Monday, July 30, 2012

Wrapping up Aurora

By Donald Sensing

I know that medically, emotionally and legally, the Aurora massacre won't be wrapped up for a long time - probably never, in fact, for victims and the families of the killed.

But having made some observations about how frankly silly the claims of many pro-guns-rights people made that if only permit holders had been allowed to go armed into the theater, the the shooter would have been stopped in short order, I have some final observations to make and then I'll move off this topic for good. (Previous posts: "Public Killings and Armed Citizenry" and "The Myth of the Armed Citizen.")

This post is also a response to many of the comments made resulting from one of my posts being excerpted on American Digest, where a vigorous and (overall) collegial debate ensued. However, since it was obvious to me that some commenters were writing based solely on the excerpt A.D. posted, never having read the entire post, I hope to put everything together here - and just drop a link there.

So, now to the point:

Fact: The theater 's policy was that no privately-owned firearms could be brought into the premises. So none of the movie goers was armed when the shooter began the massacre.

Colorado carry permit with holder's face obviously obscured.
Assertion 1: If carry-permit holders had been carrying inside the theater, the massacre would have been stopped quickly.

My point 1: There is no reason to believe that even absent any restrictions at all, there would have more than five armed attendees, which I actually think is a very high estimate. Assuming they were randomly seated, probably it would have been lucky to have even one of them within effective range of the killer. (The military defines effective range as that range at which an average marksmen will hit a torso-sized target half the time, so that is what I am using.)

Furthermore, the theater was darkened to begin with and the shooter is reported to have thrown smoke grenades (homemade or not) into the audience before he started shooting. Typical carry pistols are inaccurate beyond a few yards except for a well practiced owner even on a firing range with no "clock" on the aiming and firing. In a darkened, smoked-up theater, with hundreds of people panicking and screaming, shoving and pushing for the door, people falling dead or wounded, - the claim that the typical permit holder could have quickly shot and stopped the murderer frankly borders on the absurd.

Assertion 2: Armed resistance by permit holders in the audience would have therefore resulted in much lower  loss of life or injury.

My point 2: In your dreams. I submit it would have been difficult for any armed attendee even to identify who was doing the killing. Remember, the theater is dark and smoked up. Someone is shooting. People are yelling and clambering over seats and filling the aisles to get away. The killer's AR-15's gunshot reports bounce off the walls, making sound location of the shooter practically impossible. You might get a glimpse of muzzle flash, but military-grade 5.56mm ammo is made to emit little flash.

But let's assume you do unmistakably locate the shooter and decide to engage him. You have a 9mm compact-sized, semi-auto pistol with the typical 7-10 round magazine (though the Beretta PX4 compact holds up to 15). The killer is firing madly, apparently about 25 feet away

You will miss. Your heart rate is through the roof. So is your respiration rate. You are sweating like a marathon runner. Your hands are shaking. These are involuntary physiological responses and you can do  pretty much nothing about them. They badly affect shooting accuracy. Also, you are being jostled by panicked people trying to get away. And firearms trainers know that even on a range, firing under stress makes people fire high unless they are collected enough to correct for it intentionally. However, being a typical permit holder, the only actual pistol training you ever got was when you went to the class to certify the permit application. When you shoot again, you will miss then, too. And the next time.

But now you have identified yourself as a threat to the killer, assuming his state of mind lets him notice your fire (which he might not, to be fair). So he turns his semi-auto AR-15 on you and starts pulling the trigger. Now you are dead or badly wounded. The shooter is unharmed and still shooting. But you are happy, right? After all, you "died on your feet rather than lived on your knees."

But suppose the shooter does not actually notice the sound of your 9mm pistol or notice its rounds zipping past him (well, they would not be zipping past very close). You might still get shot to death because now another would-be Wyatt Earp thinks you are the killer and he shoots at you. Remember it's dark, noisy and incredibly chaotic in the screening room.

However, his marksmanship is no better than yours, so he misses. Misses you, that is. Because he failed to clear his line of fire, of the five shots he sent your way, two buried themselves in the far wall and the other three in the flesh of attendees trying to get away, killing one.

Now remember, there are three other packing persons in the theater who decide to shoot back. But their state of mind is no clearer than yours or the second guy's. So instead of only one man, the murderer, firing wildly across the theater, there are six. Only the killer has any idea what he is shooting at and so only he is hitting his targets, mainly by accident, but since everyone is his target, no matter to him.

All you Marshall Dillons together loose fifty rounds. Twenty-seven of them wind up in walls and ceilings. But of the other 23, one kills one of you, one wounds the killer, non-incapacitating, so he keeps shooting, and the other 21 hit 15 theater goers aged 11-32. Of the six who were struck twice, four die. Of the nine attendees hit once by your collective fire, two die.

"If only permit holders could have been armed" is not a tenable position. I can only reiterate what I wrote before: the Aurora massacre validates neither tightening nor loosening gun rights as they are now. You can't make rational, enduring public policy based on irrational, one-off events.

Update: A couple of additional points:

1. My longstanding and still-maintained position on the Second Amendment is here.

2. You might also consider that had armed attendees fired back, all of their firearms would have been taken by the police as evidence in the investigation, quite properly, IMO. If even one other person was found to have been hit by a round not fired from one of the murderer's guns, the permit holder concerned would likely be charged, at minimum, with reckless endangerment, possibly negligent homicide if the person died. The permitee (to make a word up) definitely would face civil action from the struck attendee or his family. You may consider that a cost worth bearing if the killer is stopped prematurely; "it's better to be judged by twelve than carried by six," after all. But I have not seen any evidence that any of the permit advocates actually have considered it.

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