Nothing "Accidental" About Shooting

Alan Gathright wrote a story earlier today titled, “Shooting story backfires:”

At first, the 20-year-old man reported he was shot by a drive-by gunman Tuesday evening while walking with a friend near the Byers Library. …

Now the victim admits he was accidentally shot in the back at a home when a 15-year-old buddy — showing off a handgun — placed it on a coffee table and it accidentally discharged. …

“They were in a residence and had the gun out and the gun was put onto a table,” [Arapahoe County sheriff’s Capt. Mark] Fisher said. “It discharged and ended up shooting the 20-year-old in the back.

The description by the victim is obvious nonsense, and the description by the officer is misleading. Guns are inanimate objects. They do not fire themselves. If you place a gun on a table, it will not then “accidentally discharge” all on its own.

Instead, the 15-year-old “buddy” obviously violated all three of the main rules for firearm safety. First, he kept the gun loaded when he wasn’t intending to use it. (Perhaps the magazine was in the semiautomatic gun, or perhaps the teen forgot or never learned that, even when the magazine is removed, a round might be left in the chamber.) Second, he pointed the gun at something that he didn’t intend to shoot. Third, he probably put his finger on the trigger. My guess (assuming that the shooting actually involved a table) is that the teen discharged the gun while placing it on the table. The teen fired the gun, one way or another (again, assuming that the basic story is accurate). The shooting was no accident. It was the result of gross negligence.

[January 17 update: Of course I accept Steve D’Ippolito’s statement in the comments: “Some guns are physically defective (or poorly designed) to the point where they will discharge when they get a sufficiently abrupt jolt.” However, as D’Ippolito adds, somebody who tosses a loaded (and defective) gun onto a table, such that the muzzle points at a person, is still responsible for the consequences. That said, getting the full truth out of the characters involved may be impossible.]

The three main rules of gun safety can be described as the principles of “gun control:” chamber control, muzzle control, and trigger control. But apparently somebody else neglected the central principle of gun control: always keep your gun under your own control. The teen is manifestly too ignorant and negligent to handle a firearm.

Fortunately, many teens learn about gun safety and shoot responsibly and legally in the company of responsible adults.

Kopel on Media-Inspired Copy-Cats

Dave Kopel’s article for the Rocky Mountain News, “Reducing the risk of copycat killers: How papers can avoid glorifying perpetrators,” deserves a wide audience. Here are his five main suggestions:

1. If a killer was seeking infamy, neither his picture nor his words should ever appear on the front page. …

2. … [If] photos help readers understand that people who do terrible things are often very ordinary-looking… a single photo on a single day is sufficient.

3. Never run a photo or video which the killer has chosen for his own publicity. …

4. Do publish a photo showing the disgusting post-mortem condition of the killer, with half his face blown off after he has killed himself or been shot by a good citizen. The photo should appear, not in the printed paper, but on the newspaper’s Web site and behind a warning page. Such photos would deglamourize the perpetrators.

5. Although there is some news value in reporting the killer’s name initially, there is no need to use the name incessantly. …

Assam’s Semiautomatic Baretta

Yesterday, I noted that security guards are forbidden by Colorado Springs ordinance from carrying semiautomatic guns. Yet “Police investigators also said Wednesday that Jeanne Assam, the church security officer who shot and wounded [the murderer], fired a total of 10 rounds from her Beretta 9 mm semiautomatic handgun.” Presumably, had she been a security guard for hire, rather than a volunteer, she would have been breaking the law. (I haven’t read the ordinance, but I assume it applies only to guards for hire. I did check the map, and New Life Church is within Colorado Springs boundaries.)

Predictably, Democrats are already demanding bans of politically incorrect, ambiguously defined “assault weapons.” Gail Shoettler displays her ignorance in confusing semiautomatic guns with “automatic weapons.” She does not bother to define an “assault weapon.” She does not consider the fact that many criminals acquire guns illegally. And she does not bother to mention that Assam stopped the murderer with her semiautomatic gun.

