Why you should Never Ever Ever fire a warning shot.
I read a story today about Corey Thompson, a 36 year old war Vet and by all accounts a decent citizen. He’s in trouble with the law for, what one could argue, doing the humane thing…firing a warning shot instead of shooting an intruder.
The short story goes like this…a known and wanted felon, Jonathan Kinsella, (middle name fabricated for effect) was busy breaking into apartments in Medford Oregon and the police were called. When they arrived, Kinsella was attempting another break-in nearby at Corey Thompsons home. Realizing someone was trying to break in to the back door, he armed himself and shouted a warning that whoever it was would only get one warning shot before being targeted for real. Corey then fired that warning shot into the ground. Police apprehended the felon as he was running away from Corey’s house. No one got hurt, no one got burglarized, bad guy goes to jail. Sounds like a happy ending, right?
Wrong. Corey’s warning shot was heard by the nearby responding officers and he was ultimately charged with unlawful use of a weapon, menacing, and reckless endangering. Why? Because according to the City of Medford OR, breaking into the Corey’s home wasn’t enough to justify a warning shot. Some of you reading this may not like it, but I agree with the city (sort of….with the power of hindsight of course).
There are two parts to this; the legal part and the tactical part. The tactical part is easy to explain; why give away your advantage with a warning shot? In a self-defense situation (and that’s what this blog is about after all), what good is it to square off with your would-be-attacker on Colfax Ave and shout “Stay back I know Krav Maga!” You are better served trying to get away first, then if it comes down to it, fight like your life depends on it, because at that point it probably does.
Here’s where it gets messy because the tactical part blends with the legal part. First, it’s against the law. You cannot just discharge a weapon in a residential area (under most circumstances). Never mind that the Vice President of the United States told us to do just that, fire a warning shot from a shotgun and the attacker will run away. When CAN you discharge a weapon in a residential area? Well, in some cities, never. In other cities, when your life is in danger. In my State (Colorado), when someone is in your home and you have reason to believe they are about to commit another crime (beyond breaking into your home). In all instances, though, you need to be shooting AT the person, not at the ground or in the air. Let me explain…
Here’s the deal, if you are going to pull that trigger, it had better be because you reasonably feel your life or someone else’s is in danger. And if that’s what you truly feel, then you should be shooting at the attacker in order to stop them. Period. You may not get a 2nd chance. At that point, you should have no other option. Imagine you confront someone in your home, and you fire a warning shot. The stunned intruder then raises a gun and fires at you. What if your gun jammed after that first shot. What if what if what if, there are a thousand what if’s. Is that a chance you want to take? I doubt it.
When you pull the trigger, when you use deadly force, it should be because you felt you had no other option than to do so. Shooting into the ground or the air ON PURPOSE literally means that you DID NOT FEEL YOUR LIFE WAS IN IMMINENT DANGER! Further, the same goes for trying to shoot someone in the leg to ‘wound’ them. If you have the time and ability to pull that off, you could not have felt that your life or someone else’s was in imminent danger. Get it? If you don’t have to shoot, don’t shoot at all. If you do have to shoot, it’s because you HAVE TO SHOOT!
Of course when I say ‘…life was in imminent danger’…it can usually also include “great bodily harm”, but those are semantics. And of course in States with a “make my day” law or “castle doctrine” like Colorado, you could shoot someone who broke into your home for almost any reason, but it’s probably not the moral thing to do. Circumstances will dictate that. If I’m home alone with my children and someone breaks in, I’m the last line of defense for them. I probably wouldn’t be taking any chances. I may not even give a verbal warning (depending on the layout, location, and position of all parties involved), because I don’t want to get into a gun fight in the house where my kids are sleeping. Even with the bad guy clearly in my sights and my finger on the trigger I know, from years of training, that he could quite possibly dive behind cover before I could get a square hit. Actions are faster than reactions. That may be all the time he needs to pull a gun and open fire.
So to summarize, despite what Joe Biden says, it is just plainly unreasonable and not very smart to fire a warning shot. It may have been the humane thing to do in the instance of Corey Thompson, who might have legally been able to just shoot Kinsella, but in his case a verbal and visual warning probably would have had the same effect…. but we ONLY know that in hindsight. In that second, in that moment, a warning shot or verbal warning could have triggered a gun fight had Kinsella been armed. So it’s obvious that Corey didn’t feel threatened enough to use deadly force at that very moment. Good or bad tactically, his state of mind is indefensible legally.
The moral of this story is don’t ever, ever, fire a warning shot.