Saturday, February 8, 2014

Realities and Legalities of Child Snatching: Part 3

Note: Throughout this blog I refer to some legal code and legal issues. All codes quoted are for the state of Iowa. Check for differences in your own state code. I am not a lawyer and all opinions are from a layman's perspective.

In Part One, we discussed the legalities of determining whether or not your could reasonably use lethal force against someone who snatched your child from you, what kidnapping is and what it is not.

In Part Two, we discussed using less-than-lethal force against someone holding your child, whether or not it is necessary and the types of force one can employ.

In this segment we are going to discuss using lethal force against someone holding your child and the realities of what that might entail if it is, indeed, necessary.


The scenario we opened with in the beginning of this series was a woman who snatches a child from a mother who is attempting to put the child into a carrier. The woman believes the carry method is unsafe and holds the child, neither threatening the child nor the mother but does not return the child to the parent.

In Part One and Two the woman doing the snatching never implied any harm to the child or the parent.

In this segment we are going to take all ambiguity out of it and up the stakes.

The child is snatched, the woman refused to return the child and has produced a weapon and stated she intends to do the child harm and lethal force is justified.

I know many parents who have stated they would rather have their child die in front of them from a bullet they fired than have their child taken, tortured, molested or assaulted and never found or found mutilated days, months or years later. I'm inclined to agree but I think every one of us would do our best to minimize the chances of that happening. The problem is that not many parents know how to minimize those risks. Without the proper information, training and practice their skills set them up for potentially killing the very person they are trying desperately to defend.

First, let's talk about guns. For the sake of brevity I'm going to assume you are armed, your firearm is in good working order and accessible. I'm also going to assume that you can access this firearm without having to neutralize an attack first. You are set to take the shot.

1. Shooting The Hostage Taker (Distance Shots)
Deciding when to shoot is the question of the ages. There is a delicate balance of timing, distance, threat and more and when you put a child--YOUR child--between yourself and the bad guy you are upping the stakes considerably, especially if your child is being threatened with death or serious bodily harm, or worse, in the process of being harmed.

I have done lots of hostage-taker shooting, both with actual hostage targets in shoot houses and in IDPA-type matches where no-shoot targets are overlaid on hostile targets. The most challenging (and dare I say, realistic) are when either the no-shoot or the hostile targets also move.

It's not easy.

As accurate as a bullet has potential to be, it is only as accurate as you are and I have seen MANY bullet holes in hostages or no-shoot targets. I have put some of them there.

Finding little data for civilians shooting hostage-takers, I asked a trainer friend of mine who routinely puts concealed carry pistol students through live-fire shoot houses with a variety of hostage targets if he would estimate how many of the students shoot the hostage and this was his response:
"I'd guess 50%. Others miss everything. Others make a very poor shot on bad guy and very very few actually make a stopping hit on bad guy. I've learned. Never be a hostage...."
Keep in mind. Most of these targets do not move. They are static targets and the hostage is hit as often as 50% of the time. Now imagine that hostage is your child.

For individuals advocating "just shooting" the man (or woman) who took your child. Could you reasonably expect to hit the bad guy vs your own child? What practice or training have you done to make you more confident in your abilities? If the individual is running with your child do you know if you need to lead the target or how to lead the target and at what distances you would need to increase that lead with your particular caliber or gun? Can you do that under duress? When's the last time you practiced such skills?

Sometimes a distance shot is the only option. Can you physically make that shot? What if you could attempt a contact shot?

2. Shooting The Hostage Taker (Contact Distance)
I like contact shots and in a hostage situation involving my child where there was clear intent to do my child harm or to kill him I would hope for the opportunity to make a contact shot vs a distance shot.

Why? Because there's less chance of my child being hit or injured and I might even be able to take temporary control of my child in order to make a better shot.

One of the many parts of the Partner Tactics class I attended that was enlightening to me (and again in Extreme Close Quarters) was the concepts of "Partner Rescue." Or, in this case, child-hostage rescue.

In order to understand how dangerous it is to shoot at two people--one of which you have a vested interest is NOT injuring--you must understand that shooting a gun is not instantaneous. It's fast, but many times it's not fast enough.

In the time between deciding to shoot and the bullet impacting the intended target, your intended target could very well have moved or been moved. This is why follow-through is so important to accurate shooting and why moving individuals who you don't intend to shoot get shot.

How do you keep that from happening?

You need to buy yourself time through control.

In other words, you need to get yourself into the mix.

For an adult partner we practiced doing this by grabbing onto your partner and moving with him or her, finding a free space on the attacker that would ideally be incapacitating (more on that later), contacting it with the muzzle of the firearm, finding an angle that will not allow any pass-through bullets to hit one's self or the partner, backing off the muzzle so that it was not forced out of battery (in the case of a semi-auto) and taking the shot.

Yes, it's a lot. It may mean getting beat up a bit as the three of you wrestle around and sometimes there are no perfect angles. But it beats the heck out of trying to make a distance shot on a moving target with your child in arms even if that distance is mere feet.

