demonstrates the opposite of that intent.

    And finally, even though there are more I can’t think of at the moment, a “missed” shot demonstrates what you have, to any number of opponents you might not know are there. I don’t care what you think of 7.62×39, .223, .45, 10, 9, .22, etc. They might be punk kids who will run at the report, or they’re not, and they now know what you have might be less than what they have.

    I guess I have inner city paranoia paired with military paranoia, but my roommate and I respond to weird noises with duress words and have both actively carried around the house, and neither of us has shot the other, so that should be a statistic.

  15. Mr.Smith did everything correct and didn’t let the twerps,I mean perps,get away to come back or rob somebody else.About that Accidental / Negligent discharge ? well sh.t happens,Oh Well!

  16. “ATTENTION: Due to current ammo prices, warning shots are no longer given on these premises to unauthorized visitors. We also do not apologize for any inconvenience this may cause.” 😉

  17. Some problems or questions may have more than one correct answer. Overly general ideas like never use a warning shot can’t cover all situations. A warning shot in downtown Boston is certain to do property damage if not personal injury. A warning shot in rural Texas is unlikely to do either. In general I’m not pro warning shot, but every situation is different. Sometimes it’s best to defer such judgment to the person who was there, and not “second guess,” “backseat drive,” or “sideline quarterback.” Randy Smith was there, used his judgment, and got the best possible outcome. Nuff said?

  18. In the heat of the moment I missed. The guy stopped coming towards me so i stopped shooting. That’s my story and i’m sticking to it. With all due respect, i’m calling my lawyer now.

  19. Well, living here in the Peoples Republic of New York State, where we’re limited to 7 rounds, I think I’d have to conserve all my ammo for a possible defense of my life……so, it’s not even an option for me to consider (once again the SAFE Act limits my options and puts me in danger)

  20. DJStuCrew. Shots fired in air will kill. 5 Jul 2013, 7 year old boy dies after some idiot fired in celebration in the air. 9/12/12 lookup Marion Yoder, he fired his 50 caliber muzzle loader into air after coming home from a hunting trip. While I agree these and many more we’re not completely vertical, I do not believe Mythbusters. There are many more examples out there.

    As for warning shot: not a chance. If you draw your weapon in most states it means you are in imminent danger. . .to neutralize that danger, shoot center of mass.

    • Wrong! See, shots fired STRAIGHT up can only come down so fast. (Google “terminal velocity” and learn.) Those shots where people are killed are usually from guns fired at an upward ANGLE. All shots are a parabola; and any angle will leave enough momentum for a lethal shot.
      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PHxvMLoKRWg
      The same thing applies to a lead bullet.

  21. Warning shot? If you live within a township or city, your “warning shot” has a real chance of hitting some other person…may be a long chance, but a chance nonetheless. It is just stupid to take that chance. If you are going to use a gun to deter an intruder…shoot the mother! Or place yourself at risk by trying to hold them by threat of the gun, but never fire a warning shot “into the air” except (maybe) if you are absolutely sure there’s no other person who could possibly be hit when what you put “up” comes “down”..Gravity and Friction are such twin, inconvenient b*tches…

  22. In my younger and dumber days I fired a warning shot into the ground. Would not do that now. One neighbor was beating the crap out of another (fists only) but I should have realized it was his decision to associate with a drunken idiot and stayed out of it. When the cops came around after it was all over, I didn’t mention the shot and apparently no one else did either. I’m not even sure the aggressor noticed. He stopped attacking maybe 10 seconds after the shot. The one getting the beating later thanked me for ‘whatever you did’. I guess he couldn’t tell if it was a gun or fireworks or what.

  23. Anyone note that since Mr. Smith was not home at the time of the break-in, there by making the Castle Doctrine inapplicable in MS, he did not have the right to use deadly force to protect his property in the state of MS. It would be my understanding if I have the law correct that ‘technically’ you was acting outside the law to draw his weapon in the would-be burglars.

    “Kinda wanting to come around the car” hardly sounds like a threat to life.

    The inability to use deadly force, and the threat there of, to protect property is an affront to liberty that exists in the majority of states, including MS. Mr. Smith will probably feel the blessings of prosecutorial discretion, but I prefer the rue of law not men, and the law currently is perverted.

  24. Almost all of us are tired of thugs who steal from us and threaten our families and we are tempted to take care of that problem our self’s.
    But unless it is really about my own life or someones I love, I would always try to opt for a solution that does not involve me using a gun on someone.
    The legal and mental ramifications are just not worth it.
    Therefore, warning shots are nonsense. You try not to get into a situation where you have to use your gun in the first place or if you must, or forced to, you shoot to defend, that means kill in the most cases.
    In the above case, Mr. Smith could have swallowed his pride and could have waited in his house for police to arrive. No risk, no pain.
    People who have to play the hero all the time should not own guns.

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