Warning Shot. Do You Ever?

DIN_4844-2_Warnung_vor_einer_Gefahrenstelle_D-W000_svgAs a firearms instructor I am frequently asked by students if it wouldn’t be a good idea to shoot a warning shot before having to shoot another person in self-defense in their home. This is an honest and legitimate question asked by intelligent people who would prefer not to harm anyone if possible. I get very few questions that have a cut and dried answer, but this one does.

And that answer is an absolute NO! “But” you say, “Wouldn’t it be better to scare someone off than to have to kill them?”  That is an admirable point of view, but when it comes to defending your life in your home, the answer again is NO!

Before I go any further, I need to emphasize that I am not an attorney and this article is not meant to be legal advice to anyone. If you carry or have in your home a firearms for self-defense I encourage you to contact your attorney and insure you understand the legalities of firearms use in your local jurisdiction.

To me, the argument against firing a warning shot fall into two basic categories: Legal and practical.


Firearms are pretty much defined as deadly weapons in all jurisdictions. Although interpreted and regulated differently in various jurisdictions, the justification for the use of deadly force is restricted to when there is no other option to defend yourself from imminent (immediate) threat of death or serious bodily injury to yourself or an innocent third-party. If you are in a situation to where you feel you have the time and opportunity to fire a warning shot, were you in imminent danger of death or seriously bodily injury? Probably not. And that is the way the law will probably look at it. In addition, your warning shot may be illegal in your jurisdiction in its own right. The law of gravity states that what goes up, must come down. The law in most states says you are responsible for whatever happens to any bullet you discharge from a handgun. If you fire a warning shot, where is that bullet going to go? Through your wall and into your neighbor’s house, and perhaps his head?

Here in Arizona we have a law called Shannon’s Law that makes it a felony to illegally discharge a weapon in a corporate city limit. Shannon Smith was a 14-year-old girl who was standing in her back yard talking on her cell phone when a bullet came out of the sky, hit her on the top of her head and killed her instantly. Do you think your warning shot doesn’t have that possibility too? I don’t know what the mathematical odds of that happening to that poor girl were, but it didn’t change the outcome. The corporate office building that I supervise security at sits across the street from an apartment complex. Last July 5th, my client came to me quietly and asked me to look at something.  On one of the third floor exterior windows a 230gr .45acp bullet was lodged between the two panes of glass. Later that day my Officers found two more of them in our parking lot. Although they were undoubtedly from some Fourth of July revelers, the same effect would happen if one of them was a” warning shot”. What goes up, must come down, and you are legally and morally responsible for the results of any firearm you discharge for any reason.


When this question comes up in one of my classes, I ask my students if any of them have ever fired a handgun in an enclosed room, in darkness, and with no hearing protection. So far none of them have. I then inform them that two things will happen immediately and simultaneously. They will be blinded by the muzzle flash and deafened by the sound. Blind and deaf is not a good place to be when you are dealing with an intruder in your home. In addition, the intruder doesn’t know that you were just trying to warn him, will assume that you just tried to kill him and missed, and instead of running away may try to aggressively kill you in “self-defense.” And remember, you are now deaf and blind after deliberately missing him!


There are some viable options to try to warn off an intruder before lethal deadly force must be used. If you are using a modern semi-automatic pistol that has the attachment rails, a mountable flashlight can be useful. There are many on the market which have a strobe feature that will blind your intruder and give you the option of verbally warning him and seeing if he is armed. If your handgun is not so equipped, a standard flashlight will do and you need to be trained in the proper techniques of holding a handgun and using a flashlight at the same time.

The bottom line is that there is never any justification to fire warning shots.

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22 thoughts on “Warning Shot. Do You Ever?

  1. I saw your article on the Individuals Talking Back blog…

    I disagree with the absolute nature of your advice. While I don’t teach students to shoot warning shots, I can see several scenarios in which I might consider that option OK. I know that on blogs I should act like a tough guy that wants to shoot anyone that attacks me and use old clichés to defend that position, but I hung that up the bravado with my government badge and SWAT vest years ago. A gun is not a weapon, but it can be used as one, much like a bat. A gun is a tool, and has multiple uses, including being a great hand-warmer.

    If you are in a parking lot and three guys grab a teenage girl and are dragging her kicking and screaming toward their van down by the river, and you are 25 yards away and don’t think you can hit them and miss her, and you see a dump truck pile of dirt about 20 yards from you…. With the short scenario I presented, each reader can think of 5 different variations and more tactical considerations.

    If, in the above scenario, I heard that you shot into the dirt bang, yelled, “Run you motor scooters run, because i have 18 more and the next one is for you” and if they run away, the teenage girl is not raped or killed, you get a $750 ticket from your local rulers but you do NOT have to pay $50,000 in legal fees to “win” the case against you for shooting one of the attackers, who it turns out was simply a misguided choir boy, I will not have harsh words for you. If your warning shot bounces off a rock in the dirt pile and kills a little girl a block away, and if the attackers think you missed and then attack you as well, well, you will be in trouble. Whatever action you take, if it turns out bad, the self-defense crowd, the press, the government and a few hundred other folks will second-guess what you did.

