Warning Shots Are Now OK For Police? Huh?

We as armed civilians are always told that we are responsible for every bullet that leaves our gun. Sometimes this is characterized as every bullet carries a lawyer with it. We are also told that warning shots are never a good idea. If you are in a deadly encounter and you are forced to fire your firearm, then firing a warning shot contradicts the fact that this is a deadly encounter.

What got my attention on this was the newsletter from the Force Science Institute. They were asking for feedback on the “National Consensus Policy on Use of Force” which was published this year by a group of police associations including the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. As part of the section on the use of deadly force, the consensus was that warning shots should be considered by police when they are in a situation warranting the use of deadly force.

From the Force Science Institute:

In a section devoted to deadly force, the Consensus acknowledges that warning shots are “inherently dangerous.” But the guidelines suggest that they be permitted when:


“1. the use of deadly force is justified;


“2. the warning shot will not pose a substantial risk of injury or death to the officer or others; and


3. “the officer reasonably believes that the warning shot will reduce the possibility that deadly force will have to be used.”


In a recent radio interview, the IACP’s deputy executive director, Terrence Cunningham, said “a lot of discussion” preceded this recommendation and that the intent is to give officers more leeway when faced with a threat. He referenced “this new environment in use of force where everybody is trying to learn how to better de-escalate.”


And he asked, “Why not give officers more tools? I think it’s the right thing to do.”


Some trainers, however, have expressed concern that adopting this policy will create a public expectation that warning shots should be fired before every use of force—or that this will open the door to officially urging officers to shoot to wound as the next logical step.

So these cops now think a “McClatchy” (or warning shot named after the co-host of Slam Fire Radio, a Canadian gun podcast) is OK.  Frankly, I think it is a stupid idea.

I’m not sure how I missed it but this was covered by NPR in late March. Massad Ayoob was the first trainer interviewed in the report. He thinks it “opens a can of worms”.

Mas had a couple of blog posts on this at Backwoods Home asking for comments. You can read them here and here.

For an extended discussion of warning shots on Liberty Watch Radio between Charles Heller and Mas, go here. It is a great discussion.

While the consensus of these police organizations is that a warning shot has its place, I think I’ll defer to more conventional wisdom and especially that of Massad Ayoob and avoid their use. I think they have just too much liability attached them to even consider their use. Besides, as my Dad taught me ages ago, “if you pull a gun on a man you better be ready to use it. If not, he’ll shove it up your ass.”


4 thoughts on “Warning Shots Are Now OK For Police? Huh?”

  1. I have seen in military surplus stores large banners that read, "You are ordered to disperse. Police will open fire on you." When I asked the owner where they came from, he said they were old police banners from the 1970s.

    I have seen old movies where troops lined up to face a rioting mob, and the first order was to fire a volley over the rioter's heads to get their attention, followed by firing into the mob if they did not retreat or disperse. Mostly British colonial situations, but the concept is the same.

    I have seen actual police and civilians in other countries fire their guns into the air, not just in celebration, but in shows of force before taking aim at potential targets.

    And I, personally, will never pull a gun on someone who does not deserve its instant use against them, despite all that.

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