The Cornered Cat
Shoot to kill?

“Should I shoot to kill?” Although the question seems very simple at first, when  people ask this, they might be asking one of two things. First, they might be asking, “Where should I aim?” Second, they might wonder, “What’s the purpose of shooting someone?” These are two very distinct questions, but they both help people internalize their self defense plans in some very important ways.

For those who wonder where to aim, the short answer is that you aim at the upper center of the chest whenever possible. This area—above the base of the sternum, below the throat, and between the armpits—contains several vital structures. It encompases the heart, lungs, aorta, and pulmonary arteries, and sits atop the liver and spleen. While sending a bullet into the upper center of the chest may very likely kill the person, that’s not why we aim for this area. We aim for this area because it is the most reliable way to stop an attacker quickly without endangering others. We want to stop the attacker quickly because we want to save innocent lives.

And that brings us to the second reason people ask this question: what’s the purpose of your defense gun? Why do you carry it? When you shoot it, what’s your goal? Legally, citizens may shoot other people only to save innocent human life, only when there are no reasonable  alternatives, and only when the danger of death or permanent crippling injury to innocent people is clear, immediate, and acute. In nearly all jurisdictions, all other potential reasons—to protect property, to punish an attacker, to prevent undefined future harm—are illegal to one degree or another.

To learn more about this very important subject, please read the following articles on the Cornered Cat website:


ADDENDUM: To be very clear, this isn’t about what you say (although what you say is very important, and can make the difference between going to jail or going home to your family). It’s about what you actually mean to do. It’s about your goal when you fire the gun.

If your private little mental goal is to kill that bastard, then you will very likely make a very bad mistake in the heat of the moment, and end up like Jerome Ersland. Mr Ersland is serving a life sentence for murder after he emptied his gun into an unconscious intruder who was no longer a threat to him or anyone else. The sad thing is, his first shot was a perfectly justifiable shot to the head, which knocked the intruder out. If he’d left it at that, he’d have been a hero. Instead, he had the mental goal to kill anyone who attacked him. Because the intruder who was definitely stopped and down wasn’t dead yet, Mr Ersland kept going and suffered the consequences.

It’s not enough to be right at the beginning of the fight. You have to be right at the end of the fight too. You need to stop at the right time. And that means guarding your mindset. From start to end, you truly are shooting with the goal of stopping the threat. Nothing more, nothing less, nothing else.


9 Responses to Shoot to kill?

  1. Tom Walls says:

    ‘Zactly !
    Seems to come back to the same question each time; “What’s the Mission ?’

  2. larryarnold says:

    My short answer to “Where?” is “Shoot at the biggest part you can hit with a bullet.”

    Longer: “If that’s the chest, fine. If you can’t hit the chest, head or pelvis. If all you can hit is his pinkie, shoot his pinkie. And if you put a couple of bullets in his chest and he doesn’t bleed, shoot somewhere else. He might be wearing a vest.”

    I never want my student thinking, “Larry told me not to shoot until I can hit his chest.”

    And yes, I realize when you say “short answer” it means there’s a long answer for beginners.

    • Kathy Jackson says:

      Good point… and you’re right.

  3. says:

    I ranted about this a few days ago on facebook. I had someone in class say “my last instructor told us that we ALWAYS shoot to kill. Always.” I suppose nothing we hear in class should come as a shock anymore, but this one hit home with me a little. It may splitting hairs a little bit, and the instructor may have just been trying to sprinkle a dose of reality on the subject (or who knows – maybe they’re just “mis-remembering” what their last instructor said), but regardless, going in with an attitude of “shoot to kill” is a slippery slope and can get you in legal hot water very quickly (like you said, just ask Mr. Ersland how that turned out). And that’s not even touching the moral issues involved.

    We shoot to stop a threat. Period.

    • Kathy Jackson says:

      Ouch. That story’s almost painful.

    • larryarnold says:

      A variation I’ve heard from instructors is, “If the BGs dead he can’t sue you.”

      So you’re on the witness stand and the next-of-kin’s attorney produces a record of that statement and says, “So, when you shot down my client’s child/husband/father, you were just trying to avoid a lawsuit?”


  4. EWaDude says:

    I have to agree with Jeff. The primary intent is to stop the threat. Immediately and closely tied to that concept is another: my goal is to go home to my family every day and if the threat stands between me and my ability to do so, I will respond with the force necessary to stop the threat.

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