Warning Shots Are Better Than ‘Shooting to Kill,’ Right?

(Photo: U.S. LawShield)

It’s always better to fire a warning shot than to aim directly at another person in a self-defense situation, right? The answer might not be what you think.

Imagine it’s a Friday night and you’re in the parking lot outside of a local restaurant. You just enjoyed a post-workweek meal with your family, and you’re walking to your car to head home and enjoy the weekend.

Suddenly, you see a group of people rushing across the lot. They’re brandishing weapons and running toward you, your family, and the restaurant.

What should you do? Should you fire at them? They aren’t pointing their guns directly at you, but are they a threat to your life? Are they about to enter the restaurant and start shooting? If you don’t act quickly, you could miss the chance to intervene in tomorrow’s terrible news headline. You decide to protect yourself and your community by drawing your concealed carry weapon and firing two warning shots into the air.

That’s the end of that, right?

Wrong.

Why This Situation Is a Legal Minefield

This fictional story is a great example of why a law-abiding gun owner needs an attorney’s help and knowledge. Because in this case, firing warning shots into the air could actually result in you being arrested on serious felony charges.

SEE ALSO: The Vacation From Hell: What You Need to Know About Traveling With a Gun

What? How could that be? Because any time you use your weapon, there are potential legal and financial consequences. Your actions will be scrutinized and second-guessed, and if you did not precisely follow the letter of the law. you may find yourself in serious legal jeopardy.

What You Need to Know About Warning Shots—the Current Rules

First, you need to know what a “warning shot” means in the eyes of the law. Though every state’s law is different, many states treat a warning shot as a use of deadly force—even if the warning shot didn’t hurt or kill anybody. This means the law will evaluate your actions with the same legal standard as would be used if you had shot and killed someone. Not to mention, what goes up MUST come down, and your warning shot into the air could potentially hurt or kill an innocent bystander.

Ifs, Ands, or Buts—Common Tricky Situations

What about if someone’s rushing right at you without a gun? Can you fire a warning shot to stop them? Assuming your state’s law allows you to fire a shot only when your life is in danger, your warning shot may be legally justified. But remember, in most instances the use of deadly force must be immediately or imminently necessary. It isn’t inconceivable that a prosecutor would argue your warning shot is proof in and of itself that shooting wasn’t immediately necessary. If it were, you would have shot the attacker!

In Conclusion: Just Don’t

You’ve learned through these fictional scenarios that warning shots are generally a bad idea. But now you’re wondering how you can best protect yourself and your community.

You’re taking the first step. Ignorance of the law is not an excuse or defense that would hold up in court. You’ve got to prepare yourself mentally for the situation and learn your rights—which is what you’re doing right now by reading this. Finally, if you have a membership with U.S. LawShield, you have 24/7/365 emergency access to an attorney who is in your corner to help you navigate today’s complicated legal world.

For more information on how to protect yourself, join U.S. LawShield today!

About the author: U.S. LawShield Our organization traces its roots to 2009, when a group of pioneering lawyers became fed up with the hostility and abuse in the legal system directed towards responsible gun owners. They saw innocent people suffering the terrible consequences of someone else’s choice to commit crime. And to make matters worse, those people were tied up in the legal system, struggling to defend themselves. Innocent people were experiencing financial duress, bankruptcy—or worst of all, going to jail.The Second Amendment states “…the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.” And yet, every day, our founders saw innocent, responsible gun owners experiencing mistreatment in the legal system—as if they were the ones that had done something wrong. To fight these injustices, our founders chose to stand up for the rights of the American people and become a champion for good and the voice of justice. That’s when the idea for our company was born: the first concealed weapon legal defense program to truly provide Legal Defense for Self-Defense.Our business was born in Texas and continues today from our headquarters in Houston, Texas. For many years, we provided our program to law-abiding residents of Texas and was known as Texas LawShield®. Demand for services existed well-beyond the state of Texas and our team expanded to other states. Along the way, we took on the name U.S. LawShield®.Today, we are serving members in the majority of states. While we are honored that our focus and mission have really resonated with so many people – literally attracting hundreds of thousands across the country, we will never forget what brought us together, why we exist to serve members and we will always stay close to our Texas roots. It is said the people of Texas have some unique customs and traditions like independence, self-reliance, a can-do spirit, and a big heart (caring for one another). We work to convey this in all we do for our members.

