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. I predict that this will last as long as it takes for someone to actually try it, and hit someone’s house with a ricochet.

  2. IMHO we are seeing the slow but inevitable transition of the police from Officer Joe Bolton to Judge Dredd. Humorous allusion but true none the less. Started decades ago when I watched Philly cops aerial bomb the MOVE HQ. Today we recoil in horror as Syria barrel bombs its opponents. Philly cops ? Not so much. 40 years later Dallas cops use C4 in its tactics. NYPD now allows firing on vehicles without regard to its occupants. Youngsters, women or disabled. Who cares. NYPD sweeps up everyones phone calls with Stingray tech. Privacy ? Nah… Like all things born of human activity, good and bad will use these and when questioned will claim the common good. Waco, Ruby Ridge, even Elian Gonzalez. Fast And Furious. On and on… All is headed in one direction. I can only imagine what lies ahead for decades to come. There ain’t no going back. I guess that makes me a cop hater ? As the Borg said, “resistance is futile, you will be assimilated”.

  3. I have 2 concerns:
    1) LEO may need to now defend in court why they didn’t start with a warning shot.
    2) In the movies a warning shot is fired in the air, like the starting gun at a track meet. IF that’s how it’s to be done by LEO, the ergonomics of getting your gun back down to low ready will take time and possibly break concentration. OTOH, if the suspect is running away, then I guess this is less of an issue.

  4. Are they providing guidelines as to what, precisely, you are cleared to fire a warning shot into? And who is going to pay for repairs – the department? The defendant (lol)? Or the Officer? I’m not an Officer but I see little upside and huge potential downside here.

  5. “The new policy still sets strict conditions for warning shots:

    1. The use of deadly force is justified;”

    If deadly force is justified, there is a reason for that justification. I.e. the imminent harm to the officer or an innocent. Not following through with lethal force a) could get someone (other than the perp) hurt and b) implies that there was not really justification for lethal force so why fire the warning shot?

    It just doesn’t make a lick of sense.

  6. Back, in the days when I was a youngster, and well practiced with my Firearms, I had no problem, with putting a round close to a suspects ear, both to get his attention, and to ensure that he knew my command to “Freeze, Hands Up” was indeed Serious, and that “it wouldn’t End Up Well for him”, unless he obeyed it.

    Of course, I usually did work both at night, and Far from Human Habitation, so I wasn’t particularly worried about witness’ seeing anything I did, or them reporting what they saw to anyone either!

    In today’s world, what I routinely did Probably Would Not be practical anymore?

  7. No relevant experience other than to say my college department had a policy against warning shots.

    I can’t think of any good reason to fire one. It’s throwing away a perfectly good bullet, and it violates Rule 2 & 4. You don’t know where the round is going to go; you don’t what’s in the ground that you’re shooting at, or what’s a mile downrange.

    I think you and Mr. Hayes are tracking in the same general direction WRT “shooting to wound.” I can see the arguments he makes being voiced much more loudly than they already are. Let’s not make it easier to raise those arguments.

  8. What is wrong with our current policy regarding use of force? Oh, it doesn’t always lead to happy, neat endings? Well that is the way of things in the real world. Police work is so filled with variables, and yet we try to pin down clear-cut rules to apply to every situation. It’s like trying to pin jello to the wall.

    I believe our current rules are adequate, as long as judges give police officers the benefit of the doubt in cases, because their job is so tough. Think about making life and death decisions, in micro-seconds, at night. Very difficult.

    If a suspect is inclined to surrender, then pointing a weapon at him and shouting commands should accomplish that. Firing a warning shot should not be necessary.

    What is a safe direction in which to fire in a city? I can only think of straight down into the concrete. Would the bullet fragment, or kick up bits of sidewalk when impacting the concrete? Would the splash hit bystanders or the officer doing the firing?

    Instead of warning shots, maybe we should increase the execution rate for first-degree murderers. Why do the taxpayers have to provide shelter, food, clothing, security, and healthcare for violent killers?

    When Leftists bring up ideas, we need to ignore them. We need to separate from them and have nothing to do with them. We have nothing in common with Leftists.

