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So I’m driving around yesterday, all situationally aware and all that, and I get a call from my offspring on her new iPhone. (Santa been belly belly good to her this year, mon.) She tells me that she and her mom are in their car, driving near a Chase Bank branch less than a mile from their (my former) house. And they can’t help but notice the place is surrounded by police. Armed police. And S.W.A.T. guys. In full battle regalia, armed with either AR-15s (at least) or M-16s (I presume police get to go full-auto, right?). My ex wisely decided that the best way to avoid trouble is to not be there when it happens, so she pulls a u-ey and moseys on outta there, taking a different route to home base. This got me to thinking, though, and what I thought does not make for a pretty picture.

Okay, I’m sure if you’re a faithful reader of TTAG, you read the (sadly) regular feature Irresponsible Gun Onwer of the Day. How could you miss it? The reason nothing is ever foolproof is that fools are so bloody ingenious. A fair number of said stories regale us with details about the local constabularies around our nation and their negligent discharges. Some of them are pretty careless/stupid/idiotic. And a lot of them are completely and utterly avoidable. And the more avoidable, the more defensive the perpetrators seem to be. Call them “premature ejerk-ulators.” But let’s do a little math here and you’ll see why I’m more than a little unnerved.

I’ve got a couple of .22LRs in the house, one of which I bought to teach my daughter how to shoot. My ex once asked to borrow the gun because she was going to join the boys on a dove hunt. Pause with me for a nanosecond whilst we consider the physics involved and the possible outcome of such a project . . .

.22LR bullets can travel over a mile and a half shot flat. I’d presume that distance might even increase a skoche, if the barrel is aimed up where the birdies fly, right. So let’s say she misses (what are the odds?) and the round flies by the dove and off, into the wild blue yonder. Remember the kid’s limerick, I shot an arrow into the air, where it lands, I know not where? Yeah, um…like that, but with a potential police report, coroner’s inquest, and manslaughter charges for when Murphy’s Law rears it’s ugly head.

So I did the right thing. I told her you only hunt birds with a shotgun. (Although, in retrospect, I would have been funny in a cruel, sick sad world kinda way to have thought about the looks on my ex-brother-in-laws faces, had she brought a rifle to a bird hunt.)

So, where was I? Oh, yeah. We take an AR15/M16 platform black gun chambered in .223, perhaps, put it in the hands of a policeman who’s perhaps amped up on 5 Hour Energy or Red Bull, put them in a stress situation (maybe a bank robbery with a side of hostages) and then hope and pray that nobody chooses THAT day/time/location to have a negligent discharge of a weapon that treats body armor like tissue paper.

Now before you all start throwing trajectories, vectors, population densities, actuarial tables, probabilities and such my way, let me make a couple of sobering observations. It only takes one perfect storm of screw-ups to end somebody’s life. I realize that S.W.A.T. teams are likely better trained than your typical boy/girl in blue. But I also realize some of that can be offset by The Law of Unintended Consequences, plus a heapin’ helpin’ of plain ol’ bad luck. Wrong place. Wrong time. That sort of thing.

So without getting/sounding like some idiot from the Bloomberg’s Raiders, I’m wondering, just how far away do you want to be when the shooting starts? Seriously. How far away is far enough, when you’re dealing with high-powered rifles?

I mean, forget for a minute that the bad guys may actually have the local cops out-gunned (see the L.A. bank robbery from a few years back) and those guys don’t care WHO they kill. The cops are acutely aware of the downside to NDs, and I’m sure they train to avoid them. They are also well aware that a misplaced round can end their careers and result in years of legal actions that will drain their bank accounts faster than you can say “Johnny Cochran.” And I’m aware that an automobile is effectively “camouflage” – NOT “cover.” Get close enough, and a frame house’s walls wouldn’t be enough to keep you safe.

But my question stands – just how far away do you need/want to be when the shooting starts, assuming that Sgt. Murphy was an optimist?

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  1. How far away you should be depends on the rifle, but really, a few blocks should be fine if you’re indoors. Just because a bullet has the potential to travel a long way doesn’t mean that it’s likely to actually pull it off. A bullet’s path downrange can be described as a sum of vectors, a forward vector (propellant from the cartridge pushing the projectile), a downward vector (gravitational acceleration of 9.8 meters per second squared), and a lateral vector (windage). If a police officer fires level from the ground at a goblin, the bullet will go in the dirt after about 500 yards. Factor in the chance of a ricochet off the street, you should be safe past 1000 yards. All the same, I’d stay indoors.

  2. Not to pick nits, but .223/5.56 is not a “high-powered” rifle, it is just a rifle. I wouldn’t describe anything with less energy than a .30-06 as “high-powered”.

    All that being said, I would like to be 1km+ away if I know people are going to be shooting wildly.

  3. We had an incident here in Ohio a couple of days ago where an officer was killed in a small RV park. A full on assault ensued with what appeared to be hundreds of rounds fired by the responding officers. One State Trooper was wounded before they killed the man in the trailer. He was holed up in small AirStream camper. What amazed me was how high up on the trailer most of the bullet holes were. This is a fairly well populated area and there were many other trailers adjacent to the scene. I am not being critical of the responding officers, they had their hands full with one down and others in danger. Those other projectiles went somewhere.


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