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Use-of-force law and its impact on muzzle position

Recently, some P1 members questioned the legalities surrounding a situation where an officer points a firearm at a person when the officer is not imminently prepared to fire. In response, this article discusses the relevant use-of-force legal parameters law enforcement must function within and how they affect muzzle position.

Exercising the discipline during a search to keep the muzzle slightly depressed, at the low ready and finger indexed off the trigger, is an effective method of preventing potentially deadly unintended discharges. In Tallman v. Elizabethtown Police Department, 167 Fed.Appx. 459 (6th Cir. 2006), a suspect seated behind the wheel of a car was slow to raise his hands. The officer, pointing a weapon at the suspect’s head, reached into the car to grab the suspect. The officer shot himself in the hand and fatally shot the unarmed suspect in the head. Stories like this, describing unintended discharges following a startle response, balance disruption causing a clenching response, or sympathetic muscle response clenching are too common.

Some believe that an officer saves precious time by firing from the eye-muzzle-target position rather than coming up on target from a depressed muzzle. Mroz counters that this argument fails to consider the reaction time required to recognize the threat. He also points out that the lag time between the brain’s message to the finger and the actual finger-pull is greater than the time it takes to (simultaneously) raise the muzzle to the target. The majority of law enforcement firearms instructors agree that there is no critical time lost in a searching with a depressed muzzle, and that the slight intimidation factor isn’t worth the trade-off of an unsafe tactic. Their views are supported by use-of-force rules applied by courts across the nation.

Graham v. Connor

GrahamRobinson v. Solano CountyMcDonald v. Haskins

Holland ex rel. Overdorff v. Harringtoncert. denied

GrahamMurray ex rel Morrow v. Metropolitan Government of Nashville

GrahamUnited States v. SwiftCrisp v. City of KentonUnited States v. McMurrayCourson v. McMillianEdwards v. Giles



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