Lone Shooters and Body Armor

The new thing about the Aurora shooting wasn’t the weaponry, but the armor:

What distinguished Holmes wasn’t his offense. It was his defense. At Columbine, Harris and Klebold did their damage in T-shirts and cargo pants. Cho and Loughner wore sweatshirts. Hasan was gunned down in his Army uniform.

Holmes’ outfit blew these jokers away. He wore a ballistic helmet, a ballistic vest, ballistic leggings, a throat protector, a groin protector, and tactical gloves. He was so well equipped that if anyone in that theater had tried what the National Rifle Association recommends—drawing a firearm to stop the carnage—that person would have been dead meat. Holmes didn’t just kill a dozen people. He killed the NRA’s answer to gun violence.


Essentially, Holmes has called the NRA’s bluff. It may be true that the best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. But the best way to stop a good guy with a gun is a bad guy with body armor. And judging from Holmes’ vest receipt, he wasn’t even buying the serious stuff.

The NRA bases its good-guy approach on a well-substantiated military doctrine: deterrence. By arming myself with a weapon that can hurt you, I discourage you from attacking me. For many years, this doctrine averted war between the United States and the Soviet Union. Each side feared mutually assured destruction. What broke the deadlock wasn’t a weapon. It was a shield: strategic missile defense. The Soviets understood that a system capable of shooting down their nuclear missiles would, by removing their power to deter us, free us to attack. The best offense, it turns out, is a good defense.

That’s what Holmes figured out. Defense, not offense, is the next stage of the gun-violence arms race. Equipping citizens with concealed weapons doesn’t stop bad guys. It just pushes them to the next level. The next level is body armor. And unlike missile defense, which has proved to be complicated and disappointing, body armor is relatively simple.

EDITED TO ADD (8/2): Seems that the amount of body armor Holmes wore was exaggerated.

Posted on August 1, 2012 at 1:34 PM167 Comments


Steve August 1, 2012 1:38 PM

Of course, missile “defense” only works in certain limited scenarios.

Oh, look, there’s a duck sitting there!

Nic Watson August 1, 2012 1:48 PM

I’m no gun nut here, but body armor isn’t magic. If there was a “good” guy shooting at Holmes, Holmes would have either had to duck and cover, or he would have been knocked to the ground by the force of bullets hitting his armor. Either situation would lead to fewer innocents shot.

Perhaps body armor gave Holmes a bit of unfounded confidence, but otherwise I think the article’s premise about altering the balance of power is unfounded.

theprez98 August 1, 2012 1:54 PM

“dbCooper” is right, the North Hollywood shooters were well equipped in body armor that standard police-issued firearms were doing little to no damage. Not something “new”. How soon we forget.

Brian August 1, 2012 1:56 PM

The vest that he bought doesn’t actually contain any armor. Scary looking yes, but armored, no. Unless he was wearing something other than what was listed on the one receipt.

Clive Robinson August 1, 2012 1:57 PM

What’s the next stage in the battle?

How about 50 cal depleated uranium bullets which will pierce a lot of body armour or just kill you with impact shock even if it does not go through the body armour.

Namo certainly make exploding bulets in 50 Cal which will make holes in quite a lot of aroured vehical armour. As they are a NATO supplier then thay may supply depleated uranium as well (I’ cann’t help wondering what happens is you add exploding capability to depleated ammo…)

BillB August 1, 2012 1:57 PM

Body armor is hardly a magic shield of invincibility. It’s heavy, reduces your field of view, and greatly reduces your mobility. Getting shot while wearing armor will still likely throw you off balance and prevent you from firing, likely long enough for a theater full of people to tackle you and prevent you from firing again.

jdw August 1, 2012 1:57 PM

1) Given Holmes’ adopting of the persona, calling previous mass murders “jokers” may be unnecessarily glib.

2) I’m not sure Holmes “figured this out” and I think that’s supported by noting that “he wasn’t even buying the serious stuff.” I think mental illness has a lot more to do with his choices and actions than a plan not to get shot.

3) I’m not aware of any body armor (even “the serious stuff” that absorbs provides magical immunity to bullets. If you get shot in the chest while wearing body armor, you do not get to ignore being shot in the chest, you wind up on the ground, alive, but likely with broken ribs and possibly organ trauma. That is still pretty effective at ending a rampage.

I don’t think that these points completely invalidate the article, but I also don’t think its argument is nearly as strong as presented.

This is also a good example of an outlier. Do we start to act (and set national-scope policy) now as if every criminal will be wearing military grade body armor from now on, just because one possibly mentally ill guy one time got his hands on the cheap stuff?

Narr August 1, 2012 1:58 PM

he would have been knocked to the ground by the force of bullets hitting his armor

Would he be knocked to the ground by firing bullets? No, because that’s not how physics works.

Chris Mayhew August 1, 2012 1:59 PM

Not at all new, as others have pointed out. And how did they end the North Hollywood shootout ? By getting on the ground and taking out the shooter’s feet with a shotgun.

Tactics and technology will take care of the body armor threat, just like they did with knights, the Maginot line and Dien Bien Phu. And no one is going to walk around in that stuff full time.

bcs August 1, 2012 1:59 PM

@Nic: Basic physics, if the gun you are firing doesn’t knock you down, it’s not going to knock over the guy you shoot.

If someone really wants to cause havoc, they are going to cause havoc.

OTOH, the amount of armor you need to be able to ignore return fire is impossible to conceal and impractical to wear on a general basis. The NRA argument is still just as valid as it was before for the other 99.9% of criminals who don’t, won’t and can’t wear it.

Wayne August 1, 2012 2:01 PM

The author is makling several leaps to conclusion without any facts supporting those leaps.

Petréa Mitchell August 1, 2012 2:02 PM

OTOH, how well does body armor work against a crowd that turns on the gunman, as happened with Loughner?

B-Con August 1, 2012 2:03 PM

They’re missing part of the NRA’s self-defense point in quotes like this:

That’s what Holmes figured out. Defense, not offense, is the next stage of the gun-violence arms race. Equipping citizens with concealed weapons doesn’t stop bad guys. It just pushes them to the next level.

Ultimately, it’s impossible to stop bad guys. There will always be some way for them to walk into a crowded area and wreck havoc. Always. Some of them will be willing to invest in defense as well and will cause more havoc. But:

a) Not all will. Some of the attackers will be either lazy or apathetic; recall how many gunmen are basically on suicide missions anyway. Investing in the defense doesn’t make sense for them.

b) The attackers who do get a good defense may be the exception, not the rule. The guy with a gun who wants to steal your wallet is probably not interested in covering himself in armor. By carrying a gun you raise the price of a successful attack by the assailant, and thus fewer criminals will pay the price to carry out the attack. Even if all the criminals who do pull a gun have armor, there will be fewer of them.

Carrying a gun was made less effective in one situation, but hardly “called the NRA’s bluff” (as if there was a bluff to call…?).

Juergen August 1, 2012 2:04 PM

They list “tactical gloves” as protection against bullets? Seriously?

“Tactical” gloves are simply gloves that are black or olive drab and cost a bit more than ordinary work gloves… they’re most definitely NOT bulletproof.

The vest wasn’t bulletproof (or even a flak jacket), the throat protector wouldn’t have protected anything either.

The key point was that he used smoke grenades to blind people, and used an emergency exit to sneak in.

1) Why didn’t the smoke set up a fire alarm that automatically turned on bright lights?

2) Why was it possible to open the emergency exit from the outside?

R August 1, 2012 2:04 PM

I have read different reports regarding the gear. For instance, it appears the vest was a non-ballistic, military-style piece of clothing from Blackhawk. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/2012_Aurora_shooting)
I personally don’t see the utility of armor such as a helmet and greaves being the main concern.
The overall appearance of the shooter though is similar though to what we expect to see in use by drug-war fueled police and federal authorities. It may constitute a false-flag feint and is also why police should probably not dress up like soldiers.
If one can only tell police apart by whether they are shooting people who appear to be innocent, there is a problem.

Dreamer August 1, 2012 2:07 PM

Arguably, the real difference is preparation. Any combatant – aggressor or defender – that is given sufficient time to assess the opposition and take appropriate measures to gain an advantage will have a greater chance for success. This may mean higher ground, stronger weaponry (assault rifles and tons of ammo, grenades, tear gas, etc.), stronger defenses (body armor, respirator, etc.) or simply knowing the layout and weak/strong points of the opposition /territory (exits, armed opposition, etc.)
@Nic Watson: Yes – several armed individuals in the audience firing on him might slow him down and reduce loss of innocent bystanders. However:
a) it could increase loss of life of innocent bystanders if there are stray shots or the armed ‘defenders’ are not careful and trained to respond properly in a crisis situation (and how many average citizens have firearm training for low-light crowded situations?)
b) It would almost certainly make them principle targets for a prepared assailant. Assuming he is able to withstand their initial salvo, basic instinct (not to mention training/tactics) would lead him to direct his fire at the greatest threats. Not exactly the point the NRA is making, since it basically guarantees armed individuals are more likely to be the first to fall in an inequal conflict where the opposition has an edge (such as body armor).

Frank Booth August 1, 2012 2:09 PM

You’re not seriously suggesting that we should eliminate civilian gun ownership because criminals can obtain body armor?

That something can be used for criminal enterprise should not be reason enough to ban that thing, else we find ourselves outlawing the police and and legislature.

Return_0 August 1, 2012 2:09 PM

Missile defense didn’t have to work to “work.” All the US had to do was convince the USSR that at some point in the future, their missiles might not be able to hit their targets. To do this the US faked laser and intercept tests. But to make the scam work the military had to scam congress and the American people at the same time. I’m sure they’re all very, very sorry about that part.

Jordan Brown August 1, 2012 2:09 PM

The “basic physics” argument doesn’t hold up. The shooter is balanced to absorb the recoil; the target isn’t balanced to absorb the impact.

Look at it this way: if you shove somebody, is it possible that they will fall down but you will not?

I don’t claim to fully understand the physics involved, but it’s clear to me that it’s not as simple as “if it doesn’t knock you down, it won’t knock them down”.

ken August 1, 2012 2:10 PM

In one article I seem to recall the police saying that his gear was so similar to the SWAT/tactical responders that he was able to walk past them and nearly make it back to his car before one of the officers realized his gas mask was not their standard issue and confronted him.

I wonder if he was more influenced by ‘The Professional’ than Batman, specifically the scene where Leon slips out of the building dressed as a SWAT officer.
It could be he planned to just slip away, giving himself a big ego boost at how he outsmarted the police.

Wael August 1, 2012 2:20 PM

@ bcs

I agree with @Jordan Brown. Moreover, The kinetic energy of the bullet is not equal to to the recoil of the gun.

Aigars Mahinovs August 1, 2012 2:23 PM

Mythbusters debunked the myth that bullet hits would know a person down. If the vest stops the bullet that the impact on the body of the target can only be less that the kickback from the gun that was shot at him.

More guns would have caused far more deaths in the theater because of “frendly” fire: good guys trying to hit the bad guy and hitting other people in the crossfire, other good guys considering some of the good guys to be accomplices of the bad guy and taking each other down, with some more cross-fire causalities, police arriving on the scene and taking down anyone waving a gun around with some extra crossfire causalities on top. Has happened before.

Even worse – imagine one hero tackling the bad guy, while another tries to shoo the bad guy at the same time – you get a dead good guy and the bad guy is free to shoot again.

And for people saying that ‘you cann’t ignore a shot’, ‘it will throw off you aim’ … he was not aiming, he was just shooting. And if someone tried to shoot him, he would just switch to shooting in the general direction of the hero.

NRA is protecting the rights of clinically insane and criminals to legally and secretly buy weapons specially designed to kill as many people as possible. That is what they are officially doing.

