DF's picture

    Black Rifle Blues

    Everyone is sick right now.  There's only one thing it seems we can all agree on, which is that we can abide the massacre of children neither in conscience nor gut.  It's an unfortunate truth that what transpired on Friday in Newtown was different in degree rather than in kind, but the degree seems to matter this time.

    Even more unfortunate is that this heightened arousal doesn't really seem to be leading to many cogent answers to the question, "How do we prevent this from happening again?"

    One thing that won't prevent massacres like this from happening again is re-instating the nationwide assault weapons ban.  I know that many of you reading this will have a problem with this statement.  For some of you, it's because you simply have a normative preference for banning most or all guns.  If that's how you feel, I don't expect to change your mind.  What I want to do is dispense with the notion that re-enacting such a law has anything to do with preventing school massacres.  If you just want to ban guns, you still probably will, but I'm banking on at least some of you actually desiring to improve the life expectancy of children in active shooter situations.

    First of all, let's address the thorny and oxymoronic notion of "assault weapons."  Unfortunately, it's a somewhat arbitrary distinction in civilian life and law that amounts to making hay over styling rather than firepower.  If you really care about regulating firepower, that last sentence should have piqued your interest.

    On what basis do I make this claim?  Because I live in California, where we have an assault weapons ban that was modeled on the Federal Assault Weapons Ban.  Like the FAWB, California law bans certain rifles based on their styling and furniture rather than their firepower.  In my state, AR and AK type rifles are banned explicitly by blacklist.  However, this approach doesn't work very well because it's too difficult to keep up with changes in manufacture when the law requires that weapons are banned by specific make and model.  All this really does is punish popular manufacturers and push money into the hands of competitors who haven't been banned.

    However, even if it did effectively ban all AR and AK type rifles, it still wouldn't help to regulate firepower.  This is an AR-15 rifle:

    The AR-15 was based on the M-16 rifle.  They're basically the same except for one key difference: the M-16 is capable of fully automatic fire, meaning that the gun will continue to fire as long as the trigger is held and the magazine is not empty.  The AR-15 is semi-automatic, which means that only one round can be fired per trigger pull.  Under current California law, this rifle is not legal to purchase or possess (unless you got grandfathered in, which will happen in the case of any future ban).

    This is the Ruger Mini-14:

    This weapon has never been banned in California.  Like the AR-15, it is semi-automatic with detachable magazine.  It is also chambered to fire the exact same round, the Remington .223 (or sometimes the NATO 5.56mm, which is identical for the purpose of this discussion).  This one doesn't look like a modern military rifle, though history buffs will probably note the similarity it bears to the M1 carbine used in WWII.

    California law says this rifle is okay because it's not an AR or AK type and because it doesn't have a pistol grip.  That's it.  The law bans the pistol grip.  This rifle can fire the same round with the same magazine capacity.  Fun fact: the Federal AWB wouldn't even have banned the pistol grip, since it allowed one "evil feature."

    Everyone got that?  Ruger's Mini-14 (or their Mini-30 if you prefer 7.62mm, which is what the AK-47 fires) is not considered an assault weapon because it doesn't look scary.  Never mind that it packs the same punch.  The ban is purely on weapon styling and furniture and has nothing to do with the actual function of the weapon - not the type of round it shoots, not the type of action it has, not the rate of fire... nothing.

    Feinstein's ban is likely to have the same architecture as the last ban, which was found to have no significant impact on violent crime by the CDC and NRC.  The bans in California have done nothing but shift purchasing to off-list manufacturers.  AR-15's are available off the shelf with the Bullet Button.  High capacity magazines are illegal to purchase or manufacture here, but not illegal to possess.  Californians who want them simply travel to Nevada or buy re-furbishing kits that skirt the law.  Anyone who gets caught with one can simply deploy the "found in the woods" defense.  It's almost impossible to prove someone actually bought one and brought it over state lines.

    If you think gun control is the answer, this should trouble you deeply.  You should find no comfort in the notion of renewing the federal ban, regardless of whether or not you simply prefer that outcome.  In fact, the mere discussion of renewing the ban will almost certainly increase gun sales, especially of AR-15 rifles, despite having little chance of passing the House.  Meanwhile, AR-15 rifles have already been in short supply after Obama's re-election.  Panic buying will certainly increase now.

