Monday, July 23, 2012

A Little Reality For Our Side

The response of many gun rights people is to say, "If the theater didn't have a no-guns policy, someone could have returned fire." True.  And there have been cases where this has worked out, such as Jeanne Assam's shooting of a murderer in the lobby of the church in Colorado Springs several years.  But The Joker was wearing body armor, and throwing tear gas.  Returning fire under those circumstances had more chance of success than praying for a meteor strike to take out the bad guy, but the core problem here is that someone clearly was mentally ill--and we no longer make any serious efforts as a society to help mentally ill people.

UPDATE: This account describes the "urban assault vest" that The Joker was wearing as costing $300.  That's too cheap to be bulletproof.  This report points to the vest, which does not appear bulletproof.  Still, he was wearing black (making him hard to see), wearing a Kevlar helmet.  This would have been a very difficult shot to make in darkness, with tear gas.

UPDATE 2: A reader points to a picture in this article that could be soft body armor.  One problem is that the tactical nylon vest isn't necessarily much different in dimensions from soft body armor.

UPDATE 3: It does appear that the vest was not bulletproof.  This would still have been a hard shot to make in the darkness, but consider the alternative.


  1. Body armor isn't magic.

    When a bullet leaves a gun it has kinetic energy as expressed as the mass of the bullet times the square of the velocity of the bullet at the instant of impact.

    Normally a bullet does damage by virtue of penetrating trauma and that is much more instantly lethal. Body armor prevents the penetrating trauma but it is simple physics that all of that energy has to go somewhere. Being hit by a large caliber handgun round while wearing body armor is much like getting hit with a sledgehammer.

    And there are a few handgun rounds (such as the 7.62x25mm Tokarev and the 5.7mm) that have a penchant for defeating body armor. The Tokarev round has been observed to pass through a modern U.S. Army-issue helmet.

    A round or two put into a person wearing body armor may not kill him, but it will disable him for a period of time. That time can well be used to move close and disarm him or use additional rounds other vital areas to ensure he is no longer a threat.

    The Mozambique drill is still taught in many tactical classes for a reason. Two to the body plus one to the head will negate almost any threat.

  2. In the dark, with tear gas? I suspect that even making center of mass hits would have been quite difficult.

  3. The only way I can see that the no guns policy might have influenced the murderer is if its absence induced him to not act. I think the teargas showed his intent to overcome the likelihood of someone shooting back, as well as the armor and the black clothing. With those other factors, the likelihood of a hit on the shooter by someone else in that theater was, as my high school physics teacher said, "a non-zero probability." This is one of those freak occurrences involving violence where a gun probably would not help. Unfortunately for those for whom armed civilians is their Bete Noir, there will be attempts to make policy based on this event. When seatbelts were not yet required in cars I recall stories about various freak accidents where the driver (no passengers were present) survived unhurt because he was NOT wearing the seat belt. As someone said once, "the fight may not always go to the strong, but that's not the way to bet."

  4. Probably very difficult, though a laser helps. That is not a reason not to try and to have something available to try with.

    There is no mass shooting to date that became *worse* due to the presence of an armed citizen. Even a miss might have made him stop sooner and retreat thus saving at least some lives.

    BTW Mr. Cramer, having read your book about your brother I'm inclined to agree that the definitive solution to a majority of these incidents is the early identification and institutionalization of the violently mentally ill.

    It's unfortunate that too many people will seek other "solutions" rather than address the real problem.

  5. Clayton: I don't know about the vest you've highlighted, but look here for a vest at the scene the dimensions of which (thickness and height) are consistent with real Level III-A or less concealable soft body armor and/or hard plates.

    Shoulder or pelvis would have been vulnerable areas, as well as his head (even if his helmet was real armor, especially with its small size (not an infantryman's one for best fragment protection), a hit on it would have more than distracted him).

    But I too am skeptical about the prospects for an armed citizen stopping him, particularly given the distances in a theater. Possible, but much less likely than in a number of other incidents.

  6. Knitebane: there's one important bit of physics you've left out of your analysis for modern soft body armor: as the Kevlar(TM) or whatever fibers stop the penetration, they also stretch (permanently deform); the work required to do that decreases the impact.

    Also, if he procured hard plates, if hit by with handgun bullets they probably would have saved him from serious physical trauma. Although their coverage is small and he clearly didn't have side plates (based on the picture I linked to), not that they're big anyway.

  7. Any bullet strikes would have slowed him down.

    No question it would have been best if Holmes had been in a psych ward or at least on heavy meds before this happened.

    Of course the chances of responding with lethal force against him would have been difficult and may not have been effective under the circumstances, but I'd still want that option and without that option I'd rather watch movies at home!

  8. The Daily Mail article shows a picture of the exit with the AR-15 with what looks a 20 or 30 round mag rether than the 100 round snail drum everyone's talking about. In my limited experience, third party high capacity mags tend to jam. Besides, how long does it take to swap a reliable 20 round mag? Nobody's going to rush you in that time. Banning high capacity mags won't make much difference.

  9. Don't let the gun grabbers find out that a skilled person can switch 5 round mags very quickly so mag capacity limits won't do squat. I just heard about the Howard Johnson massacre from the early 70's on NPR radio during the call in about Aurora and apparently the guy that did that was using 5 round mags. Google it if you hadn't heard of this case or forgot.