What gun control people want is not ‘take guns away’, but rather make sure that only people that are certified to be sane can get weapons, that only people certified to be able to use their weapons can keep them, that police and FBI always know when a person buys unreasonable amount of guns and ammo, so they can follow up, so weapons specifically designed for war (and not hunting or self-defence) are only available to solders and law enforcement.

jdw August 1, 2012 2:25 PM

@Jordan Brown: ‘The “basic physics” argument doesn’t hold up. The shooter is balanced to absorb the recoil; the target isn’t balanced to absorb the impact.’

“Basic physics” arguments rarely do. (“Assume the horse is a sphere…”)

This isn’t really a physics issue, at least not directly. Firing a bullet does not cause broken bones and trauma the way getting hit by one (while wearing body armor) does.

It’s also worth observing that much of the design and manufacture of modern firearms is expended minimizing the recoil by channeling the “reaction” energy away from the shooter’s body by venting gasses and performing work like chambering the next round.

When people fall down after getting shot, it’s not because the kinetic energy knocked them over, it’s because getting shot hurts like hell and causes damage that can easily render a person unable to stand, body armor or not.

skoshi August 1, 2012 2:31 PM

It’s a good thing most states have had the foresight to make it illegal to wear body armor during the commission of the crime. If this was the case in Colorado, Holmes will most certainly get a few extra years tacked onto his sentence.

I don’t think he had actual body armor though – in the “tacticool” field, “ballistic” just means “nylon.” From the pictures I’ve seen, I haven’t been able to tell if he actually had impact plates in the chest or legs, and since the press has no idea what they are talking about, their accounts are contradictory and untrustworthy.

But since Holmes did not get into a shootout with the Police and just gave up despite still having guns and ammo, it’s can be assumed that he wasn’t looking for a fight, and would have given up at any time had anyone resisted.

denny August 1, 2012 2:32 PM

given this line of reasoning, we shouldn’t carry guns, we should all wear body armor. It really supports my need to carry armor piercing rounds. I’m not sure why he used body armor, all the shooters you name including Holmes all picked places where people are unarmed to attack. They pick targets based on the inability of the victims to defend themselves. Also, I’d don’t think this exactly calls the NRA’s bluff. Nobody fired on him. Out how many people nobody was packing? This guy was wearing body armor so that he could survive his encounter with law enforcement not to protect himself from armed citizens. Klebold, Harris, and Cho committed suicide. Loughner was tackled. None fired on and all able to complete their task unimpeded. If anything that’s an argument for more guns and for mandatory carry. At every gathering, at every theater, at every college a set percentage of civilians must be armed. Set a quota on concealed carry permit holders. Would Holmes have attacked a theater where he could be sure that 10% of the patrons are armed? I say no. They picked a soft target where there was likely no one armed. How many of these shooting take place at pawn shops or donut shops or gun shows? They don’t even happen at Ren faire’s where there are plenty of people who are unstable.
all it takes are a few nerds with swords to keep things calm.
Give permit holders a discount or require armed security.

There was never feeling of assured mutual destruction. The only danger is from the police. The new thing was the idea that he wanted to survive to go to trial. Why? He’s a gun control nut’s wet dream. Why is that what he had to live for?

ankyle August 1, 2012 2:32 PM

What will make you fall down is having the wind knocked out of you, which is certainly a possibility with a decently large, fast projectile (e.g. not a “mouse gun”, like someone’s 2.5″ 25ACP) hitting something other than ceramic armor plates. The tactical situation this guy built for himself would have served him very well against armed defenders, if the idiots in charge of Cinemark hadn’t effectively guaranteed themselves an auditorium full of soft targets, but not because of his “body armor”; it was because of his tear gas, or whatever it was, and his gas mask.

Aigars Mahinovs August 1, 2012 2:33 PM

Oh and I forgot one more thing – if he was forced to go to the black market to buy a gun, it would have been much easier for the police to arrest him before he got to the shooting. Same if the assault weapons were banned – he could have been arrested for carrying one even before he started shooting.

Currently as the law is – a person that had to attend psychiatrist bought several powerful weapons over many months, bought body armor, bought tons of ammo, bought grenades and extended magazines and carried all that down the street. All fully legal. A policeman could have seen him at the back of the theatre and legally there would have been no reason and no way to arrest him. He only broke the law when he started shooting.

That is insane!

Bryan August 1, 2012 2:35 PM

Claiming that missile defense systems ended the Cold War is inaccurate. The political and economic collapse of the USSR was the primary reason that the stalemate ended.

The author is attempting to create history to suit a metaphor, which is dangerous and misleading.

Rob K August 1, 2012 2:37 PM

The force of impact is only part of what knocks you down when you’re shot. The pain inflicted is a huge part of it too. As I’ve said elsewhere, wearing body armor doesn’t turn you into Iron Man. Getting shot while wearing it hurts like hell. A chest shot will give you severe bruising and broken ribs. Same with your legs.

If this Slate reporter thinks that body armor is so effective, do you think he’d be willing to dress up in it and then let me empty a magazine from my .45 into him?

Knitebane August 1, 2012 2:40 PM

The North Hollywood shooters were wearing trauma plates in addition to their body armor. Also, the police were attempting to engage them from distances ranging from 20 to 50 meters, largely unsuccessfully.

As a previous commenter mentioned, body armor isn’t magic. A 230gr. round out of a .45ACP has about 528 joules at the muzzle. When it impacts a person without body armor it penetrates and expands and usually exits out the back with some of its energy intact. (It’s still moving.)

When it impacts a person wearing body armor it expends all of its kinetic energy into the armor. All of that energy has to go somewhere. People who have been shot wearing body armor equate it to being hit with a big hammer. Police wearing body armor who are shot at close range routinely have broken ribs.

Anyone shot at theater-isle range while wearing body armor is going to have to stop killing the innocent and do something about the hammer blows breaking his bones.

Additionally, modern tactical training recognizes that enemies often wear armor and incorporates shooting for the hips and the head.

The point that keeps getting intentionally dropped is that we don’t know if a lawfully carried handgun would have stopped Holmes because the law prevented such a thing from happening.

The other point that is ignored is the curious case of the OTHER shooter in Aurora, CO. The one that tried a similar tactic in a church on April 22, 2012.

At worst, having a lawfully armed person in that theater would have changed nothing. (The hysterical fantasies of hoplophobes shrieking about crossfires are unsupported by the reality of lawful defensive gun use.)

It is more likely it would have changed the situation for the better. How much better would be purely speculation but what’s the gun-grabber mantra? “If it saves just one life….”

We do know what happens when a criminal gunman shows up in a gun-free zone. It’s the same thing that always happens. Lots of people die.

The hoplophobes are okay with this. They keep pushing for more restrictions on the law-abiding.

jon August 1, 2012 2:40 PM

On the topic of physics…
A person firing a hand gun has pivots at the wrist, elbow, and shoulder, for a large caliber gun, most of these come into play as the gun recoils, absorbing the shock.

A bullet impacting a bullet proof vest will not puncture the vest, the impact will be spread out across the area around the impact on the skin.
Take for instance the example given above of pushing some one down you extend your flat palm square into their chest, you distribute the load, and then follow through after the initial impact. you do not fall, the person you are pushing does. But the bullet will not have a follow through (this a big part of why many bullet proof vests are not knife proof.)
However, there is one more thing to consider, the area of impact and the natural response to having such a blow delivered to the human body… The force applied by the bullet wouldn’t knock a prepared target to the ground, perhaps a target that was caught off balance. The thing that will send a person to the ground is the sudden pain of taking that kind of blow to their body… a shot to the chest will deliver the largest area to absorb the impact, a shot to the leg will cause leg muscles to loosen and the target will stumble.

Of course there are variables all over the place in this from the armor to the size and speed of the bullet hitting it, the location of the hit, and the build of the person wearing the armor.

End result, knocking some one down is perfectly possible, perhaps even with a firearm that could be carried in a concealed manner. But the smaller the caliber the more likely the gun would be carried the less likely it would do much good.

Dreamer August 1, 2012 2:43 PM

@ Jordan Brown, etc.: Part of the fallacy in the physics arguments presented above is that a firearm distributes the force over a large surface area – the length/breadth of the grip and/or stock. Whereas the bullet hits a much smaller surface area on the target (probably 1/100 or less).
Also involved is the fact that the gun vents gasses to the sides/etc. that are part of the action/reaction involved in propelling the bullet. So the opposing force is not completely directed along the firearm grip/stock, but also somewhat dispersed. In self-cocking mechanisms, some of the force is also used to reset the firing pin and chamber the next round.

Ballistic armor is used in much the same way – to try and spread the impact of the bullet over a much larger surface area. Hard plate armor is most effective at this, but has other disadvantages (limited mobility, gaps in joints/etc., brittleness against some ammo/attacks, tendency to cause fragmentation and ricochets, etc.) which is at least partly why you tend to see ‘soft’ weave/mesh/overlay armor combined with hard ceramic/steel inserts.

Champs August 1, 2012 2:46 PM

Pardon the expression, but it seems appropriate: why aren’t homicidal rampages considered movie plot threats? It’s same vicious circle of tactical escalation against very rare events.

Citizens are powerless to fight armored killers hidden in the dark and smokescreen. At least airline passengers can tackle their hijackers.

bcs August 1, 2012 2:53 PM

@Wael: The impulse/impact to the shooter and the shot is the same. Aside from large rifles, small arms probably have less chance of knocking someone over than a punch in the same spot. And even if it does, it’s more likely to be as a result of the startle factor and/or pain than anything.

tl;dr IF someone is wearing effective body armor, shooting them where they are armored is unlikely to stop them for longer than it takes them to stand back up.

Wael August 1, 2012 2:54 PM

Hmmm …
MythBusters Episode 25:
REVISITED: A body struck by a bullet will be propelled violently backwards. (From Episode 25)
Even a .50 Caliber bullet does not have the momentum to knock a person backwards. If it were possible, the shooter would be knocked backwards as well – as per Newton’s Third Law.

I guess these guys fell asleep in the geography (or is it physics) class. Or perhaps they were blowing spit bubbles when the teacher talked about the subject 🙂

jdw August 1, 2012 2:58 PM

Rob K writes:
“If this Slate reporter thinks that body armor is so effective, do you think he’d be willing to dress up in it and then let me empty a magazine from my .45 into him?”

bcs writes:
“tl;dr IF someone is wearing effective body armor, shooting them where they are armored is unlikely to stop them for longer than it takes them to stand back up.”

Rob, I think you have a volunteer. 🙂

George August 1, 2012 3:07 PM

The same weekend in Chicago, more people were killed by guns than were in Aurora. My guess is that none of the shooters in Chicago were wearing body armor because in 99.9% of gun homicides, it is impractical for the perps to go full on defense as this writer seems to claim will be the new gold standard for gun wielders.

The whole article displays a hysterical foolishness and I am disappointed that Mr. Schneier gives it airplay in his blog. I mean, are we really supposed to take from this that there is no point in listening to the NRA as everyone is now going to be full armor and we might as well just line up for the shot to the head? Seriously?

John Schilling August 1, 2012 3:11 PM

The body armor was neither new nor relevant. Nor, possibly, even present – as others have already noted, it is quite possible that Holmes wasn’t actually wearing body armor at all, only scary black nylon that most people can’t distinguish from armor. I admit to some curiosity on that front, but only informed reporting will satisfy that, and this is anything but. Not surprising from Slate, somewhat disappointing here.

If armor was present, it would hardly have made a difference given that nobody bothered to try shooting Holmes. And if someone had tried, the outcome would have been little different. Even the most generous assessment of Holmes’ armor leaves his face, shoulders, and arms unprotected, and those are parts of the body disproportionately hit in close-range defensive shootings. Nor was there any evidence of protection from back-face trauma, such that even non-penetrating torso hits would have caused real damage.

