Learning the wrong lessons from the Newtown massacre

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The scene outside of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday.
The scene outside of Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Friday.
Associated Press

Megan McArdle published a lengthy, rather provocative piece yesterday on the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, making the case that there’s simply not much Americans can do to prevent similar tragedies in the future. There may be proposals on the table, McArdle argues, but they tend to be ineffective, unconstitutional, or impractical.

That’s not an uncommon sentiment on the right, and it wouldn’t be especially noteworthy, were it not for this tidbit of advice McArdle included in her piece, flagged by Jon Chait.

I’d also like us to encourage people to gang rush shooters, rather than following their instincts to hide; if we drilled it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun, these sorts of mass shootings would be less deadly, because even a guy with a very powerful weapon can be brought down by 8-12 unarmed bodies piling on him at once.

Just so we’re clear, McArdle wasn’t kidding. As best as I can tell, her piece wasn’t intended as satire or an attempt at humor.

Now, I can appreciate outside-the-box thinking as much as the next guy, and I understand that writers sometimes use blog posts as a sketch pad to flesh out unconventional ideas, some of which may not be fully formed. But I’d also like to go on record saying it strikes me as unwise for a society to encourage young, unarmed children, during a violent massacre, to run towards well-armed madmen.

Chait added, “You think gun control is impractical, so your plan is to turn the entire national population, including young children, into a standby suicide squad? … Unless I am missing a very subtle parody of libertarianism, McArdle’s plan to teach children to launch banzai charges against mass murderers is the single worst solution to any problem I have ever seen offered in a major publication.”

And if this seems vaguely familiar, it’s because it’s eerily reminiscent of a similar piece we saw five years ago.

In April 2007, after the Virginia Tech massacre, John Derbyshire published a National Review item making a related argument, asking why people on campus didn’t overcome their instincts and “rush the guy.”

At the very least, count the shots and jump him reloading or changing hands. Better yet, just jump him. Handguns aren’t very accurate, even at close range. I shoot mine all the time at the range, and I still can’t hit squat. I doubt this guy was any better than I am. And even if hit, a .22 needs to find something important to do real damage – your chances aren’t bad.

As I wrote at the time, try to imagine the scenario: college students are sitting in their classrooms when they hear gun shots and screaming, and the noises are getting closer. They quickly realize that their lives are in immediate danger. At this very terrorizing moment, the students should think to themselves, “Hey, I think I know how many shots have been fired! Not only that, I also think I know what kind of gun that is and realize that a .22 would only do minor damage to me after it’s fired into my body at close range! Millions of years of well-honed instincts are telling me to run like hell, but instead I’m inclined to run towards the well-armed madman!”

Five years after Derbyshire published this jaw-dropper, there’s Megan McArdle making the case that we “drill it into young people that the correct thing to do is for everyone to instantly run at the guy with the gun.”

We can have a perfectly fair argument about the viability of firearm restrictions, which would no doubt lead to a spirited debate. But advice like McArdle’s doesn’t contribute anything constructive to the conversation – we need not and should not teach kids to run at murderers trying to kill them.

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Learning the wrong lessons from the Newtown massacre

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