Fourteen months of carrying

It is now about fourteen months since, after receiving my second death threat, I started carrying a firearm almost constantly. This experience has taught me a few truths, some merely amusing but others with larger implications.

The major lesson: people are amazingly oblivious to what they don’t expect to see. When I carry using a belt holster (not my only method), I watch peoples’ eye movements and facial expressions for this pattern: eyes going to my right hip, momentary startlement or an increase in tension. This would mean the shirt I’m wearing flapped over the pistol butt has ridden up and it’s exposed. But, in fact, with only one exception that I’ll get to, I have never seen this. On the other hand, there have been occasions when I’ve noticed by touch that the weapon was exposed, or my wife has told me it’s showing, and nobody around me gives any sign of having noticed.

The one exception: a teenage girl in my regular gaming group with a minimal-brain-damage syndrome that isn’t autism but gives her an autist-like tendency to notice details other people miss. She did startle. I explained, and she ceased being bothered.

The gaming group taught me another lesson: never, ever, ask permission to carry or give others an option to deny it – just do it and refuse to discuss the matter. I won’t reveal the details, because doing so would poke a small hole in my security plan. But I learned this one the hard way.

And about that security plan: carrying a firearm is nearly useless without very specific kinds of mental preparation. It’s not just that you have to think through large ethical issues about when to draw and when to fire (equivalently, when to threaten lethal force and when to use it). You also need good defensive habits of mind. Carrying a firearm is no good if an adversary wins the engagement before you have time to draw.

The most basic good habit of mind is maintaining awareness of your tactical environment. From what directions could you be attacked? Is there a way for an assailant to come up behind you for a hand-to-hand assault, or to line up a shooting position from beyond hand-to-hand range where you couldn’t see it? Are you exposed through nearby windows?

One advantage I had going in was reading Robert Heinlein as a child. This meant I soaked up some basic tactical doctrine through my pores. Like: when you go to a restaurant, sit with your back to a wall, preferably in a corner, in a place with good sightlines but not near a window. When you sit down, think about possible threat axes and which direction to bail out in if you have to.

Advice I’ve gotten from people with counterterrorism training includes this lesson: watch your environment and trust your instincts. Terrorists, criminals, and crazies don’t tend to blend in well even when they’re trying. If someone nearby looks or feels out of place in your surroundings, or behaves in a way not appropriate to the setting, pay attention to that; check your escape routes and make sure you can reach your weapons quickly.

How careful you have to be depends on the threat model you’re planning against. I’m not going to talk about mine in detail, because that might compromise my security by telling bad guys what expectations to game against. But I will say that it assigns a vanishingly small probability to professionals with scoped rifles; the background culture of both Iranian terrorists and their Arab proxies makes it extremely difficult for them to train or recruit snipers, and I am reliably informed that the Iranians couldn’t run professional hit teams in the U.S. anyway – too difficult to exfiltrate them, among other problems.

This, along with some other aspects of the threat model I won’t discuss, narrows the range of plausible threats to something an armed and trained individual with good backup from law enforcement has a reasonable hope to be able to counter. And the good backup from law enforcement is not a trivial detail; real life is not a Soldier of Fortune story or a running-man thriller, and a sane security plan uses all the resources available from your connections to the society around you.

So here’s another lesson: if you’re going to do anything that might piss off violent fanatics, make friendly with your local cops. Fortunately the ones in my town already like me. In truth, I think they’re kind of jazzed by the thought that they get to be second-hand involved in an international intrigue. Hackers and tyrants and terrorists, oh my!

Let ‘em have their fun. I, being in the crosshairs, have to be more cold-blooded than that; hero fantasies could get my ass killed if they distract me from situational awareness and all the little low-level safety practices that go with it. In fact, it’s fair to say that the firearm I carry functions largely as a tangible, ever-present reminder of my need to maintain the alertness and mental stance that increases my chances of surviving a clutch situation. As a combat instructor I know puts it, “The mind is the first weapon”; it has to point before the gun can be aimed.

Since I am, alas, no longer actively involved in trying to subvert the mullahs’ regime, the odds I’ll have to cope with terrorist action are gradually dropping over time (not that they were ever very high; I never flattered myself with the assumption that I was a priority target). I feel less need to carry than I did fourteen months ago. But I also feel less need to stop. I’ve learned how to deal with the minor inconveniences, and developed habits that integrate constantly carrying a weapon with the rest of my life.

And it’s not only my own life that these habits may save. “When seconds count, the police are only minutes away.” Intervention by armed civilians on the spot aborts hundreds of crimes a year in the United States, and thousands more could be prevented if there were more of us. Carrying is not just a survival tactic for me; it’s a service, a net benefit to my neighbors and my nation and my civilization, and I feel good about that.

122 thoughts on “Fourteen months of carrying

  1. There’s always the possibility that people who ‘make’ you don’t mind. They don’t feel threatened by a law abiding citizen carrying a firearm. After all, in a sane world people would realize that, if someone doesn’t trigger your instinctive sense of wrongness (they don’t make your spidey sense tingle) it doesn’t matter what they’re carrying concealed- they’re no threat to you either way.

    And yes, I tend to be very observant and I’ve ‘made’ several concealed carriers, including one former co-worker. He carried concealed onto the premises of a software company founded by a former hippy, discretion was key- I didn’t tell. In fact I once returned his weapon to him, but I never let on I knew what was in there. (Fanny pack carry- he let that thing out of his control exactly ONCE in the years I worked with him. That once I retrieved the pack and gave it back to him.)

  2. the background culture of both Iranian terrorists and their Arab proxies makes it extremely difficult for them to train or recruit snipers, and I am reliably informed that the Iranians couldn’t run professional hit teams in the U.S. anyway – too difficult to exfiltrate them, among other problems.

    Yet the federal government lists Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. Islamic terrorists seem to have no trouble training and recruiting engineers, bomb makers, airplane pilots, etc., so it seems odd to me that they would have trouble training and recruiting snipers or other assassins. It’s interesting to note that the word assassin itself is derived from Hashshashin, which refers to a group of Shiite assassins from the Middle Ages.

    Carrying is not just a survival tactic for me; it’s a service, a net benefit to my neighbors and my nation and my civilization, and I feel good about that.

    And it gives you a way to fulfill your Constitutional duty as a member of the unorganized militia.

  3. >There’s always the possibility that people who ‘make’ you don’t mind.

    Yes, I know of some instances of this My friend Jimmy Mog, purveyor of astonishingly good barbecue considering how far north I live, spotted that I was carrying in his restaurant months ago and never uttered a peep about it until I told him I was going to write about my experience. The people at my dentist’s office are hip too, and completely good with it.

    But I live in a very blue-state area surrounded by elite-bicoastal-liberal types; if any significant number of them were noticing I’d expect to see at least a few startle reactions a week. It’s not happening, therefore I conclude they’re oblivious.

    (Insert obligatory joke about left-liberal obliviousness to reality here.)

  4. >it seems odd to me that they would have trouble training and recruiting snipers

    It’s a culture thing. Turns out it’s quite difficult to make snipers, or even shooters with what Americans think of as normal accuracy, out of people with a fatalist, occasionalist “if God wills it” view of the universe. There are a handful of tribal groups around the edges of the Muslim world that are exceptions – Afghanis, Kurds – but mainly if you’re trying to train precision shooters you’re out of luck in that part of the world.

    >And it gives you a way to fulfill your Constitutional duty as a member of the unorganized militia.

    Legally I no longer have that obligation under Title 10, since I’m over 45. But the ethical point is correct.

  5. It also depends where you are. I split my time between Utah and California. Guns are common in Utah, and indeed, at a street fair on Sat. in Utah, a Class III dealer was selling weaponry you never see in California.

    You can openly carry a gun in Utah and no one much cares. Try that in L.A., even with a permit, and LAPD would probably go ballistic. Literally.

  6. Yet the federal government lists Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism. Islamic terrorists seem to have no trouble training and recruiting engineers, bomb makers, airplane pilots, etc., so it seems odd to me that they would have trouble training and recruiting snipers or other assassins. It’s interesting to note that the word assassin itself is derived from Hashshashin, which refers to a group of Shiite assassins from the Middle Ages.

    ESR never said they would have difficulty getting assassins, he said they would have difficulty getting snipers.

    An engineer or bomb maker can be headquartered somewhere and create tools of destruction used by others less skilled. It’s easier to learn to fly a plane well enough to hit a skyscraper than it is to become a skilled sniper (and the pilot thing was used once that I know of), but a sniper can’t sit in the safety of a bunker the way a bomb maker can and still get the job done.