    Here are some more troubling facts.  Despite numerous descriptions of the AR-15 as "high-powered," it's actually not.  Here's a comparison of rifle cartridges:

    Second from the right is the 5.56mm NATO round, which is almost identical to the .223 Remington that most civilian AR-15's are chambered for.  The round on the far right is the .22LR or Long Rifle, which is the smallest common rifle round.  The .223 is only slightly wider in diameter, and though it is significantly more massive and travels at a much higher velocity, thus increasing kinetic energy both linearly and exponentially, it is still one of the smallest common rifle rounds.  It's much smaller than the common hunting rounds found second and third from the left.

    So you don't need a "high-powered" rifle to kill lots of people.  As we learned from incidents like the Virginia Tech and Tucson massacres, you don't even need a rifle.  They're sufficient, but not necessary.  At Virginia Tech, only pistols were used.  At that, they weren't particularly "high-powered" either.  Here's a similar comparison of pistol cartridges:

    Only the two smallest cartridges pictured here, the 9mm and the .22, were used.  This "high-powered" stuff obscures a truth that shooters know: shot placement, particularly the ability to successively place accurate follow-up shots, matters far more than "stopping power," particularly when you're shooting at targets than aren't shooting back.  Lanza was apparently triple-tapping his victims to ensure that even those that played dead would not survive.  If the shooter is following this protocol, it doesn't really matter if he doesn't have a magnum round or even a .45 ACP.

    What about high-capacity magazines?  Loughner used one in Tucson, and arguably to great effect.  James Holmes attempted to use one in Aurora, though it's unclear how much it really helped.  Like most after-market high-capacity magazines, it proved unreliable.  He probably would have done more damage with a bag of standard magazines.  After all, that's all that were used at Virginia Tech.

    So you don't need a high-powered rifle or pistol to kill lots of people.  You don't even really need high-capacity magazines.  In fact, the worst school massacre in US history was carried out with explosives.  It's worth remembering that Harris and Klebold brought almost 100 improvised bombs with them to Columbine.  James Holmes certainly learned how to make explosives.

    Hopefully some of this is starting to illustrate why simply renewing the AWB won't prevent any future massacres.  The AWB was in place when Columbine happened.  It wouldn't have stopped Virginia Tech.  It might have marginally limited Jared Loughner's destructive capability if you think that a 33-round magazine really gives a shooter much more capability than a 17-round magazine, which is standard on a 9mm Glock.  James Holmes had plenty of other weapons and explosives.  The AWB would not have prevented anything that occurred at Virginia Tech, since the shooter used pistols and even restricted size magazines for his Glock.  He just carried lots of extras.

    And that's all it takes to kill lots of people.  Well, that and a plan that involves knowing no one will shoot back until you've had your way.

    I'm really kind of sad about this whole thing.  Liberals and assorted lefties usually have the high-ground when it comes to basing their positions on the facts, but firearms issues typically betray their fear and attendant ignorance of guns.  Most people who hate guns know frightfully little about how they actually work.  If liberals want to write gun control laws that actually work - as in actually result in the net prevention of harm rather than confirming stereotypes about being ignorant and reactionary - they need to deign to become a little more informed about a pervasive reality, which is that the firearm is the standard force multiplier on planet Earth right now.

    I'm in support of good gun control.  I don't support the Californication of gun laws because they simply don't work.  The Federal AWB didn't significantly reduce violent crime nationwide, which was already falling and continues to fall even in the era of widespread gun ownership and increasing concealed carry.  Those are the facts.  Renewing it now won't stop another school massacre.  What it will do is increase panic buying of weapons and confirm paranoia about liberal gun-grabbers.

    If you're truly interested in a harm reduction strategy, I hope you can recognize that this isn't it.  Any new gun control regime that hopes to actually reduce violent crime needs to go much, much further than the AWB.  In order to prevent another school massacre, that regime would need to significantly reduce the risk that young, mentally unstable men can get their hands on an "assault weapon," which should be understood in civilian terms as basically any weapon that can be used to carry out an attack of this nature.  Hopefully, I've made it clear that means basically any firearm.  This standard is much, much lower than murky notions of "assault weapons" have previously allowed.

    But let's not pretend that simply renewing the AWB will mitigate future attacks.  If you honestly care about protecting children from future attacks, it's time to go back to the drawing board.



