Home > Uncategorized > For all you would-be heroes who think you’ll save the day by carrying a gun…

For all you would-be heroes who think you’ll save the day by carrying a gun…

August 25, 2012

(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.


Categories: Uncategorized
  1. Chas, PE SE
    August 25, 2012 at 16:32 | #1

    I’m 63 years old. Thinking back, I can’t recall any time when having a gun would have done me any good — and a couple when it would have been a bad idea. So I’m supposed to lug around two pounds of metal every day on the off chance?

  2. Robert Woolley
    August 26, 2012 at 02:23 | #2

    Several points of contention:

    1. Do you actually shoot handguns? If so, on what kind of pistol do you manually pull back the hammer just before shooting? There are certainly no semi-automatic pistols where the manual of arms (do you know that term?) calls for such action. (To be sure, there are some common models on which this is an option, such as the good ol’ Colt 1911. But few people actually carry and use it that way. It is far more common to carry it “cocked and locked,” i.e., with the hammer back and the thumb safety on.) Are you thinking of a single-action revolver? If so, do you know anybody who carries a single-action revolver for self-defense? I have known and/or spoken to literally hundreds of permitted handgun carriers, and not a single one of them, to my knowledge, carries a single-action revolver. It would be a distinctly unconventional and awkward choice. All of which is to say that I’m baffled by your description of the fantasy shooter pulling back the hammer after presenting his weapon. My suspicion is that you just don’t know much about guns, and are drawing your knowledge from Hollywood. Am I wrong in that surmise?

    2. The hypothetical shooter’s next action, in your mind, is to slip his finger inside the trigger guard. From that, I can be quite certain that you have never undergone any sort of firearms safety training. One of the cardinal rules of gun safety is that the finger does not enter the trigger guard until the decision to shoot has been fully formed, and the sights are on the target. People who really know little or nothing about guns, yet deign to write about them as if they do, nearly always betray themselves by slips like this, which stand out like sore thumbs to those of us who know the subject matter well.

    3. Although this is not universal, I think you’d find that most professionals in the area of firearms self-defense would not advocate issuing a “Drop your weapon” warning in the circumstance you describe. Intervening on a mass public shooting in progress is different from intervening where one is merely threatened. Once he is firing at innocents, trying to get him to drop his gun is likely futile. You will likely not be heard over the gunshots. The shooter’s ears will be ringing from the shots he has already fired. And even if he hears you, most likely he will turn on you (as your hypothetical indeed has it). Waiting for that to happen means that you are left to react to his action, which could easily be a fatal mistake. If I decided that intervention were warranted, I would simply shoot, not challenge him verbally first. This differs from a criminal who is brandishing a gun, but has not yet pulled the trigger. There, one holds out some hope that he will decide not to take that final step if given sufficient fear that it will end badly for him.

    4. If I did undertake to begin firing, I would certainly not pick standing in the open as my preferred venue, as you have your hero doing. I would make getting to cover my first priority, and taking out the gunman a secondary goal. I doubt that any self-defense instructor would advocate otherwise.

    5. I suppose you might counter that this is not *your* scenario, i.e., how *you* would handle it, but that of a typical CCW holder. But my point is that your description is *not* how any well-trained defensive pistol carrier would handle the situation. Do you have even a shred of evidence that what you present here is typical of what the millions of permitted carriers imagine themselves doing? Have you talked to any? Or are you just pulling this stuff out of thin air? If the latter, why should anybody pay any attention to you?

    5. You say that the typical police officer has “more training with the gun” than “you” (i.e., your reader) will have. How do you know this? What reader are you addressing with that “you”? I, for one, am confident that I am both better trained and more functionally proficient at using a handgun quickly, accurately, and safely than a typical police officer. I won’t bore you with my credentials, but suffice it to say that I’m quite certain that I could convince an impartial jury of that fact by certification, by expert witnesses, and by actual demonstration, should it be necessary. So either you are in error with this assertion, or I am not the “you” that you are addressing. But if not me, a humble, unbadged CCW holder, then who is the “you” there? Do you seriously believe that *no* civilians are better gun handlers than the typical beat cop? If so, where have you acquired such unfounded ideas? What is your evidence?

    6. Can you point to actual episodes of innocent bystanders being injured by errant shots from the handgun of a CCW carrier firing at a mass public shooter? I certainly have heard of none. John Lott tracks such things carefully, and says (see http://goo.gl/4tYJf) that he knows of no such cases. There are millions of permitted carriers in this country. Can you not find one single instance in which the scenario you apparently fear has actually happened? If not, then it’s hard to for me to feel the same kind of fear of my fellow gun carriers that you do. I, for one, would not feel the need to worry too much about things that might hypothetically happen somewhere someday, but have so far only transpired in your fevered imagination.

    I look forward to your reply.

    • Nick
      August 27, 2012 at 21:58 | #3


      I live in the state of Wisconsin – the 49th state to have passed concealed carry. I spent a good hour at Gander Mountain just outside Madison shortly after the law passed. I was there looking at the hunting rifles and hunting handguns but found the salesmen constantly pushing revolvers for home and self defense to everyone else there looking to buy a weapon under concealed carry.

      As such, I call BS on your claim that no properly trained person would choose a revolver. They simply buy what they are told by the salesman as they believe his/her word. Training does not necessarily make you an expert.

