For all you would-be heroes who think you’ll save the day by carrying a gun…
(The ballistics report is back from the Empire State shooting. It contains some surprises. Or maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. This is a long post; I won’t be offended if you go right to the link at the end.)
An entertainment culture lives partly in the real world, and partly in a fantasy world. People fantasize all the time about winning the lottery: they think about helping their relatives, buying a better house, traveling. And whenever there’s a public shooting, people fantasize about what they would do if they were there… with a gun.
C’mon, gun-advocate; admit it. When you write huffy comments under news stories saying; ”If only a citizen with a gun had been there, it wouldn’t have gone on so long! Lives would have been saved!” – you’re talking about yourself. Aren’t you.
How it’s gonna go down
Of course, you’d need some training. Probably take a course! And maybe practice at the gun range. And in the morning, you’d slip that weight into your concealed holster, along with your watch, your keys, and your wallet. Just another ordinary day, for an armed citizen in Free America.
Then one day, when you least expect it, someone opens up on the crowd. “Pop! Pop! Pop!” and you hear a ricochet “Pop! Bwrrrrrew!” and people are screaming and you can smell powder and the exits clog up instantly. And they’re all helpless against the murderous insanity of the shooter. All of them… except you.
Instead of hitting the deck, you pull out your gun as you rise to your feet. Standing with your feet shoulder-width apart, and a solid, two-handed grip, you pull back the hammer and slip your finger into the trigger guard. “Drop your weapon!”, you call out. All motion in the room stops. The crowd looks from the shooter to you. The shooter wheels around to see you standing there, grimly determined that if anyone else is to be shot, it will be him.
He raises his gun in your direction. You squeeze your trigger; the gun bucks in your hand. He drops his gun and falls to the floor, nursing a fatal wound.
Afterward, you receive the gratitude and appreciation of the community and law enforcement. Interviewed by a local news program – or possibly on FOX News, you say; “My heart was pounding, but this is exactly what I trained for. I had to stop him. Innocent lives were at stake.”
Yeah. Damn, you’re cool.
The professional fantasy
Like most people, you think that if you had professional tools in your hands, you could do what professionals do. Given a Ferrari, you could do pretty well at rally racing. With ten thousand dollars worth of photo equipment, you could do sports photography as well as those guys in Sports Illustrated. Pretty close, anyway.
The fantasy starts to break down if you think about cooking a gourmet meal, if only you had… what, better pots? A magic stirring spoon? But if you’re like most Internet commenters, you’re quite sure that if you had a gun, you could do at least as well as a cop would, if there were a cop on the scene with a gun.
How well do the professionals handle it?
There’s a reason police departments have SWAT teams; they’re specialists. Your everyday officer is a generalist: he has a wide range of skills from giving directions to mediating domestic disputes to stopping a mugger, and he does better at some of them than others. Yes, he has training with the gun; more than you will have, and more practice too. But we learn again and again when someone is perforated for reaching for his wallet or a mentally-challenged person is shot for driving away from a traffic stop: making a discriminating kill is a challenge even for professionals.
Case in point: the Empire State shooter. Dude opens up at a national landmark. He was after a specific individual, but the two veteran – not rookie, but trained, experienced cops didn’t know that. They took down the gunman, all right, but they also injured nine bystanders.
Think about that: these two guys have a better chance at using a gun to effect than you ever will; they’re professionals, with years of experience. And the result? NYPD: Ballistics show all 9 wounded outside Empire State Building were shot by police.
Now suppose two or three ordinary citizens had been there, and pulled out their pieces. Same two cops, same situation, but lots more guns; I’m sure everything would have been just fine.
- Don’t for a moment doubt the skill and daily heroism of the cops in question. While they both had to qualify professionally with their sidearms, neither had ever fired their guns in the line of duty before. This is actually more typical than the TV cop model, where an average day at work involves at least one armed standoff.
- Not everyone is as charitable to the cops: Going Postal at the Empire State Building. Which still reinforces my point that shootouts are difficult even for professionals.
- Other decrepit posts on this subject include the following: Other Proposed Solutions, Our Gun Fantasies, and An armed society is a polite society.
- It does seem that some people learn to handle guns by watching TV. Mano Singham: Another great moment in gun ownership
- Mother Jones- More Guns, More Mass Shootings: coincidence?