John Bagley (courtesy adn.com)

“John Marshall Bagley [above] told police he was upset his wife, Judy, was divorcing him and began to stab her, chasing her outside into the driveway of their South Anchorage home,” adn.com reports. “But a neighbor walking his dog in the neighborhood north of Ocean View Park heard Judy Bagley scream for help, witnessed the stabbing and then used his pistol to fire a warning shot into the air, diverting Bagley’s attention away from his wife. The neighbor, Donald Brown, then subdued Bagley, and handed Judy Bagley a phone to call police.” This report is mistaken. Mr. Brown fired a shot at Mr. Bagley and missed. If you are in a similar situation, that’s exactly what you might do. Because firing a warning shot – no matter where it’s aimed – could get you into all kinds of legal trouble. [h/t TG]

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49 Responses to Self-Defense Tip: Never Fire a Warning Shot

  1. But but but… Joe Biden said you should fire not one but TWO warning shots from your double barrel shotgun.

    I’m sure if some citizen were to find themselves in legal trouble for firing warning shots, the vice president would immediately intervene, as they were only taking his advice!

    /sarc

  2. I’m gonna leave warning shots to Mr and Mrs Biden. I might shout at a BG before shooting Something along the lines of “Stop or I’ll shoot!”, if circumstances permit, but any bullets I send will be directed at the miscreant.

    • If you are in imminent danger for your life that would justify shooting, you don’t have TIME to do any shouting and waiting for his compliance, right?

      • Depends on the situation–say, a drugged-up guy with a knife advancing slowly but relentlessly and I’m backed into a blind alley or some such. Or a couple of guys advancing at a run but from a bit of a distance and I know I can’t outrun them and their intentions appear, well, unfriendly but no weapon is seen. The shout would be primarily for two purposes: 1. to show any potential witnesses that I am only shooting as a last resort, and 2. to establish that I was reasonably in fear for my personal safety when they had the opportunity to stop and did not, when, for example, it turns out that they were not armed. . Like I said, only if circumstances permit.

        • I think you are over thinking this a little bit. Will you really have all that ‘presence of mind’ in a SD situation?

          Maybe. But only maybe, will any of that matter.

          The standard to show “fear for my life” is objective reasonableness, not showing witnesses at the time what you are thinking.

          Plus, wasn’t there one case not too long ago where a dude got convicted after shooting someone while shouting all that crap, because it was shown that he rehearsed it (and there was some other evidence that he had some kind of beef with the person he killed…)? I don’t recall the details or names.

          Your deal, though…

        • Not necessarily overthinking, that was what my CC instructor recommended. And yeah, in the “relentless advance” type situation I would certainly hope to have that much presence of mind.

      • Many states allow for lethal force used to protect others. If you are entirely sure that the person assaulting another is making a violent illegal assault, you are protected by applicable statutes, if they exist, to intervene on the behalf of the innocent.

        Example: Here in NC if you witness a violent assault on an innocent party and intervene, you will be protected under the law if the innocent party could have acted as you did legally. In other words, if they could’ve used lethal force, you may do it on their behalf, provided all the criterion (opportunity, ability, jeopardy, reasonable person) are met for the circumstance that innocent party was in.

        • Does this have some specific relevance to the idea of shouting to the assailant before acting?

        • Kentucky law has two different standards. If you are defending yourself, you fall under the “reasonable person” standard. If you are defending someone else, you fall under the “what are the facts” standard. So, if a lunatic comes running at you with a knife, you can shoot them with no issue. If you see a lunatic with a knife chasing someone else and you shoot them, but it turns out the lunatic was a government employee trying to issue a traffic citation, you are in hot water.

        • In Texas we can actually use deadly force to protect property, and even that of a third party, under certain circumstances. But ultimately you must be reasonably afraid of death or serious injury.

        • JR –

          In a situation where assisting another individual, a verbal warning prior to firing may be an appropriate action. Say they’re advancing on an unarmed individual with a bat, obviously intending to do harm. The individual may be in a situation where it would be appropriate to use lethal force. However for you, assisting from a position not in immediate jeopardy, verbally warning the assailant may convince them to cease their actions.

          Should it not, the next step is obvious.

