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Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Combat Vets Destroy the NRA’s Heroic Gunslinger Fantasy

Combat Vets Destroy the NRA’s Heroic Gunslinger Fantasy

"Wayne LaPierre, the head of the National Rifle Association (NRA), has famously claimed that “the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is with a good guy with a gun.”

Much of today’s opposition to stronger gun safety regulations rests on the gun lobby’s Hobbesian vision of self-sufficient, heavily-armed citizens standing up to vicious thugs. This Die Hard argument is constantly parroted by politicians and conservatives pundits. But the statistical reality is that for every justifiable homicide in the United States—for every lethal shooting in defense of life or property—guns are used to commit 34 murders and 78 suicides, and are the cause of two accidental deaths, according to an analysis of FBI data by The Washington Post...

LaPierre, a career lobbyist, has no clue what it’s like to use a firearm in anger. The Nation spoke to several people who do—combat veterans and former law enforcement officers—and who believe that the NRA’s heroic gunslinger mythology is a dangerous fantasy that bears little resemblance to reality...

Retired Army Sargeant Rafael Noboa y Rivera, who led a combat team in Iraq, says that most soldiers only function effectively after they’ve been exposed to fire a number a times. “I think there’s this fantasy world of gunplay in the movies, but it doesn’t really happen that way,” he says. “When I heard gunfire [in Iraq], I didn’t immediately pick up my rifle and react. I first tried to ascertain where the shooting was coming from, where I was in relation to the gunfire and how far away it was. I think most untrained people are either going to freeze up, or just whip out their gun and start firing in that circumstance,” Noboa said. “I think they would absolutely panic.”

Everyone interviewed for this article agreed that the key distinction isn’t between “good guys” and “bad guys,” because intentions are less important than the rigorous—and continuous—training that it takes to effectively handle firearms in high-stress situations...

Tactical officers typically receive training in “judgmental shooting,” which includes knowing when it’s prudent to hold their fire, and “blue-on-blue awareness,” which drills into them the importance of considering whether other cops are present, including officers who aren’t in uniform. They’re trained to overcome tunnel vision by looking not only at their target but also maintaining an awareness of who or what is behind it...

A case in Texas two weeks ago highlights the risks of civilians intervening in chaotic situations. Police say that as two carjackers struggled with the owner of a car at a gas station in northeast Houston, a witness decided to take action into his own hands. He fired several shots, but missed the perpetrators and shot the owner of the car in the head. He then picked up his shell casings and fled the scene. Police are still looking for the shooter.

The potential for that kind of outcome is why most police agencies strongly recommend that concealed carry holders only use their weapons as an absolute last resort, and not intervene in robberies or other crimes in which they’re not directly involved. David Chipman notes that even police officers are told that if they encounter a crime in progress while off-duty, “maybe the best thing to do at that time is not to take lethal action but instead try to be the best witness you can be.”

Not pulling a weapon is often the wisest course of action in active-shooter situations. While a number of conservatives declared that Oregon’s Umpqua Community College, the scene of a mass shooting last week, was a gun-free zone, the truth is that several concealed carry holders were present, and they wisely decided to leave their guns holstered. Veteran John Parker later explained to MSNBC, “We could have opened ourselves up to be potential targets ourselves, and not knowing where SWAT was… if we had our guns ready to shoot, they could think that we were bad guys.”

Dabid Chipman says the Secret Service’s history is instructive. “Here’s an agency that has all the weaponry that they could ever need, all the training that they could ever need, and they’ve never fired a weapon in defense of a president during an assassination attempt. You’re trained to throw your body in front of the protectee, not to open fire. Just look at the picture taken immediately after Reagan was shot and count the guns in that photograph. They’re all being held by highly-trained experts and not one of them fired. They didn’t shoot [would-be assassin John] Hinckley. And that’s because you’re likely to do more harm than good in that situation”...

Blair co-authored a study for the FBI that looked at 185 mass shooting events over a 13-year period. It found that while around one-in-five were stopped by civilians before police arrived, in only one case was it done by a typical “good guy with a gun” (professionals—an off-duty cop and an armed security guard—used their guns to stop two others). In most cases Blair and his colleague studied, civilians ended a rampage by tackling the assailant...

Epidemiologists at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted an extensive analysis of data from 16 previous peer-reviewed studies, and found that having access to a firearm makes a person almost twice as likely to become the victim of a homicide and three times more likely to commit suicide. Previous research has shown that countries with higher rates of gun ownership also have higher rates of gun deaths and states with more guns have higher homicide rates...

Those who have carried weapons into combat or to make an arrest scoff at the very idea.“It’s insane,” says Stephen Benson. He recalls an anecdote from his first pistol class in basic training. “We put on our issue .45s, and our instructor said, ‘Gentlemen, the first and most important thing you’ve done by putting on that weapon is you’ve increased your chances of being in a gunfight by 100 percent.’ That’s a lesson that a lot of people don’t get. More guns means more gunfights"
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