Self-Defense

"When There's an Unarmed Person Coming at Them with a Knife or Something, You Shoot Them in the Leg"

Advice from Vice-President Biden.

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From Yahoo News (David Knowles):

"Instead of standing there and teaching a cop, when there's an unarmed person coming at them with a knife or something, you shoot them in the leg instead of in the heart is a very different thing. There's a lot of different things that could change," Biden said in a meeting with community leaders at Bethel AME Church in Wilmington, Del.

I don't fault Biden much for the "unarmed person coming at them with a knife" slip—that happens in oral remarks—but I think his broader advice doesn't make sense. Most studies suggest that most police officers, even with substantial training, miss with 50-75% of their shots; here, for instance, is the RAND report on the NYPD:

As has been reported nationally, police officers often miss their targets (Morrison,
2006, p. 332). The NYPD reports hit-rate statistics both for officers involved in
a gunfight and for officers who shoot at subjects who do not return fire. Between
1998 and 2006, the average hit rate was 18 percent for gunfights. Between 1998
and 2006, the average hit rate in situations in which fire was not returned was
30 percent. In 2006, the hit rate against subjects who did not return fire was 27
percent.

The LAPD reported a hit rate of 48% in 2016, 38% in 2015, 34% in 2014, 20% in 2013, and 27% in 2012; I suspect that the 48% is at least as much random variation as real improvement. Politifact reports similarly low numbers from other studies (with a couple of highly questionable 1991 100%s in San Antonio and San Francisco, and an outlier 56% in 1970s L.A.).

And this isn't surprising; most police officers have never fired a gun in a combat situation. When someone is charging at you with any weapon, and the adrenaline is pumping, you're not going to be a cool sniper-level shooter, especially if this has never happened to you before. Going to the range will only do so much to improve your performance in such situations.

Now imagine what would happen if police officers shifted from how they're trained to shoot—for the center of mass in the torso, where if you miss your specific target you still have a good chance of hitting some part of the attacker's body—to shooting at the leg. Not going to turn out well, I think; fewer hits on the attacker, more dead police officers, and probably more bullets hitting bystanders, where there are bystanders present.

Police officers shouldn't shoot at all at people who aren't really posing a serious threat to them or to others. But if they reasonably fear death or serious injury—and a "person coming at them with a knife" would surely qualify—they should shoot in the way that's most likely to hit and stop their attacker. And that's in the torso, not the leg.

Obligatory citation: Vice-President Biden's previous gun advice.

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  1. Biden is an idiot…Demented perhaps, but an idiot. He has no business offering self-defense advice (all the advice he has offered is not only WRONG, but dangerous to all around) and due to his apparent dementia has no business running for public office.

    Oh, and by the way: The lack of accuracy most police show when shooting at center of mass, a target 12 or more inches in diameter is a GOOD reason to not expect them to shoot at a leg, a target perhaps 4″ across. A miss there will kill people beyond the target.

    1. Remember, this is the idiot who called for people to, when faced with a home intruder, walk outside with a shotgun and fire two blasts in the air.

      1. He also advocated shooting your double-barreled shotgun THROUGH THE DOOR…Shooting without verifying your target.

        That will cause Amazon delivery costs to spike…

        1. No, Amazon is mostly using contact-free delivery these days. Domino’s is another story altogether.

          1. Worst tip ever!

    2. That’s just Biden being Biden, in a long history of Biden being Biden…

    3. Do we really need cops trained to follow the principle of “one shot, one kill”? I agree that wasting ammo wastes taxpayer’s money but wasting ammo is still better than wasting the taxpayers themselves.

      1. Do we really need cops trained to follow the principle of “one shot, one kill”?

        Who said anything about “one shot, one kill”?

      2. Supposedly, they are trained like that….

        We need to up their game.

      3. “Do we really need cops trained to follow the principle of “one shot, one kill”?”

        No, but what they are doing now is basically spray and pray shooting which has a high probability of injuring bystanders.

      4. Better accuracy would not only save bullets, but also prison and medical costs. Weighed against the tax contributions of their victims…what do you mean “cold-blooded”?

      5. No. They are trained that if you need someone dead you empty your weapon at them as efficiently as possible. One shot one kill will very often lead to you getting smacked with a brick by a person who may be mortally wounded but is still very much a threat.

