So, funny story: it turns out that the mass shooting outside the Empire State Building late last week was actually one guy shooting his co-worker and nine people being wounded by police bullets while they shot at the assailant. In what can only be seen as an unprecedented show of restraint on the part of the NYPD, the two responding officers only fired sixteen rounds. Some of them even hit the intended target.

We can assume that this sorry total would have been larger and more appropriate had more officers been present to join in the contagious shooting. Still, sixteen rounds for two cops isn't half bad. When you're pulling the trigger that rapidly, who has time to aim?

Living as we do in a society filled with classic authoritarian-follower personality types it does not take long for the full time Cop Apologists to make their voices heard in the few instances in which police shootings actually get heavy news coverage. It is unavoidable; every news segment, every internet forum, and every casual hey-did-ya-hear conversation will include the same stock quotes brought up like clockwork. So let us go ahead and address them up front.

Yes, police have to respond to things under pressure. Yes, they had every right and reason to have their weapons drawn at an armed man who had just killed someone. No, I wasn't there. Are we done? Good.

We as a society create and pay the police to respond to these situations better than you or I would. The arguments about fear and pressure and "If that was you, I doubt you would have done any better" are specious precisely because those things are true. We have police for the same reason that airlines pay a pilot rather than soliciting a volunteer from coach to fly the plane. The police are supposed to respond appropriately, not in fear, panic, and ineptitude like untrained citizens would. If the police can't deal with a suspect without beating him or work a shift without taking a bribe or draw their weapon and use it appropriately, then they aren't really law enforcement. They're just a bunch of regular-guy assholes with a license to shoot at you or otherwise ruin your day. Yes, if there was a situation in which I was responsible for stopping an armed killer I would probably pull out my gun and pull the trigger until it was empty, hitting basically nothing. That's why it's a pretty goddamn good thing that I'm not entrusted with that responsibility. Or a gun.

If New York or any other city has armed officers on the street who can't do any better than Spray & Pray, even the most ardent NRA-loving, authority worshiping people among us must find that unacceptable. Right? Is there some sort of right wing paranoid argument in favor of police being lousy shots that I'm missing? If we can't do anything about police being increasingly militarized and increasingly reliant on force (which, again, appears to have been well justified in this situation) we can at least insist that they hit what they're shooting at.

Oh, and on the subject of militarization, this is a great example of why police are meant to use standard police calibers rather than the military-style "MOAR POWER!" rounds they've been gravitating toward in recent years. If a bullet misses and strikes a bystander or hits the pavement, shatters, and then strikes several bystanders, pistol-type rounds are used to reduce the odds that those unintended injuries will be fatal. Imagine the body count if these had been among the frightening number of NYPD units with .223 rifles or other quasi-military weapons designed to penetrate walls and kill people on the other side.

35 thoughts on “SPRAY AND PRAY”

  • Middle Seaman says:

    The reason the police didn't meet Hollywood precision expectation is not fear nor lack of training. A sniper on the roof is precise; the sniper is static and waiting. In dynamic situations, unless you are next to the target, most shooters miss a lot. That's a fact; the NRA doesn't admit it.

    Actually, less lethal weapons will have much better results. Different procedures might help too.

  • You may have logic and common sense on your side, but I have the movie "Red Dawn", which teaches us that your average American teenager can take down an entire Soviet army with nothing more than scavenged weapons and 100% pure American Grit. So I think We the People can be trusted to handle our guns just fine, Comrade.

    You may say, "Hey, jackass, that was just a movie" to which I respond "You're goddamned right, and It. Was. Awesome. WOLVERINES!"

    /goes back to reading American Handgunner

  • An interesting post, but I think you missed something more compelling: If supposedly well trained cops can miss a single assailant and wound far more bystanders, perhaps more firepower isn't a way to actually prevent injuries, so much as to maim/kill the person responsible whatever the cost to those nearby.

    I remember the internet arguments following the Tucson shooting about how the tragedy could have been avoided if there was only armed non-police responders nearby. Though we can't scientifically deal with these kinds of scenarios, I think this recent shooting provides some compelling evidence to show that argument to be exactly what it is: bullshit.

  • I've always loved Red Dawn for its pure cheesy goodness.

    Forget securing major ports and transportation centers.

    Nope, the Soviets are going to waste an elite airborne unit attacking Podunkville Colorado, population 150, strategic value approximately zero.

