Megan McArdle's Outrageous Gun Recommendation

My former colleague Megan McArdle writes in The Daily Beast:

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 suggestion of McArdle's, which appears at the end of a long, discursive piece arguing that there is not much to be done to stop gun violence, has provoked outrage across the Internet. Jonathan Chait spoke for many when he wrote:

Are you kidding me? You think gun control is impractical, so your plan is to turn the entire national population, including young children, into a standby suicide squad? Through private initiative, of course. It's way more feasible than gun control!

(snip)

Unless I am missing a very subtle parody of libertarianism, McArdle's plan to teach children to launch banzai charges against mass murderers is the single worst solution to any problem I have ever seen offered in a major publication.

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."

That last line -- "consider a plan to tackle the shooter" -- struck me as particularly hilarious. What universities are saying to their students is this: "We cannot protect you. But we won't allow you to carry a licensed, permitted weapon on campus. But since our lawyers told us we have to make believe that there's a way to protect yourself from people we can't protect you from, you should carry a pencil and an iPod with you at all times. These items may save your life."

Presented by

Jeffrey Goldberg is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and a recipient of the National Magazine Award for Reporting. He is the author of Prisoners: A Story of Friendship and Terror. More

Before joining The Atlantic in 2007, Goldberg was a Middle East correspondent, and the Washington correspondent, for The New Yorker. He was previouslly a correspondent for The New York Times Magazine and New York magazine. He has also written for the Jewish Daily Forward and was a columnist for The Jerusalem Post.

Goldberg's book Prisoners was hailed as one of the best books of 2006 by the Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Slate, The Progressive, Washingtonian magazine, and Playboy. He received the 2003 National Magazine Award for Reporting for his coverage of Islamic terrorism and the 2005 Anti-Defamation League Daniel Pearl Prize. He is also the winner of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists prize for best international investigative journalist; the Overseas Press Club award for best human-rights reporting; and the Abraham Cahan Prize in Journalism.

In 2001, Goldberg was appointed the Syrkin Fellow in Letters of the Jerusalem Foundation, and in 2002 he became a public-policy scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C.

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