Don’t listen to anything you hear about warning shots unless it’s to never actually fire them.
While perhaps the practice has (or had) some sort of merit at some point for some people, the reality is that it has none in the civilian world.
If you have to draw a concealed carry handgun from its holster, it should only be with intent to fire at someone who obviously means you serious, lethal harm.
There are a number of reasons why you should never contemplate firing warning shots.
Firstly, a warning shot is aimed at something other than the person who means you harm. This could be a wall, the floor, the air, or anywhere else that a person aims their gun – and during a period of high stress, that could be anywhere other than in a safe direction. As we all know, being sure of the target (and what’s beyond it) and not letting the muzzle cover anything one doesn’t want destroyed are two of the four rules of gun safety.
Unless one knows exactly where a warning shot is going, shooting one violates those rules. Furthermore, in the urban or suburban environment, one can’t know exactly where one’s rounds may travel to.
Another reason that warning shots should never be fired? Doing so will land the shooter in jail and for a number of reasons. Granted, this shouldn’t be taken as legal advice, but by examining real-life instances of what can happen, one can get a picture of the possible consequences.
For a self-defense shooting to be justified, there would have to be no means other than the use of deadly force that could have resolved the situation. In other words, a person has to have a reasonable (meaning demonstrable) belief that it was shoot or die.
As Massad Ayoob writes in Gun Digest, a warning shot can be seen as confirmation that deadly force wasn’t warranted. Otherwise, a person would just shoot the person they fired a shot to warn off. Furthermore, use of a gun is an attempted use of deadly force; the person the shot is intending to warn could testify the shooter attempted to murder them, even if they intended the person who fired the warning shot grave harm.
In other words, it’s legally possible that firing a warning shot, even to warn off someone who means you harm, could net you charges of attempted murder. People have not only been charged, but convicted of such charges for firing warning shots.
Take the case of Marissa Alexander. Alexander was convicted in 2012 of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and sentenced to 20 years. Her crime was firing a warning shot at her husband, whom she had separated from due to physical abuse. She fired a warning shot after he threatened her life. Alexander was prosecuted by Angela Corey, the same prosecutor who tried George Zimmerman.
The presiding judge in the case lamented being bound to issue the sentence, but had no choice due to the charge and conviction.
However, Ms. Alexander got lucky. A new trial and appeal reduced her sentence to time served as the result of a new plea deal in 2015, according to MSNBC. Since she was convicted of a crime involving a firearm, she’ll never be able to have a concealed carry firearm again and she has a violent ex-spouse to worry about.
Consider the case of Chris Harris of Wheeling, W. Va. Harris, according to guns.com, was walking home from church with his girlfriend in late 2014 when they were accosted by a group of nine men, one armed with a knife. The men threatened both Chris and his girlfriend. Chris’s girlfriend, who had a concealed carry license, drew her pistol from her holster or purse and called the police. Her hands were shaking, so Chris took the gun and fired a warning shot to scare the men away.
He did so just as police were arriving. Instead of chasing the men fleeing the scene – which police could have easily done – Harris was arrested for wanton endangerment.
In May of this year, one Ashley Harrison of Aurora, Ill., fired warning shots in the air after a gunman murdered her fiance and father to her children, according to the Chicago Tribune. The gunman ran off as she fired into the air, but she was taken into custody and charged with reckless discharge of a firearm and aggravated unlawful use of a deadly weapon.
Some people also try to stretch the term.
Currently, one Chad Cameron Copley of Raleigh, N. Carolina, according to NBC News, is facing charges for what he claimed was a “warning shot.” Copley called police to complain about people in his neighborhood attending a party at a neighbor’s house, and told them he was a member of the neighborhood watch. He advised the 911 dispatchers that he was “locked and loaded” and that he was going to “secure my neighborhood.”
Copley said that he saw firearms in the possession of the people walking by his house, and fired a warning shot at them with his shotgun.
Copley shot and killed Kouren Thomas, aged 20; that is not in dispute. Evidence from the scene indicates Thomas was shot through a window from inside Copley’s garage, according to Bearing Arms. Copley is facing first degree murder charges and the state may seek the death penalty.
In short, firing a warning shot puts other people in danger. It also gives the appearance that use of a gun wasn’t necessarily warranted. That leaves the shooter liable for criminal charges, as endangerment needs no explanation and a defensive shooting should only occur when life and limb are in clear and present danger.
If such danger is present, a person should have no qualms shooting an assailant instead of errantly firing to merely scare them into compliance. It’s dangerous and makes a person appear to have fired when a gun wasn’t necessary…even if it actually was.
Sam Hoober is Contributing Editor for AlienGearHolsters.com, a subsidiary of Hayden, ID, based Tedder Industries, where he writes about gun accessories, gun safety, open and concealed carry tips. Click here to visit aliengearholsters.com.