Lethal Force: When Less Is More

Lethal Force: When Less Is More

Debunking the flawed “shoot ‘em to the ground” concept when it comes to using lethal force for self-defense.

About 15 or so years ago, the concept of “shooting the person to the ground” came into vogue, and while many instructors gave the idea up when the ammo crunch hit, I still know a few who hang onto that ill-conceived idea. Let me tell you why that advice is, in my opinion, ill conceived.


Tactical Considerations

First, it’s not really tactically sound for a couple of reasons. Assuming your life is in grave, immediate danger (meaning you need to stop the individual as quickly as possible), would a single or perhaps two well-aimed shots into the upper thoracic cavity (heart, spine or arteries to the brain) be more likely to put the individual out of commission quicker than a half a dozen randomly placed shots? An argument can be made for either proposition, though the one or two well-placed shots will do it quicker.

Drawing and firing one well-placed shot will take less than 2 seconds for most well-trained armed citizens. For two shots, add a half-second for a total of 2.5 seconds. If you were able to anticipate the need to shoot and had the gun in your hand, then cut a second off the time. Can’t do it in 1.5 to 2.5 seconds? Then it’s time to go to a reputable school and learn that skill.

On the other hand, if you shoot six (or more) shots rapid fire, you can still accomplish that in the same time. But what are your chances of making a stopping hit? Probably less than one or two well-aimed shots. Don’t believe me? Go to the range with a buddy and a timer and give it a try. You might be surprised. What we’re looking for are shots within a 5- or 6-inch circle on target. Start at 5 yards and then give it a try at 7.

The next tactical issue pertains to potential additional attackers. Depending on the number of rounds in the gun, you might just run out of ammo before you can deal with the second and/or third subjects.

Legal Considerations Of Lethal Force

There are two other considerations, both legal ones, that make the rapid-fire volley of shots until they’re on the ground really bad advice. You see, you’re responsible for all the bullets you fire, not just the ones that hit the intended target. If you miss with one or two shots, where are those slugs going to land? Hopefully not in an innocent bystander.

Then, there’s the consideration of the shots that do hit the target. Are they all going to be in the front of the subject and at an angle that shows he or she was attacking you? Or, will one or two find their way into the back or side, at which time there’s a difficult argument to make your life was in danger when those shots fired. This can be diffused, but it’ll take expert testimony and a judge who understands the issue. I’ve worked on several cases where this was an issue … with mixed results.

Lastly, the “shoot ’em to the ground” advice will very likely result in a murder or manslaughter prosecution because every shot fired will be accompanied with a use-of-force analysis. Perhaps the first two to three shots were deemed necessary, but a prosecutor, especially one on the more progressive side of the prosecutorial scale, might decide to prosecute because he or she believed the last couple weren’t necessary.

I recently worked on a case where the defendant fired 10 shots, nine of those striking the deceased. It was determined that the second-to-the-last shot fired was an instantly fatal shot, although others may have been fatal within a short period of time. But a shot into the brain was the one that sealed the defendant’s fate and was completely unnecessary, as the instant perceived threat to the defendant had stopped.

Train With Purpose

Additionally, there’s the axiom that you’ll perform as you train. If your training primarily consists of multiple shot volleys, then it’s likely you’ll do just that when you respond under stress. We see it all the time in competition shooting, where the shooter is used to firing two shots at each target, and when the time comes when only one shot is required, many times he or she fires two anyway.

Vary your training so the only programed response to live threatening events is the draw stroke. How many shots you fire must then be determined by the particular event and while that might just take a moment longer, it’s a moment that’ll very likely prevent you from a long prison term.

Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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  1. Leaving them on the ground and not dead can get you KILLED. Famous story of the guy in Alaska shot a bear he “thought” was dead. Laid his gun on a tree when to the bear and the bear got up and ferociously attacked him. He suffered the rest of his life for that. Won’t mention the story of how he got to civilization terribly wounded, half dead, suffering all the way but that’s another story.


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