Meanwhile, Mike Littwin opines, “Any fair reading of the small minority of people who use guns violently shows that they are rarely deterred by other guns.” In other words, Littwin looks only at cases of people who are not “deterred by other guns” to conclude that no criminal is so deterred. (He does not mention the fact that some criminals are not “deterred by other guns” because in some areas armed self-defense is outlawed.) And this is what sometimes passes for journalism in Colorado.

Yet the fact remains that the murderer was not able to fully carry out his plans because he met armed resistance. Otherwise, he might have killed many more. Even people bent on suicidal mass murder may think twice knowing they may be taken out by a petite woman with a gun.

Electa Draper writes for The Denver Post,

Many large churches have taken up arms. … Like New Life, which has a volunteer plainclothes security force of about a dozen, other area megachurches also employ security to respond to trouble in places where as many as 7,000 might be on campus at any time. … American Jews have long recognized the need for security at their synagogues, schools and community centers.

Obviously, criminals are not “deterred by other guns” that the do not suspect exist. Now, would-be criminals know that attacking people in a house of religious worship may not be quite as easy as they might have imagined.

Hamstringing Security Guards

I could hardly believe this:

Springs to consider new gun law
Pam Zubeck and Perry Swanson, The Gazette
Originally published 08:12 a.m., December 12, 2007
Updated 08:12 a.m., December 12, 2007

Colorado Springs City Council members will consider a law next month to allow security guards to carry semiautomatic weapons.

Although the change has been in the works for months, the revision is sure to draw added interest in light of Sunday’s shootings at New Life Church.

City Clerk Kathryn Young… said the proposed measure would allow semiautomatic weapons; the current ordinance limits security guards to revolvers.

Should we say that security guards also don’t have to work with one hand tied behind their back? Revolvers are fine firearms, but I know of few gun enthusiast who would choose to enter a scrape with a revolver over a quality semiauto with a couple of spare magazines. That said, given a quality firearm, skill counts more than the type of gun (within limits); a good shooter can get shots on target with a revolver much faster than a poor shooter can with a semiautomatic.

Does anyone know what kind of gun Jeanne Assam used?

Larry Bourbonnais

We now know that the church murderer “was shot multiple times by church security officer Jeanne Assam before he fired a single, fatal round at himself, the autopsy showed.”

We also know that the murderer drew inspiration from the Columbine killers: “My belief is that if I say something, it goes. I am the law. If you don’t like it, you die.” This is moral subjectivism taken to its most nihilistic and murderous conclusions.

We also have the comments of Larry Bourbonnais, another person who showed great courage at the scene. The words of Bourbonnais, a Vietnam veteran, are recorded by the Rocky Mountain News:

After Columbine, I promised my daughters that if I’m ever in that kind of situation, that I would do something. Instead of standing by while people are being slaughtered, people need to take action.

There were two other armed guards, but they weren’t doing anything. I asked one of them to give me their gun so I could take the guy out. I thought, I’ve got to take this guy out. I stepped out from behind a pillar so he could see me, then I saw a female come from outside.

I was either being heroic or stupid. But I was afraid the guy would shoot me from the back. I just kept thinking I wanted to take him out.

After she shot him dead, I took a 9 millimeter gun out of his right hand. It was jammed. There was a round stuck.

He was bleeding from his back. The guy was an idiot. He was standing along a wall of plate glass. She took him out. It all happened so fast.

They made me go outside because I was a key witness. I saw a male victim. The EMT had taken his clothes off. He was cold and in a lot of pain.

Two of my daughters, Stacey and Sherry, met me at the hospital. They brought me a coat and a shirt. I told them about the promise I made to them and that I tried. They were crying.

If he had killed me, I would have gone to heaven.

I haven’t read elsewhere about two other armed guards. Yet, assuming that the account is basically accurate, it demonstrates a couple of things. First, the shadow of Columbine is very long. Second, people reacted to that horror in dramatically different ways. One deranged individual committed a copy-cat crime. Others resolved to rise to heroism, should the situation call for it. The names that deserve to be remembered in this case are those of Jeanne Assam and Larry Bourbonnais.

