Why Don’t Police Shoot for the Leg?

I read a story over at Fox News by David Rutz, about recent comments made involving the Ma’Khai Bryant police shooting in Columbus, Ohio. During my police career (1991-2017) officers received training to stop deadly force threats.  In this post I’ll take a look at some of the reasons protectors stop threats as efficiently as is possible. I’ll include a few excerpts from Rutz article along with some thoughts.

“The View” Joy Behar wondered why the officer who killed Bryant didn’t “…Shoot the gun in the air, warning, tase a person, shoot them in the leg, shoot them in the behind. Stop them somehow. But if the only solution is to kill a teenager, there’s something wrong with this.1

Warning shots were prohibited by Department policy. Police are responsible for every round they fire. That responsibility extends to unintended consequences and the potential for collateral damage. That is why protectors should not use warning shots under tense, uncertain, and rapidly evolving violent confrontations. Are there any agencies in the United States that even allow warning shots in 2021?

Shooting someone in the leg or“behind,” juxtaposed to immediately stopping the threat, may still result in death via damage to major arteries (Eg; femoral artery), a bullet deflecting, shattering, or splintering bones, all of which could still end up damaging major arteries or a vital organ. But the real reason police don’t shoot to wound has to do with efficiently stopping the threat. If bullets need sent then the only direction to send them is into the person presenting an unjust imminent threat of great bodily harm (Illinois statute), or death. Unjust is a qualifying term. Words matter.

Men and women of good will who would take up arms to defend need to understand what Carl Von Clausewitz wrote in his book On War;

War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.2

How do you know the strength of a man’s will? In my professional experience I could make probable guesses on a man’s physical strength but occasionally I would be surprised. Once I physically locked up with a man, I knew immediately his strength, speed, and agility juxtaposed to my strength, speed, and agility. But the will is a different animal altogether. We come to know a man’s will as it is proven out in the combat.

Unjust criminal aggressors have no legitimate moral, ethical, or legal rights to threaten great bodily harm, or death, as a means of achieving their covetous desires for your material goods, your body (pleasure or ego), or your life. They have no moral or legal rights to rob, rape, or murder an innocent. Innocent is a qualifying term. Innocent police and innocent citizens absolutely have moral and legal rights to stop their unjust criminal aggressors from causing them great bodily harm, or death.

To understand something you often have to go back to the beginning. Humanity seems to have a problem with remembering her history. We ought to strive to see our Constitutional rights through our unalienable rights listed in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.3

As Americans, we have an unalienable right endowed by God to life. I would argue implicit in that right to life, is a right to the means of defending our life (think 2nd Amendment). The Declaration of Independence (1776) preceded the United States Constitution (1787). Throughout our history, had our nation remembered and used these truths to illumine decision making as it relates to Constitutional types of questions, we wouldn’t have made as many major errors. For instance, slavery could have been rightly eradicated earlier in our history, as the word liberty means freedom. Likewise, had our nation remembered these unalienable truths in the 1973 Supreme Court decision of Roe V Wade, we would not have the evil of abortion, an unjust law, in the land of the free and home of the brave.

As it relates to the things of God we could go back to the Psalms:

Psalm 82: 2 “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? [Selah] 3 Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

There really is nothing new under the sun. In this republic based upon the rule of law – life, freedom, and the pursuit of happiness have both moral and legal limits. A citizen can lose their right to pursue happiness, and liberty, by choosing the criminal life. This is why we rightly build prisons. Likewise, those who present an unjust imminent threat of great bodily harm, or death to an innocent can lose their right to life. God certainly recognizes legitimate defense of others and self. As a Catholic, the Church teaches in part: “Legitimate defense can be not only a right but a grave duty for one who is responsible for the lives of others.4” In the case of a police officer this includes all innocent citizens, brothers and sisters in arms, and a right to protect one’s own innocent life. For a husband and father or mother and wife that includes one’s spouse and children. Self-defense is a well established legal term. The laws of all fifty States recognize to one degree or another this legal concept of self-defense. In the state of Illinois you find statutory language covering these things under 720 ILCS 5/ Article 7 Justified Use of Force; Exoneration.


Less lethal options such as a taser or bean bag shotgun apply when the unjust criminal aggressor does not yet represent an imminent threat of great bodily harm, or death, to an innocent. Seeing and acting early provides the opportunity for less lethal options which ought not be wasted with a goofy loop (search this site to learn more about goofy loops).