The reporters following the Aurora shootings seem to live in a fantasy land of “full body armor”. Here in the real world, it is not practical to actually make people bulletproof. What body armor can do, what even the best military armor tries to do, is offer carefully tailored protection such that most of what would be lethal gunshot wounds instead become lesser injuries. This greatly increases survivability, but provides little protection against being merely incapacitated by gunfire.

Which, incidentally, makes it much more valuable to “good guys”, or perhaps to bad actors who are part of large and well-organized groups – when incapacitated, someone else is likely cover for them and get them to a hospital. Lone criminals like Holmes, armor just means that they live long enough to be executed later.

Dave August 1, 2012 3:13 PM

@ Aigars Mahinovs
“More guns would have caused far more deaths in the theater because of “frendly” fire: good guys trying to hit the bad guy and hitting other people in the crossfire, other good guys considering some of the good guys to be accomplices of the bad guy and taking each other down, with some more cross-fire causalities, police arriving on the scene and taking down anyone waving a gun around with some extra crossfire causalities on top. Has happened before.”

Care to cite a few examples? I’ve been hearing versions of what you just said for years now every single time there’s a debate on either reforming gun laws to better allow people access to tools of self defense or tightening them to reduce people’s access. But somehow I have yet to hear a single example of this ‘blood in the streets/wild west’ situation actually happening. Which is odd, as our ‘if it bleeds, it leads’ media would be all over a story like that.

Bob T August 1, 2012 3:14 PM

The best defense is a cape, a cool mask with pointy ears and a pair of Bat handcuffs.

And, of course, to display these signs with jagged tri-colored borders…

73challenger August 1, 2012 3:15 PM

According to this ITS tacticalarticle the shooter was just wearing a “tactical vest”. The blackhawk vest he was wearing was not bullet proof.

Blue3 August 1, 2012 3:19 PM

This person obviously has never seen someone on the receiving end of a gunshot wearing body armor.

It hurts. really bad. Even if he had body armor. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qYH8t6ILEc

No matter what, if you shoot someone in their armor, they’re likely to pause a moment, so you can place follow up shots.

A firearms instructor I listened to recently said “All the bad guys are wearing body armor these days, shoot for hips and heads!”

David D. August 1, 2012 3:30 PM

I had always thought that there is a huddle disincentive to wearing body armor. Normally the police want to capture an assailant and cause the least amount of harm in doing so.

Asailants who wear body armor should clearly be subject to different rules of engagement that the Asailants would not desire. For example; in this situation the police should all switch to head shots and the SWAT responders to armor-piercing bullets.

This has always been true to some degree, regardless of what the law says.

It used to be that Cop killiers would always be killed resisting arrest, but now the culture has changed somewhat and this is less true.

Its not a panacea, but i think those who have to live in these systems will invariably adapt thier response behavior to discourage espcially undesirable criminal activities like these.

Figureitout August 1, 2012 3:31 PM

Does anyone else really hate it when journalists make long political stretches? Why bring NRA into this? What should we do then, duck and cover!? Seems to me that if people perceive other people to be packing heat, or at least willing to fight back, it’s deterrence; and it’s not MAD, it’s protection against mad people!

The bigger story to me was his homemade explosives. Where’s the news coverage on that? It kind of just stopped, but that’s what I expect from our “journalists”. That would be a whole new take on “swatting”…

Nick P August 1, 2012 3:31 PM

@ Bruce and all

This post is idiocy at its best. Let’s sum up his claims:

  1. Bad guys take good guys out with guns.
  2. Good guys buy guns to deter bad guys
    If 1&2, then…
    3-1. This just forced bad guys to buy defense gear, stopping bullets.
    3-2. This means No 2 is a NRA bluff.

Let me show how ridiculous this line of reasoning is with a few questions directed at author’s conclusions (3-1 and 3-2).

  1. How many bad guys wear full, even partial, body armor during their crime?
  2. How many bad guys have been stopped by people with guns?

You are right on if you guessed (1) hardly any and (2) many who attacked legally armed citizens. In a crime ridden city very near me, Massad Ayoob pulled a survey done by a local gun training group for civilians. Being a violent city, dozens had been attacked while carrying a firearm. 100% successfully fought off the attacker. That contrasts well to other cases in the same city where people were unarmed & got beat down, raped or murdered. (Pick one, I know quite a few victims personally & were all unarmed/untrained.)

So, it seems that the author has started with a very unusual, well-publicized case. Then, he used it to make a gun control argument that doesn’t hold up. (If it just applies to dedicated psychos, it’s equally meaningless as they can always harm lots of people.) He’s also extrapolated the defense level of the crook to all cases to further support his guns aren’t a deterrent claim. I call bulls***. If he has evidence of that, I ask that he provide supporting evidence with a decent sample size. In mean time, we have plenty of cases where good guys with guns have stopped the bad guys and deterred others.

So, get you a piece, get some training, maintain awareness/safety & know the bad guys have more to worry about than you. 😉

blue2 August 1, 2012 3:36 PM


“It’s a good thing most states have had the foresight to make it illegal to wear body armor during the commission of the crime. If this was the case in Colorado, Holmes will most certainly get a few extra years tacked onto his sentence.”

I hope that was written in jest. Body armor is a completely defensive item. If I want to go to buy groceries wearing a concealed vest, that’s my business. Making body armor illegal is like banning seatbelts. Stupid…

I don’t believe he was actually wearing armor, just a nylon vest. Also he didn’t have gas, or grenades, he had a smoke bomb… like from the 4th of july. Some dufus running around in a gas mask is nearly blind anyway, so knocking somebody like that down is pretty trivial.

Winston Smith August 1, 2012 3:46 PM


Talk to anyone who has been shot in the body armor they were wearing. It can break ribs, cause severe internal bleeding, and leave the victim gasping for air— even when wearing ceramic plates (Holmes had soft armor).

Body Armor disperses the energy of the projectile across a wider surface area. 400+ foot pounds of energy in the chest won’t go unnoticed!

Winston Smith August 1, 2012 3:49 PM

Also, the shooting in Binghamton, NY a couple years ago had a shooter wearing body armor. A surviving eye-witness said that as soon as police sirens could be heard, the shooter turned the gun on himself.

Not everyone who has “defensive” ballistic gear on is truly ready to experience using it.

Animal Farm Pig August 1, 2012 3:50 PM

I have an idea–

People who are afraid of getting shot should start wearing body armor. Is it not a more elegant solution?

Various states and municipalities in the USA have attempted to ban or heavily restrict firearms. Look at Chicago or the state of California to see how effective that has been.

There are more guns than people in the USA. Gun control schemes will be as effective as germ control schemes.

If you are afraid of diseases (remember SARS and the swine flu), you wear a face mask. If you are afraid of your boat capsizing, you wear a life preserver. If you are afraid of dropping heavy things on your feet, you wear steel toed boots.

Why not wear body armor if you are afraid of people with guns shooting you?

I would even be willing to pay an extra tax of perhaps 0.5 cents per round or 1% of the purchase price of new firearms to provide subsidized body armor to people who are afraid of being shot but cannot afford body armor.

boog August 1, 2012 3:50 PM


2) Why was it possible to open the emergency exit from the outside?

As I understand it, he was in the theater when the movie started, then slipped out through the emergency exit, propping it open so he could sneak back in with guns/armor from his car.

In that case I think you mean: why didn’t propping the emergency exit open set off an alarm?

Tony August 1, 2012 3:57 PM

He killed the NRA’s answer to gun violence.

Then clearly we must have a ban on body armor!

Claire August 1, 2012 3:57 PM

RE: “At every gathering, at every theater, at every college a set percentage of civilians must be armed.”

Are you high? Who would want to live in such a society?

Miramon August 1, 2012 4:00 PM

The quoted essay had me until that ridiculous reference to strategic missile defense. That had nothing whatsoever to do with the end of the cold war. Does anyone seriously believe that 80s tech would have stopped a full-scale nuclear attack even if fully implemented?

Wael August 1, 2012 4:00 PM


The impulse/impact to the shooter and the shot is the same. Aside from large rifles, small arms probably…

I am not debating whether a bullet can knock a person off. I am saying the impulse/impact to the shooter and shot are not the same. Several posts here have already shown that.

Speaking of physics, I now remember this saying: “No work in slugs” 🙂

hint: slug is a unit of Mass…
work = F * d

ep August 1, 2012 4:03 PM

Yes, Bruce, but unfortunately your premise is incorrect. The shooter was NOT wearing “body armor,” as has widely (and hysterically) been reported in the press. Moreover, body armor is not some magic cloak of +2 protection either. There are a number of levels of the stuff and wearing enough to really provide the sort of protection where you can just stand in the open and ignore incoming rounds would make you into the Michelin Man. Basic handgun rounds would have stopped “The Joker” with center mass shots.

Wael August 1, 2012 4:06 PM

@ Winston Smith
Not everyone who has “defensive” ballistic gear on is truly ready to experience using it.

I see it differently. The guy wanted to stay alive until he finished his “mission”. After that, he did not care what happened to him. The body armor’s purpose is to keep him alive “long enough”…

Brandioch Conner August 1, 2012 4:08 PM

Read up on Prohibition. The rum runners were using body armour back then which led to the development of “magnum” ammunition to counter it.

And I think he was more interested in dressing up than body armour anyway.

NotQuiteRight August 1, 2012 4:12 PM

I hate this whole concept of thinking. He was wearing a Blackhawk vest. It was NOT body armour in any way shape or form. It was just some basic cordura dyed black with some pockets – probably the lowest end ‘tactical’ vest you can buy.

The media doesn’t get the difference between load bearing crap and armor.

Anon August 1, 2012 4:14 PM

All the basic physics arguments above ignore the time/distance component in the equation.

A bullet being expelled from a gun is accelerated across a distance (and as a result, across some length of time). For a rifle that distance is about 3 feet. For a handgun it is 6-9 inches, depending upon the barrel length.

But in any case, the bullet is accelerated across a distance.

But, upon hitting body armor, the bulled is decelerated across a very short distance. On the order of a quarter inch or so.

The net force required to achieve X velocity across a 36 inch length is significantly less than the force produced to decelerate from X to zero in a quarter inch length.

That is why the kick to the shooter from the gun is less than the kick imposed upon the target by the bullet impact. The difference in rate of acceleration/deceleration.

It is the same reason why decelerating from 60mph to 0mph in a 1/4 mile distance in your car does not kill you, but decelerating from 60mph to 0mph in a couple feet by hitting a concrete abutment most likely does kill you. The rate of acceleration/deceleration is what determines the applied forces.

Wael August 1, 2012 4:18 PM

@ Anon

All the basic physics arguments above ignore the time/distance component in the equation.

They haven’t. This is known as impact

GunBan August 1, 2012 4:35 PM

One thing that I have not really seen in ANY commentary is that the theatre was a “gun-free zone” – that means that any law-abiding concealed carry would not be allowed! This defeats the “Why did not anybody shoot him?” argument, since anybody capable of shooting him would be a criminal (probably misdemeanor) disregarding gun laws.

Jon August 1, 2012 4:45 PM

MAD worked because both sides knew exactly what the other had, exactly how much that would hurt, and were run by sane bureaucracies.

Not a single one of those premises holds valid for the NRAs defence of firearms.

Iz August 1, 2012 4:52 PM

Getting shot while wearing armor will still likely throw you off balance and prevent you from firing, likely long enough for a theater full of people to tackle you and prevent you from firing again.

Yeah, but who is going to volunteer to tackle the guy with the gun? Especially when that involves running into the line of fire, given that people are shooting at him as well.

You expect way too much coordination from random strangers. Oddly enough, doors once again come to our rescue. Locking him out was the only thing that helped.

It’s a good thing he didn’t think of just shooting the door… or shooting through the wall.

