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April 18, 2007

Comments

I think people are conceptualizing this as if it's a high school or something. If I live in a town of 20,000 people, and the police declare that no one is allowed to leave their house because there may be a killer on the loose, I'm going to see that as pretty drastic.

On the other hand, there's the intermediate position of saying that there should have been a warning. Again, people are maybe thinking about this as though the huge college campus is a high school with loudspeakers in every hall.

In a perfect world, where it was possible to communicate with all the students instantaneously whether on or off campus, I might have announced that classes are cancelled due to a shooting on campus, police have reason to believe that the shooter is no longer around, but everyone should exercise caution just the same if they move around campus. There's nothing wrong with encouraging people to stay home if they don't have to go out, after all.

But it's not a perfect world, and I just don't see how this is feasible.

When I spoke to my friend at VT around 10:30 Monday morning, all she had heard was that they were telling people to stay in their room and keep away from the windows.

Question and a comment:

Who wrote this post?

I think I picked this up from a commenter at another blog, but I don't think lock-down should be the relevant concept. My understanding, which I have no reason to doubt in this case, is that lock-down started out as a term for what was done done in prisons in which people are quite literally being forced into confinement during periods of potential violent.

Exactly what degree of force are we talking about when we say that universities or employers should be locking things down? Is it really relevantly similar?

VT is 2600 acres and several hundred buildings, many of them labyrinthine. On foot it's very easy to get on campus, and there are lots of ways in by car as well. It would be very, very difficult to "lock down" that campus. There are no fences to draw around the property and no spiffy concrete barricades like the ones they've spent the last six years installing on Capitol Hill.

Think of it like a small town.

When you find two people of opposite gender murdered in a living area, do you immediately assume this is a insane person on a terror spree? Or do you think jealous lover? I don't think anyone can be blamed for thinking this was limited a crime of passion.

So, if there's a domestic violence event in an apartment building on one end of town, do you drive around telling people to lock their doors and stay inside? Do you shutter all the businesses and send the office workers home? Of course not.

The people saying "lockdown" are not thinking of this clearly and they are definitely operating from the vantage point of hindsight.

There weren't smaller units they could have "locked down", like perhaps buildings? I doubt they actually had the resources to lock down the entire campus, in any effective way.

There's actually one technical fix for this, which could be implemented fairly easily; The sound of a gun being fired is very distinctive, and can be identified and localized on an automated basis. And, outside of the gun range, that sound is pretty good evidence that something the police ought to be interested in is going down.

Why don't more places invest in automated gunshot detecting systems?

I agree with Steve and w/d. What would it even mean to lock down the campus? It's the middle of the day. People are everywhere, in class, at the gym, walking around, etc.

Would you send loudspeaker trucks around? What would you tell people to do, and how would you tell them? Sounds simplistic to me.

How good is your email server? And is email an appropriate notification system?

How fast can your email server send tens of thousands of emails? Mine would take half a day to do 35,000.

Of course you can lock down buildings, but what do you do about the people outside? How do they get to "safety"? This is not high school where people are only allowed to be out of classrooms between periods. Students -- *adults* -- live and work here.

And, as I said, some of these buildings are old and labyrinthine. There are *lots* of doors. If everyone's going around locking them, who is there to respond to the events?

Plus, the first murders were in a dorm where people are relatively isolated in rooms. A couple people in a room seem a more likely target than many. On a risk matrix, you would assume that it would be safer in large groups, like classrooms. And the shooter was a student: suppose they locked down buildings and some students were left outside. Would they be locked out to be ravaged by the unknown killer, or let in when they showed an ID card? Given that the killer was an "insider," I don't think there are a lot of reasonable precautions that would have prevented this.

Additionally, the first murders happened two hours earlier. How long would they be locked down before it was lifted? It sounds as though the police were fixated on the boyfriend of the first victim, not the killer. Since the killer was apparently not a suspect immediately, he could have just waited out any lockdown, or if caught in one killed everyone locked down with him.

I just think in this scenario a lockdown is not a reasonable expectation, nor were there a lot of good alternatives but perhaps prevention through less stringent privacy rights.

I don't know that locking the campus down would have been feasible.

Cancelling classes for the day certainly could have been.

But what would have been the most reasonable move would have been to make an announcement that there had been two murders in a campus dorm room, and that at that point the perpetrator was still at large-then let students and faculty decide whether they wanted to assume any risk by being on campus until more information was known.

Email for security on a campus would be marginally effective at best. The campus can likely blast out a bunch of email in a very short time, especially if they shift their bandwidth management to maximize output from the email server and let everything else hang.

The problem is that you have 20k plus people who are in varying degrees of contact via email and who have wildly varying schedules. Some are en route from off-campus. Some are on-campus but away from their email. Some don't check email but every other day. Some are leaving campus because they don't have classes on MWF or have part time jobs or have finished their one class for the day or whatever.

If I'm in class teaching, I am not checking email. My students may be checking theirs during class, but most of them are either taking notes or Google-jockying info for the class. Anyone actually in-class and in danger is less likely to be reached by email at that time than at any other time in the school day.

A university isn't just a small town. It's community that shares a lot more in common: dining facilities, exercise facilities, classrooms. So the comparisons with police actions if my neighbor were shot don't seem particularly apt.

I don't think you'd need a lockdown if the campus isn't particularly centralized, but what would have been wrong with cancelling classes until they knew where the gunman was or could conclude that he was off-campus? If students don't drive in from off-campus, they're not there; if they're not in classes, they're not a potential shooting gallery.

VA Tech cancelled classes at the start of the school year because it was suspected that an escaped convict was on campus. How does a murder happening in a student dorm not merit the same level of concern?

Geeze, why not use text messages instead of email? Practically nobody on campus would be without a cellphone.

I think it would have been very hard to lock down the whole campus. It would have been relatively easy to cancel all classes and email a warning to everyone. I am very reluctant to second-guess people's crisis responses, but without wanting to cast blame, I think this would have been the right thing to do, since the killer was still at large, and while they thought it was some sort of limited quarrel, they really didn't know that. And while faculty might or might not have gotten emails, my sense is that students are a lot more email- and IM-oriented than we are, so they might well have.

