Back in the 1940s and 50s the Lone Ranger, Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and others were the cowboy heroes. If a good guy was about to be hanged, the Lone Ranger would ride in and shoot the rope and the good guy was saved. Or Roy Rogers would shoot the gun out of the hand of a bad guy and the gun fight would end.
So, why doesn’t law enforcement do that today? Why not shoot the gun out of the hand of a bad guy? Or shoot her in the arm? Or in the legs? That would stop him, wouldn’t it?
The answer to those questions was clearly shown in the “Shoot/Don’t Shoot” session I attended and participated in at the Writers’ Police Academy.
The instructor for this session had various videos he could show, each creating a scene where a law enforcement officer (us in this case) has to decide if shooting a suspect is necessary or not and sometimes even which person to shoot. There were seven other men and women in the session with me, and we were each given a different scenario. The “gun” we used during our turn weighed about what a real gun would weigh and was set up with a laser so when the trigger was pulled, the laser would hit (or miss) the target as a real bullet would. If we missed and the “bad guy” shot us, the scene would immediately end. We were dead.
We were told to aim for the head or throat since a bullet there would immediately end the threat. Our second best area would be the chest. A bullet there wouldn’t end the threat as quickly, but would stop the shooter who would eventually die. He said hitting hands/arms even legs was not easy since these body parts moved so much. And even if a bullet hit the upper arm, disabling that arm, the shooter could switch the gun to his (or her) other hand and keep shooting. A shot to the legs might put the shooter down, but wouldn’t stop the person from continuing to shoot.
ALSO, and I felt this was the most important point he made, if you shoot for the hand or arm (which is usually a moving target) and miss, that bullet is going to keep going. Who are you going end up injuring or killing behind the shooter? When a person is under stress, adrenaline takes over and the hand isn’t as steady. Even aiming for center mass—the chest—doesn’t guarantee those bullets will hit that target.
The instructor went through a scene first to show us what to expect. We saw the bad guy holding a gun by his side and the instructor repeatedly told the man to put his gun down. The bad guy kept walking closer, still holding the gun by his side. Finally the bad guy raised the gun and the instructor shot, “killing” the bad guy.
One of the men in my session asked the instructor how many shots he fired. The instructor said he thought 3. He then ran the scene backwards and we could see where each shot landed. The instructor was surprised to discover he’d shot 5 times.
After that, we each had a chance to participate. What was interesting was even though I knew this was just a mock situation, I was nervous. My man had a shovel and a nasty attitude. He kept walking toward me, telling me to “Get back in your car. Leave me alone.” I finally shot him when he raised the shovel to hit me. I aimed for center mass and hit him once in his shoulder. My other shots hit the ground and a picnic table. My bad guy fell to the ground, but the instructor told me I waited too long and the guy probably got me. I’m not sure about that.
My take away from this session
1. When you hear a police officer shot someone with a gun ten or twelve times, that officer probably has no idea he shot that many times, that it was the stress of the situation that kept her pulling the trigger.
2. Deciding when to shoot and when not to shoot is not easy.
3. Shooting the gun out of a person’s hand is almost impossible under most situations, even harder under stress, and potentially puts “innocents” surrounding the shooter in danger.
4. Real life isn’t like those old time cowboy movies. A police officer can’t have a retake of the scene until the rope breaks or he actually manages to shoot the gun out of the villain’s hand.