“Experience,” baseball philosopher Vernon Law famously said, “is a hard teacher, because she gives the test first, the lesson afterwards.” Oxford don philosopher C.S. Lewis put it like this: “Experience: that most brutal of teachers. But you learn, my God do you learn.”
The ballplayer, who was merely characterizing experience, turns out always to be right. The don, predicting its effect, sadly, isn’t. It turns out that the modern human capacity for ignoring hard-taught lessons is profound. You will be able to watch this play out in the next few days as the world assesses the lessons from the mosque shootings in New Zealand. Predictably, most folks will “learn” the exact lesson that best suits what they already believe. Those convinced that evil arises from the barrel of gun will “learn” that lesson again, ignore all others, and fight to force it on all and sundry. Those inclined to attribute mystical, evil, trans-global powers to politicians they despise will “learn” that the political leaders they despise have mystical,evil, trans-global powers, ignoring all other possible motives and means.*
Those of us who take the world as it comes, who try to be clear-eyed about the lesson the harsh schoolmistress teaches, must do better. We have learned here before. In the most terrible way imaginable, we have been brought to class by a unique teacher.
For what has to have been the first time, the shooter in the first mosque wore a camera. Despite the best efforts of benighted officials seeking to repress this vital tool, I’ve seen it. I watched its nearly 17 horrific minutes four times before the link was sent where governments often send hard truths. Because while it is horrible,** it is true. It is the truest thing you will ever see. And it has lessons to teach.
Observe: The shooter was able to approach from down the block and enter the building unchallenged while in full tactical gear and carrying two long guns.
Lesson: Live in Condition Yellow
Observe: He passed several members of the mosque, who did not even call out.
Lesson: SEE something so you can say something.
Observe: He entered through an open gate and an open exterior door. (The side exterior doors to the Mosque were also open.) The shooter then walked up and down the same hallway repeatedly, but never even tried the several doors on either side of the hallway where other worshipers were hiding.
Lesson: Get a door between you and the shooter. Lock the door if you can.
Observe: The shooter was on scene for six minutes, returning once to his car down the block to retrieve another weapon and more ammunition, then re-entering the mosque. There was no police response while the shooter was on scene. After a second entry to the Mosque, the shooter went back to his car and drove calmly away.
Lesson: You have to solve the problem without the police. You are your own first responder, and likely the only one who can be there on time.
Observe: No one made any attempt to intervene with him, to attack him, to get inside his OODA Loop. (One worshiper ran into him as the worshiper tried to flee, but made no effort to disarm the shooter.) This despite the fact there were multiple opportunities to engage the shooter during many clumsy reloads and many malfunctions he had with his weapons. He frequently turned his back on his victims. He walked blindly through openings.
Lesson: Mass shooters will provide opportunities for violence of action. Take advantage of them. You're probably going to die, so take your best shot.
Observe: Most victims died cowering in corners. The shooter shot everyone he could see – many times. Needless to say, no one was able to exchange fire with the shooter, because New Zealand largely disarms its citizens.
Lesson: You - and you only - are responsible for your own safety.
Lesson: You have to stop the shooter, because the shooter won’t stop until he’s done.
Observe: The shooter was, in fact, very poorly trained if trained at all. He charged into rooms, he had lousy target awareness, he turned his back on people who should have been threats to his safety, he could not clear a failure-to-feed, fumbled reloads, and more. An armed worshiper with even minimal training and the right mindset would have been more than a match for him.
Lesson: Have a gun. Carry the gun. Get trained with the gun. Be prepared – morally, spiritually, physically – to employ the gun to save your life and others’ lives.
Observe: We know the point above is correct because this shooter’s accomplice DID encounter armed resistance at the second mosque. A worshiper (likely “illegally” armed given New Zealand’s laws) fired at the shooter there and that shooter instantly abandoned his attack.
Lesson: Armed resistance stops mass shooters.
* I was able to come back twelve hours after this post originally went up and add links demonstrating exactly my point. That Chelsea Clinton and Donald Trump were both credited with such powers makes the point an even finer one.
** And it is utterly horrific. Human bodies piled like snow drifts in the corners. The impact of shotgun rounds striking skulls. The shooter’s cavalier, flippant commentary as scores die crying out for mercy. You should watch it. Because it’s true. But I won’t think less of you if you can’t. The lessons are still the lessons, but they do burn in a bit more deeply with the viewing.