There are two great big pet peeves that I have with concealed carry, one with the actual firearms community and the other with non gun owners.  Both of them center around this issue of killing, and how it has taken an unfortunate center stage in the minds of many people.

The issue I have with non gun-owners is the oft repeated saw of “you’re only carrying a gun so you can kill someone” which we all know isn’t true; but it persists and part of it is our fault.  You see, that pet peeve ties directly to my pet peeve with the CCW community, which is the usage of the phrase “shoot to kill”.  Every time I hear that it causes my brain to twitch and spasm.  The problem is one of language, and to a certain extent we as CCW holders and gun owners have allowed the language to get corrupted both in popular media and our own terms from time to time.

I’ve said before (in fact, a comment I left this morning was the inspiration for this post) that as CCW holders the words “shoot to kill” should never pass our lips unless being uttered in the sentence “I don’t shoot to kill I shoot to stop”.  While it may seem like a semantic difference to some people, allow me to elaborate further.  We do not, contrary to Elite Warriorz Videos “shoot people to the ground”.  If you are forced to deploy a firearm in a dynamic critical incident in defense of your life or others, your goal should only be to stop the threat.  This is why we train to shoot for the center of mass on targets, because placing bullets in those areas are most likely to induce the threat to cease their hostile actions.  It is an unfortunate side effect of human physiology that putting bullets in those places also carries a significant likelihood of killing that person.

This is where the anti-gun person then jumps in and says “See, you do want to kill people!”  This is an opportunity for us to be perfectly clear, because what creates the difference between “shoot to kill” and “shoot to stop” is your mindset and intent.  Here and many other blogs have talked about making the decision now, in the light of day to do what you must to survive a violent assault, and this is a large component of that you.  Shooting to stop is legally justifiable – you fire only as many rounds as it takes to produce the desired result (the bad guy stops) and no more.  In some cases, that means not firing a shot.  In other cases, one shot, or two, or more.  But because you’re mentally prepared to stop this person, you’re going to do what you need to do an no more.

That’s the line that anti-gun people don’t understand.  I don’t want to kill anyone.  If I had to use my firearm in self defense and someone did die, I can assure you that the emotional trauma of that moment would live me for a lifetime.  The bottom line is that I don’t carry a firearm to kill anyone – I carry a gun to defend my life and the lives of others – I carry a gun to stop a threat.


  1. This is all completely true… and yet, honestly, the distinction in language without the full explanation just sounds like you’re trying to slide around the real issue.

    The goal of shooting someone is to always to stop them. The purpose is to stop them.

    But the moment you actually pull the trigger instead of just hoping they run away at the sight of the gun, the means is to kill them, and this is always true. You don’t open with a Mozambique drill because it’s a good way to stop someone without killing them, but because it’s an effective way to stop them *by* killing them.

    I understand the distinction, and you understand the distinction. And it is definitely an important philosophical distinction when determining which actions one should espouse in personal defense. But they are just as dead, and your intention is to make them just as dead, because their actions and the situation has left no other reasonable option. In fact, it often means using “scarier” ammunition or weaponry, because the goal is to make them dead *quick* (so as to stop them) rather than slow (as in eventually dying from a .22 hitting a major organ).

    The “shoot to stop” argument with someone who hasn’t read the full philosophical treatise just comes back down to “Why didn’t you shoot a warning shot or shoot his leg. Oh, so you were shooting to kill, stop trying to pretend that you weren’t.”

  2. 1) “Killed” is “stopped” to a high degree of certainty.

    2) If you weren’t justified in killing the guy, you weren’t justified in using lethal force at all.

    3) I’m completely unconcerned with what the ignorant think about my language.

    I’ve never said “shoot to kill”, but I am guilty of repeatedly uttering “shoot them to the ground”. People shooting a criminal once and expecting that to convince him to stop is a very real problem. Helping a normal person overcome his innate civility and get him to shoot repeatedly and decisively to resolve the fight is often done with harsh language. If people are offended by this, it is their problem, not mine.

  3. How can one break the habit of saying “kill” instead of “stop the threat” ?

    I see how the distinction is important. CCDW instructor covered it, some of the RO’s at the pistol matches are careful to say “neutralize” instead of “kill”, but its just not common language.

  4. I think the big question can be phrased like the Tootsie-Pop commercial:

    Q: “How many rounds dies it take to stop a gun fight?”

    A: “As many as it takes…”

    I’m going to have to go on others telling me this, because I have no direct experience, but from what others have said, I’ll defer to their insights…

  5. Great post, and I 100% agree.

    The hypothetical example I like to point out is four scenarios.

