Rounds and Rounds: a data based essay spurred on by a silly facebook picture
“I was going to post on Facebook, but my response was too long” should just be a button or something. I know there are notes, but hey, I have all the space I could want here.
There comes that moment when seeing something, we are drawn to it a little too much for our own goods. For me, this results in quests for data and a resulting essay. Usually I let hot button things lie, but sometimes there’s either something personal or something absurd and I have to pick it up and examine it.
So today this gun control thing got passed around. I call it a thing, because it’s not really an infographic and it’s pretty bad at what it does. I can’t tell if liking it means you support it or think it’s silly, and what side of the debate it’s on is debatable. I have a keen dislike for confusion, and to me, it’s silly on all sides because it’s haphazardly produced and haphazardly commented on. Take a gander:
Why is this silly? Well, part of that is how you define assault weapons, or “assault weapons” as we may call them in California. The police could or could not be using assault weapons, and besides, they’re police, people we would generally trust with them anyways. That’s the other part of it. The logic in the chart is supposed to support a ban, but I’m not quite sure how from it’s lack of initial commentary. The secondary argument, in orange and red, is that using this data from the NYPD shows a need for larger number of bullets if you were to apply that to civilians, which is perhaps an argument for higher or extended capacity magazines specifically (regardless of the rest of the weapon and how it’s being defined).
This is a point for larger magazines (if not a clear graphic). But the logic on the sidebar to say you would need 30% more rounds as civvie felt arbitrary, as did the need to put down two people. I want to acknowledge some of the commenters who worry about collateral if the large number of rounds fired here represent trained individuals. Some of which were unfortunately disparaging against police accuracy. The only bit of data in the thing is the chart, but there’s an absurd lack of context, as commentators have also pointed out. So, I went to find data. Mainly because I couldn’t decide if the “fuck you” pic was intentional or sarcastic at the mess of it all. Silly pictures. So, I present to you, data on the NYPD and gunfight accuracy and it’s relation to civilians and whether you do need that many bullets or not.
This got me digging into interesting waters, like whether police training is effective, the more philosophical conundrum presented in high capacity magazines, and an absolute need for women gun owners to have close quarters training.
The bottom line for the tl;dr folks out there (consider this the abstract) is that police and civilians are more similar in training than they are different when it comes to the scenarios they actually fire their weapons in. Both need close quarters battle (CQB) training or skills development in non-aiming fire to be effective, and having this training strongly effects both number of rounds fired and accuracy in a fight. The NYPD and civvies are not trained for CQB, they both need more rounds to hit a target, and their chance for collateral damage increases. Whether or not that means you want to give larger magazines to them so that they can eventually take down the target is up to you, but you have to weigh the risk for collateral. To me, the bottom line, like usual, is a necessity for appropriate weapons training. As a woman, this has sad but strong ramifications, as I hope you will stick out to see, below.
Now on to the data:
A previous study on the shooting habits of NYPD officers shows that their firing rates may be more similar to how a civilian fires than not, and serve as a reminder for trained civilians and gun enthusiasts and rights supporters as well. The NYPD study released in 1981 spanned data from the 1850’s to the present and showed that there was a disconnect between training at a distance of 50 feet and the majority encounter distance of less than 3 yards (38%). A 2011 NYPD report on firearms discharge notes that the NYPD (currently) trains at distances up to 75 ft. However, historically, in 50% of cases where firearms were discharged, the distance was at least under 7 yards. In addition, 70% of officers used instinctive firing over aiming, 10% could not remember whether or not they aimed, and ones that fired warning shots would be involved in gunfights with more rounds fired.
This may be more realistic than commenters thought to how a regular joe may find themselves under fire or firing at an attacker, shooting by instinct and at close distances. Consider the most frequently mentioned feared scenarios of home invasion or public altercations (muggings, fights/escalated altercations, and car jacking) are all at close distances, or close quarters. The US Army also recognizes the difference between marksmanship at distance (calm) and hitsmanship at close quarters (stressful) and recommended point shooting techniques, which is a different skill than aiming on a range. While not all civilians who own firearms go through training or frequent ranges, enthusiasts and those who purchase firearms for self-defense may. Civilian and police firearms practice is similar in that they involve training for accuracy in aiming using sites (or a scope if we’re fancy), and training over distances. Hunting (and hunting-like scenarios like trap and skeet) also trains for accuracy over range (and movement). With a boom in handgun training, the Harvard Injury Control Center, HICC, compiled surveys of gun owners and found that many owners who had training did not follow gun safety regularly. This indicates a shortage of good classes, (lengthy waiting times for the excellent ones are reported) and that the average owner does not progress beyond basic classes. Range shooting is common, however. CQB shooting techniques or skills are not usually practiced or taught (most classes are basic handling and use).
