Seems like there is never a lack of armed self defense advice floating around the internet these days. Some of the advice is good. A lot is not. One of the most prevalent pieces of advice I’ve seen way too much of recently is the “just shoot them in the leg” suggestion in order to avoid inflicting a fatal wound. I figured if I’m seeing this often, then chances are a lot of other people are seeing it as well. As such, I decided to spend a little bit of time exploring this in an effort to help folks who might be wondering if this is good or bad advice.
Short version: shooting an attacker in the leg is generally bad advice.
With that out of the way, let’s explore this to understand why this is generally bad advice and identify situations in which it might actually be a good idea.
Let’s start by addressing what I think is the elephant in the room. That is the sentiment where this advice stems from: inflicting a fatal wound. I’ve yet to meet a practitioner of self defense (armed or otherwise) who is looking forward to ending a life. In fact, I’ve yet to meet a practitioner who is looking forward to a real life self defense situation. The primary reason for practicing self defense is so that one is equipped in the event there a situation arises in which there is not other course of action but to deploy reasonable force in order to stop a threat as quickly as possible while not endangering anyone else. When dealing with a threat of serious injury or death, lethal force is a reasonable response. For the remainder of this discussion, I will focus entirely on stopping a threat of serious injury or death with lethal force.
There are two primary ways to stop a threat: a psychological stop and physiological stop. A psychological stop occurs when an attacker changes their mind and decides to stop their attack. This can happen if they perceive a threat to their own well being or decide the risk is greater than the reward of their actions. A physiological stop occurs when the attacker is no longer able to carry out an attack due to incapacitation as a result of physical trauma received.
I think those who give the advice of “just shoot them in the leg” do so from the mindset of using a psychological stop to end the threat with the hope of everyone going home alive. The problem with this advice is that it generally comes from the perspective of minimizing the trauma to the attacker and increasing the chances that the attacker survives the encounter. While that may not sound like a problem and may actually sound like the right thing to do, it fails to consider the broader context of a self defense encounter and all of the parties involved which includes the attackers, the defenders, defenseless victims (or potential victims), and other bystanders (which might include family members, friends, neighbors, or other people not involved in the altercation).
With that in mind, it’s also important to realize that every single self defense situation is unique and very dynamic in nature. The one thing constant is that the defender has the responsibility to stop the threat as quickly as possible while not endangering anyone else. As such, a well trained self defender is trained to target and shoot the largest and most static exposed area of the threat until the threat stops. Generally speaking, that area will be the center of mass.
A possibility exists that a highly motivated attacker is not stopped by repeated shots to the center of mass and continues to advance. As such, a defender may need to transition to the head in order to incapacitate the target before the threat finishes closing the distance.
Let me repeat, every single self defense situation is unique and dynamic. A possibility exists that the target is wearing body armor which may be concealed. If it’s not concealed, then the defender will need to initially target the next largest and most static exposed area of the target. If it is concealed, the defender will need to transition from the center of mass to the next largest and most static exposed area of the target. In both of these cases the next largest and most static exposed area of the target is most likely the head.
But again, every single self defense situation is unique and dynamic. So yes, the possibility exists that a leg can be the largest and most static exposed area of the target.
If you are still reading, then you’ve probably noticed I’ve repeated “the largest and most static exposed are of the target” several times. The repetition is intentional. Remember one of the defender’s responsibilities is not to endanger anyone else. This means misses are not an acceptable outcome for a shot taken because a miss is nothing more than an unintended hit on something other than the target. Smaller targets or targets with more movement are harder to hit and therefore easier to miss. Legs are small targets and tend to be among the least static areas of a target.
So while I understand the sentiment behind the “just shoot them in the leg” suggestion, I strongly believe it is generally bad advice. It’s simply short sighted of the full situational self defense context. Furthermore, it’s generally a disservice to defender(s) and other bystanders. Yes, because self defense scenarios are dynamic a possibility exists where a leg shot may be the best shot available.