When our son was younger and we were watching a television show or a film that happened to feature any gunfire, he would wonder out loud why a person who had been shot had not simply dodged out of the way of the bullets. He had apparently watched any number of cartoons in which characters escape bullets by stretching their bodies in extremely elastic ways around the flying bullets.
So, when I heard Ben Carson say that, if confronted by a mass murderer while in a group of people, he would urge them to rush the gunman because “he can’t get all of us,” it recalled my son’s childish notion that bullets can somehow be escaped if one simply remains calm and determined and concentrates on avoiding the bullets.
But Carson is an adult, and despite all of his advocacy of second-amendment rights, he seems to have little appreciation for the firepower that most mass murderers carry.
What follows is a graphic from a January 2013 article by Josh Richman that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News defining “assault weapons” and delineating the key elements of the arguments over whether they ought to be legal or illegal [http://www.mercurynews.com/ci_22396050/assault-weapons-what-are-they-and-should-they].
If a mass murderer is armed with one of these weapons and is carrying clips larger than those legally allowed, he can fire rounds as fast as he can squeeze the trigger.
If he has bought a weapon that is easily adapted to provide automatic fire, bullets will exit the gun barrel until the clip is empty for as long as he compresses the trigger. A rate of fire of 40 rounds per minute in semi-automatic mode can easily be increased to100 or more rounds per minute in automatic mode.
At this point in this post, I’d like to offer a literal “trigger warning” to those reading it. You may find what follows to be disturbingly graphic.
So, if one is in a classroom with 25 other people when a mass murderer walks through the door, even if he were to allow you to organize yourselves to charge him en masse across a space free of furniture and other obstacles, half of those people would almost certainly fall dead or badly wounded before they ever reached him. And even if the bullets did not pass through those at the front of the group and into those behind them, the progress of those in the rear ranks would certainly be much impeded by the bodies falling to the floor in front of them, providing the mass murderer with enough time even to change clips if necessary.
None of this should be a surprise to anyone who has watched a film featuring some massed assault by troops. Apparently, for instance, Ben Carson has never seen the 27-minute opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan in which the American troops trying to exit the amphibious landing craft onto Omaha Beach are literally shot to pieces by the Germans.
I’d like to add that the chances that someone in the classroom who might be carrying a weapon would not be among those hit by gunfire sprayed across a room seem fairly small—especially if that person were to stand up to get a clear shot at the mass murderer. So, the fantasy of the “good guy with a gun”—presumably a pistol—taking out the bad guy armed with an assault weapon seems just small degrees closer to reality than the fantasy of being able to dodge the bullets. In any case, despite the proliferation of concealed-carry permits and open-carry laws, no citizen with a gun ever seems to take out a mass murderer, even when carnage occurs somewhere other than in an ostensibly gun-free zone such as a school or a college campus.
I can guarantee that if this were an open discussion, at this point someone would suggest very pointedly that things would be different if everyone in the classroom were armed. Perhaps, but I doubt it. I would like to see some mathematical or scientific calculation of how many people would emerge unscathed from the relatively confined space of a classroom in which one assault rifle and several dozen pistols were being fired at roughly the same time largely by people in various stages of terrified panic.
Given the many millions of weapons now freely available throughout this country, it may be preposterous to suggest that at this point we can prevent mass murderers from getting hold of assault weapons and from attacking us where we are most vulnerable. But it is no less preposterous to suggest that we can protect ourselves against such attacks by the means commonly advocated by the gun-lobby.
The scope of this problem is now so broad and complex that no solutions are probably going to have much short-term impact. But longer-term solutions will just as obviously require some ability to track and, where necessary, to restrict who has firearms.