    #1. I get attacked by a crazed dude hopped-up on goofballs who has a framing hammer, and thinks my head looks like a nail. I draw my gun and put a few shots into his COM and he falls to the ground and dies before authorities arrive.

    #2. I get attacked by a crazed dude hopped-up on goofballs who has a framing hammer, and thinks my head looks like a nail. I draw my carry gun and he sobers up and runs away.

    #3. I get attacked by a crazed dude hopped-up on goofballs who has a framing hammer, and thinks my head looks like a nail. I draw my carry gun and put a few shots into his COM, he falls, but is resuscitated by EMTs and goes on to live.

    #4. I get attacked by a crazed dude hopped-up on goofballs who has a framing hammer, and thinks my head looks like a nail. I draw my carry gun and put a few shots into his COM. He then beats me to death and makes it half-way around the block before he bleeds out and dies.

    So 4 Scenarios, half of them result in the attacker being killed, half where he lives. 1-3 are successful stories in just about everybody’s book, as you get to go home to your bed after all the mess is cleaned up. #4 you “Shot to Kill” and joined your killer in the Morgue. That’s a failure, despite a “clean kill”.

    So yes indeed, I ONLY shoot to stop, NEVER to kill, because if my attacker lives or dies is of little importance to me, and not the reason why I carry, I carry because I just want to go home at the end of the day.

  6. I have to agree with much of the sentiment posted. Saying that you aren’t shooting to kill is either A) CCW PR or B) admitting that a pistol is a compromise at best between firepower and concealability/portability. If I am in a firefight, I would want a weapon that is going to give me the greatest chance of survival by eliminating the threat as soon as possible. Logically, that would be a gun that provides a one shot kill every time. If that could be packaged into a small firearm, it would inevitably be the rage of the CCW crowd, and logically so. Why would you choose anything less?

  7. Genius, bookmarked this so I can show it to others if need be.
    I used to be a member of a group on Facebook called (KEEP YOUR LAWS OFF MY GUNS) and yes the group name was in all caps.
    Over a year ago I left there because I got tired of the actions of the firearm owners there..other than mostly acting like 12 year old kids was most of their stance on CCW. Every blasted time a discussion thread popped up about it all the 1337 0p3r4t0r5 of the group would show up and go on and on about how they would only shoot to kill, not to stop. So what they were talking about was basically borderline murder and it drove me insane each time I saw it. The people in that group give firearm owners a bad name..and it’s no wonder there’s pretty much no active females in that group (total sausage fest)..each and every one they end up running off by acting all macho, it’s quite funny really.

  8. Part of the problem is the inadequacy of the English language. There’s really no quick “catchy” way to say “shoot to stop the threat, and the fastest, most effective way to stop the threat is also the most likely way to kill the attacker, because if he’s dead the threat is ended immediately, but I don’t care if he survives as long as it stops the threat.”

    Since the attention span of the average MSM reporter is slightly less than the half-life of Ununoctium, if that’s not distilled into roughly three to five words, anything except for the “interesting” words gets ignored.

    From a legal standpoint, attorneys like asking yes or no questions of their opponents even if yes or no are inadequate answers. “Were you shooting to kill” is a loaded question, and if some prosecutor or an attorney for the goblin’s family is examining you, they’re not going to let you answer anything except yes or no, then use the answer to dig you into a deeper hole. If you’re lucky, your attorney can dig you out of it.

    Personally, like I said in the other thread, if I have to shoot someone, I’m past the point where I care if they survive or not, as long as they stop doing whatever it is that prompted me to shoot them. If the first shot kills them instantly, I’m done shooting, but I’m also done shooting if I miss and they stop. Realistically, it doesn’t matter to me either way as long as I’m safe.

  9. I understand what you are trying to say, and, after a fashion, I agree with it, but the simple fact is that a firearm is deadly force, and employing it is an action that is known to most reasonable people to cause grievous bodily harm or death.

    So, yes, we are performing a series of actions intended and desiring to stop a threat to us, our person, and/or our families; but we are doing so using an implement that exerts deadly force. “Shoot to kill” and “shoot to stop”, in this case, are pretty much equivalent, and while the splitting of the hairs can be important for public perception, personally, I am just not seeing it.

  10. Put yourself on the witness stand for a moment. “So, Mr. Defendant, based on what you wrote on your personal website, you admit that you were shooting to kill the deceased?”

