All Rambo’d Up

As follows any tragic gun shooting in the US, the internet goes wild with people on either side yelling as loudly as possible, for at least a week. Well, I’m nothing if not a trend-follower, but instead of focusing on gun-control, I’d like to discuss why you and I aren’t Rambo.

Every time something like this happens, a section of the crowd skips straight over the gun control debate and come up with the most obvious solution: more guns. Guns for everyone. If only everyone involved had a gun, it would have all been very different. It seems such an obvious answer: we’ve all seen the movies where the hero manages to take down countless gun-toting enemies, often in slow-motion, why don’t we just do that?

Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to be the hero too. I’d like to think if something like that happened near me I’d switch from mild-mannered geeky ginger kid to John McClane. Of course I’d like to able to stop things like this from happening, who wouldn’t? But I am not John McClane or Rambo and neither is anyone else.

The people advocating more guns as an answer seem to overlook several vital factors (although this is based on yesterday’s terrible events, most of it is applicable to other scenarios):

Firstly, if you gave me a gun, I’d be more likely to shoot myself or a random hole in the wall by accident as I have no firearms training, so it’s not enough to just hand out Colts at the next faculty meeting, you’d have to invest in thorough training programs.

No problem, some will say: I go to the range at least once a week. Except these shootings are as similar to shooting at a range as a driving lesson is to a destruction derby. This isn’t shooting a handy target, this is shooting at an unpredictable, moving object.

An unpredictable, moving object that is also shooting in your general direction. It’s not a quiet weekend, shooting at a controlled range, it’s a full combat situation, which requires a whole different set of training even to hope to be able to shoot another human. The US Army’s Basic Combat Training takes ten weeks and most of its gun-related training focuses on ranges and targets.

Which is the next problem: you’re not shooting a piece of paper with lines on it, you’re shooting – trying to kill – another human being. Our society is largely held together by not doing that, we have it pretty engrained into our psyche, even if the human being in question is shooting at you. There’s a reason militaries across the world spend so much time training their soldiers to dehumanise the enemy.

But okay: you’ve given the teacher a gun, you’ve trained him in shooting situations, including full combat scenarios, you’ve trained him to dehumanise his opponents. Now he’s ready to defend the class full of children when trouble strikes, right?

Except he’s not an armed body guard, he’s a teacher. Let’s assume that, since he’s in a room full of children, and you’ve trained him properly, that he’s being responsible and is keeping the gun unloaded and locked in his desk. It’s Friday morning, he’s not sitting at his desk keeping an eagle-eye on the door just waiting for trouble, he’s teaching. He’s thinking Thank God It’s Friday and trying to collect homework and not falling for Billy’s “my dog ate it”.

Now introduce the gunman. Let’s be generous and say our teacher is sitting at his desk, with his keys in his hand already: how long will it take him to unlock his desk, take out the gun, load it and be ready to aim at the gunman? Ten seconds?

This is, of course, assuming that the teacher is a robot. This assumes that when a gunman bursts into the room, the teacher doesn’t get a shock that delays him for a couple of vital seconds; that a jolt of adrenaline doesn’t shoot through his body, doesn’t cause his hands to tremble, doesn’t make him drop the keys or miss the lock.

Even if the teacher is keeping the gun loaded, on his person (in a room full of children, that is to say, somewhat rowdy and chaotic creatures), it isn’t going to work. It is still going to take a few seconds (optimistically) for the teacher to snap from teaching mode to full combat mode and a few seconds is all a prepared gunman needs.

But okay, okay, let’s assume that, for some reason, the teacher is pointing a loaded gun at the classroom door when the gunman enters. At least now he’ll save the day, right? So long as the shooter isn’t like James Holmes, the Aurora gunman, who wore full body armour. Now you have two people shooting at each other in a classroom of children, which is yet another problem with expecting bystanders to get all Rambo’d up:

Say you’re in a classroom, or a shopping mall, or a cinema and someone starts shooting. You’ve got all the training we’ve talked about above, you’re absolutely ready to stop this gunman hurting anyone else. Except you’re in a relatively confined area with a herd of panicky people. These people, assuming they don’t also want to be Rambo, are going to be trying to get the hell out of there. A lot of people running around, it’s not going to be immediately obvious where and who the gunman is, so people are going to be running in all different directions. Even assuming that you have spotted the gunman and you’re taking aim, there’s a large chance that some bystander is going to between you and him, or is going to run into the path as you trade gunfire. Unfortunately, unlike movies, the civilians don’t all magically disappear or somehow dodge random bullets. Even if you manage to take down the gunman, you will have very likely wounded or killed an innocent civilian.

Problem number I’ve-lost-count with the Rambo-wannabes: what if you’re not the only one? Let’s take the classroom scenario: there’s an armed teacher, Rambo, exchanging fire with a gunman. There’s another teacher in the next classroom, or in the corridor, who has the same training as Rambo, let’s call him John McClane. John McClane comes into the classroom, gun-drawn, and sees the situation: two gunmen shooting in a room full of children. The quickest, most logical deduction John McClane can make is this: “In order to make people safe, I have to take down everyone shooting”. So his quasi-military training kicks in, he shoots the gunman, he shoots Rambo. He’s possibly saved the day, but also wounded or killed an innocent man.

But that’s ridiculous, isn’t it? John McClane would be able to recognise that there is one gunman and one colleague, wouldn’t he? Because a co-worker turning into a shooter is unfathomable. Unfortunately for Rambo, John McClane has only fractions of a second to work out what to do because, as mentioned, there are two people shooting guns.

Finally, because there are still people who are shaking their heads and thinking “But if I were there, I would have done just fine”, I’d like to remind you of John Hinckley, the man who tried to assassinate President Reagan. He managed to fire six shots, wounding the president and three others, while the president was surrounded by the Secret Service. He emptied his revolver in 1.8 seconds.

Now put yourself in all the scenarios: the teacher keeping his gun in his desk; the teacher keeping the gun on his person; the teacher aiming a gun at the door; the teacher in the middle of teaching. Could you, in under two seconds, get to your gun, draw it, aim it and take down a gunman, overcoming shock and adrenaline, when some of the best trained armed guards in the world couldn’t?

P.S. Although this post is about the absurdity of arming all potential victims and not about gun-control directly, I would be remiss not to point out that on the same day as the Connecticut shooting, there was an incident in China where a man attacked a primary school with a knife. He injured 22 of them, with no reported fatalities.

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