FL:Thoughts on Warning Shots From a Police Firearms Instructor

By Dean Weingarten

Gun Fire
Gun Fire
Dean Weingarten
Dean Weingarten

Arizona – -(Ammoland.com)-  Florida is moving toward a “Defensive Display” law that includes the possibility of a warning shot or shots being acceptable as a part of self defense, if no innocents are injured.

Arizona passed a similar law several years ago after the aggressors in self defense situations were using the criminal justice system to have the defenders arrested on aggravated assault charges.  Arizona's law does not include warning shots.

In the case that I know of, the aggressors were following the defender in a “road rage” scenario.  At one point, they pulled up along side of him, while traveling, and threw a beverage container at him with enough force that it cause a small cut.  When he stopped at a light, boxed in by traffic, two of them got out of their vehicle and started running toward him from a couple of cars back.  He held up his defensive sidearm for them to see, and they quickly stopped their aggressive actions and ran back to their vehicle.   Then they called 911.  He was also on  the phone to 911.  The police came to his house, and eventually arrested him (he thinks that it was because, under stress, he made a bad joke that offended the investigating officer).  He was going to trial, when the prosecution informed the defense that there was a third 911 call that confirmed the defender's version of events.   The case was dismissed, but there was tremendous stress and expense involved.  The aggressors were never arrested or charged.

With the Florida law, the most contentious issue is that of “warning shots”.  Here is a discussion of the issue from a retired State Patrol firearms instructor.  I have edited it a little for spelling, with permission of the author:

I think defensive display can have a place in a self defense situation.

More then one criminal assault has been stopped when it has become know that victim is armed.

Warning shots are a lot tougher because of the high probability of some thing bad happening.

When I was on my Department's firearms and use of force committee, we had a long discussion on warning shots. Some were for forbidding them all together, some were for a more modest policy.

We were trying to determine if the policy should allow or forbid them. We decided the policy should read, that they should be RARE and INFREQUENT, based on the facts at the time they were used.

This was decided mostly on the facts of two situations where warning shots were used and the suspects were taken into custody after the warning shots without harm to the officers or suspects.

Having read the use of force reports and interviewing the officers I truly believe without the warning shots the officers would have ended up shooting both suspects.

It seemed clear that both of these suspects were trying to commit suicide by cop and the warning shots jarred them out of that line of thought and they surrendered because of the warning shots and not pressing forward with their attack on the officers that would have forced the officers to shoot them.

One was armed with a baseball bat the other was not armed, but kept making threats saying he had a gun and making movements like he had a gun and was going to use it.

Both warning shots were fired into good bullet stopping areas and there was no one else around.

Warning shots good, bad, or other wise, I guess one would have to take the totality of the situation into account before determining if they were justified or not and safely executed.

This summation of warning shots seems well thought out.   I have always taught a policy of *not* firing warning shots, but with the caveat the every policy has exceptions.   The idea that warning shots should be rare, but that each circumstance should be considered in the totality of the situation, appeals to me and to my understanding that each defensive shooting is unique.

In most situations, it is a better resolution to a situation if it can be resolved without having to shoot someone.

©2013 by Dean Weingarten: Permission to share is granted when this notice is included.
Link to Gun Watch

About Dean Weingarten;
Dean Weingarten has been a peace officer, a military officer, was on the University of Wisconsin Pistol Team for four years, and was first certified to teach firearms safety in 1973.  He taught the Arizona concealed carry course for fifteen years until the goal of constitutional carry was attained. He has degrees in meteorology and mining engineering, and recently retired from the Department of Defense after a 30 year career in Army Research, Development, Testing, and Evaluation.

  • 20 thoughts on “FL:Thoughts on Warning Shots From a Police Firearms Instructor

    1. I agree that display as a deterrent should be protected. As for warning shots, in the VAST majority of situations, showing the gun should be the ONLY warning. In the case of ‘suicide by cop’ cases cited in the article, such a case doesn’t apply to self defense buy a civilian.

    2. Marc de Piolenc: While I agree with you that the chances of someone being hurt or killed by a bullet fired into the air are extremely slim, a human body takes up very little space in comparison to the amount of ground space, it does happen.


      Wikipedia also has an extensive list of injuries and deaths associated with “Celebratory Gunfire.”

    3. Granted that it is physically possible for someone to be hurt or even killed by a bullet fired into the air, but please: find me ONE instance – just one – where this has actually happened! And as for “shoot for center of mass” – I used to buy into that dogma, but now I prefer to have the option of making a credible threat. As for getting tossed in jail, well, better tried by twelve than carried by six.

    4. I have been taught that unless you know where your bullet will stop, do not fire the weapon. I target shoot on my property, and before I go shoot, I walk the area to be sure there is minimal chance of the bullet hitting anything but the low part of a hillside if I miss my target. I also set my target low on the tree. I live out where there are few neighbors, and we all shoot on our respective properties.

      The idea of shooting with the intent to miss implies you are putting a bullet into the air without knowing where it will stop. This violates gun safety rules in my opinion. Aim for center mass, nowhere else. Do not fire if you can avoid it. If you are in danger, let the one offering danger get as close as you can accurately aim, them make sure he or she sees the weapon, as you raise it and prepare to find center mass. If they duck, don’t fire until you have a “clean” shot. If they run before you fire, the situation has ended safely for all involved.

