Shoot To Kill Or Shoot To Stop?

MJS

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In part one of this three-part series, PoliceOne Contributor Roy Bedard examines the oft-used mantra in police deadly force training: "We donÂ’t shoot to kill. We shoot to stop."

“Center mass. It’s ‘operations central’ for your body, houses your heart, a most important muscle that sends blood to all parts of your frame. Your lungs are also here and they are necessary for the balanced exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide. You got nerves, lots of nerves that pass through center mass. The vagus nerve for instance represents the golden highway of neurological life sustaining information between your brain and vital organs. This nerve is the master switch for heart rate and blood pressure. Turn off that switch, empty the pump of blood or puncture a lung and a person is likely to die—quickly. This folks is where we are going to put our bullets.”
Being a rookie police officer on the firing range was both exhilarating and intimidating. I remember the feeling of standing on the line, a .38 caliber S&W six shot revolver in my hand. I had practiced dry firing plenty but now my weaponÂ’s cylinder was loaded with 158-grain semi-wad cutter rounds. Two speed loaders, which sat in a worn leather pouch on my belt offered me a full eighteen rounds of ammunition. I was flanked to the right and left by a dozen or so other rookie shooters. There was silence as we all waited for the range masterÂ’s commands. He climbed into the tower.
 

Archangel M

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The whole "shoot to stop" thing is purely a legalese semantics game.

Attorney for the family of some criminal who was killed in a shootout: "SO YOU WERE TRYING TO KILL MY CLIENTS SON OFFICER????"

You cant say.."He was trying to kill me so hell yes I was."


The physical fact of the mater is the best way to STOP a deadly threat is to kill it and kill it quickly. People just don't like the way it sounds. Like it is with any ugly truth.
 

Bruno@MT

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The whole "shoot to stop" thing is purely a legalese semantics game.

Attorney for the family of some criminal who was killed in a shootout: "SO YOU WERE TRYING TO KILL MY CLIENTS SON OFFICER????"

You cant say.."He was trying to kill me so hell yes I was."


The physical fact of the mater is the best way to STOP a deadly threat is to kill it and kill it quickly. People just don't like the way it sounds. Like it is with any ugly truth.

I agree with what you say, but if you really shoot to kill, wouldn't headshots be more deadly, statistically?
 

Archangel M

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I agree with what you say, but if you really shoot to kill, wouldn't headshots be more deadly, statistically?

Wouldn't they "stop" the threat much more efficiently too?

The reason we shoot COM is because its larger and less mobile (and encased in less bone) than the head.
 

Bill Mattocks

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We say we "shoot to stop" for a variety of reasons. However, IMHO, the main reason is because that's what we do. Is it likely to kill if we hit COM. However, that's not the intent. That's a side-effect.

COM makes sense to aim at for a number of reasons, not least of which is the likelihood of hitting something at all. If you are aiming COM, you have inches to the sides and even more up and down where you can be off-aim and still hit. A head is hard to hit, so is a hand, foot, etc. Another good reason is for public safety. Over-penetration is always a possibility. COM is the thickest part of the body and most likely to retain the slug.

Yeah, it's likely to let all the magic smoke out of the guy. That's the way it goes. Purely a side-effect.

This is the same reason we aim our front kick in Isshin-Ryu to collapse the pelvic bone. We know it will probably do terrible things to the wedding tackle on the way up, but that's a coincidence. Just happens to be in the way.

I would not say "I shot to kill" because I would not shoot to kill in a law-enforcement capacity. I would say "I shot to stop" because that is precisely what I wanted to happen. If the guy ends up dead, that's how it goes. Saying "I shot to kill" implies that there is an alternative place to shoot that is less deadly, but just as capable of 'stopping' someone. There isn't that I am aware of.

I don't know any LEO who have the 'intent to kill' when they have to fire their weapons in self-defense or to stop a criminal.
 

Archangel M

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I agree. I would absolutely train coppers in the "shoot to stop" mentality.