The next step between that and a lockdown, I think, would have been to put police in some places -- e.g., main quads, outside dorm rooms -- and use them to ask people to go back to their rooms. This wouldn't be locking down the whole campus, but trying to keep people in their rooms until they knew what was going on. I don't know whether, without the luxury of hindsight, I would have done that. I might well have put people around classroom buildings to inform people there about the cancellation of classes.

Text messaging might work, so long as the student was not already in class. Students are asked to turn off their cell phones during class, which is, after all, where they were when the shooter found them.

"Of course you can lock down buildings, but what do you do about the people outside? How do they get to "safety"?"

In the real-world event, the problem appeared to have been the people indoors who couldn't get away because there was only one door. As a result, the guy was presented with a target-rich environment.

People outside could scatter, giving the shooter fewer targets.

IMHO, simply letting people know there's a loony out with a gun (perhaps via cellphones and reverse-911, at least to the faculty and staff) would be a big help. People aren't familiar with the sound of real guns, and it's easy to assume you're just hearing fireworks.

Tipping them off ahead of time would help people take action if they hear popping noises - running in the opposite direction, for one, or barricading the door as was successful in at least one case at VT.

It wouldn't be foolproof. A loon with a gun would probably manage to kill a few people. But they'd have a hard time matching the VT death toll.

" It would have been relatively easy to cancel all classes and email a warning to everyone."

I'm guessing most people at a college aren't actually in front of a computer very often, so I don't see email as being viable. I think they *did* send email at VT, actually.

Recorded audio or text messages to faculty, staff, and students would be more effective. You wouldn't have to reach everyone, the message ought to spread rapidly.

Cancel classes on the basis of a murder that took place in a dorm? OK, and where do the kids go when their classes are cancelled?

We know the killer targeted a classroom building because that's where he went. We know it after the fact. That's not very useful for the police who were trying to deal with a situation that seemed, at first, to be a domestic killing, and who thought they already had a suspect.

There was a 2-hour gap between murders - enough time for an email message to go out. But there was no certain knowledge the killer was still on campus, still intending to kill more people - and, above all, no foreknowledge of where he'd go.

Cancel classes and everyone has to go somewhere - to libraries, or back to their dorms, or to a campus cafe... and no one can say that, if classes were cancelled, whether the killer would have gone to one of those spots instead. Or just opened fire out in the open, at people scurrying away from the classrooms.

Unless the school had a crisis plan that involved getting everyone to a pre-secured location - and where do you put thousands of people in a hurry? - I don't see what good cancelling classes would have been.

No, if we must find fault (and I'm not sure we should) it lies in the failure to follow up on the numerous warning signs this guy was crazy and potentially violent. And even there, since he was supposed to be in therapy, and he had already been in an institution, it seems that the only recourse would have been to involuntarily commit him, long before he went on his killing spree. The other possible failure is that his history of mental disorders wasn't on whatever the gun shop used for its one-minute (one minute!) background check.


CaseyL: I was thinking that dorm rooms contain smaller numbers of people, with doors that lock.

People outside could scatter, giving the shooter fewer targets.

This is 110% hindsight, though. It's not reasonable to expect them to anticipate the exact scenario that played out.

Apparently they're actually considering some kind of test-message based system for the future. Maybe that will become standard practice at colleges everywhere. For my part, as a guy who went to school back when only drug dealers had pagers, the thought never would have occurred to me.

Another reason not to cancel classes is accountability. By having students go to class, you would (assuming someone takes attendance) know that there were not others dead in their dorm rooms with the doors locked, or perhaps being held in a room still alive where the killer is hiding during the search.

In years past (probably the 50's), as I understand it, college students lived in a much more structured environment, with expectations to actually go to class, did not have an expectation of privacy in their rooms (so a gun might be found during health and welfare inspections), and going to school was a privilege that could be lost if you were asked to go to counseling and failed to do so, or had stalking complaints. I think any serious attempt to make campuses safer from student rampages would need to start with returning to a more structured environment.

You do not shut down the whole campus based on a shooting in which two people are killed in the dorm. Even though you know a killer is on the loose, it does not make sense. It also makes no sense to justify a highly aggressive response because in hindsight, it might have prevented what is otherwise an insanely random and rare mass murder.

The simple fact is that there is no real expectation that a mass murder is about to occur because a homicide is discovered. I am sure that there is an appropriate security response after a homicide is discovered, but it cannot be shutting down the entire university.

It is very unfair to find fault with people for not doing extraordinary acts that would have then prevented an extraordinary event, because normally the extraordinary response would be rightly be viewed as ridiculous.

Or else we should all wear football helmets all the time to protect us from stray meteorites.

"This is 110% hindsight, though. It's not reasonable to expect them to anticipate the exact scenario that played out."

It'd help in pretty much any scenario. Even if the guy goes to a high place with a rifle, dispersing people is going to help. Especially if they are scattering and have been informed where *not* to go.

What would not help in that situation is a pre-set plan to gather in, say, the area overlooked by the sniper's position.

I mean, the only scenario in which dispersal would not help would be a campus invasion by many armed men who could block many avenues of movement.

In response to Cala's query about the difference between the escaped convict and a (supposed) murder in a college dorm:

I think there's a clear difference in threat. If you have what you suspect to be a domestic violence incident, which is what the first killing looked like, then you're dealing with someone who attacked an intended target and planned to sneak away. You don't expect other people to be a threat unless they're immediate witnesses.

With an escaped convict who's already murdered a police officer, however, you have a greater potential for a hostage situation or someone being caught in the crossfire of a active and serious manhunt.

You do not shut down the whole campus based on a shooting in which two people are killed in the dorm. Even though you know a killer is on the loose, it does not make sense.

How long does it take to know that a killer is on the loose?

On CSI, it takes approximately 12 minutes to look at all the forensic evidence and figure out that the guess of the officers on the scene wasn't right---but how long does it take in real life?

I mean, the only scenario in which dispersal would not help would be a campus invasion by many armed men who could block many avenues of movement.

Or, perhaps, a scenario where people get picked off individually or in small groups with no one having any idea that killings are going on.

There's like a million different scenarios that could play out. Plenty of them would feature safety in numbers. You just don't know.

CaseyL writes: "There was a 2-hour gap between murders - enough time for an email message to go out. But there was no certain knowledge the killer was still on campus, still intending to kill more people - and, above all, no foreknowledge of where he'd go."