  • As a Noo Yawker (Manhattan division), I've been waiting in vain for this discussion, but in the MSM, and in whatever watered-down form that's acceptable to them. But IN VAIN. And as usual Ed, the most trenchant scribe in the field, expresses my plaint. "Spray and Pray!" Maybe the embarrassment is that the recruits are impossible dullards whose prime accomplishment is learning how to tie their shoes. Whatever the problem, I suspect we're now afraid of discussing it. Think of the angry letters pouring into the studio! The victims' families feelings will get hurt if they think the deaths/wounds were unavoidable!

    Then there's Stop and Frisk, and the Occupy scare. I regularly go to a farmer's market on 14th St. next to the park, where people (naturally) congregate. It's been a game these past few months, whenever I see 100 cops collected on the sidewalk with 7-8 vans parked nearby to find the lone teenager wearing the "Occupy Wall Street" hand-lettered T-shirt. Usually he's stretched out on the steps asleep. I'm sure you think I'm exaggerating.

    We laid off how many teachers this year?

    And this is librul Noo Yawk, for Christ's sake.

    Ed made me feel better this a.m.: SOMEBODY nailed it. What would make me feel even better is if I learn that he has 1,000,000 followers…

  • Now, if everyone in NY had been armed, this guy wouldn't have gotten away as many shots, or something like that. That's always what gets me about the 'more guns make us safer' argument. Police, who are trained, don't always respond the way we want them to. But goddamit, I know I could do a hell of a lot better, even without training.

  • I always get a laugh out of the implication that the cops are "well trained" with their weapons. The truth is that the majority of them probably hit the range a couple times a year for mandatory training. That doesn't make you an expert marksman, that makes you barely competent to shoot holes in paper.

    Civilian training varies wildly from "I shot my grand pappy's .22 once" to "I shoot IDPA every Thursday" (And we do have cops at IDPA seeking additional practice). It's entirely possible that the kids from Red Dawn could outperform an average cop (although probably not Russian airborne).

  • I was under the impression that people were hit with parts from bullets that shattered when they hit concrete or steel, or were hit with bullets that ricocheted off the same.

  • In reference to the Tucson shooting, there was at least one armed civilian who, IIRC, distracted police officers who had to make sure he wasn't the shooter. The real heroes were the bystanders who TACKLED the nut job when his first high capacity mag ran dry, and he struggled to load another.

    And imagine what the movie theater in Colorado would have been like if one or two of these idiots had thrown more lead around…

    I'm quite the gun fan myself, but NRA/American attitudes about limiting them are idiotic, and top cops are usually the first to support gun control. But my buddy the APD officer represents the conservative morons who swell cop ranks. To him gun control is the beginning of the end, and Obama will send them to FEMA camps soon thereafter!

  • c u n d gulag says:

    These cops were NY City Liberal wussies.

    A TRUE American Patriot never ever misses the bullseye!

  • A militarized police isn't really there to Serve or Protect anyone. There's nothing wrong with sacrificing a few civilians for The Cause.

  • All the best training doesn't determine how you'll react when in a non-playacting situation.

    Moreover, most people don't actually want to shoot other people, and no amount of training can change that.

    When a person feels compelled to shoot, as part of his job, but doesn't have the heart to shoot to kill, it doesn't matter how good he is on the firing range. His hand will sometimes move to avoid the target. (Perhaps the useful training would be "when not to fire." Not that I believe any of the shooters would think "into a crowd" is a good option, but given that it takes so much to compel a person to try to shoot someone, it doesn't surprise me that the result is injudicious firing.)

    I would recommend this article by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman (who has a couple of fascinating books and a YouTube series — I don't agree with him across the board, but he has some great ideas): http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hope_on_the_battlefield

    What I wouldn't recommend is the Guns 'R Us article in the most recent issue of GQ (here it is, if you've time to waste: http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/201209/gun-shopping-gq-september-2012). I was interested, since the author started from the "Guns? Ew!" position and ended up buying one. (How often do you hear of someone changing his or her mind, these days?) But the author seems to have gone from ignorant rejection of guns to ignorant acceptance, and admits she doesn't know how to use the weapon she bought. Sigh.

    People seem to make up their minds about issues and immediately forget their reasoning, if they ever had it. At least they have no ability to discuss their topics with those who disagree. Attempts deteriorate rapidly. Rather than trying to see the other person's point of view (and change that perspective with facts or reason), both sides begin with an assumption that the other side is ignorant, evil, and ethically crippled; also that "all that stuff I read which convinced me" does not need to be furnished to the other party, who has clearly seen the same things and rejected them. Nor will either side stay open to the reasoned arguments of others.

