…and there is no possible way to make a joke here.
Following on from the latest school shooting atrocity in the USA, I have been engaged in numerous polemics on various social media as the predictable – and wholly justifiable – outcry has arisen.
No sane person can fail to be horrified by the shootings at Parkland (and Newtown, and Aurora and San Bernadino and etc etc etc…) back to Columbine in 1999, often seen as the start of the ‘modern’ epidemic of school mass murders in the USA.
In fact this is not really true, arguably the first ‘modern’ mass school shooting in the US was in 1966, when Charles Whitman a former marine suffering from mental illness (probably associated with a brain tumor) killed his mother and wife, climbed to the top of the ‘Texas Tower’ at the University of Texas in Austin and over a period of 96 minutes killed an additional 15 people and wounded 31 using a hunting rifle, before he was shot and killed by Law Enforcement. As a result of this terrible event, Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams began to be developed throughout the American Law Enforcement Community. But I digress.
It’s easy enough to use Google to dig up all kinds of statistics on mass shootings in the US. In the early 90s, there was a spate of workplace related shootings, several of which involved disgruntled Postal workers, resulting in the phrase ‘going postal’.
Historically it has not just been a US problem. There was a mass shooting at a school in Dunblane in Scotland in 1996, which resulted in handguns being pretty much outlawed in the UK.
About a month later, 35 people were murdered in Port Arthur Tasmania, another mass shooting that resulted in semiautomatic firearms being outlawed in Australia and about 600,000 guns being bought back from the population by the Australian Government. There have been mass shootings at schools in many countries, and mass murders at schools in other countries with knives, machetes and so forth.
But nothing like the epidemic that has soiled the USA. For years, lawmakers, commentators and concerned citizens have agonized about how to deal with the problem.
However, amongst the most predictable – and useless – comments I have seen are the myriad versions of ‘we have to outlaw guns now!!’
The well meaning idiots who promote this impossibility (at least as far as the US is concerned) may as well call for the abolition of automobiles, which still kill tens of thousands people a year in the States. It ain’t gonna happen.
They would be far better off to call for meaningful changes to the Gun Control regime in the US. Until recently I would have said that was an impossibility as well, but I am amazed and heartened at the backlash from the Florida shootings, the brave students fearlessly taking on the establishment despite being lambasted as ‘false news’ as it seems that even the Buffoon in Chief, recipient of US$30 Million in NRA Campaign funds and licensed CCW permit holder has recently put gun control back on the Agenda.
It seems it is all to play for, assuming the Orange Bouffant One doesn’t do a 180 tomorrow. Update – it took him about 3 weeks.
Back to my rant on gun control.
So what should concerned people be looking for?
Let’s start with some background:
Here’s a good article from the NY Times (from which I stole the above graphic) which discusses the demographic factors related to the prevalence of mass shootings in the US.
Some of the facts are wrong, or perhaps incomplete is a better word. For example, this article makes no mention of military weapons, which are uncountable. I have read from various sources that there is probably about one military weapon in existence for every human on the planet. The best example of this of course is the ubiquitous AK – 47. The concern of course is the huge number in the hands of irregular military, African Militias, Terrorist Groups. Perhaps this is a criticism of the article above – we don’t count a hundred Nigerian schoolkids shot by Boko Haram as a school shooting.
Perhaps we should? The kids are just as dead. No that’s terrorism, a different subject – or is it really? But I digress.
Before I get onto what I feel are the most important aspects of a sensible gun control regime, I want to make a point about the AR-15 rifle, the deadly ‘assault rifle’ (it isn’t really since it is not selective fire – ie full auto) used so extensively for mass murder in the US.
Besides the high rate of fire, the capability to accept high capacity magazines and the ease of use, even for an unpracticed shooter, what really sets this weapon apart is the terminal ballistics of the bullet projected from the round it fires – the NATO 5.56 x 45 round or it’s civilian counterpart, the Remington .223, and in particular the capability of the bullet for Wound Trauma Incapacitation (WTI), often referred to -wrongly – as ‘stopping power’.