Prisons have been known to automatically notify surrounding neighborhoods in the event of an escape. Never mind that the escapee might have headed for the state line.

Warning the students and staff equips them to respond more appropriately. They may never need to, but it's better to be prepared than to ignore those loud pops and the commotion outside.

"Unless the school had a crisis plan that involved getting everyone to a pre-secured location - and where do you put thousands of people in a hurry? - I don't see what good cancelling classes would have been."

Great idea, gather everyone together so that the unidentified gunman can kill even more people.

(Twelve minutes being the time to the next commercial break, that is....)

"Or, perhaps, a scenario where people get picked off individually or in small groups with no one having any idea that killings are going on."

If he's using a garotte, I don't think he's going to be able to kill many people.

What's wrong with 72-hour waiting periods/background checks before someone can buy a gun?

Real background checks. Not just a cursory scan of some prior-conviction database, but one that looks at threshhold incidents, and esp. mental health history.

And, if someone with that kind of history shows up wanting to buy a gun, the gun shop notifies the police, who go check the would-be buyer out, see why s/he wanted a gun, and hopefully prevent him or her from getting a weapon illegally.

But which event is more likely: after killing a girl and a boy in the dorm, the killer chooses to escape; or the killer repeats his efforts killing singly or twos; or he waits two hours, sends email to NBC, and then goes to an occupied building killing everyone he sees?

When considering risk management, you would typically rate things on the scale of likihood vs consequences. While the consequences of the mass killing are much higher, the likelihood of the continuation or escape is much higher. consequences for escape and continued individual killing is still high. In reaction to the first set with those possibilities, I would be concerned about the most likely responses, not the most dangerous.

Why wouldn't you conclude that the safest place for students is in large groups of other adults? How often does an attack there happen, vs having people picked off one at a time?

I live in a small town of just over 20,000 people. It's about four square miles in size, which translates to just about 2600 acres.

We don't get many murders here, none in several decades in fact, but if one did happen to occur, the town would not be shut down. It's hard to see how you would actually do that even if you wanted to, and we're surrounded on three sides by ocean, with a small river between us and the next town on the fourth side.

As a practical matter, it would just be damned hard to do.

The shooter at VT was a disaffected, alienated, angry guy. He wanted to kill people, he had guns and ammo, and he didn't much care what happened to himself. I'm not sure how "locking down the campus" would make much of a dent in that.

Hindsight is 20/20. There may have been things the administration at VT could or should have done, and I'm sure those things will be brought vividly to their attention over the next few days and weeks. But IMO it's really hard to fault them for not anticipating an act of mass homicidal rage.

Thanks -

If they had an active policy of canceling classes when there was some kind of security threat, I think hoaxes (gunshots, bomb threats, "I saw a gun with a gun" etc.) would quickly render that system useless.

It seems to me that in this particular instance, if classes were canceled and everyone went home, then the killer might not have been able to harm so many people. But though tragic, events of this nature are still extremely rare. If you institute a policy like this, you'll probably have to go the whole hog and have campus police check every building etc. In most situations, that probably be a counterproductive use of resources and time.

More useful, and surely this will become the norm now, would be much stricter responses to students who exhibit warning signs. And there's always warning signs. Luckily, in the close quarters of university living, people on the verge of losing it should be easier to spot than in the general public.

"On CSI, it takes approximately 12 minutes to look at all the forensic evidence and figure out that the guess of the officers on the scene wasn't right---but how long does it take in real life?"

As I pointed out above, automated gunshot detection systems exist which can distinguish the sound of firearms from similar noises such as firecrackers and exaust backfires. For instance,

http://www.shotspotter.com/products/faq.html

Equip a campus with such a system, and the police would know within moments that somebody was firing a gun, and within a very short range where each shot was fired.

The application of such systems to incidents like this one is obvious. Sometimes there ARE technical fixes, you know...

"What's wrong with 72-hour waiting periods/background checks before someone can buy a gun?"

It's a god damn civil liberty, that's what's wrong. Can't ask somebody who wants to vote to show picture ID, but when it comes to the rights the left doesn't like, everything goes...

I think the best response I have heard to someone saying that the campus should have been locked down is

"..and why don't you invade Iraq while your at it?"

CaseyL: What's wrong with 72-hour waiting periods/background checks before someone can buy a gun?

Nothing at all.

I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I will support a 30 day waiting period and an extensive background check into every aspect of my life before I can buy even a .22 rifle. I can wait a month to go plinking. If I feel I need a handgun to protect my life, I’ll sleep with a bat beside the bed for the month. I suppose if I can reasonably prove I have something to really worry about, I’d like to speed it up to a week or a few days.

I am for gun rights and reasonable precautions. I don’t feel the need for a full-auto anything BTW (been there done that, it is hard to hit anything). I prefer rifles and bolt-action myself.

One exception – every woman who gets a restraining order against her former spouse/lover should get a handgun and immediate training on how to use it. Most murders that I note, are women who have a current retraining order against their ex.

If they had an active policy of canceling classes when there was some kind of security threat, I think hoaxes (gunshots, bomb threats, "I saw a gun with a gun" etc.) would quickly render that system useless.

A brief anecdote.

When I was in college (very late 70's) calling in bomb threats during exam weeks became all the rage. It wasn't, at the time, a completely idle threat. It got to the point where, simply to keep on functioning, the university would simply send someone around to the classes to tell us that a bomb threat had been called in for our building, but it was up to us whether we actually wanted to leave or not.

Fortunately, nothing ever actually blew up.

It's a god damn civil liberty, that's what's wrong.

Cho apparently had been committed, involuntarily, to a mental institution a couple of years prior to this incident, and had been involved in stalking incidents. There is no way on God's green earth that he should have been able to obtain a firearm. Period.

I had to wait three freaking days for my home equity line of credit to clear before I could access the funds. Waiting three days to obtain a license to carry a firearm does not seem like an undue burden.

Many rights that we hold to be inviolable are also not considered to be absolute as regards their actual exercise. Yell "fire" in a crowded movie theater and see what happens.

Thanks -

"Can't ask somebody who wants to vote to show picture ID, but when it comes to the rights the left doesn't like, everything goes..."

