Warning Shot? No Way…

By Dave Dolbee published on in Concealed Carry

Despite what Joe Biden said when he recklessly recommended grabbing a double barrel shotgun and firing it in the air to scare off a would-be bad guy, warning shots only serve two purposes—getting you killed or killing the unlucky recipient of a stray bullet that should never have been fired in the first place.

Man lifting his shirt to show a concealed handgun

A gun for self-defense is an emergency tool, only to be employed as a last result in the most dire of situations. Most likely, we have all heard, and likely recited, the mantra “I’d rather have a gun and not need it than need and gun not have it.” Have truer words ever been spoken? I am not sure, but I am sure about warning shots and when not to use a gun.

Everyone who has been through a course for concealed carry, hunter safety, or basic firearm safety, knows that you never shoot a firearm unless you intend to destroy anything the bullet strikes. Likewise, we have all been taught to know our target and what’s behind it. A warning shot violates each of these tenants of firearm safety.

In addition to likely being illegal, what would you hope to accomplish with a warning shot? After all, merely pointing a firearm at an attacker provides about as much intimidation as a warning shot. However, once you fire off a shot, the dynamic changes and you will become the one accused of a crime and facing Lady Justice. You better be in the right and have done everything according to the law.

Firing a Shot

There is a time to fire your weapon, but when is key. For instance, you (or someone in your immediate vicinity) are being attacked, and you have a reasonable fear that the attacker will cause great bodily harm or death. However, even then, your response must be proportional and reasonable. The mere fact the someone said they are going to “kill you” with kindness, certainly would not be reasonable. Pulling out a gun because a little old lady kicked you in the shin would not be reasonable or proportional.

Proportional is rather easy for most to understand, but reasonable often gets people in trouble. Some people believe no one can read their mind, so simply stating they were afraid and in fear of their life will fulfill the reasonable standard and allow them to draw their weapon and maybe snap off a shot. Not true. There has also been more than person who has taken their cue from Hollywood and popped a round into the ceiling in an attempt to break up a rowdy crowd or fight. Neither of these scenarios would pass the reasonable person standard.

drawing a pistol from a concealed position

The presentation from concealed carry should be practiced often.


Brandishing is another no-no. If you draw your firearm, be prepared to use it. Pulling up your shirt or opening the flap of your jacket to show you are packing will earn you a one-way ticket to the Gray Bar Hotel—if you are lucky. If you are unlucky, someone is going to observe your attempted bravado and beat you to the draw… Remember, good guys use a firearm as a last resort to preserve life (yours and the innocents around you); bad guys use firearms to intimidate and take life.

Have a Plan

When you are already faced with a situation where you may have to deploy your firearm is not the time to have a debate in your head about whether you are in a shoot/don’t shoot scenario. You certainly do not want, “Hmmm… will I get in trouble if I shoot the creep?” running through your mind. Those questions should have been answered long ago. You should already have several action plans, covering a multitude of senarios worked out.

International Defensive Pistol Association (IDPA) shoots at a local gun club or range are excellent places to work through many of these issues. IDPA shoots present you with multiple scenarios meant to mimic real life situations you could face, and include live fire using a concealed firearm. Purpose driven classes from credible trainers are another recommended method for developing your self-defense plan and knowing when to use your firearm, but warning shots… Warning shots are not a strategy or a tool in the toolbox.

What other tips would recommend for self-defense situations? Share your answer in the comment section.

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Comments (22)

  • H Bomb


    The never brandish rule has many exceptions. Here is a story I heard. There was a traffic “dust up” and for whatever reason the guy in front thought it’d be a good idea to beat the crap out of the guy behind. He stopped his car so the behind guy couldn’t get around, went to his trunk, pulled out a baseball bat and holding it is a “I’m going to bash your head in” manner, proceeded toward the guy behind. The behind guy had his driver window down, opened his door and crouched behind it while “brandishing” his handgun in a most threatening manner while shaking his head “no”. Mr. baseball bat saw this, stopped in his tracks, retreated back to his car, put the baseball bat back and drove off. In certain circumstances, brandishing can be exactly the right thing to do and can save lives.


  • Claude


    What if you have two choices?
    1) Fire a warning shot, or
    2) Shoot and kill your crazed wife, who has already shot you twice, while your daughter and grandchild are watching.

    Never say never.