This term is a simple way of saying that when you shoot somebody or something. you want them to stop shooting back (or charging in the case of a dangerous animal) as soon as possible. Digressing slightly, one of the ways the military is trained to accomplish this is by a firing technique known as a ‘double-tap’ (I don’t have to explain that to anyone who watches movies – but it is devilish hard to learn to do for real with any handgun larger than a .22 Cal) or by an even more effective technique developed in the 19th C by the British Army during an East African War when they were faced with fanatic, drugged up and very persistent warriors – the ‘Mozambique’.
Simply put, a ‘Mozambique’ is two in the chest and one in the head. Not easy to keep coming after that and one of the modern combat shooting sports, IDPA, requires Mozambiques on a lot of its target scenarios. The other major combat shooting sport IPSC generally requires double taps in it’s anthropomorphic targets. Both of these disciplines require licensing and extensive training to be allowed to participate. I hold both IPSC Black Badge and IDPA Black Shield qualifications which puts me at legal beginner level in these sports and also about 100 times more qualified than most gun owners in the USA.
A further quick digression – the 5.56 X 45 NATO round is not the same as the Remington .223. Weapons chambered in 5.56 X 45 NATO will all safely fire the Remington .223 but the reverse is not true for all rifles chambered in .223.
So what makes the terminal ballistics of the 5.56 X 45 (and the very similar .223) so deadly in terms of WTI?
Firearms experts use a carefully concocted substance called ballistic gelatin to model the effects of a bullet strike on flesh. When properly made it mimics the characteristics of muscle tissue and can be useful in determining the effects of a bullet strike.
When a bullet strike flesh, or ballistic gelatin, there are three types of deformation.
There is the bullet path, which basically creates a hole, there is the temporary cavity, which is tissue that moves out of the way and moves back and has generally not been seriously damaged – and then there is the permanent cavity which is tissue beyond the bullet path that is basically destroyed by the strike.
Here is the wound path of a 9×19 round – a typical jacketed 9 mm handgun round – in ballistic gelatin (the bottom scale is depth of penetration in cm).
Unless this bullet strike intersects your major cardiovascular organs or your central nervous system most of the tissue deformation is survivable provided you get prompt medical care. You will spend some time in hospital and walk out.
For comparison, this is the NATO 7.62 X 51 round, as fired by older military rifles like the M 14 and the M – 60 machine gun. This is the typical ‘Full Metal Jacket’ of yore.
And everyone’s favorite terror weapon, the 7.62 X 39 round fired by an AK – 47
And here is the ballistic path of a 5.56 X 45 NATO round, as fired by an AR – 15 or similar rifle. Beyond about 200 yards the bullet has slowed down enough that it typically produces wound paths similar to those above, however, at close range the bullet tumbles and fragments and you get the following horrific damage.
This bullet was designed to tumble and fragment. You don’t walk away from this. It blows a hole like a hand grenade through whatever it hits.
I have no desire to ever be hit by a bullet of any kind, but if I ever have that misfortune, I know which one of these very common rounds I don’t want to be hit with. Arguably this round has no business in civilian hands.
And for any of you geeks who may want to learn more on the subject, I recommend this site.
In any event, I hope that the foregoing gives my readers some idea of why the AR – 15 platform is such a devastating weapon. And if you don’t believe me…
So let’s look at some ideas that may actually make a difference. This is from a post I shared from a friend on Facebook, which prompted a lot of useful debate. I agree entirely with all of these points, made by a man who has spent a large part of his working career trying to make a difference within the bounds of the current legal system in the US.
- Fatherlessness needs to be addressed. Kids need dads- most shooters don’t have an involved dad. Can we connect boys without fathers to father-figure mentors? This is also a theme in the inner-city, less-publicized, yet more-frequent gun crimes in minority communities.