    There is more to it than just public perception as well, but also to guard yourself against anti-self defense prosecutors looking to pad their conviction stats. It’s not just a semantic distinction, but a very important mental distinction to teach people. Your average person that has a CCW permit is not a warrior, they are not a killer, and they are not an operator. Their primary interest in the permit is for defense of life and property. People tend to hesitate at the concept of taking a human life, which is generally a good thing. By teaching people that they are not killers, but merely shooting to stop and the potential death of the bad guy is merely an unpleasant side effect, you can create both a legal and mental shield around people who have decided to take up arms for self-defense.

  11. I don’t think it’s the semantic issue that some on here perceive it to be. If I’m attacked, I’m shooting until the attacker decides to stop being a threat, plus a little reaction time for me to realize that. If drawing the weapon is enough, he lives. If one or two rounds makes him drop his weapon and run, he might live. But if his pulse ending is the only thing that stops him, so be it.

    If you can’t see how that is wrapped up with “shoot to stop”, and not “shoot to kill”, either your logic skills are a little weak, or you’re a bit bloodthirsty. For those that fit into the latter, I find it unlikely any of you have had to watch someone bleed to death. Watch that, and your eagerness to “shoot to kill” will fade pretty quickly…unless you’re some kind of sociopath.

  12. Caleb,

    Put yourself on that same witness stand.

    So Mr. Defendant,, if you were ‘shooting to stop’ why didn’t you try to shoot the gun out of his hand or shoot him in the femur or pelvic or fire a warning shot?”

    The difference I see is you want to put a positive spin on the action — but the action doesn’t change.

    In answer to your courtroom, I would answer:
    “Yes, since my life was in danger I had no choice but to employ deadly force. I wish he would have stopped before I had to shoot but he didn’t.
    He could have stopped when I warned him.
    He could have stopped when I drew my firearm.
    He could have stopped when I aimed my firearm.
    He could have stopped when I told him to stop or I would shoot.
    The fact that I had to shoot to kill was a result of his actions”

    The truth is the action — actually shooting the firearm is to kill, we sure aren’t shooting to tickle are we?

    If a non-killing shot stops the crime, GREAT but it doesn’t change our aim.

  13. Well that’s the thing, I’m certainly not shooting to tickle anyone – but if I shoot the guy in the chest and the EMTs that arrive are able to save his life, then awesome.

    My answer to the lawyer would be along the lines of “I didn’t want to kill him, however law enforcement agencies and studies have shown that the most effective way to incapacitate an attacker is to shoot them in the center of mass. My goal was to defend my life and nothing more.” Unless of course my lawyer told me to say something different. Which is another part of this – none of us have ever sat on that stand in that capacity, so there is very much an armchair quarterback component to all this.

  14. If you are shooting a firearm at a person, you are trying to kill them – that is what “deadly force” is, and that is the position of every legal entity I have bothered to pay attention to over the years (to whit, Florida, Tennessee, and the Navy).

    Frankly, if a person cannot come to terms with that simple fact, they should not be carrying a firearm in any context, and I say that as someone who is decidedly non-operatorish and non-bad-ass, and someone who has never even heard a shot fired in anger.

    Now, making the distinction on the witness stand in front of the 12 people who will be deciding the fate of your life is important, as I already said – public perception. But the law, and I would argue logic, sees no such distinction.

  15. Deadly force refers to the level of the force (i.e. capable of killing), not that you are required to use it.

    Frankly, if a person can’t grasp that pulling the trigger once doesn’t mean you have to keep pulling until you are absolutely sure he is dead, they should not be carrying. If you’re so eager to kill, please make sure you do a coup de grace right through his noggin’, “Collateral” style, just to be sure. After all, it’s deadly force, so go to town with it.

  16. If you would actually care to read my comments, Laughingdog, nowhere have I even implied that a person is “required” to use deadly force. However, now that the conversation has officially degraded to the point of flinging Brady-Bunch-style accusations with wild abandon, I am quite through with it.

    Suffice to say, “recognizing what something is” is not, in any way, shape, or form, equivalent to “being ‘eager’ to do the something in question”, but thanks for playing.

  17. LaughingDog,

    The pulling a trigger once is the same as pulling it a dozen times — you are legally employing deadly force.

    The fact that the attack can/could be stopped with one shot doesn’t change the focus of your employment of that force — it is each time you pull the trigger -deadly force.

    The reason most people don’t use a coup de grace is because it isn’t needed.

    If a shooting to kill does not result in a death, great — the attack stopped because you were shooting to kill.

  18. “So, Mr. Defendant, based on what you wrote on your personal website, you admit that you were shooting to kill the deceased?”

    No Sir, I shot to live.

