Lethal Force Discussion


Good thread idea. This is a topic that’s been of personal interest since I took my first firearms class, mandated by CT law in order to buy a handgun in CT at the time. Since then I’ve taken several other classes and read many books, credible blogs and other material on the subject.


With that out of the way, I’d like a place to discuss all things lethal force related. We have LEO’s and lawyers on this forum who cough might even chime in. Keep in mind that lethal force and deadly force are the same thing, and the terms are sometimes used interchangeably.

I originally had this in PWI, but I’d prefer to keep the conversation centered around how things are, not how someone might like them to be, so I moved it to the Combat forum. That said, it’s open game on discussing borderline cases, incidents from different countries, varying courses of action and whatever other lethal force rabbit holes there are to be explored that may result in disagreement. Disagreement is fine.

Let’s just not turn it into a gun control discussion or anything resembling it. Start another thread if you want to talk policy.

What is lethal force?

Deadly force is generally defined as physical force which, under the circumstances in which it is used, is readily capable of causing death or serious physical injury. In order for deadly force to be justified there must be an immediate, otherwise unavoidable threat of death or grave bodily harm to yourself or other innocents. Deadly force is that force which could reasonably be expected to cause death or grave bodily harm.

I can’t speak for cops. Perhaps @Frank_C will be kind enough to share his thoughts.

As a civilian, I suppose the answer to that question is “Yes”, or at least in can be in the right circumstances. It really depends on what you mean by “SURE”. Violent situations materialize quite quickly, requiring a VERY important judgement call on-the-spot. A few conditions need to be present for lethal force to be justified in defense of self.

Imagine if you will a naked me, dancing around drunk and yelling all manner of threats. What are you to make of this? It would be nice if you bought me a shot and gave me some pants, but it’s probably in your interests to steer clear of me on this occasion. Now let’s pretend escape is not an immediate option. Let’s talk about when you should pull out your gun and shoot me, just to be safe.

The brief definition I linked above gives you a primer on justification of lethal force. There are many important details that can be discussed, but for now we will focus on the test of Ability, Opportunity and Jeopardy.

Ability. I’m a big guy. Most people aren’t anywhere close to my size or strength. Depending on the other person, this can create a condition called “disparity of force” (which is another rabbit hole we could go down), even in the absence of weapons. It is the same notion with multiple attackers. Even unarmed, you’ve got a real possibility of death or great bodily harm coming to you. You wouldn’t know this if you didn’t know me, but I can also reliably break bones and cut off your brain’s blood supply. I’m a super nice guy, but killing someone with my bare hands is easily within my ability, as is severely maiming or injuring them.

Again, you don’t know anything about me except I’m big and unarmed, which is part of what you need to think about when you wonder what makes you “SURE” of a threat. You really have no idea what someone is capable of until they put hands on you and it starts to happen.

Long story short, the ability of inflicting death or great bodily harm requires no weapons, especially when disparity of force is present. On the flip side, I’d have a very hard time explaining myself in court if I shot an unarmed man who weighed 120 lbs and claimed self-defense.

Opportunity. If I’m yelling threats at you while dancing around buck naked on the other side of a river, it doesn’t matter what I say. I do not have the opportunity to harm you in that moment, even if I intended to. If I’m doing the same thing ten feet away from you with open space in between us, the opportunity for me to bring death or great bodily harm is now present.

A firearm in my hand would change that, because I’d have both the opportunity and ability to inflict death or great bodily harm on you from across that river.

Jeopardy, aka Intent. Now let’s pretend I’m yelling “I’m going to kill you!”. If I’m doing it across that river, naked and clearly unarmed, I lack the opportunity even if I have the intent and ability. Now that I’ve found my way across the river and 10 feet away from you, you’ve got something to think about.

You’re being faced with a very large man who is clearly unarmed. I’m screaming that I’m going to kill you. I’m only 10 feet away and moving towards you.

