The Dangers of Confronting Armed Suspects

A man with a gun in his hand is a deadly threat since he will always be able to raise and fire before you can react and respond.

There is no legal requirement for officers who believe that their life or the life of another is under the threat of death or serious bodily harm to give verbal orders to, “Drop the gun.”  As Pat Martin illustrated in his excellent presentation at an old A.S.L.E.T. seminar (Shut-up and Shoot!; 2006 ASLET Seminar), verbal warnings or commands when deadly force is clearly warranted is a form of hesitation.  The questions are do officers hesitate because: they are good people who don’t want to shoot another human being; hesitant because they don’t have clear policies or guidance and fear that their agencies won’t back them up; or are taught on the range or in their in-service and basic that they should do so?  Both of the suspects in the Dinkheller and Hale incidents shot and killed the officers after they were given multiple opportunities to “Drop the gun!” and did not do so.  Both the law and moral convictions are covered by stopping an armed suspect via gunfire.  After all, if you don’t shoot, you may perish as may innocent citizens you’ve sworn to protect.


A suspect with a gun in his hand can always shoot before an officer can react and respond.  It has been scientifically proven that a man armed with a gun can turn, pivot, roll over on the ground and other movements or physical gyrations and shoot before an officer can shoot, even if the officer has his gun in hand at low ready or up on target.

Further, a suspect armed with an edged weapon or bludgeon can run a significant distance (up to 30 depending on the officer’s reaction time and speed of draw) before an officer can draw and fire one round.

Original studies on this topic go back to Dennis Tueller (Salt Lake City PD, Lt, ret.) in his 1983 SWAT magazine article How Close is Too Close?.  What Tueller did on the range with a stop watch and role players (answering a student’s question as to how close a subject with a knife or club can get to you before they constituted a deadly threat) was advanced with research completed by the late Tom Hontz and Ray Rheingans (Justifying the Deadly Force Response; Police Quarterly; Vol. 2 No. 4; December, 1999).  Dr. Bill Lewinski and Force Science would continue on with this research adding additional movements such as 180° turns, shooting from a seated position  (as in shots fired by the driver of a vehicle out the driver’s window), and shooting from a prone position starting with a handgun concealed under the body.  All of this research has validated that a man or woman armed with a handgun can raise and fire, or turn raise and fire or fire and turn, before an officer with a handgun at low ready can react and respond.  See

What all of these studies and research have proven is that a man with a gun in his hand or a man with a knife you is closing in on you is a deadly threat.  Seek cover prior to engagement if possible since use of cover can save your life.  But understand that the suspect’s actions, if they choose to attack, will be faster than you can react and respond.  If you believe that your life or the lives of others is threatened then deadly force is appropriate.

In Sum 

“Many respectable writers agree that if a man reasonably believes that he is in immediate danger of death or grievous bodily harm from his assailant, he may stand his ground, and if he kills him, he has not exceeded the bounds of lawful self-defense.  That has been the decision of this court.  Detached reflection cannot be demanded in the presence of an uplifted knife.”              Supreme Court, Brown v. United States

In the multiple citizen videos taken in the NYPD shooting case involving the man with the knife we mentioned at the start, comments can be heard from “the peanut gallery” that the shooting was not justified.  A public fueled by too much television, ignorant of the law and the facts of deadly force encounters can make such statements – their butts aren’t on the line.  But the men and women of law enforcement who’ve sworn to protect as well as survive cannot allow armed threats against them to continue to exist – the costs are far too great.


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