Rob August 1, 2012 4:53 PM

First, I disagree with the NRA about the purpose of the second amendment. It was not written so that Joe citizen protect himself from other citizens, the purpose was to let citizens defend or attack an oppressive government.
I have also noticed that the police are winning any arms race, that swat teams are bigger and better equipped with the latest body armour, face shields and increasing powerful weapons. Come, on, why does a police department need a Hummer mounted machine gun?
At least one state, (California?) has banned the wearing of body armour. Instead of banning the stuff, I’d like to see some laws that require it to be in bright neon green.
I would not change anything (laws) about the regarding weapons or body armour. I’d focus more on why the shooter in this case who was under the care of a psychiatrist raised no alarms and why there is not better reporting of gun purchases.

Robert August 1, 2012 5:07 PM

There used to be bullets that went through body armor, they were outlawed if you remember. Also body armor is not steel plating. body armor can only take a couple hits before it fragments and disintegrates. At the very least, the shooter would have to stop shooting the innocent in order to defend himself and then get back to business.

Seems to me the answer is to bring back Teflon bullets.

Geoffrey Kidd August 1, 2012 5:09 PM

Safe maker, safe breaker. In future, defenders can assume body armor in such a situation, and that just changes the tactics. “Center of mass” aim point becomes (admittedly somewhat more difficult) “center of face.”

And in the meantime, there’s always Lazarus Long’s dictum: “Get a shot off fast. This upsets him long enough to let you make your second shot perfect.”

mcb August 1, 2012 5:14 PM

Again, bad guys wearing armor during violent crimes is not new, and in this case Holmes apparently wasn’t wearing any except perhaps for his helmet.

Does that mean the average CCW holder could have killed or disabled Holmes without adding to the carnage? Let’s just say that training to engage a moving target surrounded by several hundred “no-shoots,” in the dark with smoke in your eyes, muzzle flashes in your face, and real live gunshots ringing in your ears is not part of most one day shall issue courses…

While many soft body armor wearers experience serious bruises or even blunt force trauma injuries many report not noticing they were shot until after the action was over (and this was in the bad old days of Level I or IIa protection). Others have described the impact of pistol bullets on soft body armor as similar to being punched by an athletic woman.

Armor scarcely makes the wearer feel invulnerable. When I put mine on I’m always painfully aware of how many of my favorite parts are not hidden behind it. No way I want to be shot at by anybody with anything while wearing it. The only thing worse would be someone shooting at me while I wasn’t wearing it.

mcb August 1, 2012 5:14 PM


Ms. Simpson makes a fine point. Mental health problems are at the core of every mass murder regardless whether the killings are perpetrated with a truck bomb, a can of gasoline, a firearm, a knife, or a bathtub.

So, in addition to banning/confiscating “WMMs that can be secreted into a movie theater” (repeating firearms that can be concealed on one’s person?) would you also endorse the legislation needed to roll back civil commitment precedents in order to make it easier for mental health professionals and local law enforcement agencies to promptly commit mentally ill persons against their will in the interest of public safety?

Denny August 1, 2012 5:18 PM

I am in fact high but that has nothing to do with the argument. There are more than 270 million guns in this country. We have the highest per capita gun ownership in the world. That society is now. You probably pass people on the street everyday who carry.
We just need to encourage civilians and businesses to pull their weight protecting soft targets. And we need total reciprocity for permits. If you expect me to recognize your gay marriage, you should at the very least recognize my concealed carry permit.

Alister William Macintyre August 1, 2012 5:45 PM

I did not see if anyone answered you.
The shooter had tickets for the performance. Before the movie started, he propped the exit open, went to his car, changed into his gear, and returned. Thanks to the judge gag orders, we probably cannot hear whether the theater had any alert about improper use of exit door, like some theaters try to stop people entering without paying.

Alister William Macintyre August 1, 2012 5:48 PM

I did not see if anyone answered you.
Some of the survivors, from other than Theater-9 said they left because a fire alarm went on. I have not heard if that alarm was turned on manually by theater staff, or if it was directly caused by the events in theater-9. None of the people who got shot, then later talked to the media, said anything about hearing any alarm, of those I have seen reported so far.

Shot in the Chest August 1, 2012 6:08 PM

As a police officer who has been shot in the line of duty and saved by my vest, let me tell you it HURTS! Although the vest stopped the bullet, the impact broke two of my ribs. Assuming Holmes had the same Level IIIA vest that I had, he would have suffered a similar fate. And there is still nothing that can protect you from a shot to the face. If you ever have to engage a target that does not go down after 5 shots to center mass, switch to the head or retreat.

Whippa August 1, 2012 6:09 PM

There’s a lot of confusion here.
Vs the sort of firearm you could carry into a movie, ie a pistol, you can buy body armour to stop the shots. You’ll still be hurt, but it ain’t gonna knock you over. But being able to stop a 9mm pistol round is completely different to (to pick an extreme from the comments above) a 50cal Browning round.
But no-one on the planet is wandering around with concealed guns capable of firing that round.
Now, as to arming the “good guys” as a deterrent, it simply leads to escalation. An armed deterrent is only as scary as their willingness to use the arms, which needs to be reinforced by using them, but then the loonies will escalate and try deterring the ‘good guys’ by targeting them, etc etc. Same shit as honour cultures.
What you need is dependable police, who can react quickly, and DO react, to every threat, not just the ones where rich white folks are being hurt.
To be honest though, from what I’ve seen of this the cops were there pretty damned fast.
Effective deterrents come from an authority, essentially a third party who can monopolize violence. If the target is shooting back, then that just leads to escalation, but when a third party intrudes with might that cannot be matched by an individual, there’s an effective deterrent.

QnJ1Y2U August 1, 2012 6:37 PM

I love the smell of rehashed gun debate talking points in the evening. It smells like … something.

Just thought I’d mention that the Mythbusters’ experiments aren’t really applicable here. They were looking at the reality of Hollywood visuals – i.e., will someone going flying though the air when they are shot.

Not surprisingly, the answer was ‘no’. In order to replicate a modern movie, they had to set up harnesses and wire rigs.

El Cid August 1, 2012 6:39 PM

Holmes wore an “urban assault vest” ask Chad Weinman, CEO of TacticalGear.com, who sold Holmes the vest. It is NOT a “bullet-proof” vest it is a cloth vest for holding magazines and equipment. PERIOD.

The BIG LIE technique in action folks, that is what the victim disarmament crowd is all about.

stopper August 1, 2012 6:46 PM

No one has complete protection for their head or they couldn’t see. Shot them once in the face and it’s over. Even helmets are not bullet proof, only designed to stop low velocity fragments.

Ben August 1, 2012 7:30 PM

Gee, no bias in that article at all. Holmes also immediately surrendered when confronted by police. He did not offer resistance when faced with resistance.

Dirk Praet August 1, 2012 8:12 PM

Somehow, I can’t shake the feeling that somewhere in Waziristan some folks are having a really good laugh wondering what all the fuss over their attacks is about when compared to the annual US death-by-firearm statistics. And then thank Allah for a liberal gun legislation that is doing their work for them.

Shin Splint August 1, 2012 8:16 PM

Please note that the perp purchased a ticket in normal garb, propped open a door (gee, that should have set off an alarm, right?), dressed in his tactical garb, grabbed his weapons, reentered the theater, and started gassing and shooting.

Let’s say he had no tactical gear and no firearm. With the half-assed security in this theater, he could have simply thrown a few molotov cocktails and done equal or worse damage.

LordYarlble August 1, 2012 9:26 PM

I’m greatly relieved after reading that silly article, to see readers here offering sensible feedback. I highly doubt the author would take his chances against a naked marksman even if he was clad in military grade armor.

There are situations to arise which can foil any plan. But we don’t see military abandoning their profession because possible opponents may be well-prepared and have a surprise for them. The purpose of armor is to minimize risk, not eliminate it.

Another factor is psychological; there is a big difference between hitting a punching-bag and smacking a boxer. When you receive return fire, it changes things. Even a reckless madman would typically be distracted by return fire, which you must know, cannot be negated by vests and helmets and dickpads.

I do not support the NRA, though I may support other organizations. But if you want a hit-piece on them, it is advisable to hit them where it hurts. This just bounces. Their armor is reality in this case.

Most police don’t wear more than a vest. Should officers resign now that some psychotic monster outgeared them with fancier ware? I never believed a few pricks with box-knives could overpower a plane full of adults, but this author has me reconsidering. A plane full of similar minds could likely be conquered with the mere threat of sporks.

And I am sure you will all loathe me for this, but there have been more than a few dictators that managed a lot worse without any armor at all.

Cryptopunks August 1, 2012 9:46 PM

“Mental health problems are at the core of every mass murder”

Correct, and one should recall MKULTRA, COINTELPRO, and other pet projects. How far have they advanced in their continuance today?

Aside: http://ssristories.com/

“massive index of over 4,800 cases”

Garth August 1, 2012 10:19 PM

@Nick P

Didn’t see anyone respond to you but has it occurred to you that the reason why they were all successful is that the ones who failed were shot either by their own gun or the assailants gun and died? Of course if the survey was of the gun instructors then they themselves don’t have any real incentive to tell you about the ones who failed.

Further to this if I survived and was shot I may move away from the city or decide that carrying is not such a great idea and thus not have been included in the survey respondents(not a current gun club member/student).

Andrei Belogortseff August 1, 2012 10:56 PM

How come that whenever we hear of a mass shooting, there never is a “good guy” with a gun at the scene to stop the shooter? Is there a statistics of some sort that would show the percentage of the shooting incidents which were stopped by the “good guys” with guns? Such a number would surely answer the question whether NRA is right or wrong.

An Anonymous August 1, 2012 11:01 PM

Andrei Belogortseff:

In many cases, guns are banned on the property (as was the case here) or in the city in which the event takes place.

So the only people with weapons would be any law-enforcement officers present (on or off duty) which happen to be carrying, and people who are illegally armed.

Andrew August 1, 2012 11:14 PM

Even if this clown had been wearing body armor, which he was not:

— it is terribly disconcerting to be shot at for real, especially the first time, and that in itself is a major interruption in the atrocity

— as several people have shared, being hit while wearing armor is very distracting

— there is always the odds of a head, [edit] or limb shot going in

— when people are dying all around you, any improvement in the situation is better than none

— friendly fire isn’t, but even if a defender had shot bystanders while interrupting the atrocity, the net result might still have been saving numerous lives

Sevesteen August 1, 2012 11:26 PM

Virtually all (I believe all but the Gabrielle Giffords shooting) spree shootings with 3 or more victims have been where guns are not allowed.

To the best of my knowledge, spree shootings are invariably finished with no further victims as soon as someone shoots back. Disparity in weapons doesn’t appear to matter, and in no case I’ve read about has an armed civilian shot the wrong person.

Spree shootings are still rare enough that efforts to save lives are still better spent in other areas–but clearly, mere signs banning the law abiding from carrying are more likely to harm than help.

LordYarlble August 1, 2012 11:44 PM


Ever taken a .45 round to the torso while wearing light armor? Maybe a .40? I don’t recommend it, but you could always test a gasmask against .40 penetration. But I doubt it (the mask) would be very effective. There’s ceramic armor available that’ll stop a 308 with zero penetration and I’d be nervous being chased by someone wearing that. But it’s expensive and thankfully not yet an urban trend. Also, “escalation” is a sort of inevitable part of conflict. In a closed and densely occupied area, escalation seems a lot more hopeful than waiting for even the quickest response team. 1 or 2 minutes can make for a lot of trigger work. Heck man, even the DHS released an instructional video in Texas urging able bodies to fight back where possible, albeit with pretty unlikely weapons. *There is more than one way to offer a seat to a dangerous adversary 😉

It’s a bummer that Assad didn’t have enough knee-pads to hand out to his forces — he could have saved his country from al-Qaeda (“rebel”) invasion. I think, perhaps, that the key to public safety is indeed to disarm America, but more importantly to make sure no one leaves home without their gasmask and kneepads. Hell, when we invade Iran, maybe our troops will go in wearing nothing but ABS plastic whilst playing lyres and blowing bubbles.