    You know your guns.  In our family's collection there is a 30 caliber, WWII era Carbine.  There's no way that it is not, rationally, an "assault rifle."  It's semiautomatic.  It's lightweight, which you'd probably want in combat.  It has an extremely accurate site. As you say, it fires bullets much smaller than those used in many pistols.  Doesn't really matter.  You can tell what that rifle was designed for just by holding it.  But this thing is totally legal under the AWB.  It was not grandfathered in.  It was just never considered.

    And, as you say, all sorts of guns sold before the first AWB and after its expiration, are still out there and will remain so.  The rational (politically impossible) response would be, once these guns are declared illegal, to use the Pentagon's budget to buy them up from people at reasonable prices.  Then they could be issued to military police or, heck, given to the Syrian rebels. They are, in fact, combat rifles.

    Of course, that won't even work because we've done such a shoddy job registering the things... We probably need a national registry and mandatory triggers locks that restrict one gun per its registered owner.  Want to shoot a gun you don't own?  Do it at a regulated and secure recreational range.

    They tried a national registry in Canada. It did not go very well. I'm not saying we shouldn't do it, just that there are significant political and technical hurdles.

    FWIW, the military definition of an assault rifle almost always includes select-fire, which means it's fully automatic.  We've actually been quite successful in controlling these weapons, but I think part of the reason for this is that they're impractical.  They're primarily good for laying down suppressing fire.  That's basically only relevant if someone is actively shooting back.  Furthermore, you really need someone else to fight alongside you and place actual kill shots along with suppressing fire.  It's very hard to hit anything full auto.  Barrel climb is a bitch.

    If you're interested, look up some of the safety tests of trigger devices and safes.  California requires that every single gun is sold with them, but they're basically useless.  Here's a talk from Defcon on how easy it is to get into these devices.  Bottom line: these devices will hopefully prevent a child from operating the gun, but there's no substitute for a heavy, mounted combination safe - preferably biometric.  Trigger locks are not anti-theft devices.

    Also, look up the data on buybacks.  So far, they seem to be wildly unsuccessful.  Why some of them have even succeeded in getting hundreds of guns off the street!  Hundreds!

    Yeah, people keep pointing to the successful buybacks in Australia.  But, it just stands to reason that they depend entirely on having willing sellers.  I don't think most American gun owners are going to line up for that.

    I don't either.  Also, I've seen some info on American buybacks that guns turned in are disproportionately turned in by women, which means they're probably some of the least likely to be used in crime.  Still, it could potentially help to reduce the total number of guns.  The other interesting piece of info I read about buybacks was that something like half or more of the people who turn guns in say they're planning on buying another within a year.

    One clarification requested: I have never shot an AR or any other pistol-grip style rifle, but I assume that the grip design and relatively low recoil would allow a shooter to hold the weapon in one hand, leaving the other hand free to hold another weapon or a spare clip. The traditional design would make it much more difficult to hold on to the gun or shoot accurately with one hand, it seems to me. So in terms of keeping the carnage per episode to a minimum, minimizing the availability of this type of weapon might have some effect. 

    To respond to the rest of your post, yes, there are laws that accomplish technical goals, and laws (not always the same ones) that accomplish symbolic goals. Restricting clips to ten shots would have a relatively minor technical effect but would be symbolically important for a frightened public that wants to see something done and needs a first step. Tougher enforcement of existing gun laws, especially around handguns, will help lower the number of gun murders.

    Ultimately, this is going to be about getting Americans to end their love affair with guns, and it needs to happen on many levels. MADD and the takedown of the tobacco industry have shown us that what marketing creates, marketing can also take away.

    (Maybe we will see a FB campaign in which Ryan Gosling breaks up with his AR-15 and locks it away in a gun safe, saying "Baby, I thought I needed you, but it turns out I don't have as many enemies as you said I did." Or Schwarzenegger doing a video in which he confesses that Terminator was just a movie.)

    First off, what makes a rifle more accurate is partially the longer barrel, but partially the longer sight-radius, allowing the shooter to stabilize the gun at two points instead of one.  An AR-15 has more power and recoil than a pistol.  You would gain nothing by shooting it with one hand.  If you want a hand free to hold a second weapon or magazines, you would want a pistol that you could reliably aim and, most importantly, regain site picture with for follow-up shots.  This isn't Scarface.  To hit targets, you have to aim.

    I'm not interested in symbolic gestures.  I'm interested in how we can significantly increase the safety of innocent people.