    This drives me nuts. We need to have a reasonable discussion about guns in this country. The NRA is doing all it can to prevent reason. The GOP is endorsing this manipulation. And my buddies on the Left so often thoughtlessly reject the *need* for discussion that I can't defend them, either. As for me, I grew up in the country, and have used guns all my life. I cannot see why gun laws should not be more restrictive in cities, by charter, and I truly believe gun safety should be taught and tested, and users licensed, just as vehicle operation is.

    And I also believe that gun use by police officers should be limited, and alternatives pursued. The officers themselves might not agree at first, but I think they might feel some relief at trying to capture, not kill.

  • I own guns and I'm a pretty decent shot. In the Air Force I used to score "expert" when qualifying with the 9mm.

    I also see no reason for me to carry a gun around in public. I can think of very few scenarios so dire that I would need the weapon, yet not so dire that I would still be in a position to employ the weapon.

    I also think that carrying a weapon might create somewhat of a false sense of security where I might be less inclined to avoid trouble.

  • What the guns in public thing boils down to, for me, is that while I don't particularly trust every yahoo with a gun, I do trust myself to a much greater degree than I trust the folks who shoot 16 rounds and hit 10 people (one of whom they were aiming at) when they're not Macing grandmothers because the old lady had a dangerous sign pointed at them. Alex is correct regarding police versus civilian "training," the myth that cops are inherently better at everything because they have some magical training the rest of us cannot aspire to notwithstanding.

    And since I don't rule the world (yet), I don't get to decide who is and isn't allowed to own a gun. A gun is not the solution to every–or even very many–situations, but I'd rather have the option than not.

    And Jeff, I'd like to see a link to where the guy in Tucson kept the police from intervening. IIRC, a bystander had a gun and decided not to pull it, because contrary to popular belief, concealed carry permit holders aren't actually looking for any excuse to go all Rambo on a crowd of innocent people.

    All that said, I'm really looking forward to the Red Dawn remake.

  • "And Jeff, I'd like to see a link to where the guy in Tucson kept the police from intervening. IIRC, a bystander had a gun and decided not to pull it, because contrary to popular belief, concealed carry permit holders aren't actually looking for any excuse to go all Rambo on a crowd of innocent people."

    I suspect he is conflating two stories of that day, one where the assailant had already been disarmed and a bystander had his weapon and one where the CCW holder made a decision not to engage that person (which turned out to be lucky since he wasn't the shooter) into a third narrative. Nonetheless, it's not an unreasonable notion that a bystander who is armed (for any reason) could be misidentified in a situation like that, even if their weapon isn't drawn.

  • I don't particularly trust people who say things like "Be polite to everyone you meet – but have a plan to kill them" to be wandering around in public with guns.

    Nor do I trust the guy with the "I don't call 911" bumper sticker on his truck.

    You know who I'm talking about.

  • mel in oregon says:

    with police wounding 9 citizens, a very good argument against allowing every tom, dick & harry to carry any kind of weapon around in public on the absurdity that they will kill the mass murderer. with the increasing militarization of all police forces in the united states, american citizens are basically looked upon by police forces as collateral damage if they happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

  • Well, yes, but you see the logic goes "I need to have enough firepower to take on the now-militarized police force when Obama sends them to take my guns".

  • ' All the best training doesn't determine how you'll react when in a non-playacting situation. '

    LB nailed it. I have former cop friend who emptied his clip while standing on one side of an automobile while the person on the other side emptied their clip. Point blank sixteen shots. Neither hit the other. He changed careers shortly there after.

  • Even in warfare, historically most small arms fire has been used to pin people down. Artillery is (mostly) what kills people on the battlefield.

    Surveys done after WWII showed a surprising number of soldiers didn't even fire their rifle when taking enemy fire, and many others didn't aim.

  • @Doug:"Point blank sixteen shots. Neither hit the other. He changed careers shortly there after."

    Became a writer for Police Squad?

