After most high-profile fatal shootings by the police, says the New York Times, people ask, did they have to kill him? Is it possible to shoot to wound? The answer, law enforcement officials and experts agree, is no, but not because the only alternative is shooting to kill. The most likely result when a policeman discharges a gun is that he or she will miss the target completely. An officer could no sooner shoot to wound than shoot to kill with any rate of success. In life-or-death situations that play out in lightning speed – such precision marksmanship is unrealistic. In New York, many other municipalities and some federal agencies, guidelines tell officers to shoot to “stop,” in particular, to stop an assailant who poses a deadly threat to the officers involved or civilians.
William McMahon, New York agent in charge of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says, “In the milliseconds a law enforcement officer has to react during a life-threatening situation, aiming to wound is not an option.” New York City police statistics show that simply hitting a target, let alone hitting it in a specific spot, is a difficult challenge. In 2006, in cases where police officers intentionally fired a gun at a person, they discharged 364 bullets and hit their target 103 times, for a hit rate of 28.3 percent. A 43 percent hit rate for shots fired from zero to six feet might seem low, but at that range it’s likely that something has already gone wrong: perhaps an officer was surprised, or had no cover, or was wrestling with a suspect. John Cerar, a retired commander of the New York Police Department's firearms training section, called the hit rates acceptable. He said handguns were an imperfect weapon. “As long as the handgun is the main tool for the police officers to use, you are going to have misses.”