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About this important scene where the sniper has to shoot a child for threatening a convoy with a grenade. The shooter has plenty of time to decide whether to do it or not and so my question is:

Why not try to shoot somewhere close to the child first to try and scare them?

I realize that the child probably won't know that they are being shot at by the sniper (and therefore might not get scared). But still it's a chance he has time to take. So why doesn't he take it? I assume it's against some kind of rules snipers have. Is that it? Is that because you might miss and actually hit them so before shooting close you have to decide they're going down logic?

Same question could be asked about the guy on the phone earlier in the film btw (not threatening enough to shoot but might be dissuaded by a shot that lands close).

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  • 15
    "Why didn't the policeman shoot the gun out of the robber's hand"
    – Valorum
    Dec 31, 2023 at 17:07
  • 16
    @Valorum this ain't even close and you know it :)
    – Gear54rus
    Dec 31, 2023 at 17:18
  • 4
    "But still it's a chance he has time to take. So why doesn't he take it?" Think this through. What exactly allows the sniper to have this time luxury in the first place, and would it still exist if he wasted his first shot?
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 1 at 3:53
  • 1
    The answer is as above comments said that a sniper in a war situation (might not be true of a common police operation) should change position after a firing to avoid counterstrike (even the Iraqi rebels had mortars, heavy machine guns or snipers to strike back especially when they prepared an ambush for a convoy). Also, if the sniper shoots close to the kid, the kid might just find a cover still close enough to threaten the convoy, so the sniper should to secure the convoy neutralize him immediately -which means shooting at him Jan 1 at 15:11
  • How can you guess what was the intent of a faraway shot? For all I know, if I'm in the middle of nowhere and I saw a bullet hole appear, my first reaction would be: "someone tried to kill me and missed their shot"; assuming I see it to begin with
    – Clockwork
    Jan 2 at 14:51

3 Answers 3

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In the source novel he acts under direct orders from a superior officer. He does briefly hesitate, but largely because this is his first sniper kill rather than out of any special sympathy for the woman.

“She’s got a grenade,” said the chief. “That’s a Chinese grenade.”
“Shit.”
“Take a shot.”
“But—”
“Shoot. Get the grenade. The Marines—”
I hesitated. Someone was trying to get the Marines on the radio, but we couldn’t reach them. They were coming down the street, heading toward the woman.
“Shoot!” said the chief.
I pushed my finger against the trigger. The bullet leapt out. I shot. The grenade dropped. I fired again as the grenade blew up.

In the film script his commanding officer stresses that our hero has to follow the 'ROE' (Rules of Engagement) in this situation.

CHRIS KYLE: You got eyes on this? Can you confirm?

COMMANDING OFFICER (OS): Negative. You know the ROEs. Your call.

GOAT (OC): They fry you if you’re wrong. Send your ass to Leavenworth.

Those rules specifically authorise the deadly use of force to kill an opponent and to prioritise American military lives. Trying to 'warn him off' would have merely prolonged the encounter and further risked American Marine casualties.

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    I didn't understand how did you infer the reason for hesitation from that quote. For me it sounds exactly the opposite of your conclusion from what you quoted.
    – Gear54rus
    Dec 31, 2023 at 16:52
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    @Gear54rus - He talks about it later in the book; "It was the first time I’d killed anyone while I was on the sniper rifle. And the first time in Iraq—and the only time—I killed anyone other than a male combatant. It was my duty to shoot, and I don’t regret it. The woman was already dead. I was just making sure she didn’t take any Marines with her.
    – Valorum
    Dec 31, 2023 at 16:56
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    "It was clear that not only did she want to kill them, but she didn’t care about anybody else nearby who would have been blown up by the grenade or killed in the firefight. Children on the street, people in the houses, maybe her child . . . She was too blinded by evil to consider them. She just wanted Americans dead, no matter what. My shots saved several Americans, whose lives were clearly worth more than that woman’s twisted soul. I can stand before God with a clear conscience about doing my job. But I truly, deeply hated the evil that woman possessed. I hate it to this day."
    – Valorum
    Dec 31, 2023 at 16:56
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    It is worth bearing in mind that not only is the movie a work of fiction ("based on a true story"), but the story that it was based on may not even be completely true. There were a lot of allegations of fabrication and exaggeration around Chris Kyle's claims—that he had gotten into a fight with Jesse Ventura, that he had been awarded six Bronze Stars and two Silver Stars, and most notably, that he had killed 30 looters in New Orleans, which would have been considered murder if it had been true.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 1 at 5:56
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    All of which is to say, there may never have been a mother and child with a grenade, or there may have been a mother and child without a grenade, or he might have killed multiple mothers and children with or without grenades, as opposed to it being a single incident as he claimed.
    – Obie 2.0
    Jan 1 at 5:58
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Why not try to shoot somewhere close to the child first to try and scare them?

