Presidential candidate Ben Carson said this week that if he ever finds himself in a situation like that at Umpqua Community College in Oregon, "I would not just stand there and let him shoot me. I would say, 'Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me but he can't get us all.'"
Carson has taken criticism for that statement, which some have interpreted as an implied slap at those killed and wounded in the attack. That's a bit unfair. Like a lot of us, Carson simply likes to think that if put in such a situation, he would react heroically. In that he was being more naive than callous, and by expressing it in public, a bit of a braggart as well.
There's a reason that we celebrate heroes like Chris Mintz, the man who did try to confront the Roseburg killer. We do so because we recognize that such behavior is rare. Most of us would not do it. We can sit here in the safety of our homes or in a press conference and talk about how we think we would respond, as Carson did, but none of us knows until we're standing there, faced with that situation. Fight or flee, what's your choice? Ooops. Too late. You're dead.
But let's talk a little bit more about the practicalities of the scenario described by Carson. According to news reports, the Roseburg shooter was armed with three pistols -- a Glock 9 mm., a .40 caliber Taurus and a .40 caliber Smith & Wesson -- plus a Del-Ton 5.56×45mm rifle.
Mr. Carson, meet Mr. Del-Ton:
The Del-Ton 5.56×45mm, manufactured in Elizabethtown, N.C., is a low-cost semi-automatic variation of the classic AR-15 assault weapon. It comes equipped with a 30-round magazine. Keep that in mind when you hear Carson say things like this:
"The shooter can only shoot one person at a time. He cannot shoot a whole group of people. So the idea is overwhelm him so not everybody gets killed."
In its semiautomatic version, the AR-15 will fire a round as quickly as the shooter can pull the trigger, meaning it can fire its 30-round clip in 20 seconds or less. So if Carson found time to have his theoretical chat with his fellow targets -- "Hey guys, everybody attack him. He may shoot me but he can't get us all'" -- he would rather quickly find that the shooter can indeed get them all.
According to news accounts, the shooter carried also five additional magazines, presumably 30-round magazines for the Del-Ton. That gives him 180 rounds of rapid firepower. A proficient shooter, which the Roseburg killer was, can switch those magazines out very quickly, in just a few seconds. So if Carson were to try to pick his spot, waiting until the gun was empty like they do in the movies, he would have to do it very very quickly.
Which is where the loaded Glock, Taurus and Smith & Wesson would come into play.
In short, although he doesn't realize it and would deny if it he did, Carson is making the argument for banning the sale of both assault-type weapons and high-capacity magazines. That equipment was specifically designed to make his romantic little scenario impossible to pull off. That's why it exists, to give your targets no chance. It's also why such equipment is so often the weapon of choice by those intent on doing as much human damage as possible as quickly as humanly possible.