But it's still a "chicken-egg" argument in the end IMO. When the bullets are flying no cop is going to care if the guy dies or not as long as he stops shooting at him. The whole "stop/kill" thing is semantics. It's just easier to survive the court process afterward with the "shoot to stop" meme.
 

Cryozombie

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Man, what's wrong with you cops. Why can't you just shoot the gun out of his hand!?!

;)
 

MA-Caver

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Man, what's wrong with you cops. Why can't you just shoot the gun out of his hand!?!

;)
Yeeeahhh like all those other tv/movie cops/cowboys can do... sheesh. I mean hundreds of hours and thousands of rounds at the practice range and you can't hit the gun out of a bad guy's hand?
 

Bill Mattocks

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I agree. I would absolutely train coppers in the "shoot to stop" mentality.

But it's still a "chicken-egg" argument in the end IMO. When the bullets are flying no cop is going to care if the guy dies or not as long as he stops shooting at him. The whole "stop/kill" thing is semantics. It's just easier to survive the court process afterward with the "shoot to stop" meme.

It's not just a euphemism. Cops shoot to stop. I can prove it.

Imagine you engage some perpetrator who is firing at you from a concealed position. He hits and kills your partner. He hits you. Then you hit him, and he's down. You approach him, he's immobile and unconscious. You kick his weapon away from him. You're standing over him.

Now. Do you take aim and execute him? No? Then you were not shooting to kill.

It's true that one cannot say "I was aiming to kill" in court. But it's more than just a euphemism. Police do NOT shoot to kill. If they did, they'd kill whenever they had the opportunity.

I've heard plenty of people say that they would not hesitate to blow someone away, or take him out, or whatever. But I doubt many believe it in a literal fashion. Imagining that they would calmly execute someone once they no longer posed a threat is a bit hard for me to do, to be honest. I imagine most of us would secure them, call for an ambulance, and do whatever we had been trained to do in the way of giving aid. Yeah, some will deny this and claim they'd just give the guy a double-tap to the head or wait for him to bleed out or whatever; but I tend to doubt it. Most police see themselves as life savers, not life takers, even in circumstances where someone mostly needs to be dead.
 

jks9199

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It's actually very simple.

We shoot to stop an immediate threat of grievious bodily harm or death. We stop shooting when the threat is stopped.

Generally, we shoot to the center of the available mass. It's the biggest, easiest target to hit -- especially under the hormonal cocktail of a life or death event like that. Center available mass on a generally upright person happens to be the chest/stomach area. It's their bad luck that there happen to be lots of things like the heart, the vena cava, lungs, and other vital organs there -- and that a good hit, center mass, with hollowpoint rounds, has a fair chance of making the threatening person dead. Dead folks don't generally present much of a threat...

As Bill said -- if we were shooting to kill, we'd continue shooting after the person ceases to be a threat.
 

Archangel M

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Just to continue the discussion. (and play devils advocate) :)

I don't think that "shoot to kill" means to kill the opponent even after he stops being a threat. Thats "murder". I could just as easily strangle a person in that position..has nothing to do with "shooting to kill".

"Shoot to kill" means when I (justifiably) pull the trigger I intend to kill the guy I'm shooting at with that shot since thats a 100% "stop". The "COM just happens to house all the vital organs and usually causes death" thing has always sounded like a bit of semantic juggling. Which is a necessity..not arguing that point.

Wild *** theory time: If there was some sort of system that would 100% ensure a fatal head shot in a police shooting with no miss or over penetration do you think that we would not use it because that would be "shooting to kill"?
 

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This is my take on this semantics game. If you draw your firearm and shoot someone in self defense, you are intending to use lethal force against them with legal justification. It's called the "Use of DEADLY force" for a reason, not "use of STOPPING force". Death is not merely a side-effect of your actions, it is most likely going to be the natural consquence of them. That's why it's legally defined as "lethal force", and why its use in self defense is reserved for a narrow set of circumstances. A lack of intent does nothing to establish the justification of self defense, yet somehow people have gotten the idea that they have to pretend that they had no intent when they pull the trigger. I suspect part of the reason may be that people don't want to think about really killing another person, so they jump at the eumphemism of "stopping" them.