        The problem is that while citizens are trained that you don’t even draw your weapon unless you need someone dead, police officers aren’t. They draw their guns too readily and use them too quickly.

    4. I was going to say exactly that – he’s an idiot. Absolutely nobody trains to shoot-to-wound. That’s a good way end up dead. And you’re more likely to take innocent bystanders with you. Unless you’ve got sniper training and a stable platform, the only responsible aim point is center-mass.

      Compounding the problem, let’s assume that you get lucky and actually do hit your attacker in the leg. There are two possible outcomes. First and most likely, you’ve caused a flesh wound in an extremity. Painful but it’s not going to stop the attacker. Second and more serious, you hit the thigh bone or femoral artery. That will definitely stop your attacker – but he’s also going to bleed out in seconds to minutes. Unless you have a tourniquet ready in your other hand (and the presence of mind to use it), he’ll be just as dead as if you’d shot him in the heart.

      1. Your first point, valid. And I agree, all training says, aim for center of mass, and for good reasons.

        Your second point? Not so valid.

        Look, you can bleed out as easily from a center of mass shot as a limb shot, but just try applying a tourniquet to somebody’s torso.

        This isn’t a good reason to aim for the leg, unless maybe you’re an Olympic shooting champion, but “they might bleed out” is hardly a valid reason to not aim for a leg.

        1. I think you missed the conditional, Brett. Apologies if I was unclear making this point. Let me try again.

          A torso shot will almost always stop your attacker. The torso shot may kill him in doing so. But unless you hit one of the big arteries, your attacker has a decent chance of living long enough to get to a hospital. A leg shot will either not stop him or kill him. Hit the femoral artery or shatter the thigh bone and your attacker’s dead about as fast as a torso shot. Fail to hit those and you’re attacker is probably still coming at you.
          Conclusion: Under no realistic scenario will a leg shot accomplish Biden’s alleged goal of stopping without killing the attacker.

  2. Rule #1 for anyone shooting a gun at a person – shoot to kill. If you aren’t ready to kill them, you shouldn’t be shooting at them.

    1. Bad advice and one that you won’t hear from any competent instructor. You shoot to stop the action that requires you to shoot in the first place. Most often, that is best done by a shot to the center mass of the individual. Not always. But you shoot to stop, not to kill. If the person dies as a result of your stopping his action, so be it. But it was never your intent.

      1. You know, when I shoot someone in the middle of the chest with a copper jacketed hollow point, I expect them to die.

        Unless my ammo is defective. Then I will shoot them again.

        1. I expect them to probably die also… but in consequence to me stopping them… not as a desire in my heart when I shot to stop them.

  3. Bidementia.

    1. Biden knows what he’s talking about. His son is a great Hunter. And hunters know how to use guns and sometimes even daddy’s influence.

      1. Is Hunter the stripper-banging coke head or the good one?

        1. He’s the stripper-banging coke head AND the good one

  4. This is dead wrong and could easily get you killed.

  5. Mace or pepper spray could work. It also would probably be easier to use up close if most knife attacks occur up close.

    1. The only mace that might work properly here to avoid a knife attack is the large steel rod with a spiked ball on the end.

      1. Bruce Lee had a lot of success with the nunchuks. But training cops to use a medieval mace, double edged sword or a battleaxe is an interesting idea. We could remodel our police force to look like the knights who say “Ni!”.

        1. Or take a new school approach to that idea and arm the cops with aluminum softball bats.

    2. I sell Mace and pepper spray professionally. No, they don’t work as you think they should.

      1. A taser should work, right? I mean, unless they through the knife at you.

        1. No. A taser is not a magic Harry Potter wand no matter how much some people desire them to be.

      2. “Most knife attacks occur at close range…”???

        Fuck it, I don’t want something that will work, “if only I can get him to get his knife stuck in my torso!” I’ll take that ranged deterrent any time. I suppose it’s possible that someone might have been running at me to sell me magazine subscriptions, and forgot they had a knife in their hands. Possible.

        But I’m still shootin’.

  6. If it’s worth shooting, it’s worth killing. That “shoot the gun out of their hand” crap is for the movies. Cops aren’t Delta Force. The only cops who train to shoot accurately, under pressure, on a consistent basis is Full-Time SWAT (not the half-ass, small-two, additional duty SWAT fools.) The problem with “part time” SWAT (or boys with toys)… is boys like to play with their toys. So you get “no knock” warrants for things that don’t need it. That = dead people and dead/injured cops.

