It's simply too hard in the heat of battle to shoot a leg. Most police miss when shooting center mass. Shooting a smaller target is even more difficult. The idea against shooting to wound is ingrained in American police officers.
But here is a fascinating read from 2011 (one, two, and three) on how you can shoot to wound. How training is done in at least one other country (anybody know about others?). In the Czech Republic they do train police to shoot people in the leg.
It certainly makes me wonder if we could do the same. Are American police inherently worse shots? Why can't we change our training, if need be? If nothing else, training officers to have the option to shoot to wound would give police a justifiable choice. Now maybe you don't want to have choices in the heat of the battle, but you always have a choice (most officers, myself include, have been in situations where they could have used lethal force, but choose not to). Right now, officers are forbidden to aim for anything but center mass (or the head) (and yet I've spoken officers who would consider doing so in some circumstances, despite the prohibition on it).
“Okay,” I said, “but what if the round passes through? What about the round striking an innocent person who happened to be on the other side of the target?” Now I had him against the ropes, surely these cops are mindful of the dynamic environment in which law enforcement plays out.
Again, he responded without hesitation. “That’s another reason why we aim to the legs. At the distance we usually fire — remember, two to three meters — the bullet has a trajectory towards the ground of only a few feet. A pass through is rare — we use hollow point bullets — but if it does occur, it is not likely to travel much farther.”
“Well, what if the guy is shooting at you? Dropping him to the ground with a leg shot may stop the forward attack but it is not likely to stop the threat?” he can still fire at you — and you won’t have time to assess the continued threat to see if he stopped!
He grinned at me, “If he is shooting at you? Well, then we use lethal shots — two to the chest, one to the head.”
He smacked it out of the park. If you are being shot at, well, then you use lethal shots — two to the chest and one on the head. Of course you do!
When officers recite the “we don’t shoot to kill” mantra — and believe it — we may reasonably conclude that they are not properly prepared to take a human life. Deluding officers into actually believing that police are not supposed to kill — or are even allowed to kill — creates a deadly mental block that will most likely surface in that critical moment of truth — when ending a life for the sake of the greater good may be necessary.
Further, the mantra sends the wrong message to the community. That message indicates that whenever a subject is killed at the hands of a law enforcement officer, then something must have been done wrong, for surely law enforcement does not shoot to kill — they only shoot to stop.
This is probably why American police are reluctant to adopt policies that suggest that shooting in certain scenarios might be intended only to wound, for fear that a wounding shot might accidentally kill. No, it is better for a killing shot to accidentally wound. American police routinely adopt policies that plan for the worst, and hope for the best.
Center mass shots will likely remain the only target area taught and supported by training in the United States. If we don’t have a justification to kill, then we simply teach to not shoot. We prefer a model where we aren’t forced to account so much for accuracy, rather our mission is to describe the elements of using deadly force. We prefer that our accountability virtually end at the squeeze of the trigger.
If the bullet hits and kills, that’s OK — if it doesn’t kill, perhaps that’s better?