Don’t Shoot to Kill

‘Shoot to Kill”, 3 words which cause a controversy among gun owners and the anti gun crowd alike. When we are talking about use of potentially lethal force in self defense, there are several trains of thought. “Shoot to Kill”, “Shoot to Wound”, and “Shoot to Stop the Threat”.  I’ll tell you why I feel you should never shoot to kill.

In Concealed Carry classes, and other use of force classes such as NRA Personal Protection, we inevitably end up playing the “What if” game.  Someone will throw out a scenario and ask if it’s ok to shoot. Ultimately the answer is complex based on the specific scenario, and if you change one small circumstance of the scenario, the entire answer may change. It comes down to three things. Does the attacker have the ability, opportunity and intent to cause death or great bodily harm to you or someone in your care. Let’s assume for the sake of the rest of this article that all 3 things are present, and your use of potentially lethal force is justified.

Even if your use of lethal force against an attacker is justified, you should never shoot to kill.  Instead you should shoot to stop the threat. Shooting to stop the threat should not be confused with shooting to wound.  All three methodology are different and mutually exclusive. Let’s look at each methodology separately.

In a scenario where you would shoot to wound, perhaps you aim your gun for the weapon or a leg. Aiming for the weapon is a fallacy perpetrated upon us by Hollywood movies and TV.  It is incredibly unlikely any of us can hit a moving target the size of a gun or knife on our best day, let alone a high stress situation where our life is in danger.  Shooting for the leg also reduces your chances of hitting your target as the leg is smaller than the chest and abdomen.

Speaking of the chest and abdomen, that brings us to the ideology of shooting to kill. You often hear firearm instructors giving instruction to aim for the thoracic cavity, that is the chest and abdomen. This is very good advice.  But keep in mind, we know handgun wounds are typically 50-80% survivable. That means at worst someone who you shoot with a hand gun has a 50% chance of death when factoring in all variables across the board.

This brings us to why we don’t shoot to kill. Revisiting the what if game, I’ll present a scenario to you. What if you shot your attacker twice in the chest, and the attacker falls to the ground begging for mercy. Do you then walk up to him and put one or two more rounds in the attackers face? Of course we don’t! That’s why we don’t shoot to kill.

Let me explain the 3rd methodology, shooting to stop the threat. On the surface the actions that we take when shooting to stop the threat are very similar to that of shooting to kill. What is different is the mindset.  Students will often ask how many rounds to fire in self defense. I can’t give that answer, because every situation is different. However what I can advise, is 2 shots to the thoracic cavity  and if that doesn’t stop the threat, do something different. Either 1 aimed shot to the hip bone to stop their mobility or a off switch shot to the cranial cavity (between the eyes and nose).  This generic instruction will work in the broadest spectrum of scenarios.

“But wait! You just instructed me to shoot to the cranial cavity. And you also said don’t shoot to kill.” you may be thinking. And you would be correct. However our intended goal was not to kill. Our intended goal was to stop the threat. Sure death may be a side effect of shooting to stop the threat, however death wasn’t the intended goal.

Aimpoints to Stop the Threat
Aimpoints to Stop the Threat

The intention when we draw our firearm, or any use of force, is simply to stop the threat. If your attacker expires from your use of force, so be it. That wasn’t the goal. That wasn’t the intention. The intention is to stop the threat. If you have shot your attacker and they are no longer a threat, then stop shooting. If you have shot the attacker and they flee, then stop shooting. If you perceive them to be an immediate threat to you or someone in your care, keep shooting. Stop the threat!


3 thoughts on “Don’t Shoot to Kill”

  1. This is very sound advice on all counts, true you should shoot for body mass when you are in immediate danger and a double tap is considered appropriate, however if the attacker keeps coming at you a third round to the cranial cavity, the triangle between the eyes and the nose will end the attack.
    The triangle area between the eyes a down to the nose is often referred to as the “off switch”.

  2. Too often I see the people in the gun stores and on the internet saying shoot to kill… way wrong mindset for sure… great article…

  3. That echoes what I was taught in my CCL class. Killing your attacker is not the goal, stopping the threat is. In some cases, stopping the threat does cause the attacker to die. But, that attack was their choice, not mine. I have the right to use my weapon to defend myself from that attack.

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