"Stopping" is not a legal term in this context, but firearms trainers are determined to give it legal significance. I would bet an attorney would say that it has none and never has. You can try to dress up the use of lethal force anyway you want, but the bottom line is if you use it you had better be justified in intending to kill. "Shooting to stop" could easily include shooting the handgun out of their hand or shooting their leg. That's a dangerous road to go down. If you could defend yourself by using less-than-lethal force, they you probably weren't justified in using lethal force.

If some crook shoots me in an attempt to escape and I survive he is going to be charged with attempted MURDER not an illegal STOP with a firearm.
 

Bill Mattocks

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Just to continue the discussion. (and play devils advocate) :)

I don't think that "shoot to kill" means to kill the opponent even after he stops being a threat. Thats "murder". I could just as easily strangle a person in that position..has nothing to do with "shooting to kill".

"Shoot to kill" means when I (justifiably) pull the trigger I intend to kill the guy I'm shooting at with that shot since thats a 100% "stop". The "COM just happens to house all the vital organs and usually causes death" thing has always sounded like a bit of semantic juggling. Which is a necessity..not arguing that point.

I disagree.

Wild *** theory time: If there was some sort of system that would 100% ensure a fatal head shot in a police shooting with no miss or over penetration do you think that we would not use it because that would be "shooting to kill"?

I do not think the police would be permitted to use such a system. Civilian oversight and citizen opinion would see to that.

Try another WAG; let's stipulate a 100% effective non-lethal system that stopped criminals without killing them ever and was as easy to employ as a sidearm. Always works, never kills. Do you think police would be required to use it? I do. I don't even think they'd be allowed to carry firearms anymore. Of course, there is no such system.
 

Carol

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Just to continue the discussion. (and play devils advocate) :)

I don't think that "shoot to kill" means to kill the opponent even after he stops being a threat. Thats "murder". I could just as easily strangle a person in that position..has nothing to do with "shooting to kill".

"Shoot to kill" means when I (justifiably) pull the trigger I intend to kill the guy I'm shooting at with that shot since thats a 100% "stop". The "COM just happens to house all the vital organs and usually causes death" thing has always sounded like a bit of semantic juggling. Which is a necessity..not arguing that point.

But taking that to the next logical step would mean saying the police are killers. Are they? I don't necessarily think so. Granted I'm no expert, but I have read stories in the paper where (for example) an officer tries to arrest a suspect, but the arrest goes horribly and the suspect charges at the officer with a knife. The officer shoots the suspect, and their backup radios for paramedics and gives the suspect CPR. I suppose its still semantics, but that doesn't sound like killing to me. :asian:
 

Archangel M

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But taking that to the next logical step would mean saying the police are killers. Are they? I don't necessarily think so. Granted I'm no expert, but I have read stories in the paper where (for example) an officer tries to arrest a suspect, but the arrest goes horribly and the suspect charges at the officer with a knife. The officer shoots the suspect, and their backup radios for paramedics and gives the suspect CPR. I suppose its still semantics, but that doesn't sound like killing to me. :asian:

People confuse the verb "to kill" with some sort of evil intent. Its an action that is either justified or it's criminal. When someone is trying to "kill" you unjustifiably, you are allowed to use deadly force against him/her. Since I would be trying to hit a vital area (heart/lungs/brain) with my bullets that is "killing" (if I'm successful) no matter what sort of legal face you try to put on it. When that person is stabbing me I'm responding to deadly force with deadly force. When he's no longer a threat (because I didn't kill him immediately) I call for an ambulance. The "If you are shooting to kill then you would just shoot the downed criminal" is a non-starter. When Im pulling the trigger I'm certainly shooting to kill the guy because thats what a heart or brain shot is going to do. If the opponent goes down Im not shooting him or her again. Threat meets threat. Thats simple use of force law.
 

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A very interesting discourse, gentlemen.

