Tuesday, July 24, 2012

An Open Letter To A Gun Control Advocate in the Wake of the Colorado Shootings

In the wake of the Colorado mass shootings, your response was, "Vince: No restrictions on automatic weapons - Really???!!!"

Before we get to your question, let's consider some facts regarding these "mass shootings" that the press does not ever want to mention:

1) The single most reliable predictor of where these shootings will occur is a devastating refutation of the gun control movement's core principles. Well over 95% of these incidents happen in "gun free zones".  Obviously, I am not talking about real gun free zones, like the sterile areas of airports - I am talking about the "phony gun free zones" that gun control groups are largely responsible for creating. These groups lobby businesses to post signs that effectively permit only criminals to carry firearms. The CO theater that was the scene of this horrible incident had such signs. So did the Kansas shopping mall in which a teenage killer committed his murders. He was seen on surveillance cameras searching for something. He stopped in front of the "No Firearms Permitted" sign. From there he went directly to his car, got his gun and entered that very store to begin his rampage. He had made sure that he would not encounter armed opposition until police arrived.

Signs Like The One Above Create "Mass Murder Zones"

How Criminals and Mass Murders View The Same Sign

Consider the insanity of thinking that a sign that keeps people who have been trained, background checked, licensed and in many places have been psychologically screened - along with off duty cops - from carrying weapons is somehow going to make a location safe from criminals and mass murderers. Common sense tells us that those with evil intent will be attracted to such places, because they do not want to face armed opposition. Those who place everyone - armed or not - at greater risk by disarming those who might protect them have to bear some of the responsibility when someone takes advantage of the situation.

On the other hand, how many criminals or mass murders would choose a location with a sign like the one above.  One would think they would fear ending up like the two guys who stuck up a "cop bar".

2) Of course, those who advocate for these zones argue that "more guns will only make things worse". The problem is, the facts prove otherwise.  
In my research on the subject of mass shootings, I had no trouble finding incidents where permit holding civilians or off duty cops stopped mass shootings (such as the Colorado Springs church shooting, which would have surely resulted in dozens of deaths if the gunman had not been shot by a female CCW holder as he entered the building OR the other mall shooting in Kansas in which an off duty cop ignored the signs and entered with his gun - with which he killed the shooter, OR the high school teacher who kept a pistol in his car - parked 500 feet away to comply with the gun free schools act - who ran to his car and returned to stop a school shooting before the cops could get there, just to name three). I have yet to find a case where a mass shooting was 'made worse" by a legally armed civilian.

Columbine was a huge wake up call for police agencies everywhere. In its' wake, a lot of research was done into these "active shooter" incidents. At Columbine, the cops followed the rules in place. They secured the perimeter and waited for SWAT - and while they waited, people died. The research changed the policy of virtually every police department in the world. It showed that in nearly all the incidents they studied, the shooting continued until the second person with a gun showed up. In almost all cases, it then stopped.

The reason is simple: These people have thought about what they are going to do for a very long time. They know how they want it to end, and they know that when the first armed opposition shows up they are in danger of not being able to control that ending. That means that whatever they have decided they will do, they usually do at that point. The most common action is that the shooter takes their own life. The second most common action is to point their gun at the other armed person and wait for them to take their life. These two responses account for the vast majority of outcomes. In other cases they are killed by the second person arriving with a gun or, as was the case with this shooting, they choose to surrender. It is very rare for the shooter to succeed in killing the first armed opposition.

Police departments responded by implementing policies that would have otherwise seemed foolish. Most departments now have a policy that directs the first officer to confront the shooter - even if they have no backup. This is based upon "the law of the second gun". This law applies not only to cops - it applies to anyone who is legally armed and prepared to intervene.

The most recent shooting is different in many ways from the sickening norm of mass shootings. The use of multiple long guns (most mass shootings are committed with handguns - not semi-auto rifles), the use of gas, and the use of body armor are far from typical. Many have stated that "there is no way that an armed civilian could have made a difference". These commentators reveal just how little they know about how we train.

First of all, every trainer I have every heard or read makes it clear that carrying a gun is not enough. In fact, if that is all you are going to carry is a gun - you probably shouldn't carry anything. Two items every permit holder should carry in addition to that gun are a flashlight and a less lethal weapon such as pepper spray. Less lethal is important because you need something in your force continuum between bare hands and deadly force. The flashlight is need for two reasons: 1) Most shootings happen at night and you absolutely need to know what you are shooting at. 2) A bright flashlight can be used to blind and disorient - which could make shooting unnecessary. (Trainers make it very clear that the very last thing you ever want to do is shoot someone. It's better than dying, but not by as much as one would think).

