When should you fire a warning shot?

Due to the price of ammo, do not expect a warning shot.Short answer: Never.

Recently the Florida state legislature passed a bill making warning shots legal for self-defense (but it is not yet law) in response to what I believe is the media storm that surrounded Marissa Alexander after the Trayvon Martin case. I summarize her case in this post from last July.

I am of the belief that is a bad idea of biblical proportions for the following reasons…

#1. Self-defense is an affirmative defense.

If you are unfamiliar with the term “affirmative defense” it simply means… “What I did would normally be against the law, but due to the situation my actions were justified, so I shouldn’t be punished.”

In an affirmative defense you are saying “Yes, I did it… I meant to do it… You would have done the same thing.”

With the addition of the warning shot law the prosecutor now has 2 additional avenues to attack a valid self-defense claim.

First… “Why did you shoot him? He was just a 17yo kid and a warning shot would have made him stop the attack. A reasonable person would have just fired a warning shot.”

Really?

How do you know that it would have stopped the attack? Pistols aren’t all that good at stopping a threat anyway.

Second… “The defendant didn’t shoot his attacker… he attempted to fire a warning shot and missed, accidently striking the victim.”

I’m going to call this the missed, missing tactic.

You see with an affirmative defense you have to say that you meant to do what you did and it was justified. There is no negligence defense.

This is why I don’t like single action triggers on self-defense guns (specifically revolvers). It can be claimed that based on the facts of the case that you were justified in shooting the attacker, BUT you shot him on accident due to the sympathetic reaction of gripping the gun and therefore it was negligence.

You’re Guilty of Negligent Homicide.

No thanks!

This is of course in addition to the fact that actually shoot someone you already have to show the attacker had the ability, immediate opportunity and intention to cause death or serious bodily injury.

Explain to me how you felt the attacker had the ability, immediate opportunity and intention to cause death or serious bodily injury if you had the time to waste ammunition?

There is NO WAY to use a firearm or an edged weapon that is not lethal force.

Warning shots are never advised and firing a pistol into the air is criminal negligence. Similarly a pocket knife is not a lower level of force.

In the heat of a critical incident you will not be able make a level of force decision and using too little could result increased injuries or death, while using too much force could result in legal issues.

In general to use lethal force you need to remember…

  1. Your use of deadly force requires the attacker to have ability, immediate opportunity and intention to cause death or serious bodily injury, and in some locales it has to be unavoidable.
  2. Your level of force must be appropriate to the threat.
  3. It must stop when the threat ceases.

#2. Guns are deadly weapons (That is why they are so good for self-defense)

In the controlled environment of a shooting range guns can be fun, but the are always dangerous and they always have the capacity to cause death.

We minimize the risks through the use of the 4 rules (warning you might not like those 4), back stops, training, muzzle discipline… but every year someone still shoots themselves in what should be a safe environment.

Add to that the stress of a critical incident and now you have to not only know where the threat is, what is around the threat, but also what is currently a safe direction to fire your pistol in.

Good luck with that. If you don’t kill or injure someone it will be dumb luck.

#3 What’s the point?

People say that the reason for a warning shot is to create a creditable threat of force that changes the actions of the threat.

B___ S___!

Have you ever heard a parent say… “I’ve told you 3 times already, if I have to tell you again I am going to spank you here in front of everybody!”

No they won’t and the 4 yo knows it. Why because if they were going to they would have done it already.

A warning shot gives up any potential tactical advantage of concealed carry and tells the threat with a loud bang that you can’t or you’re not ready to shoot them yet.

That is not a credible threat.

I actually played this song for my son this morning to illustrate a similar point.

 

 

Since the law was passed a Florida security guard was arrested for firing a warning shot when confronted by 15-20 people and claims he was in fear of death or great bodily injury.

The fact is that if they wanted to kill him, they could do it short of him having an armored car or maybe belt-fed machine gun.

He fired 2 rounds into an occupied apartment building. Negligence.

He couldn’t have found a better backstop? No… He was facing 15-20 attackers, he did not have the mental bandwidth to find a better backstop.

And did it work?

After firing the rounds there was still a woman close enough to him for to arrest (illegally) and another stuck around to film the event… I’d say that didn’t work as well as he had hoped.

Don’t fire warning shots.