    I suppose one can look at it like the recent health care reform: on one side those who would want a national health care system with single payer or nothing at all, and those who saw that the only way to get there was to get what could be gotten in the short term and then modify the system down the road. 

    Given the frozen stalemate regarding gun regulation in this country, any reforms are not going to be simply symbolic.  It will be the breaking of the ice, that will put the debate from "whether to further regulate guns or not" to "to what extent do we further regulate them."

    How much accuracy do you need at 15 feet? It's been a long time since I went shooting but if I recall it's not very hard to hit stuff. My Dad, whatever his other shortcomings, was a crack shot and an excellent coach. (I wonder if Adam's mom passed along helpful tips when she took him to the range.)

    I on the other hand am openly in favor of symbolic gestures as well as practical legislation. Some of this is going to be about restricting access to weapons for some people, some of it is going to be about making it harder for some people to buy guns, and some of it is going to be about getting people to lock their guns securely in safes. But some of it is going to be about changing the public view of what guns can do for them, so that they simply neglect to buy new ammunition for the weapons as their interest wanes....


    Look, this pistol grip stuff is downright silly.  If you want to shoot someone accurately at 15 feet with one hand, you want a pistol, but you'd still be better off using both hands.  If you had an AR or any other rifle, you'd use two hands, not one.  Furthermore, do you think a spree killer wouldn't bother to just, I don't know, install an illegal grip before going on a rampage?  It's not like they're worried about picking up a felony on the way to blowing their own head off.

    Test it out yourself: Go to your local range, rent an AR-15 and try to shoot it with one hand. See how you do at 15 feet.  My guess is you'd go a lot better with a Glock, especially with both hands on the weapon.

    As far as symbolic gestures, do you realize that nearly 1 in 2 adults owns a gun now?  There are more guns than ever before.  People were already buying them faster than ever before this incident.  AR-15 rifles are back-ordered across the country.  Do you know what your symbolic gesture to says to people who already suspect liberals just want any excuse to ban guns?  It say they're right and the time to buy is NOW.

    This is just one problem with symbolic gestures: they may not symbolize what you intend.

    I've shot pistols. Yes, two hands are better than one if hitting a target without wasting ammunition is the goal. But my overall point is that (probably) in the eyes of a mass murderer, creating terror, and the ability to unload a lot of bullets fast might be more appealing than technical accuracy. (Not that accuracy isn't important to mass murderer pride. Jesus, this is a dumb discussion.)

    So--AR-15--real world. Shoot with two hands to target, one hand to keep the scare on, or reach into your pocket for a fresh magazine. Pistol grip makes this much more convenient than a traditional rifle design. You're just way less likely to drop the thing. And if you've got high-capacity magazines, you don't have to change very often. In addition, minimal magazine-changing means that much less opportunity to make an error or drop a magazine.

    Hopefully you see where I'm going with this. Increasing the possibility of human error has the potential to slow things down. If the weapons available to Lanza were only traditional rifle designs (somewhat clunkier to handle if not shoot) OR semi-automatic pistols (shorter barrels make them less accurate) and he was limited to a 10-shot magazine, he would have had to fool around with stuff a lot more during his walk through the school. In fact, he would have had to shoot left-handed or change magazines in order to mow down a single classroom full of kids, figuring 3 bullets per person. It does set a limit on the number of shots a shooter can get off before the police arrive and he has to put a bullet in his own head.

    Limiting shots and requiring pauses to reload is a real challenge to the kind of bad-assness required of a mass killer. It doesn't fit the all-powerful fantasy, this digging into pockets and messing around with clips. Hell, it might be almost enough to make a guy say to himself "Aw, screw it, I'll just let my mom commit me."

    I'm sensitive to the argument that there are already a ton of these guns and ammunition out there. But we can still talk about this, and start placing these limits and hurdles in the way of anyone who wants to go out in a blaze of glory, so that only the most evil-genius types can do it and the run-of the mill evil geniuses falter before they can fire a shot.

    Let's get over this stuff about the AWB. I think we can agree that it's pretty much a given that it will be reinstated and that it won't do much, if anything, to solve our overall problem. So let's get on to solving the problem.

    None of this addresses the problem of the number of weapons in the hands of people who aren't REALLY capable of being responsible gun owners. (How about a law that makes it illegal to handle or fire a gun with a blood alcohol level of .08 and requires automatic, permanent confiscation of gun rights?)


