If you’ve never imagined yourself in a large room full of terrified people — a classroom, a movie theater, a Walmart — while a shooter moves among you, systematically picking off his victims, then you may be deficient in your capacity for imagination.
But I suspect that, like most of us, you have seriously considered how you would react if confronted by a shooter.
Your chances of being the victim of a mass shooting are small, but they are not negligible. And these days nearly all Americans keep that grim fact tucked away somewhere in the backs of their minds.
For example, last week, when the El Paso and Dayton shootings were fresh in everyone’s minds, a motorcycle backfired several times in Times Square, and frantic people ran, called 911 and pounded on theater doors, trying to find a place to hide from what they assumed were gunshots.
This unfortunate reality of modern American life doesn’t appear to be going away soon. We may hope that the El Paso and Dayton shootings will be the final outrage that spurs our culture to take real steps to protect itself, but there’s not much reason for optimism.
No, after the grief and emotion generated by the El Paso and Dayton shootings die down in a few weeks, we can expect the current interest in gun control to die down, as well, just as it did after Sandy Hook, Orlando, Sutherland Springs, Las Vegas and so on. As long as Donald Trump is in the White House and the Senate is controlled by Republicans, do not expect meaningful change.
So if we find ourselves pinned down by a shooter in a Walmart, we are going to be pretty much on our own.
How would you react as the killer moves from aisle to aisle, picking off his victims? What would you do? What would you think about?
It’s impossible to predict our actions in such a situation, but here are some things that I might think about:
First, amid the carnage, I doubt if I’ll be thinking about the contortions that we have inflicted on the Second Amendment to wring from it the right — or at least the opportunity — for the shooter to possess a weapon that has more killing efficiency than the founders could have possibly imagined.
I doubt if I’ll wonder whether the shooter could have been identified by red-flag laws or better background checks and thus been prevented from obtaining such a deadly weapon. I probably won’t care if he played too many video games when he was young or whether he had a dependable father in his home.
It won’t occur to me to wonder whether the shooter was influenced by his upbringing in a culture infatuated with gunfire or by a president who preaches hatred and disunity from the nation’s most bully pulpit.
I probably won’t concern myself about whether the shooter is using a pistol or an assault rifle or whether he is operating his weapon in the automatic or semiautomatic mode. And there will be no time to reflect on the irony of our ban on automatic weapons while we tolerate more efficiently deadly semiautomatic weapons.
No, I suspect that I will be thinking about just one thing: When does the shooter have to stop to reload?
The real killer is the high-capacity magazine. The founders couldn’t have imagined that the Second Amendment would someday be used to enable mass shootings; in fact, they couldn’t have imagined mass shootings, at all. The best ball-and-powder musketeer would be hard pressed to fire three shots per minute. The Dayton shooter killed nine people in 30 seconds. He had a 100-round magazine. Magazines larger than five rounds have only one reasonable use: to kill people very, very quickly.
Until our government develops the courage and will to enact gun legislation that will protect us, I ask only one thing: Make the shooter pause, however briefly, to reload after every five shots. Whether I decide to run, hide or fight, that tiny edge might give me the only chance I have.
John M. Crisp, an OpEd columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas.