Just Say 'No' To Warning Shots
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In a perfect world, everyone would know not to fire warning shots. Unfortunately, Hollywood has made them almost part of our cultural lexicon. But don’t fall for Hollywood training on self-defense when it comes to warning shots. Or pretty much anything else for that matter.

Why not keep the warning shot in your toolbox should you have an opportunity to employ it?

Well, make no mistake that discharging your firearm in a confrontation will constitute use of “deadly force” to police and prosecutors. If circumstances do not justify shooting a bad guy (or girl) between the eyes, then circumstances don’t justify a warning shot. Period.

What’s more, depending on your cosmic karma, that warning shot projectile may get drawn magnetically to the busload of widows and orphans parked downrange. Or a neighbor’s child. Or someone you love.

Not only that, but firing a warning shot wastes precious ammo. If you have a five-shot revolver, you just expended 20% of your fight-stopping capability. Remember, using handguns involves shooting a peanut-sized piece of lead a modest velocities. A single handgun-round hit may not stop a motivated bad guy. In fact, it might just irritate them.

Additionally, in the heat of a fight, you may miss your target 80% of the time just like cops tend to do. What to have a really bad day, Kemosabe? Bring a five shot revolver to a confrontation, fire a warning shot then miss with the other four rounds.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, that warning shot may in fact prove counter-productive.

You read that right. The odds of you getting a virgin violent criminal actor victimizing you stands at slim to nil. They may have enjoyed looking down a muzzle of a cop’s gun at an earlier time.  Or that of another crime victim’s pistol more than once earlier in their lives.

If a potential victim shows that they don’t want to shoot the bad guy by pulling away and firing a warning shot into the air or into the ground, Mr. or Mrs. Bad Person may think the good guy doesn’t have the stones to shoot down another person, even if that person has deadly intent.

Two recent shootings in Illinois show just that. In both cases, the good guys desperately wanted to avoid shooting someone. In one case, a farmer fired not one, but two warning shots. With each warning shot, the man’s attacker grew more fearsome and aggressive in his attack.

The attacker, already angry over crashing his truck, had a blood alcohol three times the legal limit.  After two warning shots, he attacked the farmer a third time sensing the reluctance of the good guy to shoot him.  In the end, the angry and intoxicated aggressor chose poorly.  Moments later, he died in a ditch from a ruptured femoral.

In the other case, a man fired over his attacker’s shoulder.  At that point, the female attacker apparently made some sort of comment to the effect, “Oh, you really aren’t gonna shoot me, are you?”

Sensing his reluctance to shoot her, she continued to advance upon the drawn gun while threatening to shoot her own gun she pretended to have behind her back.  Whereupon the good guy drilled the next round into her gut at patty-cake distance. She chose poorly as well, but alcohol intoxication does that to people. Fortunately for her, her victim rendered aid after shooting her, potentially saving her life.

In short, do not fire warning shots. Contrary to Hollywood make-believe, they may not only fail to discourage an attack, but they may in fact embolden an attacker.

63 COMMENTS

    • When a pair of thugs approach you and you fear for your life, look the smaller one in the eye and fire a warning shot into the face of the bigger one. Works 100% of the time.

      So there is a reason to use a warning shot.

    • Here’s an idea: get a pump shotgun, load one or two birdbombs as the last-in/first-up, use those to indiscriminately blast the burglars’ eardrums out, then while they’re disoriented, hit them with the rest of the tube which is filled with 00.

      Probably not the best idea, but it’s Friday after 5, so whatever.

  1. Render aid after shooting?

    Sure. If I happen to have my neoprene gloves and a reasonable expectation that the threat is truly stopped and not playing possum.

    I’m not going to risk either my short-term or long-term health on a bad guy’s good will and good hygeine.

    • I am eager to render aid. Just as soon as I have ascertained that no further threats are present or on the way (5-10 minutes at most), I will call 911.

    • Not interested in catching ??? diseases from a hoodlum. I handle cactus and often have pinprick wounds all over my hands. I don’t trust some cheap china gloves to keep the big gay out of my hands.

    • It’s generally a bad idea to render aid to an attacker after shooting. Many criminals have been in and out of prison many times, and therefore often have HEPC, HIV, AIDS, MRSA, and a host of other diseases. Hep C alone is very common in prisons. Treat any criminal attacker as the infected.

    • If there is some confusion about the viability of the skull, are you actually done shootin’? With a handgun, 2 to the chest/1 to the brainpan is really the minimum acceptable standard.

    • Yeah, except under Minnesota law if you use deadly force against an attacker you have to perform first aid…. Pretty messed up huh?

      • Yeah, but does the law specify what kind of aid, and the competence of the work performed?

      • Eh, if you’re still facing a lethal threat you really don’t have any duties except to yourself so just beating feet would always be an option.

    • I think I’d offer to render aid (in advance) to someone trying to stick me up with a Liberator. Honestly, he’s in more danger than I am. Call it a teachable moment.

  2. Bring back the daily digest. The increase in -advert- articles and the absence of the daily digest has been a double tap to the quality of this blog.

  3. There are two more drawbacks to warning shots:
    (1) You will temporarily degrade your hearing.
    (2) You may permanently damage your hearing.