Gun-buying day doesn't come but once every four years.

The right to keep and bear arms wouldn't appear to also require on-demand access when seeking to acquire one. There's an explicit right to a speedy trial, but not to a speedy gun purchase.

"Why don't more places invest in automated gunshot detecting systems?"
And then we could send some cheap generic versions over to Iraq.

jrudkis writes: "But which event is more likely: after killing a girl and a boy in the dorm, the killer chooses to escape; or the killer repeats his efforts killing singly or twos; or he waits two hours, sends email to NBC, and then goes to an occupied building killing everyone he sees?"

The pattern seems to often be that a shooter will kill some people at home, then go to the office, or the school, or whatever. That seems to be similar to the pattern here with the dorm.

When they get to the school or workplace, they don't pussyfoot around plinking, they want mass casualties ASAP. So they go to a place indoors where people congregate. For example, the guy in Montreal last September went to the cafeteria.

The guys who stand off at a distance and pick people off seem to be a distinct minority. I can only think of two cases, the sniper in Texas, and the young kids in Jonesboro, Ark who fired from the woods.

There's clearly no point going to extreme measures to prevent *any* murders from happening. Given that most are committed by people known to the victims, you'd have to do remote education and ensure that no student ever met or learned the identity of a teacher or fellow student. (And that would just ensure that the eventual victims of the psychos just wouldn't be associated with the school.)

The question is, what can a school do to prevent a mass-casualty shooting of like this, where (unlike personal grudge shootings and similar) the victims probably never had anything to do with the killer. Or, if they can't prevent it, how can they prevent the shooter from having many targets?

Jon H,

Sure, that is the pattern for mass killings. It is not the pattern for the average killer. The average killer is much more prevalent, and therefore a more likely risk to guard against. We will have 14,000 murders this year, 100 or so from mass killers. As a risk manager, which do you put your resources in?

I wish people ( I mean people in general, not this thread)would stop discussing gun control as if it was one thing that a person could be for or against. As OSC Steve pointed out, there are lots of possible gun control provisions. A person might favor some but be against others.

"The average killer is much more prevalent, and therefore a more likely risk to guard against. We will have 14,000 murders this year, 100 or so from mass killers. As a risk manager, which do you put your resources in?"

The mass killings because they can be acted against. You can't do much to prevent a student from taking his girlfriend to a park and strangling her in 'rough sex', for example.

Basically, the first body are two are free.

I would suggest colleges should have a notification system in place for possible mass-casualty events, and try to protect students from non-student strangers (security cards and desk guards at buildings, police call boxes around campus, etc). And they should keep an eye out for stalker complaints. But that's about all they can do, short of educating students in opaque plastic bubbles of nutrient bath for four years.

That said, this was pretty much the best-case scenario for possibly preventing a mass killing on campus. A school has no way of knowing if a student has slaughtered his parents before coming to campus, which is the usual case. In this case, there was ample evidence that *something* was afoot.

If by "lockdown" you mean imprisoning adults against their will, that strikes me as a pretty substantial violation of their rights. 20,000 people, aproximately 19,999 of whom aren't even suspected of any wrongdoing, and someone wants to lock 'em all up for their own good? Somehow the phrases 'deprivation of liberty without due process' and 'false imprisonment' leap to mind.

The 911 call was placed at 7:15am. At 7:15am, campus officials knew that a killer with a gun was someplace on campus.

So, they did nothing. Does that seem like a reasonable response to you?

Rare is the class that is already in session at 7:15am. Those few which are could easily be reached and the attendees told to please return to their dorms and classroom buildings could have been locked by 8am.

Dorms could be secured by contacting the RA's. Surely the administration had their phone numbers. Off campus housing could likewise have been contacted.

Drive in entrances to the campus could have been blocked with personnel posted to turn away students.

Classes could have been cancelled and most students could have been secured, at least to a large degree, until law enforcement could reasonably determine that the killer with a gun was no longer on campus. They could have searched for him, at the very least.

Only 9000 students live on campus, so we are not talking about 20,000 people at 7:15am. 2600 acres is a large area but there are not so many buildings that they could not have been locked within a short time with the number of staff which exists on such a large campus.

They did nothing. Nothing. Nothing until it was far too late. And 33 people are dead. That is inexcusable.

The 911 call was placed at 7:15am. At 7:15am, campus officials knew that a killer with a gun was someplace on campus.

So, they did nothing. Does that seem like a reasonable response to you?

Actually, yes.

Please. Stop and THINK about this. The first sentence does not, in any way, invariably lead to the second sentence.

For example, wouldn't it help to establish if there is a killer loose? That it wasn't a murder/suicide?

Next, wouldn't it be good to see if the killer was still around or that he's gone?

And then, if he's gone, wouldn't it be nice to, oh, say, get a DESCRIPTION? (Like if it was a he or a she?) And wouldn't it be nice if the descriptions AGREED?

(And it's not like interviewing witnesses is instantaneous, either...)

Brett, gunfire detection systems would have been in limited use in this case as near as I can tell. A number of resources I've found online say they do not do a good job of detecting gunfire that occurs indoors.

Their primary purpose is detecting violent crime on city streets and/or military support. ShotSpotter, which you site, depends on triangulation from audio sensors outdoors.

http://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/fs000201.pdf

OCSteve: One exception – every woman who gets a restraining order against her former spouse/lover should get a handgun and immediate training on how to use it.

Excellent idea. That way when her former spouse/lover catches up with her, he can murder her with her own handgun, rather than having to buy his own.

I see someone comes from the John Derbyshire school of thought wherein it's a trivial matter to take a handgun away from someone trained in its use and pointing it at your torso. Wouldn't have thought that those two ran in the same intellectual circles, but there it is.

Phil, in your experience, is it so easy to kill someone you know well and intimately, when you don't know that they're trying to kill you? Because unless a woman is prepared to gun down her ex-spouse/ex-lover before he comes within reach, once he does, yes, if he outweighs and outreaches her he can take the handgun away from her. Do you have experience of this situation? If not, why are you presuming to lecture others that it's so easy just to shoot someone you used to care about who is making no overt threats?