  7. Yeah because we all know guns work just like in the movies. Yank out your six shooter and wing the bad guy. Easy right? Why didn’t police trainers think of that years ago? Biden is really a luminary here and we should be grateful if he will serve as our Dear Leader.

    This backs up my theory that those who seek to regulate guns have no idea how they even work.

    1. Just winged ’em is a medical diagnosis that only happens in Hollywood…

      And a ‘flesh wound’ can still kill you.

  8. “Not going to turn out well, I think; fewer hits on the attacker, more dead police officers, and probably more bullets hitting bystanders, where there are bystanders present.”

    My God… can you imagine if the number of police gunned down went from dozens per year to several more dozens?

    Let’s make it simpler. Why would a beat cop need a gun at all? You don’t have to train them to shoot at a leg if they don’t have a gun to shoot in the first place.

    1. Oh good, let’s disarm the cops, while letting your average criminal have a nice semiautomatic pistol. Whatever could go wrong.

    2. You don’t have to train them to shoot at a leg if they don’t have a gun to shoot in the first place.

      Did that actually sound good in your head before you typed it?

  9. In Europe police are trained to shoot to wound

    https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/nov/17/shoot-to-kill-what-is-the-uks-policy

    Yeah, I agree with the rest of the thread that this doesn’t make sense with what I’ve been taught about real life use of guns.

    1. The article suggests they are trained to shoot center mass.

      1. US cops are currently being trained to empty their mags as quickly as possible. They aren’t aiming for center mass, with that kind of shooting, you aren’t aiming at all, spray and pray.

        1. With “hit rates” hovering below 30%, shooting half the magazine *away from* the target probably increases the chance of a lucky hit.

    2. “In Europe police are trained to shoot to wound”

      Did you intend to post some other link? That one says:

      “The official policy says firearms officers “shoot to incapacitate”. They are trained to target the centre of the chest as the quickest way to “neutralise” a suspect, even though it is highly likely that this will kill.

      The idea that officers will shoot to wound is dismissed because it is felt that it places the public and officers in too much danger.”

    3. It literally says the opposite.

      “They are trained to target the centre of the chest as the quickest way to “neutralise” a suspect, even though it is highly likely that this will kill.

      The idea that officers will shoot to wound is dismissed because it is felt that it places the public and officers in too much danger.”

    4. The problem here is the term “shoot to kill”, which is misleading at best in that it confuses goals with the possible consequences of the means employed to achieve that goal. The goal of any responsible use of deadly force for defense is not to kill, but to neutralize the threat in the fastest and most reliable manner. It just so happens that the most effective uses of deadly force to achieve that goal have a high probability of also causing the death of that threat.

      If that were not the case, and the purpose of shooting was to “kill” then lethal force training would teach that if the threat has been neutralized but the assailant still alive, you should continue shooting until he/she/it is no longer consuming oxygen. But no reputable training program does so.

      Oh…and the other problem is Sarcastr0 not bothering to read for comprehension before posting something.

      1. Goal is to neutralize the threat – exactly.

        You’d be surprised how a knife-wielding assailant can take a couple of bullets and keep going.

        1. Does that depend on whether you’re in a horror show or a cop procedural?

    5. No, they are not:

      “The official policy says firearms officers “shoot to incapacitate”. They are trained to target the centre of the chest as the quickest way to “neutralise” a suspect, even though it is highly likely that this will kill.”

  10. Biden was referring to the special case of a man without any arms, I.e. unarmed, coming at you with the knife between his teeth.

    In which case, you should shoot at his legs.

    1. He’s holding the knife between his toes. Shoot for the toes, in order “disarm” him.

    2. If the attacker attacking a police officer holds the knife between his teeth, the cop should call medical services to lock him up into a loonie bin. Let’s face it, holding knife between teeth while assaulting a police officer is probably not the smartest thing to do and there are serious questions about the mental health of anyone who would engage in such conduct.