Steve Russelle August 2, 2012 12:37 AM

Disagree with you. Armor is happy to spread the blow of a bullet and pass it along to the wearer while (hopefully) preventing bullet penetration. Still hurts like hell in there, and multiple shots are likely to cool the heels of anyone being shot while wearing it. Ask any man who has been there.
Given the option, armor or no, in the face of such an attack it is seldom more sensible to fail to defend yourself when the option is to wait and be shot.
I say, horse feathers to this one, Bruce.

Figureitout August 2, 2012 1:40 AM

As others have mentioned, a door was propped open and should have set off an alarm; a fire alarm would have at least in my opinion raised suspicions of many people, preparing them for a life&death event. Otherwise, this “joker” would have had to break in through the back (breaking glass and raising suspicion, hopefully girls scream) or come in through the front with his suit on; at least giving a chance for the ticket vendors to call security or 911; or while he was busy killing the initial vendors, others buying snacks could scream and warn others.

I don’t advocate living in a total police state, as some are lightly suggesting.

When I came across an unconscious body on a sidewalk, it totally took me off-guard; being shot at out of the blue would be a whole other story. Anytime I handle a gun, I treat it as loaded and only point the barrel at things I intend to shoot. People need to be thinking about these things while they are walking the streets (don’t be AS paranoid as me, I will protect you if I can 🙂 but learning self-defensive “muscle memories” or just having a semi-thought-out plan will help. Study the area you’re in, just keep semi-safe areas in the back of your mind; it helps so much…

To test this alarm, it would be easy to be a “whooopsie, sorry didn’t mean to do that; I thought it was the exit” moron; act stupid if you’re curious and want to evade prosecution. Trust me, I’ve seen much worse. Putting a camera there won’t help that much unless someone is monitoring it 24/7 (costly); and after some has carried out a massacre, what difference does it make besides confirmation in a death sentence? (I’m pointing out the obvious, I know.)

People need to start taking responsibility for their own security, what more proof do you need it’s a sick world.

German August 2, 2012 1:58 AM

The historic failure of the USA is that their ex-president declared war on terror yet most of their citizens are ignorant to the civil war on terror thats happening in their own country. Rest assured the rest of the developed world is mostly scratching their heads about this archaic mindset.

When the US constitution was created, weapons like an AK-47 simply didn’t exist. But compared to the primitive historic guns, an AK-47 is a weapon of mass destruction which should not belong to civil hands.

Figueroa August 2, 2012 2:28 AM

I disagree on some points, body armor is not a magic sort of protection.
There are substantial chances of being hit in weak or naked spots, and high speed bullets (there are also commercial low caliber high speed bullets for compact handguns) can pierce body armor.
On the minus side, one wearing such a body armor can be immediately spotted as hostile, and suffers of reduced speed, sight and mobility, that’s why it is used on a battlefield and not used (or used in very reduced form) on other military duties, in example.

The real problem is that being the one which chooses the battleground and the moment of the attack is by itself a too big advantage… but re-arranging the logic of the post this advantage could be reduced if most of the population would carry body armor instead of firearms.

A.J. Venter August 2, 2012 3:16 AM

Mythbusters isn’t science and often do get things wrong because they have a massive tendency to oversimplify. They are useful experiments but they are’t the be-all or end-all of anything.

Yes, Newton’s third law says the gun is pushed back with the same force (assuming no losses – so actually slightly more) as the bullet will hit the target with.
This doesn’t mean knockback is impossible because that is a massive oversimplification.

1) Appart from revolvers, all pistols and other more recent weapons are built to absorb a massive amount of shock. The gun itself absorbs most of the energy in the knockback – only a small part goes to the shooter. Automatic and semi-automatic weapons even put that energy to good use: to load the next bullet and cock the gun.
This means that the bullet hitting the target has a lot more energy than the gun exerts on the shooter Because he doesn’t have any springloaded moving shock-absorbers between him and the energy.

2) Gun shooters (at least any who know what they are doing) stand/lie in a balanced position that lets them take quite a push and furthermore are trained to relax their muscles as they fire in order to absorb the kickback – and even the exact right time to do so so that the absorbing movement does not interfere with the accuracy of the shot. Gun victims get hit by a humanly-invisible projectile at high-speed with complete surprise-factor, you cannot brace for a bullet or relax your knees and shoulders to absorb the shock because you don’t know the moment of impact. Indeed anybody whose been shot will tell you that you don’t even FEEL the shot until several seconds after the hit. What you feel is “being shoved, hard”.

3) Injury factors in, even if the bullet doesn’t push you back much by itself, a few broken ribs is usually enough to make people double-over – so is getting the wind knocked out of you. A bullet to a vest generally does both.

As somebody else pointed out, it’s quite possible to shove somebody off balance without falling over yourself. The trouble with basic physics is this: the real world is NOT basic. Basic physics says Kangaroos cannot jump because the energy needed for their jumps per day exceeds the maximum they could possibly consume from food in a day – but that’s if you calculate it like a jumping kangaroo is a sack of potatoes being lifted and dropped. If you add biology you learn that kangaroos bounce – they put a lot of energy into the first jump but then they store energy in their muscles by pulling the legs up and pushing their heads and tails down – subsequent jumps only use a tiny amount of new energy as they are actually mostly done using recycled energy – their food only needs to power ONE jump and the energy LOSSES between jumps. The vast majority of the energy in each bounce is the SAME energy that powered the last one.

Basic physics is useful, but if you are going to figure out how anything in the real world actually works you need complicated physics, not basic.

Winter August 2, 2012 3:33 AM

The article is right. The attacker can always benefit from preparation, while the victims are always caught by surprise.

Body armor and tear gas will help the attacker to kill for a longer time whatever the preparations of the victims. And this is the type of shooting where the attacker expects to be killed, or will even shoot himself. Anything like, “but he will be hurt” does not take into account that that is what he expects.

And if carrying guns makes us saver, then it remains to be explained why the less people carry a gun in public, the saver a country is.

Extremes: compare Afghanistan to Japan.

Freek August 2, 2012 3:41 AM

@A.J. Venter, first argument: it’s not about energy, it’s about momentum.

One earlier commenter pointed out, the momentum of the shooting gun is partly transferred to the release of gasses, rather than absorbed by the shooter. Despite all that, the momentum and energy of a few grams of bullet is not enough for a person of 70-80 kg to fall over anytime soon. The pain from the impact might. I don’t know about that.

Bottom line is that I agree with one basic premise of the article: to reduce the number of killings we need more defense, not more offense as the NRA have suggested. I hope never to experience such an ordeal, but I certainly rather have fire coming from one side than being stuck in cross fire between some good and bad guy.

A.J. Venter August 2, 2012 3:41 AM

Winter – I agree with that position, and I would add that the realities of defence do not support the NRA’s position either.
The vast majority of violent attacks and crimes are NOT random. Most of the time criminals target people who already know and trust them, the random-gunmen always makes the news exactly because it’s an incredibly rare event that hardly ever happens.

So being armed doesn’t help much when the vast majority of threats come disguised as somebody you trust.

More-over guns for defence doesn’t work because the numbers just don’t add up. The amount of people killed by their own guns far exceed the amount killed by somebody else’s gun (especially if you factor in suicide which is a MUCH higher risk than being attacked). Guns themselves are popular targets for theft and in actual robbery cases they are known to actually up the ante.
A robber would generally prefer to avoid a murder or attempted-murder charge as the penalties if he gets caught is so much higher. If the target draws a gun, the robber is now forced to USE his gun – instead of just threatening with it.

Stats 101 August 2, 2012 4:04 AM

Massad Ayoob pulled a survey done by a local gun training group for civilians. Being a violent city, dozens had been attacked while carrying a firearm. 100% successfully fought off the attacker.

Survivorship bias: the ones that didn’t fight them off are dead and therefore unable to respond to surveys.

Winter August 2, 2012 4:24 AM

@Stats 101
Even more. I think that close to 0% of those questioned had been killed by a gun, ever.

Figueroa August 2, 2012 4:39 AM

About the momentum/kinetic energy discussion: the point is not of a bullet being able to push down a person wearing body armor.
The point is that even a ballistic vest (possibly with ballistic plates) is not good enough to transform the piercing action of the bullet in a gentle push.
The bullet is prevented to pierce the body behind the armor (if the protection is adequate – and with high speed bullets odds are not good – and if the bullet does not his a naked spot!) but the energy transfer is enough concentrated in a small spot to break bones and soft organs.
Like being hit by an hammer, it may be not enough to push someone down with sheer force (but may, if the position is not good) but may be enough to knock down someone by trauma or permanent damage (fractured ribs – possibly with pneumotorax -, backbone, skull, broken spleen or liver…).
A ballistic vests test, in facts, keep count of deformation of the vest and of energy transfer, (correctly) assuming that over certain values a non-piercing trauma is deadly by itself – quite different than picking up an armor bonus on Doom.

londoner August 2, 2012 5:11 AM

The Aurora shooter used OC smoke to obscure the area and was concealed by running civilians, the light reflecting off the screen (he was standing at the bottom of the theatre below it), and noise from the movie (possibly including the sounds of gunfire).

The shooter had a 50 foot high wall of targets, and even when they started fleeing they ended up in the funnel of death by the exits. He would barely need to aim; he doesn’t care who he hits.

Conversely, the armed civilians would be affected by panic (unless they’re a professional or a paranoiac, they’ve just be caught cold), the tear gas and general poor visibility, their desire not to hit other innocent civilians, the fear that another armed civilian is going to mistake him for a second shooter (in the chaos, it would not be obvious at all what is going on), and so on. Even if he manages to put a shot on target, there’s no guarantee he would be able to hit Holmes somewhere where the tactical gear carrier vest and SWAT ballistic helmet wouldn’t protect him before drawing Holmes’ attention and return fire.

There are cases where intervention can help. Here, barring a trained infantryman or SWAT team member sitting in the front row, this is a really bad situation to be trying to make that case.

Figueroa August 2, 2012 5:33 AM

still, most mass shooting events happens when weapon control policies creates a fish in the barrel scenario

Carl August 2, 2012 6:10 AM

Okay, you obviously have never been in a fire fight. This guy wasn’t wearing body armor. Not to take anything from Blackhawk, I’m one of their customers. But the Blackhawk gear the Aurora shooter was wearing is really good at stopping paintball attacks, not a 9mm or 45 ACP round such as most concealed carriers use. If I had been there with my weapon, I definitely would have fired back. Even if I’m exchanging fire with someone better armed than me, I’m still forcing him to take cover, giving other people, including my family a chance to escape and survive, even if it is at my sacrifice. The big question you completely failed to answer is: How many people might still be alive had someone started shooting back. Ask any GI, body armor or not, you’re going to duck and cover when the bullets start wizzing by and more of your shots will be missing the targets, especially fast moving frightened targets. go play paint ball sometime and see how accurate your fire is when someone’s shooting back.

Winter August 2, 2012 6:40 AM

“still, most mass shooting events happens when weapon control policies creates a fish in the barrel scenario”

Most mass shooting events happen in places with a lot of guns.

Again, in Afghanistan, Somalia, or Iraq, most people own gun. These are not safe countries.

In Japan and German, few people own guns, almost none carry a loaded gun around. Your chances of being shot there are much less than in, eg, the South of the USA.

David August 2, 2012 6:49 AM

as a ‘foreigner’ looking at the craziness that is the US attitude to firearms, it becomes clear the the NRA is the problem, not the solution.

