If you were watching the news cycle yesterday then you likely saw former Vice President Biden make another gun related gaffe. You may remember his suggestion a few years ago to buy a double barrel shotgun, and fire both barrels into the air, in order to deter home invaders. Well he's at it again. This time he's focused on law enforcement, with tips on how to more effectively stop a threat.
His suggestion? Shoot suspects in the legs. “The idea that instead of standing there and teaching a cop when there’s an unarmed person, coming at him with a knife or something, to shoot him in the leg instead of in the heart”.
More bad self defense advice from somebody who doesn't know anything about firearms.
Why is attempting to shoot someone in the leg bad advice? I'm glad you asked.
If you were unlucky enough to be forced to use deadly force, shooting an aggressor in the leg is the second most negligent action a legally armed person can take. Shooting someone in the leg is only second to a warning shot. You know, like firing two blasts out of your Elmer Fudd shotgun at someone trying to break in.
Why Not to Shoot the Leg
First off, the leg is an extremely small and extremely mobile target. This means that it is very difficult to hit with any reliability. Law enforcement exhibits somewhere between 20-35% accuracy rates nationwide depending on the department and your sourcing. With that in mind, we don't want to increase the rate of missed shots. Why? Because every bullet that leaves a gun has to go somewhere. Those misses might make their way into an innocent bystander. Shooters will be responsible financially, legally, and morally for each unintentional hit on a person or property.
While accuracy increases through better training, that will take time and money but it still won't take your beat cop from Barney Fife to Jack Bauer. Just like with civilians, time and money are in short supply. Training budgets have been regularly slashed over the past several decades. Many departments seem to think more training results in more liability, when nothing could be further from the truth.
Lethality and Effectiveness
Next, the leg is filled with several major arteries and veins (and lots of hair in Mr. Biden's case). Your likelihood of striking one with a bullet is extremely high. If you strike a bone and shatter it, that shrapnel also has an extremely high chance of severing those arteries. Unless somebody receives immediate medical attention in the form of one or more tourniquets, they will likely bleed to death in under a minute. Even with the tourniquet applied, there is still a chance of death depending on the composition of wound.
If you manage to land a hit on your target's leg, and fail to strike any critical infrastructure, you are left with an ineffective hit. There are two ways to stop a threat; either through a psychological stop (they give up), or through incapacitation. Incapacitation is the only reliable way to stop a threat, and can only come through very specific means. In this context, we define incapacitation as death or unconsciousness resulting from loss of blood or failure of the central nervous system (CNS) resulting in a lack of bodily control.
We have no capability to cause CNS failure with a shot to the leg, so incapacitation through that route is out of the question. Any major blood loss will likely have to come from severing one of the above mentioned arteries and veins, which can very likely result in death. This defeats the entire purpose of former Vice President Biden's suggestion.
You may cause a suspect to panic and surrender with a physically ineffective hit, but that cannot be relied upon. Are you just trying to scare your target into forfeiting the fight? Not only is that tactically unsound, but it is ethically dubious at best.
Legality and Optics
Employing your firearm means you have made the decision to employ deadly force. A firearm, even something as minuscule as the lowly .22LR, is regarded as deadly force in virtually every jurisdiction in the nation. In the high likelihood you wind up in court, how are you going to explain yourself? Remember the fundamental rules of firearm safety "Do not cover anything with your muzzle that you are not willing to kill or destroy." I think this is a concept that may elude former VP Biden.
You opted to use your deadly weapon, but you weren't in enough danger to use it in an effective way? If that's the case, then why did you not use something less lethal? Pepper spray, a taser, your empty handed skills, the list goes on and on. Whether you lack the training as an officer, or the tools as a civilian, a gun is not a one size fits all solution. Chuck Haggard's quote of having "something between a harsh word and a gun" is something everyone should consider here.
In the era of the cellphone camera, all eyes are on us all the time. As an officer or civilian gun owner, how will pulling your pistol look plastered across Facebook and Instagram? How about if you shoot them in the leg? Now think if you attempt to shoot a suspect in the leg and miss, hitting someone or something else. Our actions are subject to scrutiny at all times. Can you legally, ethically, and socially justify your actions and their results? In this case, not likely.
Where to Shoot To Stop An Attacker
If we shouldn't shoot someone in the leg, then where should we shoot? The high center chest, roughly an 8-inch circle in the area of the heart and lungs. The high chest is an extremely large target meaning it is very difficult to miss compared to extremities. If you do happen to miss that critical area, you still have the larger torso to strike. The torso moves very little compared to extremities, making it an easier target compared to a leg.
Here's where former VP Biden's objections start to come into play.
"But wait! isn't shooting someone in the chest a death sentence? We're not trying to kill people!" - Low Information Soccer Mom #7,342
Anatomy is complicated, and bullet performance varies greatly. While certain combinations are more effective than others, the high center chest will be your best bet more often than not. Even though it contains the heart, shots to the chest are extremely survivable.
- Protecting the vulnerable organs and arteries is the rib cage, known for deflecting rounds that strike it.
- The heart is a very robust muscle, allowing it to endure substantial trauma, potentially even surviving bullets.
- Collapsed lungs are a possibility, but those are largely survivable with modern medicine as well.
Incapacitation via Blood Loss
Of course, the chest is filled with arteries and veins. A shot to the aorta is far more lethal than one to the heart itself due to the less robust nature of arteries versus muscles. You can certainly die from a single shot to the chest, but the likelihood is fairly low. If you want to incapacitate someone, especially in a rapid manner, you'll likely need several hits to increase blood loss. Even your magical .45 stopping power isn't going to disintegrate people like you think it will.
Central Nervous System in the High Center Chest
There is a slim, but possible chance of immediate incapacitation when shooting the high center chest via the CNS. How is this possible when the brain lives in the skull? Simple. We still have the spine.
This works very similarly to a common concussion, where the brain strikes the inside of the skull. In this instance, the bullet's impact smacks the spinal cord against the inside of the spinal column, resulting in temporary incapacitation. This is known as a spinal cord concussion. With no brain trauma occurring, the likelihood of death or permanent brain damage is extremely low. Of course, there is damage to the spine from the bullet, which can vary widely. This is also contingent upon rounds getting enough penetration with proper shot placement.
Final Thoughts on Joe Biden and Leg Shooting
Don't take advice from people with a legal or political agenda and no knowledge of what they're talking about. I'm sure former VP Biden knows a great deal about certain subjects, but firearms is not one of them. In short, his suggestions are dangerous and irresponsible.
Sadly, self-defense and the use of force are two of the few life-altering topics in which subject matter experts are virtually completely ignored outside of our own community. The term gun nut is thrown around with varying levels of derision and admiration. Verify your sources, and their sources as well. This isn't a realm to trust soundbites and snake oil.