If we’re going to look for solutions we have to reason back from the effect to the cause. I recall hearing Catholic Priest and exorcist Father Chad Ripperger recently say in an interview:

The effect is never greater than the cause. The cause is always greater than the effect that’s the first principle of metaphysics.5

What’s the effect?  Officers shoot an unjust criminal aggressor in defense of self or another innocent person. What’s the cause? The unjust threat of great bodily harm, or death is the cause for the immediate action required to stop that threat. Unjust desire alone isn’t enough! If a bad guy is killing me with his eyes that’s not an imminent deadly force threat. When his behaviors or actions reasonably add up to an imminent threat of great bodily harm, or death, that’s the underlying cause or problem that demands a decision and commensurate action. The unjust imminent deadly threat is the cause.

Police officers train to stop the threat. It is not mere semantics to say police seek to stop the threat, while paradoxically having a willingness to deliver lethal blow(s).  Police officers secure suspects, render aid, and facilitate life saving help via paramedics.  Police cease firing as soon as is humanly possible. In other words police stop as soon as they eliminate the threat. Stopping the threat is a radical distinction from how a soldier on a foreign battlefield might resolve the problem of a threat of great bodily harm, or death.

How are threats eliminated? The first and preferable way is through voluntarily compliance by the unjust aggressor. I call that a psychological stoppage. Police and all people of good will, should remain watchful for clear and convincing signs of surrender once an imminent deadly force threat exists. With a psychological stoppage we see a 180° turn or change in the unjust criminal aggressor’s will. He fully abandons his threat of great bodily harm, or death, towards the innocent officer, man, woman, or child. This is where the unjust aggressor drops the gun, knife, or bludgeon. He ceases advancing. He ceases compressing time, distance, and cover with his perceived innocent victim. He stops reaching for the gun and shows his hands. If he’s been shot he asks for medical assistance. In other words, he immediately, voluntarily, and fully withdraws the unjust imminent threat of great bodily harm, or death.

What priority of life would you suggest police adopt in a republic under the rule of law? If I were chief for a day, here’s how I would order priority of life:

  1. All innocents
  2. Self
  3. Unjust criminal aggressors (last)

As a Catholic my Faith teaches in part: “…it is legitimate to insist on respect for one’s own right to life. Someone who defends his life is not guilty of murder even if forced to deal his aggressor a lethal blow.6” Are you willing to gamble with your people, or your own life? When time is of the essence, and the underlying cause is an unjust imminent threat of great bodily harm, or death, I would hope a good guy with a gun would not attempt to influence the unjust aggressor, but rather do their best to stop him, or her.

The difference between life and death in deadly force confrontations is often measured in milliseconds to just a few seconds. Therefore, a police officer or innocent citizen of good will defending must act as efficiently as is humanly possible in eliminating deadly force threats. How is this not common sense? The answer lay in Deuteronomy chapter 28 verses 15 and 28, which talks about madness, blindness, and confusion of mind. A part of the answer lay in a false compassion for the unjust criminal aggressors and increasingly a confusion between justice and vengeance. In part justice means:

“As a virtue, it is the constant and permanent determination to give everyone his or her rightful due.7

For the unjust aggressor who maintains an imminent threat of great bodily harm, or death, with no clear and convincing signs of a change in his will, we come to the second way of eliminating the threat. I call this second way a physiological stoppage.

In short a physiological stoppage involves delivering lethal blow(s) to efficiently stop the threat.  In Law Enforcement (L.E.) training we learned traditional means such as the failure drill. The failure drill was purportedly named the Mozambique Drill by the late Col. Jeff Cooper based upon the country from which this lesson originated8. For a single threat this drill consisted of targeting two rounds center mass with one round targeting the head. When dealing with multiple threats we were taught something different than the failure drill. In L.E. we were taught about the “T” intersection and expected physiological effects of sending a round into this area. In 2015, we learned a narrower and higher targeting called the thoracic area. This was a departure from the traditional targets of the bread box, as it were, which anatomically included the intestines.

Anatomically we know the thoracic area begins with the heart extending upwards including the spine, brain stem, and brain.  If you want more knowledge reach out via my email on the contact or training page and after a free consultation, I provide a custom tailored course for your specific needs.  I’m not giving away any great secrets as most unjust criminal aggressors already know what works as part of the criminal life and time spent in prison. Gang members have revealed through interviews what sources they look to in becoming more efficient killers and among those sources is the study of anatomy.

In general, a physiological stoppage efficiently stops the threat via incapacitation of the unjust criminal aggressor. Physiologically, a persons unjust will no longer matters when they’re paralyzed and unable to raise their arm and shoot, stab, or club you. Physiologically, a persons unjust will no longer matters when they’re unconscious, dying, or dead. When the heart, spine, or brain starts having a problem functioning properly a persons will doesn’t work so well.

