I had a police officer buddy lament recently that there had been some public push back on a shooting where a man had been wounded in a gunfire exchange during a robbery. He’d been hit in the chest (and will survive), but the talk was centered around the old ‘why couldn’t you just shoot him in the leg’ question. Not the first time that this one has come up and it probably won’t be the last.
With any situation where you have guns involved (police and/or bad guys) there are obviously a ton of different circumstances and variables that can affect how people react and what the outcome of the situation may be. These could include intoxication, mental illness, imminent (or perceived) threat to officers or the public, whether the suspect is armed (gun or otherwise) or if they’re fleeing the scene vs. directly attacking. There’s a lot to consider very quickly. The justification for shooting is a whole other topic that can be quite contentious, and not something that we’re going to get into here.
So back to my officer friend…
He came up through the ranks like anyone else and eventually worked a lot of undercover operations. When he was starting out, he had some postings to pretty remote areas and often worked alone. He has many stories of responding to calls in back alleys and wooded areas in the dark where he had no real idea of what he was walking in to. He used to joke about having to change his underwear after some of these cases. The idea of NOT shooting most effectively to stop someone who is coming at you in these scenarios doesn’t make sense – and the preferred target is the center mass of the body (ie. torso). It’s how he was trained, and for good reason.
The ‘Hollywood’ depiction of the hero diving out of a moving car and cleanly hitting the bad guy just isn’t based on reality. Anyone that uses firearms for a living will tell you shooters miss – a lot – even with regular training. So if you think that you may be able to effectively protect yourself or others by hitting moving arms or legs, you’d be mistaken. Not to say that it isn’t POSSIBLE, but it isn’t a high-percentage technique, especially in a quickly developing, stressful situation. Also don’t think about shooting the gun out of a bad guy’s hand at distance. That’s not going to happen.
Center mass targeting is how most all law enforcement, military and personal defense shooting is taught and practiced. It offers the largest surface area for aiming, tends to be more stable with body motion and would provide the best chance of stopping someone who poses a threat. The key here is the word ‘stop’. People who are protecting themselves or others would be shooting to stop as opposed to kill (I’m assuming). However, every time a firearm is used, it does have lethal potential. Another thing to consider is the fact that, even when hit center mass, an assailant can still keep moving forward or potentially shoot when downed. This is especially true with close quarters combat.
The bottom line is that any time a gun is used for law enforcement or personal protection (where another method of defense or de-escalation may have failed), it’s best to take the action that will stop the threat most quickly and efficiently – and that method would include center mass targeting in the majority of cases. Ideally it never gets to that point, but it’s always good to be prepared.
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