During ABC’s town hall event with former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate provided a garbled response to a question about criminal justice reform. In particular, he wrongly suggested that when police fire their weapons at suspects, they could shoot to wound instead of shooting to kill.
“You can ban chokeholds, but beyond that you have to teach [the police] how to de-escalate circumstances,” said Biden. “So instead of anybody coming at you and the first thing you do is shoot to kill, you shoot them in the leg.”
This was just one line in a very long, rambling answer to a question about police violence—but it stuck out for its sheer absurdity. The suggestion betrays a total lack of understanding about how guns work.
Note that it was not some slip of the tongue: Biden has previously proposed this exact idea. Contrary to the former veep’s repeated assertions, neither the cops nor anyone else—except perhaps James Bond—could plan to shoot people in the leg as a matter of routine practice. It would take an expert marksman to accomplish that feat consistently. Unless a target is at close range, standing perfectly still, it’s very difficult to hit a specific location on the body. In reality, people are often moving during shootouts, which means that legs and arms can be the hardest part of the body to hit.
“An average suspect can move his hand and forearm across his body to a 90-degree angle in 12/100 of a second,” wrote Bill Lewinksi in a paper for the Force Science Institute. “He can move his hand from his hip to shoulder height in 18/100 of a second. The average officer pulling the trigger as fast as he can on a Glock, one of the fastest- cycling semi-autos, requires 1/4 second to discharge each round.”
If an officer’s life is actually threatened, hitting the suspect in the leg is no guarantee the threat will be neutralized. People who have been hit in the leg or arm are not immediately incapacitated, which is why the police keep firing until a suspect is down. Real life is not like an episode of 24, or a Mission: Impossible movie!