Stop Saying, “Drop the Gun!”

By Patrick J. Siewert

I was recently involved in a discussion on social media which brought up again how and why we train police the way we do. The impetus for this discussion was a news story shared by an online contact which detailed a deadly force situation in the jurisdiction where I used to work.

The incident involved a Deputy and Trooper responding to a domestic incident at a residence. The article states, “When deputies arrived to the scene, a 40-year-old woman approached a deputy and shot at him twice, before retreating behind the home.”

It goes on to further detail, “She began walking in the direction of the woods, ignoring commands to drop the weapon. At the wood line, she turned toward the deputy and trooper, and raised a weapon firing at them.” The officers returned fire, injuring the woman.

The part where the officers issued commands for the woman to “drop the weapon” is where I’d like to focus.

“Drop the Gun” are my three least favorite words in police work. Why? Because they are employed the most when they are needed the least. When police officers are faced with a deadly threat, their purpose in responding should be to overwhelm the deadly threat with intimidating, focused aggression. This disrupts the bad guy’s (or gal’s) OODA loop – their ability to observe, orient, decide & act upon responding officers — and helps put officers into a tactically advantageous position and start to turn the tide of action vs. reaction.

In the U.S. Supreme Court decision Graham v. Connor, SCOTUS decided very important points for law enforcement officers. First, police do not have to use every step in the force continuum when facing a deadly threat.

Why? Because the bad guy’s action is ALWAYS faster than our reaction. This is why we need to work to disrupt the action process, or OODA loop. Furthermore, the SCOTUS decision provided the “reasonableness” standard by which all subsequent use of force, especially deadly force, encounters have been measured – What would a reasonable person have done in similar circumstances?

When faced with a deadly threat, I put forth that it’s perhaps not unreasonable, but is very dangerous to order the suspect to “drop the gun” and we should stop training both recruits and seasoned officers to use these three deadly words.

Verbal challenges are appropriate in many other circumstances, but not when faced with a deadly threat. The response should be swift, certain and surgical. Under stress, your fine motor skills are greatly diminished, so why expend additional energy spewing out words that likely don’t matter?

By dropping these three words from your force response vocabulary, you’ll take a huge step toward increasing your survival in a deadly threat situation and help decrease the number of law enforcement professionals injured and killed every year.

Patrick J. Siewert is a 15-year law-enforcement veteran and current firearms and active-shooter instructor. He teaches active-shooter response around the country while operating his digital forensic consulting business in Richmond, VA.

4 Comments

  1. Robert said:

    Ok, I understood many years ago that you had to say something to gain compliance, and words wit a certain hard edge to them were best. Are you advocating saying nothing, and just shooting an armed suspect without seeking compliance at all? Or are you suggesting to only issue the command once? I think drop the gun is pretty appropriate if that’s what you want some suspect to do.

  2. Joe Hogarth said:

    And let’s not forget the other landmark scotus case that says before deadly force is used police need to give verbal commands when feasible. Tennessee v Garner requires the verbals and an officer must be trained to think when it’s feasible but no commands is not the answer

  3. John said:

    As a cop, I was shot at buy a fugitive bank robber-with a gun. This footchase went on for30+ mins and involved all our assets (foot, air). When I tried to chase him down on foot, he turned and fired. I had my shotgun because I figured he’d still have his .32 6-shooter. I figured I’d pop the guy when he hurdled a picket fence. As I raised the shotgun to shoot – and my finger was on the trigger, pulling. Ordering “drop the gun” was way down on my list of strategies because, as I raised my shotgun I could only see 4 puffs of smoke over the barell. All I could do was drop to the ground and return fire when possible. Luckily, after missing with all 4 rounds, we ran the guy down and took him to Justice. I had no time to think-let alone give a command that this killer would only laugh off. Yes, when in danger, shoot the perp. Case closed, next question!

    • Lionel Velez Jr said:

      I agree. When you are being shot at the last thing you want to do is think about giving the suspect an order. His only aim is to take you out. He could care less about “dropping the gun”. It’s your life or his at that moment. By fleeing he is showing that he is not willing to comply.

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