Once More Unto the Breach with Guns

lord_dark_helmetIt’s about time for another episode of Senseless Tragedies with Guns. So stop me if you’ve heard either of these stories before — violence-obsessed gang members with easy access to assault-style weapons go on the second shooting spree in a month, wounding and killing dozens of people. Or this one: a person with a documented history of mental instability, anger management issues and easy access to guns goes on a kill-crazy rampage. But if either of those stories sound pretty familiar by now, the media fallout in America is getting even more depressingly predictable.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, people wonder how could this possibly happen again. Why were the signs ignored? And of course, what kinds of video games did they play? (Thanks ABC News). But like you, dear readers, I am pretty much sick to death of those tail-chasing lines of fake inquiry. So rather than focus on either of the latest two tragedies, which seem to be happening with a Groundhog Day-like familiarity, I thought it might be useful to deconstruct another one of the NRA’s and gun lobby’s main talking points. No, not the old more guns equals safety nonsense. And not the whole young moms need assault rifles to defend themselves. That is: The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.

Now any time you parrot things that have come out of Wayne LaPierre’s mouth, you know you should seek psychological help and/or consider adjusting your meds. But given how gun sales go through the roof whenever there’s a slaying of multiple people, this one seems to have both invaded the nation’s consciousness, and proved its staying power.

Scratch a little past the surface, though, and this one also requires you to suspend disbelief for a while. After all, it was an unarmed 61 year-old Patricia Maisch who helped to stop the Tucson shooter before he could reload and kill even more people. And more recently, Antoinette Tuft actually talked an armed gunman out of killing loads of kids and school staff in Atlanta. Forget arming everyone and letting them be the hero as a hail of bullets sprays into a crowd. Since these are isolated data points in extreme situations, there are no real studies that I’ve seen that really look at those types of situations.  So instead, let’s take a few steps up the ladder and look at what happens when the professionals are asked to fight fire with fire.

A little over year ago in NYC, an employee angry over losing his job came back to work with a gun seeking revenge. He killed one employee before turning the gun on the cops.  In the ensuing “firefight,” nine civilians were harmed — not by the wackjob ex-employee, but by the officers themselves. More recently, a mentally disturbed man wandering around being mentally disturbed in Times Square also prompted the usual police response. This time however, the officers in question fired “only” three shots.  The problem with that is none of their shots hit the intended target. They did, however, hit two innocent bystanders on 42nd and 8th Ave.

Let’s pause here and say that everyone should take a step back whenever they’re tempted to believe that a random gun owner is exactly whom you want wading into a chaotic situation with their firearm at the ready. The people who do this kind of thing for a living aren’t even that great at it. Lest you think I’m just cherry-picking outlandish stories, there is real data that backs this up. The NYPD released a report and statistics on firearm incidents involving their officers. There are two studies done on this subject and the results are frightening.

A few things about the stats here: “Incidents” include any time an officer fires his gun, including firing weapons in the line of duty, accidental discharges, and even suicide. Hit percentage only counts them hitting what they were aiming for. Except in the case of accidental discharges.

  • Shooting incidents: 126
  • Total number of officers who fired: 156
  • Total number of shots fired: 540
  • Total number of hits: 182
  • % Hits: 34%
  • Shots fired per incident: 4.3
  • Shots fired per officer per incident: 3.5

As you can see by the report above, on average only about a third of their bullets ever hit the intended target. Moreover, if you take out the suicides and the accidental discharges, it falls even further. Another study quoted by the CBS News shows even more frightening numbers:

Another analysis, published in 2006 by the RAND Center on Quality Policing at the request of Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly, found that in the years 1998-2006, the average hit ratio for officers involved in a shooting where the subject does not fire back was 30 percent. During a gunfight, where the target is shooting at officers, the study reported that the hit rate falls to just 18 percent.

That means your average crazy person on the streets can expect to get shot at about seven times, assuming two officers respond to the call. Maybe just two of those bullets will actually hit him though. On the other hand if that same crazy person in Times Square had a gun, he could expect approximately 15 shots directed his way. Maybe 3 shots hit that guy.  The rest of that hail is going into businesses, cars, and unlucky passers-by.  And if you’ve ever wondered why so many bullets tend to fly in these situations, its because that’s how police officers are trained. According to Eugene O’Donnell, a former police officer and current a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice:

He said officers are trained to fire only as a last resort and must fire multiple shots because only one in five generally hit the intended target.

Police officers being trained to fire only as a last resort will probably be the subject of its own separate and expletive-laden post. But the fact that officers shoot multiple times at suspects both armed and unarmed is borne out by their own statistics.

That’s why Iowa giving blind people licenses to carry concealed weapons doesn’t bother me at all. I know that people are all worried about this new example of extreme advocacy for gun rights, but hey, blind people may do about as good a job as the professionals. Honestly, they could hardly do worse. Maybe their other senses have been honed to a Daredevil level of sharpness, which would allow them to have an even better percentage of hits than the officers who do this for a living.

Then again, maybe we’re all doomed. Because…

is considered standard operating procedure.



Categories: Politics Fix

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