Lawmakers in New York are again contemplating the notion of “shoot-to-wound” legislation and cops in that state are understandably furious. The so-called ‘minimum force’ bill was drafted in the aftermath the death of Sean Bell outside a Queens, New York strip club on November 25, 2006. Similar legislation has been previously presented, and defeated, but the fact that it’s come around again indicates a particularly slow learning curve among law makers about what law enforcers actually do.
According to a newspaper report by Murray Weiss of the New York Post, the bill would “amend the state penal codes’ ‘justification’ clause that allows an officer the right to kill a thug if he feels his life or someone else's is in imminent danger.”
Weiss writes that the bill proposed bill “would force officers to use their weapons ‘with the intent to stop, rather than kill’ a suspect” and would mandate that cops ‘shoot a suspect in the arm or the leg’ as opposed to the present practice of aiming center-mass until the threat is stopped.
Here’s just one problem with this ill-advised piece of legislation: cops already shoot to stop — not kill — the threat.
Sure, there’s the one-in-a-million instance — usually when a hostile suspect is holding a hostage at gunpoint with imminent danger of death to said hostage — in which an immediate de-animation shot is required. But there are many, many more instances in which an officer — or multiple officers — have put rounds on a dangerous suspect, stopped them from being a threat, and then instantaneously rendered life-saving aid.
PoliceOne has obtained the advance draft of an upcoming position paper from our partners at Force Science Research Center, which counters — with ease and aplomb — the sideways thinking in this type of legislation. Check out that important paper here.
“When I encounter civilian response to officer-involved shootings, it’s very often ‘Why didn’t they just shoot him in the leg?’” Dr. Bill Lewinski, executive director of the Force Science Institute, told Force Science News in a 2006 interview centered on Paterson’s proposed legislation. “When civilians judge police shooting deaths–on juries, on review boards, in the media, in the community–this same argument is often brought forward. Shooting to wound is naively regarded as a reasonable means of stopping dangerous behavior.
“In reality, this thinking is a result of ‘training by Hollywood,’ in which movie and TV cops are able to do anything to control the outcomes of events that serve the director’s dramatic interests. It reflects a misconception of real-life dynamics and ends up imposing unrealistic expectations of skill on real-life officers.”
Vice President Joe Biden apparently agrees, according to the FSRC report. “When Michael Paladino, president of New York’s Detectives Endowment Association, showed him the bill he reportedly scoffed and suggested that it be called the ‘John Wayne Bill’ because of the unrealistic, movie-like sharpshooting skills it demands of officers,” reads the Force Science paper.
PoliceOne Firearms Columnist Ron Avery is quoted in the Force Science Research document as saying that shooting to wound “reflects a misapplication of police equipment. Less-lethal options should be attempted only with tools designed for that purpose.”
Avery says further that if you “deliberately use deadly force to bring people into custody without incapacitating them, you’re using the wrong tool for that job. Also, if you shoot them in the arm or leg and you destroy muscle tissue, shatter bone or destroy nerve function you have maimed that person for life. Now attorneys can play the argument of ‘cruel and unusual punishment’ and pursue punitive damages for destroying the capacity of your ‘victim’ to earn wages and so on. You don’t try to just wound people with a gun. Period.”
This legislation — and other such nonsense like it — was almost certainly drafted by a group of people who have never in their lives operated a firearm, much less done so in the life-or-death context that police officers face every day they pin on the badge.
Avery has an idea on how we can help those folks get an idea. “Put them in a cage with a lion,” Avery suggests. “Then let’s see if they shoot to wound.”
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