So, if there were the statistical average of three legal carriers in that audience, what could they have done? What could just one of them have done? Simple: Light the shooter up, and shoot him in the face while he is blinded. The light I carry in my pocket is much more powerful than the 6 "D" cell light I carried as an EMT. Criminals sometimes use body armor - so we trained to look for it. We typically will put two rounds center mass and if they are not going down start shooting for the head. At a bare minimum, if a trained and armed person had done the above, he or she would have bought time for those trying to escape.

What would this guy have done? Of course, we will never know for sure - but it seems clear that he was wearing a lot of expensive body armor because he wanted to live.  When confronted by the first cop he out gunned him and had better protection, but he just gave up. I think there is a very good chance that if a light was shined in his eyes and rounds started heading his way, he probably would have done the same thing. It just would have been before as many were killed and wounded.

If we are going to have a "national conversation" on the issue of gun violence, then the two points above are going to have to be considered.

So let's deal with the issue in the subject line:

1) There are already very heavy restrictions upon "automatic weapons". No new ones have been allowed into civilian hands since 1986 (the bill that closed this door was supported by the NRA) and between the legal hoops and the cost (tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars) only very rich people own them. I do not believe that one crime has been committed with one in the last 30 years.

2) Of course, what they are really taking about are semi-automatic weapons. One of the first things I learned about gun control advocates is that they intentionally misuse terms in order to confuse issues and mislead people. For instance, my state has a ban on "assault rifles". It was rammed through the legislature with lots of inflammatory language about "weapons of war". The only problem is that there is a specific definition of an "assault rifle" and not one of the banned guns fits that definition. They wanted to use the term to ban some other scary looking guns, and it sounds so bad - who cares if real assault rifles have been banned for decades - we will just intentionally misuse the term so that people think we are banning something different than we actually are banning. This issue is huge, because the reality is that the only way gun laws are going to change is with the support of gun owners. You don't get that by telling lies.

3) The 2nd Amendment has absolutely nothing at all to do with hunting.  The worst thing a gun control advocate can do is say that they don't want to touch guns used in hunting. That is a huge red flag to us - not to mention the fact that they then start lying about what kind of guns are used to hunt. Guess what?  The rifle this nut used is the most common rifle used in target shooting and competitions is the US - it is also commonly used in hunting. As for semi-autos in general - Teddy Roosevelt hunted with one in 1908!

What is the 2nd Amendment about? Three things:

a) The human right of self defense

b) The ability of a self armed citizen militia (NOT the National Guard) to be called up to reinforce the army in times of grave emergency.  (If you think this can't happen, the British had to call up a citizen militia during WW2 [they called it the Home Guard] - and they had to accept donated guns from US NRA members because their citizens had few to none.  Many were armed with pitchforks.)

c) The ability of an armed citizenry to offset a standing army, to deter anyone in authority from attempting to institute a dictatorship, and to generally deter blatant violations of the Constitution. For this reason, it has been called the "doomsday amendment".  We often forget that while the Founders were working on the Bill of Rights, the French Revolution was spinning out of control.   What had started out well was moving rapidly in the wrong direction.  The Founders wanted to make sure the people could never be oppressed without the possibility of armed resistance.

While the UK was under threat of invasion, these Home Guard members had only pitchforks

All of the above can be clearly established from the words of the founders as the amendment was debated. It can be further established by reviewing the debate over the 14th Amendment which extended the Bill of Rights to apply to the states. Extending 2nd Amendment rights to the newly freed slaves was one of the major reasons the 14th Amendment was passed.

The above is important, because it affects how the courts - especially the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) applies it. At this point SCOTUS has issued two landmark rulings: The Heller decision which held that the 2nd Amendment protects a personal, rather than a collective right and the McDonald decision which extended this protection to actions by all levels of government AND held that the right is "fundamental to our system of ordered liberty". This phrase is used over 30 times in the McDonald decision and requires that this right be give a very high level of protection. While the exact level of protection has not been settled, it will either be the highest, the second highest or something new in between them. In short, the right to own a firearm (provided you are not a felon, or mentally defective) is now close to, or equal to, the right to free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, the right to privacy, the protection against self-incrimination - well, you get the idea.

Most gun control groups are living in denial about this, because the gun rights folks are moving slowly and methodically - and they continue to win. Even when they don't the case moves through the appeals process and SCOTUS will eventually rule on the issue -which is what we want.

There are two opinions that directly affect the ability to ban guns such as the one used in the recent shooting:

The first, is Justice Blackman's dissenting opinion in the Heller case. He held that the 2nd Amendment did not protect the right to own a handgun - but he wrote that it probably protected the right to own an M16 (a full auto machine gun!).
His reasoning was that for decades (if not centuries) the courts had held that the 2nd Amendment protected "militia weapons". This was most recently affirmed in 1939. In the 1700s, that was a musket - the common soldier's personal weapon. Today, it is the M16. Mind you, I disagree - but that is what this very liberal justice wrote.

