The focus of police work is on de-escalation. Law enforcement officers at all levels are trained on a use of force continuum that proceeds from presence on the scene, to verbal commands, through various measures of physical restraint and less lethal forms of intervention. The use of firearms is only sanctioned when strictly necessary, in the absence of reasonable alternatives. A “good shoot” prevents serious harm based on the officer’s good-faith assessment of the circumstances; a “bad shoot” means potential non-lethal devices or procedures were available, applicable, and overlooked.

Indeed, this requirement to use the least restrictive means to subdue a subject is precisely what differentiates policing from warfare. Under the law of war, enemy belligerents are subject to lethal attack at any time and place. The legality of the targeted killing campaign undertaken by U.S. military and intelligence agencies against terrorist operatives over the last two decades, for example, relies almost exclusively on the continued assertion that we remain in a state of war with various groups and in various regions of the world. President George W. Bush called this effort the Global War on Terrorism; President Barack Obama deemed it “an armed conflict with al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and associated forces.” Legally, the effect was largely indistinguishable in allowing the U.S. to target enemy fighters overseas with remotely piloted aircraft, or drones.