For a child, I would ideally find a way to wrap my arm around the child and pull him or her to myself or myself into him and the individual holding him. If possible I might even try to tear the child away from the individual holding him or her. Might I injure the child in the process? Yes. But I'd rather a broken or twisted arm than a bullet hole. This might change if the child is an infant and violent movement could result in coup-countercoup (whiplash) or similar injuries. The rest of the steps would be identical.

The only potential good thing about shooting an adult holding a child is that children are very small shields. You may have more available targeting areas and less worry about pass through striking the child. A grown adult male holding an infant leaves most of his head, abdomen and lower extremities completely exposed.

3. Targeting
When it comes to shooting someone who is threatening the life or limb of your child, dare I say there is no "bad" shot but there are better shots.

Bones of the Skull
Many people like head shots and for good reason. There's a lot of really vital stuff up there and a good head shot gives you a pretty good chance of complete incapacitation vs something like an abdomen or extremity shot where the fight can continue for even extended periods of time.

But even head shots are not guaranteed show stoppers. Heads are exceptionally well fortified with bone. Bullets have been known to bounce off or fail to penetrate said bone, particularly the frontal, jaw (mandible), occipital and parietal bones. Some ricochets have even been fatal to those nearby. You certainly wouldn't want your ricocheted head shot to be the thing that killed your child. 

Though the facial bones and the side bones (the temporal and sphenoid) are not as thick or strong they still provide plenty of opportunity for deflection. Good head shots are considered shots within the inverted triangle of the tip of the nose to the brow-line.

Greg Ellifritz wrote a very good and short write up on head shots and within that article and his Extreme Close Quarters class he advocates that if the head is available to shoot, usually the neck is also available. There's a lot of very vital stuff in the neck (airway, nerves, major blood vessels and cervical spine) that can lead to incapacitation very quickly. It's also a decent opening to the thoracic cavity if you if you shoot down from the clavicle towards the heart and lungs.

If the head and neck are not available, the thoracic cavity containing the lungs and heart is another good target. It's large and not as well protected as the head. It also contains two of the most vital structures to life (the lungs and heart). Be aware that even direct hits to the heart and lungs do not always produce immediate stops.

The lesser vital organs of the body are tucked into the lower abdomen. Though they are not considered optimal targets they will do.

The pelvis is very vascular. That is to say it has a lot of major blood vessels running through it. There are also some major structures there that, if damaged, could make it impossible for an attacker to continue standing or use one or both legs.

Finally, extremity (arm and leg) shots are considered least ideal but, again, I would not hesitate to take the shot if it was the only one I could reasonably get while in extreme close quarters with an attacker and fighting for mine and my child's lives.

This is all being mindful of trajectory should the bullet pass through the intended target. If the bullet followed a straight path (sometimes it doesn't) would it exit the bad guy and enter your child or a part of you?

4. Knives and Other Lethal Tools
Some people prefer knives or other lethal tools in extreme close quarters if their state will allow them to carry them. Sometimes, if in a state that does not allow firearm carry a knife or other tool may be all that is available. Do you know how to target with a knife? Do you have any training in using a knife to incapacitate? What would you do to ensure you did not cut your child? If using another object as a lethal object such as a baton, are you confident you could hit the attacker and not your child? Are there be less optimal targeting areas with less risk to your child?

Now I'm going to add a few more monkeys to the pile. What if the attacker is holding a gun or knife to your child? What are you going to do? Is it possible to make a fight-stopping shot before he can pull the trigger or stab your child? If you are able to close distance and make contact, how are you going to ensure you and/or your child don't get shot or cut in the process? What is your priority, getting to his weapon or getting to your own weapon?

5. Injuries
Finally, what if your child is injured? Can you treat him or her?

When the body is injured it begins to compensate for the injury as long as can. When the body can no longer compensate for the injury it goes into a state of decompensation, the end of which is often death. Children decompensate faster than adults. Their bodies cannot sustain a compensated state as long. They have less blood volume to lose and their lungs often give out faster than an adult's.

Are you certified in child CPR? Can you stop a hemorrhage in your own child? What do you have on hand to aid you toward that end? If you have purchased a commercial trauma kit will all of the tools within fit a child? What about an infant? Do you know how to improvise things like tourniquets and pressure bandages if the items won't fit your child?

Don't be seduced by the idea that there are simple or easy answers to these questions or that you could "just shoot" someone holding your child. Imagine with me, if you will, the life-time of regret that may come from accidentally killing your child over a less-than-lethal situation or a poorly executed shot or act.

Don't let your passion for your loved one get them killed by your own lack of knowledge, training or skill--or worse, by your own delusion that such a situation is easy (legally, tactically, emotionally or physically).

Part One: Is It Legal
Part Two: Force Against Someone Holding Your Child


  1. Great discussion in all three parts. Really makes one think.

  2. I love this series, Lima. It's really thought-provoking and you bring up some great points. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Thank you. I'm glad you like it!