  19. “Deadly force” is a legal term of art which means “force sufficient to kill or cause grievous bodily harm”. The use of deadly force is not synonymous with the concept of shoot to kill but from a legal standpoint is in fact more in line with the concept of shoot to stop. If you’re justified in using deadly/lethal force in an attack, the moment that attack stops you are no longer justified to use such force. The law itself is not centered around killing, but rather around the action of the attack and the defense. Hence, we shoot to stop the attack.

    No one is suggesting that we teach CCW holders that their guns will not kill people, in fact quite the opposite. Because death is often inseparable from “stopping” a threat, that in fact creates an imperative that we teach people the concept of “stop” rather than “kill”.

    Look at the phrases: “I want to stop a threat against my life using whatever force necessary” vs “I want to kill the person threatening my life with whatever force necessary”. Functionally to us they mean precisely the same thing, but imagine reading the latter statement to a jury. Which do you think plays better on the evening news, or in a courtroom?

  20. I agree that the shoot to stop mentality is important to teach and to espouse. I agree that it is a better sound bite, and a probably a better overall way to attempt to frame the debate. But it still sounds like framing. If I’ve haven’t read the whole explanation of the distinction (which even in your abbreviated form takes five paragraphs of a gun blog post – longer than most newspaper articles on a shooting, definitely), it sounds like pro-gun whitewashing.

    Every bullet out of your gun is shot with the intent to kill. That you would have preferred not to fire, and that you will *stop* having the intent to kill the moment you realize the person is no longer a threat are important moral distinctions. I just feel that while “shoot to stop” does capture that difference, if I view it as a gun rights skeptic it also seems to be euphemizing away the attempted (justifiable) homicide.

    And for those claiming we sound bloodthirsty in saying that – really? I have no desire to shoot someone, ever. If I ever have to, I fully intend (despite what it might do to my courtroom defense) to give the best emergency medical response for my target as I am able. I just feel as though we should be careful that we don’t hide ourselves too well behind different euphemisms so as to seem indifferent to the (again, justified and unavoidable) suffering that can be caused.

  21. Thanks for posting this article Caleb. This post really kicked me in the ass and forced me to think. I don’t know if it would have been as forceful if it hadn’t come from someone who has talked about their experience stopping the threat and doing so in the right way.

  22. Every bullet out of your gun is shot with the intent to kill.

    I believe this is the source of our disconnect. At a fundamental level I disagree with this statement. What I am talking about specifically is the intent of the action. If I am hunting, my intent most certainly is a quick, clean kill of a game animal. The focus in that situation is external, primarily on the target of the bullets.

    In a self defense situation, my focus and intent is different. Whether it’s a street attack, a home invasion, or a lawful intervention my intent isn’t to kill, but rather to use such force as is necessary to stop the threat in the quickest manner possible.

    Again, I’m not saying that we should pretend our guns are phasers that shoot stun-rays. If you shoot someone to stop them, there is a reasonable chance that they will die. But there is a clear mental distinction between training yourself to stop a threat and training yourself to kill a person.

    I’m not even saying that there isn’t a place for the latter. I want the military to be killers, and to be very good at their job. That is an appropriate theatre for the shoot to kill mindset; and the lessons learned on the battlefield can certainly be applied to training private citizens. What I’m opposed to is people not learning or understanding the very important mental and legal distinction between stopping the fight and killing a person.

  23. Here’s another way to think about it: If there was a nonlethal option that would reliably incapacitate someone at ranges comparable to a handgun, and was just as concealable, wouldn’t you use it?

  24. “Here’s another way to think about it: If there was a nonlethal option that would reliably incapacitate someone at ranges comparable to a handgun, and was just as concealable, wouldn’t you use it?”

    Hell’s Yeah!

    Also to add:
    “If I am hunting, my intent most certainly is a quick, clean kill of a game animal. The focus in that situation is external, primarily on the target of the bullets.”

    Yep, and if you’re hunting white-tails and you see a deer, but don’t get a clean shot, Bambi gets to go home.

    That being said while hunting deer if a Bear comes out of the woods in a dead charge, you’re gonna put as much lead in his direction until he’s dead or stops the attack.

    One is shooting to kill, one is shooting to stop, both may have similar results but the methodology is VERY different.

  25. Weer’d,

    I disagree on the methodology difference.

    In both cases, taking the shoot at the deer or taking the shoot at the bear, you are shooting to kill the animal as quickly as possible.

    In both cases, you are going for either a central nervous system hit or a cardio hit.

    The major focus I see isn’t on the “shooting” aspect and that is where I see the problem.