Comments

  1. says

    I usually explain “warning shots to CCW classes thusly:

    1. There is a credible, imminent threat of death or severe bodily harm actively being posed by one or more attackers(otherwise, there is no reason to even draw or display a gun, let alone pull the trigger);

    2. You deliberately draw, retrieve or otherwise access a real gun, loaded with live ammo;

    3. You deliberately pull the trigger(as opposed to accidentally firing, as there is no way to justify an intentional or negligent accident)

    4. You deliberately MISS someone who is supposedly presenting such an imminent threat of deadly danger that you felt the need to draw/retrieve a real, loaded gun and intentionally fire it.

    Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do…

  2. says

    “Recently the Florida state legislature passed a bill making warning shots legal for self-defense”
    No it did not. It now codifies as legal the threat of use of force in a self-defense situation as before it could have (and sometimes was) treated as if the user was not in fear of his life and got accused with assault with a deadly weapon in the worst of cases. Basically as the law still stands, you could go to prison by the simple act of placing your hand on your holstered sidearm.

    “A person charged with a criminal offense in which force was used (e.g., battery, murder, etc.) may argue at trial
    that he or she did so in “self-defense.” Chapter 776, F.S., contains a variety of provisions setting forth the
    instances in which a person may use force in self-defense. A close read of ch. 776, F.S., reflects that only a
    person’s actual use of force is justifiable – not a person’s threatened use of force. While some courts have
    recognized that a threatened use of force equates to an actual use of force, the statutes are not clear.

    The bill amends ch. 776, F.S., to specify that the justifications contained therein apply to threatened uses of
    force as well as actual uses of force”

    http://www.myfloridahouse.gov/Sections/Documents/loaddoc.aspx?FileName=h0089b.JDC.DOCX&DocumentType=Analysis&BillNumber=0089&Session=2014

  3. dan says

    the liberal prosecutors are responsible for the warning shot bill…they have used a discharge of a round as a crime with a gun and when at trial go for 20 years just for firing a gun….this justice system has been used as apolitical tool for too many for to long…….these new bills are a start to a remedy of liberal BS…….imho

  4. Charlie Lima says

    “Warning shots are reckless & irresponsible use of a firearm” as I was taught & as an instructor taught others.as DOE firearms instructor. period.

  5. john says

    Would firing a blank instead create the deterrent, and alter your exposure/liability under the law? After all, it endangers no one except the person who discharges it if it proves ineffective as a deterrent.

  6. says

    If you’re considering firing a blank as a warning shot, simply change point #4 of my previous post to read:

    4. You deliberately fire a harmless blank round at someone who is supposedly presenting such an imminent threat of deadly danger that you felt the need to draw/retrieve a real, loaded gun and intentionally fire it.

    Lucy, you still got some splainin’ to do…

  7. says

    If you’re considering firing a blank as a warning shot, simply change point #4 of my previous post to read:

    4. You deliberately fire a harmless blank round at someone who is supposedly presenting such an imminent threat of deadly danger that you felt the need to draw/retrieve a real, loaded gun and intentionally fire it.

    Lucy, you still got some splainin’ to do…

  8. dustydog says

    As an aside to the mentioned threatening to spank a child in front of everybody, it is more effective to threaten to take the child’s shoes in front of everyone. Easy to carry out the threat, has the full humiliation value. Doesn’t make you look like a monster. Once you have the shoes, you are in a position to ignore the child, who now wants the shoes back. You can escalate further to socks and shirt.

    Regarding warning shots: they are hard on a juror trying to judge after the fact. If you are scared and shoot somebody in an instant without thinking- ok, I can understand that even if I don’t agree. If you have the mental focus to decide to shoot a warning shot, then it doesn’t seem like you were in mortal fear yet. I would take “I just fired a warning shot without thinking. I don’t know why I did it” over “I fired a warning shot because I thought it would cause…”

    Further, if you are trapped (by the environment, or because you have kids), I’d be more inclined to think a warning shot was reasonable – perhaps the best of the bad choices.

    Overall, I speculate you’d be better off saying your warning shot was intended to hit (and just missed), rather than admitting you intended to shoot a warning.

  9. Bo Cappella says

    I would fire my warning shot(s) to center mass. If that did not deter the bad guy, my placed shot would be to the ocular area of the head. (I learned that at FrontSight in Nevada when I was there in 2012,)

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