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The Myth of "Shoot 'Em in the Leg": Debunking Hollywood's Dangerous Propaganda

Cowboys prepare for a duel

I'm sure you've heard "shoot 'em in the leg" before. It's a very common cliche', mentioned in TV, movies, and even by politicians. President Biden himself has mentioned it, live in front of millions. But in reality, the concept of “shoot 'em in the leg” is a result of propaganda perpetuated by Hollywood, where movie and TV cops are able to control outcomes to serve the director’s dramatic interests. This portrayal creates a misconception about real-life dynamics and imposes unrealistic expectations on real-life self-defense scenarios. Let's explore a few reasons why this type of thinking is impractical.

The Practical Impracticalities

1. Bleeding Out

The dramatization of "shoot 'em in the leg" falsely suggests that victims will suffer less or won't risk death. However, any gunshot wound poses serious risks regardless of where it occurs in the body, including the lower trunk and upper thigh, which are rich with vascularity. A person hit in these areas can bleed out in seconds if a major artery, such as the femoral artery, is severed. This can lead to rapid blood loss and, potentially, even death. So aiming for the leg with the intention of minimizing harm can ironically result in severe, life-threatening injuries.


2. Overpenetration

Another significant issue with aiming for someone's legs is overpenetration. Legs and feet are not static; they move unpredictably, especially in a high-stress and volatile situation. If a shooter misses a moving target, the bullet can overpenetrate and hit an unintended target or an innocent bystander. This risk alone makes aiming for the legs not only impractical but also dangerous in crowded or dynamic environments.

3. Tactical Issues

In life-threatening situations, the primary goal is to neutralize the threat as quickly and effectively as possible. It's imperative to prioritize the highest percentage chance of stopping the threat, which is typically the center mass. Center mass, which consists of the chest and torso, provides a large target area that increases the likelihood of hitting vital organs and stopping the threat swiftly. Shooting at the leg, a smaller and more mobile target, significantly reduces the chances of stopping the threat quickly and can prolong a dangerous scenario.

4. Legal Issues

The legal ramifications of shooting to wound are also problematic. “Shooting to wound” is not a legally sound argument. Firearms should only ever be used as an absolute last resort, not as a warning, scare tactic, or for minimal force. The use of deadly force must be justified by the immediate need to stop a threat. Keep in mind that many juries do not view the use of deadly force favorably unless it is used to stop an immediate and impending threat. So aiming for the leg with the intention to wound can complicate legal defenses and result in severe legal consequences.

Importance of Proper Training

When dealing with emergency situations, nothing is concrete, but there are widely accepted standards and safeguards in place for self-defense training. Proper training emphasizes the importance of understanding anatomy, the risks of different types of wounds, and the legal implications of using deadly force. It reinforces the necessity of aiming for the most effective and safest way to neutralize a threat while minimizing the risk to bystanders.

In conclusion, “shoot 'em in the leg” is a dangerous myth perpetuated by Hollywood. It overlooks the practical realities of human anatomy, the dynamics of a live scenario, and the legal standards governing the use of deadly force. Proper training and realistic expectations are crucial in ensuring that self-defense measures are effective, safe, and legally justified.

To learn more about gun safety join our upcoming BGM 101: gun safety class.


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