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Power at the End of a Gun

There was a good guy with a gun. I don’t mind the idea of having fully qualified, well-trained, certified people carrying weapons. In fact, the more we put the onus on this being a right that carries obligations, the better. But there is something fundamentally naive about expecting a hero to save the day when the bad guy has the jump on everybody else.

The timelines I keep seeing keep saying that he had a shoot out with an off-duty officer before he entered the club.


The shooter probably had more gun than this officer, but he also had another advantage: he knew his intentions, he knew his plan, and nobody else did. With a gun that can fire dozens of bullets within minutes, and crowds of any appreciable size, that's all you need to kill dozens of people within a few minutes.

Guns don't kill people, but most murderers in this country don't kill people without help from guns. Guns distance, both psychologically and physically. Guns apply mechanical force for people where otherwise they might have to resort to their own physical strength. Guns cause such horrific damage to people in a split second, and with such contempt for the impediments of flesh and bone, that their results are far more fatal far more often than almost any weapon a person can carry. The statistics are pretty clear on that. The most successful means of committing suicide is a gun. Why? Because it doesn't take as long as pills, or bleeding to death, and it doesn't involve you getting up on a ledge you can be talked down from.

Let's stop denying what a gun is, what it does: it amplifies the destructive ability of those who hold one, and that's whether they're intentionally and carefully using one, or carelessly and inadvertantly triggering one. So, a two-year old child can kill an adult by accident just like an adult can kill someone on purpose.

So, once a person has one in hand, your only hope to really stop them is for them either to reconsider their actions, or for somebody else to stop them.

Which rarely happens in time. Truth is, as social creatures, we're primed to be friendly with other people, to assume that we're safe until we're not. Most people going out for dinner, or to a dance club not only aren't carrying, but wouldn't carry, because having an instrument of death with you is not always the most relaxing thing. People want to be able to go out and have fun safely without having to carry with them the power to blow somebody away.

Another thing, as I understand it, is that the law is rarely favorable to those who drink while armed, and fortune rarely works out well for those who use weapons while inebriated. Coordination and judgment are some of the first things to go when somebody gets soused, so naturally, the last think you want is drunks shooting it out. They might hit everything and everybody else than each other.

But the idea, "if only people were armed, they could have shot back"- That's a powerful idea if you're committed to not thinking about it in any great depth.

Part of this, I imagine, comes from movies and TV. As somebody who specialized in this field, and keeps up with the lore, I would say much of the time when you see somebody use a weapon on screen, they're likely using it wrong. Problem is, as results oriented creatures, we're apt to note great results coming from that hideously bad technique, and so come to the wrong conclusion.

Nope. Two guns are not necessarily better than one. That little bit of business comes from John Woo, who was taking his cue from the Peking Opera style of swordplay, where folks use two swords at once (which generally, while impressive to look at, also tends to be less effective than single sword technique)

It doesn't help that gunplay in movies is typicaly as organized as a dance sequence. They literally call it choreography. Action and result, no matter how unrealistically shown, are connected with deterministic reliability. The good guy fires a gun, and no matter how off target it was pointed, pre-planted squibs go off, blowing out what only look like bloody holes in the stuntmen, who then jerk and gyrate around pretending they just got shot.

No, people don't tend to go flying when they get shot, even when its a shotgun. The damage can be quite horrible, but bullets are small, and they do their vicious damage because they're accelerated to quite great velocity.

A shootout in a nightclub between sober participants would be a nightmare if it wasn't as choreographed as something in a movie. First, the laws of physics, not good intentions, determine the flight path of the bullets. The innocent are not spared, as they often are in the movies. The bullets don't care whether you deserve it or not. Second, this night-club was a dark place, with tons of noise going on all around. You would not only have to pick out your target out of all this, you would have to avoid shooting all the panicked customers running for their lives. Sure those brilliant and precise nightclub shootouts are fun in movies, but they're done by professionals who hit marks and who don't have to properly judge targets or avoid hitting other civilians.

Additionally, given that all the death and danger are not real, those professionals playing at being gunmen are spared the terror and panic that professional police and military shooters have to negotiate with, on top of all the other practical issues of properly using a gun. The choreography of the movie, the fact none of it's really happening lets them operate with hypnotic precision that real life soldiers have to train the hell out of themselves to approximate.