Whereas if she's armed with a pepper spray and she thinks he might be about to attack her, she's free to use it - pepper spray isn't lethal, but certainly disabling enough to let another person get away. The ideal situation is for the police to arrest the creep, not for the woman to end up on trial for murder.

Um, do you even know what a restraining order is, and how one goes about getting one? (Hint: It's hard to get one against someone "who is making no overt threats." It's sometimes hard to get one against someone who IS making overt threats, as the poor woman who was lit on fire in Maryland last year can tell you.)

And can you think of legitimate reasons why a person who feels threatened enough to have gone through the immense trouble of getting a restraining order, a handgun, and proper training in its use, would then let the subject of that order get "within reach," let alone close enough to make physical contact?

How many people in the world do you think there are who are willing to reach out and grab a pistol of someone's hand when it's pointed at his chest? How simple do you think it is? Please dispense with your Hollywood videogame fantasies wherein people simply snatch handguns away, business-end first, and deal with reality.

I should add that the kinds of men you imagine who are willing to snatch guns right by the barrel out of womens' hands are extremely, extremely unlikely to be deterred even for a moment by pepper spray.

Whereas if she's armed with a pepper spray and she thinks he might be about to attack her, she's free to use it - pepper spray isn't lethal, but certainly disabling enough to let another person get away.

Actually, not at all certain.

Had a friend who taught a self defense class and he did a demonstration of pepper spray. There's a lag time in allowing the chemicals to work, even in the best cases, and a less than perfect application just pisses off the attacker but does not disable.

Phil- Nobody is talking about snatching handguns away while they're pointed at their chest. That's stupid.

Its also not how these things go down. Most people don't instantly draw a firearm on someone who's bothering them, even if they know the person previously acted creepy. Its a big step from being harassed by someone to threatening that person with lethal force. Most people don't make the leap automatically.

I've done some basic training in firearms use, and one of the interesting things, to me, was an experiment in which someone with a dummy gun had to draw it and fire it at an attacker who charged them from 20 feet away with a knife. You weren't allowed to draw until you could either see the knife, or the person charged you.

It was *damned hard.* Most of us got hypothetically stabbed a few times. And we were psychologically prepared, aware of the attacker, and using easy access methods of carrying the pistol.

The hollywood style "snatch the gun right from their hand" thing is stupid, but so is the wild west style "mow down the badguys instantly on sight" idea. Its tough to steal a gun from someone pointing it at your chest, but its not that tough to steal a gun from someone who just bought it yesterday and is fumbling to draw it from inside their clothes while you stand about a foot away, especially if the attacker entered the situation psychologically prepared to kill.

Phil - what Patrick said.

Also, I'll remind you I linked you to a website earlier that showed the relative numbers of women murdered by handguns versus women who successfully use handguns in self-defense.

It's about 100-to-1 odds.

I'd rather go for pepper spray in the eyes: I don't care how psychologically prepared to kill a person is, temporary blindness and difficulty breathing is going to slow them down. And, unlike using a gun, you can decide to use it when you only think the person approaching you may be going to do you damage.

Frankly, the real advantage of pepper spray is that people are more psychologically prepared to use it. Most normal people just aren't ready to kill at the drop of a hat.

Also you can keep it in your hand, in your pocket, and you don't feel as odd. Just make sure to shake it idly as you walk, because its a suspension and needs agitation.

Most real killers aren't much of a threat to people beyond the immediate people they killed. The majority of murders tend to be crimes of passion.

The problem in this case was that the police assumed without a lot of evidence that the initial murders were simply crimes of passion, and that the murderer was the boyfriend of the murdered girl.

I don't think that assumption was off base, it statistically was the most likely scenario, but until the cops had spoken with him, and either cleared or arrested him, risk to the compaus and other students to some degree should have been considered.

Like I said, I don't think a lock down would have been feasible or reasonable at that point.

Cancelling classes could have happened, and would have been advisable, but at the very least some kind of announcement of the murders and the fact that the gunman was still at large would have been the best bet.

At the very least, those who chose to attend class would have known or been more likely to know what those initial pops were, when the killing started, and maybe some could have moved more quickly to barricade the rooms etc.

As for lock downs, I am not sure what it would mean on a college campus, but at our school it generally means that windows are closed with shades pulled, and all classroom doors are kept shut and locked so that kids can exit, but nodoby can open the door and enter.

Also, entry into the school is tightly controlled-nobody is allowed in the building without reason.

Not sure that a lock down would do much to totally prevent a nut from doing this stuff, and I am not sure that a lock down would ahve prevented this either.

Actually I am not sure that much could have been done to prevent it, but I wonder if more could have been done to warn people of the risk/danger ahead of time.

Jes: Pepper spray or even CS won’t slow down a man bent on murder.

I made the comment originally, because if I think back 20 years or so, in almost every single instance I recall of a woman killed by her estranged whatever, she had a restraining order against him.

Court gives you a piece of paper and that makes you safe?

IMO once you get that piece of paper the odds just went up he is going to kill you, and possibly your children. It happens way too often.

Fumbling with the gun, having it taken - possibilities. A woman with nothing but hot sauce in a spray can when her estranged comes at her with murder in his eye – dead woman, maybe dead kids.

So I offered to trade my convenience purchasing a gun right away under normal circumstances, for that of arming and training a woman who needs it right now.

Seemed a fair trade to me.

BTW Jes, how is gun control working out in the UK?

Sorry this is not a link to the source, but I can’t find one for this study from the Centre for Defence Studies.

If you can link the original please do. If it is crap please debunk it, I will consider that...

Most real killers aren't much of a threat to people beyond the immediate people they killed. The majority of murders tend to be crimes of passion.

The problem in this case was that the police assumed without a lot of evidence that the initial murders were simply crimes of passion, and that the murderer was the boyfriend of the murdered girl.

I don't think that assumption was off base, it statistically was the most likely scenario, but until the cops had spoken with him, and either cleared or arrested him, risk to the compaus and other students to some degree should have been considered.

Who is the "him" in the last paragraph?

Phil- Nobody is talking about snatching handguns away while they're pointed at their chest. That's stupid.

Jesurgislac certainly is. Draw your own conclusion from that.