    Sorry to change the subject, but notice how Hillary Clinton doesn’t get brought to trial for any of her crimes (Ben Gazi, money from foreign govts, et cetera) but Chris Christie’s two workers get jail time for creating traffic jams near the George Washington bridge. The Left is powerful. The Right is weak.

  9. Now this is one of those topics that will elicit a lot of opinions and “what if’s”. There is a wide gulf between reality and the “Hollywood” fantasy world.

    For the record, I’m opposed to warning shots. With few exceptions, every DF situation I’ve been in, there was no time to even contemplate a warning shot. If you have the time and distance to think about a warning shot, you have time for several other less than lethal options. Since my state had no “fleeing felon” exception for deadly force, and my department prohibited warning shots, I never even considered it in my mental processes.

    Having said that, I confess that I have fired warning shots before and probably will in the future. Once was when surrounded by feral dogs while hiking. They didn’t appear to be searching for human companionship by their demeanor. They didn’t seem to understand my English when I implored that they find another prey. Knowing that if I waited till an attack that I would end up hurt, but I did not wish to harm the dogs unless absolutely necessary. Two quick shots into the ground resulted in them leaving the vicinity. No harm, no foul.

    There is a phenomena becoming more prevalent in today’s society that could change my thoughts on “warning shots”. That would be the large “flash mobs” that seem to be becoming more capable of physical violence. If surrounded by such a mob, and knowing that in the past, some individuals may attack you physically using the cover of the “mob” to close the distance to attack, a warning shot might be justifiable. The “anarchist” people are using these tactics more and more to give them cowardly cover to inflict harm. But, again, where do you fire the shots? Into the concrete floor of the mall (ricochet)? Into the ceiling (who’s on floor above)?

    Back to police officers and the new proposed guidelines permitting warning shots. As an ex-cop, I see this as nothing but a can of worms for the officers. Every bullet has a destination, it’s your bullet, and your actions that determine what that destination is. The only completely safe destination is lodged in the body of the one whose threat you were justified in stopping. If it goes anywhere else, in an urban environment, it’s a possible disaster.

  10. “1. The use of deadly force is justified;” In other words, it is ok to launch a bullet (which is ipso facto deadly force) at something OTHER THAN what actually constitutes the justification for the use of deadly force in the first place.

    “2. The warning shot will not pose a substantial risk of injury or death to the officer or others;” A “substantial” risk? How about NO, NONE, NOT ANY risk to the officer or others.

    “3. The officer reasonably believes that the warning shot will reduce the possibility that deadly force will have to be used.” Deadly force IS being used! Just not directed at the person who has necessitated that use.

    And, if the person, or persons, do actually constitute a deadly threat, why are we diverting attention away from that threat? (I know Mas, you said that in your comments, but it bears repeating.)

    Where do these guys have their meetings to discuss this stuff? At the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party? I thought we crawled out of this rabbit hole back in the 1970s.

    And then we will hear the additional question: “Why didn’t the officer fire a warning shot?”, added to the other stupid questions that people ask who have no concept of the law of, or the dynamics of, a deadly force encounter.

    And don’t even get me started on “shooting to wound!’

    Should we do a podcast on this when you and the EP get back to LO?

  11. Mas,
    I can claim no past LE experience, however, I would follow your lead on this, but seems I read in one of your books or posts that you would only fire a warning shot if it was directly into a tree close at hand that you could later retrieve the bullet from to show where your shot went and where it did not.
    I have always said that you don’t fire indiscriminately into the air, because what goes up must come down, and it will come down at substantial speed, enough to injure or kill. Further, firing a warning shot would require you to redirect your weapon away from the imminent threat, potentially giving away any advantage you have and placing yourself at risk.
    I would definitely not support shooting to wound. Your still at risk of the perpetrator shooting back or hurting someone else. I would worry that it could also open up the officer and the department to civil suit to pay for the medical costs or long-term care or disability costs if there was any question of the shooting being not justified. I think we live in a time when it is best to follow the KISS principle. These (young) men and women are already putting their lives at risk to protect us. Why create a situation where they are second-guessing every move; hesitation could be their last act.
    I think we need to support our law enforcement personnel far more than we do. Criminals need to be dealt with and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Shoot until the threat is stopped. Warnings should be verbal.