- Adults need to be held accountable. The Parkland shooting in February is ‘Exhibit A’ on that. Dozens of adults at the school, local law enforcement agencies, and even the FBI knew about this kid and what he said he was going to do. Another adult, the SRO on duty, could have stopped it while it was happening but never went in. How many adults around this situation will be charged with crimes like negligence or manslaughter for their blatant failures? My guess is zero. How many will lose their jobs? My guess is zero. Nobody does anything because you risk nothing by doing nothing and get in trouble if you take a proactive approach and try to do address things before the blood is spilled. This is up and down our education and law enforcement systems.
- Boys need safe environments to fight and let out their physical aggression. Young men involved in physically violent sports like football, wrestling, karate, etc. typically do not become mass murderers. I feel like our present culture is trying to take the fight out of our boys, but it’s still hard-wired into them. Where no healthy outlets for this natural aggression exist, unhealthy ones will take their place. We need to stop shaming our boys and applying negative labels to boys who have a strong urge to fight. We need to guide and encourage them to find a healthy outlet, not tell them they’re broken or bad.
- The role of pharmaceutical drugs in mass shootings needs to be thoroughly investigated. It’s too common a theme to be ignored as a potential factor. Too many of our kids are getting drugged up instead of getting the care they really need. Right on the labels of these mood-altering drugs are side effects like “Hallucinations- loss of contact with reality.” and “Suicidal thoughts.” Yet we don’t immediately ask about the prescriptions these kids are on, instead focusing on what kind of gun they used.
- Training kids to huddle together as stationary targets on the ground, HAS TO STOP. It’s stupid and getting our kids killed in greater numbers during these events. If they can’t get in a secured room separated from the shooter, they need to run or fight, period. Get out the window or tackle the shooter etc are all way better things to teach. There are great programs to better train our kids on how to react to this threat.
- Empower and encourage teachers and school administrators to have a plan, have the support of the district, and secure their classrooms the way they’re comfortable with. Too many wonderful teachers with hearts of lions for protecting their kids are fearful bringing up their desires to their bosses whom will point to policy and liability concerns over common-sense solutions the teacher needs and wants. Teachers, if you don’t get the support you need, do what you need to do anyways quietly. Damn the system. Keep our kids safe. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer here, but all kinds of things could help like: ways to block/harden doors, weapons (gun or non-gun) to have a fighting chance if a shooter makes it through the door, and additional escape options like rope ladders for 2nd story windows teachers can deploy, etc. We can’t have a cop everywhere and even if we do, there’s no guarantee they won’t be taking their sweet time outside like the Parkland SRO did while your class is in the crosshairs. Teachers are right there and the first line of defense and they need to think about it and take it seriously and not get in trouble if they do.
- Finally, and most importantly, we need to improve the culture of our nation and our schools. We need to value human life highly. We need love. We need kindness. We need compassion. We need to look for the kids that are becoming isolated and need help and go help them. We need more than just anger at what’s wrong, we need to celebrate the good stories and champions of kindness. Kids that care for one another don’t kill each other. We need to touch the hearts of kids and train them up in morality and virtue- not just pack their heads full of information. This is exactly what we focused on when I worked for Rachel’s Challenge, one of the top anti-violence programs in the country, and we saw tons of lives saved by changing the culture of schools from the inside out, (would-be-shooters with kill lists turning themselves in, gang members laying down their colors, suicides planned for that night canceled, etc.) Invite them to your school as a great way to start this cultural transformation.
I think this bloke has it right on,
To the above list I would add a couple of things taken from Canadian gun laws and a couple of ideas of my own.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention there were 495 accidental firearms deaths in the USA during 2016. Between 1999 and 2016 there were 11,428 accidental firearm deaths. You can look it up yourself at the link posted in this paragraph.
I believe a great many of these deaths could be prevented by safe storage laws, requiring firearms to be kept with trigger locks, or in locked cabinets or gun safes and thus safe from curious children and people unqualified to handle firearms.
Here’s photo of my own setup at SDM in Canada. This is inside my bedroom closet, is made of 14 gauge steel with 5 X 1 in stainless steel deadbolts, is fireproof and has a pushbutton code lock on the door that lets me get into it in about 5 seconds.