Because that's not what you do when you're threatened or under fire. You decide according to the level of the threat and, in this case, the ROE (Rules Of Engagement), and you act.

There's no "warning", any person having been under fire or having been involved in any kind of conflict will tell you. It's your people/you, or it's the other one. In the movie, you see Chris Kyle observing the woman and the kid (their clothes, their hands, their moves...), taking time to weigh the potential threat. It's either a threat, and the marksman takes the shot, or it's not, and he doesn't.

The sniper uses his/her ability to observe and understand the pre-event indicators that suggest that a critical incident is about to occur. Commander, May I Engage?

If a movie wants to be accurate, they try and stick to the reality of the ground. You don't warn your enemy. That would be your last mistake. And if it's not an enemy/threat, but just a civilian, why disclose your position?

From Time, an excerpt from Chris Kyle's interview:

Time: The first kill that you write about in the book, you actually kill a woman and she has in one hand the hand of her toddler, and then in the other hand she has a grenade. Was that the hardest of the kills you had to do?

Chris Kyle: Probably. It was difficult. I mean first of all it’s a woman, and there is a child involved. But just like the story played out in the book, I had to do it to protect the Marines, so, do you want to lose your own guys or would you rather take one of them out?

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    I love that quote: "I believe in warning shots... the first shot to the middle of the chest warns the recipient that another shot is on its way." (from snipershide -- no credit - no link - must be 18+)
    – OldPadawan
    Dec 31, 2023 at 19:06
  • What should a sniper do if the sniper notices another sniper aiming at someone the sniper is charged with protecting, but would not have a shot at that other sniper (e.g. the other sniper is observed in a reflection or silhouette). A sudden bullet hit out of nowhere may not alert the other sniper's target to the exact nature of the threat they face, but most plausible reactions by the target would make the other sniper's task more difficult.
    – supercat
    Jan 2 at 18:22
  • @supercat Long question, one word answer: radio. Jan 3 at 8:55
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The easiest shot is the first one, when the target is unaware of your presence.

Either someone is a valid target and lethal force is justified, or they aren't. In a combat situation, the only thing a "warning shot" does is warn the target that there's a sniper in the area. Sure, maybe there's a chance they'll get spooked, run off, and try again later. More likely, though, they'll just take action to make themselves harder to kill, while still trying to complete their objective.

A sniper's job is to deliver precise shots against unaware targets. If you read about actual snipers, you'll find plenty of stories about them spending hours or even days setting up a shot, but you'll rarely read about one firing a second time, even if the first shot misses.

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  • you'll rarely read about one firing a second time, even if the first shot misses. Why not shoot again right after the first shot missed?
    – WoJ
    Jan 2 at 12:03
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    @WoJ If the first shot against a static, unaware target aimed under no pressure missed, what makes you think that a second shot against an evading target under pressure won't?
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 2 at 16:35
  • @DKNguyen I am not sure I get what you are saying. The sniper shoots and misses. How is it better to pack and go rather than try another shot (or two), and then leave? There is a 0% probability of killing the target after leaving right after the missed first shot, there is a p > 0% if one tries one or more. The reason why someone may want to run right after the first shot is the risk that they have been spotted and there is immediate retaliation available. There is training (not for snipers though) where you shoot a few times predicting the path of someone escaping.
    – WoJ
    Jan 2 at 17:53
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    @WoJ I imagine that if you're in the field, arguing there's a greater than 0% chance of a second shot hitting its mark is rather unconvincing. There needs to be much more incentive than that. Not saying it never happens, but that it's not a given that a second shot should happen, not even most of the time. And past a certain range it's kind of pointless.
    – DKNguyen
    Jan 2 at 20:37

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