  12. NO warning shots. Trying to scare the perp into surrender? I’m pretty sure they know they could get shot espeically when the officer’s gun is out. It could waste enough time the officer could get shot. Any idea if this is LEO only or civilians too?
    Lots of people in jail for firing warning shots.

  13. That’s insane every fired round must go somewhere. And that round is the responsibility of he who pulls the trigger.

  14. Why in the age of lawyers do we want anyone firing blindly in highly populated areas? The other issue is the general public thinking this is a good idea and practicing it as well.

  15. We armed civilians have CONSTANTLY had it drummed into our heads that warning shots are not only a fundamentally bad idea but illegal as hell also. Almost as bad but not as quite as brandishing.

    While I am willing to concede that the training (and possibly group think?) have biased us against them, I still think warning shots are fundamentally bad ideas and illegal as hell.

    Within ROL of course. WROL may be a different matter.

  16. P.S. first post-

    I wrote-“The only completely safe destination is lodged in the body of the one whose threat you were justified in stopping. If it goes anywhere else, in an urban environment, it’s a possible disaster.”

    Should have finished that thought with- ” unless just as judicially aimed and discharged into an inanimate target sure to stop the bullet safely.”

    It’s your bullet, your decision to put it in motion, your decision to control its final resting place, and your responsibility for what it does before it comes to rest. Have no illusions, you will be held accountable and judged for every decision you made from the point you drew your weapon till the final investigative report is filed.

  17. I love the conversations this topic brings up and I am always reminded of the retired Sherrif that conducted CCDW training in my area. While discussing castle doctrine he suggested that upon finding a unwanted intruder in your home that a well placed shot into a potted plant could possibly convince them to leave without the mess of puddles of blood on the floor. In certain circumstances I am sure it would. Others it may only escalate the situation or lead to other puddles to clean up

  18. The prosecutors will now ask anyone involved in a defensive shooting, “Why didn’t you fire a warning shot”? In addition, what goes up must come down. I think we all remember Kuwait after the first Gulf War. Bad deal all around.

  19. I think it was six attacking German soldiers that Alvin York shot with his 1911 pistol as they came at him. He shot them from the back of the line to the front of the line, so the ones leading did not know they were being picked off. I take a lesson from this in case lives are ever on the line.

  20. Terrible idea. Where is the bullet supposed to go? Enough rounds go through perps without intentionally shooting away from them. Property damage and injury to bystanders is all this will accomplish. They need to stop pretending they are in a movie and grow up.

  21. We’re assuming that the ‘bad guy’ and is displaying a weapon in this scenario.

    I’m not a LEO, but I’m a veteran with combat experience, so my personal opinion on “Shoot To Wound” kind of mirrors that featured in the movie “FireCreek”, where bad-guy (Henry Fonda) speaks of his error in only wounding tin-star sheriff (James Stewart):

    “I knew better; any man who deserves shootin’, deserves killin’.”

    Moving on to Civilian Self-Defense scenarios, we are warned that we probably aren’t good enough shots to ‘shoot the pistol out of his hand’ (which I certainly am not) and that one must only draw a gun when there is no alternative than deadly force.

    Me? I don’t want to shoot anybody. I carry a firearm in public reluctantly. The only thing that’s worse than “I should feel forced by circumstance to shoot somebody”, is that “I would be shot or allow another innocent to be shot” because of my … squeamishness.

    There’s a gradient scale involved here, and it’s tempting to think that firing a warning shot would at least tell the ‘armed bad guy’ that I’m not afraid to shoot the gun. It’s tempting to think that pointing the gun at the bad guy would have the same much-to-be-desired effect. But we already know the bad guy with a weapon has proved his determination.

    I’m too old to hope for the best; I have to fear the worst.
    Either that, or just walk away.

