Don't Be Afraid...
To Pull The Trigger
by Frank Borelli
Police Author
Frank Borelli
I've been a cop in some way, shape or
form (military, civilian, private, etc) since
the fall of 1982. For 24 years I've lived
with the reality that I might, just MIGHT,
have to put a human being in my sight
picture and squeeze the trigger. It's a
reality I came to live with a long time ago
and it remains with me today. I decided lo
those many years ago that it was that
there are a great many police officers
who simply don't have it in them to pull
the trigger when they should. Lt. Col.
Dave Grossman speaks about this in his
presentation on the Bulletproof Mind. He
tells the story about a cop who comes
and thanks him for having simply asked,
"Can you pull the trigger when you have
to?" It's something that far too many
cops take for granted. Grossman cites
human interpersonal violence as the
"universal phobia" and gives historical
information to support his theories. The
fact that some cops today hesitate to
pull the trigger when it's both justified
and necessary to their potential survival
may further support his theory.

I've seen numerous videos from
dashboard video-cameras mounted in
police and sheriff's patrol vehicles around
the country. In one, the law enforcement
officer, gun drawn and pointed at an
armed threat, says, "I'll shoot your ass,"
nine times. NINE times. Now, admittedly
that's not the most professional thing to
say to a subject who needs to drop his
weapon before you are forced to shoot
him. Perhaps, "Don't make me shoot
you," would sound more professional as
it's captured on your dash-cam, but be
that as it may, NINE times? Let's think
about everything that is implied in ONE
verbal warning.

Situation: Subject is armed and not
complying with your orders. You have
drawn your weapon, and are aiming /
pointing it at him. The moment of truth
has arrived. Either he must drop his
weapon or you must pull the trigger on
yours - at least twice in most
contemporary training structures and
then evaluate the need for further shots.

Boyd's Decision making model of Observe
- Orient - Decide - Act affects both
"players" in this drama and we law
enforcement professionals - or any other
contemporary warrior for that matter -
must understand what our failure to act
in a timely fashion means to the

Subject's OODA Loop has ended at ACT:
He is NOT complying. He is resistant. He
is armed. He presents a threat. He may
not yet have decided to pull the trigger,
but he is refusing to surrender or put
down his weapon. He HAS decided not to
be obedient.

Officer's OODA Loop has ended at ACT:
Observed a threat. Oriented sufficiently
to recognize that the threat is to himself
or an innocent it is his duty to protect.
Decided that he must present Deadly
Force. The Action is simultaneously to
draw his weapon and to issue a verbal
command / warning.

Subject's OODA Loop repeats: I'm not
complying. He warned me, but he hasn't
started shooting yet. My decision and
resolve hasn't changed.

Officer's OODA Loop has ended at ACT:
He observes no change in the threat
level. The threat still exists to himself or
another. He has decided to present
Deadly Force and did so at the conclusion
of his last OODA Loop. Now he has to

Action 1: pull the trigger.
Action 2: repeat verbal warning.

Okay. Three things have to be said here:
1) Police officers have no legal
requirement to retreat from a physical
threat. In fact, it's our sworn duty to
stand in harm's way and defend / protect
those who cannot defend or protect
themselves. We cannot in good
conscience shirk that duty.
2) If Deadly Force wasn't justified, we
shouldn't be standing there with the gun
in our hand pointed at a bad guy. If we're
confident in our decision to present
Deadly Force, we should be equally
confident in the necessity of pulling the
3) Action is always faster than REaction.
If the bad guy goes through his next
OODA Loop and decides to start pulling
the trigger, the officer or other victim
may be critically injured by gunfire before
the officer can return fire. At that point,
the action is too little too late.

Those three items recognized, let's
consider the implication of a second (or
third or fourth or NINTH) warning. The
subject is going through repetitive OODA
Loops just as the officer is. To make
those OODA Loops inefficient, the officer
has to press the subject's time and
space. By whatever means necessary,
the officer must reach an appropriate
ACTION first - or risk losing the fight and
potentially his life. If the officer makes the
decision to issue a second warning -
which may be appropriate dependent on
circumstances, position of cover, threat
presented, etc.- then the subject takes
that into consideration in his next OODA

What's the message he's been given?
Let's think about it.

Observe: Nothing physical has changed.
I'm here with a gun in hand. The cop is
there with his gun pointed at me. He
looks shaken and unsure, but his gun
has a big hole at the end of it and it's
pointed at me. He just said, "Don't force
me to shoot you," which means the
choice is mine. I can drop the gun and
live, or I can disobey him and he'll shoot
me. But then he said the same thing

Orient: Hmmm... maybe he really doesn't
want to shoot me. Let me think about
this a minute... maybe more options will
become apparent before he actually gets
up the courage to shoot me. Let me look
around and see what I can leverage to
my advantage or do to escape.