    It occurs to me that carrying a tool that can be used for self defense is a serious responsibility, much like driving a car. Each action I take increases or decreases risk, both physical and legal, and who the heck knows? The chance that I will ever need to use my gun to defend myself is very slim. If I ever do, the chance that I will use the gun to shoot a warning shot is even more slim, but I think it is prudent for me to thoughtfully consider all options.


    • First, I want to thank you for posting, and even though I respect your opinion, I still disagree. Lets use your scenario. You see(hear) a girl being the victim of an attempted rape. If you can see(hear) them, they can see(hear ) you. The convenience of the dump truck is problematic because what if it isn’t there? There is nothing that says that you cannot present your firearm, start screaming at them and advance rapidly at them. I do not know the laws of most jurisdictions, but in Arizona preventing a forceable rape is one of the few reason s that you can legally use deadly force without being personally attacked. Advancing and screaming at them with a firearm in your hand will cause them to either stop and flee or use aggressive violence in which case you can shoot them. You should be able to rapidly advance on three guys trying to drag a kicking and screaming girl. Even using your scenario I cannot see that firing a warning shot is either practical or advisable.
      BTW, I like your blog.


  2. Pingback: Never fire a warning shot, ever | Individuals Talking Back

  3. Also a vet (82d ABD). One thing I did not see if anyone has mentioned. Someone mentioned being blinded by the muzzle flash. That same muzzle flash just gave your position away.


    • Thats a good point Ted and I should have commented on it in the article. The same muzzle flash that just blinded you, just gave your position away to a startled criminal. Thanks for commenting.


  4. Sure I’d fire a warning shot, right through the center of the bastard’s forehead. Then I’d drag his ass outside and put a sign on his carcass ” Let this serve as WARNING to anyone else who tries this”


  5. When I got stung I don’t think it was a warning.
    I sort of decided then that as someone had fired at me without warning,
    If was good enough for them, it was good enough for me.
    I was told later by my boss that LEGALLY if you point a weapon at someone you have threatened someone with a deadly weapon.
    So what the heck, I just used to point and shoot. Saved so much time.


    • My, you Do have a bit of a past, don’t you? LOL! So do I. Laws vary by country and jurisdiction. Here, many states have a castle doctrine that says that anyone who forcibly enters your home (and in some places, your occupied vehicle) is obviously intending to do you bodily harm and you can act appropriately. The decision to shoot or not is an individual choice, but I believe that when you pull the trigger it needs to be coupled with barrel aligned with an attacker. For all the reasons mention, warning shots are stupid.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Here is the thing. A firearm has exactly one purpose when looking at defense. To stop someone from doing something which must be stopped RIGHT NOW (because it presents a danger to you or an innocent which likely cannot be rectified). Something which it is so important to stop that it makes no difference whatever (legally OR morally) whether or not the perpetrator of that action dies as a result of the defense. As pointed out, if you have the option of firing a warning shot, then that situation does not exist. For that matter, never say or think, “shoot to kill”, because you are never (morally) justified in deliberately killing someone, and even if you were, it is not helpful if an attacker dies, but not until after he manages to successfully complete the attack.

    Let us go a step further, and consider whether even pointing a gun at someone is a good idea. I say no, despite millions of hours of TV and Movie training to the contrary. There is nothing magical about a gun. The only power it gives you is to send a bullet along a path. If you point a gun at someone, what you are telling them is 1) I am able to hurt you, but 2) I probably prefer not to hurt you, 3) if your action speed is faster than my reaction speed, I am toast and 4) my firearm knowledge may be inadequate. This is an invitation to them not to do what you want, that is, setting yourself up to lose. Fortunately, many aggressors got their “training” from the same fictional shows you did. Some didn’t, or have overcome it.

    The number one law of gun safety is to never point the gun at anything you do not intend to shoot. This should be second nature to anyone with access to a gun. Trying to overcome this built in outlook in a stressful situation is not a good plan for success. Thus, don’t point a gun at someone unless you NEED to shoot them, and as soon as the target is acquired, shoot.


    • Arizona has a “Defensive Display” law that allows you to inform a potential assailant verbally that you are armed or by placing your hand on your weapon, or by, if necessary, drawing your weapon as a last resort. However, the conditions that this law applies to are that you must be convinced that you are in danger of death or serious physical injury. Unfortunately, some people misread this to mean they can “flash” their gun if they feel it is necessary. That constitutes ‘Brandishing” which is illegal. A lot of this is common sense. Unfortunately, as you mentioned, Hollywood has brainwashed the untrained masses.


  7. I enjoy having the Castle Doctrine.

    And, yes, I would never fire a warning shot. If I have my rifle or handgun ready to defend myself, my fiance’, or the general public who are facing an armed (not necessarily a handgun or rifle) idiot/robber/something worse who is acting in a manner that threatens bodily harm, then I am ready to kill them, not try to shoot them in the leg or scare them off. I teach my fiance that if she is in fear for her life and takes out her handgun, then she must be ready to use it.


  8. Pingback: Warning Shot. Do You Ever? | Azweaponcraftprepper

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