Rocky Mountain Sense

The editorial writers of the Rocky Mountain News wrote an especially touching piece for today’s paper titled, “Lethal rage.” The editorial mourns the victims, sympathizes with their families, and praises Jeanne Assam, the volunteer, armed security guard who stopped the murderer. The Rocky even managed to close with appropriate advice about keeping perspective:

[V]iolence in our society can sometimes seem to be pervasive. Yet while that is true, as Sunday’s events prove, it’s important that we not exaggerate its frequency. During this decade, the homicide rate in the United States (per 100,000 people) has actually been lower than at any time since the early and mid-1960s – and far lower than the 25 years between 1970 to 1995.

Such dry statistics are no consolation to anyone remotely near to this weekend’s tragedies, but they offer perspective the rest of us should bear in mind.

While The Denver Post’s editorial is predictably cliche, it does include the following important detail:

Larry Bourbonnais, a Vietnam veteran who was at the church as the incident unfolded, heard the shots and ran toward the gunfire.

He yelled to divert the gunman’s attention and was shot in the arm.

Then, Jeanne Assam, a female security guard, came around the corner with a handgun drawn, yelling, “Surrender!” She walked toward the shooter, firing one round after another until he went down.

And some sentiments never seem cliche in such circumstances: “[T]he only way to pull through these trying times is by coming together as a well-knit community.”

Yesterday’s Hero

One difference between the recent shooting at the mall in Omaha and the religious facilities in Colorado is that, in Omaha, the murderer stopped himself (before the police could reach him). As Laura Bauer reports for the December 8 Kansas City Star, the murderer “opened fire at the mall, killing eight before taking his own life.”

Yesterday’s murderous rampage ended differently. Kieran Nicholson reports for today’s Denver Post:

The two killed at [New Life Church] are sisters Stephanie Works, 18, and Rachael Works, 16, police said. … Also shot at the church Sunday were David Works, 51, Judy Purcell, 40, and Larry Bourbannais, 59, police said. …

The shooter was shot and killed by a volunteer security guard at the church, said [Pastor Brady] Boyd.

Boyd said the security guard, a woman with a law enforcement background, and his personal bodyguard, encountered the gunman in a hallway at the church and fired on him, saving many lives.

“He had enough ammunition on him to cause a lot of damage,” Boyd said.

The security guard’s name has not yet been released.

Whatever else can and will be said about the murders, that woman, the volunteer security guard, is a true, courageous hero who deserves our thanks and praise.

I’m also impressed that Nicholson and the Post fairly reported the facts. However, it is odd that Nicholson refers to the murderer as “gunman,” but she does not refer to the security guard as a “gunwoman.” (Indeed, while the media are filled with references to “gunmen,” I do not remember every reading the term, “gunwoman.”) Bauer also refers to “a gunman.” But the relevant fact is not that the man carried a gun, but that he used it to murder people. Thus, he is properly called a killer or a murderer. The bare fact that a man carries a gun — is a “gunman” — is legally and morally neutral. Police officers, security guards, and numerous civilians, both male and female, carry guns legally and responsibly.

But of course the means of murder is the minor issue. The big question is this: why are moral monsters running around murdering innocent people they don’t even know? Any murder is a heinous crime, the ultimate evil. But a murder of strangers adds an additional level of senselessness. Some will find symbolism in the fact that the murderer attacked a church; they will see the murders as a symptom of our (allegedly) Godless culture (though religion is on the rise). The religionists are correct that the murders are a symptom of cultural nihilism, the destruction of human reason, values, and morality. But the antidote to nihilism is not religion, which sacrifices human reason to faith and human values to the whims of a mythological being. A culture of human reason, values, and morality rejects both nihilism and religion.

Layout of the Denver Shootout

The Denver Post published a photo that adds some detail to the story about the recent Denver shootout.

While the Post does not explain the photo, which shows the layout of the restaurant where the confrontation took place, the general idea seems clear. The circles marked “O” appear to be the officers, while the circles marked “C” appear to be customers. That would make “X” the bad guy.

Previously, I theorized that one of the officers may have shot a bystander in the ankle because the officer shot prematurely because he had his finger on the trigger too early. The distance between the officer and the bystander was about 30 feet, and the hight of a gun in a normal stance is about 5 feet. That makes the downward angle from the gun to the ankle about 10 degrees. My wife held a string that ran from her gun position past me (standing at point “X” relatively) to approximately point “C;” the string passed my thigh. (That squares with the geometric calculations.) So the officer definitely shot low.