    5. If you feel that your life is in danger, draw and fire at the center of mass. If you feel that a warning shot is warranted then you do not really feel your life is in danger – keep your weapon holstered. Besides, with the current cost of ammo “warning shots” are expensive and can get you tossed in jail.

    6. I agree with sivispace, always avoid a confrontation whenever possible and only draw and fire your weapon when there is no other alternative. Even though I live in Florida, I would discourage firing a warning shot and I cannot conceive of a time I would fire one. Once you pull the trigger, there is no recalling that bullet. You never really know where that bullet is going. Even firing at an attacker may hurt some other person. Firing a warning shot just increases the danger to innocent bystanders. If your life is truly in danger, you should only fire at the attacker until you stop the attack.

    7. I have avoided several bad situations just by letting my concealed firearm become exposed to the troublemaker , but in my state even this is illegal , but it definitely gives pause to an overly aggressive person and I have never had to fire any shots . This action should be legal but also carry the same responsibility as concealed carry in general .

    8. Craig,

      I agree with what you say but, in many jurisdictions, firing until you’re out of ammo will get you charged with at least manslaughter.

      You just can’t win, can you?

    9. [firing a warning shot would endanger no one or nothing if a blank was used first]

      You might want to ask Jon-Erik Hexum about that. Oh, wait, you can’t. He died after being shot with a blank.
      Seems there’s this thing in a blank called the “wad” that at close (self-defense) range can kill.
      “I didn’t MEAN to kill him” is not something you ever want to say, particularly in court.

    10. .
      In a place like NYC Detroit, Chicago, etc warning shots are unnecessary. The cops are such poor marksmen they would only accidentally hit the target with a first shot so you could call the first round/clip of shots warning shots if you wish. In more civilized areas of the country is should be left to the discretion of the armed individual. If he or she feels an immediate threat the warning shot should be center mass. In other cases just showing that you are armed should be enough to deter the aggressor . . . If he/she keeps aggressing . . . adios M*F*er

    11. Never fire a warning shot! You might “miss” the first shot, but always, always, always maintain that you were shooting “at” the perp in defense of your life. JMHO

    12. Jerry Wentland, if you try and use a blank for your first round you are setting your self up to fail. What if you only have a split second to react or shoot?
      If you don’t have a revolver this will not work because a blank round will not cycle the weapon after firing the blank round. Putting a blank round in a revolver is like playing “Russian roulette” with your self……is the blank round really going to be where you think you put it once you close the cylinder?
      This whole idea needs to be looked at like another tool for your tool box. You only use it when the need is present.

    13. As an Ex military person, I have to say that in an area where many other people live, work, or are present, Warning shots should be forbidden. There is way too much chance to hit an Innocent when random shots are shot into the air. Remember, a Bullet can fly for miles and when it comes down, there is a real good chance it could hit a person or home.

      On the other hand, if the first shot was a Blank, and you were approached by someone and you fired a blank, most likely you would have to shot that person just because they felt safe in pursuing you. Display of a firearm is safe to say that would be OK, but unless the warning shot was in someone’s leg or arm, it’s not a good idea.

    14. Jerry,
      Yeesh – why not just load ALL blanks while you’re at it! Then nobody could possibly get hurt.
      Joking aside, here’s my take on this.
      1. My gun stays holstered unless there is an immediate threat to me or my family.
      2. When threatened, I unholster my weapon and fire at center mass until the threat is stopped or I run out of ammo, whichever comes first.

    15. If the display of a weapon makes a perp back off
      and depart the scene rather than you having to
      fire a shot is better than having to shot a person. Over many years of carrying a weapon
      I have found that in many instances the sight
      of a person with a weapon will calm the vast
      majority of people down and restore sanity.
      Only the hardened gang banger and criminals
      seem ignorant of this and will continue to
      pursue their attempt to commit a crime or
      assault on someone.

    16. From the perspective of a (supposedly well-trained) police officer, taking a warning shot should be a ‘judgment call’ – the officer involved has a better idea of what’s needed at that time and place than some rear-echelon policy wonk. For the individual citizen, who’s more likely to have to make that decision with less ‘advance notice’, less training, and little regard for ‘the law’ under stress, not so good: A bullet can’t be called back and will keep going until it hits something – or someone. A private citizen is also not tasked with apprehending those performing felonies – that’s what we pay professionals for. If there is a clear and present danger requiring the use of a firearm, and ‘mere’ defensive display is inadequate to stop it, if you believe you absolutely must fire, then fire to stop the assailant: Any shot you fire as a ‘warning’ is one less you have to defend yourself with. Any ‘warning shot’ that hits a bystander – or someone a half-mile away – is your responsibility.

    17. Better idea, load your first round with a blank. firing a warning shot would endanger no one or nothing if a blank was used first.
      In most cases if a second shot were required it would be rapidly available with the second round. End of Problem.

      1. When the hoodlum fires a warning shot, I won’t. It’s my life. I will defend it the way I deem to be the best way. I won’t start any argument and don’t want one. I have no desire to hurt anyone, I never have but if anyone goes home alive I fully intend for it to be me. This is not a game. There aren’t any do overs. There s no honor in being murdered just because you didn’t want to hurt anyone. I’m trying to save my life, not his.

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