Once cops started training on silhouette targets instead of bullseye targets they were taught to aim for “center of mass.” On most police silhouette targets (e.g., B-27) the center of the legless body’s mass, where one scores the highest points, is right around the stomach, in the upper abdomen. (In fact, the physical center of mass of the human body is located a few inches below the navel.) The rationale for this was most likely because a shot aimed at the visual center of mass has the greatest chance of staying on the legless silhouette if it strays from its point of aim. As time went by silhouette targets were developed which placed “center of mass” up in the chest, where the heart and the major vessels are located. Anatomically this makes more sense than shooting for the stomach but, as many hunters can attest, a large mammal may function for about 15 seconds after the heart is destroyed.
Many instructors advocate head shots, usually as a secondary aiming point. There are a few problems with head shots:
- The head is a very mobile target. It is instinctive to swing it away from a perceived threat, making it particularly difficult to hit in actual combat. Bill Lewinski, Executive Director of the Force Science Institute, has documented that an unrestrained subject can move his head sideways 6 to 10 inches in as little as 1/10th of a second – “faster than a rifle bullet can travel 200 yards and faster than any officer could possibly react.”
- While a shot anywhere in the head of a paper target looks pretty good, there’s a large amount of the head which does not include essential parts of the central nervous system (CNS). Most instructors with understanding of the CNS recommend aiming for the brainstem – a target about the size and shape of a man’s thumb.
- The essential parts of the central nervous system are encased in heavy bone. Bullets which meet the skull at less than a perpendicular angle may not penetrate it, particularly if they have a rounded surface in their profile. Thus, even if one has the skill to hit the correct area of the surface of the head under stress, the shot may still not accomplish its purpose.
Over four decades ago, for a few years, NYPD operated a Stakeout Unit. SOU Officers–usually in pairs–would take up hidden positions in businesses that were at high risk of armed robbery. Concerned that some of the robberies they would interrupt might involve more than two perpetrators, they asked Dr. Vincent Di Maio, NYC’s medical examiner at the time, where they could shoot a fleeing robber, to keep a gunfight from spilling over onto a crowded sidewalk. Di Maio told them to shoot into the pelvic area. Jim Cirillo–one of the few men who could consistently make head shots in the heat of a gunfight, albeit not necessarily penetrating the cranial vault every time–told me that every felon shot in the pelvic area by the Stakeout Unit fell to the ground.