Why is this? I can think of three possible reasons. First, the officer shot prematurely because his finger was on the trigger as he brought his gun up. Second, the officer lowered the gun after the recoil from a previous shot. Third, the officer shot after suffering “shards of glass in his eye,” making his aim low. Denver Police Chief Gerry Whitman said, “That officer was shooting and was being shot at, almost simultaneously,” according to the Post. However, there’s a lot I don’t know here, such as the positions from which the officers fired and which officer shot the bystander in the ankle.

But the photo brings up another obvious point: the officers were shooting directly in the direction of five innocent bystanders. Obviously, that is extremely dangerous. Such action is justified only in the most dire circumstances. However, the criminal “was pointing the shotgun at restaurant patrons and two plainclothes officers in an attempt to rob them.” I don’t know what he said or how he acted. But, obviously, he posed an extreme danger himself. Whitman said that two of the bystanders who were shot were “very supportive of the officers’ actions.” Here’s another point: the officers may not have been able to comply with the robber’s commands without revealing their identity as officers. And the bystanders probably weren’t able to duck for cover without drawing the attention of the criminal. I for one am not in a position to second-guess the officers’ decision in that very messy, very dangerous situation. Even if, in light of more complete information, the officers were judged to have acted rashly, that wouldn’t change the fact that the ultimate responsibility for the danger and for the injuries rests with the criminal.

Here’s another important part of the story reported by the Post:

The gunman, Phuong Van Dang, 26, was a halfway-house inmate who had served a portion of a prison sentence for assault with a deadly weapon, court documents revealed.

Dang was convicted of the felony charge in Jefferson County in 1998 and sentenced to 18 years, according to Colorado court records. But he was released from prison and placed in a community corrections program. …

Dang, 26, was convicted of assault with a deadly weapon in Jefferson County in 1998 and sentenced to 18 years. The conviction was for shooting a victim in the back at the Penny Lane Arcade.

At that time, he was awaiting trial for robbing a fellow high school student at gunpoint in 1997. He received a 10-year sentence for robbery.

The Rocky Mountain News adds that Dang, age 16 when he shot “an arcade worker in the back,” “was in a violent gang, facing multiple felonies.”

I’m all for encouraging people who commit less-serious crimes to rehabilitate themselves. But when you threaten people with guns and then shoot somebody in the back, you have demonstrated that you are incapable of living in civilized society. The perpetrator’s actions certainly do not bolster the case for leniency for highly violent minors of sufficient age to know better.

Details on the Denver Shootout

More details are in about the recent shootout in Denver.

Ivan Moreno, who has some clue when it comes to firearms, writes for the November 16 Rocky Mountain News, “Police said the suspect, 26-year-old Phuong Van Dang, walked from table to table at the Ha Noi restaurant, masked and carrying [a] black 12-gauge shotgun and a duffel.”

So the criminal carried a shotgun, not a rifle, as I’d thought previously. And the three customers were shot by the officers.

Police Chief Gerry Whitman defended the officers’ actions, notes Moreno: “They had to do something. It wasn’t a situation were they could say, ‘Stop! Police!’ because it could turn into a hostage situation. They’re trained to stop a threat, and they did exactly that.”

However, some of the details of the story raise questions about the officers’ training:

The detectives were about 12 to 15 feet from the suspect when each fired six shots, hitting Dang five times, said Division Chief David Fisher. Four of those bullets passed through Dang’s body, according to the preliminary investigation, Fisher said.

A couple and their son, who were behind Dang, were each shot once by the detectives’ gunfire. One was shot in the ankle, and another on the side. A bullet grazed the third’s leg.

So, at twelve to fifteen feet, the officers hit a large target five of twelve rounds. That’s not so unusual; police officers generally miss most of the time at close range in a real shootout. It’s harder than most people imagine to shoot accurately in a high-stress situation. Still, you don’t want seven bullets flying off-target in a restaurant. Did each officer empty his gun?