{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Jeremy March 15, 2021, 10:47 am

    My thought would be shoot to injure and disarm the threat and i dont know why with all the practice at the range why law enforcement in the same situation dont all do the same. Instead, every shooting by police results in a kill shot.
    Constitutionally, every accused is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, if the suspect is killed, We never know if innocent or guilty based on any facts leading to the situation!

    • Jim March 15, 2021, 1:02 pm

      You obviously have never been in or even witnessed a situation where deadly force was called upon to legally use. Shooting targets and bullseyes on paper is completely different than needing to shoot and stop an armed subject. Even expert shots on the range have fired a half dozen round at less than 15 feet or closer and STILL MISSED! It is much different when you are looking at a person you need to kill to stop him from killing you or a loved one or even someone you are sworn to protect. THAT is why we are trained to shoot ‘center mass’ and none of this TV myth of shooting the gun out of their hands crap.

    • bobh March 15, 2021, 3:02 pm

      For Jeremy’s statement that “every shooting by police results in a kill shot” to be true not only must EVERY shot fired by police unerringly hit its intended target but police must be equipped with some super secret magic bullet that ALWAYS causes a fatal wound. Since both those premises are so obviously and demonstrably false it’s quite plain his alleged thought process is unconnected with reality.

  • Mark - IN. March 15, 2021, 10:42 am

    I really don’t spend time wondering or speculating about whether or not I will have to pull a firearm. I don’t. But I have this theory that if I have to pull and discharge a firearm due to another person, then it will be a self defense kill shot. I firmly believe do NOT pull a firearm UNLESS you intend or have to use it, and IF you do use or fire it, it better be a self defense kill shot because if you don’t make it a kill shot then the person(s) that you used it in self defense against will tell lies about you that destroy you or your life. That’s just a theory that I have. Again, I don’t spend time wondering, speculating, or mulling it over. If you pull a firearm on someone, you better be ready…

    That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

  • mtman2 March 15, 2021, 9:01 am

    YEAH – so what is the answer to the supposed scenario?
    Why bring it up indicating the hapless cc with no “legal” solution?

  • Jim March 13, 2021, 8:50 am

    My first and any subsequent shots fired will be to they suspects center mass and I do not miss. THAT’S YOUR WARNING! I dearly hope and pray that neither I nor any family member is ever placed in that position of having to take another persons life in order to save ourselves or others from death or serious bodily harm.

  • G Turner March 13, 2021, 12:05 am

    In my limited legal experience- 23 year police officer and 5 year correctional officer – the ONLY instance I knew of where a warning shot was legal/appropriate was in a certain correctional setting when authorized- correctional officer had broad use of force rules – to enforce institutions rules etc etc – deadly force for ANY escaping inmate unless KNOWN to be only a misdemeanant – actually corrections had WAY more use of force leeway

  • DELCO March 12, 2021, 9:36 pm

    CEA, your problem is with your neighbors not their dogs. Why haven’t you gone over and told your new neighbors that you are extremely concerned about what is happening with the dog they own. Dogs are either trained or not trained. For you to say that Pitbulls suck shows your ignorance. You are on this site telling everyone how you carry your gun when you walk your dogs, how you now have a very sharp walking stick. No conversation with the neighbor? Maybe it’s possible to resolve your mew situation by using that noodle on your shoulders instead of trying to convince strangers on this site that you are not to be messed with . I’ve had beagles, rescue dogs, and Pitbulls, and I can tell you that it comes down to the owners PERIOD. I am all for defending my dogs from an aggressive dog regardless of the breed. But I think a conversation with your neighbor is way overdue buddy. Maybe it all works out where you don’t have to show us all what an operator you are and save those ninja skills you got. Go talk to them CEA…

    • Shanz March 14, 2021, 2:52 pm

      Anybody who talks that way about hurting an animal should not carry a gun. Never met a pit who wasn’t a big baby. They can be fiercely loyal though.

