When I teach new shooters the basics of everyday concealed carry, one point I make during my lecture is to always shoot center mass in an effort to eliminate the threat as quickly as possible. Almost without fail, a hand will go up and the inevitable question is asked. Dennis, why can’t we just fire a warning shot or perhaps shoot the bad guy in the leg or arm? Isn’t either of those two options better than shooting a man in the chest or stomach which could result in death?
Here is my response to both the warning shot and shooting to “wound” questions. No, and here is why.
Anytime you fire your gun during a self-defense situation, you are utilizing deadly force. I don’t care if you point the gun straight to the ground, death or grave bodily harm is always a possibility when a firearm is discharged around others. Firing a warning shot means you are either pointing the gun over the bad guys head and shooting a projectile aimlessly into the air, or pointing it down and firing it aimlessly into the ground. In either case, you cannot be sure that the bullet will come to rest in a safe place. Doing this is not acting in a responsible manner which can result in the death or grave bodily harm of another human being, one that may not be engaged in threatening you, but might just be innocently going about his daily business.
Aside from not being the responsible thing to do, firing a warning shot is actually a felony in some states and I will guarantee, you will have your firearm permanently confiscated by the government.
When you fire your weapon, be it at the range, on the street or in your home in a self-defense situation, you are responsible for each and every round you fire. Where that round goes is your responsibility whether you are shooting at the bad guy or just firing a warning shot. You must know your target and what surrounds it and know when you can and cannot shoot. A warning shot increases the chances that the bullet will end up someplace you didn’t intend it to go and it is bad tactics to boot. If deadly force is justified, and that’s the only time you should be firing your weapon away from the range, then aim for the bad guy and eliminate the threat as quickly as possible, don’t just try and scare him.
Now, for the shooting to wound scenario. I believe this has become an issue for two reasons. One, because Hollywood loves to depict its “hero’s” as being able to hit anything, no matter how small a target without even aiming during a gun fight. It’ looks cool on film to see a gun shot out of a bad guys hand, but the reality of the situation is that in the real world, that kind of thing doesn’t usually work. Statistics tell us that three quarters of the shots that are taken during a high stress armed encounter will miss the mark, even when the one making the shot is a trained law enforcement officer shooting center mass. The center mass of a person, even a small person is a pretty big target, especially considering the fact that most armed encounters occur at arm’s length or slightly farther. If you can’t hit a large target, how are you supposed to hit a smaller target like the leg or arm, especially considering that the legs and arms will be moving around a lot. From a tactical standpoint, shooting at anything other than the largest area of a target, in this case the torso during an armed encounter is just plain dumb and most likely will result in you coming out on the short end of the fight.
The other reason I think that some people would rather shoot for the leg or arm instead of the torso is because they cannot wrap their minds around the fact that there are times when taking the life of another person is justified. I cannot blame these people because taking the life of another human being is not a natural act. It completely goes against how we are wired. For most sane people, taking a life is a learned behavior. So these people say that they would rather shoot to wound than to kill. If that is the case, you should find another means of self-defense and not even bother to bring a gun to the fight. Odds are you won’t be able to fire it giving the attacker an opportunity to take it and use it on you or another innocent person. To arm yourself with a firearm is one that must be made by each individual based on their own abilities and moral compass. If you have not made up your mind to use your firearm resulting in the potential of another person losing his life, leave the gun at home.
So to wrap up, it is irresponsible to fire your firearm into the air in an effort to scare away a bad guy. Guns aren’t made to scare people, and shooting somebody anyplace other than center mass, also known as the torso is tactically a bad decision in 99.9% of the situations you might find yourself in. (A terrorist with a bomb is a good example of a situation when you will need to shoot in the head to shut down the brain fast.) Understand that taking the life of a bad person to save the life of an innocent person is justified, but if that doesn’t work for you, pepper spray might be your best bet.
Don’t just survive, thrive!
Carrying a firearm for personal protection brings with it an awesome responsibility. You have the power to change a person’s world forever, and even the power to take their life. It is you duty as a responsible gun owner to always obey the cardinal rules of firearms safety and to understand the laws where you live and travel with your gun. Do your due diligence become educated on the use of force continuum and become proficient with your firearm before you leave home.