I wonder what sort of ammunition the officers were carrying. Given that four of five rounds passed through the suspect’s body, I have to wonder if the bullets were fully jacketed. If so, I’d be interested to hear the rationale for carrying jacketed rounds as opposed to hollow-points (which tend to mushroom on impact, slowing their progression). Of course, it may have been better for the bystanders to be hit with jacketed bullets, but it’s better yet for bystanders not to be hit.

To me, this is the big point: one of the officers hit a bystander in the ankle. What that suggests is that the officer may have had his finger on the trigger as he pulled his gun from the holster, causing him to shoot prematurely toward the ground. If this was the case, then that reflects poor training. Keep your finger off the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.

I’m no expert in this, but I’d like to hear a discussion about whether it’s a good idea to drop as quickly as possible to a knee when firing at an armed criminal in a crowded area. My reasoning is that, if bystanders drop to the ground, and responsive fire is headed upward, bystanders are less likely to be hit. Of course, dropping to a knee might also limit mobility.

Still, given the details that have so far emerged, the officers deserve the benefit of the doubt. I wasn’t there, so I don’t know the demeanor and actions of the criminal. It seems likely, though, that the officers seriously believed that the armed criminal posed a substantial threat to their own lives and the lives of others. It is fortunate that no innocent person was killed.

In general, people carrying concealed guns, whether they are officers or civilians, have a responsibility to draw and fire only if somebody’s life is in real danger. Civilians have more of an incentive to fire in fewer situations — and to shoot more accurately — because officers generally are protected from both criminal and civil action. If police officers get sued, ultimately tax payers pick up the tab. If a civilian fires irresponsibly, he or she can get into big trouble.

Nevertheless, in this case, a masked, armed robber obviously poses a serious threat to the lives of others. The ultimate responsibility for the injuries to the bystanders rests with the criminal.

What Happens When Victims Fight Back

John C. Ensslin, Jeff Kass, and Alan Gathright wrote an article for the Rocky Mountain News November 14 about a Denver shooting.

A masked man with a high-caliber, long-barreled gun and really bad timing picked the wrong Denver Vietnamese restaurant to try and rob over Wednesday’s lunch hour.

With his car parked in the back alley, the suspect barged in through the back door of Ha Noi restaurant at 1033 S. Federal Blvd. and ordered the cook to lie on the floor.

What he didn’t know was that just outside the kitchen door two plainclothes Denver undercover narcotics officers had stopped by to grab some lunch.

Within seconds, bullets and shards of glass were flying over the green vinyl chairs. …

When the shooting stopped, five people were wounded. The suspect, slumped in the front doorway, was critically injured. Three people who were caught in the crossfire, a middle-aged couple and their adult son, were also injured.

And one of the officers was cut around his eyes by the shards of glass.

The article clarifies, “One of the bystanders also underwent surgery. A third person remained in the hospital in fair condition. The officer and the third bystander were treated and released.”

Now, if it’s obvious that somebody with a weapon is only after cash and nothing else, the situation is highly dangerous, but in many circumstances the best bet is to hand over the money so that the criminal will leave as soon as possible. But, in this case, when a masked man with a rifle barges into a restaurant, it’s reasonable to suspect the worst. So, from the limited details available, its seems like the officers — “Sgt. John Pindar and Det. Jesse Avendano.” — made the right call.

The article reports that Denver Police spokesman Sonny Jackson said of the officers, “Having them in there may have saved people’s lives today… I think we were fortunate these two officers were there.”

(Incidentally, the reporters don’t mention how they know the caliber of the gun, but, judging from the photo that accompanies the article, it doesn’t look like a very high caliber to me, though it’s hard to tell from the photo. Nor does the Denver Post article shed light on that matter. Instead, the Post reports that “an automatic weapon could be seen inside the restaurant, Jackson said,” which I highly doubt, as automatics are rare and very expensive.)

Yes, a man used a gun to injure several people. And two men with guns stopped the criminal. It appears that the criminal sustained the most serious injuries. If “we were fortunate” that those two armed men were there, if “they may have saved people’s lives,” then wouldn’t it be even better if more responsible, trained people carried concealed weapons in public places?