Policing Ain’t Bean Bag… Or Maybe It Is

Upon hearing that the Fairfax County Police Department had scrapped conventional shotgun shells in favor of “bean bag” projectiles, my initial reaction was to mock the change. Bean bags? What’s the next tool in the police arsenal — pillows? Given the approving tone of the article in The Washington Post, I was tempted to dismiss the idea as the latest excrescence of politically correct dogma.

After further examination, I have reconsidered. Tasers are one non-lethal  alternative, but they don’t always work, especially if the target is pumped up on drugs. Does anyone remember Rodney King? The bean bag projectiles aren’t perfect — they can cause injuries or in rare circumstances kill. Still, they inflict a lot less damage than bullets or buckshot. The Fox News clip above shows how Atlanta police used bean bag rounds to disarm a man with a hatchet and axe.

Giving police alternatives to beating recalcitrant suspects into submission is always a good idea.  — JAB

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35 responses to “Policing Ain’t Bean Bag… Or Maybe It Is”

  1. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    Good to see that you are open to some new approaches and were willing to reconsider your initial negative reaction.

    1. Nathan Avatar

      I too hope this works, but new approaches and less lethal options don’t always produce the intended result.

      “Minnesota officer who said she mistook gun for Taser is convicted of 2 manslaughter counts in killing of Daunte Wright”


    2. Now if we could only get the left to reconsider some of their positions and be open to corrective action, we might be able to start a real discussion.

  2. Kathleen Smith Avatar
    Kathleen Smith

    Gotta agree. Not a bad idea in some cases. But if the perpetrator has a gun, bean bags might not be quick enough.

    1. WayneS Avatar

      But if the perpetrator has a gun, bean bags might not be quick enough.

      That is true. Bean bags should be considered against perpetrators with knives, bats, axes, crow bars, shovels, etc.

      People pointing guns at the police should probably still count on being shot with regular ammunition.

  3. walter smith Avatar
    walter smith

    Yeah…but…not having a shot gun was not “adding” an option. It was replacing an option, and one that they should still have.
    Like bringing a knife to a gunfight, bringing a bean bag air rifle to a gunfight is less than satisfactory…

    1. Nathan Avatar

      “bringing a bean bag air rifle to a gunfight is less than satisfactory…”

      They aren’t using air rifles. These departments are planning to use existing 12 gauge pump shotguns with different ammo. Rather expensive ammo at that.

      CTS 12ga Super-Sock Bean Bag Impact Round, Box of 5


      The only difference in the guns is that they have an orange forearm, orange pistol grip and an orange stripe near the butt plate to differentiate them from the shotguns used by SWAT which are loaded with buckshot.

      1. walter smith Avatar
        walter smith

        What they are not is 12 gauge shotguns.
        This article indicates there is some difference.
        So, even though I am hardly an expert on firearms, I think I would prefer the option of the REAL shotgun, not the bean bag one. The bean bag one for a non-armed offender, sure. But an armed offender? I’d feel better with the 12 gauge. So would any person fearing for his life. Policing is hard. Taking away the 12 gauge to replace with bean bags IS bean bag. Adding it? I’m good with that
        And in Fairfax they “replaced” the 12 gauges with these, so I think there is more than a cosmetic change.

        1. WayneS Avatar

          What they are not is 12 gauge shotguns.

          Incorrect, sir. They are regular 12 gauge shotguns with orange markings to make them discernable from standard issue shotguns.

          Case in point: Ventura CA police use the venerable Remington 870 (with orange markings).

          1. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            Missing the point. I think they should also have the option of the more lethal 12 gauge because criminals do bad things and a real 12 gauge may be needed.

        2. WayneS Avatar

          See this:


          And note this from the “Details” section: Create a dedicated less-lethal shotgun for your unit with orange less-lethal shotgun stocks and forends from Hogue. Fits for the Remington 870, Mossberg 500, and Mossberg 590.

        3. Nathan Avatar


          I’ve been a shotgun instructor for years and I guarantee you, those are real shotguns. Bean bag shells are legal in most states and people can buy them if they want for use in regular shotguns. (I would, however, suggest using a pump or over/under rather than a semi-auto. The bean bag shells may not cycle reliably.)