No One August 2, 2012 7:30 AM

@Carl: Be careful saying if you were there you’d be firing back — as I said on /. when the story broke this was the second worst situation I could think of for an attempted defensive shooting. The ratio of innocents to hostiles was insane, victims were chaotically screaming, the area was dark and obscured with smoke, the action sequence on the screen was loud so the gunfire would have only added to the chaos. I’m not sure where in the theater Holmes was, I’ve heard both at the front and the back. If at the back then getting a clean shot would be almost impossible in most of the theaters I’ve been in, if a the front there’d be a little better chance for a clean shot but you still have to deal with people randomly running up in front of your shot. Then you have to handle the situation where someone mistakes you for the hostile shooter anyway.

The only worse situation I could think of would be a night club…

That said, unreasonable people who commit these crimes are unreasonable so maybe if CCW were more common in Aurora he would have abandoned the whole plan. Or maybe he would have switched to molotovs.

I’m waiting for the day when guns are banned and the Brady campaign is cheering then someone takes their F350 with a brush bar and mows down a 5k for charity.

Tom August 2, 2012 7:59 AM

I thought the most innovative thing the shooter did was set off the tear gas. I like to think if it wasn’t for that, we may have had some folks bum rush the guy and take him down possibly sacrificing themselves like on flight 93. I think this may have stopped the attack, because even with a gun it would be hard to take out multiple attackers at short range quickly enough. The tear gas prevented counterattacks which I assume is why he set it off near him as opposed to putting it near the exits to keep more folks in the theater.

Lagrandeimage August 2, 2012 8:23 AM


I am a bit surprised by your reasoning.

First of all, the Aurora shooting is the typical movie plot scenario. The one in a kind accident that gets media on the frenzy. I am a bit surprised you recommend basing general recommandations according to such a specific threat.

I just read an article about a Chinese man that killed 8 people with a knife. Imagine a man dressed like the Aurora shooting and with a knife or sword. Anyone taking on surprised blinded people in a theater can make a killing whatever the tool.

There is no measure that will be 100% effective, especially when the attacker is ready to do wild and crazy things. Concealed carry is not perfect but it will help in most cases.

Second of all, as many other have pointed out body armor will not have stopped the shooter from getting hurt if he had been shot at. If he had taken fire, that would definitely at least had caught his attention and helped to save some people.

Consider as other have also pointed out that he was apparently not really wearing body armor. The main impact of his “costume” was therefore more psychological than defensive. There is a point police swat team wear black, it’s because black is a color that helps to induce fear based on our evolutionnary history.

Third of all, the Aurora scenario means if will be much harder to dress up like a SWAT team and go around public places without it raising alarm. Just like now it would be impossible to renew the 2011 plan crashes because all the plane would rise up against the attackers.

Allover the principle the best defense is a good offense still is true IMO.

David B August 2, 2012 8:27 AM

Wow, long thread. I just want to throw out some info based on my personal experience:

Bullets won’t knock you down. In the 1980’s there was a video series called “Deadly Weapons/Deadly Effects” In it, the host donned the latest and greatest Level III vest, rated for rifle rounds, stood on one leg, and took a shot from an FN FAL 7.62×51 (.308) rifle. He didn’t move.

Now, that doesn’t mean anything, because there are a multitude of other factors involved in a lethal force encounter.

As background, I served in the 75th Ranger Regiment in the 1980’s, and worked as a security contractor in Iraq. I’ve been shot at (and RPG’d at, and IED’d at).

Holmes had no training. At most, he may have played paintball or airsoft. Believe me, THINGS ARE WAY DIFFERENT when people shoot back at you. The ‘two-way’ range can turn paper punching Rambo’s into quivering masses. I’ve seen it happen. No one can know what Holmes would have done if 1 or 2 armed movie goers would have started drilling him with rounds, but the odds are at least even that he would have soiled his drawers and run.

Armor, sharmor. As related above, it isn’t magic. All info indicates that he didn’t have hard plates, and it’s possible his torso wasn’t even protected by anything other than a load carrying vest. All his stuff seems to have been soft armor. Again, as related above, Blunt Force Trauma causes backface deformation and can break ribs. He wouldn’t have just stood there absorbing rounds.

That’s what the face is for. If your observed impacts are having no effect, you change your targeting on the body. If you don’t train to consistently put your rounds into the center of a paper plate, you’re doing it wrong. You must train for this stuff. Just getting a CPL and hitting a silhouette anywhere, isn’t good enough. The good news is, most people that choose to go through the process of legally carrying a weapon, are into training. They spend their own money on it, and they love it. Most are better trained than most of the police that everyone thinks can protect them. (a lot just qualify once a year on a pretty easy range run, and never shoot again).

And for goodness sake, carry a high lumen light next to your magazine carrier.

Now YES, this would have been a super chaotic scenario, and I’m not suggesting that anybody who holds a Guns and Ammo subscription could have taken him out…but a properly trained individual could have. Sadly, nobody did anything and there were 12 dead. That’s what doing nothing usually gets you: Dead. This country has lost it’s ‘fight’ mindset.

If you’re going to die, do it on your terms. At the very least, you may have taken all of his attention and saved a few people. “Hoping the bad man just goes away” is never the answer if you want a chance at living.

I’m not going to say that a CPL holder would have saved the day…but I’m certainly not going to let someone else say that a CPL holder couldn’t have.


Figueroa August 2, 2012 8:29 AM

@ Winter
Of course war and after-war zones are stuffed of weapons and have high crime and violence ratio. I was talking of events in the USA, when a reasonably similar social and cultural context is involved.
Reverting the statement “weapons do not kill people, people kill people” it can be notice that in facts are not the weapons (or body armors, or weapon control laws) that saves people from being shot, but rather higher education, positive social environment that does not create outcast persons or nurture borderline personalities, and good economy that saves people from being shot or shot other people (but even in this case – i.e. Norway as classic example of positive society – some people will rather chose to do terrible things)

Lagrandeimage August 2, 2012 8:29 AM


You said “In Japan and German, few people own guns, almost none carry a loaded gun around. Your chances of being shot there are much less than in, eg, the South of the USA.”

Unfortunately it is so that Germany is the second country in the world after the USA with the most public shootings despite the fact that it has very strict gun control: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/in-europes-league-of-school-shootings-germany-comes-top-1645387.html

In Israel and Switzerland a lot of people own guns but not many public shootings.

Your reasoning is flat wrong.

Clive Robinson August 2, 2012 8:30 AM

@ Dreamer,

One of the problems of ballistics that is actually not much talked about is the inertia and plasticity of the target.

It has been known for quite a few years that the likes of ballistic gelatin are not very useful when designing ammunition.

For instance skin on the human torso is broadly equivalent to 15-25mm of other soft tissues (fat muscle) where as gelatin is effectivly uniform.

And the effects of inertia can broadly be seen by the effect of bulletss passing through glass or other inelastic material.

Oddly the only people doing a lot of research into this appears to be the likes of NASA for dealing with specs of dirt moving at very large delta V to spacecraft.

warren August 2, 2012 8:46 AM

There are a host of vulnerable points at which the Aurora shooter could have been hit vitally – legs, arms, etc

Had he been hit, a second (or 3d or 8th) shot would have finished the job started with the first.

bcs August 2, 2012 8:53 AM

@jdw: “effective body” armor would be something like the 3 inch think full body stuff the Army wares. And I still wouldn’t let someone shoot me.

@Wael: Momentum is M*v and is conserved. Shooter gun and bullet start with zero momentum and sum to zero after the round is fired. Small mass/high v one way, high mass/low v the other way, same momentum on both sides. That’s kick. On the other end, it is again conserved and (almost) all the momentum of the bullet transferred to the target resulting in (almost) exactly the same high mass/low v as was seen in the shooter.

It turns out that work (a.k.a. energy) is the bit that does damage; the more energy that is transferred to things other than the kinetic energy of the target, the more damage is done.

So, from a physics stand point, the shooter and the shot get the same impact, but the shot gets the lions share of the energy and thus damage. As to if that will result in them no longer being on their feet; at this point, that’s not a physics question.

Winter August 2, 2012 8:56 AM

Public shootings are rare, and your chances of dying in it are less than being hit by lightening. But people do get killed by morons wielding guns, be it intentionally or not.

Measures that reduce the number of people killed in mad shootings could quite well increase the number of people shot outside mad shootings by orders of magnitude more.

Your chances of getting murdered in Germany are a fraction of those getting murdered in the USA. And the Germans are convinced that one of the causes is their “strict” gun control laws (most Germans are convinced their gun laws are way too lax).

Bartley August 2, 2012 9:07 AM

@jdw….as someone who has been shot let me assure you I wasn’t knocked to the ground by pain. In fact I felt no pain at all. When I was hit (probably by an AK-47 or a light machine gun) I was spun around and knocked to the ground. It wasn’t until I saw the spray of blood that I realized I had been shot. Most of the people I have seen hit by a bullet or bullets were knocked to the ground….not from any pain.

pfogg August 2, 2012 9:16 AM

You can’t make an argument about the effectiveness of private gun ownership vs. a spree killer based on how you think it would have turned out if people had been allowed to carry guns.

Or rather you can, and highlight ‘terrible new dangers in the modern world’, too, but hasn’t the position of this blog always been that this constitutes fear-mongering propaganda?

Tom August 2, 2012 9:20 AM

As long as we’re making selective citations from the text, don’t miss this part – “What the media won’t admit is that in each of those tragedies, the mass killers all had the same decisive advantage: Government Gun Free Zones and anti-self-defense laws that protected the safety of no one except the killers and condemned the victims to death without so much as a prayer. That’s right: Our own policies gave more protection to the killers than to the innocent. Government Gun Free Zones have become the hunting ground of evil, deranged monsters.”

T August 2, 2012 10:00 AM

The thing I don’t understand, It’s much more likely for me to die of a health issues than a gun. So why isn’t health a bigger deal?

None of us will know if a CPL holder could of saved the day or made it worse, I don’t understand how it’s an argument.

Guns were banned at the theater. Why didn’t the sign stop the shooter from bringing his gun inside the theater?

John Hardin August 2, 2012 10:07 AM


You can’t make an argument about the effectiveness of private gun ownership vs. a spree killer based on how you think it would have turned out if people had been allowed to carry guns.

No, but you can make a compelling argument about the effectiveness of “gun free zones” in preventing violent crimes using guns.

Kivo August 2, 2012 10:21 AM

In Russia we can buy Biosteel full body armor with no ID, made by US contractors and the US gov. can’t even get it..

Nobody here cares about guns though, guns are for people incapable of logical-critical thinking.. Which a nation of mostly uneducated hateful people is just..

Winston Smith August 2, 2012 11:20 AM

I think the real win of this article is the traffic that Bruce receives to this blog.

Controversy sells. It’s not like one side is going to convince the other, especially not in this forum.

Nothing to see here, move along.

Anonymous Chicken August 2, 2012 11:36 AM

Surely you could think of other reasons to not live in the USA. If you need help, just watch any of our television stations. Or maybe do some research on our beer.

“In Japan and German, few people own guns, almost none carry a loaded gun around. Your chances of being shot there are much less than in, eg, the South of the USA.”

Interesting you select two countries that both initiated sequences of carnage that shocked the world, and still does even today. Perhaps you are right though; but maybe the US must stop playing with small things like Iraq and Afghanistan and first initiate it’s own epic war before it can safely disarm it’s public? That way, it will take a long time for citizens of other countries to shoot themselves enough to catch up with our death toll, and they can enjoy statistics for a while.

Tony August 2, 2012 11:40 AM

A couple of years ago we met an officer at an academy sponsored certification course. The officer had been shot in the upper chest with a .38 revolver at a distance of 10 feet. The vest stopped the round from penetrating his chest cavity. The result from that shooting was a cracked sternum, fist sized contusion and an understanding of how difficult it is to overcome confusion and anxiety and although “trained to respond” those lessons didn’t meet the reality in his situation.

