In the light of the news that all nine of the wounded bystanders in the Empire State Building shooting this week were hit by police bullets, The New York Times op-ed piece concludes that while police accuracy is infamously poor (if you’re paying attention, at least), armed citizens would be that much worse because… not sure.
In the related TTAG post comments, DaveL nails it perfectly:
So if a civilian uses a gun in defense of himself or others and ends up wounding innocent bystanders, that’s an argument for restricting gun ownership to cops and soldiers. If a cop uses a gun in defense of himself or others and ends up wounding innocent bystanders, that’s also an argument for restricting gun ownership to cops and soldiers. Because stuff.
[See bottom for update re: reported misses and hits.]
One of the ironies of this way of thinking, to my mind, is that I practice much less with my issue weapon for the National Guard than I do with my personal weapons. Each year I fire 9 rounds to zero my rifle and 40 to qualify, and then I clean it for storage for next year. Many people take two, three, or more tries to qualify–and this against static paper targets.
Outside of combat arms, at least, the Army does not have much of a weapons culture. Collectively, we have other things to worry about–mostly paperwork and training schedules. The risk averse nature of the officer corps, combined with the cost of weapons training and competing needs on limited training time, means that we do the bare minimums by Army regulation and no more. And no, this is not a uniquely National Guard problem. For most soldiers in theater, your firearm is just another thing to be accounted for, carried around, and cleaned occasionally. If you haven’t served, it may be hard to comprehend how you can feel that way about your rifle in a war zone, but it’s absolutely true. Most soldiers never leave the base. I was lucky in that respect.
The NY police weapons qualification process, including optional practice, requires less than 200 rounds per year. That’s a good day at the range for me, and I’m cheap. A Rand Corporation study in 2008 (pdf) notes (starting on p. 36):
The current ﬁrearm-requaliﬁcation program is less about making sure oﬃcers can effectively use their pistols in real-life situations than it is about meeting legal requirements and professional standards. While the requaliﬁcation course meets the standards required by the state of New York and is consistent with national norms, shooting at paper targets on a known-distance range is basically target practice. It does not demonstrate that the officer has mastered his or her ﬁrearm and is ready for a shooting confrontation on the streets.
In other words, most NY police officers are no better prepared by their department (in terms of weapons training) to engage a deadly threat than anyone else who puts 50 rounds downrange at a static target and manages to hit 39 times. Please explain to me again why civilians can’t be trusted with their own defense, but should leave it to the professionals.
The Onion weighs in with “Nation Celebrates Full Week Without Deadly Mass Shooting,” only to have an update: “Never mind.” I would close by pointing out that this event was not a mass shooting until the NY police got involved; up until that point, it was a single murder in the workplace.
UPDATE: There is some definite confusion on just how many times the officers hit the threat. This article claims he was hit at least seven times (from sixteen rounds fired by the two officers), so apparently some of the civilian casualties were a result of bullets passing through the threat. At least they weren’t clean misses, but this looks like a pretty clear Rule 4 violation. Why did they confront him there, anyway? From all reports, he was walking away like nothing had happened; unless there was something not reported that suggests he was likely to resume shooting, it doesn’t make any sense to confront him in the middle of a crowded sidewalk. (UPDATE 2: A retired NY officer agrees.)
Note that with only two or three rounds left in his pistol, the threat couldn’t have done as much damage in a spree as the police did preventing it.
Update 3: Courtesy of Shall Not Be Questioned (pagunblog.com), a NYPD officer weighs in on their training requirements and gun culture, or lack thereof. Not pretty: “Any average CCW citizen who practices more then twice a year pretty much has most of the department beat in terms of training.”
- How Gun Grabbers Spin the Empire State Building Shooting at TTAG
- 11 Years of Police Gunfire, In Painstaking Detail (2008) at NY Times, which concluded that police hit the threat only 34% of the time.
- Rand Corporation evaluation of NY training and tactics (2008, pdf), which describes the weapons qualification process.