Now, SWAT uses point shooting and some other techniques (depends on the team) for CQB. SWAT rates are much different than NYPD’s overall rate. From a 2008 study on tactics teams (Klinger and Rojeck), in 75% of cases, less than 10 rounds were fired by the entire team, 3 rounds or fewer in 50% of those cases. Admittedly, SWAT is usually on the offensive side, and prepared for this sort of thing, but not always: on the other extreme there were a few cases with over 100 rounds fired in barricade and hostage situations, but the majority of rounds went to suppressive fire rather than targeting a person. (Not directly applicable to regular joes, but I can think of ways.) When SWAT did target a person, they had much better hitsmanship (actually hitting your live target in combat situations). SWAT uses far less rounds, and with fewer firing officers, because they are trained differently. They are trained for more close quarters and effective take-down, which would apply to the regular NYPD officers in altercations and to civilian personal defense. The only big difference is working in a regular team, and coming into the situation prepared for possible combat and probably multiple combatants. Still, it’s the hitsmanship and very low number of rounds fired in total that matter here. That’s effective training for making your shots count in close quarters, both in aim and stress.
So, what does this say? Range training goes out the window when confronted by someone close to you. Even well trained folks (police, stress) have poor hitsmanship when in these situations. The recommended way to combat it is to be trained in an appropriate skill for the situation, i.e. a CQB technique, whether it’s point shooting like the Army recommends, or some other techniques for close ranges developed for SWAT. Going to a range is a fun and useful way to practice, but if you are worried about personal defense rather than sport (including hunting) then practicing at the range is not the appropriate skill because it does not include close quarters training. It’s not that it’s improper training, as it teaches you how to handle and fire a weapon accurately and safely, but it is incomplete training, and it is the wrong training for close quarters personal defense. Individuals with range-only training will fire more rounds and have a lower hitsmanship than those with CQB experience. While it’s not widely available, CQB training does exist for civilians. Some personal defense courses cover shorter distances and point shooting practice. A good example of a blend of these skills for civilians can be found in courses like the Intermediate Class here (in the greater LA area): http://www.firearmstraining.com/class_desc.html With the proper training, you don’t (theoretically) need an extended or high capacity magazine because it reduces your need for extra rounds to hit your target. But with only average range training, there is a case there for having more rounds available because hitsmanship is rather low.
The question remains: how much do you trust someone else’s ability to not hit others as collateral damage when their hitsmanship is that low? Should they get a couple more rounds because they really can’t hit until the 10th or 11th round on average if they are also more likely to hit a civvie? The uproar over the NYPD in last year’s Empire State Building shooting was tremendous, and is rather a case in point for when it totally goes wrong: with one perpetrator, officers shot 16 rounds. One officer shot nine rounds, and the other shot seven. Between them they killed the perp (a murderer) and hit nine bystanders, three were hit directly and six with ricocheted shrapnel. This is like the worst case scenario, and I am using it to illustrate that point only. I cannot find good data on NYPD’s rate of collateral, so it’s just the worst case illustration. NYPD blew some of it off because six were hit with shrapnel because the officers missed and hit things like railings and flower pots. But they still directly shot three people and missed their target with at least those nine shots.
NYPD has improved since the 1980s, and the 2011 NYPD Annual Firearms Discharge Report is quick to point out that a quarter of officers who discharged a weapon only fired one shot, but the report also does not calculate hit percentages (they don’t do that anymore, effectiveness is rated solely by whether or not the target was eventually taken down, like a yes or no question) and the report still stresses conventional aiming techniques for the preferred method for all shooting, regardless of situation, even when officers engaged in firefights within 1-5 yards 53% of the time and 15 yards or less 91% of the time in 2011. Of the 62 officers who fired their weapons in 2011, only 5 shot at distances over 45 feet, and only one was a successful note in the report, of an officer who shot a man who was stabbing a woman on a distant balcony. Well done, sir. But the NYPD is using this to justify current training as effective. With all indications, the shooting isn’t effective because targets at this range are rare and NYPD still isn’t training for close quarters, nor will they consent to the scrutiny of hitsmanship ratings any more.
So, apply that to civilians: best case scenario, you see someone in the distance attacking someone, or breaking in at your gate with arms. You have time to aim traditionally using sights and have range training and good aim, make a thoughtful decision whether or not to fire, and do, hitting them successfully. The worst case scenario is something like the Empire State Building: you are attacked in public, cannot aim conventionally, and fire with low hitsmanship, possibly wounding those around you directly or indirectly. And where’s the average? That’s those potential average 10.3 rounds needed to take down a target. Clearly from hitsmanship it is not 10.3 rounds into the targeted individual, more like one or two. What’s the possibility of hitting others with those other 8.3 rounds? I have no idea. It may not be bad, but it could be. There’s potential in on both sides depending on the scenario. I just don’t have data to say either way about collateral as an average or mode. But the bottom line is this:
If you are serious about personal safety, learn some close quarters techniques. Clearly police need this too. Practice those and you won’t be worried about needing a larger magazine to compensate.
That does assume firing at a single person, and that you are not trying to carry a load out for the worst case scenario of facing a whole gang of attackers. The point is that with the appropriate training, your need for rounds per target drops. The next logical question would be how often multiple attackers are involved, as the graphic goes on to say you need enough rounds for two attackers. If there were multiple attackers, even with CQB training, you could push the argument for more ammunition. I don’t know what the answer is for that, but I do have a small subset of the population: women.
