‘Warning Shot’ Rules and ‘Shoot-to-Wound’ Proposals Raise Motivation Question

By David Codrea

My boyhood hero, the Lone Ranger, would “shoot to wound.” Is it realistic to expect the same standard in real life, and is there any motivation besides a humanitarian one for doing so? [PD US ]
USA – -(Ammoland.com)- “Several use-of-force experts have surprisingly (and not surprisingly – anonymously) conceded that this is a rare case where shooting [a suspect] in the arm or leg might have actually worked!” police training sergeant and “tactical philosopher” Lou Hayes, Jr. writes in MIMESIS Law. He’s analyzing an A&E “reality show” episode of Live PD, wherein two officers wrestled with a struggling suspect to subdue and disarm him.

If the opportunity presented itself, I missed it. It looked like they both had their hands full and it’s unclear how either officer, with a writhing suspect sandwiched between them, could have “safely” gotten off a shot.

So-called “shoot-to-wound” proposals have been around for years. PoliceOne reported on a New York bill that presumed to “force officers to use their weapons ‘with the intent to stop, rather than kill’ a suspect’ and would mandate that cops ‘shoot a suspect in the arm or the leg’ as opposed to the present practice of aiming center-mass until the threat is stopped.”

Experts at the time were firmly opposed to that requirement, and were pretty explicit about why.

“[S]hooting to wound doesn’t make sense scientifically, legally, or tactically,” Force Science Institute argued, presenting numerous reasons why. Even Joe “fire a shotgun off the balcony or through the door” Biden instinctively recognized that as a bad idea:

“When Michael Paladino, president of New York’s Detectives Endowment Association, showed him the bill he reportedly scoffed and suggested that it be called the ‘John Wayne Bill’ because of the unrealistic, movie-like sharpshooting skills it demands of officers.”

So as not to place myself in total public agreement with Biden on a gun issue, let me find one point of contention: Not John Wayne, but the Lone Ranger, who famously told his “faithful Indian companion” Tonto:

“Oh, I’ll shoot if I have to. But I’ll shoot to wound, not to kill.”

With all due respect to actor Clayton Moore, and I have plenty as he was not only a childhood hero but I actually met the gentleman during a motel stay when I was young (talk about a thrill, having the Lone Ranger in the next room!), his character’s philosophy was the work product of scriptwriters, not experts in lethal force encounters.

That any would believe Lone Ranger outcomes can be mandated by legislation speaks more to the childish ignorance of much of the political class running our cities. Not that they would know it, but people rarely react to being shot the way they do in popular entertainment, so it figures such nonsense would have been proposed in New York City. And funny how the Masked Man never seemed to blow out a bandit’s artery and his targets never bled out….

In the real world, the object in a lethal force encounter is to survive. With an eye toward the legalities, instructors prudently avoid “shoot to kill” and teach the terminology “shoot to stop.”

The next part of the equation Hayes presents deals with so-called “warning shots.” He gives pro and con sides, noting Massad Ayoob arguing compellingly against them. He then cites the National Consensus Policy on Use of Force, which presents conditions for firing them.

For the last part, Hayes discusses “target-specific directed fire.”

It’s certainly not hard to envision tactical situations where suppressive fire could save lives – we saw citizens do exactly that in the takedown of the University of Texas sniper (back in the Sixties, before Pajama Boys looking for “safe spaces” took over academia). And that suggests situations warranting “warning shots” just might arise, provided Jeff Cooper’s rules are still in play  (something an off-duty, presumably “highly-trained” LAPD officer in a lawn dispute with teenagers seems to have forgotten).

As for targeting extremities, I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one, including how you’d get the time to make and execute such a judgment call, and noting that even when aiming for center mass, unfolding tense and fluid situations aren’t exactly conducive to precision marksmanship hit rates.

Admittedly, there’s no one-size-fits-all rule that can account for all situations. It’s also encouraging to see police tactics in potential lethal force situations being considered that place a premium on “a higher respect for or protection of life.”

That said, it’s fair to ask if we’re going to be seeing more top-down directed policing attempts at redefining use of force norms. If so, how much of that will be because chiefs are unduly motivated by the prospect of “political unrest” (you know, riots) following an otherwise justifiable shoot?

David Codrea in his natural habitat.

About David Codrea:

David Codrea is the winner of multiple journalist awards for investigating / defending the RKBA and a long-time gun owner rights advocate who defiantly challenges the folly of citizen disarmament.

In addition to being a field editor/columnist at GUNS Magazine and associate editor for Oath Keepers, he blogs at “The War on Guns: Notes from the Resistance,” and posts on Twitter: @dcodrea and Facebook.