    Do you believe and would you support training and arming school teachers, principals and staff with guns?

    If so which make would you recommend? The Glock seems a nice fit for use against future attacks by young male psychopaths, and would be easier to use and store for action than an AR-15. But maybe the Ruger mini-14 would fit the bill?

    Gun experts have pointed out that no large scale massacre has occurred where concealed carry was allowed. Would you consider letting the students carry, concealed or open? If so what age range?

    Not students. Human brain's judgment isn't mature until age 25. If you really wanted to go down this road (and I'm not at all sure it's a good one) you could allow concealed carry, on one's person only for teachers and high-level staff over age 30, with significant testing for marksmanship and mental stability, and absolutely no disclosure about who's carrying and who isn't.

    For the purposes of this incident, a teacher armed with pepper spray might have been able to avert tragedy as well as one with a gun.

    Anything is better than nothing, but successful self-defense always depends on the ability to match force with force.  As I understand it, some of the staff tried to rush Lanza without success.  A can of pepper spray has to be used close range, and certainly can't be used reliably while trying to close the distance on someone, unless you want to spray yourself unintentionally.

    I think it's something we have to consider.  The shooting stops in these cases when someone armed shows up, whether or not it's a cop.  As you note, they occur far more rarely where people are known to be armed and almost exclusively where they are known not to be.

    As I pointed out in another thread, an administrator in MA stopped a shooting in 1997.  He had to run out to his car, which was parked some distance away as required by the gun-free zone around the school.  It's not nuts to think that having someone armed at a school, whether that's a cop or a trained staff member, would provide a much-needed deterrent effect in these cases.  In the case in MA, the gun-free zone rules only delayed the administrator's response time.  Calling a place a "gun-free zone" simply means "target-rich environment" to a spree shooter.

    As for weapon choice, it really comes to what's going to be effective.  AR-15s and Glocks are really popular largely because they're pretty easy for most people to use, regardless of age or gender.  My wife isn't comfortable shooting my shotgun, but she picked up the Glock and was on paper right away.  They're practically ubiquitous for a reason.

    The one thing Glock is notorious for is reliability.  You can watch people torture their Glocks with glee on YouTube.  Glock is reliable primarily because of its relatively simple design and polymer frame.  It's worth noting that just about everyone is making a Glock-like, polymer-frame pistol now, including Springfield and Smith & Wesson.  One advantage to this type of weapon is low maintenance.  Steel guns, especially if they have fancy finishes, need to be maintained far more consistently.  A Glock can be buried for years, dug up, rinsed and fired without cleaning or lubrication.  This means it's far more likely to be ready to fire when needed even in the face of neglect.  Obviously, we would prefer our educators are focused on educating rather than cleaning their guns.

    As far as letting students carry, I think that's far more problematic, especially when we're talking about K-12.  Just as with automobiles, guns are inherently dangerous and should only be handled by responsible people.  I don't think there's a "safe age" for kids and guns, but rather think they need to be judged individually.  Regardless, we clearly need a better response to active shooters.

    As far as what parents can do for their kids right now, I highly recommend reading this piece.  It's written by an officer who has been responsible for exactly this type of response.  The takeaway is that getting away is the first best option, but lockdowns haven't worked.  Every student who tried to lockdown at Virginia Tech was killed.  The students who fled survived.  Fighting back is probably a better option than playing dead, which has rarely worked, but probably won't work without the ability to match force.

    On the suggestion in your link for parents to sew used bullet proof vest material into kids backpacks, while training them to use it as cover, seemed like the troop in Kuwait who said he scrounged for armor plates for his Humvee as it had none. Sounds like desperation.

    One - we could outlaw the lethal gun varieties and make possession illegal without a stiff and demanding new federal license, along with a buyback program like Australia.

    Two - use taxes on gun manufacturers, gun and ammunition sales to fund a nationwide augmentation of police forces to place at least two armed cops at every school in the nation. This would of course substantially increase the cost of guns and ammunition. Gun owners and sport users would be asked to pay for for their freedoms at the cash register.

    Since the first is unlikely, the second, raising taxes on gun sales, ammunition sales, and taxes on gun manufactures to fund the professional protection needed to safeguard the public would seem the only way to go.