According to the CDC, women made up about 13.6% of all homicides by firearms. Although a small percentage, it’s a significant part of the population, and feels important because so many gun rights arguments point to self-defense, especially for women. Also, being a woman, it’s particularly important to me. Although a small percent, it is however a particular situation that arises as most common, and it is one that stresses the need for CQB techniques for women over that of range aiming skills.
Using FBI supplementary reports, for both women firing in self-defense and women who have been murdered with a handgun, the most common scenario involves a lone male acquaintance, typically but horribly a husband or boyfriend or an ex. Family violence is more common than violence from strangers when handguns are involved, and the same holds true of sexual assaults regardless of the presence of a weapon. US DoJ stats show that there is an average of 207,754 victims of sexual assault each year. 10% of those are male and at least 40% of the total is a rape crime. Women are just plain out more likely to face violence and crime from familiar faces, making up 73% of sexual assaults with 50% of assaults occurring within a mile or in the woman’s home. Most of these are single attackers as well. So at least for women, we are most likely to face firearms and assault from people we know in locations we know, including in our homes. From the Harvard Injury Control Research Center, women are more likely to be threatened by men with firearms in the home. That’s a scary thought, it points to a sad road of needing a firearm for self defense from the people we love most. But even if it doesn’t happen to us directly, if we are to stand up for our sisters and mothers and daughters, then the data points to a strong need for CQB training for female personal defense.
How does this play out for men and violent crimes against them? I’m not sure. Again, it comes down to not really seeing the frequency of violent crime, especially crimes with firearms, involving multiple attackers to help get a sense of whether or not more rounds are more likely to be needed. Most burglars work alone, but does that translate to other types of criminals? I have no idea. For women at least, the answer is a sad sort of yes, as they are very much more likely to face solo attackers bearing firearms or feel the threat of sexual assault from solo men; sad because it’s likely a spouse or acquaintance. For those of us who are women, we have to be prepared not just for CQB, but to do it in defense against someone we might have once called friend, brother, or lover.
According to HICC, most purported self-defense gun uses are in escalating arguments, so it’s possible that there is a fair percentage of men who will be involved in a gunfight with someone they know, or are acquainted with rather than strangers, but again, this says nothing about the number of people involved. Statistics or studies on this aspect would be interesting to see.
To summarize this, the NYPD rounds spent and hitsmanship rates are probably similar to civilians who purchased firearms for self-defense. If you are concerned about self-defense, you should learn some close quarters skills and practice without using sights. The police should definitely be trained in this. If you are a woman and are going in for a gun, this is particularly vital. When it comes down to arguing over the capacity of magazines, or the need for more rounds, the questions are thus:
Can you aim without sights? Do you know how to shoot in close quarters? Can you trust yourself to hit your target and not bystanders while under stress? How well do you trust other gun owners (the good, the bad, and the ugly) to do the same? Do you want to give someone who can’t hit well the extra bullets to try?
Various Hyperlinked and Slightly Annotated Sources:
DoJ report: Multi-Method Study Of Special Weapons and Tactics Teams, authored by David A. Klinger and Jeff Rojek, August 2008 https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles1/nij/grants/223855.pdf
2011 New York City Police Department Annual Firearms Discharge Report can be found here: http://www.nyc.gov/html/nypd/downloads/pdf/analysis_and_planning/nypd_annual_firearms_discharge_report_2011.pdf
CDC Cumulative firearms tables 1999-2010: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nvsr/nvsr61/nvsr61_04_tables.pdf
FBI Supplementary Homicide report from 1998 is available at the Violence Policy Center at http://www.vpc.org/studies/myth.htm The site rather grossly misconstrues female gun ownership rates with female firearms deaths, but the respected and formerly CDC backed Harvard Injury COntrol Research Center has shown a correlation between overall gun ownership and female firearms deaths. VPC just doesn’t cover how often women murdered with handguns die by their own gun rather than it belonging to the murderer. This would make their argument hold water. HCIP does have a handful of studies that use the same FBI data but the VPC site was, however, the easiest for quickly accessible charts from the FBI report. The report itself is an annoying text document of a database, and is a horror to read. It is available here http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/cjis/ucr/nibrs/addendum-for-submitting-cargo-theft-data/nibrsconversion
Decent breakdown of the 1981 NYPD article by a police officer with commentary on point shooting can be found at The Virginia Coalition of Police and Deputy Sheriffs here: http://www.virginiacops.org/articles/shooting/combat.htm
CNN on the Empire State Building Shooting: http://www.cnn.com/2012/08/25/justice/new-york-empire-state-shooting
For FBI and DoJ stats on sexual assault against women, take a gander at RAINN, one of the largest anti-sexual violence networks. The DoJ sources are available at their own site, and fortunately they are not as wonky as the FBI report. http://www.rainn.org/