October 13, 2017
In the hypercharged partisan atmosphere that disgracefully follows any mass shooting tragedy, journalists, politicians, and anyone with an opinion spontaneously become firearms experts. Yet, as this U.S. Army combat infantry grunt can attest, these desk jockeys are no straight shooters.
The Interstate 91 country music massacre is no exception. From talks of machine guns, bump stocks, “silencers” and the semantics of weapons transportation, these would-be sharpshooters are negligently off-target when it comes to the laws of modern warfare. Although reporters posing as weekend warriors insist that crazed gunman Stephen Paddock’s decision to use a bump stock made his shooting ambush the deadliest in modern history, the truth is that his erratic gunfire inadvertently reduced casualties.
With over 1000 days of continuous combat operations during three deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as over a decade of training and leadership as a U.S. Army infantryman, my experience can provide some insights lacking from the deadly shooting rampage in Las Vegas. I have qualified as an expert marksman with the military-issued variant of every confirmed weapon system utilized by Paddock to carry out his heinous assault, and I have instructed hundreds of American, Iraqi, and Afghan soldiers in the finer nuances of advanced rifle marksmanship.
In a rare bipartisan effort to do something -- anything -- in response to the violence, lawmakers are currently considering a ban against the bump stocks, or the weapons accessory that modifies semiautomatic rifles to fire at an automatic rate of fire. Instead of pulling the trigger once to fire a single round, an automatic weapon fires multiple rounds when the trigger mechanism is depressed. A bump stock mimics this effect on standard semi-automatic rifles available for purchase in civilian stores.
Reporters have almost universally attributed the high casualty count in Las Vegas -- 58 killed and well over 400 wounded -- to the rapid rate of fire that gunman Stephen Paddock achieved with the use of a bump stock modification. A Reuters report called this device a “major factor” in producing the unprecedented casualty rate, while CNN says that the bump stock allows shooter to “convert a killing machine, an AR-15 rifle, into a weapon of mass destruction …"
Contrary to popular media opinion, Paddock’s cyclic rate of fire may have saved lives that horrible Sunday evening. The disturbing reality is that if the shooter decided to eschew the bump stock in favor of firing at a sustained and controlled pace, the death toll would have risen dramatically.
I have been in dozens of firefights with an M4 carbine -- a weapons platform from the same family of rifles that Paddock used to fire from 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay. When engaging enemy targets in theater, I never moved my rifle’s selector switch from semi-automatic to a faster rate of fire because this would have completely compromised my accuracy.
Don't take my word for it, though. The U.S. Army field manual for rifle marksmanship states:
The light weight and short length of the common assault rifle causes the muzzle to climb uncontrollably when fired on automatic. Therefore, more modern military rifles employ a less erratic three-round burst option in lieu of the automatic mode.“Automatic or burst fire is inherently less accurate than semiautomatic fire. Trainers must consider the impact of recoil and the high cyclic rate of fire on the Soldier’s ability to properly apply the fundamentals of marksmanship and other combat firing skills…”
The same field manual says that three-round burst is preferable to fully auto and advises that soldiers firing older M16 rifles should pull the trigger, “but quickly release pressure to prevent an excessive number of rounds from being fired in one burst.”
Audio captured of the Las Vegas shooting shows that Paddock certainly did not preserve his accuracy, letting loose long, continuous clips of uninterrupted fire. As a rule, infantry fighting units deplore the use of automatic fire from a standard-issue rifle, and even when a situation calls for rapid suppressive fire (like shooting at tightly grouped targets), controlled semi-automatic shots are preferred.
Mandalay Bay is estimated to be about 400 yards away from the nearest victims at the concert grounds. From his vantage on the 32nd floor, Paddock was approximately 420 meters away, putting his nearest unfortunate targets just within the maximum effective range of a point target for an AR-15.
This distance to target means that as Paddock’s muzzle inevitably climbed from the wild shooting, a rise of a few inches from his barrel was equivalent to dozens of yards on the ground. Many of his bullets, intended for helpless concertgoers, very likely flew above the adjacent airport.
Admittedly, this theory is counterintuitive to anyone outside the profession of arms. Fox News host Tucker Carlson became the subject of outraged mockery for rejecting the narrative established by unqualified journalists.
Responding to a guest of his prime-time program who asserted that Paddock’s bump stock was responsible for the scores of killed and wounded, Carlson said, “Many more would've died actually because if you talk to people who know a lot about guns they say pros don't even fire on fully automatic because they can't hit anything."
Carlson received a critical response for his educated observation, with sources like Salon calling his assessment “a bizarre claim.” Of course, none of these outlets provided any expert analysis to dispute his nonconformist assertion.
Incidentally, before the House considers banning bump stocks altogether, lawmakers should know that this modification is actually redundant. The same rate of fire can be achieved without a bump stock on most rifles by utilizing a method called “bump firing.”
Instructive videos may be found on the internet outlining this simple technique. The shooter applies forward tension with the non-firing hand while keeping the trigger finger stiff and immobile, biomechanically accomplishing an automatic rate of fire.
Before the inexperienced and unstudied offer misguided conjectures about modern warfare, they would be wise to consult an expert. Their friendly neighborhood Veterans of Foreign Wars outpost would be an excellent starting point.
Vegas Gunman's Use of Bump Stock Reduced Casualties