          These are nuanced situations, but I think most of us would prefer not to take a life if it can be avoided. Regardless of appropriateness of the situation, there’s a lot of legal stickiness to navigate afterward.

          After all, how many DGUs consist of nothing but drawing or making visible the firearm? Verbal warning? Visual warning? Simultaneous warnings? The point is, often a warning about the firearm is all it takes rather than actual use.

        • Chris Mallory –

          Your point is why I was sure to include this particular bit:

          “If you are entirely sure that the person assaulting another is making a violent illegal assault”

          Which is a big if. Should you walk into a store and find someone with a knife on another person, you’re best off just walking right back out if you can and calling the authorities. You don’t know who started what, or why. Perhaps Knife Man is defending himself from a previous assault you did not witness.

          (Note: This is why I disparage all the sheepdog bullshit. Civilians carrying firearms are not direct public protectors and need to do away with that mentality or become law enforcement, pick one.)

          On the other hand, if you’re chatting with a friend on a downtown sidewalk and a lunatic ex-girlfriend’s new boyfriend comes after your buddy with a crowbar, you’re aware of the whole situation and can be confident of the circumstances you’re acting in.

  3. ATTENTION: Due to the recent and still on-going economic downturn, we will no longer be able to issue any waning shots. We apologize for any inconvenience.

  4. I once tried to fire a warning shot but I missed and actually hit the guy. So is that a miss or a hit since I wasn’t aiming to hit him?

    • Then you’re still an asshole who will be held accountable for any damage or injuries caused by that bullet’s return to the ground. And I can almost promise you, if you draw your gun and point it at assailant and he/she isn’t deterred, a warning shot will not deter them anymore.

  5. Besides the fact that the bullet has to come down eventually (and you can, will, and should be held accountable for any damage or injuries it causes), there is a very valid self defense reason why you shouldn’t fire a warning shot. I have a unique perspective on this as well. My best friend used to be a pretty hardcore gang-banger, and while he made some bad choices, he was as much a victim (of circumstance) as anyone he or his homies hurt.

    He’s since gotten out of that world through a combination of luck and incredibly hard work on his part. Anyway, we were discussing this, and the thing he pointed out to me was that a warning shot will actually encourage a hardcore criminal. A warning shot is supposed to do what, exactly? Show that you are physically capable of moving your finger back a little bit?

    No, a warning shot is a clear sign of hesitation to use deadly force. And if they are more willing to kill you than you are to kill them, you will lose. Either draw and fire, or draw and hold the gun on the person. But don’t fire a warning shot.

    • Appreciate your point of view. Nonetheless, I must ask, what does merely pointing the gun do “but indicate you are not up to pulling the trigger.” I’ve never known anyone that fired a warning shot, but for those whose first shot missed, at least it told the aggressor that the gun actually functions. No?

      • We have to remember that when we talk about DGUs, we talk about deterrence and the fact that many DGUs don’t even involve gun fire; the mere presentation of a gun is often enough to end the conflict. That doesn’t mean those DGUers don’t have the will to shoot the bad guy. More likely they are good people who abhor violence and are only willing to use it when necessary.

      • Before the trigger is pulled, the intention of the one holding the firearm is unknown. If the trigger is pulled but intentionally aimed away from the bad guy, you proved you don’t want to kill. If you want to fire a warning shot, you best aim it towards the baddie, so they have to at least question whether that miss was intentional or not. Personally, I feel that if the situation is good enough for a warning shot, it’s enough for a center mass shot.

  6. So how do you sentence this pud? Anything more than 2 weeks is likely to be a life sentence for him. Confine him to the geriactic ward? You would think that at his age he would have learned how to avoid this kind of stuff.

  7. Always fire two warning shots to the chest and another to the head. Then yell ‘FREEZE!’

    In all seriousness the only situation I can think of where I’d fire a warning shot is if I didn’t have a visual on my attackers and wanted to let them know I was armed. I’m not sure I’d admit to doing it to the police though. Odds are most felons will flee, but if you run into they type that won’t, firing a warning shot would be a mistake.

  8. Warning shot = a waste of perfectly good ammo, especially during these economic times. Supply chain issues not withstanding.

