Despite the inadvisability — and frequent illegality of — of warning shots, some gun owners use them to try to warn off a potential attackers. Thanks, Uncle Joe. Sometimes a warning shot will actually work (even it it gets you arrested). But sometimes a warning shot can galvanize an opponent into the very action you’re attempting to deter.
That’s what seems to have happened in two recent situations, one in Indiana and another South Carolina.
The situation didn’t end there. The homeowner, who didn’t want to go on camera, told police he fired two warning shots after Hickerson refused to leave. That’s when a struggle started as the suspect tried to grab the gun out of the homeowner’s hands.
Neighbor Libby West described how another neighbor jumped in to help.
“He walked outside because he kind of saw and heard a commotion and he saw a gun waving in the air,” West said. “The two men were fighting over it.”
That neighbor grabbed his gun and ran over to assist his friend. Other neighbors jumped in as well.
Police got to the scene quickly and arrested Hickerson. The homeowner’s keys and cellphone were found in Hickerson’s pocket.
The suspect, Antonio Henderson, later told police that he was under the influence of multiple opiates. Go figure.
Worse, in a South Carolina incident, a woman who fired warning shots was attacked, then shot and killed her assailant.
Sheridan told investigators she heard a noise coming from her shed and fired two warning shots before Sanders came out from behind the shed. When he did, Sheridan said she fired a shot in his direction. …
Wagner said Sheridan retrieved her handgun after hearing a loud crash as she opened the door to her home. Sanders was dressed in dark clothing and had his face covered at the time of the incident, Wagner said.
“His behavior would startle anyone in a similar situation, and it is not unreasonable to think that to protect herself after feeling threatened Ms. Sheridan believed she had to fire a shot in the direction of the large male charging at her,” Wagner and Anderson County Sheriff Chad McBride said in a joint statement.
The problems with warning shots are several. The fired round has to go somewhere, and it may not end up where you intend it. People have been killed and wounded by errant warning shots. Not to mention that warning shots use precious ammunition that later may be needed to stop a threat. And, depending on your local DA, you could be prosecuted for brandishing or illegal discharge of a firearm.
In spite of these shortcomings, there is one overwhelming, indisputable advantage of warning shots. You may stop an attack without having to shoot someone. The assumption is that an attacker will be scared off by a warning shot who wouldn’t be deterred by the mere sight of a firearm pointed in their direction.
Florida has modified their law to make the use of warning shots less legally problematic. Prosecutors in some other states have even stated that warning shots show restraint. But trusting your legal fate, gun rights and freedom to the discretion of a prosecutor is a leap of faith you probably won’t want to take.
As in the instances above, criminals may not act rationally. They may respond in ways that a normal, law-abiding person doesn’t expect.
A retired police officer told me to view an attacker as you would a large, dangerous wild animal. Don’t expect to reason with him/her or expect any mercy. Warning shots sometimes work with wild animals. Sometimes, they don’t.
©2017 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice and link are included.