    There are plenty of ways to assassinate someone, but training, or acquiring an already trained, sniper is expensive. ESR specifically cited the problems with exfiltrate a sniper from the US after the deed was done, and he was right. A group the size of most terrorist movements may have the luck to come up with a good sniper once or twice each generation — either you don’t waste them when you can’t get them out, or you don’t have any snipers pretty soon. Either way, it makes the likelihood of them using a sniper in the US on anyone less than a world-changing figure extremely low.

  7. So, this may be a dumb question, but how do you drink beer?

    I’m not even talking about going to a sports bar here, where carry probably isn’t permitted. I mean just having people over for a homebrew, or a bbq, or crawfish boil

    I’m not talking about getting hammered, but if I legitimately feared for my life, even a 2-3 beers would take me off my game,

  8. To eliminate paranoia, did you access an opportunity cost risk calculation on a probabilistic basis between carrying or not?

  9. They make D cell battery sized smoke and pepper gas grenades. They are very useful in laying down a protective screen to allow exfiltration while under assault.

  10. >Either way, it makes the likelihood of them using a sniper in the US on anyone less than a world-changing figure extremely low.

    Susan’s analysis is not only correct in outcome, it accurately reflects the way people with counterterrorism training evaluate such risks.

    And an entertaining distinction: while arguably, I am in fact a world-changing figure (or at least was one in the 1998-2003 timeframe) it’s not the kind of world-changing that would justify a high likelihood of expending a sniper. Snipers are expensive. People with the right aptitudes aren’t common; training them is difficult and takes a long time; and the institutional structure necessary to keep them in training is hard to build.

    Americans have some trouble understanding this, because the U.S. is very nearly the ideal sniper-producing nation. Culturally we have an anti-fatalist attitude that is hugely important – we believe in skill, hard work, and concentration. We have a large civilian population that, at least outside the coastal metroplexes, is comfortable with firearms and uses them well. We have the manufacturing base to produce weapons adapted to the role, we have a military that values snipers and knows how to use them, and we even have video games to reach some of the right habits to children well before they get any military training.

    Still, even with all these advantages, there probably aren’t more than a few hundred snipers in trainining sufficient to pull off a long-distance assassination at any given time in the U.S. The skillset has to be maintained by practice, and the practice requires very particular conditions. A handful of countries with smaller populations and military traditions related to ours – Great Britain, Germany, Australia, Switzerland, the Scandinavian nations, the Former Soviet Union – can maintain a few snipers, but elsewhere they’re as rare as hen’s teeth.

  11. @Susan:

    An engineer or bomb maker can be headquartered somewhere and create tools of destruction used by others less skilled. It’s easier to learn to fly a plane well enough to hit a skyscraper than it is to become a skilled sniper (and the pilot thing was used once that I know of), but a sniper can’t sit in the safety of a bunker the way a bomb maker can and still get the job done.

    I think I like esr’s explanation better. A good sniper won’t get caught, at least not immediately. Surely you remember the DC sniper; that guy was at large shooting people for 3 weeks before they caught him. It’s interesting that John Allen Muhammad was a member of the Nation of Islam, though I don’t doubt that the worldviews of African American converts to Islam and the radical Islamists of the Middle East are quite a bit different.

  12. >So, this may be a dumb question, but how do you drink beer?

    I don’t. Nor do I use any other form of intoxicant.

    Were I to do so, I would use lightly and only in circumstances where I’m surrounded by friends and in an area I consider reasonably secure.

  13. >To eliminate paranoia, did you access an opportunity cost risk calculation on a probabilistic basis between carrying or not?

    No. Silly question. Where would I get the numbers to plug into a formula, and how would I have confidence in such a formula to begin with?

  14. First off, don’t forget Canada in your list of sniper countries: http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/news/713521/posts

    Secondly, here you face one of the central conundrums for a martial artist. To live on the edge, frosty, aware, yet relaxed, and un-panicked. Living in panic is bad for you. Bathing your brain in fight or flight chemicals all the time leads to all sorts of mental illness.

  15. The last statement in the article is excellent and is backed up by this quotation:

    “Wherever I go, everyone is a little bit safer because I am there. Wherever I
    am, anyone in need has a friend. Whenever I return home, everyone is happy I
    am there.” –Bob Humphreys, “Warrior’s Creed”

  16. @Jay

    So, this may be a dumb question, but how do you drink beer?

    Alcohol and firearms do not mix well. I know someone who had to learn that lesson the hard way (a large part of one of his hands is missing). You would be well advised to not to carry while using intoxicants.

  17. Morgan, one of the odd cultural cognomens I grew up with was the neighbor’s 4th of July celebration:

    To wit, three adults gathered up all the kids who were old enough to hold a gun responsibly, took a couple of sticks of sweaty dynamite, and put the dynamite under a stump on a large piece of land with no neighbors downrange for about 300 miles.

    Under very strict supervision, one kid at a time, they handed them a bottle of Jim Beam, then an empty rifle, then a bullet for said rifle, and said “Shoot the stump with the orange paint on it.”

    This would go on until all the stumps were popped. Usually one of the adults shot the last few because the kids weren’t able to put a round in the gun. The adult would stand behind the kid and make DAMNED sure that the gun never got pointed where it didn’t need to go.

    The lesson learned:

    Booze and alcohol don’t mix. If you’re going to shoot, don’t drink. If you’re going to drink, don’t be near a gun.

  18. So what did they do about the 1 kid in 20 who said after “Wow, that was a great time! I wanna do that again!”?

  19. > Still, even with all these advantages, there probably aren’t more than a few hundred snipers in trainining sufficient to pull off a long-distance assassination at any given time in the U.S.

    I would think that hunting with firearms would be pretty good sniper training, particularly when you are hunting dangerous game. Furthermore, given a shooter who does not care if he lives, Marine Corps training is pretty good sniper training.

    Does your threat matix consider suicide snipers?

    Yours,
    Tom

  20. I think I like esr’s explanation better. A good sniper won’t get caught, at least not immediately. Surely you remember the DC sniper; that guy was at large shooting people for 3 weeks before they caught him. It’s interesting that John Allen Muhammad was a member of the Nation of Islam, though I don’t doubt that the worldviews of African American converts to Islam and the radical Islamists of the Middle East are quite a bit different.

    MorganGreywolf,

    I don’t consider the DC sniper a good example of sniping. While effective from a terror perspective, the class of shooting he was engaging in is well within the realm of millions of gun owners in this country. I think ESR is referring more to the capabilities of a proper sniper using deep concealment, firing at long and extreme ranges (700-1500 yards) with a high one-shot kill probability and exfiltrating after taking the shot without getting caught when the law enforcement hammer falls.

    The only thing that I think kept the DC sniper from being caught sooner was the fact they were firing from an enclosed space that effectively suppressed the report of the rifle. That was my mistake in assuming he was firing from nearby treelines and building concealment; the report and muzzle flash would give a clue to his position. Trust me, I was looking over my shoulder. In that case, the car trunk was a somewhat brilliant idea from an irregular warfare perspective. And because the general populace-at-large in urban areas is largely unfamiliar with the sound of rifle fire, given the muffling the car provided, would and did consider whatever sound they heard to be something else in the background.

    Had Malvo been in concealment in the outdoors at the ranges he fired at (75-100 yards), he would have been spotted very quickly unless his position was very good and had effective camouflage. The AR-15 has a distinctive sound and would turn heads in terms of “What was that?” when fired.

    There are a lot of people in this country capable of being equal to the DC sniper. I can take new shooters (and often do), put them being a good scoped rifle and have them in an 8 inch bullseye (rough size of a man’s center of mass) consistently at 200 yards with minimal instruction off the bipod. Or iron sights at 100 yards with a little practice with an AR-15 or a .308 class rifle. The guns shoot better than those holding them. The skill starts to come into play as the distance increases due to ballistics, wind and temperature. The longer the shot, the greater those effects become. Having fired regularly on 1000 yard ranges I can tell you it isn’t easy and not within my abilities, good rifle notwithstanding. 300 yards and under is simply breath control, adjust for bullet drop (24 inches at 300) and click in for windage. Scaling up past that isn’t easy and requires lots of practice, excellent control and a rifle/ammo combination that is very, very consistent. I don’t think a lot of Middle East cultures develop the necessary combination of training and people needed to produce the base skills and abilities that make up a proper sniper.