The officers description of the shooting was that he fell while stepping back and experienced an immediate disorientation that lasted an estimated 30 seconds, he did not return fire. The on foot assailant was some distance away before the officer was able to process what happened. Pain wasn’t an issue for an hour.

Had the shooter decided to follow up that initial shot the officer would have been murdered. While the vest saved his life it did so only because the shooter panicked and fled the scene.

A discussion followed about what the officer’s response time might have been if he had some expectation of possibly being shot (return fire) in that he might have cut his confusion time to 15 seconds still allowing more then enough time for the assailant to close the distance and shoot him again? The shooting was unusual in that the assailant fired a single round.

The officer had 15 years of experience at the time of the shooting. The officer reports that the criminal took 2 to 3 seconds to retrieve his weapon and fire it and that upwards of one minute elapsed between presentation of the firearm and the officer’s ability to radio accurate information for assistance. He didn’t know if he had been shot prior to or following his response of stepping back before falling.

While I am hesitant to take strong sides on a firearms debate in a forum, I usually lean towards responsible gun owners who carry firearms. Most officers I know support concealed weapons for private citizens. The only officer’s I know who fear them in public hands are plain clothing officers who may be mistaken for criminals during the spontaneous arrest of a subject at gunpoint.

Doug August 2, 2012 11:52 AM

Taking a handgun round while wearing body armor is like getting hit with a sledgehammer.

Taking a rifle round while wearing body armor is like… getting shot by a rifle.

Surrounding himself with innocent bystanders was a better defense than armor would have been, had he actually worn some.

LordYarlble August 2, 2012 12:15 PM

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-china-19091840 Teen kills eight with knife, China.

It makes me tremble just thinking what might have happened if he had gloves and kneepads. It does bring an interesting question though: What would happen if a Spetsnaz went berserk with a knife in a crowded theater of people patiently awaiting help from authorities?

That could be bad.

nycman August 2, 2012 12:28 PM

To protect the rights of one group of people, I have to go through an endless array of metal detectors, xray machines and searches. And no, I’m not talking about the airport, but schools, night clubs, malls and now possibly movie theaters. A lot of public, commercial places are at least thinking about these countermeasures simply because there are a lot of guns floating around in the general population. Fine, protect your right to bear arms, but how about all the other rights and freedoms Americans used to have?

Wael August 2, 2012 12:42 PM

@ Alex

Ouch. Bruce just got called out for quoting something

Robert David Graham says “Refuting this nonsense is what Wikipedia is for”.
I say give me five minutes, and Wikipedia will change it’s mind. Wikipedia is a quick reference that directs you to other references. I think of it as an index. Oh! There is an idea!

Adam August 2, 2012 1:25 PM

Mr. Schneier, I’ve always enjoyed your thoughtful and insightful posts, but this article has no place here. It’s as much about FUD and security theater (no pun intended) as any TSA issue. It’s irrational and illogical, as has already been pointed out by many comments.

The evil man who committed this atrocity was bent on killing many people. Were it not for guns, he’d find some other way. The somber truth is that the only certain way to stop someone who intends to kill people is to kill him first. Another truth is that the only person you can rely on to defend yourself from harm is yourself.

When a crazed sociopath is spraying bullets into a crowded theater, it’s already a certainty that many will die. If any good people had been armed, it would certainly have been worth trying to shoot the madman before he could expend all of his ammo. Anyone who would try to take him down would already be very likely to be shot–the issue of drawing his attention is moot, because he’s already shooting everyone! Even the issue of crossfire hitting other people is moot, because everyone in the theater is already being shot at! Any chance of stopping him sooner is one that should be taken.

The sobering reality is that there are evil people in the world who sometimes do evil things. There is ultimately no way to stop a determined actor such as this other than to use lethal force, at least, when he has gotten to the point of carrying out his intention–and there is never any guarantee that such an actor will be noticed or stopped beforehand. The only thing standing in the way of such evil people is good people who have the courage and ability to act.

Whether a certain nation has certain laws and certain crime rates is ultimately irrelevant. The reality of good people and evil people being in the world remains. The reality also remains that the good outnumber the evil. What a tragedy it would be if only the evil were armed–the good would be at their mercy.

To argue that no one should be armed and that no one should try to return fire in this situation is to argue from fear, not from courage, nor from rational thought.

Carl August 2, 2012 3:02 PM

Regarding this shooting, I read an interesting comment in townhall.com regarding gun rights. The author in arguing against the Brady Campaign said, “ask a gun ban proponent, how many people have been saved, because someone used a gun to stop an assailant. They don’t know, they don’t keep those numbers.” You know something if they did, they would probably prove themselves wrong. I carry a weapon, I do so to protect my family and my friends. If I am stuck in that kind of situation, I will draw my weapon and fire back. If someone had managed to shoot the Aurora shooter, how many people might have been spared, we’ll never know. To speculate that there is going to be friendly fire deaths is irresponsible. Someone was there intent on killing as many people as he could. The police finally caught him by his car. Why was he at his car? To reload and go in to another theater and shoot more people? He needed to be stopped and there was no one there to do it. We were lucky the police caught him.

Bob August 2, 2012 4:58 PM

About SDI:

You don’t defend the cities. They aren’t the primary targets anyway. You defend your missile launchers. That way the enemy knows you can retaliate.

It would be good to defend cities, but it’s even better to convince the enemy that he cannot win. Few countries start wars convinced that they will lose.

derp August 2, 2012 6:25 PM

True, if James Holmes couldn’t get a gun he would’ve just parked his car full of explosives and taken out the entire theatre.

He was hell bent on killing people, can’t stop somebody who does that.

These kinds of crazy crimes aren’t limited to the US, in China men go on kindergarten rampages with knives and usually end up killing the same amount of people.

Bruce is right though, Holmes came prepared for resistance. Even if you did have a gun in that theatre, the tear gas would’ve got you before his bullets did.

Jim Bronson August 2, 2012 8:16 PM

There are so many chinks in the armor of this story, it’s hard to know where to begin. One major fallacy is the assumption that since Holmes used certain “costume” protection devices, it thereby establishes a trend for future shooters. Therefore, allowing law-abiding citizens to legally carry firearms will be futile from now on. Let’s revisit this story the next time a deranged shooter kills a bunch of people in a public place wearing shorts and a tee shirt, and no one is able to do anything about it because they can’t legally carry.

pfogg August 2, 2012 10:05 PM

@John Hardin: No, but you can make a compelling argument about the effectiveness of “gun free zones” in preventing violent crimes using guns.

You can make the argument that an inadequately enforced “gun free zone” policy does not prevent and may encourage acts of premeditated armed violence, but I would expect private property owners to establish “gun free” policies with the primary intention of addressing the chance of injury due to accidents, spontaneous brawls, etc., which occasionally happen in theaters, and could conceivably involve a gun.

It’s not at all clear that a “gun-free” policy has any statistically significant effect in the latter case, but if that’s what the rule was intended to address, that’s where the argument is likely to go.

Lagrande August 3, 2012 3:15 AM


Americans also kill themselves more using their bare hands than Germans do. Is this due to gun control also?

As I pointed out there are several countries where high ownership of guns is equivalent with low gun crime.

In Japan, suicide is among the highest in the world despite guns being effectively almost banned.

And in the US, despite gun control being reduced and despite concealed carry increasing, from 1991 to 2010, the total violent crime rate declined more than 47% to a 37-year low, and the murder rate declined by 51% to a 47-year low. Both declined more than seven percent more in the first half of 2011.

In fact, U.S. crime trends have been better than those in countries with restrictive firearms laws

Obviously there are other factors than gun availability in the gun crime rate.

America is just a more violent society where it is more in the common culture to use force and where its usage is more widely accepted.

benEzra August 3, 2012 10:15 AM


“When the US constitution was created, weapons like an AK-47 simply didn’t exist. But compared to the primitive historic guns, an AK-47 is a weapon of mass destruction which should not belong to civil hands.”

In the United States, possession of an actual, functional AK-47 outside of police/military duty is a 10-year Federal felony under the Title 2 provisions of the National Firearms Act of 1934, unless you first obtain the proper Federal paperwork (BATFE Form 4) and undergo a fairly rigorous vetting process; they are as tightly controlled as 105mm howitzers, shoulder fired rockets, and such.

In addition to those restrictions, the only automatic AK-47’s that may be legally owned in the United States are a handful of collectibles grandfathered in under the Hughes Amendment to the McClure-Volkmer Act of 1986; AFAIK there are only a few hundred extant, and due to their extreme scarcity a civilian-transferable Title 2 AK-47 goes for about $15,000. As far as I am aware, a legally owned Title 2 AK-47 has never been used in a homicide in the United States.

Americans can own non-automatic civilian AK-47 lookalikes, which are built on civilian-only receivers and function like any other Title 1 civilian self-loading rifle, e.g. a Ruger Mini Thirty or a Remington 7400. They fire once and only once when the trigger is pulled, and may not be easily convertible to full auto. I used to own a 2002 model civilian AK (purchased in 2003, during the non-ban) and shot competitively with it for a few years in local USPSA matches; it was a good little carbine, if heavy. But a WMD it certainly was not.

FooingBars August 3, 2012 11:37 AM

I’m saddened that you fell for this. It’s obvious that your understanding of modern weapons and armor are low. Which is about average for the US. What that means is that someone told you that something was worse than it really was, and you believed them.

In the “gun culture” we know what he was wearing. We know what it means to have a tac vest and mag’s so cheap they jam your weapon. It means that he went out and bought something like a fishing vest with special pockets and then wasted money on mags at a gun show knowing nothing about their quality. But you and the average US citizen are out reading Slate and being deceived into thinking that this psychopath is Rambo with a bone to pick.

He was not a super-villain. A well placed shot from a well trained hand gun would have and could have ended the horror sooner than it did. This is a narrative about mobile physical security of individuals in a “no restricted access” environment. They question of securing a thing that anyone can get to. You don’t put locks on the door to your server room because you got tipped off that someone was coming to steal them. You just do it from the outset because security is a framework, not a reaction. A person that does not structure their personal security before a threat appears will always be unable to meet or defeat that threat. I hope these are terms this community understands.

And relying on the police for personal protection from attack is like depending on your ISP to manage all security for your network. They only show up after you call for them. And look at police training guides: They carry a weapon to defend themselves, not you.

I would encourage you to write another and completely separate post on the disinformation campaign being run about this shooting.

Jim Bronson August 5, 2012 7:19 PM

Quote from my previous comment in response to the assertion that it is futile for responsible citizens to carry concealed firearms because shooters will all be wearing body armor from now on.


“Let’s revisit this story the next time a deranged shooter kills a bunch of people in a public place wearing shorts and a tee shirt, and no one is able to do anything about it because they can’t legally carry.”

And now a quote from a CNN reporter who spoke with someone who interviewed eyewitnesses at today’s tragic shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin.

CNN reporter:

“Kaleka was not at the temple at the time of the shooting, but helped police interview witnesses in the aftermath. He said members described the attacker as a bald, white man, dressed in a white T-shirt and black pants and with a 9/11 tattoo on one arm — which implies to me that there’s some level of hate crime there.”

It is too early to determine whether an armed citizen may have been able to take down this shooter before he was killed by police, but it underscores my point that armed citizens are sometimes the only thing standing between a shooter and more victims.

I rest my case.

bob August 6, 2012 3:21 PM

It seems like there’s a win-win in this. Here’s how: Cut way back on gun control laws, allow citizens to try to defend themselves [ie no “picture of a gun in a circle with a line through it” that disarms me, but not criminals; like that theater had].