          I’m not trying to be argumentative, but they are the same shotguns used previously that now have partially orange stocks. The only other change I can foresee is that they may have swapped out the choke to accomodate the bean bag payload, which is not a big deal. I swap out chokes every time I shoot skeet rather than trap.

          The link you provided is second-hand information and hyperbole.

          “We may live in an era of 2+2=5, but I’m pretty sure that 630 is still less than 800 meaning they not only took away the shotguns, they left 170 police officers without even beanbags to defend themselves!”

          Officers still carry Glocks, so they aren’t defenseless.

          From the Washington Post article:

          “Fairfax County patrol officers will continue to be armed with Glocks loaded with real bullets, Wright said, but there are many scenarios in which an officer would use a less lethal shotgun instead.”

          Look. Some people may think this is a bad idea. That’s fine. I am not persuaded either way, but think this could potentially save lives and give officers a tool that is helpful. As you well know, killing a suspect can ruin an officer’s life. This might keep them from having no alternative but to kill someone. If that works out, it’s better for everyone. Time will tell.

          1. walter smith Avatar
            walter smith

            We aren’t really arguing as I know nothing about the device. I have a 12 gauge and hope it remains largely unused and certainly not for defense. My main issue is that I don’t think taking them away is a net plus. I am ok with this intermediate level device. But I still think it would be wise to have access to the 12 gauge. And, like most good intentions, will knowledge of this have the bad effect of making criminals MORE brazen, knowing the officers have these guns?
            We live in such a screwed up world. Policing is hard and they deserve respect instead of the far and away unfair calumny thrown at them by “the narrative.”

          2. Nathan Avatar

            Appreciate your perspective.

            Every sane person hopes they won’t need to use a firearm for defense. That doesn’t mean it won’t happen. I saw this in the news. Three elderly citizens in a community considered very safe were beaten and stabbed. I wish they had been able to defend themselves.

            “The brutal crime has shaken to the core residents in the Boston-area city ranked in a 2022 SafeWise report as the second safest city for families in America.”


      2. WayneS Avatar

        So will they now have two shotguns in their trunks? That would be a good idea.

        1. Nathan Avatar

          From reading the article, I believe regular officers will have retrofitted (orange) shotguns with bean bags, and only SWAT will have black shotguns loaded with buckshot.

          1. WayneS Avatar

            Hmmm. I’m not so sure that is the best strategy. I think the beanbag shot guns should augment the regular officers’ toolkit, not replace a valuable and effective existing tool.

          2. Nathan Avatar

            Sorry. I normally track with you, but completely disagree on this one.

            If officers have both, then they will need to carry buckshot as well as bean bag ammo. That’s a formula for Rust type shootings on a regular basis.

            Conversely, an officer might accidently reload with bean bag ammo instead of buckshot in the heat of a serious gun battle.

            In my opinion, it’s one or the other for regular equipment in squad cars.

          3. WayneS Avatar

            Good point.

  4. WayneS Avatar

    Those things hurt – a lot.

    I like the idea of the police using nonlethal force in instances where lethal force can be legally justified, as long as it can be safely (for officers and the public) and effectively implemented.

    This appears to be one of those situations. Kudos to those police officers, and to Fairfax for adopting bean bags as an option.

    1. Nathan Avatar

      Here’s my main concern:

      “Fairfax County officers are trained to aim less-lethal weapons at people’s extremities rather than their abdomen, in an effort to avoid serious injury, Wright said.”

      Try that sometime and you will find that it’s VERY difficult! Less lethal weapons are only used from a distance, and the subject is unlikely to hold very still so you can take careful aim. Hitting extremities is difficult, even under the best of circumstances.

      What could happen if the officer misses an extremity?

      “In Vancouver, a man was killed last year after police shot him with beanbags. In Aurora, Colo., a man filed a federal lawsuit against the police department, alleging that an officer used excessive force in firing a beanbag at his torso, leading to permanent injury and the end of his career.”


      1. WayneS Avatar

        I should have used the term “less lethal” instead of nonlethal.

