Armored and Dangerous
The scariest innovation in the Aurora mass shooting isn’t guns or ammo. It’s SWAT gear.
James Holmes, the alleged perpetrator of Friday’s movie-theater massacre in Aurora, Col., was well-armed. He had an assault rifle with a 100-round magazine. He had a 12-gauge shotgun and two semiautomatic pistols. He had gas canisters to confuse the moviegoers, and an apartment full of explosives to kill police.
But that wasn’t the scariest thing about him. Mass murderers are generally well-armed. Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, the kids who gunned down 12 high-school students and a teacher in Columbine, Col., in 1999, had two shotguns, a semiautomatic pistol, a carbine rifle, and a bag full of bombs. Seung-Hui Cho, the guy who murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, had two semiautomatic handguns, 19 magazines, and nearly 400 rounds. Nidal Hasan, the 2009 Fort Hood shooter, used a semiautomatic pistol with a high-capacity magazine to kill 13 victims and wound 43 more. Jared Loughner, the loser who snuffed six people and shot 19 others last year in Tucson, Ariz., didn’t stop firing till the 33-round clip in his Glock ran out.
What distinguished Holmes wasn’t his offense. It was his defense. At Columbine, Harris and Klebold did their damage in T-shirts and cargo pants. Cho and Loughner wore sweatshirts. Hasan was gunned down in his Army uniform.
Holmes’ outfit blew these jokers away. He wore a ballistic helmet, a ballistic vest, ballistic leggings, a throat protector, a groin protector, and tactical gloves. He was so well equipped that if anyone in that theater had tried what the National Rifle Association recommends—drawing a firearm to stop the carnage—that person would have been dead meat. Holmes didn’t just kill a dozen people. He killed the NRA’s answer to gun violence.
Last year, after the tragedy in Tucson, the NRA’s CEO, Wayne LaPierre, accused gun-control advocates of hyping
sensational events that capture national attention and drive their agenda, like Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, and Tucson. … What the media won’t admit is that in each of those tragedies, the mass killers all had the same decisive advantage: Government Gun Free Zones and anti-self-defense laws that protected the safety of no one except the killers and condemned the victims to death without so much as a prayer. That’s right: Our own policies gave more protection to the killers than to the innocent. Government Gun Free Zones have become the hunting ground of evil, deranged monsters.
Instead of gun control, LaPierre proposed the opposite:
The best way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. And just knowing there’s a good guy with a gun around—a cop, a guard, a soldier, and yes, a law abiding citizen with a gun—makes us feel safer because we are safer. That’s why we need more freedom and a lot less government. That’s why our Second Amendment rights should be expanded, not diminished. And that’s why, right here in this hall today, I call on Congress and every state legislature to empower the American people to ensure their own security by enacting legislation to grant all law-abiding Americans the right to carry a firearm for personal protection.
Some 40 states, including Colorado, have taken that advice. They authorize the issuance of concealed-weapons permits to anyone unencumbered by a felony conviction, a protective court order, or a disqualifying mental illness. They think arming good guys will deter or defeat bad guys.
But really bad guys—guys capable of planning a serious rampage—aren’t stupid. If you want to take your time murdering a theater full of people, the prospect of some would-be hero drawing a weapon is no problem. Just go to the U.S. Justice Department’s body armor standards page, where you’ll find a list of 69 companies that sell government-certified bullet-stopping gear. The list includes phone numbers, addresses, and URLs.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.