The Problem with Pundits Thinking They Could Have Stopped Adam Lanza

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The Problem with Pundits Thinking They Could Have Stopped Adam Lanza
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The Problem with Pundits Thinking They Could Have Stopped Adam Lanza

It's impossible not to imagine what you would have had if you had been at Sandy Hook Elementary when Adam Lanza broke in and massacred 20 first-graders and six adults. It is possible to refrain from insinuating that you would have been braver and smarter than the people who were slaughtered, and that you would have made it out alive. Unfortunately, a couple writers for national news websites have been unable to refrain from doing that. On Wednesday, we were treated to the musings of Charlotte Allen, who at The National Review argues that there would have been more survivors if the staff had been more manly — maybe even played football — and if some husky boys had bum-rushed Lanza. This is not an exaggeration, and Allen wasn't joking (I think). She writes:

There was not a single adult male on the school premises when the shooting occurred. In this school of 450 students, a sizeable number of whom were undoubtedly 11- and 12-year-old boys (it was a K–6 school), all the personnel — the teachers, the principal, the assistant principal, the school psychologist, the “reading specialist” — were female. There didn’t even seem to be a male janitor to heave his bucket at Adam Lanza’s knees. ...

But in general, a feminized setting is a setting in which helpless passivity is the norm. Male aggression can be a good thing, as in protecting the weak — but it has been forced out of the culture of elementary schools and the education schools that train their personnel. Think of what Sandy Hook might have been like if a couple of male teachers who had played high-school football, or even some of the huskier 12-year-old boys, had converged on Lanza.

This fantasy has not been fact-checked. Sandy Hook is actually a K-4 school, so the huskiest boys would have been about 9 years old. And, as Slate's David Weigel points out, there were actually two adult males on the school premises. But let's all imagine some husky 9-year-olds running towards a man with two semi-automatic handguns and an AR-15. It's tough to imagine, isn't it? Because they would all die. 

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Allen is not the first person to float the bush-rush thesis this week. The Daily Beast's Megan McArdle did, too, arguing, "if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly." McArdle also minimized the power of an AR-15. It's a nice fantasy, too. Everyone wants to imagine that she'd survive a tragedy like Newtown. But just going by the numbers, she'd probably be wrong. In the 2009 Fort Hood shooting, an Army reserve captain either charged or threw a chair at Nidal Hassan, and was killed. A civilian physician assistant rushed at Hassan with a chair, and was killed, too. An Army reserve specialist threw a folding table at Hassan, was shot in the abdomen, and crawled to a cubicle. A police officer shot at Hassan, but Hassan shot her several times with his legally-purchased FN Five-seven pistol, knocking her to the ground, and kicked her weapon away. Another police officer eventually got Hassan down by shooting him five times.

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In the end, 13 people were killed, and 29 were wounded at Fort Hood. Those 13 people certainly had better training than a high school football team. I hate to break it to poor old Charlotte Allen, but the last bastion of manliness in American life rejects her fantasy, too: The U.S. Army recommends that in an "active shooter event," first evacuating, then hiding in a safe place, and then, "As a last resort, take action against the shooter." But this isn't really about training, is it? It's not about manliness, either. It's about these people who type words for a living not wanting to feel like a helpless and doomed target. A better way to avoid that feeling in real life, instead of an op-ed writer's fantasy, is to keep really powerful weapons out of the hands of really crazy people.

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