I am very glad that I do not have to make that sort of decision in my work-a-day life and I don't think you chaps get the credit you deserve for taking it on board.
 

jks9199

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This is my take on this semantics game. If you draw your firearm and shoot someone in self defense, you are intending to use lethal force against them with legal justification. It's called the "Use of DEADLY force" for a reason, not "use of STOPPING force". Death is not merely a side-effect of your actions, it is most likely going to be the natural consquence of them. That's why it's legally defined as "lethal force", and why its use in self defense is reserved for a narrow set of circumstances. A lack of intent does nothing to establish the justification of self defense, yet somehow people have gotten the idea that they have to pretend that they had no intent when they pull the trigger. I suspect part of the reason may be that people don't want to think about really killing another person, so they jump at the eumphemism of "stopping" them.

"Stopping" is not a legal term in this context, but firearms trainers are determined to give it legal significance. I would bet an attorney would say that it has none and never has. You can try to dress up the use of lethal force anyway you want, but the bottom line is if you use it you had better be justified in intending to kill. "Shooting to stop" could easily include shooting the handgun out of their hand or shooting their leg. That's a dangerous road to go down. If you could defend yourself by using less-than-lethal force, they you probably weren't justified in using lethal force.

If some crook shoots me in an attempt to escape and I survive he is going to be charged with attempted MURDER not an illegal STOP with a firearm.
It is a semantic game. To me -- it's a semantic game for the public, not at trial. The public doesn't want cops being "killers." So we gloss over the simple fact that we are likely to kill someone if we actually hit what we aim at with words like "stop."

But there's also an underlying truth. We don't keep shooting if the threat goes away. Not even a tactical team that relies on quick, overwhelming presence. The business of a cop is controlled and specific use of force on individuals. Even when it's deadly force.
 

Archangel M

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The way I look at it there is a big difference between "kill" and "shoot to kill". If it's "kill" that means to do whatever it takes to make the opponent dead (i.e. the shoot the BG after he is down and not moving). Thats not the same as "shoot to kill" which means if I have legal justification to pull the trigger I am aiming for a part of the body that will make the BG dead if successfully struck. Im not aiming for the leg (unless thats all the target I have) or trying to shoot a gun out of a hand. The whole "COM just happens to house many vital organs that typically cause death when struck" is legal mumbo-jumbo. Necessary mumbo-jumbo but semantics nonetheless IMO.

In the end I guess my opinion is play the "shoot to stop game" because it's what works best (so far) in public opinion and in courtrooms. But don't disillusion yourself about what it really is you are going to have to do if your duty (or survival) demands it.
 

jks9199

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The way I look at it there is a big difference between "kill" and "shoot to kill". If it's "kill" that means to do whatever it takes to make the opponent dead (i.e. the shoot the BG after he is down and not moving). Thats not the same as "shoot to kill" which means if I have legal justification to pull the trigger I am aiming for a part of the body that will make the BG dead if successfully struck. Im not aiming for the leg (unless thats all the target I have) or trying to shoot a gun out of a hand. The whole "COM just happens to house many vital organs that typically cause death when struck" is legal mumbo-jumbo. Necessary mumbo-jumbo but semantics nonetheless IMO.

In the end I guess my opinion is play the "shoot to stop game" because it's what works best (so far) in public opinion and in courtrooms. But don't disillusion yourself about what it really is you are going to have to do if your duty (or survival) demands it.
I do agree. And it's important to teach recruits the facts as well as the semantic game so that they are realistically prepared.
 

Master Dan

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People are not like stationary targets they move and the head can be very hard to hit unless sniper fire with out warning. When they are running bobing under duress its not that easy.

Also having to shooting an unarmed person can be extremly dificult especially for rookies but the officers life and maybe others is at stake should the criminal get the gun. My best friend and training partner for almost 40 years as a rookie had a large guy run at him with hands in the air shouting don't shoot don't shoot and knocked him down he lost his gun but the guy kept running do to other officers showing up turned out he was a wanted dangerous felon wanted for murder if he had got his gun it would have been bad for everyone.

I know it botherd him for a long time. You don't want to die do what the officer says hate to be the wrong color in the wrong place going for my wallet though??
 
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