Its tough to steal a gun from someone pointing it at your chest, but its not that tough to steal a gun from someone who just bought it yesterday and is fumbling to draw it from inside their clothes while you stand about a foot away,

Are we all ignoring OCSteve's original statement stipulating proper firearms training for fun, or because we're not arguing in good faith, or . . . ? Help me out here. One assumes that that proper training would involve drawing the weapon and warning the potential assailant that you intend to shoot.

I'm not suggesting FORCING anyone to carry a gun. I'm saying that women who feel they need them so their crazy ex-boyfriends won't kill them should be allowed to have them.

Let's be clear here: If you've gotten a restraining order against someone who you feel is a genuine threat to your life, and you've now let him get close enough to you where you could even hit him with pepper spray, you're probably already dead.

Also, I'll remind you I linked you to a website earlier that showed the relative numbers of women murdered by handguns versus women who successfully use handguns in self-defense.

No, you linked to a website that you claimed showed the relative numbers of women killed by handguns versus women who killed their attackers. (Which was irrelevant to what I was discussing, since killing the assailant is not the only way for a woman to defend herself with a handgun, thus I did not click your link.) So . . . were you lying about your cite then, or are you lying about it now?

If somebody is ready to kill you and then kill themself, and you aren't sure they're ready to do that, then it's very hard to stop them.

Hard to believe it. Hard to accept the consequences. If you gear up to kill them before they kill you, you'll have to tell it to the police, and probably a grand jury, and for the rest of your life you'll have to put on job applications that you've been arrested, and so on. You have to tell the police why you thought he was going to kill you, and everybody's going to second-guess you about it. A big mess.

So how come somebody is ready to kill you to the point they don't care what happens to them afterward? Did you have anything to do with that? A whole lot better not to get them to that point, if you can avoid it. But maybe there's nothing you can do.

Every time a civilian has pointed a gun at me, and every time they've pointed a gun at somebody when I was there, they wanted to be listened to. Here's how I know -- they didn't shoot. They pointed a gun at somebody and got their undivided attention and they talked. If what they wanted most was to kill a victim then they'd have started shooting before they started talking. My sample size is only 11, but I'm convinced that usually it's that way. Usually people point guns to feel powerful and to be listened to (and maybe obeyed), they don't usually just want to kill somebody.

If you kill somebody when they first pull out a gun you're probably doing the wrong thing. On the other hand if you think somebody's a threat and you point a gun at them to stop them, when it works and they stop before you shoot them they likely weren't a real serious threat after all. If they're ready to die killing you, then your gun is no better than pepper spray unless you're ready to shoot them quick.

You've just got to accept that people can kill you and you can't stop them. Here's my story -- I was having a heated discussion about a technical matter, and the other guy stood up and reached under his coat. Without thinking I grabbed his arm and his throat and threw him to the ground. And then my brain caught up. I let go of his throat and he said, "I'm gonna sue.". Nobody else in the room saw what he did as threatening, it just looked like me attacking him. I lost a good job. No pension, a bad reference. And then I did some serious thinking. If it happened again, what could I do? Employers won't even put up with that sort of thing from a *rentacop*. In *Texas*.

Unless you're independently wealthy, you can't afford to defend yourself until your attacker has definitively shown to all witnesses that he intends to kill you. Chances are you'll be dead by then. What I do instead is try to talk people out of killing me. Which means listening them out of killing me. It's worked every time so far.

If you try to stop a cold-blooded killer by getting him first, you have to be a more efficient cold-blooded killer to do it. And there's a good chance society will treat you like they'd treat him.

It ought to be set up somehow so that good people can't be killed by bad people or by crazy people. But it isn't. We just have to accept that life isn't fair.

That is why we are supposed to have some types of safe havens: in your home for example, you should not have to retreat. If you have a court issued restraining order, you should have some right to anticipate.

But I agree when it comes to the random murderer, you will need some rational basis for your actions, and that requires generally that they get first strike.

Even for soldiers in Iraq, the ROE are such now that you (depending on the circumstances) have to wait to be fired upon before you can shoot (though someone presenting an RPG is probably enough to shoot first, having an AK is probably not). But it is still better to be able to fire back, than not be able to fire at all.

JThomas,
fascinating stuff. I generally agree with what you say, but to reframe a bit

I was having a heated discussion about a technical matter, and the other guy stood up and reached under his coat. Without thinking I grabbed his arm and his throat and threw him to the ground. And then my brain caught up.

One thing we _can_ do is to slow things down before they get that heated. This is not directed at you personally, but one of the things that we have to get society back to is to a more 'civil' environment. Your comments bring to mind some of thearguments we've had about how civil we should be and how willing various groups should be to obey the constraints of civility. I'm paraphrasing, but there is a strain of argumentation that civility is a form of oppression (in ways of demanding people act a certain way and such) and people who are oppressed should have every right to be uncivil in pointing this out.

Your story suggests why we should accept the restrictions of civility, beyond 'it would be better if we did', in that a society that has a sufficiently high level of civility, threats are easier to identify. I understand that this could create situations where people who are actually harmless are identified as a threat and unfairly punished. However, this is why we have a system of courts, in order to ascertain the level of threat that a person carries, though of course, this generally works only after the offense.

Your thoughts?

That should be "some of the arguments that we've had _here_", rather than attributing any of these notions to JThomas.

There isn't much doubt that the police response was inappropriate. They arrived on the scene within minutes. No gun at the scene is a clear indication that it is probably not a murder suicide. They make the same joke in law enforcement about the word assume as they do everywhere else in our culture, with the added caution that it will get you killed. They made the assumption that it was a "domestic incident", secured the building, instead of considering the possibilities.

Let me get this right- we're stipulating that a 3 day waiting period is too long to wait for a woman who needs a gun to protect herself from a stalker RIGHT NOW, but we're also stipulating proper firearms training sufficient to not only enable her to fire accurately on a live, moving target, AND sufficient desensitization to the idea of shooting a human being so that she'll pull the trigger in a clinch.

I'd also like to stipulate a pony.

Then she can ride to safety. It'll be *sweet.*

Phil: What J Thomas said.
What Patrick said.
Also, what Old Jarhead said.

Phil: No, you linked to a website that you claimed showed the relative numbers of women killed by handguns versus women who killed their attackers. (Which was irrelevant to what I was discussing, since killing the assailant is not the only way for a woman to defend herself with a handgun, thus I did not click your link.)