So, strapping a bunch of guns to the ankles of party-goers in various degrees of sobriety is not likely to end in a nice, neat, brief conclusion to a mass shooting. If anything else, it would a cluster-you-know-what of epic proportions.

It's a fantasy, fed by fantasy, like a lot of things with guns. I'm not immune. I love movies with a lot of gunplay. They're exciting. One of my favorite games? First person shooter. I pride myself on knowing the behavior of all the weapons, knowing how to account for the programmed recoil. I glory in being able to kill two or three enemies in one go. It was a primal thrill recently to call out that I was going to take an automatic sniper rifle from one guy (these weapons are positively despised in the game) and actually carrying out that threat, not just taking out the sniper, but two of his friends in the process. I roared in triumph when I got it, "This autosniper is MINE!"

But you know what? Part of the great thing about that fantasy there is that absolutely nobody got hurt. Everybody got right back up when the next round started. I think my totals on the game are greater than all our deaths in the Vietnam War, both for how many times I've killed, and how many times I've died. It's pretend death, pretend killing, and there are even achievements for coming back and killing somebody who's been on a winning streak against you. (By the way: some of the best players in the game are from Sweden, which has much stronger gun control laws than us!)

We need to separate the fantasy of fighting and killing from the reality, recognize that it is, indeed, nothing truly real. Reality is harsher, more final, more unforgiving.

It isn't just harsh on us, though. The Terrorists have challenges they must succeed in overcoming to do their damage. On 9/11, they exploited some wide-open security holes to do what they did. Political correctness didn't allow this to happen. First, people were used to letting hijackers take control of the planes, and just negotiating for the release of the plane and its hostages after they landed somewhere. The idea of using a plane to blow up a building was the stuff of books (I first encountered the idea in a Tom Clancy novel.) Second, doors to the cockpits were not reinforced. Third, there weren't air-marshals on board. I could go on, but the point is, if this happens again, it will have to happen a far different way, because, for one thing, you will never see people take a hijacking sitting down ever again.

We've crippled the money network they used to use to transfer money, Undermined much of their support networks. They're no longer a second priority on the international stage. Hence the new paradigm of local supporters of the ISIS movement. They have to distribute, rely on local cells or self-motivated sympathizers.

Hence an attack that kills 50, rather than 5000. It's much harder for a bunch of people to successfully organize a four jet hijacking with twenty terrorists.

But you know what's damn easy, what we've left wide open? That's right, getting guns. Now I am a strong proponent of the right to bear arms, both because knowing how to shoot a weapon helps us defend our country, and because it helps keep the government cautious about being too overbearing.

That said, there's a balance that needs to be kept. We need to put more obstacles in their way, make it harder to get such weapons without tipping off the authorities that they're doing it. Folks complain about "Fast and Furious" without realizing that half the problem with the way the system was set up was that straw-buyers were lightly punished, and the system was so antiquated about reporting rifle purchases that guns were already over the border before authorities knew they'd been bought.

We also need to recognize that certain features, like extra-capacity magazines, do not serve a healthy civilian purpose. We don't need weapons to be so good at killing masses of people when they're in civilian hands. It only serves to spill the blood of more citizens.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at June 16, 2016 10:09 AM
Comment #405354

Hillary Clinton made a statement just this week that went something like this; Our law enforcement and first responders must try to be right 100% of the time, that is an awesome responsibility that they perform admirably. However the terrorist only needs to be right once for them to wreak the havoc that we have witnessed in Orlando or Sandy Hook.

We should all respect the untenable position we have put our law enforcement officers in, to be absolutely right 100% of the time. This is something that they readily assume as their obligation to protect us and they need to be commended for their valiant efforts. Their efforts are not conducive to every person that has the ability to fire a weapon should do so in the event there is a perceived need to do so. Their decisions are predicated on their training and knowledge to act and cannot and does not include an untrained and unknown individual deploying their weapon in their presence, although it does happen on occasion, it is not and should not be the norm and they are trained to treat that individual as a suspected terrorist.

Posted by: Speak4all at June 16, 2016 11:20 AM
Comment #405355

Thanks for the Daily Mail link. Heroes should go to target practice so that they can actually hit the bad guys before they shoot a hundred people.