  21. Jeff,

    Are you contending Cheney was impaired? The only information we have is that Cheney had a beer at lunch. If we assume lunch was between noon and one, then five hours later (5:50) that beer would be metabolized. Even is we assume lunch was right before the hunt began at three, we still get three hours, which is plenty of time to metabolize a beer.

    All the rest of the evidence you gave by linking Wikipedia is that no alcohol or misconduct was involved.

    Yours,
    Tom

  22. >Does your threat matix consider suicide snipers?

    No. “Suicide sniper” isn’t a category that makes any sense at all. Matt’s post indirectly explains the reason; you don’t plan to expend someone you’ve invested that much training time in unless the target is as high-value as the World Trade Center or the White House, not even if you’re Hezbollah. If you’re willing to expend someone, you send a poorly-trained mook and maximize your kill probability by indoctrinating him to go close-in or equipping him with an area-effect weapon like bomb, or both.

  23. Tom DeGisi Says: Does your threat matix consider suicide snipers?

    As mentioned above, snipers are a very precious resource. You’d like to use them over and over to make their training and equipment costs worthwhile. You DO NOT want to recruit people for that who are too willing to die. You want people who want to make their targets die. (Note the plural.)

    If someone is willing to die in order to kill someone else, it’s much easier just to get close to their chosen victim and shoot them with a handgun, stab them or blow them up with a suicide vest. That last is much preferred, as it requires the least amount of skill.

    We Americans tend to be biased in favor of sniping because of the Kennedy assassination, plus lots of movies that feature it. Our gun culture also feeds this, but you’ll notice that when Americans use rifles to kill other Americans (JFK, MLK, Medger Evers) that they try to get away. They are not suicidal.

  24. The most basic good habit of mind is maintaining awareness of your tactical environment.

    It should be noted widely that this is an excellent habit even if one is not carrying a firearm.

    Even with other weapons, improvised ones, or just one’s hands and legs (for the runnin’ away), seeing a problem and already having a route (or ideally several) of flight or attack mapped out gives you a gigantic advantage over someone who’s unprepared.

  25. I’m all for your right to carry, though I do think it’s quite obviously a self-interested, non-altruistic thing to do. I think we should have the right to do all manner of self-interested things, and I’m not bothered if people exercise those rights. However, while I’m not actually your neighbour, if I were I would be annoyed at your constant suggestion that your carrying is a benefit to me. Even if it could be beneficial to my life expectancy when you carry, you do not get to do these kinds of ‘benefits’ without my consent. I don’t want you bursting in my door with your gun out, not even if you see me being robbed or raped or murdered. My preference, whether you think it’s rational or not, is to turn the other cheek. I don’t want your deterrent either, since if it’s going to be credible you’ll actually need to be prepared to shoot people. Don’t ever shoot someone or wave a gun at them and say you did it for my benefit, it’s a logical impossibility.

    I’m not your neighbour but consider the possibility that this is how your neighbour feels. You’re carrying for you, not for him. Which is fine by me, hero fantasy or no.

  26. > “Suicide sniper” isn’t a category that makes any sense at all.

    That depends on the level of training. Marine Corps equivalent rifle training is not nearly as expensive.

    I guess I need to do a better job of connecting my points. The hardest part of training a sniper-assassin is the training to get away. Suicide snipers don’t need that bit. The second hardest part is the really long range. But if you don’t care if you are caught really long range isn’t needed. Two hundred yards is much easier to train for, as noted above.

    > As mentioned above, snipers are a very precious resource.

    Yes, a “suicide sniper” would have to be a cheaper resource, something more like a designated marksman.

    > If someone is willing to die in order to kill someone else, it’s much easier just to get close to their chosen victim and shoot them with a handgun, stab them or blow them up with a suicide vest. That last is much preferred, as it requires the least amount of skill.

    If this were always true, hunters would favor spears over rifles. Shooting from a relatively short distance really compromises most peoples situational awareness, but close up assassins are easier to detect. The suicide vest requires considerable skill on the part of the vest manufacturer, especially dodging Hellfire missiles lately. Hunting rifles are much easier to obtain. Considering the entire logistical chain, if you want to kill a particular target, a “suicide marksman” might be cheaper than a suicide bomber.

    A suicide knife or pistol wielder would definitely be cheaper, but not as effective against a prepared target.

    I’m just trying to think asymmetrically. Why haven’t any terrorists blown up any dams, anyway?

    Yours,
    Tom

  27. > I’m not your neighbour but consider the possibility that this is how your neighbour feels. You’re carrying for you, not for him. Which is fine by me, hero fantasy or no.

    I’ve considered it. It’s a really small likelihood, and I don’t approve of pacifists.

    Yours,
    Tom

  28. “It’s a culture thing. Turns out it’s quite difficult to make snipers, or even shooters with what Americans think of as normal accuracy, out of people with a fatalist, occasionalist “if God wills it” view of the universe.”

    Heh. So in their case, “spray and pray” applies literally. Or is it “pray and spray”?

  29. >You’re carrying for you, not for him.

    You’re wrong; I am carrying for him in addition to the benefit to me. The benefit to others plays a part in my ethical calculations, even if it does not dominate them. Your failure to understand this does not rescue you from being wrong.

    If I know that my pacifist neighbor’s preference is to “turn the other cheek”, I might refrain from intervening. Might. It would depend on my estimate of the the total utility to me and all persons other than the pacifist from stopping or killing the aggressor. I might decide that overall benefit is more important than one individual’s pacifist feelings.

    I cede to pacifists a right to sacrifice themselves for their ethical position, but I do not cede to pacifists a right to put their feelings before my safety or that of my neighbors.

  30. > I cede to pacifists a right to sacrifice themselves for their ethical position

    I do not completely cede this. Pacifists make it easier for people to commit crimes. That isn’t good for either the criminal or the rest of us. In addition that sacrifice means that we are deprived of the pacifist and any future good he may do. As you said, “I might decide that overall benefit is more important than one individual’s pacifist feelings.”

    BTW, as regards the “It’s a culture thing” and “spray and pray”, how about the influence of Soviet military doctrine and the AK-47? Old Afghans used to be great snipers because they loved their British Enfields and wanted to save every cartridge. But now they all want an AK.

    Yours,
    Tom

  31. >Heh. So in their case, “spray and pray” applies literally. Or is it “pray and spray”?

    Yes. And it’s actually broader than that, broader than just snipers. One reason terrorism and asymmetrical warfare have become so favored by Islamic cultures is that their combination of fatalism and tribalism produces people who don’t invest in skill, are brittle under combat pressure, and have terrible small-unit cohesion. Islamics are crappy fighters by Western standards, and worse when operating in groups. As previously mentioned, some peripheral tribal groups such as Kurds and various Afghanis raise the average a bit, but it remains really low.

  32. Don’t ever shoot someone or wave a gun at them and say you did it for my benefit, it’s a logical impossibility.

    if my actions discourage, hinder or stop someone attempting to (rob, rape, kill) you, then you have benefitted whether you approve of my actions or not.

  33. >In addition that sacrifice means that we are deprived of the pacifist and any future good he may do.

    I don’t accept this as an argument for ignoring the pacifist’s convictions. He owns his own life and that “future benefit”; you don’t, and it’s not your place to override his choice. He retains the right to go to hell in his own way, even if that doesn’t extend to dragging the rest of us with him.

  34. Heh. So in their case, “spray and pray” applies literally. Or is it “pray and spray”?

    In the 2003 Iraq War, US soldiers gave a common Iraqi tactic the nickname “Death Blossom”, after a desperation tactic from the movie The Last Starfighter in which the spaceship spins around and fires every weapon it has in all directions. This is what Saddam’s troops tended to do when cornered, and it wasn’t very effective.

  35. >if my actions discourage, hinder or stop someone attempting to (rob, rape, kill) you, then you have benefitted whether you approve of my actions or not.

    This far I have to agree with Bennett; if I know that he places a high enough value in his pacifism that he’d prefer to be robbed, raped, or killed to being defended by force, then by intervening I do him harm by infringing on his right to make his own choices.

    That harm may be justified by other consequences of the action, but it is still harm.

  36. I do not completely cede this. Pacifists make it easier for people to commit crimes. That isn’t good for either the criminal or the rest of us. In addition that sacrifice means that we are deprived of the pacifist and any future good he may do. As you said, “I might decide that overall benefit is more important than one individual’s pacifist feelings.”

    This is a poor ethical argument. The pacifist is allowed to decide his own fate; that’s his fundamental, inalienable right. The pacifist does not get to choose the fate of others, since that is each their own, fundamental, inalienable right as well. Where conflicts occur, between the rights of the pacifist and the rights of others, one must choose to protect and preserve the most rights possible — the greatest good.

