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James Butler
Greg Block is a firearms instructor in California. Dave Weigel at Slate interviewed him regarding the shootings in Aurora, Colorado, Friday:
"I can draw and get shots off consistently in 1.3, 1.2 seconds," he said. "But it might take two seconds to fire. Why? I want to get down on my knees. You know the curvature between the two seats? That's where my muzzle is going to be. I find the V, the gap between the seats, and I move down into the row where I have a clear shot. Now, I could stand up over everyone else, and engage him. If I stand up, I can see him, he can see me. If I'm down low shooting between two seats, I have a tactical advantage. I can crawl between them, pop up, take a shot.
Right. If only somebody else in that audience had been armed, the Aurora killer would have been shot within a few seconds, and innocent lives would have been saved.

That's the theory anyway. And Block is not alone in bringing that up every time there is a shooting in a public place. Here's another one from today:

@JesusWife And had I been there, the body count would have been way lower. And he'd be one of the bodies.
@NickBrinley via Twitter for iPhone
Just one problem with that. It's a f'n fantasy. In practice, even well-trained police officers, under well-lit, well-controlled circumstances miss their targets. I know. I've been on the range with them. The police officer, the soldier, the civilian gun-owner who is a true marksman isn't that common.

I've also been on the range with Greg Block. Eighteen years ago, I put up $75 for his Intermediate Handgun Class, drove out to San Bernandino County and spent four hours with him and about 25 others. As a proficient lifelong target shooter—I gave up hunting decades ago—I wanted both to hone my skills and bring myself up to date on California gun laws.

Block was a good instructor. He knew his stuff. He emphasized safety. He offered good tips on being a better marksman.

And he took his turn with the rest of us at the paper targets. Way better than me at getting a "tight circle" of bullet holes in that paper. But not all bulls-eyes. Not even most. And that was outdoors, with optimal lighting, not in a dark, crowded theater, with irritating gas working on his eyes and lungs, and a screaming, crying crowd of people trying desperately to escape. Not with a moving, heavily armed, armored gunman firing bullets as fast as he could squeeze the trigger.

Of course, Block (or Nick Brinley) might have managed to pull his pistol, calmly kneel, take aim, and put a round in one of the killer's vulnerable unprotected spots, bringing the carnage to a quick halt.

But suppose for a moment that not one, but five people in that Aurora theater are packing concealed pistols. Suppose two of them are as skilled as Greg Block. That the other three just have average shooting skills, the kind that most gun-owners have.  

No. 1 concealed carrier draws as soon as what's happening becomes obvious, prompting No. 2 to immediately draw and shoot No. 1, thinking he is in league with the killer. No. 3 concealed carrier draws and gets off a couple of shots in the chaos, one bullet glancing off the helmet of the moving gunman, who turns his gun on No. 3, killing him and wounding the three theater patrons nearest him. Meanwhile, No. 4, who has often rehearsed a scene of heroism before the full-length mirror on the door of his closet, eagerly draws his pistol and, raising it, finger on the trigger, promptly puts a round through the head of the person crouching right in front of him.

No. 5 has meanwhile maneuvered himself into a perfect place from which to shoot unobstructed. Just before he fires, a fleeing member of the audience bumps his gun and the first bullet goes wild. Re-aiming, his second shot strikes the gunman's bullet-resistant vest, knocking him down as if struck by a baseball bat. While the gunman lies stunned, No. 5 approaches him. Just then, the first police officer comes down the aisle. Amid the screaming, chaotic, gas-choked theater, she sees No. 5 and tells him to drop his weapon. Confused, No. 5 turns to say he's one of the good guys and she fires four times, two of her bullets striking him in the chest, just as the gunman recovers enough to open fire again, his first target being her.

Is that outcome any more likely than the carefully aimed shot and salvation that Greg Block hints he could deliver?

Self-defense is, of course, a basic human right included in the nation's first founding document under life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But the idea that massacres will be prevented just by allowing more private guns in public places is a cowboy fantasy. Real life, real gunplay is a lot messier.

Now imagine the consequences in the above scenario if there are 20 armed patrons in that Aurora theater.

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