    One of the points I was trying to make up above is that there's this idea that only certain guns are effective for killing.  Sometimes people think it's "assault weapons," but those amount to barely 2% of all gun crime.  Hand guns are much bigger problem and have been present at almost every school shooting I know of, even when other weapons were primarily used.  Every gun is potentially lethal.  Some are better suited for different ranges, but they'll all kill at the right distance.  If we're going to draw a distinction here, it should be something more quantifiable than how "bad" the weapon looks.  Unfortunately, that's what we've gone with most of the time.

    I would support your proposed tax.

    From the Atlantic, here's someone who wrote in on the same wave-length as me:


    I have been getting in trouble with many of my friends for asking them to think about what is politically possible, actually effective and might find agreement among reasonable gun owners. Full disclosure - I am a gun owner myself but very much in favor of stricter controls.
    It frustrates me to no end that no one on the gun control side of the debate knows anything about firearms, the differences between them, or precise ways to differentiate between them in law (or for that matter, in conversation). So all we hear are knee jerk cries to 'ban assault weapons'. And to hear that again after a horrible event in which an 'assault weapon' wasn't even used is just inane. It's like calling for a ban on convertibles after a truck accident.
    Here's my problem with the focus on 'assault weapons': what people are really talking about are not weapons that are designed to look like military weapons- that's merely cosmetic and it always diverts the conversation. What they are really talking about are three features - the fact that these rifles are semi automatic, that they are designed to accept high capacity magazines and that they are often - not always but often - chambered for small, high velocity rounds, rounds designed to break up in the body and cause maximum damage.
    Whether they have flash suppressors or a handle on top or look like an AK47 is absolutely irrelevant. There are other rifles that have some or all of the above features and not all weapons styled after 'assault weapons' do. It is critically important in this argument to be very precise.
    Furthermore, many people still talk as though these weapons are fully automatic, which none of them are, at least legally.
    If we concentrate our gun safety efforts on those specific features I listed, I truly believe that we would not only gain traction among the public who do not own guns, but also some respect from those who do. Most gun owners can see the sense in restricting those features - especially in rifles like the Bushmaster .223 that Lanza carried (but apparently did not use). [JF note: later information indicates that the Bushmaster was in fact used.]
    With handguns it would be trickier. Nearly all handguns currently sold are semi auto and there is a good reason - they are lighter and easier to control. The force absorbed by ejecting the spent shell and re-cocking the gun reduces the recoil considerably, making it possible for example, for a woman or a smaller man to shoot in a controlled way. While there is a great deal of support for eliminating semi-auto rifles it might be harder to find the same support for handguns. Magazines, however, might be a place to start.
    Importantly, there is a consensus on some points and those are the points where new legislation should concentrate.  Also even the NRA has agreed in principle to stricter background checks, more diligent checking on mental health and above all better enforcement of current laws before the creation of new ones.
    I apologize for the rant, but I am a pro gun control/safety gun owner and I am crazy frustrated with the current debate, the language in which it is framed, and above all the idiotic assumption that people can legislate or petition to change something which they can't be bothered to understand or know anything about.
    Wake up, America.  You're surrounded.  Ignorance is no longer an option.  Previous attempts to regulate guns have failed in part because people don't understand what they're trying to regulate.  Go down to the local gun range in California and shoot an AR-15 with an extended magazine, both of which are supposedly illegal.  If you like, you can buy the AR-15 and pick it up in ten days.  How is replicating this system to the Federal level even a response to the proliferation of guns generally, much less to mass shootings?

    Thank you for a very informative post and thread.  

    Most interesting was that the idea of somehow arming older students and teachers was given fairly serious consideration.  That together with McArdle's suggestion to rush the shooter reminded me how helpful it can be to simply have some idea of what to do in a crisis -- like fire drills (do they still have those?) or the pre-flight reminders from airlines.  Not that I am in favor of arming K-10 students with anything more powerful than Red Ryders or of encouraging them to run toward gunfire.  But what about giving them some flash/bang/smoke devices to trip behind them as they run away from it.  Something as simple to activate as a fire alarm.  Something easy to incorporate into regular fire drill schedules.

    Just thinking out loud.


    Good lord, you're talking about children!  How traumatized and fucked up do you want them to be?  Maybe little yahoos won't be affected by training for when the maniac shooter walks down the hall, but any sensitive thinking child will be troubled, and troubled sorely.  Even as we speak, here in NYC teachers are required to practice lock downs with the kids while some pretend killer stalks the halls and rattles doorknobs and the ADULTS I know who have to participate say it is a mind-twisting experience.  And you find the idea of arming older students and teachers "interesting"?  With the caveat that if you're below the 10th grade you can only have a bb gun?  And what about the teachers?  They've obviously got to be strapped and carrying for the Glock to do any good.  And this would be "interesting"?

