Warning Shots

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Warning Shots!

In a word: Don't

Here's Why.

On peaceful Gravine Island, a small village community of fishing camps, summer homes and vacation rentals, a 17-year old girl was shot in the head, apparently on accident. She was a standout volleyball player and her mistake was being with a few teenage boys who were breaking into the camps. A group of fishermen came across the group in the night, spotlighted them and they began to run. Two of the fishermen were armed, one with a .17caliber rifle, the other with a .22 rifle. When the vandals broke to run, the fishermen popped off a few warning shots. One shot into the ground. The other shot in the air in what he thought was the general direction of the would-be burglars. This shot was not aimed at the group, but into the darkness around the group. It was this round that clipped the 17-year old girl in the back of the head and she is currently on life support.

It has long been standing practice in law enforcement and force protection training circles that warning shots are not fired under any reason and that all fire is aimed and controlled. The groundbreaking piece of case law that brought this about was Jones v. Wittenberg University, 534 F.2d 1203 (6th Cir. 1976) in which a University Police Officer unintentionally struck a student with a warning shot. It is usually found that warning shots do not halt activity and in turn may bring aimed fire back to your own location from a suspect that was not known to be armed at the time.

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There are only two carefully chosen exceptions to the rule and of these apply neither to the CCW holder or someone defending their property.

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-The US Coast Guard and US Navy units on maritime law enforcement missions such as stopping pirates, narcotics smugglers, or unidentified threatening vessels will fire warning shots before engaging the vessel in question. These shots, referred to as 'shots across the bow' have been common since the days of Blackbeard. Highly trained gunners in carefully regulated methods under close supervision and very strict rules of engagement deliver them (USCG photo)

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The second exception is in extreme riot and crowd control. Prior to the invention and use of less than lethal rubber bullets and munitions, warning shots of live ammunition were used to try to quell urban riots that had grown dangerous. Today this is frowned upon but is still on the books if things get bad enough. Unseen in the United States for decades, it is commonly only seen in the Third World during coups at this point.

When a shot fired as a warning hit an innocent bystander, you can expect a wrongful death lawsuit and possible criminal proceedings for manslaughter if it causes death. The bottom line is that if you fire a round in the direction of a suspect, you are aiming to cause harm. A bullet is not a noisemaker. A bullet is not an attention getter. A bullet is a fight-ender.

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- The Warning Shot by Jim Covarrubias. While it may have been a valid
tactic in the 1880s, today the Warning Shot is a dangerously obsolete
tactic that can set the user up for both criminal and civil liability.


In the case example above, the anglers were not in a lethal-force situation looking at the report at hand. They did not fear for their life. They were not returning fire from armed individuals. They fired warning shots either to possibly stop the suspects from fleeing, or perhaps to scare them away. The round that hit the 17-year old volleyball athlete is tragic and undoubtedly unforeseen. It was preventable.

Remember, all rounds fired eventually land in court. Consider this your warning shot.





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