    3. One of the leading and most respected firearms trainers teaches that when someone is coming at you with a contact weapon the best shot is to the pelvic bone. (This presupposes a firearm of sufficient caliber to break the bone). A center-mass shot may allow the person to live long enough to close the distance and still kill you with his weapon. However, if you break the pelvis, his mobility is then compromised and you can step back without fear of him being able to reach you. Takes lots of training and practice to achieve that level of coolness and shooting ability, though.

      1. A center-mass shot may allow the person to live long enough to close the distance and still kill you with his weapon…

        This of course also depends on the caliber of the weapon… A Desert Eagle .50 caliber round in the chest, well…

      2. The movie notion of an attacker taking a bullett and keep advancing, is just that, a movie notion. Unless you are hanging out in places full of hyped up druggies, most all people will stop while overwhelming pain overtakes them. As the post establishes, 50% hit accuracy is above average. Hence the “center mass” standard. Largest target rich environment.

        1. re: “overwhelming pain” – I refer you to the battlefield experience of the US against the Moro tribesmen in the Phillippines War or the experiences of the many thousands of soldiers who are surprised at the end of a battle to discover that they were wounded. Do not underestimate adrenaline as one of those drugs that can hype you up.

  11. Many years ago I did prison ministry for the federal BOP and at a state prison. Chaplains along with medical personnel – but strangely not psychologists – were exempt from being assigned to the guard towers.

    However, the rule was that in an escape situation, armed guards were to “shoot to wound.” Granted, this was shooting with a rifle – usually – from a fixed position. Therefore, the idea of “shoot to wound” is not COMPLETELY unknown to some segments of law enforcement.

    1. Well, in an escape situation, the inmate is likely running away from the guard, and the the neutralize the threat by shooting at the center of mass is not justified, as there is no threat. But if the inmate turns toward a guard, then there may be a threat.

    2. So guards, secure from personal danger, shooting an escaping convict in the back. Riiiight.

      1. Remember, it’s still the US we’re talking about. Criminals are outlaws and therefore have no rights.

  12. Sounds to me like maybe these cops shouldn’t be walking around with guns. The goal of any government policy surely has to be to keep the number of violent deaths to a minimum. And given the statistics in the OP, that requires either taking the guns away from the large majority of LEOs, or spending a lot more time and money teaching them how to use their weapons.

    1. I’m not sure that martinned is enough of a subject-matter expert on either firearms, force-on-force training, or close quarters combat to be giving advice about what the large majority of LEOs should be or should not be doing with self defense tools.

      1. It sounds to me like I’m as much (= as little) of an expert on firearms as most American cops.

        1. Why don’t you tell us your experience and training and we’ll judge for ourselves?

  13. The idea that adrenaline charged prison guards are going to be shooting at running inmates in a chaotic situation with such precision that they can pick and choose between “wounding” vs “killing” shots could only come from someone who has either never fired a gun, or at least has never fired it at anything more animated than a fixed paper target.

    1. People could practice this skill, just like they practice any other skill.

  14. In all the discussion in this thread, there is not one point that has not been discussed and analyzed by self defense experts. This is because questions like this have a absolutely huge literature. These questions have been discussed literally to death. Any further discussion would be beating a dead horse, that had been shot in the leg and died of its injuries. Therefore, I will not be adding anything further to the question of shooting to wound or aiming for the leg. But one would think that a responsible Presidential candidate, who was aware of his disproportionate influence, would be careful to consult the literature, before shooting off his big mouth. Obviously, Biden did not do that.

    1. Do you think Trump consults anything other than his ego before opening his mouth?

  15. Biden says he saw Clint Eastwood shot the gun out of the bad guys hand in a movie, why can’t cops just do that??

  16. Poor Joe, an unarmed person with a knife is a person armed with a knife. Shooting someone in an arm or leg is hard to do and may not stop the attacker. Why do cops shoot people more than once? Training, in part. The first round may not stop anyone. When I was shot in the stomach I didn’t know it for about 7-10 minutes; that is when pain was first noticed. The citation reads, in part, “even though wounded Lt. Hxxxxxx continued to direct his men and returned fire …..” I had no idea that I had been hit, at first. Whenever I read a story about a cop emptying his magazine I usually attribute it to the fact that the person shot probably has not learned the nature and extent of his injuries, so he continues to function. Cops need better less than lethal tools; so do teachers. Blinding light like a laser dazzaler needs to be deployed; and maybe considered for crowd control as well.