Paraphrasing Clausewitz; all combat comes down to the will.  In a deadly force encounter, how do we target a man’s will? We seek to efficiently remove that unjust will. Ultimately, the outcome on whether the unjust man or woman live or die is God’s business. An unjust aggressor remains free to choose the psychological stoppage at any point in a deadly force confrontation. People of good will must not engage in vengeance or revenge. To engage in vengeance or revenge is to give uncontrolled anger primacy of place. In antiquity the word meekness meant controlled strength.  We must control our anger. God’s Word tells us vengeance is God’s business, not mans business. If we reject that truth and engage in vengeance we will have both a moral problem with God, and a legal problem with the state.

Why exactly must an unjust imminent threat of great bodily harm be stopped so efficiently? Time is a precious commodity in any deadly force confrontation. How long does it take an unjust criminal aggressor to pull, raise, and get to first shot with a firearm? At best, a quarter to a third of a second. How long at arms reach might an unjust aggressor deliver a lethal blunt or edged blow? At best, a quarter to a third of a second. A just defender who hesitates due to any number of legal, civil, or social fears (politics) or due to misguided deescalation training, abdicates his grave moral duty to protect innocent life and the initiative to win the fight over to the unjust criminal aggressor. Initiative is important to winning.

On my YouTube channel I breakdown deadly force encounters with first strikes often measured in milliseconds. The difference between winning and losing, living and dying, is often defined forever in just a few seconds. Windows of opportunity to win and live open and close quickly.


Action beats reaction: A person reacting has to observe (stimulus), orient, decide, and act (John Boyd’s OODA Loop). That involves reaction time. Reaction time when breaking down videos is often around three-quarters of a second. Professionally, L.E. training estimated officer response times averaging 1.5 seconds. This is why officers respond to the unjust imminent threat of great bodily harm, or death. Waiting for the assault (Eg; pointing his firearm directly at you) means giving away initiative.

Deescalation is big buzzword these days. The time for deescalation comes before an imminent threat of great bodily harm, or death exists. Once that threat exists, the only choice is to stop the threat! This presumes a window of opportunity is open for the defender. It’s unwise to try draw on a drawn firearm. If a would-be robber is pointing a firearm at me I’m going to comply, hand him my wallet and be a good witness. If he remains an unjust deadly force threat and a window of opportunity opens, that opportunity may result in a different action for my part. Again, I’m not talking about vengeance I’m talking about rightly responding to an imminent deadly force threat.

Back to the article; Mr. Rutz writes:

Earlier in the week, a reporter asked Columbus Police Chief Michael Woods whether an officer could shoot a limb rather than to kill. “Can an officer shoot the leg, can they shoot somewhere that would not result in a fatal wound?” asked the unidentified reporter, noting that observers have asked the same question. “We don’t train to shoot the leg because that’s a small target,” Woods said. “We train to shoot center mass, what is available to stop that threat … There was a deadly force threat that was going on, so the officer is trained to shoot center mass.9

I would add, if anatomy showed the heart, brain, or brain stem located in the upper leg area police would begin aiming for the upper leg area. Why? To efficiently as is possible stop the unjust threat of great bodily harm, or death to an innocent.

In conclusion, I understand the political reasons those who sit in leadership seats would want to avoid hard sayings. Hard sayings in 2021, are inconvenient and very much out of season. We will never build any real trust or relationships so long as we continue avoiding truth. Men sitting in leadership seats who play stump the chump or suppress the truth with their people do no one any good service. We waste our time with feel good buzzwords (community policing, accountability, transparency, et al), and things continue to go from bad to worse. A spiritual principle applies here: the truth will make you free (John 8: 32). Jesus is Truth. All truth that truly is; subsists in He Who is Truth. Time is precious in deadly force confrontation. Things like initiative, timeliness, & efficiently stopping threats must be considered when we talk about tactics for all people of good will. Innocent citizens have a right to life in these United States that goes all the way back to the Declaration of Independence.

Think about these things.

1Columbus police shooting prompts media pundits to offer ‘TV-inspired nonsense’ on police tactics By David Rutz https://www.foxnews.com/media/columbus-shooting-media-repeating-discredited-officers-legs

2On War, Carl Von Clausewitz

3Excerpt from the Declaration of Independence

4Excerpt from #2265 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

5Fr Chad Ripperger and Dr Taylor Marshall Talk about Latin Mass, Latin, Exorcisms, Books, Prayer – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QUpsrW90uGQ

6Excerpt from #2264 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church

7Justice – Modern Catholic Dictionary Fr. John A Hardon, S.J.


9Columbus police shooting prompts media pundits to offer ‘TV-inspired nonsense’ on police tactics By David Rutz https://www.foxnews.com/media/columbus-shooting-media-repeating-discredited-officers-legs