No unauthorized person is gonna get their hands on one of my firearms. This is a legal requirement in Canada (2 to 5 year prison term for unsafe storage) and should be so in the USA. Enough of 7 year old kids getting hold of grand-dad’s pistol and shooting a sibling.
Case in point. I am heartened to learn she was charged under Florida law, even if it is only a misdemeanor.
Education and Licensing
I was originally taught to shoot and to handle firearms by my father, who was a hunter and a pretty good shot. However, he was a bit weak on firearms safety and kept half a dozen or so loaded pistols lying around the house. The rifles and shotguns were all stacked in a corner of the ‘good living room’, ammunition conveniently at hand.
Of course, by the time I was thirteen I had learned where the pistols were and had also taught myself to handle them. I still have a scar on my thumb from when I tried to fire a semi-auto .22 cal pistol (smuggled out of the house while the old man was out), using the two-handed grip that Napoleon Solo and Ilya Kuryakin used on ‘The Man From Uncle’. It never occurred to me to keep my thumb out of the way of the slide when the firearm discharged. Never seemed to bother Napoleon and Ilya.
I am pretty sure that this is a good example of the way most Americans learn their firearm skills, although I am very pleased to note that Ilya kept his finger off the trigger. You can find lots of examples of ‘gun fails’ on Youtube, most of them advertised as funny. Personally I don’t find any of them funny, but they are perhaps indicative of the level of competence of many people who own firearms.
When I started Secondary School in 1965 it was still a requirement that all boys in the school joined the Cadet Corps – The Princess of Wales Own Regiment Cadet Corps (unless exempted on parental or religious grounds).
I embraced this wholeheartedly and was commissioned a Lieutenant, platoon commander in my first year and Captain, company commander in my second. We got to wear uniforms, march around the school parking lot while the girls were in Home Economics and play with guns a lot (in a controlled and safe way), and while it may seem very strange to youngsters today, the school actually had a rifle range in the basement.
For the first two years I was in secondary school I fired a hundred rounds of .22 Cal LR on the range every night after school, using a war surplus Lee Enfield bolt-action rifle converted from .303 British to .22. I got to be a pretty good shot. I could field strip and reassemble a Bren Gun blindfolded in under a minute.
The WWII veteran in charge of the PWOR Cadet Corp (he taught shop in his day job) stressed firearms safety and even ran an extracurricular Hunter Safety Course which taught safe handling of weapons and was a requirement for a hunting license. I went on from that to individual coaching in Marksmanship and by the end of my first year in Secondary School I had earned a Canadian Army Marksman Rating.
Sadly, these programmes no longer exist. So kids (and adults) learn about firearms from Hollywood, from Youtube and from first person shooter games. Thus 500 deaths per year in the USA from ‘accidental’ discharges.
I firmly believe that knowledge of safe firearm handling practices is a necessary part of the education of any well rounded human being.
In addition, anyone who wants to own a firearm must be qualified to handle it and this requires education and licensing (including background checks) as is done in Canada.
The USA desperately needs to introduce licensing requirements for ownership of firearms (which would include background checks), not just for CCW permits. You can’t drive a car without a license, why is an even more potentially deadly technology dealt with in such a haphazard and unregulated way? (rhetorical question – the answer is the NRA).
My own suggestion
I will go further and state that firearms safety should be reintroduced in school curricula. Kids need to learn about the reality of firearms. Kids also need to be taught – perhaps through demonstration or specially designed courses what the devastating effect of a firearm strike on a living being looks like. I think this would go a long way towards putting off potential school shooters. Of course, this sort of approach will never be acceptable to ‘progressives’.
I don’t really have one except to note that in the three weeks or so I have been fooling around thinking about this and pecking at the keyboard, the initial impetus after Parkland to increase control regimes in the US has died away and it looks like things will go back to SNAFU – Situation Normal, All Fucked Up.
I hope I am wrong, but I doubt it.