The subject of warning shots is one that regularly makes its appearance on internet firearm fora, and it is most certainly something worth discussing due to the inherent potential consequences of firing a warning shot.
I will start with the following disclaimer: I am wholly opposed to the concept of warning shots. Let me explain why.
As things stand, it is an offence to discharge a firearm in a built-up area without a good reason for doing so. A good reason would be a defensive shooting when your life is under threat. You are also responsible, and accountable, for where the bullet you fire comes to rest.
If you find yourself confronted by a violent aggressor who is attacking you, or who is about to attack you, and you reasonably and subjectively believe your life is in imminent danger, you are allowed to use lethal force to defend yourself. Plain English: you can shoot to stop a threat when an innocent life is in danger – no other time.
Firing a warning shot does not figure into this equation. If you don’t believe that your life is in danger, why are you shooting at all? If you have no good reason to discharge your firearm in a built-up area, you have committed an offence. If you are discharging a firearm simply because you are scared, or in order to “let them know you are serious”, you are being irresponsible and stupid.
If you believe that your life is in danger, and that you are being attacked or about to be attacked, why are you firing a warning shot? You are justified in shooting the person attacking you in order to stop the threat, and any hesitation on your part can lead to your death, so firing a warning shot under these circumstances is also unwarrantable and stupid.
There is also no legal requirement to first fire a warning shot at your attacker: that is a myth and a nonsense story.
I think it necessary to reiterate the following: you are responsible and accountable for where the bullet you fire comes to rest.
If you shoot the person who is presenting a deadly threat to you, you can reasonably control where the bullet stops.
You cannot guarantee where the warning shot comes to a stop: what would be a safe direction for a warning shot? I hopefully do not need to mention how irresponsible it is to fire into the air. Firing into the ground, especially under duress, is also a bad idea as it can easily result in a ricochet. The ricochet in turn can cause damage to property and injury or death to innocent third parties…for which you are now responsible.
A lot of people may feel the need to gravitate towards the fallacy of warning shots because they are not mentally or emotionally prepared to use their weapons defensively against another human being. I have understanding and empathy with this problem, but it is very much a problem that the sufferer must solve. If you carry a gun without the correct mindset regarding its use, it is a liability to you and everyone else. It is important to prioritise the right kind of training in order to rectify this.
And whatever your thoughts or feelings may be, they still do not justify the practice of shooting at things that do not warrant being shot at, or discharging firearms at times and in places where it is inappropriate and unlawful to do so.
In conclusion, you are only justified in shooting the person who is performing a potentially life-threatening attack on you or another innocent third party. You do not shoot at anything else. A basic understanding of the law and a serviceable amount of common sense should make this patently obvious. If you fail to understand this concept, you may find yourself in jail.