  37. “One reason terrorism and asymmetrical warfare have become so favored by Islamic cultures is that their combination of fatalism and tribalism produces people who don’t invest in skill, are brittle under combat pressure, and have terrible small-unit cohesion.”

    You might be right, but this matter deserves a bit more investigation. If a culture/religion is very successful in the military sense in the first 900 years of its existence but tends to lose more and more in the next 500 then A) either the culture have changed or B) the objective conditions have changed – of course, most likely, both, but I will now assume A) away because I know little about it and leave the option open for others to introduce A) into the discussion and focus on B) – what have changed in the objective conditions between Turks almost taking Vienna back then and Muslims sucking at everything that’s not ad-hoc guerrilla warfare now?

    Actually I have to correct myself: Islam is not to be seen as a monolithical culture and therefore A) I should not ignore: there is a clear cultural difference between the well-trained, disciplined Turkish janissary 500 year ago and the average Arab insurgent now. (The cultural difference between Lawrence’s tribal Arab insurgents vs. Turkish troops during WWI was rather obvious.)

    Having said that and focusing on what you wrote – modern warfare requires higher skills: check. Small-unit cohesion vs. older habits of individual heroism – check. Brittle under pressue? That doesn’t make much sense. Basically it is all about courage and you are telling the same kind of folks who produce suicide bombers can be cowardly in normal firefight situations? Even if empirical evidence points at that I’d prefer to see some sort of a logical explanation of that before I buy it as it sounds really unlikely.

  38. >This is what Saddam’s troops tended to do when cornered, and it wasn’t very effective.

    This story is actually over a thousand years old – remember what I said about Islamics being brittle under combat stress? Frankish knights of the year 1000 would have reported similar things about Islamic fighters of their day, and been just as right. Culture matters a lot.

    Victor Davis Hanson has argued in The Western Way of War that a major reason Western European culture dominates the globe today is that it conduces to a military philosophy centered around well-equipped citizen shock infantry, one that reliably beats the stuffings out of militaries with different cultural foundations. I can quarrel with details of this argument, but I think it is broadly sound.

  39. > He owns his own life and that “future benefit”; you don’t, and it’s not your place to override his choice. He retains the right to go to hell in his own way, even if that doesn’t extend to dragging the rest of us with him.

    > The pacifist is allowed to decide his own fate; that’s his fundamental, inalienable right. The pacifist does not get to choose the fate of others, since that is each their own, fundamental, inalienable right as well. Where conflicts occur, between the rights of the pacifist and the rights of others, one must choose to protect and preserve the most rights possible — the greatest good.

    OK. I believe you both are correct and I was wrong about this: “In addition that sacrifice means that we are deprived of the pacifist and any future good he may do.” A pacifist must have the choice about his future, not us.

    However, I was not wrong about this: Letting someone commit a crime against you is not good for them. It harms their very person. Hurting their body? Sometimes that can heal. I am not saying that the pacifist is responsible – the criminal is. But it is not good for someone to have committed a crime.

    Yours,
    Tom

  40. >Small-unit cohesion vs. older habits of individual heroism – check.

    Versus individual heroism isn’t the problem. Versus not trusting your squadmate to have your back because he’s from a different tribe is the problem. And Islam has tended to reinforce fragmenting tribalism in the non-Arab cultures and demes it has absorbed (Kurds, Turks, Afghans, Persians).

    >Brittle under pressure?

    Yep. Comes from the fatalism/occasionalism, apparently, or at least that’s the most convincing explanation I’ve heard. Islamics fighting defense under pressure reach a point where they start thinking “God wills our defeat” and just shatter. Fanatical, suicidal bravery on offense coupled with a tendency to crumple like chap tinfoil under counterpressure is a repeatedly observed pattern, consistent over 1400 years.

  41. > I don’t want you bursting in my door with your gun out, not even if you see me being robbed or raped or murdered. My preference, whether you think it’s rational or not, is to turn the other.>

    You’ve probably never been shot. Try turning the other cheek after a bullet strike. You won’t have to. Centrifugal force ……. Or, try walking / running after one of those cheeks gets hit. Trust me; it’s extremely difficult.

  42. However, I was not wrong about this: Letting someone commit a crime against you is not good for them. It harms their very person. Hurting their body? Sometimes that can heal. I am not saying that the pacifist is responsible – the criminal is. But it is not good for someone to have committed a crime.

    But you’re forgetting that the criminal also a right to decide his own fate. By choosing to commit a crime, he is also choosing the consequences that come with committing that crime, which may include everything from not getting caught, to jail time to the possibility of being shot by either the intended victim or the police.

  43. > But you’re forgetting that the criminal also a right to decide his own fate.

    No, I wasn’t forgetting that. That’s why I said, “I am not saying that the pacifist is responsible – the criminal is.” But a pacifist cannot avoid hurting a criminal by refusing to resist.

    I’m achieving brevity at the expense of clarity again and I’m flying by the eat of my pants.

    > By choosing to commit a crime, he is also choosing the consequences that come with committing that crime, which may include everything from not getting caught, to jail time to the possibility of being shot by either the intended victim or the police.

    This is perfectly true.

    Yours,
    Tom

  44. > Still, even with all these advantages, there probably aren’t more than a few hundred snipers in trainining sufficient to pull off a long-distance assassination at any given time in the U.S.

    Wrong. Attend any NRA High Power or Palma (or 1000 yd) match.

    You pistol shooters are humorous.

  45. >Wrong. Attend any NRA High Power or Palma (or 1000 yd) match.

    Um, do these guys know how to build deep cover and exfiltrate? Distance shooting is a sniper’s core skill, but not the only essential one.

  46. > Where would I get the numbers to plug into a formula

    That was my point. Why expend into activities where the opportunity cost calculation is random?

  47. >That was my point. Why expend into activities where the opportunity cost calculation is random?

    You’re babbling. Stop this now.

  48. >Um, do these guys know how to build deep cover and exfiltrate? Distance shooting is a sniper’s core skill, but not the only essential one.

    First question: what does ‘build deep cover’ mean in this context? My immediate parsing of that phrase refers to societal cover against being found by law enforcement (or similar), but since we’re talking about snipers I’m not sure if it might refer to some arcane point of how-to-shoot-people.

    Assuming my initial interpretation of that phrase is correct, these skills might well be important for a CIA-style ‘sniper/agent’, who has to deal with things like going into another country and perhaps waiting a while without raising suspicion before the attack, but that’s not the only possible role for a sniper. In particular, the idea expressed upthread of a ‘suicide marksman’ (maybe not even suicide; but in a situation in which exfiltration and similar are less important, perhaps the target is in their home country) might be useful for assassinations, at least of lower-profile targets; you can certainly find quite a few more al-Qaeda members who can reliably hit a person at 200 yards then at 1000, and that’s still quite useful in terms of evading the target’s own defensive measures. (Unless they’re doing the full live-in-a-bunker thing.)

  49. >First question: what does ‘build deep cover’ mean in this context?

    A sniper hide. I was talking physical concealment, not social engineering – though sometimes, if you’re operating in a populated area, social engineering may be involved in setting it up.

  50. @Tom Dickson-Hunt:

    Understand that when esr says “a sniper hide,” this, of course, a lot harder than it sounds. You need to hide somewhere that you can both site and hit your target without being seen or heard. Realize that even a sniper rifer with a silencer makes a good amount of noise. So you need to be far enough away to not be heard, but still close enough to reliably hit the person. This requires some amount of calculation, a good understanding of the ballistics involved, and good tactical knowledge. It’s not as simple as it looks in the movies.

  51. >It’s not as simple as it looks in the movies.

    Indeed it isn’t. I have a friend who was trained for it, I’ve heard his stories, and they have allowed me to deduce more than he told me. Even the U.S. military, with a budget approximately as big as the rest of the world’s militaries combined, can’t grow a lot of people with this skillset. NRA plinking matches alone won’t do it, not by a long country mile.

  52. Eric, did the person who made that threat give any reason to believe that they had the wherewithal to carry it out? I’m sure that the Iranian government threatens many more people than they could possibly reach. After all, their #1 target, Salman Rushdie, is still walking around.

  53. >Eric, did the person who made that threat give any reason to believe that they had the wherewithal to carry it out?

    That’s kind of a silly question, if you think about it. With no independent way to check on anything a blog commenter claimed, anything he could have said was “reason to believe” would have been equally unverifiable. I thought the threat could not be dismissed lightly. So did the FBI.

