Why Are Law Enforcement Officers Taught Shoot to Kill and Not to Wound?

On Saturday, I posted an article – Cleveland Man Shoots Another Burglar – in which I made the comment that law enforcement officers are taught shoot to kill, not to wound.  I gave the reason for that training as wounded people can still shoot back.  An email was forwarded to me from someone who read the article and agreed with the training but not with the reason I gave for it.  Here is his response and my response to him will follow:

“I am a Texas DPS Certified Texas Concealed Handgun Instructor and an NRA Certified Personal Protection Instructor. I also academically study firearms self-defense. My specialty is Deadly Force law and application, not just in Texas but throughout the English Common Law, which in most states is the basis for their deadly force jurisprudence.

Your conclusion on “shoot to kill, not shoot to wound” is correct; the reasoning you cite behind the conclusion is not.

There are several reasons why the well-trained, lawful combatant will never “shoot to wound”:

1) Shooting to wound is “intentional maiming”. Intentional Maiming has been a tort and a crime since the Laws of King Stephen, circa 1150 AD. It is lawful under many circumstance to cause the death of someone while defending yourself, it is NEVER lawful to “intentionally merely wound”. That’s maiming.   Even if the Grand Jury no-bills you and they probably would in most jurisdictions, the civil case would ruin you.

An actor can (in most places- certainly in Texas) shoot a burglar to defend your home, if Mr. Burglar dies its tough luck on him. If he’s crippled, it’s tough luck on him too. On the other hand, the actor cannot PURPOSELY merely injure his assailant and cause an amputation or a life in a wheelchair. If you do, you will be paying him forever.

2) Shooting to wound is extremely difficult – the Lone Ranger was able to do it, but could most real people?  Even for an excellent shot who practices a LOT, hitting a knee or a gun-holding hand, in the dark, during a gun fight with the adrenaline pumping while ducking incoming bullets is probably an impossible task. Even wounded bad guys may choose to fight on and perhaps wind up killing you anyway.

3) Shooting to wound expends precious ammo and critical seconds trying to non-lethally solve a deadly force problem. During this silly exercise you might get shot, so the maneuver puts YOU and YOURS in additional deadly danger. If Mr. Bad Guy center punches you while you are trying to shoot the gun from his hand, will he be merciful and kind to your survivors? In other words, “shoot to wound” puts you at more risk, and garners no value to you if you fail.

4) Shooting to wound suggests that the actor (the Good Guy) was NOT in “fear for his life”. If the actor truly feared for his life, he wouldn’t have hesitated to try to kill the assailant. In many jurisdictions, you MUST be in fear for your life before using deadly force; admitting to attempting to “merely wound” undercuts the assertion that the good guys life was in jeopardy.

5) It is bad tactics. As noted in 3) above, it may get YOU killed.

As for “Shoot to Kill”- this is a meaningless term.

We don’t shoot to kill, we SHOOT TO STOP an unlawful deadly attack or armed felonious action. Many times this will result in the death of the attacker, but that is truly not a required outcome. If the Bad Guy throws up his hands and surrenders, that’s just as good result- he stopped attacking me, he abandoned his armed felonious action. If he leaves the scene in handcuffs in a deputy’s car rather than in the Medical Examiner’s van, it is all the same to me.

These are points I cover repeatedly in my classes. I hope you find them useful.”

I truly appreciate this gentleman’s response and I do stand corrected somewhat.  However, when I was in basic training with the Air Force, we were taught shoot to kill so they can’t shoot back.

My best friend worked for the state game and fish department back home.  He attended the state’s law enforcement academy and was sworn in as a state law enforcement officer.  (Many people don’t realize that a game and fish cop is also a state cop.)  He told me that he was trained to shoot to kill MAINLY so that the person cannot shoot back.  By the way, my friend set an academy record at the time for accuracy with his service revolver.

I’ve known police officers and we even allowed one to marry into my wife’s family.  He and all the others had confirmed that they are taught to shoot to kill and that the main reason is that a wounded person can shoot back or shoot others, but a dead person can’t.

Therefore, there may be other reasons such as the ones you state and teach, but the bottom line from my experience is that if you are forced to draw a weapon and shoot at anyone, that you shoot to kill to prevent them from harming you or anyone else.  I appreciate your response and hope that other readers will take heed of what you said and what you teach.

And for any would be burglars or people about to commit any kind of person attack on someone, be warned that there are over 300,000,000 guns in the hands of Americans and more and more of them are being taught to shoot to kill people like you.  So think twice before you do something really stupid.