  22. In a situation that “otherwise warrants deadly force”, I’m inclined to just do a Failure to Stop drill on the perp.

  23. To clarify, if the situation has deteriorated to the point where deadly force is warranted, that means a fraction of a second can be the difference between the perp getting shots off or not. That means risk of you, your buddies, or bystanders being hit. No thanks. Action beats reaction in a gunfight.

    According to Hick’s Law (, as you increase the number of options, your decision time increases logarithmically. Cut ineffective or redundant tools, and your remaining tools become much more effective.

    Finally, going by the example of the late officer Dinkheller, decisiveness wins in a gunfight. Let’s not disregard the lesson he died to give to us all.

    Encouraging “warning shots” is like a double-whammy for giving perps more time to make the first shot, or the first with intent to kill. Terrible idea.

  24. This seems like a step backward. The chance of someone freezing when a warning shot is fired seems pretty remote. On the other hand the things that can go wrong with a warning shot, especially the injuring of innocent bystanders, would probably create great public outcry and spawn numerous legal actions. The risks appear to outweigh the rewards.

  25. A shot that a shooter may INTEND as a warning shot may not be perceived by the intended warnee as a warning. Sounds pretty experimental to me. NPR probably thinks that firing into the ground or the air will deescalate a potentially lethal situation. The next step down the slope will be that a warning shot is REQUIRED before actually shooting at a perp.

    A game branch officer asked me once if I had fired a warning shot before I shot an aggressive bear. I was not joking when I said I was a “little low,” but the officer evidently had heard that excuse before. Approving a warning shot option probably won’t make much of a positive change in affairs.

  26. I have, in the old days, seen quite a few give it up after a warning or wounding shot. Too many go to killing without thought, criminal and LEO.

  27. My thoughts on this echo yours. There is increased danger to bystanders, evidence of their effectiveness is anecdotal at best, and an ignorant, loudly opinionated public will demand to know why a warning shot wasn’t fired and why the officer didn’t shoot to wound.

  28. As a security contractor in Iraq for base defense we had a policy of warning shots and used them liberally in escalation of force procedures. It was to weed out who was an immediate threat to the base and who had innocently done something they shouldn’t have done (like stop their vehicle too close to perimeter fencing or ECPs.

    It worked very well for us to keep people away without having to kill them. At the main ECP we even put up a berm for the guards to shoot into so the rounds would be contained.

    All the warning shots on the perimeter where controlled by supervisors but the main ECP had very loose regulations as long as the rounds where fired into and contained by the berm.

    Even though rounds where contained in the berm out front we had problems where an Iraqi police officer (I think shot himself by accident) claimed we did it. The angles and locations where off. We always shot away from where this officer was located, but they filed an official complaint I had to deal with. If you contact me off line I’ll give you that story, you’ll love it.

    Warning shots as a last resort with the intent to sort out Jeapordy maybe a way to keep from killing someone that might not need to be killed.

  29. I can imagine pros & cons.

    How about the potential impact on officer hearing? (And could the suspect be affected also?)

    I generally don’t like absolutes. Do we need some flexibility to make decisions in those rare situations where our judgement suggests an alternative action? Never say never? I incline strongly toward Mas’ thinking, including hearing the thoughts and analysis of others and reevaluation of experience on a regular basis.

    (Please delete or disregard previous comment … typos and failed to proof read)

  30. Having read your books on the use of deadly force, I agree with your thoughts on it’s use. If you draw your gun, you have made the decision that it is necessary to stop a threat. Firing a warning shot is reckless and dangerous as at the end of the bullets flight some one or some thing is going to have a hole in it that wasn’t there before. Shooting to wound implies everyone has marksmanship abilities under stress on moving targets that are unrealistic. The question also arises where would you wound and is it exposed for a shot. Plus depending upon the number of threats that warning shot might be needed to stop one of the threats and you have wasted it into the air. I believe that these proponents of warning shots have not experienced actual threats that they needed to stop.