  54. Hmm. Is it correct to conclude that Islam, in encouraging tribalism, is a dysgenic religion? Because I take that to literally mean encouraging first cousin marriage and consequently inbreeding depression. This explains some of the pretty low mean IQ scores in places like Qatar and Yemen.

  55. Bennett, it doesn’t matter whether Eric is carrying or whether you’re carrying. What matters is that the cost of predation is increased by the mere existance of legal concealed carry. If you are going to be a consistent pacifist, then if the law allows concealed carry, you should put a sign up on your house that says “No guns here.” That way you avoid the vicarious benefit of other people’s gun ownership.

  56. Bennett,

    you do realize that pacifism has no, as in zero, survival ability anywhere in the world. You can only be a pacifist so long as some entity protects you from the world. You are riding on the coattails of the police and military, in addition to your fellow citizens. Human nature, let alone Nature itself, says it is an unworkable idea. Historically, that sort of thinking is promoted by those in positions of power to make it easy to gather and maintain power. It is a morally bankrupt philosophy.

  57. @JB and esr
    “Is it correct to conclude that Islam, in encouraging tribalism, is a dysgenic religion?”

    Endogamy is not an Islamic, but a Mediterranean problem. Endogamy was always rive in this region (see Peter Laslett’s “Marriage patterns”) and you found it from the old Romans to Jews and Christians. It mostly was about people marrying their cousins.

    In other parts of the world marriage patterns vary widely and Muslims just try to marry other Muslims.

  58. Esr

    There are several aspects to this death threat you did not discuss.

    If you really want to kill someone, you will not warn him. So the aim of a death threat in general is to get someone to stop doing what was considered objectionable.

    In your case, you already stopped, so there seems to be no reason to kill you anymore.

    Your precautions cost time and will wear you. They interfere with the work you were doing. So the aim of the death threat was obtained, at least partly.

    In both cases, there is no reason at all to actually go to the expenses trying to kill you.

    In a cost benefit analysis, killing you will be very low on the list of profitable policy decisions. It will be extremely expensive. You are a very low profile target (for Iranian politics). You are a bad example, as killing a random guy only shows it is possible to kill random guys. That is public knowledge already. And the fall-out for killing you will be unpleasant as it will again draw attention to the Mullahs as the “Old men in the mountains”.

    Your own analysis already indicated the best chances are for a suicide attack. But currently, it is the Sunnites that are into suicide attacks, much less the Shiites. And the Sunnites will hardly do the Iranian Mullahs a favor.

    In short, as not having received any death threats, ie, as the typical arm chair theorist, I would estimate your chances of you being killed by an Iranian recruited suicide terrorist as extremely slim. I should worry more while driving or crossing the street. (if I ever receive death threats, I will probably worry like you ;-).

    Wrt your carrying arms. I have read some of your earlier writings on that. I always wondered whether you really have determined the odds against collateral damage? Anyhow, it will severely limit any travels plans outside of the USA.

  59. Eric (or others who carry) – out of interest, how many times have you felt it necessary to draw your weapon with an intention to use it in a situation of apprehended danger?

  60. >There are several aspects to this death threat you did not discuss.

    Yes, and that was quite deliberate. I have had threat-modeling discussions with people who have counterterrorism training, and I will not share some important things about the threat model because doing so could raise the (low) odds of an attack. I will, however, note that a suicide bombing is not at the top of my list of most likely threat scenarios. And no, I will not explain or elaborate on this.

  61. >how many times have you felt it necessary to draw your weapon with an intention to use it

    Count stands at zero for me. I devoutly hope this will continue forever.

  62. I guess I’ve got to say this: I am a lifelong Quaker and a pacifist (not always synonymous). And I carry. And I have advanced belts in a couple of martial arts. Very advanced in one. I would not hesitate to use any of these skills within the threat model that I have devised for my own life.

    All pacifists are not against all violence. I recognize the difference between predatory and protective violence. Any pacifist who does not is a sentimental idiot. I don’t often make absolute statements but I am fine with that one. Having said that, some pacifists may still choose to abjure the use of violence in any situation. Many of us are of the mindset that, while violence is fine in some situations, there are often better ways of resolving conflict than to use violence, especially in matters concerning wars.

    In the years when I was an absolute pacifist, and would not have offered violence for any reason, it was a spiritual discipline, not a public policy choice. I learned a great deal from the discipline that I could not have learned in any other way I know. Yet I was not anti-military, anti-gun, or any of that, because as I say it was a personal choice.

    So, there is a continuum among pacifists, just as there is in any other arena. I am out there in 4 sigma land, as I am in so many other ways (free market Marxist and Goldwater anarchist) ( It’s ah … it’s ah … it’s a JOKE, son! ) — to be sure, I don’t know many other pacifists who carry. But there are many who would act to protect a loved one rather than indulge their personal feelings at the risk of life or limb of another. There are pacifists who serve in non-combatant roles in the military. And so forth.

    I don’t have another code-word to suggest, to describe the kind of self-indulgent pacifist described by Bennett. And, whether he likes it or not, those of us who carry do provide a service to others. You can always come up with an unlikely scenario that seems to negate the major proposition. People who haven’t grasped the reality of statistics often make this kind of mistake in argument. The dishonest do it on purpose.

  63. Mullah’s have long memories and implacable motives. I suggest you carry all the way up until your reach your great retirement. At a great old age!

  64. In re sitting with one’s back to the wall: I first ran into the concept in Dune, and it seemed purely theoretical. Eventually, I noticed that men seemed to prefer that side of the table in restaurants. I don’t know how much of that was part of a practical intent to defend, general nervousness, or having read Dune.

    Since than, and having read a book on feng shui which said that people just aren’t as calm if they’re sitting with their back to a door, I’ll tend to choose back to the wall if I’m by myself in a restaurant, but I’m not sure it makes any practical difference. I’m probably reading.

    How does reading in public fit with maintaining situational awareness?

    ****

    Malvo: I would assume that another advantage he had over a mission sniper is that he was killing random people. This not only meant that his victim(s) couldn’t be used as clues to trace him, he was going after people who had no current defense. The police are long term defense.

    It may have helped him a little that people believed blacks didn’t become serial killers.

    ****

    Risks caused by pacifism seem kind of marginal to me– the Amish school shooting made it publicly clear that the Amish are very vulnerable, but criminals haven’t descended on Amish communities. Or have I missed something?

    ****

    If it’s not that hard to find people who can shoot well enough to be snipers, then snipers aren’t so valuable as to make it urgent for them to escape. On the other hand, the sniper may have a lot of information about the organization they’re from, so that’s a different angle on why organizations would only want to use very well trained snipers.

  65. I don’t know how much of that was part of a practical intent to defend, general nervousness, or having read Dune.

    It’s instinctual. Sit with your back to the cave wall so you can see potential predators coming in.

  66. “I don’t know how much of that was part of a practical intent to defend, general nervousness, or having read Dune.”

    “It’s instinctual. Sit with your back to the cave wall so you can see potential predators coming in.”

    I can’t help repeating the classic story about this one. ‘Wild Bill’ Hickok wanted to join a poker game in one of the local saloons, but the only open chair had its back to the door. The other players told him, “It’ll be fine. You’ll be OK. Sit down.” He did, with fatal results.

  67. How can you tell whether it’s instinctual or cultural?

    See whether or not the behavior pervades other cultures. Obviously, as you pointed out, feng shui (from traditional Chinese culture) discourages sitting with your back to the door. Do we have other examples?

  68. > This explains some of the pretty low mean IQ scores in places like Qatar and Yemen.

    This is also certainly influenced by poor nutrition and a disdainful attitude toward creative and critical thought, both of which are self-perpetuating cultural habits. You can see identical processes at work in American inner cities.

  69. It’s probably a habit some of us picked up in jr. high. A learned response.

  70. Tom asked: I’m just trying to think asymmetrically. Why haven’t any terrorists blown up any dams, anyway?

    Because dams of any importance are very, very, very sturdy, and if they had the kind of gigantic bombs necessary [really, we're talking about a nuclear device if we're not talking about using a heavy bomber to do the delivery] they’d far prefer to use them in a city.

    I’m not sure you can put a big enough conventional bomb in a truck or semi trailer to actually “destroy” such a dam, where “destroy” would mean “do enough damage to cause it to eventually, either directly or via water erosion from leaks or overtopping, catastrophically fail”. You might well cause it to shut down for a few years for repairs. Maybe.

