National Public Radio just did this story on the International Association of Chiefs of Police conditionally approving warning shots, which have long been verboten in American police work. Not mentioned in the article is one of IACP’s caveats, that the warning shot should be fired only in situations that would otherwise warrant deadly force.
My take on it is in the NPR story, linked here.
I’m interested in all y’all’s opinion on it, including relevant experiences.


  1. Warning shots just does not compute. My whole life, from when Granddad started me on pistol craft, through today, one thing has remained a constant: If you pull the trigger you had damned well better be in mortal danger and you must place your shots accordingly. Lethal force is just that, lethal, and should remain so, not “Stop or I will murder this hydrangea to show you how serious I am”.

  2. I believe in firing warning shots, but they always seem to accidentally hit my adversary between the eyes 😉

  3. A fellow officer and I were in a foot pursuit, fellow officer fired a warning shot, just made the thug faster. Fellow officer could not run any faster. Thug got away.

  4. I remember a small-town marshal in a neighboring town in the Midwest in the 1950’s who deliberately wounded a belligerent and probably inebriated man in one leg with a .38 Special. likely with the old LRN. The area’s liberal press moaned and groaned, rather than praising the marshal for using somewhat-less-than-lethal force, while following a kind of Old West tradition that might find approval in some case law. (Where is Liberal Lawyer Dave?) I don’t know for sure if the marshal’s career was compromised, but I suspect that it was. My question is, where in the WARNING spectrum did the shot lie? I suppose it could be defined as a very DEFINITE warning.

  5. Chief’s of Police are appointed-correctd? Why is it that when someone takes their hat off to throw it into the political ring, their brains dribble out the other side? warning shots, shoot to wound-dumb and dumber. So who ends up paying if you shoot to wound, disable the perp so he can’t work and he sues the officer or police department several million dollars? If the officer is forced to draw his weapon, why tie his hands with a warning shot or an order to shoot to wound? This isn’t more options. It’s more confusion at a critical time.

  6. Many moons ago, the sheriff of the small town (where I grew up) was called to break up a barroom dispute. One man, known to the sheriff (let’s call him “Dave”) had pulled a gun and was threatening to kill another man. The sheriff, in an attempt to “defuse” the situation, called upon Dave to drop his gun and surrender. Dave was mad and replied “No Way – I’m gonna kill this SOB!”.

    Whereupon the sheriff replied “Don’t do it Dave. If you shoot him and manage to kill him, I can get you off. However, if you only wound him, you’ll have trouble for the rest of your life!”

    Dave thought about it and said, “I guess you are right, sheriff”. He then handed over his firearm and surrendered peacefully.

    So, what is the moral of this story. Just this: From a liability point of view, the best options are to either shoot to kill (since dead men can’t sue or testify against you in court) or to never pull that trigger at all.

    If one fires a warning shot or, worse yet, shoots only to wound, then one opens up a Pandora’s Box of questioning, second guessing, Monday-morning “quarterbacking” and lawsuit potential.

    I am not a cop and have never been one but I will tell you honestly that, if I stood in the shoes of a law enforcement officer, I would pray that I would never have to draw my gun (to enforce the law) at all. However, if I was in a situation where I did have to draw and fire, then I would hold “Center Mass” and keep shooting upon the criminal was down and “to Hell” with warning shots!

  7. I’d thought I’d posted already, but it seemed to have got lost, so . . .

    Well, to cut it short, what Ben Branam said.

    Warning shots, and giving verbal warnings before opening fire, do have their place.

    Okay, this may not always be practicable e.g. the bad guy is currently shooting at you. And IIRC Mas did a piece in ‘Combat Handguns’ about this very subject; warning shots can sometimes work, but sometimes they can make things worse. However the opportunity to bring a situation to close without bloodshed is not to be simply ignored.

  8. For those agencies or LEO’s in favor of the option to allow “warning shots” why not simply have the first round loaded (operator choice) be a “blank” so the objective of attention getting noise is achieved without any negligence for an unaccounted round down range ?

    Have the second round be a pistol rubber bullet similar to shotgun use in riot-control.

    It could be hailed as a politically correct Second Chance (pun intended) force graded response policy.

  9. I fail to see how firing off a shot into oblivion gives the officer “another tool” to deescalate a situation. If warning shots can only be used when deadly force is authorized then the officers life or the life of an innocent is in grave danger to begin with, right? So their solution is to allow the perp more time to kill or maim by ditching a perfectly good bullet (which past experience has shown may hit an innocent) that could have stopped the threat. Clearly, those recommending this fall more into the politician category that that of police.

    At this point I’m for pulling our police out of these dumps and letting those who would decry the use of force in the protection of their crumbling neighborhoods live with the consequences of their “social justice activism”.

  10. Warning shot? Where are you going to point it? How will you ‘know’ that’s a safe direction?

    Hint: you won’t….

    Every bullet ‘has an address on it’: every shot we fire is landing *somewhere*.

    Who’s going to warn the folks who happen to be in the location where our ‘warning shot’ lands?

    Stupid idea! Concocted in support of the bleeding-heart liberal notion that ‘shooting someone is always wrong’.

    No! Some folks ought to be shot….

  11. MJD: For those agencies or LEO’s in favor of the option to allow “warning shots” why not simply have the first round loaded (operator choice) be a “blank” so the objective of attention getting noise is achieved without any negligence for an unaccounted round down range ?

    Have the second round be a pistol rubber bullet similar to shotgun use in riot-control.

    This might be a fine idea, but what happens when the LEO is addressing a crazed druggy with a knife? If you look at the work by Dennis Tueller, who concluded that a knife wielding suspect could cover 21 feet in the time it takes an officer to draw and fire two shots, the officer would be injured before he could get off a “real” shot. What about when an officer joins an ongoing conflict? His first two rounds would be worthless in quelling an ongoing shooting event.

    There is no ready solution to this other than stopping the bad guy first. Perhaps, if we could get these bad guys off the street and in jail where they belong for the full term of the sentence (and stop judges from reducing the sentences for whatever reason), there would be less consideration of deescalation. Warning shots and non-lethal projectiles are not a viable solution; it endangers our law enforcement personnel. The job is hard enough as it is.

  12. @ Richard,

    I’m not saying my suggestion was a good idea, I am just suggesting a solution to fit the problem of those allowing the warning shot, again no negligent liability on round #1. Probably have to tap-rack rubber bullet round #2.

    I am very familiar with Sgt. Tueller’s Salt Lake City study.

  13. IACP has frequently appeared to be largely composed of folks far removed from the street. At least this item seems to be a trial balloon floated for discussion. Possibly with the thought that the weight of informed opinion will defeat it.

    Having said that, once upon a time, LEOs went on patrol with a stick and a gun. Then other items got added to the equipment belt: Mace, OC, the PR-24 baton and the TASER. The intent was to limit the need for hand to hand combat to reduce injuries of either party. However, these were never intended to be used in lethal threat situations.

    However, most of the population has no knowledge of the realities of the use of force. A common complaint-even by those without an ulterior motive- is that all the available alternatives to lethal force weren’t exhausted prior to its use. The lack of warning shots prior to the use of lethal force is still thrown about upon occasion even when they’re contrary to policy and/or common sense. Nor is the possible motivation of a potentially lethal threat germane to the use of force to neutralize it.

    The problems with the concept outweigh possible benefit in the current context of our culture in the civil arena. Warning shots do have a long history in the military realm.

  14. good hollow-points are expensive, the politicians will complain that the cost of police equipment is going up so just say BANG to save ammo.

  15. If the situation does require a lethal response or potential for a lethal response, then a firearm is probably not be the appropriate tool.

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