In the majority opinion is the Heller case, SCOTUS extended constitutional protection to any firearm in "common civilian use". Applying this test, they struck down DC's handgun ban. Applying the same test to the AR-15 family, these guns are clearly included because this design is the most popular rifle in America. In fact, the DC Court of Appeals, in what has been called the "Heller 2" case - using the lowest level of protection SCOTUS decisions allow - ruled that handguns could be registered (because they are commonly used in crimes) - but that it is a violation of the 2nd Amendment to require the registration of long guns of any kind. This case is headed to SCOTUS.

The bottom line is that absent the repeal or amendment of the 2nd Amendment, the guns this guy used cannot be banned. Registration may yet be upheld by SCOTUS - the most likely rationale being that they need to know who to call up should the need arise. Given that citizens in the past were actually required to report with their privately owned guns for inspection by government officials, this is how I would argue if I were on the side of gun control.

In addition, such a ban nation wide would not be politically possible. The last federal "Assault Weapons Ban" cost the Democrats the House and Senate in 1994. They remember. The Obama administration has already stated that they will introduce no new gun laws in the wake of this shooting. Not in an election year - and probably never. Every single "swing state" has "shall issue" CCW permits and huge numbers of gun owners. Pushing gun control now would be the surest way for him to loose the election.

Finally, do we really want the government to have a monopoly on modern firearms? Do we really want to remove that check on government power?  Do we want the military to be able to suppress the population without fear of armed opposition? It has always seemed very ironic to me that the very people who distrust the government in general and the police and military in particular have no problem at all disarming the public, leaving those they say they distrust as the only ones with firearms.

4) What about the "hi-capacity" magazines?

Well, they are another matter. Let's first get some terms straight:

Normal capacity magazine = a magazine holding the number of rounds the gun was originally designed to function with

Restricted capacity magazine = A legally restricted magazine reduced to meet a legal requirement (usually 10 rounds)

Hi-capacity magazine = a magazine holding more rounds than the gun was designed to function with

Now that we have the terms straight, let's proceed.

First, this is the second high profile shooting in which a true "high -capacity" magazine actually saved lives by doing what they commonly do: JAMMING (the other case was the Giffords shooting). I have no idea how many rounds he got off before his AR15 with a 100 round drum magazine jammed - but jam it did. He used a pump shotgun first, then the AR15, then a Glock pistol. The number of wounded is not a good indicator because many were hurt in the panic and others were hit by bullets that hit someone else first. It's ironic that if he had used a number of lower capacity magazines, more may have died.

Second, if I were on the other side of this issue, this is where I would focus my attention. Of all the restrictions proposed, it makes the most sense. It doesn't make a lot of sense - but it makes a lot more sense than banning guns that "look evil", while leaving guns that can do the same thing that "look normal" unregulated - which is exactly what most bans do. Most of all, it might pass constitutional muster - provided the restriction was not too low. Banning 100 round magazines probably would not be a constitutional problem. Banning 20-30 round magazines could go either way. Banning 10+ round magazines probably would not be constitutional - but it could always be tried.

That said, if you practice changing magazines, it can be done very quickly. We do it in competition all the time. If you change before you are empty, you can leave one in the chamber in case you need to shoot quickly - but a speed reload can be done in 1.5-2.0 seconds. Carla and I are not that good, maybe 2-4 seconds.

Thank God this manic didn't have good gun handling skills, or he could have cleared that jam....... and killed a lot more people.

4) These evil incidents are not limited to the US or to countries with "lax" gun laws.  The record shooting death toll is held by Norway (137) - Finland, Sweden, Germany and France have all experienced mass shootings in the last 2 years with death tolls in the same range as our recent tragedy - some were much higher. The "law of the second gun" applied in each case.  All of these countries have gun laws much more restrictive than ours. The UK - with the toughest gun laws in all Europe - (ban on handguns, semi-auto rifles/shotguns - and extremely tight controls on everything else) recently saw 12 people killed in a London mass shooting. Meanwhile, Switzerland - were nearly every home has military grade weapons (many are fully automatic) - and where soldiers are allowed to buy their personal weapon when they leave the inactive reserves - and where the government offers discounted ammo to anyone who will practice their shooting skills - has experienced exactly one mass shooting in their whole history. 

Video: Why the Swiss Have The Lowest Crime Rate In The World

My point is that a "gun culture" does not cause mass shootings - if it did, than the Swiss would be dying by the thousands, instead of it being the safest country in Europe.
  Gun control cannot stop them either. And remember, the Swiss have access to guns that are even more powerful those in the US.