    If I was a terrorist out to cause maximum terror and damage to the US with a tactical nuke, I wouldn’t hit Hoover Dam, I’d hit New York City or Los Angeles or Washington DC. 3.2 million cubic yards of concrete makes for a very, very sturdy structure. (Grand Coulee dam has four times the volume…)

    (And about the points earlier in that reply, there aren’t “suicide marksmen” that are cheaper than suicide bombers, because training someone to be a good enough shot to succeed is vastly more expensive than getting some C4, a battery, and a switch (so to speak; the reality is slightly more complicated, but well understood by those who’d be trying it). And that assumes that the organization in question even has the ability to train a marksman.

    Now, I suppose the Iranian government probably does have that ability, but it’d still be cheaper [and less traceable... which matters a lot when you're a foreign government contemplating assassinating an American citizen in the United States. Wars have started over less.] to make a Semtex vest for some deniable mook.

    If you already have someone willing to die – and that person doesn’t happen to be Simo Hayha – they’re going to be much, much more likely to kill the target by walking up to him and exploding than by waiting for him to walk by and shooting him from a few hundred yards – or even 50 yards. There’s less chance of pre-action detection, less chance for evasion, and a much better chance of a kill when you make the attempt.

    The calculus is against snipers and for bombers, or at least for an assailant with a machinepistol or the like, rather than a marksman.)

    Both the odds of success and the costs

  71. >The calculus is against snipers and for bombers, or at least for an assailant with a machinepistol or the like, rather than a marksman.)

    This is correct. It’s a major premise of my threat modeling that most (not all, but most) of the plausible attack modes I might face would put the assailant at a short engagement range.

    Please do not respond to this by publicly inventing ways for terrorists to reach me from longer engagenent ranges. To you that might be a cute intellectual exercise; to me it could be death.

  72. Sigivald,

    I was thinking of the Johnstown Flood. That dam wasn’t nearly as big as Hoover. It wasn’t a dam of major importance. I look all the flood control lakes the Army Corps of Engineers have built around here, and alot of them aren’t very far upstream of small towns with populations in the thousands.

    OTOH, since Hollywood isn’t all that realistic about software, maybe they don’t know about dams either.

    On the gripping hand, maybe the New York Times, circa WWII did.

    I’d go with the assailant with a machinepistol or the like over a suicide bomber. The logistical tail for suicide bombers is getting more and more expensive. The U.S. and the Israelis are working very hard to eliminate the manufacturers, trainers and recruiters. Lots of suicide bomb manufacturers fail. They detonate before handoff. Lots of suicide bombers fail. They detonate too soon. There may be cultural reasons for this, too. I’m thinking of the “knowledge is power I must hoard it” idea, as well as the “only officers are smart enough to do anything” idea inherited from Soviet military practice.

    Yours,
    Tom

  73. Eric,

    > Please do not respond to this by publicly inventing ways for terrorists to reach me from longer engagenent ranges. To you that might be a cute intellectual exercise; to me it could be death.

    Sorry. I hope you don’t live downstream from any small dams.

    New rule: Posts which publicly inventing ways for terrorists to reach you from longer engagenent ranges will be deleted, or subtly modified to make them fail.

    Yours,
    Tom

  74. > Um, do these guys know how to build deep cover and exfiltrate? Distance shooting is a sniper’s core skill, but not the only essential one.

    Doesn’t matter. The cops, like you, won’t believe that a 1000 yard center of mass shot is possible, because they (like you) can’t do it themselves, and even if charges were brought, no jury would convict.

    Your pistol is a close quarters weapon, worthless against a trained advesary.

    BTW, I carried for over 5 years in Texas *and* I qualify as High Master in both NRA pistol and NRA High Power Rifle. I’m certain I can place first round hits in a human target at ranges over 800 yards with an all but off-the-shelf rifle.

    I’m hardly the best I know at either.

  75. >The cops, like you, won’t believe that a 1000 yard center of mass shot is possible, because they (like you) can’t do it themselves

    Oh, I know it’s possible. And I don’t think my local cops are actually stupid enough to declare it impossible.

    >Your pistol is a close quarters weapon, worthless against a trained advesary.

    It depends on what their training and doctrine is. To say more on this topic would reveal apects of my threat modeling that are safer not discussed. Please accept that I have a rational basis for my planning derived from consulting with people who actually have counterterrorism training and experience, and don’t pursue the matter; your attempt to score rhetorical points could endanger my life.

  76. I started thinking about the benefits/disadvantages of hiding information in public fora like this, then realized 1.) I really probably shouldn’t post my thoughts here, since Bad Guys have been seen reading this blog, and 2.) wow, have I been internalizing HPMoR. I wonder if that’s healthy.

  77. Now I’m afraid I’ll endanger someone if I ask what HPMoR is.

    I have thought of a many eyes solution to the dam problem. It envolves some organizing and training of retirees who like to fish.

    Yours,
    Tom

  78. An question: can the fear the general public and some police officers hold of armed civilians be a source of additional risk to the concealed carry holder? Anecdotal evidence: the strange case of Erik Scott.

  79. Please do not respond to this by publicly inventing ways for terrorists to reach me from longer engagenent ranges

    If I were a terrorist, I wouldn’t be interested in hitting any specific individual. Instead, I’d choose a target based on the kind of people who tend to be there, and select targets of opportunity as Malvo did.

    At the risk of invoking True Scotsman, when the target is specifically identified a priori, it’s not “terrorism” per se, but “assassination”. If I were an assassin specifically hired to kill you, I’d study you for a while to see if you have any habits that can be exploited. (I don’t think I’m saying anything here that a hit man doesn’t already know.) The potential details of that exploitation I will omit to avoid giving anyone ideas (but you have my email address if you care to enquire). Suffice to say that a good hit man will set up trap based on what he can learn about you ahead of time.

    The moment your “radar” picks up something odd, you should think about deliberately not doing anything out of habit. If my attack is based on catching you doing $bar because you always do $bar when you do $foo, the slightest deviation from that routine could save your life.

    Take 9/11 for instance. When the news of the first planes hitting the towers got out, the “natural” reaction for the POTUS’ security team would have been to whisk him out of the school and get him back to the WH, where the layered security infrastructure was in place for maximum protection. But cooler heads prevailed. Rather than presenting a target that the attackers would expect (and might cause collateral damage on civilians if it were shot down) an undisclosed military base was chosen instead.

    And it’s not just a case of deliberate violence here. When a natural disaster strikes, and thousands of people follow their habits and try to take the same roads out, you’re likely to be stuck in traffic. If you have figured out evac routes likely to be a bit slower than the popular route under normal traffic conditions, you can use one of them and avoid the crowds. Whenever you go into a building for the first time, make an effort to notice where at least three exits are, so you don’t get burned/crushed with the herd.
    .

  80. Brerarnold: Say, have you ever been to the FGC Gathering? I want to hold a Tuesday evening Interest Group on “An Armed Pacifist”.

  81. Will: you’re thinking of “passivism”. “Pacifism” has a much greater than zero defense value. People over-value the efficacy of violence. If you have a shovel, and a gun and you want a ditch, and you use the gun first, you still have the shovel, but no ditch.

  82. Tom DG: HPMoR is Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality; ESR has plugged it before, it’s a Harry Potter fanfic written by Eliezer Yudkowsky, who in comments on a recent chapter said ‘I had to get it out of my system by just once in my life writing something more complicated than Death Note.’ Recent chapters have been very oriented around plotting, metaplotting, meta-meta-plotting, and so forth.

  83. “the “natural” reaction for the POTUS’ security team would have been to whisk him out of the school and get him back to the WH, where the layered security infrastructure was in place for maximum protection.”

    It wouldn’t and it wasn’t. Condi recently said that in cases like that, the president and vice-president can’t be together, and Cheney was already in the WH. Cooler heads prevailed and followed policy.

  84. Tom Dickson-Hunt,

    I love Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality!

    I hope I’m internalizing it, too.

    Yours,
    Tom

  85. >It wouldn’t and it wasn’t. Condi recently said that in cases like that, the president and vice-president can’t be together, and Cheney was already in the WH. Cooler heads prevailed and followed policy.

    Ah, the wonders of modern technology. You can get two people both in close coordination (a necessity, if there’s any danger of the president dying and the VP having to immediately take over) and protected from both being killed by the same bomb. (Until, of course, someone figures out a way to transmit a blast wave over a videoconferencing link.)

  86. @Russell Nelson: Never been to FGC. I lean more towards Conservative Friends.

