Sunday, April 12, 2009

Guns: Rethinking the "If I Only Had a Gun" Experiment

Some background - "20/20" ran a segment depicting an "experiment" where college students were given a concealed handgun and placed in a VA Tech-style classroom massacre situation. It was part of a larger pro-gun control hit piece hosted by Diane Sawyer (read fisks by Eseell and One Sensible Progressive). Here's the segment:

There are some pretty obvious problems with the whole thing. Here's a summary of everything I could find, cribbed off other blogs and my own thoughts:

1) First off, the shooter(s) here are police firearms trainers. They have way more shooting experience than even a regular police officer, and are certainly better-trained than the garden variety school shooter. They do try to mimic novice shooting positions (in the first test, I believe the trainer fires one-handed, which is certainly inefficient), but it's not the same.

2) Second, it appears like the school shooter in all situations knew that a student was armed, and perhaps even which student was carrying the gun. Notice at 1:40 how all the ABC crew/police personnel are already seated when the first participant walks in, forcing him to choose a seat in the front row, right in the middle. Also notice that at around 2:27 (you have to pause and play the video repeatedly to see the exact frames), the trainer appears to wheel and fire on Joey almost immediately.

Now, to be fair, I'm not positive if the police trainers have prior knowledge of where the CCW is in the room. I do think it's fishy that part of Brian's trial (at 4:56) is cut out - maybe the producers don't want you to notice how the two shooters immediately fired on "Brian" first (how on Earth did Brian get shot five times by two different shooters if the shooters had no foreknowledge of where he was?).

3) The students are carrying an unfamiliar gun in an unfamiliar holster in unfamiliar clothes, with their vision and movement restricted by a mask and gloves. Now, I don't think this error was necessarily malicious given that everyone has to have safety equipment on, but a big part of carrying a concealed weapon is, well, actually carrying it - sitting down with it, going to the restroom with it, crouching to buy a box of cereal with it. Nearly anybody who carries a firearm regularly will be faster on the draw than these students - yes, even the supposed gun enthusiast student.

4) The other students were actors who were in on the whole thing. I realize they want to control for variables, but it's crazy to think that a couple dozen prepared ABC crew and police officers would react more realistically to violence than a couple dozen complete strangers, or even unarmed program participants. Notice how they all uniformly head for the door, which would reveal the one lone seated or drawing CCW almost by default (most noticeable in Brian's trial).

These are just the problems with the experiment - let's take on the doctrinal assertions that are implied by the whole piece:

1) The CCW got killed, but others lived. This is seen as a "failure" of the test, but it's really a success for the people able to get away while the shooter engaged the CCW. Perhaps they should do another trial in a completely unarmed classroom and see how many hits Mr. Police Trainer is able to get on the helpless victims in the absence of another gun on the scene.

2) Real colleges aren't one classroom. In real schoool shootings, the shooter often moves from place to place. You've seen students having the time to barricade classroom doors or escape through windows - obviously speed of access to the gun wouldn't be an issue there.

3) Yes, carrying a concealed weapon is a lot of work. It's no secret that you have to practice and carry regularly if you want to outdraw and outshoot someone in a toe-to-toe confrontation. That still doesn't justify a blanket bar for carrying guns on college campuses, especially given the alternative.


At 2:40 AM, Blogger Eseell said...

Thanks for the link, Mulliga. I just noticed that when they show the footage at about 3:10, the "active shooter" pauses for a woman to run in front of him, then continues shooting the student. What kind of active shooter would take that kind of care not to hit a bystander? More evidence that this study is bogus.

At 2:42 AM, Blogger DJMooreTX said...

Excellent criticism of the classroom shooting "doomed to die" exercise; thank you for the careful review and analysis. I know it must have been painful for you to re-watch this lie repeatedly to get your story straight, and I appreciate the effort.

I've linked to your article from my place.

At 2:29 PM, Blogger Ziggy said...

Nice post Mulliga. Can you point me to blogs where I can read more about this stuff? (I've got some libertarian blogs bookmarked, so I read the Cato article, but I don't know good 2nd amendment specific ones).

In some of the shootings I researched, the shooter was stopped by students who were formerly police or military. Even if you accept the proposition that military or police training is critical to defensive firearm use, the categories of "formally trained" and "currently attending college" aren't mutually exclusive.

Someone should film "if only WE had a gun" where every member of he audience is carrying. Or just fill the audience with frat boys in TapOut shirts and see who tries to shoot a double-leg =D.

At 2:57 PM, Blogger Mulliga said...

Thanks for all the feedback, guys! I have to admit that this ABC piece kind of got my dander up. I didn't want to take it personally, but it hit pretty close to home. After all, I carry a gun everywhere I go EXCEPT for when I have to go to law school.

Ziggy, other blogs on my blogroll have better 2nd Amendment site listings than I do (check out "Hell in a Handbasket" and "View From the Porch" to start with). Although shooting is obviously one of my hobbies, I mostly read blogs that cover more than just guns (there's a decent correlation between gun ownership and general geekery, at least for gunbloggers). It's also not the exclusive domain of libertarians and conservatives, either - plenty of pro-gun progressives have popped up, especially given the makeup of the Democrat majority in the House.

At 4:29 PM, Blogger John said...

Your points are all well-made, to which I would add only two more: each one of the students, even those with only cursory training, were able to draw their pistols before the police arrived.

Until police can arrive prior to the sixty seconds it would take the clumsiest of gunowners to draw their weapons, CCW is still useful.

I noticed that the students were largely hampered by baggy shirts that they were forced to wear because they were trying to conceal their handguns. This would not be a problem if they could open carry. If anything, the videos argue effectively for legal open carry.


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