  17. I don’t think it is obviously clear that whatever is most likely to stop the attacker should be preferred, even though that is also what is most likely to kill the attacker. That could be right, but it might not be. It really depends on what is meant by more likely. What if by “more likely” we meant 0.001% more likely. That would be a lot different than 10% more likely or 50% more likely. We also have to ask, what are the consequences if the knife-wielding attacker is stopped later rather than sooner. After all, deadly force can still be used later if needed.

    We ought to recall that why everyone wants police officers and bystanders to be completely safe, that there is no such thing as complete safety in life. Police officers, in particular, are paid to do a job that they know involves some risk. But, not that much risk. Currently, being a police officer doesn’t break in the top 10 in terms of most dangerous job. And being killed in a traffic accident, not being slaughtered by some insane knife wielder, is the biggest risk of a being a police officer.

    There needs to be a balance. Hypothetically (in a world without constitutional or moral limits) police could reduce their risk to close zero by just shooting everyone they stop for even a minor traffic infraction. Anything else, after all, puts them at risk. But even the most hardcore pro-police advocate would reject that idea as too extreme. Even the most tyrannical government would not implement such a policy because it would be too extreme. So, everyone agrees there must be a balance. What people disagree on is where to draw the line.

    One problem though is that it is hard to get data. Has any police department ever adopted a “shoot them in the legs” strategy for knife attackers? If not, we don’t really have data to say whether this is a better way to balance risk or not. The above points by Eugene Volokh are not data, but informed intuition. Which may be the best we can do given our present state of knowledge, but also highly likely to be incorrect.

    Here is a basic fact everyone should keep in mind. Being killed by a police officer is an extremely unlikely way for anyone, including a person belong to a racial minority, to die. And police officers are also extremely unlikely to die on the job. For all of us, the bigger risks in life are things like heart disease, cancer, and (temporarily, one assumes) COVID-19.

    These issues are not just about the statistics of minimizing risk (although that is very important, of course), but also how people are treated. How the public is treated by police officers. And how police officers are treated by the public.

    And, just in case people do not think that is important, we should recall that chronic stress greatly increases the likelihood that we will be struck by our two biggest killers, heart disease and stroke. If police officers were mistreated by our society, the chronic stress would tend to cause health problems for them down the road. And to the extent police officers mistreat those they deal with, they also can inflict unnecessary chronic stress. (For example, due to the job loss of an unnecessary arrest.)

    It could be, that the real risk we should be focusing on first isn’t the statistical risk of an improbable but dramatic event like a police officer shooting someone or being shot themselves, but how people interact with each other and whether they treat each other with respect and with decency. One also suspects that to the extent that people treat each other properly, that will also sometimes help reduce shootings. But the even bigger rewards in terms of lifespan gains might actually be due to lower stress.

  18. As someone who detested Hillary Clinton but voted for her because she was the better of the two bad choices, I feel the same about Biden.

    I’ll vote for him because he’s better of the two bad choices but GOD SOMEONE PLEASE TELL HIM TO SHUT THE FUCK UP.

    I’m a retired federal officer and was trained to aim for center mass.

    At the critical moment you simply don’t have time to “aim.”

    I was trained that law enforcement shootings last approx. three seconds and the people involved are on average three feet apart – so there isn’t time or distance to aim for anything than center mass.

    1. apedad…we are probably on different sides of the political spectrum but you are 100% correct…the NRA training I attended said the same thing; aim for center mass. You literally only have milliseconds to react.

  19. The leg? That’s not very accommodating. I suggest a heartfelt: “Pretty please.”

  20. I’d like to see what the firearms qualifications requirements are for police in each state and what the training is.

    I’ve been told by some Florida friends (so take with grain of salt), the requirement for cops in Florida is to be able to hit the paper at 10 yards. Not the 1-ring, the paper.

  21. TLDR: Biden is an not all there. 🙂

    (And what was up with Biden and the mask on his chin at that one recent appearance?)

    It’s this sort of thing that makes Trump look reasonable in comparison.

  22. So many stupid people who have an opinion and never been in a fight. Some one comes at you you shoot them dead even if they do not have a weapon. Who says that they might not beat you to death or suffocate you? Some one attacking you means you harm. Protect your self, your family, and your property. Kill the animals.

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