In the aftermath of the Newtown shooting, Megan McArdle wrote a column in which she advocated the following:
… 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. Would it work? Would people do it? I have no idea; all I can say is that both these things would be more effective than banning rifles with pistol grips.
This prompted hoots of derision from Jonathan Chait, which set off a generalized port-side mockumentary of McArdle’s idea. For good measure, Chait sarcastically allowed that McArdle’s column might be “a very subtle parody of libertarianism.” Andrew Sullivan, being the blogospheric cheap shot artist that he is, actually awarded McArdle a Malkin Award nomination. For those of you who are blessedly unaware of Sullivan’s various silly awards, the Malkin Award is for “shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric.” I have absolutely no earthly clue how encouraging targets of a gunman to gang rush the gunman in order to perhaps give those targets a fighting chance at living through the ordeal qualifies as “shrill, hyperbolic, divisive and intemperate right-wing rhetoric,” but I’m not Andrew Sullivan. (Speaking of which, barukh Atah Adonai, Eloheinu Melekh ha-olam, shelo asani Andrew Sullivan.)
But hey, guess what! Turns out that going after McArdle for this is more than a little bizarre. Let’s turn the microphone over to Jeffrey Goldberg:
McArdle’s suggestion is crazy, right? In many ways, yes, but it should be noted that this is not actually her idea — it is a recommendation disseminated by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The federal government’s “active shooter” policy suggests that, as a last resort, a person facing an armed killer should “attempt to incapacitate the shooter” and “act with physical aggression and throw items at the active shooter.”
Mocking McArdle for her notion seems quite uncharitable, when you have an entire federal bureaucracy to mock. The truth is, of course, that attacking someone who is trying to shoot you (the old, “run from a knife, run to a gun” idea of self-defense) beats dying without a fight, but it’s still fairly ineffective. The heroic school principal and school psychologist in Newtown charged Adam Lanza, but were shot before they could “incapacitate” him. (DHS doesn’t say anything about small children swamping a shooter, but McArdle is ambiguous in her post on the question of whether she means small children or not. Obviously, first graders aren’t going to be attacking shooters.)
In my recent article advocating for concealed-carry (and for stricter gun laws, as well), I provided several examples of idiotic-sounding recommendations that universities (which are usually self-declared “gun-free” zones) pass on to students, staff and faculty in the event of an “active shooter” attack. These recommendations motivated me to rethink the issue of concealed-carry. From the article:
Wichita State University counsels students in the following manner: “If the person(s) is causing death or serious physical injury to others and you are unable to run or hide you may choose to be compliant, play dead, or fight for your life.”
The University of Miami guidelines suggest that when all else fails, students should act “as aggressively as possible” against a shooter. The guidelines, taken from a Department of Homeland Security directive, also recommend “throwing items and improvising weapons,” as well as “yelling.”
Otterbein University, in Ohio, tells students to “breathe to manage your fear” and informs them, “You may have to take the offensive if the shooter(s) enter your area. Gather weapons (pens, pencils, books, chairs, etc.) and mentally prepare your attack.”
West Virginia University advises students that if the situation is dire, they should “act with physical aggression and throw items at the active shooter.” These items could include “student desks, keys, shoes, belts, books, cell phones, iPods, book bags, laptops, pens, pencils, etc.”
The University of Colorado at Boulder’s guidelines state, “You and classmates or friends may find yourselves in a situation where the shooter will accost you. If such an event occurs, quickly develop a plan to attack the shooter … Consider a plan to tackle the shooter, take away his weapon, and hold him until police arrive.”
So McArdle’s idea is in line with that of the Department of Homeland Security and a host of educational institutions. It is also the plan that was adopted in Sandy Hook. We call the people who tried to take down Adam Lanza heroes—and rightly so—but when McArdle says that more people ought to try to implement these tactics, she is the subject of ridicule? The mind boggles. I mean, it’s one thing to politely but firmly hold that McArdle’s idea may not work—or at least, may not work cleanly. I’ll readily point out that if you tell people to gang rush a shooter and explain why it might work, the reaction you are going to get is “okay, you first.” And it’s not irrational to think that; everyone wants to live and most people are willing to be free-riders on the backs of those who do the dangerous work of leading the charge against a gunman. But it’s another thing altogether to get the vapors, clutch your pearls and look around frantically for the fainting couch simply because McArdle decided to advocate an idea that is already advocated by DHS and a number of universities, and was implemented at Sandy Hook.
And of course, it’s all especially hilarious given the attempts by Chait and others to shoehorn attacks on libertarianism in their replies. If Megan McArdle so much as orders red wine with fish, people like Jonathan Chait will blog about it and will try to convince you that this gastronomic faux pas is all the evidence you need to know for a certainty that Frédéric Bastiat, Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, and Robert Nozick were all full of it.