Do you pull out your gun and shoot? Stab me with a knife? Maybe you draw your gun and order me to go way or get down on the ground. I just keep coming.

Again, we’re pretending you can’t get away for whatever reason. Escape isn’t always an option. Sometimes attempting escape is woven into law with another rabbit-hole topic called “Duty to Retreat”.

What do you do? Do you do nothing and hope for the best? Do you wait until I’ve already put hands on you? Do you shoot me as I’m closing the distance as I say “I’m going to kill you”?

Are you SURE?

This is, of course, a silly and contrived scenario, but I’d advise that you shoot me the moment all three of those conditions are met. You may have just another second or two to decide before the dynamic changes dramatically. Once I get hands on someone they’re in trouble, unless they’re a better fighter than I am OR better armed AND able to deploy that force against me. If neither of those are true, it is up to ME, the assailant, to decide when I’ve assaulted you enough.

What do you do?


Simply put, I think the question is how much risk do we as a society think LEOs should have to take on? On-duty do they have as much right to protect themselves as a civilian would, or should they be expected to err on the side of the safety of the civilian ahead of their own?.. as it concerns deadly force.

I think what OP laid out is excellent criteria on how and when a civilian should choose to defend himself.

You can’t make a blanket statement for that any more than you can for civilians, which is why Lethal Force Law is actually a fairly mature body of law that generally recognizes the wildly varying circumstances that can lead up to lethal force being used offensively and defensively.

Again, I can’t speak with much gravity here, but police procedures are often built on top of dead cops who could’ve done something different. Maybe there are good procedures and maybe there are bad ones, I don’t know enough of the specifics.

You’re speaking in incredibly broad terms that are impossible to address. If you can narrow it down to specific instances of lethal force, civilian or LEO, I think that would be a good discussion here.

Should an LEO be authorized to use deadly force prior to actual or attempted execution of deadly force by a suspect?

Which then begs the question what constitutes an attempt? Drawing a gun? Walking towards you with a knife?

Are there more dead cops out there than there are folks living or could still be living if a cop had given them a little more rope? Whose life is worth more? To society and philisophically? If more rope had been given, how many more dead cops would there be? Is that a fair trade?

Yes. Absolutely.

I don’t think the legal standards are all that different for cops vs. civilians. The use of lethal force has to be justified. Another rabbit hole is the Reasonable Person Standard, which takes into account the difficult situations we ask LEO’s to put themselves in.

The three-fold test I explained above must be met for both LEO and civilians who choose to employ lethal force.


This is, generally speaking, the legal test for everyone. At least in the USA. There’s more to it than that, but it’s a good place to start understanding the subject.

I’m not sure, and answering that question is not in-scope for this thread. Again, if there are specific cases you’d like to explore, that would be great. Let’s look at the circumstances, consider the events that took place and discuss whether an outcome was good or bad along with things that might have been done differently.

1 Like

I was originally the other week going to post this in The Tactical Life, but thought that there wasn’t enough purpose doing so to save me being a post whore.

there was a fair bit of local discussion in this Canadian city as to whether the officer was really justified in discharging his gun. One of the bullets entered a bar and took out a can of Clamato. Still, the officer was reacting to a person who has since been ordered for a psychiatric assessment that was charging all out at him.

The Special Investigations Unit (SIU) was not called in to investigate this case as there wasn’t anybody actually hurt in the incident, but it a little left me unsettled that if I was a near passerby I could have been taken out by a police bullet. I realize they can’t be perfect, but might his shooting accuracy have been better? Someone maybe give a view.

Let’s say cops are arresting a drunk guy. He resists, gets slammed to the ground. While cop has his knee on him as is fishing for cuffs, drunk guy rolls and slices the cops arm with a knife.

Should the cop pull away, draw his gun and try to descalate? Or should he pull the gun and fire?

This seems to be a hypothetical case, not an actual case. I can’t really say what I think is right or wrong based off of a five sentence hypothetical. I already gave my lawyer-proof disclaimer above though, so I’ll give it my best crack.