5) The Israeli experience is also instructive. In the 1960s and 1970s terrorists tended to attack by shooting up crowded locations. The first people they shot were the armed security people. Israel responded by issuing carry permits to anyone who asked. Today, one in four Israeli citizens has a permit. This stopped the shootings - or at least it lowered the death toll. The only problem was they changed to bombs and the death tolls went up. If we could magically get rid of all guns, they would simply build bombs - as this guy in fact did. The instructions are widely available on the Internet and the ACLU could be counted upon to fight any effort to censor the Internet.

So, what can be done?

I think a great deal can be done - if we are willing to do so.

First, we can do away with those killing fields called "gun free zones". Public locations and businesses should be forced to choose between creating a true "gun free zone" that is physically secured and to which access is restricted to those who are screened - or taking down their signs and allowing those who are trained and licensed (along with off duty law enforcement) to carry as they do elsewhere. In the recent incident, an alarm on the exit door could have saved a great many lives. Combined with a camera, even more people cold have been saved. This case may very well be the one where the actions of those who posted signs results in huge legal liability. Time will tell.

Second, we can increase and standardize training requirements for carry permits nationwide - in much the same way we do drivers licenses. Specific training in mass shooting situations should be required. There is an axiom in the self defense community: "When seconds count, the police are minutes away." This could be part of a "grand bargain" on gun issues - more about that later.

The Benefits of Trained and Armed Citizens Can Be Seen In The Videos Below

Armed Customer Shoots Knife-Wielding Man

Gun Carrying Man Ends Stabbing Spree at Salt Lake Grocery Store

Security Video: Woman With Gun Shoots Robber

Bank Customer Pulls Gun, Stops Robber

Third, we can increase the mental health training given to police officers so they can better spot those who need screening. Jared Lee Loughner, the shooter in the Giffords incident, displayed behavior that was so bizarre and threatening that the public Jr. College he was attending expelled him. They told him that he would need a psychological clearance in order to be re-admitted. The campus police were called on several occasions. The sheriff's department saw him on many occasions too. All in all, he had over 20 contacts with law enforcement regarding his behavior. NOT ONCE was he sent in for a psychological evaluation. Had anyone done so, it is very likely that mental health professionals would have committed him for a long time.

This is significant because even if he had been released, such a commitment creates a federal firearms prohibition FOR LIFE. Would this have prevented him from getting a gun? Probably not, but it would have pushed him into the black market where he might have had to pay more or perhaps had to settle for a revolver. It definitely would have been better than nothing. Then there is always the chance that with proper treatment he would have never even tried to kill Rep. Giffords.

So, after his officers failed to get the shooter evaluated in spite of over a dozen chances to do so, guess what the local sheriff blamed for the shooting? Lax gun laws, of course!

Fourth, the administration can start actually prosecuting people who try to buy a gun when there are legally prohibited from doing so.  
Form 4473 - which every purchaser must fill out - makes conviction very, very easy - yet prosecutions are exceedingly rare. Pres. Clinton bragged about stopping 60,000 prohibited persons from buying guns. How many did his administration prosecute? Less than ten! Sadly, many of these 60,000 people went to the black market, bought guns and killed people - including at least one sheriff. Bush and Obama have not done significantly better. This needs to change.

Finally, we can try to bring about a "Grand Bargain" on gun issues.

Both sides in the gun debate must stop thinking that they are going to get everything they want without giving up anything.  
Frankly, the gun rights movement is holding ALL the cards at this point - both politically and legally. No new laws are going to be passed unless they agree.  Gun control advocates need to recognize this reality.

Something else that the press has not picked up on is the fact that the NRA has lots of competition. After the Virginia Tech shooting, the NRA was the first organization to call for a law requiring mental health commitments to be entered in the Instant Check database - before any of the gun control groups. They were right to do so, but it cost them many members as other organizations to their right accused them of selling out and misrepresented their position as well as the effect of the law. The NRA learned that lesson well. There is no way they will sign on to any new laws unless, like the 1986 federal gun law revisions, gun owners get something too.

What do gun owners want badly enough to give something up? We want carry permits standardized and recognized nationwide, just like a drivers license. Given time, the courts are very, very likely to give this to us anyway - so gun control advocates would be smart to use this as a bargaining chip before they loose it. If the NRA could get that, they could probably justify giving the other side something they really want.

What could they get in return? Probably the easiest thing to get would be background checks on private sales. Now that the check is nearly instant in most cases, most "gun people" do not find it burdensome - and it probably would do the most good too. The law of diminishing returns applies here - background checks clearly do the most good for the least cost - in both dollar and lost rights Gun control advocates could go for magazine capacity limits, or a new Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) - but given the strong position the gun rights side holds. I doubt that they will give in on these issues. If gun control advocates over reach - as they have a long, long history of doing - they are likely to loose.

I have tried to stick to the facts here, and to view the issue from both sides. I hope you find all of the above informative.

Thanks for reading this,


1 comment:

  1. Unfortunately guns control programs can't stop any terrorist or any shooter, they will do what they want.