Despite what Joe Biden said when he recklessly recommended grabbing a double barrel shotgun and firing it in the air to scare off a would-be bad guy, warning shots only serve two purposes—getting you killed or killing the unlucky recipient of a stray bullet that should never have been fired in the first place. A gun for self-defense is an emergency tool, only to be employed as a last result in the most dire of situations. Most likely, we have all heard, and likely recited, the mantra “I’d rather have a gun and not need it than need and gun not have it.” Have truer words ever been spoken? I am not sure, but I am sure about warning shots and when not to use a gun.
Everyone who has been through a course for concealed carry, hunter safety, or basic firearm safety, knows that you never shoot a firearm unless you intend to destroy anything the bullet strikes. Likewise, we have all been taught to know our target and what’s behind it. A warning shot violates each of these tenants of firearm safety.
In addition to likely being illegal, what would you hope to accomplish with a warning shot? After all, merely pointing a firearm at an attacker provides about as much intimidation as a warning shot. However, once you fire off a shot, the dynamic changes and you will become the one accused of a crime and facing Lady Justice. You better be in the right and have done everything according to the law.
Firing a Shot
There is a time to fire your weapon, but when is key. For instance, you (or someone in your immediate vicinity) are being attacked, and you have a reasonable fear that the attacker will cause great bodily harm or death. However, even then, your response must be proportional and reasonable. The mere fact the someone said they are going to “kill you” with kindness, certainly would not be reasonable. Pulling out a gun because a little old lady kicked you in the shin would not be reasonable or proportional.
Proportional is rather easy for most to understand, but reasonable often gets people in trouble. Some people believe no one can read their mind, so simply stating they were afraid and in fear of their life will fulfill the reasonable standard and allow them to draw their weapon and maybe snap off a shot. Not true. There has also been more than person who has taken their cue from Hollywood and popped a round into the ceiling in an attempt to break up a rowdy crowd or fight. Neither of these scenarios would pass the reasonable person standard.
Brandishing is another no-no. If you draw your firearm, be prepared to use it. Pulling up your shirt or opening the flap of your jacket to show you are packing will earn you a one-way ticket to the Gray Bar Hotel—if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, someone is going to observe your attempted bravado and beat you to the draw… Remember, good guys use a firearm as a last resort to preserve life (yours and the innocents around you); bad guys use firearms to intimidate and take life.
Have a Plan
When you are already faced with a situation where you may have to deploy your firearm is not the time to have a debate in your head about whether you are in a shoot/don’t shoot scenario. You certainly do not want, “Hmmm… will I get in trouble if I shoot the creep?” running through your mind. Those questions should have been answered long ago. You should already have several action plans, covering a multitude of senarios worked out.
International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) shoots at a local gun club or range are excellent places to work through many of these issues. IDPA shoots present you with multiple scenarios meant to mimic real life situations you could face, and include live fire using a concealed firearm. Purpose driven classes from credible trainers are another recommended method for developing your self-defense plan and knowing when to use your firearm, but warning shots… Warning shots are not a strategy or a tool in the toolbox.