According to reporting by Martin Kaste of NPR, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, et al., have resurrected a bad practice for their officers to use: warning shots. According to the consensus document produced to offer guidelines for the use of deadly force, a warning shot is a “discharge of a firearm for the purpose of compelling compliance from an individual, but not intended to cause physical injury.” Such shots may only be taken when “the use of deadly force is justified; the warning shot will not pose a substantial risk of injury or death to the officer or others; and the officer reasonably believes that the warning shot will reduce the possibility that deadly force will have to be used.”
My immediate response? No. Don’t do it. Just don’t.
All right. Bullets leave the barrel on a ballistic trajectory. This means that the round follows a parabolic flight path. If fired into the air — at an elevated angle — the round will go a long way. A .22 rimfire round can travel two thousand yards. That’s 240 yards more than a mile. A .30-’06 shell can go more than three miles. And when it comes down, it will be going almost the same velocity as a .45 ACP bullet at the muzzle.
Don’t do it.
When bullets strike hard objects, they do strange things. If you’re ready to perform the calculations, there are five pages of formulae that you’re welcome to attempt. Empirical evidence confirms the claim that bullets do strange things.
Don’t do it.
If you carry a gun, I hope that you know that you’re responsible for every bullet that goes down range. That means that if you fire a shot, you need to see where it will go before squeezing the trigger. And if you do that? You’ve taken your eyes off the threat. You may have to look for a long time — in a fight, seconds are a long time. If you’re firing a shot that you intend to be a miss, you’ve wasted a round. If deadly force is justified, that means that innocent lives are in danger right now. Yes, the police have occasions in which force has to be used, but deadly force is reasonable only when meeting the deadly force of an attacker. Every gunshot is a case of deadly force. Even shots at a gun range are deadly force, which is why responsible people pay attention to what’s on, near, in front of, behind, and beside the backstop. I still cringe over the day at the range when I had my finger on the trigger of my rifle, about to take a shot on a hot range, and had to pull my finger out of the trigger guard when I saw a pair of knuckleheads casually strolling down toward the target stands.
Don’t do it.
Are there rare cases in which a warning shot might be the right thing to do? I’ll contradict myself by saying that there could be. As a novelist, I could take the time to write a scenario that would allow a warning shot. But I also know that Hollywood just about never gets such scenes right and that gun control advocates have no clue about how guns ought to be used. They aren’t capable of describing a justified warning shot. Nor can they explain why shooting to wound is a silly idea.
Let’s just be sensible and say that warning shots were banned for an excellent reason. If an officer or a private citizen comes upon a situation that requires such a shot, the person can fill out pages of paperwork to justify the claim.
And on most days, just don’t do it.
For those novels that I’ve written, go here.