Said perp just escalated the encounter to lethal force levels by resisting arrest and slicing open a person’s arm. Is the cop now supposed to wrestle the blade away prior to apprehending the subject? Will a taser be adequate or will the perp find his feet and go on the offensive with that knife? How good is the cop’s grappling? How good is the perp’s? Are there other people nearby who could be stabbed?

Furthermore, when someone escapes a knee pin with a roll, you’re probably not springing back to your feet instantaneously unless you’re really damn good. To escape that they’re probably much bigger and stronger than you and/or you didn’t have a good knee pin to begin with. Your knee is probably hitting the ground, you’ve lost control of the other person and now you’ve got to recover. And you just got sliced open.

The time to act is NOW. Do you bet your life on some pepper spray? A taser? How many times do you think we should expect cops to be stabbed or sliced open before they can end a threat decisively?

It’s really meaningless to discuss these vague hypotheticals, because the specific circumstances are what matters. Bodycam footage provides us with insight that wasn’t available 10 years ago.

Here’s a video of a cop who really didn’t want to shoot anyone, but someone got shot anyway. Then his partner was attacked by a man with a knife who had just been shot. In hindsight, it is easy to conclude that the cops held back too much. They didn’t want to kill him, and the situation got really bad.

Almost everyone’s accuracy can be improved, but I can’t see how anyone could conclude that this officer did anything other than his best at the time.

The second article had this in it, which sums up my thoughts quite well.

Considering the threatening actions of the man and the fact it happened in a busy part of the city, Sundberg called the officer’s response as “measured” and “appropriate,” pointing to the fact only two shots were fired.

“Officers want to make sure they use just enough force to stop the aggression, and discharging two rounds to stop someone charging at a police officer with a (weapon) is reasonable,” Sundberg said.

“And you can see how quick these incidents happen. . . . In less than a second, that officer had to make a very difficult decision.”

Hitting a moving target while backpedaling is HARD. Facing down a guy charging you with a knife is HARD. Weighing your personal well-being against the worst-case outcomes of errant bullets injuring innocents in the brief moment you have to contemplate it is HARD.

Good job, officer. You acted appropriately and the outcome was very good.

1 Like

Thank you for providing accurate information on the issue of justified deadly force.

So far, no one has mentioned the obvious. Police are the “long arm of the law”. We are in place to uphold laws. We’re an authority. When someone attacks a cop, they’re attacking the institution of the law. That’s an escalation.

Most physical assaults are emotionally charged. Guy runs his mouth and offends another guy. That guy attacks first guy.

It’s different when guy breaks that law and attacks police when they’re confronted. You mentioned attempting to escape - that’s fine. That’s what criminals do. But when they turn and bring the fight to me - that’s different. That’s deadly. There’s a gun in every fight in which I participate. My body armor is rated to stop my bullets. Think about that. Do you think that’s a coincidence? Nope. Police have been killed with their own guns enough to cause that.

I categorize the situation by attempted fleeing and intentional attack. I can’t afford to get punched in the jaw and knocked out. And I’m not going so risk that; if I find myself in a situation where I’m one lucky lunch away from going down then I’m grabbing my gun.

What kind of person attacks a cop? It’s not normal.

And in regards to my comment about the garden hose spigot - it’s a real scenario that occurred here. Actually, it was an attachment for an air compressor. The idiot pointed it like a gun at an officer and even simulated recoil as if firing a gun. He was shot (he lived).

As a cop, I’d rather be tried in court than dead. It sucks when people don’t listen to authority and bad things happen, but it’s their choice.

[quote="twojarslave, post:8, topic:260756, full:true"]

In hindsight, it is easy to conclude that the cops held back too much. They didn’t want to kill him, and the situation got really bad.

I think it’s very valid to argue that is an example of how much TO hold back. A minimum of force was used, and deadly force used only as a last resort.

At the same time cops shouldn’t be sacrificial lambs to societies assholes and crazies.

