“Why Didn’t He Just Shoot Him In The Leg?”

I was listening to the radio during my daily commute, the disc jockey reading the news.  He stopped after relating a tale about the latest demonstration organized to protest a police officer shooting a crazed violent criminal, and uttered the words that form the title to this essay.

I am willing to put down good folding money on an even odds bet that every person involved with the shooting sports reacted the same way when they read that last paragraph.

“How the hell can anyone be so freakin’ stupid that they even asked that question???”

chris takes his ease

My own reaction was similar.  Lots of eye rolling and head shaking.  But, stupid though it might appear at first, this sort of question is also fairly common.  Even a small measure of experience would show how utterly absurd such a notion might be, but it doesn’t seem to be very clear to those who have never fired a gun before.

So, if you have ever pondered why someone does not aim for the legs during a violent and terrifying criminal attack, please allow me to briefly explain …


What in the world is that supposed to mean?  “In the gravest extreme?”

It just means that you have no other options.  The only way to save innocent lives is to resort to lethal force.

criminal with rusty knife

Shooting someone in the extremities might not stop them in time.  They have to break off their murderous attack right now!  Otherwise innocent people may pay a cost that is too terrible to contemplate.


Firearms are not considered to be less lethal weapons under the law.

legal scales with gavel

The judge will almost certainly view shooting someone in the legs as an attempt to kill them.  A bullet striking anywhere on the body will be seen, in most US jurisdictions, as an attempt to end life.  Which is one reason why you should never shoot anyone unless there is no other choice when it comes to preserving innocent lives.

If one does shoot out an attacker’s leg, the judge will wonder why they were shooting in the first place.  If the gunman had time to shoot extremities, and then pause a beat to see if the criminal was forced to break off their attack, then the situation had obviously not gotten to the point where lethal force was warranted.


Many years ago, I stumbled across a translation of a Roman arms manual.  The author strongly suggest that the best way to kill an opponent is to deliver a cut on the inner thigh.  There is such a massive amount of blood flow through the legs that they would collapse and die in seconds when all that red came a’gushin’ out.

circulatory system of the legs

If a shallow cut on the thigh will do that, what will happen when a bullet smashed completely through the leg?

Maybe the bullet will miss the circulatory system, maybe not.  If it doesn’t, then the criminal will die before they have time to draw ten breaths.  Yet another reason why one never shoots unless there is no other choice.


There is no guarantee that a bullet will stop when striking the chest.  How much less of a chance is there that the bullet will even slow down much when the legs are targeted?

man with skinny legs

Legs are puny when compared to the torso.  A bullet will most likely pass on through with enough velocity to injure or kill someone beyond the criminal.  Anyone who cares for innocent lives would not put them at risk like that.


Shooting targets at the shooting range is one thing, but real life is messy and unpredictable.

fight in the street

Let us say the guy on the bottom has been beaten so badly that he is about to lose his life.  Is shooting the attacker in the legs going to help the victim?

Consider the terror, stress, and chaos of a violent criminal attack.  Under those conditions it is almost impossible to deliver precise aimed shots on demand.  That is why I instruct my students to aim for the upper chest, as it provides the best chance for their rounds to deliver a debilitating wound.

But to suggest that it would be routine or easy to aim for something as fast moving as a leg?


This is why people who are in the know look at the suggestion to shoot an attacker in the leg as asinine at best.  The person who asks the question as to why the police don’t shoot criminals in the leg could very well be inexperienced, and just needs to be educated in order to realize that what they are suggesting makes them sound like a complete moron.

Or it could be that they are actually a moron, in which case there is no hope for them.

dumb people greeting card

5 thoughts on ““Why Didn’t He Just Shoot Him In The Leg?”

  1. I think most of them learn what they know about guns from movies and TV dramas. Things like “Hitting someone in the shoulder means they’ll recover fully with no ill effects”. (In fact, it almost certainly will lead to loss of mobility in that arm and has a decent chance of killing rapidly if it hits the humeral artery.)

    • The thing about the “shoot them in the leg” question that makes me face palm every time is that 1) they have no grasp of how firearms work and their dangers, and 2) they also have no grasp of basic anatomy.

  2. In the mini series, Band of Brothers, Hoobler is going from fox hole to fox hole showing off a German Luger that he finally captured. At some point in his travels, it discharged into his thigh. By time his friends got to him and tried to locate and treat the wound (which had severed his artery) he had died. An accidental death with the battle of the Bulge going on all around.

  3. Whether intentional or not, Darren Wilson shot Michael Brown several times in the arm. Brown was so wasted on pot that he probably never even felt them. It took Wilson’s final two shots to the head to finally physically stop him.

    So much for “shoot to wound.” My rule: “Shoot to stop. Shoot until it stops.”

    • My guess is he wasn’t that good a shot and was under time pressure. Also, I doubt that we know the order of the bullet wounds.

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