The Corner

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Joe Biden Doesn’t Know How Guns Work

Former Vice President Joe Biden speaks about the coronavirus pandemic at an event in Wilmington, Del., March 12, 2020. (Carlos Barria/Reuters)

Joe Biden can best capitalize on the rioting following the death of George Floyd in the same way he can best capitalize on anything in 2020: by keeping quiet and out of sight. Unfortunately for Biden, he does occasionally show up and say things. And then this happens: He suggests that police should be trained that, if cops rushed by unarmed person, they could “shoot them in the leg instead of the heart is a very different thing.”

This is bad advice that would get people killed. Police do have a variety of tools of non-deadly force at their disposal (tasers, rubber bullets, etc.), although some of those, too, can be deadly in some circumstances. Floyd, after all, was killed by a man’s knee. But anyone who has been trained in police work or the military could tell you: Firing a gun is always potentially deadly force. You shoot for center mass, to kill, or you don’t shoot at all. If you’re not prepared to kill someone, you should not even point a loaded gun at them, much less fire it. If you don’t have grounds to shoot to kill, you don’t have grounds to shoot.

There are all kinds of things that can go wrong by trying to shoot to wound, because most people are not expert marksmen, and even expert marksmen do not have the greatest of aim in chaotic circumstances. You can miss, and the person you’re shooting at isn’t stopped. You can miss, and hit and kill an innocent bystander. You can hit someone in an artery, and they bleed to death. You can be thinking “shoot to wound,” but the second radio car responding to the scene rolls out thinking “firefight in progress” and opens both barrels.

The police sometimes shoot people they shouldn’t, but this is the wrong way to try to change that. (If anything, studies have not supported the claim that police shootings are racially disproportionate; there may be a stronger claim for racial disparities in the use of other forms of force, as in Floyd’s case). One thing police training gets right, though, is that it draws a clear line around firing your gun only when you are prepared to kill. Blurring that line is only going to make things worse.

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