Also I hate armchair QBing police incidents on body cam. There is so much background info and in the moment nuance that isn’t shown. A lot can be learned from the body cams, but it will never tell close to the whole story.


Did you watch until the end? The perp took the cop’s back. With a knife. After being shot.
I’m not sure what happened next, but that’s about as bad of an outcome as you can imagine in that moment when thinking about places you don’t want someone to be, especially if they have a knife. Someone taking your back is BAD without weapons.

Let’s hear your thoughts on how you think things should have been handled differently, or how you think a guy with a knife taking a cop’s back is somehow a preferable option. I’ll be clear on my position. I think they didn’t shoot him enough, but that’s an easy judgement to pass in hindsight with video to review and contemplate at a comfortable pace.

What do you mean by your statement?

This one did. Did you notice how far the police backed away? Did you notice how they continued this until the perp charged?

Do you think some relevant details might be missing?

You seem to be advancing or at least sticking to an idea that something is somehow wrong with police actions, but you can’t seem to articulate any clear examples of this. I’m not saying they don’t exist, but I am saying that I’d prefer to keep this thread focused on events rather than vague hypotheticals.

I was speaking to the outcome: cop injured trying to minimize force is cause for deadly force. To many, that rationale and the thought that LEOs have accepted a higher level of risk in the interaction than the civilian they are apprehending is how they look at deadly force situations. It comes down to what you think is the acceptable level of risk for a cop.

As for bodycam videos i think they’re typically biased against cops… meaning they usually make cops look worse than reality IMO. Which is why I don’t like armchairing.

Jesus Christ, was this dude drugged out of his mind or something? Gets shot like five-six times and just gets back up…

What happened to the other cop (who was apparently stabbed at the end of the video)


The outcome in that video was a cop having his back taken by a guy armed with a knife, in spite of this guy being shot and subsequently pulling himself off of the ground to continue his assault.

It boggles my mind how anyone could consider that a good outcome.

I suppose it does.

You’re off to speaking in generalities again, right after you’ve seemingly written off a cop getting his back taken by a guy with a knife as a good outcome.

I’m having a hard time following your line of thought here. Help me out.

I don’t know but I’ll see if more information is available.

I’ve dealt with extremely intoxicated people hell-bent on self-destruction as a bouncer, but nothing close to the shit show that cops seek out nearly every day. Reason and normal human interaction flies right out the window. The rules of polite and normal conversation evaporate, and now you’re stuck trying to manage the situation as well as you can with what you’ve got.

You had better choose wisely. The stakes are high to begin with, and they only get higher as things get more out-of-hand.

The outcome was a cop with a minor injury and a dead perp. Don’t be intentionally dense.

I honestly don’t know what you mean in your last paragraph. If you want to make this thread into case studies about incidents that’s fair. But individual incidents are so unique with many different extenuating circumstances. Id rather discuss ideas and philosophies to further develop an opinion on this issue. But, your thread, your topic. I’m out.

Are you arguing for the sake of arguing here or something?

I just watched a video where a guy with a knife got back on his feet after being shot, then took a cop’s back. Having your back taken is fucking terrible in a fight of any kind, and especially disastrous when the guy on your back has a knife.

Are you going to tell me that the sky is green next?

1 Like

If not a head shot/direct to the heart etc getting shot is not that bad in the very short term(say first 30 secs). …you dont go flying back like hollywood portrays.
If blood pressure is still high within the torso and adrenaline is through the roof, not to mention drugs, then a crazy can be suprisingly capable.

It is normal now, a cop is killed on average every 58 hours now.

One of the most important things that is never talked about in the media and one I have personal expereince with: How many perps would still be alive if they simply followed verbal commands?

‘drop the knife" “drop the gun” “take your hands out of your pockets”, "let me see your hands’

After screaming this 20 times, you would think perps would comply, no, not today, stupid reigns supreme. Then you have to shoot them and the first thing the media says is “Why did you have to shoot him” Jesus.