Then when a perp attacks a theater – people who are armed will almost certainly fight back [and in a theater there may be armed people BEHIND the perp]. The perp will HAVE to deal with these first if for no other reason than the muzzle flash aimed at him distracts HIS shooting.

Meanwhile liberals who want other people to take care of them can run away while the armed people distract the perp.

EVENTUALLY: either the perps will have killed all the libertarians/conservatives and the liberals can do what they wish with what’s left OR the libertarians/conservatives will have killed all the perps and will have been proven right and we can get rid of the rest of the nanny state laws.

I mean look how well all other bans have worked here: prohibition, prostitution, drugs [130 years in the “war on drugs” so far and getting more expensive every day] – it makes the vietnam war look like a roaring success story by comparison.

NZ August 8, 2012 6:48 AM

It looks kind of funny: a bad guy used body-armor, so we should ban good from getting firearms?
Perhaps we should ban body armor instead?

@Aigars Mahinovs
I am sane and willing to undergo reasonable amount of training, but I may not obtain a handgun legally. At the same time I can easily obtain a handgun (may be even an assault rifle) illegally.

Toolbox->Permanent link

@Andrei Belogortseff
Perhaps if there are many armed good guys, then the bad guys tends to die of lead poisoning before they have a chance to make it mass shooting.

in Afghanistan, Somalia, or Iraq, most people own gun
Do they have mass shootings there? Except for all-out wars, of course.

What part of Russia are you from?

Tom August 8, 2012 9:23 PM

To me it seems there is absolutely no evidence to support the “good guys with guns” theory. While there might not be direct evidence against it the proponents handily ignore these:

Wiki > firearm-related death rate

Wiki > intentional homicide rate

These paint a bleak picture for the US compared to any other western country except, perhaps, Italy (which isn’t really surprising when you consider the state of organized crime over there).

I’m not talking about the maniacs out there, solving that problem is impossible and part of the “security theatre” unrolling all around us. What these point to IMO is that if many people have guns, normal conflicts and arguments that escalate are much more likely to end in death. Also, it’s much harder to kill someone with a knife (both mentally and physically) then with a gun.

There was a murder near my house – a kid badmouthed a cop who snapped, pulled out his gun and shot the kid. Heat of the moment, a flash of rage and a kid is gone. Might have happened without a gun but it probably wouldn’t be lethal.
There was also the “skittles” thing in the US…

That said, changing the gun culture in the US is going to be very difficult, maybe impossible.

NZ August 9, 2012 2:52 AM


Actually, cops are armed not only in the US. And guess the kid didn’t have a chance to fight back.

Aka August 9, 2012 10:34 PM

At least a few Canadian provinces have now banned body armor for anyone without a gun license or special $50/yr armor permit, which basically puts them on an armor registry.

Personally I think this is obscene – it’s almost always illegal to defend yourself with force already. Now it’s illegal to defend yourself with armor. Just get shot and let the police investigate the aftermath, I suppose…

Anon August 13, 2012 10:58 PM


People for gun control ignore the example of countries like Switzerland which experienced homicide rates far lower than the US with almost no gun control.

damir August 15, 2012 7:30 AM

Interesting remark on ending of cold war …
I’m affraid if there was someone else than Gorbachov shield will be used as excuse for attack, it is people who are important here.

Anon August 15, 2012 12:38 PM

Today there was a story regarding someone in Nebraska who had a license to carry a concealed firearm which he took to the movies with him. It fell out of his pocket and thank goodness he ended up shooting himself rather than some poor innocent child. Too bad there isn’t a way to determine who is mentally capable of properly owning and handling a firearm. So this idiot figures he is going to bring it with him for protection, can’t even properly securing the thing, so he ends up being the real threat.

mikey August 15, 2012 12:39 PM

  1. The recoil energy of a firearm significantly exceeds that of the projectile. This is because the gasses leaving the barrel carry a significant amount of energy. That’s why artillery pieces have muzzle brakes.
  2. “Claiming that missile defense systems ended the Cold War is inaccurate. The political and economic collapse of the USSR was the primary reason that the stalemate ended”

Reagan explicitly stated that part of his strategy was to force the USSR into an arms race they could’t afford. The former USSR leadership has admitted as much.

  1. If military armor were as foolproof as some posters assume, we wouldn’t be seeing so many casualties from Iraq and Afghanistan.

Charles August 20, 2012 8:44 AM

On the physics topic, let’s bring in some math. Assuming a person was shot in the chest with a 5.56 mm bullet fired from an assault rifle with a velocity of 940 m/s. It’s mass is 4.0 grams. This means the momentum is 0.0040 * 940 = 3.8 kg*m/s. According to conservation of momentum, assuming the target has a mass o 76 kg, the gained velocity of the target/victim will be: 3.8 / 76 = 0.05 m/s.

Five centimetres per second! The impact from a handgun will even be lower. ASSUMING the bullet would not injure the person, all he had to do is take a small step to regain his ballance.

Of course, the kinetic energy is high. This means even if the bullet does not enter the body (when it is stopped by a vest), the force may be enough to cause serious pain and injury, causing the victim to lose his balance, which may cause him to fall. This is however, Q.E.D., not because of the transfer of momentum.

CyberSoldier August 29, 2012 12:12 PM

It’s comical that the same security experts that rationally debunk (and rightly so) security theater performances by government entities fall lock-step in line with the liberal agenda of security theater gun control when it comes to personal protection.

Speculation about what a wearer of body armor can and can’t do is best left to the experts and those who actually wear/have worn body armor. Even if the shooter was wearing military grade SAPI plates, the effects of small arms fire on a shooter is very painful and very distracting. Ask any police officer who’s been shot while wearing body armor, or better yet, the hundreds of Service Members who’ve been shot while wearing SAPI while in combat. Body armor is no guarantee against harm; it just lowers the percentage of exposed vulnerable surface area.

I’m not sure where you got the idea that the NRA and its members rely on a somewhat flawed methodology of deterrence as the primary reason we own firearms or carry concealed. While the fact of higher firearms ownership works as a deterrent against certain criminal elements who avoid high gun ownership areas when planning on committing crime, deterrence doesn’t work on criminals who fully intend to harm or kill victims during the course of a crime. I wonder what answer we’d get if we asked the criminals of incidents such as the 1997 L.A. shooting spree, Columbine, Aurora, or other gun related crimes if deterrence was a factor. In those instances, no level of deterrence is going to work and a prepared and armed citizenry is the only solution, NOT local law enforcement who typically arrive just in time for the cleanup and investigation. I would rather be armed and able to exercise my Constitutional rights of armed self-defense as well as help protect fellow citizens than cower behind a theater seat waiting for that inevitable shot by a deranged psychopath because we thought laws were going to protect us. Also, making false comparisons of responsible firearm ownership being a catalyst for escalation of violence is clearly not based on fact or figures. It’s been proven ad nauseam that states with carry concealed permits and open carry laws have lower rates of crime and no increased levels of “escalation violence” from “gun toting” citizens. If the converse were the case, states such as Arizona would be a continual bloodbath.

There are thousands and thousands of reported incidents each year of firearm owners stopping crime, from simply brandishing a firearm to killing assailant(s), which are never reported in the mainstream media because it doesn’t fit the liberal agenda of a nanny police state taking care of you. This is the very police state that you rail against in your rightly correct TSA criticisms. We will never know how any of those incidents might have ended much worse if the victim was unarmed just like we don’t know how much information security practices helped stop malicious activity if the practices are successfully implemented. But then you know that already.

Most of you laugh at the thought of paper compliance regulations truly keeping out malware from IT systems but somehow think that these same types of laws keep people safe from the human actors. We’ve already seen the abysmal failure of the government’s attempts at deterrence against gun related crimes (restrictive gun laws, gun free zones, limits on magazines, ammunition, gun purchases) and how they deter no one who is intent on committing a crime. It’s amazing how loud the legalization-of-drug-use crowd decries laws and enforcement methods when it comes to drug use but seem to think that more restrictive firearm laws will magically solve crime. Do the more restrictive laws solve drug use? I would venture to say we all know the answer to that question. What about the TSA and deterrence against potential hijackers and terrorists? Do we think the TSA and its level of security theater is effective? Most who read this blog would emphatically say no. So we need to be intellectually honest and agree that gun crime is not going to be solved by tougher laws when we don’t even enforce some of the laws on the books and until we become mind readers or institute a police state that knows every thought of every citizen, it’s going to be extremely difficult to predict the next shooting spree. Better to be prepared #which by the way doesn’t harm others or add additional costs to your daily living) if I legally carry a concealed firearm, than to walk around like sheep waiting for the next slaughter.

Most NRA members like me carry concealed because they want to be prepared. If I’m never put in a position to use my pistol against a criminal during all the years of my life, then it will still be time well spent knowing that I was able to if needed.

CyberSoldier August 29, 2012 12:28 PM

RE: “At every gathering, at every theater, at every college a set percentage of civilians must be armed.”

Are you high? Who would want to live in such a society?


I have news for you Claire, we already live in that society here in the U.S.

Every day armed citizens like me are present in restaurants, movie theaters, shopping malls, and any place that doesn’t restrict carry concealed weapons (which are actually quite few these days). We are prepared for the confrontation that may never come, but still remain preparred while we all go about our daily lives.

Show me the blood baths and violence escalations that liberal politicians are so assured will happen when we have a responsible and armed populace? All we see are the criminal elements who don’t give a rip about the laws in the first place shooting up movie theaters and schools, not the law abiding citizens. So how do more restrictive gun laws help again? Did they help against felons who weren’t supposed to have guns in the first place? Did they help stop bank robbers and mass murderers who were intent on committing crimes regardless of the outcomes? How did unarmed citizenry help Columbine, Aurora, and L.A. in 1997? What about Loughner shooting up citizens in AZ? Gun restrictions have never helped solve gun crime and have only endangered the victims.

David August 31, 2012 5:51 AM


Good grief. Do dinosaurs such as you still exist?

It may come as a total surprise to you, but the “right to bear arms” was a very specific response to the rules imposed by the English upon the free settlers of the colonies.

It was never intended to convey the right to be an armed vigilante whenever the hell you wanted to that.

In my country, people (and I use that term strictly upon legal advice) such as you would be locked up for extended periods of time for all kinds of firearms offenses.

There is no RIGHT to bear arms. There is only the desire to bear arms and the ego that comes with it.

nrasup October 13, 2012 2:23 PM

Dumb article any shot would have messed him up. He is not some tuff well trained expert, he’s a dumb untrained but somewhat equipt idiot. If anyone in that theatre was conceal carrying a fiveseven or a draco w/ steel core he would have been fuked.

Gerbil August 23, 2015 4:53 AM

LOL… right, because every street thug/crackhead can afford real body armor, what a laugh. Bulletproof vest OH NO!!!… how about you shoot him in the leg. “good guys” don’t really shoot to kill either, they shoot to disable (arm/leg). so this “better defense” for the bad guys… really not happening.

gerbil August 23, 2015 5:02 AM

“”Holmes’ outfit blew these jokers away. He wore a ballistic helmet, a ballistic vest, ballistic leggings, a throat protector, a groin protector, and tactical gloves. He was so well equipped that if anyone in that theater had tried what the National Rifle Association recommends — drawing a firearm to stop the carnage — that person would have been dead meat. Holmes didn’t just kill a dozen people. He killed the NRA’s answer to gun violence.””

just because he is armored from head to toe doesn’t mean he is invincible. just because the armor protects him from death doesn’t mean he won’t feel pain. and sometimes, enough pain, inflicted enough times, is enough to distract, slow down, or put a stop to the problem. (and even ballistic armor degrades with each shot). this doesn’t kill the NRA’s argument at all. it just means MORE people should be EXPECTED to carry guns, because it may take more than one person to take down an armored combatant.

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