It’s difficult enough to make a headshot, but it would be significantly easier than trying to shoot the gun out of his hand.

This “bad guy” is presenting a very large target, so a center of mass shot would be in order.


Kids can ask the damnedest questions. I’ve stood in front of a variety of tiny urchins in my time and I’ve learned the hard way: you have to be ready for anything! Apparently, one of my law enforcement brethren from the FBI wasn’t quite so prepared when he showed up to my 11-year-old daughter’s “career day.” Asked by one of the innocent tykes why the FBI didn’t try to shoot the guns out of the bad guys’ hand, he gave this thought-provoking response, “That’s not the way we train. At the FBI we shoot to kill!” Alrighty then.

I’m pretty sure one of two things was going on when that friendly Fed wowed my daughter with his best Dirty Harry impersonation: he either gave in to a long-repressed urge to use what he thought was a really cool line, or he slept through his use of deadly force class at the academy. Whatever the case, I’m betting the adults in the audience, even if they didn’t know exactly why, probably winced when they heard his verbal gem. Who could blame them? The thought of officers shooting to kill just has a ring, which goes against the grain. The concept plays well in the military, but not so much in law enforcement; while we are paramilitary in nature, our goals are different. We’re not out to kill or destroy our enemies; we’re out to stop them. If death were the goal, no adversary should, theoretically, ever survive a gun-fight with law enforcement.

With the exception of a stray, bleary-eyed Fed or two, I thought this was old stuff. We use deadly force when it’s reasonable and necessary to stop the threat. As I began trying to explain this and many other aspects of deadly force to my now extremely inquisitive daughter, I once again realized just how tough it can be to explain what we do and why we do it. As we bounced from topic to topic and my daughter poked, prodded and questioned, I realized her questions were a fair representation of what any interested member of the public or press would ask in a similar situation.

When I was finished, and my daughter was reasonably satisfied, I realized my explanation might be good for more than just an 11 year old with an inquisitive mind. It might even help out a future Fed or two who find themselves caught in the merciless crosshairs of youthful innocence.



Nobody knows how many shots it would take to stop this crazed attacker. The number of shots is irrelevant — it’s about stopping the threat.



When it comes to deadly force and critical events like OISs, law enforcement likes to explain itself by quoting policy and procedure, points of law, or by explaining tactics and techniques. While that’s all well and good, we shouldn’t forget the human factor. Deadly force is an emotional issue by its very nature, and thus elicits an emotional, if not visceral, response from the public and press, who already tend to view our actions with an uninformed, if not jaundiced, eye. By not offering up our side of the human factor, we lose an opportunity to educate the public and sway them over to our side.

It’s much easier to attack a faceless, nameless officer than the person with a family and a long history of volunteer work, community involvement, awards for bravery, etc. Reminding our audience an officer is a human being with a wife, husband, daughter, son and parents who love him helps to personalize the officer and remove some of the anonymity typically surrounding an officer involved in a shooting.

Too often the brass ineptly struggles to publicly defend their officers actions. By continually being on the defense, we often give up the initiative to the press who ignore, misquote or misrepresent the facts. Strongly reminding our audience it’s the suspect’s actions that led to his being shot is always a good place to start. For the spin-doctors, every bad guy we shoot was a “nice guy,” had a stellar career about to take off, and looked exactly like the ancient picture of the smiling, chubby-faced kid they dug out of some musty old yearbook. However, the message we must continually push back at the media is: in this particular instance, the gang member, career criminal, parolee was doing (insert suspects actions), forcing our officer to use lethal force to defend his (or someone else’s) life.


Even though it’s been said time and time again, here it is once more: We do not shoot to kill, we shoot to stop the threat. This is the basic philosophy underlying law enforcement’s use of deadly force. In essence, it means the bad guy is doing something so threatening (typically endangering the life of another) that officers must act immediately to stop the assailant from continuing or completing the act — and the law allows us to use deadly force. In the vast majority of cases, the officer’s handgun is used most often.

We typically aim for the chest area, commonly referred to as the center of mass, and for good reason. Harsh as it may sound, the quickest way to stop someone and their threatening behavior is to rupture major vessels and internal components (hearts and lungs), causing major blood loss, and destroy the central nervous system so signals cannot be sent to the body. Since our goal is to stop the suspect as quickly as possible, it makes sense we aim for the area with the greatest concentration of these vital components — the chest.

Under pressure, even the best-trained police officers will suffer some reduction in skill level, especially when faced with their own possible demise. Given the vagaries of gun fights (speed of the event, distance, bad luck, inexplicable results, missed shots, moving targets, opposing wills, incoming rounds), officers must aim for the area they have the greatest likelihood of striking. The chest not only houses major organs and blood vessels, it’s the widest part of the body and one of the slowest moving (compared to arms and legs). When the outcome of missing your target might be death, it’s common sense to pick the target you’re most likely to hit under pressure, and which will yield the results you’re looking for.

The question usually following such an explanation is, “Isn’t that likely to kill someone?” Yes, there is a high likelihood the suspect might die from well-placed shots to the chest, the head, or any other place we might strike him. The caveat is: it’s not our intent. In fact, whether he lives or dies as a result of our lawful actions is immaterial. It sounds harsh, but it’s true. If we fire one round and it grazes the suspect’s chest or even misses, but he surrenders, we’re just as satisfied with the results. The goal is what’s important — for the suspect to stop the threatening actions requiring us to use deadly force in the first place!

The uninformed often claim this explanation is merely an exercise in semantics. They couldn’t be more incorrect. The differences between our intent and the possible, even probable, results of our actions may be subtle in out-come, but are profound in meaning. This is most typically demonstrated by our immediate transition to life-saving mode as soon as the situation is stabilized and officer safety issues addressed. Whether we render first aid ourselves or request medics to respond, the implication is clear: we have done what needs to be done, we have stopped the threat. Now our role is to help save the life. If our goal was to kill, we’d simply let the subject die.



Explaining deadly force to the media isn’t all that different than explaining it to a classroom full of 10 year olds. Don’t be glib.



Can’t you just shoot to wound? Just like in a classroom of kids, you can rest assured the media will raise this silly question every time. After all, in the world of make believe (Hollywood) the public repeatedly sees this accomplished successfully. In the blink of an eye, the fearless hero draws his gun and shoots the gun, knife, club or whatever right out of the villain’s hand. He’s so accurate he rarely causes any damage to the bad guy’s paw. Sure makes a pretty picture and a happy ending in the land of make believe. That it has no basis in real-life gun fighting unfortunately seems to have escaped the notice of many of our citizens.

There is no such thing as a “minor” gunshot wound when you’re the officer on the receiving end of those wounds. All of our tactics, techniques and training are geared towards stopping the threat — immediately and decisively. Lollygagging around trying to “wing” the bad guy is not only prohibitively difficult (if not nearly impossible), it also provides him the time and opportunity to continue his threatening behavior. If that behavior is directed at you, it might result in punctures to your own vital organs, a bereaved family and another police funeral. And that is some-thing we just can’t afford.