  • Boz March 12, 2021, 11:12 am

    NEVER fire a “warning” shot unless it is to center mass of the chest and immediately followed by a second shot.

  • Cea March 12, 2021, 10:40 am

    What about a dog attack?
    We just got new neighbors that also included a pit bull. Every time I or my dogs (two 40 lb mixed breed rescues) go into my yard (of 20 years!!), this a-hole of a dog charges the fence line, jumping well over the top rail level and barking non stop. He started digging under the fence already, too. No doubt that he could clear the fence in a single attempt and wreck havoc on anyone on our side. The owner has not been out to discuss any of this, only calling the dogs in after 10 minutes of non stop barking.
    I now wear my pistol while escorting my dogs outside, any and every time. I have considered a warning shot into the ground. Probably wouldn’t work and more probably, I wouldn’t have the time to do so. In addition to my pistol, I always have a sharpened “walking stick”, as I also have severe osteoarthritis in both knees. As much as I wouldn’t want to do so, I would shoot the dog if it attacked any of my household members…including my dogs!
    Of course that open a whole other can of worms. Even if it was justified, I would forever be concerned about retaliation, including against my dogs…poisoned snacks tossed into the yard?? Pit bulls suck! They shouldn’t be allowed in the city! Or, just not allowed!

    • Kane March 12, 2021, 12:10 pm

      I have had 2 German Shepherds and both were attacked by another dog while we were walking the streets of Chicago. At the time both of my dogs were young and defended themselves very well. One of my dogs was attacked by a pit-bull that went right for the throat and got a mouth full a slip chain while my dog struck back. The offending dog yelped and ran home crying. Over time (12 + years) that same dog could have faced a much more difficult time. The attacks were both very quick. CC et cetera is very much a issue larger issue that includes protecting pets from various threats. Sorry about the horrible neighbors you have.

    • EMA March 12, 2021, 3:42 pm

      Completely Agree!! My 75 lb lab was Viciously Attacked by a 90+ lb “foster” dog brought into the neighborhood by IDIOT renters who could Not keep it on a leash!! Found out later it was a Mastiff/Pitbull Mix- The Worst combination!! It was “rescued” by a local woman from being used in dogfighting and with its 1st bite put a Hole in my gentle labs neck the size of a .45 cal with One of its canines.

      Asked Both the police officer & animal control officer who showed after I called what They would have done & Both said Without hesitation “I’d have shot it in the head with my sidearm & worry about the consequences later- at least My dog Would be alive”….!!!

    • Jay Smith March 12, 2021, 3:49 pm

      You could also carry some bear spray . A shot to the face of the dog would deter even future engagements , at least when you are present . I did with a dog that chased me down the street in high school . He recognized me EVERY time i came by “his” driveway in the future . His charge and confront reaction came to a sudden stop when he realized who it was.

    • KimberproSS March 15, 2021, 4:16 pm

      You need to have a face to face conversation with your new neighbor at a low stress time and discuss your concerns with their dog. Then explain to them that you carry self protection when you walk and will not hesitate to use it if any animal attacks. That is the warning shot.

      I have had those discussions before about large free roaming dogs here in the countryside where we live. One dog running loose is not good, two running together is trouble, and I don’t care what kind of dog they are or how docile they appear to be. We have that here. I simply explained to them that my dog stays in the yard, been trained to do so. My yard is off limits to other dogs roaming. You can either keep your dog out of yard or I will, and you likely won’t approve of my process. Although in my case, the old Red Rider with a loud yell seems to work very well. Only need to make the shot once. But if those two gang up on my dog in my yard it will be the 12 Ga.

  • Nick March 12, 2021, 8:05 am

    You could say you intended to hit the target but you missed.

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