    C. Use of Force
    The [Los Angeles Police Department Board Of Police Commissioners] determined that, although warning shots are generally prohibited, in this incident it was reasonable for Detective A to believe that Subject 1 [his wife who had already shot him twice] posed an immediate threat of serious bodily injury or death. The BOPC recognized that Detective A had been seriously wounded and ran a considerable distance to escape Subject 1. At the time he fired the warning shot, Detective A was bleeding and was in possession of two firearms. Detective A could have become incapacitated at any time due to the blood loss he was experiencing. Had that occurred, Detective A would have lost control of his firearms and been vulnerable to further attack by Subject 1.

    The BOPC determined that Detective A had no other reasonable alternatives at the moment he fired the warning shot. The BOPC found Detective A’s use of force to be in policy.



  • Sam


    Sometimes, under certain circumstances, making it known you have a weapon can work in your favor. Two instances come to mind: (1) My wife walking home in the afternoon was followed by an aggressive male in a car. He slowly pulled along side of her, yelling sexual comments. She ignored him. Then he pulled into a driveway and stopped, blocking her path on the sidewalk. My wife pulled a Colt Jr. .25 auto out of her purse and pointed it at him without saying anything (she didn’t shoot). He quickly drove away and she never saw him again. (2) Several years later: One night after teaching a self-defense class in a not very good part of town, as my wife and I were loading the trunk of our car with teaching materials, we were approached by a group of 4 young thugs. Three of the thugs broke-off to our right, but one kept coming straight at us – and he had what looked like a shirt wrapped around his right hand, and he was pointing at us as if he had a weapon. After telling my wife to take cover behind our car, and keeping an eye on the three thugs off to our right, I put the strap of my small gun bag on my shoulder and unzipped it – filling my fist with the Colt .45 1911 I always carry, getting ready, but I didn’t take it out of the bag – but my stance and demeanor made it obvious I was ready to do battle if I had to. I ordered the approaching thug to “Stop” in a very load voice (that was my “warning shot,” so to speak). Much to my surprise he immediately stopped walking toward us. He muttered a few choice words, and told me I didn’t need to have a gun (I didn’t let him see it, but I think he was pretty sure I had one). I don’t know for sure that he had a weapon but his aggressive actions, plus having something in his right hand that he had under his rolled up shirt, that he was pointing at us, certainly gave me much pause for concern. The young buck then decided to rejoin his three friends, and the 4 of them disappeared around the corner. We then got out of there quickly, and I was glad I carry.


  • John


    You violate a “tenet”, not a “tenant”…. unless perhaps said person is trespassing (lol). Be that as it may, the Florida courts determined in at least one case that to fire a warning shot rather than firing your weapon at your assailant proves only that you were not in immediate and otherwise unavoidable jeopardy of death or grave bodily harm. Other states would no doubt find likewise.


  • oldsailor


    An acquaintance is currently facing murder charges in a small Tennessee county after he fired a warning shot in the case of an armed, wanted felon who was approaching him with his hands behind his back and would not stop advancing or show his hand. Fearing for his life, a warning shot was fired, and then three shots center mass. The locals (who apparently are all related…) have declared because he fired the warning shot, his next shots were “premeditated”, therefore he’s guilty of murder.


  • Anon E Mous


    Here in Florida, warning shots will probably get you arrested.
    The logic is, deadly force is not authorized unless you or others are threatened. If you are not threatened enough to shoot someone, then you are not threatened enough to scare them with a warning shot.
    Likewise drawing a weapon (brandishing a firearm) can get you arrested, since there is no need to make it ready to fire if you are not threatened enough to shoot someone.
    Ironically, if you start to shoot and then change you mind, you can get arrested for one of the above reasons. So, you better eject a few rounds and say, “Officer, I was scared for my life, but it jammed and he ran away.”


  • Dale


    I can honestly say I have never listened to Joe Biden for any gun safety or wisdom as he is neither safe or wise.


  • Bobs yer uncle


    If there’s a good enough reason to pull the gun out, there’s a good reason to be firing it. not always true. I live in a rural mountain area, and once when I was walking to my shop building from the house, with a shotgun I was working on, a neighbor drove by, he swore in court under oath that I had “waved and displayed a weapon and he feared for his life” On another occasion a large Black-bear was on my porch and I fired my shotgun into the ground nearby had he not chosen to run off, I would have emptied my gun into him, you can’t just threaten 400lbs of bear, you have to mean it.


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