    Every action taken is to stop the threat, yes. I agree completely.

    But the actually “shooting” is acquiring the target and firing — in that aspect every shot is a shot to kill. Not to wound, not to scare the criminal away but the kill — in hopes of stopping the attack

    That’s still shooting to kill.

  26. Shooting to stop or shooting the kill, if you hit what are you aiming for, the target is dead. The difference in the philosophy usually comes as to what your reaction to a miss would be. I just don’t think that “I’m very happy that I missed by a little and only put him in a wheelchair instead of killing him” sounds very convincing, for all that I *entirely* agree that it is true, because you still intentionally attempted to break the guy’s spine, sever a major artery, or destroy his heart when you took the shot.

    I guess I could put it that in my opinion the overarching intent (stop the guy) mitigates but does not remove the immediate intent (stop the guy by trying to kill him because he hasn’t stopped for anything else). The fact that you will immediately *stop* trying to kill him if he ceases his action is awesome, and is the core of self defense versus murder… but for that moment in time you’re still trying to kill because nothing else worked.

    Sorry if I’m repeating myself. I do understand what you’re arguing, and it’s a very core part of responsible self defense. I just think that it’s less of a separate act and more of a primary and secondary action, if that makes sense.

  27. To answer a question, yes if I had a non-lethal option that would stop an attacker as reliably as a double tap to the CNS then I would absolutely carry it. I want a phaser that I can set for stun!

  28. That could become another talking point:

    “Look, there are no good options for reliably stopping a violent attacker. If there was a good non-lethal option, I’d gladly use it. It’d be great if there was a way to knock someone out from a safe distance so I could safely run away. But there isn’t. Carrying a handgun is the least bad of the possible options for self-defense.”

  29. I actually have had some success explaining shoot to stop v. kill like this (think I learned this from Mas Ayoob).

    There are two ways in incapacitate an attacker intent on inflicting sever harm on you. 1 Disrupt the Central Nervous System. 2 Cause them to loose consciousness via a lack of oxygenated blood to the brain.

    Looking at the human body the CNS is a VERY small target to be hitting under stress. However there is a massive target that has a lot of blood flowing through it. that is much easier to hit.

    I also learned from Ayoob the why you always say stop rather than kill and your example in the comments is correct. Your words will be used to hang you if you say kill. Of course your whole reason for producing the gun was to make the threat go away. When it wouldn’t you had to stop it in the best way possible.

    FYI- Never had the pleasure of attending one of Mas Ayoob’s classes. I’ve just tried my best to get my hands on everything he’s written or put on video.

  30. “Stopping Power” is about stopping the threat form BEING A THREAT!

    If someone attacks you and you shoot them and they stop attacking you-You Win.
    If you shoot an attacker and they then run away, You Win.
    If you shoot an attacker and they then drop they weapon and stand there is stunned silence looking at their own blood, You Win.

    “Shoot to the ground” is nonsense. If you shoot an attacker “to the ground” but they keep attacking, you are still at risk.

    Using “lethal force” or “deadly force” is not the same as shooting to kill.

    It is like the difference between “potentially” and “actually.”

    I recognize that I may well kill somebody who, himself, was trying to kill someone else. But that is not the end goal. If the threat stops attacking before he receives a lethal injury, he gets to live.

    And yes, you can win a gunfight.

    If you end up in prison or in a wheelchair, sure you get to live, but you still lost the gunfight. The point is not to “only” survive, the point of self-defense is to go back to your normal life afterward. No medical bills, no legal bills. You get to keep your life with the perp taking NOTHING from you.

    That is how you win a gunfight. At least, that is what the cop who taught me said.

  31. Maybe the angle I am looking for is that “shoot to stop” and “shoot to live” are important training points and are definitely what should be taught to CCW students, police officers, and anyone who ever thinks about using a gun for self defense. But when you bring them up to argue with someone outside of the gun community it sounds like a PR talking point. Telling someone in, say, a forum discussion or a comment thread that “you don’t shoot to kill, you shoot to live” comes off as spin instead of an important but relatively small philosophical difference.

  32. “Shoot to Stop” means you will stop shooting once the attacker is no longer a threat. If he stops because he’s dead, so be it. But if he stops before he’s beyond the ability of the paramedics to save him, all the better.

    When you say “Shoot to Kill”, that says “If someone attacks me, I will kill him. Even if he drops his weapon and runs, he’s still going to die”,

    “Shoot to Stop” leaves multiple outcomes open. “Shoot to Kill” leaves just one.

Comments are closed.