  87. This is purely trivia, but I was reminded by the talk about snipers and the 1000-yd range that the world record is an 8120 ft (1.53 miles) shot by a Brit back in May in Afghanistan. Supposedly, this range is 1000 yds *beyond* the range of the rifle he used. And he made the shot *twice*. The mind boggles.

    Here’s an article about it.

  88. It wouldn’t and it wasn’t.

    I know a lot of people abuse the quotation mark to indicate emphasis. I am not one of those people. The professionals who work personal security for POTUS don’t follow the “natural” reaction to a threat precisely because they’ve gamed out these scenarios ahead of time and developed policies to guide them to react intelligently instead.

    Even if Cheney were nowhere near DC, I suspect that under the specific circumstances, they still would have chosen not to take Bush back there immediately.

    I got stuck in traffic once when Bush’s motorcade was passing on the opposite side of the highway, which had been completely cleared of traffic. There was no advance notice that this would be happening, and there were several identical-looking limousines so that no one would know which one to target. Their protocols are explicitly designed to avoid predictability.

  89. >the world record is an 8120 ft (1.53 miles) shot by a Brit

    Anglosphere cultures are tops at producing snipers like that; the third most plausible nationality to fit in that sentence would have been Canadian or Australian. Germany, Austria, and the Scandinavian countries can manage it as well. Russia used to – there were some very good Russian snipers in WWII – but it’s unclear whether they still can; the cultural base for it may have eroded.

  90. >the third most plausible nationality to fit in that sentence would have been Canadian or Australian.

    Not bad- the former world record holder was Canadian. It was a “paltry” 7900 ft shot.

    I think records like that give a better frame of reference for the skill level of a sniper. I don’t mean to demean guys who can make 1000 yd shots, but a ‘sniper’ is class of shooter all its own. That’s before we start talking about the non-shooting related skills.

  91. There was no advance notice that this would be happening, and there were several identical-looking limousines so that no one would know which one to target.

    FWIU, this has been standard practice since Reagan was shot. All presidential limousines are also armored, and there are always a minimum number of Secret Service personnel accompanying POTUS at all times.

    The U.S. Secret Service takes the job of protecting POTUS very, very seriously. However, it’s not physically possible to rundown every possible scenario, but rather they have drilled on the scenarios deemed most likely to occur.

    I wouldn’t say that it’s impossible that POTUS would be assassinated — mostly because I think that nothing is truly impossible — but I would say that it is very, very unlikely. Any would be assassin would have to be more intelligent and better organized than the Secret Service and, more importantly, they would have to out-think their best strategists. I think very few people would be able to do that, and, of those, only a tiny fraction of those would have the motivation and means to do so.

  92. >the world record is an 8120 ft (1.53 miles) shot by a Brit

    Of course somewhere there is a Special Ops guy who read that article, chuckled to himself and said “If they only knew.”

    Records like this aren’t terribly meaningful, especially not to the soldiers who rack them up. I saw an interview with Rob Furlong (the Canadian record holder), in which when asked about his feelings about the record, he replied “Meh.”

  93. >I wouldn’t say that it’s impossible that POTUS would be assassinated — mostly because I think that nothing is truly impossible — but I would say that it is very, very unlikely. Any would be assassin would have to be more intelligent and better organized than the Secret Service and, more importantly, they would have to out-think their best strategists. I think very few people would be able to do that, and, of those, only a tiny fraction of those would have the motivation and means to do so.

    I have thought about this some amount, after reading about the Secret Service’s security procedures. The only ways that I was able to think of that had a decent possibility of succeeding are a.) a sniper hit during a public appearance (does the USSS secure all areas in line of sight of the President during speeches? things like JFK suggest not) and b.) a major bomb hit on either the White House or a transportation convoy. It also might be possible, depending on how it’s protected, to shoot down Air Force One with some sort of ground-to-air missile (what’s the discipline on where AF1 takes off and lands? is it possible to armor a plane against a SAM hit? can a sufficiently good pilot safely land a plane even if it’s hit with SAM on takeoff/landing? for that matter, does the President have an ejector seat?). Probably there are other non-publicized security measures against these threats and others. USSS is good at their job.

    (I feel no compunction about discussing methods of assassinating POTUS, because anyone with the resources to do that isn’t going to be getting their crucial plan from a blog comment.)

  94. >(I feel no compunction about discussing methods of assassinating POTUS, because anyone with the resources to do that isn’t going to be getting their crucial plan from a blog comment.)

    Indeed. POTUS is a sufficiently high-value target to spend a sniper on….and that’s the scenarrio that gives the Secret Service ulcers.

  95. >Brittle under pressure?

    Some, or even a lot of this comes from being trained by the Soviets and inheriting that model of organization, at least in the Iraq example. The command level is way up in the officers, the NCOs are poorly trained, and the soldiers even more poorly trained. This kind of army reliably collapses when swarmed and decapitated by Western armies. The modern method of martial organization is actually inherited from the Wehrmacht of WWII, and depends far more on sergeants and corporals than on majors and colonels. Everybody knows the plan, everybody knows the jobs of folks two levels above and below them, and they’re set loose to accomplish the objective in the fastest possible time. From a structural standpoint, the organizational OODA loop is pretty short in the Western model and extremely long and easy to disrupt in the Soviet model when information has to flow from the front back to command and when soldiers are denied initiative. “Individuals with initiative” pretty much describes two-man sniper teams sent out ahead of the main force to scout, snipe and disrupt. This is not the kind of thing any Soviet-trained army will tend to generate.

    The Taliban have some pretty effective small-unit structures, and the folks who have been fighting essentially since Christmas 1979 have plenty of experience. The Chechens used snipers very effectively during the Russian invasion, and in some unique ways: given the short distances involved there were reports of suppressed .22LR rifles being used. Bolt-action suppressed .22s are extremely quiet and when your buddy or your CO falls after being shot dead through the eye, it’s a bit unnerving to say the least. In Iraq, there were a number of videos put out by or in support of a guy named ‘Juba’, who was apparently the Iraqis’ master sniper. Just recently there has been a very good sniper working in Sangin, Afghanistan — UPI had an article on it, quoting one from the Wall Street Journal.

    The better reason to not worry about a sniper is that you’re not going to wear SAPI plates and a helmet everywhere you go, so in essence there’s no defense. If you can’t defend, then you’re better off spending your time on things that you can control. Being murdered by long-range rifle fire is exceptionally rare even in America where there are a lot of people who can put lead on target from a long way off. Even if you had a domestic death threat from within a population more suited to sniping for whatever reason, being sniped is just stupid-rare. Of the extant assassinations in the 20thC in the United States, only two that I can think of were people shot with rifles (MLK and JFK) and both of those were sub-100 yard shots, only one with a scope. Every other assassination attempt in the United States that I can remember, of Presidents or other famous people, were close-range attacks with handguns or knives. This is the kind of threat where situational awareness and being armed can make a difference, and you’re wise to invest in both options.

    >Your pistol is a close quarters weapon, worthless against a trained advesary.
    As far as a pistol being useless, it is in essence a sharp screwdriver with a very long handle. Pistol wounds are basically long-distance stab wounds, virtually no pistol has the velocity to produce hydrostatic shock, you’re poking a 12-14″ deep hole with expanding ammo, and a through-and-through hole with non-expanding ammo in most cases. People survive pistol wounds with the same frequency as stab wounds. They are not death rays, but neither are they useless. They are part of a layered response that also includes running like hell when you get the chance, and not doing things your intuition tells you are more dangerous than is prudent. Were I threatened with assassination, part of my plan would be to as much as possible be sure that any trained adversary had to confront me in close quarters where my pistol would be effective, and have even more-effective firearms available in places I could control and would be most frequently. A 12-gauge pump shotgun with 000 buck puts more 9mm-diameter projectiles in the air than an MP-5, eight per pull of the trigger and someone with a bit of training can do that three times in a second.

  96. >Some, or even a lot of this comes from being trained by the Soviets and inheriting that model of organization, at least in the Iraq example.

    I agree that this exacerbates the brittleness problem, but the historical roots go much deeper than that.

    >The Taliban have some pretty effective small-unit structures,

    Afghanis, one of the “fringe tribal groups” I cited that raises the average for Islamics. Still, fundamentally raid-and-ambush fighters who don’t handle full-intensity combat well.

    >[Pistols] are part of a layered response that also includes running like hell when you get the chance, and not doing things your intuition tells you are more dangerous than is prudent.

    This man speaks wisdom.