    Why temporarily degrade or permanently damage your hearing unless it is absolutely necessary and you have no other option?

      • Also……don’t carry a ported handgun at night or low-light. I learned that the hard way 25-30yrs ago. For 30-45sec, I was blind & all I could do was lay low & listen to them running all around me.

    • I always find it funny when Hollywood have people firing full powered rifles, much less handguns, in confined spaces.

      The only one to get it right was Black Hawk down where someone has permanent hearing loss after his squad mate fired a M60 with his head close to the muzzle.

      Without ear protection even firing a pistol in a confined space is painful.

    • The radiator might be more effective. Either way it’s not going to stop someone from running you over if you’re withing handgun range.

    • Shooting a tire won’t stop a vehicle quickly, but it’s a whole lot easier for the cops to find a fleeing vehicle on the interstate when it’s leaving a trail of smoke.

      Don’t ya’ll watch Live PD?

  4. I always give my assailant the courtesy of two warning shots to the chest before I get serious and place one shot to the head. I learned that technique in Mozambique. It’s worked for me so far.

  5. There is an argument to be made that if you fired a warning shot, you used deadly force before you believed that you were in sufficient danger to justify your use of deadly force. It is therefore probably a good policy to either leave your warning shot in the chamber or to place it as close to the 10-ring as possible.

  6. I don’t understand how this group could disregard the advice of that eminent firearms expert, ex-VP Joe Biden (aka “crazy old Uncle Joe”): “All anyone needs is a double barrel shotgun. Just go out on the balcony and fire off a couple of shots. They’ll run away.” That’s what he tells his wife to do, in their ritzy WashDC neighborhood. Who could argue with that? /sarc off/

  7. If there’s adequate time, I’ll give the BG the courtesy of a warning shout, but not a warning shot.

    Or maybe I’ll just rack my shotgun. According to Hollywood, that sound scares the living p!ss out of all BGs everywhere. So does the sound of cocking the hammer of a Glock (yes, I know).

    • Yup, that’s my one big gripe with the Walking Dead series…..every time someone points a Glock at someone else, a hammer clicks.

      • That’s your one big gripe? Not the meandering story, pointless filler episodes and ridiculously cartoonish villains? I’m surprised Negan doesn’t spend more time twirling his mustache and tying damsels to railroad tracks

  8. I’m not going to waste ammo on warning shots, there’s more G men on the way. Har Har

  9. I give warning shots to stray dogs. “Stray” humans won’t get the same courtesy, although hopefully I’m never in a situation where it matters.

    • So, are you in the habit of shooting dogs? If it happened to be one of my dogs that you shot, you would receive no warning whatsoever.

  10. I wonder if the hollywood convention developed out of the maritime convention of Firing a Shot across the bows to get the attention of the ship they want to stop; so that they may be boarded for inspection… this was standard navel practice for a long time before radios made it obsolete and it is still used today on the highness….

    • The warning shot across the bow signals “heave to and prepare to be boarded.” Then they invented the wireless. Forcing a ship to stop for boarding is a hostile act. Under current maritine law it is not permissable to fire a warning shot.

  11. Pretty neat idea to fire a warning shot with that old flintlock- now it’ll take about 2 minutes to reload it.

    Seriously- anyone even consider firing a warning shot other than idiot Joe Biden? (Well, maybe the first shot in a Mozambique…) For certain in urban areas it’ll get you a minumum of discharging a firearm within a restricted area, more likely bigger problems.

  12. A warning shot without a perp around is recklessly discharging a fire be it in a city or in the country. And you own whatever that bullet hits. Even if it is a ricochet. And what do you do if the shot doesn’t scare them off? If the situation is not severe enough to actually shoot somebody it is not a shooting situation. Displaying a firearm is a different story. If they don’t leave then you have a shooting situation but your life had better have been in jeopardy.

  13. “If circumstances do not justify shooting a bad guy (or girl) between the eyes, then circumstances don’t justify a warning shot. Period.”
    Period? So there’s no difference between a wanting shot and a (justified) killing? There certainly is! So common sense and human reluctance to kill are just out the window because a warning shot might be legally – in your jurisdiction – deemed to be deadly force, and get you into (totally undeserved in any moral sense) legal trouble? I gather this nonsense is taught in firearms use courses, or misinterpreted from them, but if I have a gun, and you don’t, and I’d rather not kill you EVEN THOUGH I have every right to, it’s NOT a don’t do it, “period” situation. At best it’s don’t do it if the law is suckey where you live and you don’t want to give the sucker a chance to leave you alone because maybe he was expecting an easy target, or just maybe you’d rather rather not deal with the trauma of killing someone if you don’t have to.
    The only time your “period” applies is if you’re holding a Ruger #1. (or any single shot weapon) Otherwise, you just sound bloodthirsty, which is something I can understand. Truly. Anybody justifiably scared (sorry, concerned) enough to fire a warning shout would. But don’t do it “period?” That’s wrong.

    • There are better ways to warn a threat to cease and desist. Pointing your gun at the thug and shouting, “Stop or I’ll shoot you!” should be every bit as effective, without all of the aforementioned negative consequences.

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