  31. I can imagine a situation in which a warning shot would be preferable to other actions. Suppose you observe a group attack on an individual and choose to intervene. A warning shot would notify the attackers that there is someone present who is willing and able to stop them. It would be more effective than yelling, “Leave him alone. I have a gun and will shoot.” Of course, you need to have someplace safe to direct the bullet and you must be sure that the target of the attack really is innocent.

  32. Warning shots are what I call the fliers at the range. That is their only practical value to me.

  33. If the wizards consider a warning shot to be good. Have all LEOs fire the entire magazine into the ground in every scenario.
    Better still, give them blanks to be extra safe.

  34. Mr. Ayoob
    Only have read just a couple of your articles over the years. My initial impression is your against warning shots. I’m just plain ole Joe 6pack, never been in law enforcement nor the military. Common sense would say NO WARNING SHOTS.
    Should I ever find myself in a situation (God forbid) where I would NEED to defend myself or others. I would not intentionally miss.
    Brandishing/pointing a firearm at the perp(s) would be the ONLY warning they would get.

  35. This crap sounds like a death wish for LEOs. Keep this up and the numbers of Law Enforcement deaths will rise. In addition, this is a litigation and defense lawyers dream. And if not stopped now, it just might be a training requirement to fire a warning shot first before engaging the threat. Jeeez where does it stop? When more judges, lawyers and legislators are put in the situations and experience where this action could be used if mandated by law or practice. Stop this bullshit. This IACP is once again showing its true colors.

  36. I agree with Z, the warning shot puts you in a reaction situation. If the suspect decides to fire on you instead of surrendering, you are behind the curve. He is inside your loop. That is the overriding concern. The officers safety is severely compromised.

  37. The best warning is to put your laser center mass and offer the choice of where they want the small hole!

  38. I’m not a police officer. I would rather explain a clean miss or an ” ad” that missed than have to explain why I did not fire a warning shot in the extremely rare case it might be called for.

  39. If I have this story correct…A few years ago, an Ohio man hunting during primitive weapons season needed to unload his muzzle loader. The obvious solution, shoot it. He lived in a rural setting. A shot in the air. What could go wrong? The bullet ended up killing a young Amish girl riding in a buggy. A freakish once in a lifetime incident. Not much different from a warning shot. I would not take my chances.

  40. What a can of worms indeed! I believe it is a serious mistake allowing this concept to become accepted practice in the literature. It opens up officers and armed citizens to additional exposure from malicious proceedings for both making the warning shot or from not making one. It also poses risk to anyone and anything that may be in the warning shot’s potential trajectory.. The decision to possibly use a firearm in this way is one that should be only made by the trained, armed individual in consideration of the totality of the circumstance, not by a committee removed from the action. It is a non-zero chance of this being an effective tool in deescalation, but in my opinion it would be an exceedingly rare and unlikely occurrence.

  41. Bad idea…sending out a high speed projectile with no intended target…What could go wrong! High stress situation…lets give the “badguys” another advantage and tie the hands of the LEO for just that much longer….Bad idea.

  42. This is clearly a terrible idea. Even a .22 LR bullet can travel a full mile. And shooting into the ground means shooting at a sidewalk or pavement in the vast majority of police situations, causing ricochets that could injure or kill anyone, including the officer himself.
    If deadly force is justified, that means deadly force is justified and NEEDED to protect the officer’s life and to protect the lives of innocents nearby. A warning shot wastes time, gives the advantage to the criminal and endangers everybody. I find it difficult to understand how any reasonable and knowledgeable person could consider such a thing to be a good idea.

  43. One more thought: Allowing such a policy would fan the flames of the “Hands Up Don’t Shoot” wingnuts. With such a policy in place, it would quickly become an ipso facto requirement to fire warning shots, or else face the wrath of the uninformed public that is already rioting and burning down businesses every time there is a justified police shooting of a thug.

    (Hi Mas, please just delete my first attempt at this comment where I made a mistake in the Latin phrase. Thanks!)

  44. I wholeheartedly agree with Mas. This sounds like another moronic idea from the liberals. Imagine that. Seems like it was not that long ago that an elected official recommended firing a shotgun in the air to scare off a perp. Bad Idea!

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