    Anyway, I wouldn't jump on the cops too much here. All the points are probably accurate and reasonable, but there it is. A lot of cops do the best they can, but most of them don't get to deal with this often (if at all), and even good training is not the real world. I suppose it would be nice if cops were carefully and selectively hired from ex-military, so you got the guys who try to avoid violence rather than the guys who wallow in it. Still, it's a tough problem. You hire from the guys who apply. They get trained the way they get trained, and they learn the ropes from the guys they're with and the people around them. As a side note, I learned something many years ago working at Scout camp that's turned out to be broadly applicable: Over years of watching scout troops come and go, it seemed to me that about 70% of the leaders were more or less OK, about 5-10% of them were good, and the rest were horrible and should never have been allowed in. I've since seen about those same ratios in teaching, in administrators, really in most areas of human endeavor that involve large groups of people. Unless you've got something like Special Forces or some other area where you can pick and choose your applicants and make sure that each and all are well-prepared and ready, you're going to sometimes end up with the wrong guys in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don't know what the solution is. Were societies that much more lawless when we had fewer cops, or were there relatively more cops in smaller cities, or were societies more self-policing, or were the cops more effective? Beats the heck out of me. All I know is that if I were a cop, I'd really hate to feel that even low-level jerks had me out-gunned. Of course I wouldn't ever want to be a cop. It's too felking dangerous.

  • Your criticism of the cop's training and coolness-under- fire as well as that directed towards the apologists for the cops and advocates for an armed citizenry being a polite citizenry is legitimate with some weaknesses as pointed out above by those noting that even trained personnel don't always react well when shit hits the fan and targets have the potential to fire back.

    OTOH your comments regarding firearms, ballistics, etc., are indicative of abject ignorance of weapons and their capabilities.

  • If you want to talk about weapons and their capabilities, I own everything from a .32 ACP up to 8mm Mauser….

  • One of the largest problems with NYPD fire training is actually the weapons themselves. The NYPD use pistols all modified to a 12 lb trigger pull. Instead of going the route in which only the first shot has the higher trigger weight, so as to avoid accidental discharge, they simply went with always 12lb trigger weight.

    This does 2 things. 1: They didn't alter their firearms training when they switched from Colt .38 revolvers and 2: It's far more inaccurate in a firefight situation such as this.

    Hopefully, this situation will get the NYPD to look at modifying their firearm training after this (doubtful), so officers will be better prepped for events like this.

  • "Yes, if there was a situation in which I was responsible for stopping an armed killer I would probably pull out my gun and pull the trigger until it was empty, hitting basically nothing. That's why it's a pretty goddamn good thing that I'm not entrusted with that responsibility. Or a gun."

    Speak for yourself Ed. And whilst most of you non-patriots may suck, I would've nailed this guy with one shot, at night, in heavy crosswinds at 500m with my Glock.

    Don't believe me? Well I've got the Doom scores to prove it!

  • Hey look, what do you want? They don't teach the cops to shoot, after all… The reason is that they are afraid that if they did, the cops would commit suicide with their service weapon more often. I have a friend who is a (retired) transit cop. (The difference is only the service they are assigned to after they graduate from cop school. Most become "city" cops, some become transit cops, or housing cops, or sanitation cops. They all get basically the same training, though…)

    He spent a total of about 18 hours in fire-arms instruction, according to his training log-book. Several of those hours were spent in how to SAFELY unload and clean his weapon. After graduating he got maybe 4 hours all told on the range each year- much if the the time spent waiting for a firing position to come available. He fired maybe half a box of ammo.

    Compare this to my basic training in the U. S. Army. Two weeks on the range – 8 hours a day. (With a break for lunch.) Hundreds of rounds per day – learning to hit targets out to 300 yds – with iron sites, no 'scopes. And then more days spent in learning "fire and maneuver" – leaving a starting line and running WITH A LOADED WEAPON to an designated position, falling to a prone position, and then hitting anywhere from one to three of four pop-up targets. Do this every day for a week.

    You learn to shoot ACCURATELY or you drop back a class and learn to do it a second or third time.

    Cops are "taught" to fire at "center of mass". They don't get enough time to stop being afraid of the weapon, much less learn how to control it: a pistol, especially one fired "off-hand" (a single-hand grip), winds up pointing any old which-way. IF you then squeeze the trigger again, and again, and again, why it is only to be expected that your shots will wind up all over the place.

    But proper fire-arms training is expensive. Just think of all those bullets that are "wasted"…

  • Major Kong-
    You might want to read up on the "few soldiers fired" during WWII story. The methodology for that research has been questioned (to put it mildly) and even the integrity of the historian is in doubt. From Wiki:

    Professor Roger J. Spiller (Deputy Director of the Combat Studies Institute, US Army Command and General Staff College) demonstrated in his 1988 article "S.L.A. Marshall and the Ratio of Fire" (RUSI Journal, Winter 1988, pages 63–71) that Marshall had not actually conducted the research upon which he based his ratio of fire theory. "The 'systematic collection of data' appears to have been an invention."[3] This revelation called into question the authenticity of some of Marshall's other books, and lent academic weight to doubts about his integrity that had been raised in military circles even decades earlier.[4]

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