It’s a good thing that most shooters are such lousy shots. If they weren’t we’d have something equal to what happened in Orlando every week in Chicago.

Posted by: ohrealy at June 16, 2016 11:30 AM
Comment #405373

Here is a demonstration of how it looks when someone has to reload again and again.

Posted by: Warren Porter at June 16, 2016 2:28 PM
Comment #405389

Warren Porter-
Well lit living room. No pressure. No cops after him, no adrenaline pumping, no bullets in the magazines. Even with that, he’s fumbling with two or three of them. Imagine doing that in a club.

There is no god-forsaken reason for the average person to be carrying high-capacity magazines. The magazine reloads provide both the opportunity to escape and the opportunity for those around them to physically restrain them at a point where their weapon is essentially neutralized. To use a relevant example from my game, one of the most vulnerable times you have in an engagement is when you have to reload. While you cycle through that, your enemy has free shots at you.

You are one security guard, likely armed with a pistol, engaging a guy with an AR-15 style assault rifle with far more penetrating power, and far more ammo per magazine. You’re trying to hit a guy at three in the morning who is trying to kill you.

So many people expect Hollywood accuracy when it comes to shooting. It is not unusual in a real fire-fight for dozens of rounds to be exchanged at close range with nobody actually hit. It’s not like people are typically calm, centered, presented with a still target who isn’t firing back at them in that situation.

As for Chicago? Chicago doesn’t have a gun problem, it has a crime problem which is made worse by the fact that its jurisdiction ends at its city limits. All the gun laws in the world can’t do a city much good if people can just buy guns in the surrounding states and cities (of which there are quite a few,) and simply walk them back into the city.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 16, 2016 6:31 PM
Comment #405390

And here’s our hero arresting someone for filming him tazing and pepper spraying a man in handcuffs:

Posted by: ohrealy at June 16, 2016 7:02 PM
Comment #405392

If he did that, it’s a black mark on him. If he didn’t do all he could to stop the killer, same thing.

But that’s not relevant to what I was speaking of. He could be an absolute bastard, but the truth is, you can’t say there wasn’t somebody with a gun there.

I think, in despair that we can’t make it perfectly difficult to stop these people, we’re making it perfectly easy for them to succeed. That, to me, just reflects the most blinkered way of approaching both law enforcement, and how we manage modern firearms in our midst. There’s a level of power, of armor penetration, of magazine capacity, that is simply not needed for a typical civilian’s use. The gun platform used in this crime was not designed for civilian use, but for military use. As we are not trying to slaughter the maximum number of people in any acceptable civilian pursuit, it seems to me to be an exaggerated sort of firepower to allow in civilian hands. I also don’t see how the right to bear arms has become the necessity to bear the most powerful arms possible.

We’re making it too easy for one person to cause insane numbers of deaths in a civilian society.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at June 16, 2016 7:13 PM
Comment #405402
you can’t say there wasn’t somebody with a gun there.

Am I missing something here? I thought the link told us he took a shot from outside before the bozo entered the club. I understand he didn’t follow the terrorist into the club but waited for 3 hours for SWAT to decide to enter the club. IMHO there was no gun in the club and to think the police will protect you … well ask the 100 people shot by this bozo how that worked for them.

This PR piece from the Orlando police department is buffoonery, a puff piece by the OPD blowing smoke up the a**es of the American people IMHO. I mean for god sakes a off duty cop sees a man armed to the teeth going into the club exchanges gunfire with him and then what… sits the rest of the thing out? Heroes don’t sit things out heroes pursue the bozo and stops 100 people form being shot.

Did he bother to even call it in? Meanwhile the “heroes” were taking 2 1/2 hours to break into the building to engage the bozo? All of this while 100 people were being shot! Sorry but this link just nauseates me.

Anyway my opinion still stands the police won’t protect you and out of 350 people not one with a weapon to defend themselves in this day and age!

Posted by: j2t2 at June 17, 2016 12:04 AM
Comment #405415

Thanks, j2t2. We don’t even know yet if some of the other people in the club were killed by the SWATs rather than the bozo.

Posted by: ohrealy at June 17, 2016 11:33 AM
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