    This is madness.  All through this thread, the talk like this, as if the insane can be presented  as sane if you do it quietly and in a level voice, is madness.  I'm not saying extra protection at schools shouldn't be on the table, but for the love of god,  talk about protecting children not terrifying them.  The culture we live in has stolen enough of what used to be childhood from them already. 


    Oh, please!  What was 'interesting' was that the arming suggestions were coming from progressives.  I thought suggesting bb guns and possibly firecrackers for K-10 was a way of dampening it down.  As for the older students, most states permit them to qualify to drive, why not to shoot?  Then there was the frightening suggestion that teachers be allowed to carry concealed.  Do we really want 'going academic' to replace 'going postal' as an idiom?  

    My actual suggestion for using flash/bang/smoke devices to disorient and impair the shooter while running for cover to run instead of rushing them was dead serious. Including them in drills lessens their disorienting effect on students and teachers. They do not have to be real.  They can be simulated.  Do you really think adding extreme and/or strobe lighting, loud noises and noxious smells to fire drills would be that traumatizing?  More traumatizing than 'duck and cover' drills? 

    Yes I do. There's not a kid alive who doesn't have a nightmare image for  the bad man who might hurt you, and practicing for him isn't nearly the lark that traipsing down the hall in a fire drill is -- or that ducking under your desk in the old days was. 

    How many children do you think have been frightened, maybe even traumatized, by the overwrought news and social media coverage of Newtown?  By concerned parents and other authority figures desperately trying to explain the inexplicable?  Or by those same authority figures arguing over what should be done to prevent it from happening again?

    Every kid in the country.  All the more reason why reinforcing their fears by putting them into training to fend off the bad men when they come is a piece of shit idea. 

    Where did I suggest training small children to fend off bad men?  And since when is teaching a non-panicked response to danger like say FIRE a shit idea.  No one has to tell children a gunman is after them to incorporate lights, noise and smells into routine fire drills!


    Although I'd be willing to consider some clever booby-trap devices for schools, I think we need to remember that we are talking about one dreadful scenario which happened in one of the many thousands of schools in the country. Fortunately, this kind of thing is extremely rare.

    We know that a sense of safety is very, very good for children, and that any messing with that sense of safety has the potential to create a lot of extremely messed up children who find it hard to learn. Teaching kids to hide from a bad person is questionable enough, but possible and probably decent strategy. Teaching them to run in random patterns and escape without bunching up at the doors? Or rush a gunman? In this case, I think the cure is worse than the disease, and I say that as the parent of a six-year old. I'd love to think that she could be clever or heroic in a situation like this, but the process of explaining why we were practicing these things would not be good for her and her little friends.

    And actually arming students is just fraught with problems. It's a non-starter.

    Erica, they are teaching them to hide.  That is what a lockdown drill is, and they make it as realistic as they can so the children are impressed with the seriousness of it -- and the need to stay quiet.  There is no doubt that drills like that saved a large number of the children at Newtown; the teachers were prepared and knew what to do and knew where to take the children to get them out of sight.  But this is enough.  A crying shame as it is.  But, for all the reasons you point out as well as the psychological ones, going beyond that, training kids the way McArdle recommends, training all teachers to shoot, having them carrying at their blackboards.  It is just madness. 

    Our comments crossed. See below... :^)

    Yeah, I'm not willing to spend my daughter's emotional capital on training for the apocalypse. It just takes us back to the old "If I die before I wake" days, and there is no way I'm going there.

    I hear you.  This stuff is just not on.  Adults have got to come up with something better than this crap. 

    In terms of thinking out loud, it might be helpful to give the teachers/school a few tricks. And you are right that having some idea what to do in a crisis is helpful. At the teacher/admin level, this kind of awareness is at least worth looking at. But for students, not so much.

    It seems to me that in the Newtown case, the teachers were trained and did do what was appropriate. Locking doors and hiding children in small spaces, regrettably, did not save everyone, but overall it seems like the school was pretty organized and they kept the kids as safe as they could until police arrived.

    Preparedness is a Mindset.  It not only can but should be taught at every age level things that are appropriate for that age level.  Kindergarten kids are old enough to know how and when to dial 911; to know not to go with strangers.  Preparedness like that.

