On warning shots


Marissa Alexander was released from prison last week, subject to special monitoring conditions and a $150,000 bond.

She has been serving a 20-year sentence for firing a warning shot at her abusive husband in 2010, after he allegedly grabbed her and tried to strangle her.

Once she broke free, Alexander said she fired a warning shot into the ceiling to “scare” her

Marissa Alexander

Marissa Alexander

husband away. Instead, Alexander was charged and convicted of three counts of aggravated assault.

An appellate court recently ordered that Alexander should receive a new trial, because her Duval County jury received improper instructions.

“We hope the decision means that the Florida justice system has relented in its vindictive, hostile and racist legal assault on this African-American mother of three,” the Free Marissa Now Mobilization Campaign said in a statement upon her release.

I am glad Ms. Alexander was released. She has certainly served enough time behind bars.  However, for those with even a modicum of tactical training, her case highlights another danger of firing the dreaded and often-misunderstood warning shot.

My very first tactical trainer delivered a concise warning about warning shots to me and other police recruits: Don’t ever fire warning shots, ever.

First, there’s a massive safety problem with a round leaving the barrel – a poorly-aimed round. It has to land somewhere.

If the warning shot is delivered inside a structure, there’s the danger of striking someone on the second floor.

Then there’s the danger of confusing the issue, as it’s not always clear who fired first.

In a deadly-force encounter involving multiple law enforcement officers, a warning shot can provoke more problems, turning a situation that may have been resolved without gunfire into something much worse, with multiple rounds fired by multiple officers.

If an armed citizen is defending themselves and fires a warning shot, it muddies the water legally and tactically, and may turn the would-be victim into the aggressor and, like Ms. Alexander, a defendant.

While there are some who argue the benefits of firing off a warning shot with a double-barrel shotgun, most serious tactical trainers abhor the dangerous practice.


About Author

Lee Williams can’t remember a time in his life when he wasn’t shooting. Before becoming a journalist, Lee served in the Army and worked as a police officer. He’s earned more than a dozen journalism awards as a reporter, and three medals of valor as a cop. He is an NRA-certified law enforcement firearms instructor, an avid tactical shooter and a training junkie. When he’s not busy as a senior investigative reporter, he is usually shooting his AKs, XDs and CZs. If you don’t run into him at a local gun range, you can reach him at 941.284.8553, by email, or by regular mail to 1777 Main St., Sarasota, FL 34236. You can follow him on Twitter: @HT_GunWriter and on Facebook @The Gun Writer.


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  2. The person that “argue the benefits of firing off a warning shot with a double-barrel shotgun” brings to mind an old saying: “There is no cure for Stupid”
    The last time I said this I was corrected that there should be one more phase in the saying, “that does not require disposal of the remains”.

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