  3. decrepadmin
    August 26, 2012 at 06:12 | #4

    Wow, thanks Robert Wooley – I needed a laugh. I would have thought anyone but a moron would recognize the standard, Clint-Eastwood Hollywood scenario recounted thousands of times in movies and TV. This piece is directed at commenters on news stories who seem to think that if only they were present at a mass shooting, they could stop the bad guy. If their Internet-bravado is any indication, they see themselves with Clint’s steely gaze.

    I would think it self-evident that most people do not have as much training with a firearm as an experienced police officer. Again, I am addressing Internet ToughGuys here.

    Now me, if I were in this situation, I’d want a small semi-auto; I’d take cover and try to get the guy without announcing my presence. And in all the confusion, likely miss. I think most people believe that bullets have some sort of homing mechanism in them. At least, good-guy bullets.

    Historically only people willing to go through a lot of filtering carried handguns, so they were a pretty select group. Now that more states and localities are opening CCW to anyone without a police record, the percentage of idiots with guns is likely to increase.

    As yet, there has not been a CCW response to a mass shooting. I am pointing out that the average citizen should not expect to do better than a trained police officer. Of course with your extensive knowledge, you would do better, I’m sure.

    • Robert Woolley
      August 26, 2012 at 09:27 | #5

      1. You’re not particularly good an answering questions addressed to you. You’re under no obligation, of course, but it’s hard to escape the conclusion that you don’t do so because you have no good answers.

      2. Your public shooting scenario was apparently to be understood to be in the fantasy world of the typical American CCW holder. I asked if you had any evidence that such a person actually was possessed of such a fantasy. I gather from your lack of response that the answer is no. Your story is, in other words, just YOUR fantasy about what somebody ELSE’S fantasy is. Could it possibly be any easier to knock down a straw man than that?

      3. “I would think it self-evident….” This, I take it, is your way of admitting that you have no actual data, personal experience, or other evidence.

      4. It is entirely possible to believe, in the abstract, that the presence of a well-trained civilian handgun carrier could bring a stop to many mass shooting sooner than having to wait for a police officer to arrive, and yet harbor no wish whatsoever to ever be the one stuck in such a situation. Given that, I don’t know how you extrapolate from a statement of the former to your elaborately detailed fantasy.

      5. “I think that most people believe that bullets have some sort of homing mechanism in them.” There you go again making assertions about what “most people” believe. So again I ask, do you have any actual data to back this assertion, or are you just making it up? I have talked to dozens upon dozens of people about the subject of ammunition, and from not one of them did I ever get the impression that he or she harbored the kind of belief that you claim is held by “most people.” Where do you get this stuff?

      6. “As yet, there has not been a CCW response to a mass shooting.” On this you are simply, demonstrably wrong, sir. See, for example, this well-publicized instance in Colorado Springs: http://goo.gl/j532V. So we learn that you are not especially careful about checking your facts before making assertions–though I think that was already apparent from your original post. (You couldn’t even spell my name correctly when it was right in front of you.)

      • decrepadmin
        August 26, 2012 at 10:47 | #6

        My, you do go on at length, don’t you, Robert Woolley? Sorry about dropping the extra “l” in your name.

        The very first words of my post are “An entertainment culture lives partly in the real world, and partly in a fantasy world.” You apparently missed these words entirely before going off on your rant about gun operation details and such. Yes, I am fully aware of how guns work; all that stuff about hammers and trigger fingers and so forth is Hollywood and first-person shooter games, which seems to be the driving concept behind many comments I’ve read on news stories. I didn’t say “typical CCW holder” because (as I made very clear) I was focusing on a specific subset of CCW holders and wannabes.

        My comment about the homing mechanism was based on conversations I’ve witnessed and had personally with people who were considering purchasing a gun to carry. They thought they could just whip out the gun and save the day. They didn’t seem to have any concept of how much practice is required to become really proficient with a handgun.

        But this isn’t a damn sociological study, you literal-minded doofus. Are you making the argument that all carriers are sensible, well-informed, experienced and trained people ready to confront crazed killers?

        The person in the news story you reference had been a police officer and did very well in that situation, but that isn’t the model I’m talking about. As more people begin to carry guns, more idiots will be carrying guns. The selection process that once existed has been turned off. There will be a range of outcomes; some good, some bad.

        My message to the new gun owner is this: please consider the possibility that you may be an idiot. At least as regards carrying a deadly weapon around, because even professionals find it a challenge. Because what they have learned from movies and video games are very different from the reality.

  4. Webs
    August 26, 2012 at 14:13 | #7

    Well the other problem is that issue of how Pros make it look easy. You see a pro in action and its natural to think “I can do that” because a Pro is so good they make it look seamless.

    When it comes to shooting a gun I’m positive I would suck. I would try to help save my loved ones and friends and then hope it ends soon. I have no fantasies of being able to save anyone.

  5. Last Hussar
    August 26, 2012 at 14:24 | #8

    Robert, you are spectacularly missing the point. All you do is criticise the ‘fantasy’, which isn’t the point of the post. The point is that two professionals hit 9 bystanders. A civvie with a gun would have probably been a lot more dangerous.

    Additionally, when the hero draws his gun, the cops see SOMEONE WITH A GUN. Or another hero does. What happens when they think he’s the shooter?

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