Lee’s note: Jon Buehler is a cop’s cop. He has 33 years of law enforcement experience with the Modesto, California Police Department and other agencies. Jon’s expertise includes specializing in major criminal investigations (robbery, homicide, fraud, identity theft, financial crimes) physical evidence identification/preservation, interviews & interrogations, criminal case preparation/presentation, superior court recognized expert, firearms instructor/S.W.A.T., Academy and college instructor. He spent 12 years as a S.W.A.T. Team member (sniper), and 21 years as a F.B.I. certified Senior Firearms Instructor
Jon now lives in southwest Florida and works as a firearms instructor — one one of best I know. This is his first guest column.
by Jon Buehler
Several weeks ago, while listening to the news on the radio, I heard a Law Enforcement Executive-either a Chief or Sheriff (I don’t specifically recall), state that one of his officers “shot to kill” when describing an officer-involved-shooting. Although it is possible this agency head was perhaps sending a message to the local criminal element that his officers (or deputies) were not messing around when it comes to defending themselves, the phrase still made me cringe.
The phrase “shoot to kill” presents some issues when used to describe self-defense by either law enforcement or,people who are forced to defend themselves, legally, with a firearm. For those who came in late, what we are really doing when we use a firearm to defend ourselves, is shooting to stop the threat. It is that simple-nothing more, nothing less.
If a violent offender is attempting to deliver great bodily injury, or death, to a potential victim (and there are no
other reasonable options to avoid its use) one is (generally) legally, morally, and ethically justified in using deadly force to stop the attack.
Of course this assumes the potential victim did not provoke, or had a hand in escalating a situation to the point it came to require the use of a firearm in self-defense. It also assumes all other applicable laws were being observed by this potential victim before, during, and after the shooting.
As long as we reserve the use of a firearm to defend ourselves, a family member, or friend, from an attack which could reasonably prove fatal, or result in great bodily injury, our exposure to criminal charges and/or civil penalties is greatly reduced. Shooting someone who is fleeing with your lap-top, Bonefish gift card, or any other piece of property would be very difficult to explain in court that this shooting was necessary.
Those familiar with the subject of self-defense with a handgun understand the vast majority of handgun wounds are survivable (if prompt medical attention is received). They also understand a handgun is a defensive weapon, and will produce (in addition to survivable wounds) fatal wounds, and instantly incapacitating wounds.
Survivable wounds may not stop the attack-as has been seen numerous times. This is apparent in the shootings where perhaps a dozen or more wounds are received by the attacker, and they still will not stop, comply, or surrender-and continue to pose a threat.
Fatal wounds are often not instantly fatal, and frequently allow for purposeful movement (often continued attack and violence) before the attacker loses consciousness and dies. An example of this is the 1986 shoot-out several F.B.I. agents had with two bank robbers in Miami.
Lastly, instantly incapacitating wounds are usually fatal; but, are often a challenge to deliver for a variety of reasons (including; but, not limited to the skill of the victim in the use of their handgun, a moving
target, the stress of a violent encounter, and the smaller target area required to produce this type of
In none of the above does shooting-to-kill enter into the subject. Although it may appear to be an
emotional conflict, the need to quickly summon medical aid (for a violent offender you have perhaps
just shot) is something anyone who carries a handgun for self defense should consider.
Once one has stopped the threat presented by the attacker, and simply letting this guy die (who was
only moments earlier trying to kill you), will not look good in front of a jury. That does not mean a
victim should expose themselves to more danger; but, at the very least requesting medical aid when
making the 9-1-1 call, will show you were not trying to ‘kill”.
There is no legal way this author can imagine continued shooting once the threat has been stopped; but,
that is what “shooting-to-kill” suggests. Thus, this phrase is better left long ago in Nuttal & Mann’s
Saloon, in the town of Deadwood, in the Dakota Territory, when Jack McCall shot James “Wild Bill”
Hickok in 1876. If we strive for the same accuracy in our use of terms, as we do on the practice range,
we can possibly avoid an uncomfortable afternoon on the witness stand, in court.
For further clarification of the above, you may wish to discuss this subject with a qualified attorney.
Your authors’ perspective is from that of a 33 year law enforcement career, of which 17 years were the
investigation of violent crime.