Phil, the statistics at the website which you did not bother to read since you figured that a woman can defend herself by... er... something... with a handgun that doesn't involve killing... never mind: said that the ratio of women who killed their assailant with a handgun to women who were murdered with a handgun was a 100 to 1. Your notion that this means women are probably shooting to maim not to kill? Do you have any recorded statistics to back this up? Refusing to click on links because you think the information there is irrelevant to your theory is a good way to end up with a theory that - as I think others are pointing out to you - is orthogonal to reality. It makes as much sense as claiming that if only the students at VTech had been armed, they could have shot the killer dead before he got started.

[email protected]: great comment. I might quote you elsewhere.

We'll simply agree to disagree on the concept of whether all Constitutional rights are worth protecting, or only the ones one personally likes. I believe the former; you believe the latter. So let it be recorded. But I don't want to hear you complain next time someone proposes taking a right away from you -- they simply might happen to not like that right, and think it doesn't need protection. It's all good, right?

Phil, as I said already: I want to know why the Second Amendment is considered to be a worthy civil right, aside from the tautologous reason "It's in the Bill of Rights, so it's worthy!"

I can only find this out from someone who actively supports the Second Amendment and thinks it worthy in and of itself, especially as it is currently interpreted - the right to own as many guns as you like.

So far, it's been argued:

-(as the gun lobby repeatedly claims) that guns can be used for self-defense (despite the fact that the stats say guns are far more likely to be used for murder): and

-that where radicals are pushing for social change, having small groups of them armed and dangerous makes it more likely that social change will happen. (This seems to ignore both feminism and the GLBT rights movement, and to overplay the effect of the Black Panthers on the black civil rights movement while underplaying the effect of the KKK and other armed white supremacist groups on the anti-civil rights movement.)

Both reasons why the Second Amendment is a worthy civil right in and of itself seem to me to be dubiously argued, resting on advertising blurbs and conjecture and ignoring facts, but at least they're arguments: not tautology.

I want to know why the Second Amendment is considered to be a worthy civil right, aside from the tautologous reason "It's in the Bill of Rights, so it's worthy!"

And I told you why: Because it implies a larger right to defend one's life, liberty and property, with force if necessary. You appeared to think that that was not an important right to have, which I understand, having been raised in the UK where you are taught to capitulate to criminal offenders. That's fine. Wrong, but fine.

Hey, if someone wants to amend the Constitution to specifically protect a right to self-defense without specifying a method, that's fine with me.

-(as the gun lobby repeatedly claims) that guns can be used for self-defense (despite the fact that the stats say guns are far more likely to be used for murder): and

So, it is your contention -- for the record -- that a gun cannot be used for self-defense? Because you seem to have a hard time understanding that the latter half of your sentence does not negate the former.

And, you know, it's notable that not once have you bothered to actually ask me whether I think there should be any restrictions on gun ownership (I do) or what I think the limitations of the Second Amendment are (significant). I suspect -- and correct me if I'm wrong -- that bothering to ask those questions might interfere with your preferred style of argument, which is to assume that anyone who deigns to disagree with you on any topic must, therefore, believe the diametric opposite thing, and asking such questions would take away lines of argument to be used against your Platonic Opponent.

I suspect this is why you choose to so frequently argue with dutchmarbel -- who clearly supports abortion rights but feels there should be some third trimester restrictions -- rather than hilzoy, who believes exactly the same thing that dutchmarbel does.

Who is the "him" in the last paragraph?

Specifically in this case-the boyfriend of the murdered girl, generally in any other case, where people are killed on a campus and police suspect it may be domestic the significant other.

But I think my comment was being more specific on this case, where the murdered girl in the morning had a boyfriend police suspected. Basically they assumed he was the killer and all was safe, when the reality is that they still had an armed gunman loose on campus-I think the police should assume the armed gunman until they speak with whoever it is they suspect, rather than assume safety.

One thing we _can_ do is to slow things down before they get that heated.

Yes. That's in my personal interest. I do better when the arguments stay civil.

And when I win something important I do better to be merciful if at all possible and leave the other guy something to lose. Most people don't go crazy and kill people just from their biochemistry. Usually they get into a position where they feel they have already lost everything they had to live for. If you're the new boyfriend or the banking guy who handles the foreclosure etc then you're one of the natural targets. Do what you can to soften it or at least make it clear it isn't your fault.

But they might go after anybody. You just have to accept that you might get killed for no reason in particular, just from being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and there's really nothing you can do about it.

So far, it's been argued:

-that guns can be used for self-defense (despite the fact that the stats say guns are far more likely to be used for murder):

Lots of people don't want to depend on the government etc. With reason. Guns are not a very good weapon for self-defense but at the moment we don't have a better one.

The way it works, the first one to get his hand on a gun mostly wins. A gun that's still in a holster or a purse with your hand off of it might as well be on the moon for all the good it does you.

And if by some chance you don't know whether the other guy has a gun aimed at you or not but you think he wants to (like he has his hand in his overcoat pocket with something pointing that could be a finger or a gun), you do better to shoot as fast as you can.

Both of these tend to increase the shootings.

Let me just imagine a technology that we don't have. Imagine you could have a gun with a laser sight, and when you point it at somebody's heart it stays pointed at them automatically no matter what you do. And if you get shot then it automatically shoots them. Better yet, it's loaded up with AI and it listens to echoes etc and shoots whoever shot you.

A weapon like that would be a real deterrent. Guns like we have now, aren't. They just ramp up the danger for everybody involved. But like the joke goes, you don't want to bring a knife to a gunfight. Guns don't give you much safety at all but they give you the best chance that it will be you explaining to the cops instead of the other guy.

-that where radicals are pushing for social change, having small groups of them armed and dangerous makes it more likely that social change will happen.

That's silly. You get social change (or prevent it) by persuading people, not by threatening them. Then there's the version that has people with hunting rifles overthrowing the government. Our own experience (one single example) has been that when the public is split and ready to fight, the military splits too.

The argument I like best is about foreign invasions. An armed public can make colonial occupation just not worth it. Our experience in iraq is a solid example -- if Saddam had disarmed his public and kept them disarmed and we didn't let them get weapons, we'd be having a much easier time of it now.