    I agree that the staff at Newtown were prepared as best they knew how to protect their students.  A couple are genuine heroes.  Some kept their children safe by hiding; some by fleeing with them.  Neither choice guaranteed safety.  Sadly, none will  

    DF, I appreciate your bringing some gun expertise to this debate. Two things I did not know, and will take away, are that:

    (1) the repealed federal assault-weapons ban (and the California version of same) are similarly flawed. Obviously, any effective ban should focus on how a gun functions, not styling or how scary it looks. (The handgrip is functional, I'd argue, so I'm cool with outlawing it. I'd also take issue with your assumption that Feinstein's "reinstatement" of the AWB is necessarily going to be a carbon copy of the old one; as far as I know, it's still being drafted. Plenty of time to refine and toughen it, so it isn't -- as you put it -- a purely symbolic gesture.)

    (2) the law is simply not being enforced, and "banned" weapons are openly bought and sold. Presumably, that's an issue at the state level, and the ATF would be given enough of a budget to enforce such a federal ban. I'd already read that the feds were not doing all they could to enforce existing laws, and that clearly has to change.

    The weird thing about your post is how much I agreed with it:

    Any new gun control regime that hopes to actually reduce violent crime needs to go much, much further than the AWB. In order to prevent another school massacre, that regime would need to significantly reduce the risk that young, mentally unstable men can get their hands on an "assault weapon," which should be understood in civilian terms as basically any weapon that can be used to carry out an attack of this nature. Hopefully, I've made it clear that means basically any firearm. ... (I)t's time to go back to the drawing board.

    I've got your back, DF. Let's go drag those guns from their cold, dead hands!

    But then you go all wobbly on me, and start talking about improving "the life expectancy of children in active shooter situations" by maybe doing away with school gun-free zones and arming at least some of the teachers. Larry Pratt-style nonsense.

    Not radical enough, DF. And by radical, I mean it doesn't even attempt to get at the root of the problem: too many guns in the hands of too many people. And to even start to get a handle on that, we've got to make a clear break with the lunatic argument that the solution to gun violence is still more guns rendered legal in still more places.

    So yeah, I want as a first step to see a broad, fully enforced ban on assault-type weapons and on 20-round-plus ammo clips, even if such a ban is mostly symbolic. It would symbolize that Americans have turned a corner in rejecting rule by the gun.


    Mass shooting stops when someone with a gun shows up.  That's usually a cop, but one of the big problems with these events is that they're an extreme tail risk.  I'm not necessarily advocating arming teachers, but, as I have noted, armed staff have brought these events to a halt before.  As far as I'm concerned, we're either thinking about a way to protect students in these scenarios or we're simply accepting the tail risk, ie waiting for the next batch to get shot.  Do you have a solution?  I'm completely open to to not turning our schools into DMZs.

    I think proposed magazine capacity limit will be 10, because Feinstein said as much over the weekend.  We already have that limit in California.  I'm fine with it, but I also think that the actual impact of magazine size is overstated, especially in mass shooting events.

    DF is correct, as far as I can tell, on every point he's made or implied, IMO.

    Metaphorically speaking, the horse has left the barn. It's far, far too late now.

    But let's do something like a thought experiment:

    Suppose some class of weapons are banned; including the AR-15, such that their manufacture is completely outlawed. IOW, they simply cease to exist.

    We are left with the ones that do exist. So: what do you do about the ammo? Let it run out? Ban it also? What about after-market parts? The same?

    Now let's assume that those two cases hold: manufacture of ammo and after-market parts are also banned; and such things cease to exist.

    Here's what happens:

    3D printing of after market parts; and possibly ammo.

    And that scenario completely ignores hand-loading spent casing; or the basic alteration of casing to fit the (for instance) AR-15; and it even ignores the rudimentary metalsmithing skill needed to produce jackets for load.

    So, with just 3D printing and ignoring the other scenarios, The Problem continues to exist.

    Several quite useful points on the flaws in the last AWB here:

    Lessons in Politics and Fine Print in Assault Weapons Ban of ’90s, New York Times, Dec 19/20

    Hey, looks like someone at the NYT wants to do more than just go through the motions this time.  Also, it notes yet another reputable study that can't find a significant impact on gun violence by the AWB.  Are there any reputable studies to the contrary?  I can't find any.

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