        If you miss, you fire another round.

        1. Nathan Avatar

          I think you “missed” my point. 🙂

          If an officer tries to shoot an extremity and the subject moves, the bean bag could end up hitting the torso or head. Then the officer could be accused of doing it purposefully, which is against policy. Next thing you know he or she is potentially facing a manslaughter charge. Think about it. With a Progressive DA, that could happen.

          If I were an officer shooting bean bags, I’d most likely limit my shots to the subject’s legs.

          Unless the situation was just right, I don’t think I would risk shooting for the suspect’s arms, hand or weapon in the hand. But that’s just my view.

          1. WayneS Avatar

            I guess I did.

            My comment was this: I like the idea of the police using nonlethal force in instances where lethal force can be legally justified…. (as I noted, I should have used “less lethal” instead of nonlethal)

            If lethal force is not justified I don’t even think they should use the beanbags.

          2. Nathan Avatar

            Sorry, but I still don’t think you fully appreciate how the law works in self defense situations.

            Even in a situation where lethal force is justified, an accidental death resulting from a mistake or failure to follow policy may be ruled manslaughter.

            I know that sounds crazy, but it’s true.

            For example, use of tasers is normally only permitted in situations where lethal force is justified. Kim Potter was still found guilty of manslaughter.

            Minnesota officer who said she mistook gun for Taser is convicted of 2 manslaughter counts in killing of Daunte Wright


          3. Lefty665 Avatar

            Uh, don’t think you can call her shooting Wright with with pistol as using “less lethal” force. She argued it was a “mistake”, but what she was convicted of was shooting and killing him by pulling the trigger of her pistol, not an errant taser or beanbag.

          4. Nathan Avatar

            Less lethal does not mean not lethal. It’s only somewhat less likely to cause death.

            From the manufacturer of the bean bag ammo.

            “However, it is stressed that shot placement rather than deployment range is the critical factor in determining the extent of injury caused. Shots to the head, neck, thorax, heart or spine can result in fatal or serious injury.”


            If an attempt to use less lethal results in death, which happens with some regularity, the perception is that the officer did something wrong. If there’s anything that isn’t absolutely textbook, the officer may be facing charges, even though the situation qualified for lethal force.

            Once charged, then it’s up to the jury, and the officer might be found guilty or not guilty. Roll the dice.

            “Cop acquitted in beanbag gun death of 95-year-old vet”


  5. Nathan Avatar

    I think it makes sense to explore alternatives, but police don’t know in advance when “less lethal” force will be required. I doubt they’re going to carry these shotguns on their person. When a situation develops, they will need to retrieve the less lethal shotgun from their police vehicle. That will take some time.

    Then there’s always the chance for a mix-up. The Rust shooting demonstrates what happens when the wrong ammunition gets into the supply. Fortunately, the bean bag ammo in the article appears to be visibly different from buckshot.

    The program also removes shotguns loaded with buckshot from the tools available to regular police. You can’t have shotguns loaded with buckshot in the mix with less lethal shotguns. The article suggests that SWAT teams will still have and use buckshot, however. Hope that works out.

    The Washington Post reports:

    “She said officials will track how police use this new option and its support by officers and the community.”

    I hope they share that information with us common folk.

    1. Nathan Avatar

      Additionally, the use of bean bag shotguns will require multiple officers. The officer holding the bean bag shotgun would not have time to put it down and grab his handgun if the suspect decides to charge.

  6. Eric the half a troll Avatar
    Eric the half a troll

    “…especially if the target is pumped up on drugs. Does anyone remember Rodney King?”

    Rodney King tested negative, you know…

    1. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
      James Wyatt Whitehead

      Mr. King did die on June 17, 2012. He was only 47. Alcohol, PCP, and pot contributed to the deceased accidental drowning in a swimming pool.

    2. WayneS Avatar

      He was drunk, though.

      1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
        Eric the half a troll

        Not typically what one thinks of when reading the term “pumped up on drugs”…

        1. WayneS Avatar

          Understood, but it can still lead to a person doing very stupid things.

          1. Eric the half a troll Avatar
            Eric the half a troll

            I can certainly vouch for that…

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