If hostage is threatened with weapon, is gunshot to head of attacker wise?

We’ve all seen it in an action movie: the bad guy is holding a gun to the head of a hostage (most likely the love interest or child of our hero) and is threatening imminent harm. The good guy is hiding a gun behind his back and in one smooth motion, he raises the gun and fires a single round into the brain of the bad guy, killing him (at least for the moment as he may come back for one last ditch evil effort in a minute or two). The baddy slumps to the ground, his weapon unfired.

My question is: if this scenario played out in real life, as the bullet scrambled the baddy’s brain and blasted a good bit of it out the back of his head, is it more or less likely that the trauma would cause his muscles to contract, firing the gun and killing the hostage? I can see either answer being plausible, the baddy slumping gently to the ground or an uncontrolled muscle contraction.

Thanks for any insight you all can provide.

An MP friend of mine said this technique was used on a guy holding a knife to a baby’s neck (Ft. Sill OK, around 1975?). When the officer believed the baby was about to be cut, he placed a round in the head of the bad guy. Baby did not get cut, supposedly because the brain needs to tell the hand what to do and it was permanently disabled. Don’t know if I’d risk it with a gun in place of the knife.

I would think that the greater risk would be the man firing the weapon hits the hostage, rather than the hostage taker firing, but of course its possible.
Snopes has some cool pictures of the “Negotiator” dispatching a hostage taker, though he only had a knife.


Standard disclaimer: I’m not an expert, sniper, or hostage negotiator, nor even a policeman. Rather, I’m just a dude who’s pretty proficient with guns.

I think that trying to shoot the bad guy while he was holding a gun to a hostage would not be good tactics. There are a couple of reasons for this:

As the OP mentions, if the muscles contracted with the hit, you’d lose the hostage. I haven’t been to medical school so I can’t say whether or not this is a common phenomenon, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out; nor would I want to be the guy that had to provide the test case.

However, an even bigger concern (for me, anyway) is that headshots aren’t always lethal. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that the round could, say, fragment on a skull bone and, rather than penetrating into the brain, would simply “skip” around the skull - maybe inside the scalp, maybe not.

Plus, your average policeman/law enforcement officer isn’t nearly as skilled at shooting as the guys in the movies. I’ve shot the Texas DPS qualification set, and it’s almost ridiculously easy to pass. I have a buddy who had only shot a handgun once before, and was half-blind in one eye, that was able to pass the test, even the shots from some distance away (IIRC, it was 20 yards.) That’s not to say that they’re unskilled, by any means. And, of course, some of them shoot competitively and are remarkably good, but I’m pretty sure that your normal, everyday beat cop isn’t a superior pistol marksman.

Add to that the stress of the encounter. Lots and lots of police shootouts occur at minimal distances with no one getting hit, even after emptying magazines. Loss of fine motor control and all that.

Plus, service handguns aren’t coddled - they’re banged against doorframes and such quite a bit (I carry concealed on my right hip, and even after doing this for years I still occasionally give my pistol a good bump.) There’s always the possibility that the rear sight (which in many cases is adjustable for windage) could be off, thereby giving a false sight picture.

Where it gets stickier in my mind is when we’re talking about snipers. Say the negotiators are doing their thing, but somewhere in the background there’s a couple of guys in ghillie suits leveling a scoped .308 at the bad guy’s eye socket. I have no doubt in my mind that they would likely get their hit - they’re trained for bullet drop compensation, windage, distance, etc. The only X-factor, really, is the bad guy. If he moves at the last second, all bets are off. If someone had to take a shot at a bad guy, I’d hope it’d be a sniper rather than a beat cop with a Glock. Would it ever be given the go-ahead by the upper brass? My hunch is no.

“Negotiations concluded” indeed.

From this site it appears possible. But is also appears unlikely to be achieved with a handgun.

Anyone know where these impact points are? Front or back?

Now, a SWAT sniper with a .50 cal sniper rifle- that might do the trick. or even a .308.

I agree with what BlakeTyner said about police marksmanship. The celebrated incident in LA where the perps had body armor and automatic weapons was only such a stand off as the LAPD officers either couldn’t hit the perps in the very large areas of the body not protected or didn’t think to do so.

What about a taser then…Would not the electiral current force all musscles to spas out? IE finger flinging out instead of pulling triger?

I’d offer something to this discussion but BlakeTyner has succinctly summarized almost everything I’d have to say. HRT/SWAT snipers are trained to go for a headshot when possible simply because it is cleaner and because you often have a clearer sight picture and better line of fire when the subject is partially concealed (plus, even a “glancing” hit to the head with a 7.62×51 mm or .300 Win Mag is very likely to be explosively terminal); however, shots are taken with hostages present only when it is felt that danger to hostages or officers is imminent. Hitting something the size of a head with a service pistol, even at realitively close range, is surprisingly difficult, even moreso under stress or poor lighting, and pistol rounds like the 9mmP, .40S&W, and even the .45ACP have demonstrated a propensity to bounce off of or even get trapped under the skin of the skull without disabling the subject. And as BlakeTyner says, most law enforcement officers are not expert pistoleros; they’re good enough to pass monthly or annual qualifications, but it’s not like they’re involving in daily shooting practice.

If a hostage is threatened with a weapon, the wise thing to do is speak calmly, verbally pacify the suspect, and get him to keep talking; the longer he talks, the less likely he is to take action, and the more subceptible he’ll be to reason as the adrenal burst and/or drugs wears off. If you have to shoot, you aim for the largest exposed target area, and no, Keanu, you don’t “shoot the hostage”.


Never been fired on by an automatic rifle, have you? Neither, for the record, have I, but I have fired a few, and believe me, if I was facing down someone with an FN-FAL or an AR-15 with only a Beretta 9mm popgun in my hand, I’d be crouching behind the engine block and calling for Special Tactics backup, too.


I have been fired on, but not with a fully auto weapon, no. Yes, indeed, if I was being fired upon, I’d take cover. However, if you watch some of the videos of the incident you can clearly see cops at the edge not being fired upon and given chances to take clean shots. However, they did exactly as their LAPD training trained them to do- emptied their guns at the center of mass.

That’s very true. My department’s rangemaster attended a seminar at which one of the LAPD officers spoke. He confirmed that they could have taken lots of head shots, but they never thought to do it. Under the extreme stress of the situation, they fired exactly as they trained - shooting at the center of mass.

For this reason, our range now includes lots of head shots and dynamic targets that require you to keep shooting until the threat is eliminated.