The best argument I can see for guns is that anything that weakens any part of the Bill of Rights weakens it all. The original amendment was kind of hedged and indefinite probably because the people who first approved it weren't particularly agreed. But -- to the extent it really says no gun control -- if we discard it without going through the whole new amendment business, we set a precedent for discarding the rest.

Specifically in this case-the boyfriend of the murdered girl, generally in any other case, where people are killed on a campus and police suspect it may be domestic the significant other.

But I think my comment was being more specific on this case, where the murdered girl in the morning had a boyfriend police suspected. Basically they assumed he was the killer and all was safe, when the reality is that they still had an armed gunman loose on campus-I think the police should assume the armed gunman until they speak with whoever it is they suspect, rather than assume safety.

Not being particularly strong in police procedures, I don't know if this conditional is particularly efficient or even practical. Is it?

Gwangung, when you consider how many murders they settle by arresting the boyfriend versus how often the actual murderer keeps killing more people in the same jurisdiction in the next day or two, it's a good bet.

Police proceedures require that you never, never, never, make that stupid ass assumption. Never! Police proceedures require that a man with a gun be considered a threat.
Police proceedures require that you not operate on the basis of what you think is "a good bet".

Exactly. Until NYC solves all murders, I propose a lockdown.

"...I think the police should assume the armed gunman until they speak with whoever it is they suspect, rather than assume safety."

Perhaps I'm not following, but are suggesting that in every, or almost every, case of a shooting, the police should assume that when they've caught a suspect, that another suspect is also out there?

Because that's a recipe for infinite investigation, unending peak alarm, and not exactly practical. There's a reason Ockham's Razor successfully answers more questions than not.

I think, if there is someone around who has killed a very short time ago and he hasn't given himself up to the police or is in the police's sights otherwise, the "clear and present danger" should be the default option. the longer the time after the killing that nothing happens the more the police could assume that there will not be a follow-up. To declare the situation "safe" in less than 2 hours and (as it seems) practically doing nothing looks a wee bit irresponsible to me. I don't say that any domestic killing should trigger the "killing spree imminent" alarm, but if the perpetrator is still around and his/her state of mind is unknown, at minimum a (public) warning should be given.

Hey, if someone wants to amend the Constitution to specifically protect a right to self-defense without specifying a method, that's fine with me.

Question for all involved: Does the Second Amendment imply a general right to self-defense, or only a self-defense against the government and/or hostile nation-states?

As far as I'm concerned, a general right to self-defense, although I doubt that I have Constitutional scholarship on my side. In any case, I would not want to live anywhere that did not consider the right to defend one's life and property against criminal threats a right worth preserving.

Phil: In any case, I would not want to live anywhere that did not consider the right to defend one's life and property against criminal threats a right worth preserving.

Since I didn't write this, you might even read it: The Handgun Phallacy, by the Grumpy Forester.

I'm not going to click through and read anything which, in its very title, attempts any sort of "gun=dick" stupidity. I will assume, however -- unless corrected -- that you disagree that the right to defend one's life and property against criminal threats is not an important one.

Here in Cleveland, a man just the other day used his licensed handgun to defend himself against an armed robbery by two local teens. Unfortunately, in doing so, he shot and killed one of the teens. That, however, is a potential consequence of trying to rob a handgun owner on his own front porch.

Phil: that you disagree that the right to defend one's life and property against criminal threats is not an important one.

I disagree with the notion that a legal right for anyone to own any guns they like equates to the "right to defend one's life and property". Your man in Cleveland killed a teenager because the teenager, benefiting by the NRA's interpretation of the Second Amendment, was armed. (Well, possibly your man in Cleveland would have killed the teenager anyway, whether or not this teenage kid had a gun.)

You do seem to be determined to stick to your fantasies about what a gun can do for you and yours, and to refrain from clicking on any links that might spoil your gun fun.

Your man in Cleveland killed a teenager because the teenager, benefiting by the NRA's interpretation of the Second Amendment, was armed.

Um, no, the teenager was under the age of 18 and therefore not only not licensed to own a gun, but incapable of being licensed to own a gun in the state of Ohio. What he did was go on to another person's property with an illegal -- quite likely stolen -- firearm and attempt to deprive that person of property and perhaps life. He ended up paying an extremely steep price for that, but when you make a conscious choice to become a felon, those are the risks you end up taking. Unfortunately you, along with this budding young felon's (he was already on probation for aggravated robbery) family and friends, appear to want to blame the actual crime victim: The man who was the target of an unsuccessful armed robbery.

Well, possibly your man in Cleveland would have killed the teenager anyway, whether or not this teenage kid had a gun.

Doubtful, since cases in which legal gun owners respond to nonlethal threats with lethal force are few and far between.

You do seem to be determined to stick to your fantasies about what a gun can do for you and yours, and to refrain from clicking on any links that might spoil your gun fun.

See, Jes, here's the thing: Not once -- NOT ONCE -- have you actually asked me what "my fantasies" about gun ownership are, let alone my actual thoughts. I did click through and read your link, and found it completely irrelevant to anything I actually think, since -- if you would bloody pay attention to something for just once besides your own ego -- I told von on his original thread on the VA Tech shootings that I think increased gun ownership and concealed carry on campuses is a bad idea. Nor have I said, anywhere, that I have any misconceptions at all concerning whether some posse of citizen-protectors packing pistols are going to take down random mass murderers. So just what, exactly, did you think you were refuting?

What happened in the case I mentioned goes to exactly what I think individual gun ownership is good for: For an individual, living in a dangerous neighborhood, to protect him- or herself against lethal threats in his or her own home.

Are you going to solicit my actual beliefs at all, or just continue to point me to links that have nothing to do with me? For instance:

I disagree with the notion that a legal right for anyone to own any guns they like equates to the "right to defend one's life and property".

I don't believe that there is a legal right for anyone to own any gun they like; nor did I propose anywhere, ever, in history let alone here that there is such a right; nor did I ever, anywhere, equate such a thing with a right to self-defense.

There! See how much clearer things start becoming when you find out what people actually think instead of lecturing them?

PS: You do know I don't know a gun, right? I've mentioned in many times, yet you seem to be under some sort of misimpression about it. (" . . . to refrain from clicking on any links that might spoil your gun fun.")

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