Self Defense Basics: Just Say NO to Warning Shots

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Image by Boch / GSL Defense Training

Don’t even think about firing a warning shot. If any doubt exists, don’t pull the trigger.

Unfortunately, thanks to Hollywood, almost everyone in America — and indeed the world — is all too familiar with the whole concept of “warning shots.” Their utility is nothing more than dramatic effect for Hollywood productions. Here in the real world, however, they pose very real risks for anyone utilizing Hollywood tactics for personal defense.

Fortunately for good guys, most bad guys get their gun-handling skills from music videos and social media. Advantage: good guys. Unfortunately, some good guys rely on their “man cards” to improve their skill sets also fall for Hollywood’s “training.”  That’s, uh, suboptimal at best for anything related to firearms.

Why should people not even consider warning shots?

Pulling your gun in a confrontation, justified or not, puts you in the “deadly” end of the Use of force continuum. It also tends to result in a lot of second-guessing from police and prosecutors. If you discharge your firearm, you’re then deeper into the continuum and expose yourself to criminal charges if you’re seen as lacking righteous justification for your actions in the eyes of the law. You can be charged with crimes like aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, reckless endangerment, or gross negligence, depending on the laws where you live.

To distill it even further, if you’re not justified in shooting your antagonist center-mass with a double-tap, you’re not justified in firing a warning shot. In fact, some prosecutors may look upon someone firing a warning shot as evidence they didn’t really think the other person was a legitimate threat and as such, should never have pulled the trigger at all.

Another reason to eschew Hollywood-style drama and tactical advice when faced with a real-world bad guy in you’re responsible for that warning round. It’s got to go somewhere. If it ricochets off the ground or sails through someone’s wall or window and kills a widow, orphan or the sweet six-year-old girl next door, you’re on the hook for that.

What’s more, you’re wasting your ammunition. Are you carrying a five-shot revolver?  There are millions upon millions of them out there. A warning shot means you now only have four round left and bad guys aren’t always easy targets to hit. Cops miss 80% of the time and most of them practice…on occasion. Keep in mind that pistol rounds often don’t stop violent behavior on the first shot. Or the second sometimes. Depending on the caliber and bullet type, that first hit might just irritate the bad guy.

Need another reason not to fire warning shots?

Good rule of thumb: Never listen to “Shotgun” Joe Biden. Ever.

Most importantly, that warning shot may only embolden your attacker. Your interaction probably isn’t the first time the bad guy’s seen the business end of someone’s firearm. If he senses hesitation to use your firearm, he may redouble his efforts to overpower and disarm you.

In recent years I’ve seen cases first-hand where warning shots only emboldened bad guys. In one case, a drunk woman took the warning shot as evidence that the homeowner didn’t really have the stones to shoot her. Three times the legal limit of booze tends to do that to one’s thinking. She told the man, “Oh, you really aren’t gonna shoot me, are you?” He shot her a moment later when she reached for a knife as though it were a gun.

In another case, a rural farmer really didn’t want to shoot a 20-year-0ld bodybuilder who had attacked him. The young man crashed his truck while drunk-driving and didn’t want to violate his probation if the cops showed up, so he attacked the farmer when he tried to call for help. The farmer’s warning shots only made the attacker fight harder, inflicting serious injuries that required hospitalization before the third “warning shot” inadvertently hit the attacker’s femoral, putting him down.  Permanently.

In each incident, the good guys desperately wanted to avoid shooting the person who had attacked them. In each case, the attackers grew more fearsome and aggressive thanks to the warning shots.

In short, don’t fire warning shots. There’s really no upside. In addition to putting you in potential legal jeopardy, they might also fail to dissuade an attacker.

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