  9. This is why everyone ought to carry a P3AT. You can’t fire a warning shot. The first one is the only round you’re pretty sure will go bang. 😛

      • It must have been made on a Wednesday. After much time and expense I finally found a load it would run: Winchester white box. Then the great ammo panic happened and I couldn’t find them anymore. When they came back on the shelves they had a semi-wadcutter instead of the round nose. These don’t feed.
        Then I bought a TCP. I should have done that first. I could have bought 2 TCPs for the cost of the P3AT and the ammo I burned trying to find something it likes.

  10. NEVER fire a warning shot. And never shoot to wound (it will be used against you plus there is really no such thing; you could hit an artery and kill the person, and you could hit them in the skull and they survive (i.e. Gabrielle Giffords)). If you shoot the gun, it is to kill. And NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER EVER say to the police that you fired a warning shot if you did or that you were shooting to wound if you were.

    Also be aware that in some states/localities, just brandishing the gun is considered lethal force. You might think that “lethal force” means if you fired the gun at the criminal, but it can simply mean brandishing it as well.

    • If you shoot the gun, it is to kill.

      If you shoot the gun, it is to stop the assailant/ neutralize the threat. I don’t recommend shooting shots intend to wound either, but your stated goal should always be to stop the BG; center mass to stop his ass. I would hope that the lawyer of the stinking BG couldn’t dig up internet postings of mine that I was predisposed to kill his client. Don’t care why he stops; just that he does.

  11. Yikes! They don’t have to take away our guns, or even our ammo. Just make it legally complicated to do anything with it out of its case….

  12. maybe years ago in a rational, somewhat educated society would i warn, warning shot or any of that. nowadays, a warning just gives away your position. youre going to shoot to kill or youre not. it comes down to that, unfortunately. people are so stupid and animal now, if they see you showing weakness by hesitating long enough to warn, they will double their attack. here in detroit just the other day a woman in her house with her kid warned three ‘boys’ she had a gun, and they still came in after her. what did they ‘think’? they thought that because she wasnt already shooting, she was probably lying. what if she wasnt ready? the kid coming in had a pistol. what if she wasnt in a firing position and was looking to see if they were compliant? no warnings, no shooting air. stand your ground til its obvious they had evil intent. if they see you at the last moment and drop their hands and get on their knees all by themselves, thats a different story. kill or be killed.

  13. If you’re at the point where lethal force is necessary, for gods sakes just do it. A warning shot only gives your target time to attack you, by aiming somewhere other than your target you are taking your weapon away from where it needs to be,and you never know where that bullet will go. July 4th this year in my county a 7 year old got killed from some jerk firing his gun off in the air somewhere in the distance, who of course never was found

  14. I think pointing a gun at someone and saying,” Stop, I have a gun…” is sufficient warning.

    That would likely get the attention of anyone that needs their attention gotten, or is capable of having their attention gotten. Best to not squeeze the bang thing unless absolutely necessary.

    • A shot fired up,
      Will come down,
      But just as loud,
      As one in the ground.

      Not advocating warning shots at all, but the 4 rules ALWAYS apply.

  15. My warning shot are the ones that miss the target. Howver, if you really decide to fire one I recommend using the DGU equivalent of the intentional grounding rule. Fire a shot about five feet in front of the bad guy. That way you have a “receiver in the vicinty of the shot.

  16. In similar fashion, if you live in NY City with out a permit, the home invader that you shot, brought two guns with him and you were able take one away from him and successfly defend yourself.
    Right?

  17. Sorry, but, after being raised in the military, then serving 20 years in it, having been in a combat zone with a weapon, we do NOT fire except to exercise the deadly force that stops a crime.

    When I see a person chasing another, and see a threat to life, limb, or property, I will shoot, aiming for center of mass, until I am reloading, and shooting more, then, after those are done, stabbing with the bayonet, to make sure the threat is neutralized, just as I was taught in the military.

    It is our duty to counter threats, and let a jury of our peers sort it out.

    If you aren’t absolutely positive that you can pull the trigger, then you shouldn’t even
    possess firearms!

    But, I live in Florida, where we can “Stand Your Ground”.

  18. Where can I go or what can I read to educate myself about gun laws in Texas? Is there any laws in regards to firing a warning shot?

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