  97. >Still, fundamentally raid-and-ambush fighters who don’t handle full-intensity combat well.

    They don’t have the industrial base or technical background to do much else. The blacksmiths of Peshawar may be able to make AKs out of cookware, but it’s a couple orders of magnitude harder to make even a T-34, much less a Bradley or an AN/PVS-7. And let’s not even discuss the maintenance issues that surround airpower. They are hit-and-run fighters because if they stand and fight they get a 30mm enema from an A-10. Bully for us that we don’t allow them to attempt to get good at anything else, but given the political and economic dimensions of warfare that may just be enough.

    It was enough for the Russians, which is part of the AQ/Islamist doctrine: “We beat the Russians, they were the most brutal guys out there. These Americans are soft, we’ll take them too.” They leave out of history the years where they were getting slaughtered, the years before the Stinger and tons of arms and ammo coming up through Pakistan, funding and logistics handled almost entirely from Langley. It’s BS, but it works well enough for their recruiting purposes. Wars end when one worldview or the other is discarded by its adherents. Long before people put down their rifles they decide they did not believe what they did when they started the conflict. Opinions vary on the continuation of combat in Afghanistan, but conflict will continue until one worldview or the other is discredited.

    But to your wider point, the Iran-Iraq war was pretty pathetic overall. Like a couple of elephants trying to reproduce — a lot of noise, a lot of dust and a lot of things getting trampled, followed by a long wait for anything significant to happen afterward. The honor-shame dynamic will get people to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do in combat, like clear minefields with their feet, but the drawback is that if honor is felt to be satisfied then nothing further is required. Western military doctrine leaves out the “satisfy honor” step on the process chart in favor of “close with and utterly destroy”. This is a distinct strategic advantage. The willingness to honorably surrender before being defeated can contribute to the brittleness you describe.

  98. >They don’t have the industrial base or technical background to do much else.

    True…but we’ve also seen what happens when Islamics with access to decent military tech go up against troops from a Western tradition. They don’t always lose, but it takes utterly incompetent leadership on the Western side (Elphinstone in the First Afghan War, Hamilton and Hunter-Weston at Gallipoli) to enable a win. Or consider the Arab wars against the Israelis, who (ironically) absorbed the World War II German playbook and beat the living snot out of armies with serious manpower and weight-of-metal advantages on them.

    You should read John Keegan and Victor Davis Hanson on this topic. It’s not just Western materiel that wins wars with Islamics, it’s deep differences in culture. For a good look at this phenomenon in extreme form, see Why Arabs Lose Wars.

  99. >>how many times have you felt it necessary to draw your weapon with an intention to use it

    >Count stands at zero for me. I devoutly hope this will continue forever.

    This is the case for most people who carry, and it’s also the case for a majority of police officers, as it happens. I have a couple of relatives who are current and retired policemen, and none of them ever had occasion to draw their weapon off of the practice range.

    On a related note, I’ve never had to use the fire extinguisher I keep in my car.

  100. I have read quite a bit of VDH, beginning around 2002 when he started writing in National Review. He is very convincing. I don’t doubt that we can win any war we choose to fight, but what has kept citizen-soldiers at the top of the martial food chain for millennia was the decision to fight, and continue fighting. The Roman Republic would have been lost at Cannae without the will to take the field again the next season after horrific losses. One can only imagine how our press would cover the double-envelopment and utter destruction of a single US Army division, much less the numerical equivalent of five.

    Our armed forces are literally without peer — more combat experience and better logistics than anyone else in the world. We plain have more of just about everything than anyone, from training to spares to equipment. The Brits and Canadians punch above their weight, but our weakness is in our political leadership. The guys and gals on the ground will do whatever they are tasked to do, but that capability is for naught without a citizenry that will back that up with resolve. This is something that prior, victorious citizen-soldiers had. I question how much of that we have as a nation now, and in particular how much our current political leadership has. When you give a war speech but can’t say the word “victory”, that’s not a leader that is going to make anyone forget Churchill.

    Robert D. Kaplan has some great books about our armed forces, “Imperial Grunts” and “Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts”. If you like VDH, Kaplan is a good read for a modern perspective.

  101. True…but we’ve also seen what happens when Islamics with access to decent military tech go up against troops from a Western tradition. They don’t always lose, but it takes utterly incompetent leadership on the Western side (Elphinstone in the First Afghan War, Hamilton and Hunter-Weston at Gallipoli) to enable a win.

    I’ll just leave this here … :)

  102. @Darren D.
    “Our armed forces are literally without peer — more combat experience and better logistics than anyone else in the world.”

    Yes, the USA army is probably the best. There are other very good armed forces (Israelis, Foreign legion), but they are smaller.

    What the US army lacks is the ability to get local support. Protection of one province in Afghanistan was transfered from the USA to a European country for the sole reason that the population was on the verge of inviting in the Taliban. And this was only because of the way US soldiers “interacted” with the local population.

  103. @Wizard,

    Doesn’t always work out that way, though. The Anbar Awakening would not have occurred without US troops being more reliable and honorable in the eyes of the local population than their Islamist/Wahabbi opposition. Admittedly it’s not a particularly high standard (being more humane and trustworthy than Al Qaeda in Iraq) but it certainly counts as a hearts-and-minds win. I think we are expecting a whole lot out of our armed forces if they’re going to be USMC or USA and do USAID’s job as well. At least they could have USAID’s budget for whatever sector they’re rebuilding.

    It may depend primarily on how much ‘other’ a given population can tolerate. I listened to Sebastian Junger’s “War” on audiobook — it doesn’t get much more insular than the tribes of the Korengal, they didn’t particularly care for even other Afghanis. The US forces and the people of the province you give as an example got to know each other long enough to figure out what they didn’t like about each other, and since the population was there first, the powers that be moved in a different set of ‘other’ to do military jobs. If a US unit is in an area where the Taliban are active, they are going to get into fights, and when they get into fights heavy ordinance is going to be used and bystanders, innocent or otherwise, are going to get hurt. This is unlikely to generate anything in the way of good feelings. Changing the uniforms and personalities may do a lot to change perceptions, and if it works then I am all for it. Do you remember the name of the province?

  104. >Sounds like Rome.

    They kept the Republic together longer than we have been a nation, and the Empire for another several centuries afterward.

  105. I’m an old guy from Houston. I’ve been carrying since Gov. Bush passed the CHL law. I see a cardiologist about every 6 months for blood pressure control. About 6 months ago I complained that I hated leaving my gun in the car where it could get stolen. My doctor told me to wear it in. Since he’s in a professional building that’s not posted, it’s legal to carry inside.

    During my last visit he expressed admiration for my Wilson Combat KZ-45. Then he moved his coat back and showed me the Sig he carries. Texas is different.

  106. > They kept the Republic together longer than we have been a nation, and the Empire for another several centuries afterward.

    The Empire was pretty much a totalitarian state with Roman citizenship fulfilling the same function as Communist Party membership. I don’t want my descendants living in a totalitarian state.

    The Roman Empire is not to be emulated, it is to be avoided at all costs.

    Yours,
    Tom

  107. I hate to tell you this but bad guys carry guns too and they don’t necessarily stick to legal guns. No matter which gun you walk around with, you can always meet a bad guy with a bigger gun. Are you prepared to go to jail to protect yourself from being beaten up? What if you make a mistake and someone is reaching for their wallet? Sometimes your gun sneaks out from under your shirt. Are you prepared to go to jail/court to discuss a youngster stealing it and shooting someone near you (accidentally or not)?

  108. @Chris

    I had a much longer post mostly written, then I got to “…make a mistake and someone reaches for a wallet” and realized that not only did you not have the foggiest f’ing clue what you were on about, you had no interest in learning.

    If I wanna argue with a wall I’ll go talk to my three year old.

  109. 1: > This explains some of the pretty low mean IQ scores in places like Qatar and Yemen.
    This is also certainly influenced by poor nutrition and a disdainful attitude toward creative and critical thought,

    Also two thousand years of marrying your cousin.

    2: Back to the pacifist- rape, robbery, and aggravated assault are by definition against the victim’s will. Just because YOU turn the other cheek doesn’t mean you have the right to make me help the criminal by not stopping him when I can.

    If later you feel survivor guilt, you can jump off a bridge to wipe out my interference with your right to accept suffering.

  110. I think history shows that Turks and Arabs offer quite different military propositions. Plevna, anyone? How about Wegas in the Korean Conflict?

  111. Keep safe Sir – and I hope your quality of life is not impared to much, by your need to be on the watch for security issues.

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