Who Are the Greater Threats to Public Safety - Police or Armed Civilians?

Two events this past week clearly illustrated a reality that has long been understood by firearm trainers, but is virtually unknown to the public – that most cops are really poor shots with a handgun, placing the public at great risk when they engage in shootouts with suspects.

In New York, a disgruntled employee opened fire on his ex-boss right in front of the Empire State Building. A short time later two NYPD officers caught up with the him, and fired multiple shots, killing the offender. The video below captured the moment:


What is not immediately clear in the video is that the officers, shooting at a distance of less than ten feet, also hit nine (count ’em) NINE bystanders. Now, I’ll be the first to come to the defense of the officers – when looking down the barrel of a suspect’s gun, the emotional roller-coaster that occurs is simply indescribable to those who have never experienced a deadly threat.

But look at another incident that occurred only days later, in Baton Rouge. A civilian came upon a scene in which a police officer was on the ground being beaten by an assailant:


Police say Perry Stevens was walking outside of the Auto Zone on Greenwell Springs Road when he heard [Officer] Harrison yelling for help.  Harrison was reportedly on his back with [suspect] Temple on top of him.  That’s when Stevens went to his car and grabbed his .45 caliber pistol. 

According to Col. Greg Phares, “[Mr. Stevens] orders Mr. Temple to stop and get off the officer.  The verbal commands are ignored and Mr. Stevens fires four shots, all of which struck Mr. Temple.” With [suspect] Temple still struggling with the officer, Perry continued to advance toward the scuffle.

“He again orders Mr. Temple to stop what he was doing and get off the officer.  Those commands are ignored and he fires a fifth shot and that hits his head.  The incident is over with, and as you know, Mr. Temple is dead.”

Yet another example is this video of a private security guard at a Florida Internet Cafe:


Now, while these incidents are anecdotes, they are not unusual, and illustrate a disturbing reality. Records from major police departments like New York and Chicago clearly show that the “hit rates” (percentage of shots fired by cops that actually hit suspects) are nothing short of abysmal. Cops typically miss far more often than they hit offenders, in most cases at distances of 10 feet or less!

But how can this be? Aren’t police officers “highly trained” experts in the use of firearms? The short answer is NO. Contrary to the claims of politicians like New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and the fantasy world of television, where law enforcement characters spend endless hours at the gun range honing their skills, in reality most police officers go to a shooting range only ONCE OR TWICE A YEAR. And when they get there, they usually fire no more than one box of ammunition – a mere 50 rounds.

True, there are exceptions – some of my cop friends practice regularly, including participating in “combat” shooting competition. As a result, they are highly skilled, and would likely be far more effective than most of their fellow officers, should they become involved in an actual shooting confrontation. But the problem is that they are exceptions.

Compare that to civilian handgun permit holders, many of whom practice monthly, if not weekly, and firing hundreds of rounds at each session. I myself shoot approximately 75 times a year (twice a week in Summer, and at least once a week in Winter). Now, I am a professional firearm instructor, and thus not the norm, but I can attest to the fact that I often run into my students at the range, and they are not alone. As a result, civilians often have higher “hit rates” in altercations with armed assailants, and seldom hit innocent bystanders.

But even more disturbing is research by the FBI that has shown that violent criminals (those most likely to get into a shootout with police) practice as much at TEN TIMES MORE OFTEN THAN COPS:


Not surprisingly, the same study shows that the “hit rates” of the criminals are more than DOUBLE those of the police – the bad guys are far more likely to hit cops than the cops are to hit them. As it is with any skill, regular practice works.

Now, there are many reasons for the low levels of training, from misplaced priorities to tightening budgets. But those are subjects for another day.  The point I am trying to make is that the record clearly shows that the average civilian who has a permit to carry a handgun is far less likely to be a threat to innocent bystanders than the average police officer.

Something to think about the next time some politician (or anti-gun “activist”) pompously claims that “only police have the training to carry guns” in public.



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