Decide: I think I'll pull this trigger and
shoot him before he says anything else

Act: Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang.

Of course, that's only one possibility. He
may decide to drop the gun and
surrender. He may realize that your
position of cover is so good he'd be
wasting bullets trying to shoot you. He
may hear sirens and decide he needs to
get away fast and you're in his way so he
opens fire. But let's take a look at the
options and see how the percentages
work out for the good guys: us cops.

He surrenders. GOOD.
He shoots. You don't. He's not shot.
You're injured. BAD.
He shoots. You don't. He's not shot.
You're incapacitated. BAD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's injured.
You're not shot. GOOD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's injured.
You're injured. BAD. He shoots. You
He's incapacitated. You're not shot.
He shoots. You shoot. He's
incapacitated. You're injured. BAD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's
incapacitated. You're incapacitated. BAD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's injured.
You're incapacitated. BAD.
He shoots. You shoot. He's not shot.
You're incapacitated. BAD.

If he surrenders then great. If he decides
to pull the trigger, you're in a RE-active
position. Of those options listed above,
seven out of nine where he shoots work
out BAD for you. That's a 78% chance it
will go wrong for you. How can we
change that? Be PRO-active and do what
you know is right and justified. Pull the
trigger FIRST. How will that work out?

You shoot. He doesn't. He's injured.
You're not shot. GOOD.
You shoot. He doesn't. He's
incapacitated. You're not shot. GOOD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's injured.
You're not shot. GOOD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's
incapacitated. You're not shot. GOOD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's injured.
You're injured. BAD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's
incapacitated. You're injured. BAD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's
incapacitated. You're incapacitated. BAD.
You shoot. He shoots. He's injured.
You're incapacitated. BAD.

Now take a look at that. In the instances
where the good guys shoot and the bad
guy doesn't, it works out 100% in our
favor (given that the use of force is
justified). In the remaining six of eight,
four of them work in his favor. It would
seem to me - based simply on math -
that making an appropriate decision and
ACTING on it in a timely fashion while
using good tactics (such as being behind
cover) increases our chances of victory at
least 30%.

While I fully understand that today's
society puts a lot of pressure on cops to
make sure we do the right thing, some
things will never change: I will always
rather be tried by twelve than carried by
six. Understand, you're almost
guaranteed to get sued if you pull that
trigger. You will face administrative and
criminal investigations and someone will
always said you could have done
something different. They'll be right.
There was always something different
that could have been done. Would that
different thing have ended in your victory
in the conflict? Or would it simply have
made it easier for the bad guy to kill you?

Now let me give you an example of how
things can work the other way:

County police get a call for a man armed
with a knife at a local gas station. They
arrive and sure enough, here's the man
wandering around the parking lot with a
butcher knife in his hand, waving it at
people and making verbal threats. The
corporal who arrives on the scene has
JUST finished qualifying with his carbine.
He pulls up approximately fifteen yards /
45 feet from the subject, pops his trunk
and gets out. As he goes to his trunk to
pull out his 9mm carbine, the subject
begins approaching him waving the knife.
The officer secures his carbine, chambers
a round, checks his shooting backdrop.
He moves around to the other side of his
cruiser away from the subject, takes aim
and issues one warning: "Drop the knife
and get down on the ground or I'll fire."
The subject never slows down and has
approached to within the infamous
21-foot distance. One shot is fired. The
subject is immediately incapacitated. The
administrative and criminal investigations
were completed. The shooting was
deemed justified. The witness statements
clearly indicated that the officer wasn't
eager in his actions, but didn't hesitate
either - - - as it should be.

Do what you have to do and don't
hesitate. Beat the bad guys in the OODA
Loop races and ACT appropriately before
they can come to a coherent decision.
Don't doubt. Don't second guess. Don't
die or get injured because you're afraid
of civil litigation or administrative
headaches. If you were a uniform and a
badge and consider yourself a law
enforcement professional, you're a
contemporary warrior. Warriors go into
battle. In battle there are victors... and
those other folks. Don't be one of those
other folks.

Frank Borelli began a writing career in
1999.  With several hundred articles now
published internationally and seven
books published with more on the way.  
Frank is the Editor in Chief for New
AmericanTruth.com, the Internet's largest
law enforcement website.  Together with
a partner, Steve Forgues, Frank founded
AboveDirt.com in 2010.
Copyright © 2016  Barry M. Baker