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I always loved Joe Biden firearm advice. It consisted of: 1. AR15s are too hard to use correctly so worthless for self defense 2. AR15s make it way too easy to kill lots of people so they need to be banned 3. Women can easily defend themseleves with a much heavier shotgun with massive recoil that only has two shots compared to a six pound rifle with almost no recoil and thirty shots 4. If you think there is someone outside then go the balcony and fire off two random blasts in the air 5. If someone is at the… Read more »

Jim Macklin

Joe Biden is almost an idiot. Just a few more IQ points and he’ll make it.
Perhaps he will follow the advice given to women and just pee his pants.


Hmmm… warning shots in densely populated cities… Sounds like a recipe for lawful citizens near an incident getting shot instead of criminals. Don’t they understand why it’s illegal in most places (all?) for people to fire guns in air?

Jim Macklin

LEO training schools are necessary to ensure that officers break the conditioning that every American learns from watching MAGNUM PI, HILL ST. BLUES, The LONE RANGER, LAW & ORDER [all versions], DIE HARD, etc.
Recurrent training is necessary because what is learned first, TV, will be the first response.
Too bad that juries are not required to attend LEO school before sitting on a jury.


Shooting to wound can get you killed.

Now if this is a suicide by cop situation where trained sniper can disable the individual, that is different.

Clark Kent

No it is not different. You CAN NOT assume any shot will ‘disable’ an individual. That kind of ‘thinking’ gets both cops and innocent civilians killed. You also can’t know if a situation is ‘suicide by cop’ unless you also have the ability to predict lottery numbers. Nice try; no cigar.

Mike Murray

The FBI statistics show that nationwide, 80% of police rounds MISS their intended target, and that is while shooting for center mass. How would this suggest aiming at an arm or leg is realistic? One more ridiculous notion by feel good fools with zero knowledge or training.

Timothy K. Toroian

Neither makes any sense. HOW does one decide to present a weapon and be able to decide when to try to wound? Hit an artery and someone is dead. Break major bones and they die years later. A warning shout should be sufficient. If perp sees a weapon in your hands and still advances you shoot. DAs don’t like warning shots because you have to know where you put a bullet. Where can you safely put one on a city street? Which is where most self=defense situations will probably occur.


Timothy K. Toroian wrote “A warning shout should be sufficient.”

No. “When you have to shoot…Shoot! Don’t talk.”


Timothy K. Toroian

Not if they are 25 yards away and have a knife.

Old 1811

Not only are arms and legs next to impossible to deliberately hit, but a hit in the arm or leg practically guarantees overpenetration. So in addition to not stopping the threat against you, you have also needlessly endangered uninvolved bystanders. But what do I know? I was only a LEO for 30 years and a full-time firearms instructor at a major academy. So I’ll listen to the real experts, who’ve never left their offices. (Assuming they accept all legal liability for the results of following their recommendations, that is.)

2War Abn Vet

This “shoot to wound” or “warning shot” business reminds me so much of the “send a message” business our government employed during the Viet Nam War. Playing silly buggers with people who are intent on killing you is the utmost stupidity.


as one who carried a firearm for a living for years, I was trained to shoot to stop, and the surest way to stop the threat is to stop the perp’s ability to move; (holes in vitals).


As a former LEO and Correction Officer I was always taught to shot center mass. The reason being in an intense situation this is the largest target. Trying to shoot them in the leg or arm is next to impossible at a distance. Trying to shoot them in the arm or leg and NOT hit the brachial or femoral arteries and having them bleed out in just a couple minutes at close range is a tough one also. When you’re rolling around with the suspect and you feel you need to use your firearm to deescalate things is not the… Read more »


When my CCW trainees asked about “shooting to wound,” I would have them do 20 jumping jacks, draw and fire five rounds on a silhouette at 3 yards. That cured ’em. Physical stress is enough to cause a shooter to disperse his/her shots — not to mention what psychological stress will do.

Nothing like personal experience to dispel misconceptions.

And, oh: warning shots are illegal in some jurisdictions, such as Arizona (ARS 13: 3112). When you fire, FIRE FOR EFFECT until the threat is no longer a threat.


‘Faithful Indian companion’ Tonto, as played by Jay Siverheels.
“Return with us now, to those thrilling days of yesteryear.”
Fond memories, indeed.
Hi Yo Silver! Away!

Lou Hayes

Very fair commentary, David. Thanks for continuing the conversation. Lou Hayes (the author of the Faul Lines blog post)

John Comeau

thanks for your principled criticism of the off-duty LAPD cop. his behavior was totally unacceptable and I hope he becomes unemployable in law enforcement as a result.

I’ll be kind and not make some snarky comment about NYPD cops never making anything *but* warning shots… oops.

Sheepldog Scott

John, if you took this article as a criticism of that incident you read way more into it than anyone else. Those punks knew he was an officer and intentionally trespassed on his home’s property to harass him. When he reasonably told them not to do that any more one eventually threatened to SHOOT him- (A Felony). He reasonably arrested him but there was resistance. The longer version of that video (which by itself shows that another in the group expected their actions to provoke an incident) shows the officer and his detainee being rammed through/ over a hedge and… Read more »