Thursday, December 16, 2010

You've got to be carefully taught.

UPDATED below.

Clay Duke has lessons to teach us. He didn't come to school to teach. Instead he came to die, and quite possibly to kill. But that only makes the lessons more important.

Here is Clay Duke's instructional video. An alternative view can be found here.

Clay Duke, a paroled felon with mental health issues and angry over his wife’s termination, left a suicide note on Facebook on Wednesday and went to a meeting of the Bay County School Board toting a can of spray paint and a pistol and planning violence. Stepping to the public comment podium he sprayed a symbol from the graphic novel “V for Vendetta” on the wall, shooed the audience out of the room, drew the pistol and held the board members hostage for about six minutes.

Here are just three lessons from an incident brimming with them.

Lesson One: Act violently enough, soon enough, for long enough to end the threat. This incident turned out as well as it was ever going to – bad guy dead, no one else hurt. The security officer who took the shooter down is of course to be commended. But it’s only thanks to the Clay Duke’s lousy shooting that innocent people didn’t die before he did. Because the security officer waited until after the gunman had fired a shot to begin shooting himself. That was far too long to wait.

The time to shoot Clay Duke was when he first produced the handgun. Or when he first started ordering people around with it. Or when he first told the board members to stay put at point of the gun. Or when he raised the weapon and pointed it at a board member for several seconds before pulling the trigger. Or any time before he started shooting.

Lesson Two: Gun free zones aren’t. Anywhere in the U.S., it’s illegal for a felon to possess a firearm. In Florida, it’s illegal to bring a gun onto school board property. It’s illegal to bring a gun to a government meeting. It’s illegal to conceal a weapon without a permit. Not for nothing, it’s illegal to threaten people with a gun, to hold them hostage or to shoot at them, too. Little surprise, though, that Clay Duke – mentally ill, despondent and intent upon his own death – did not heed these laws. I don't know, but will presume he walked right past a "no guns" sign on his way into the meeting hall.

The “gun free zone” in which the school board met was, like all gun free zones (including those the size of a city), only free of lawfully possessed guns in the hands of law abiding citizens, who were thus deprived of the ablity to defend themselves.

No prohibition or statute or sign or board policy was going to discourage Clay Duke or protect those board members.* What might have protected them, however, was the wherewithal to lay down a cross fire of sufficient volume.

Consider the little old lady with the enormous purse who takes a swing at Clay Duke early in the incident. Her actions – while admirable in a sort of vaguely comical way – were utterly and inevitably futile. But imagine if that enormous bag had held a pistol. She had the drop on Clay Duke, who clearly didn't see her. Suffice to say a bullet in Clay Duke’s brainstem would have made for a shorter video.** Even if you are squeamish about engaging in this exercise, you still have to answer this question: Which do you consider the morally superior picture – Ginger Littleton (the little old lady) standing over the dead body of Clay Duke, a smoking pistol in her hand; or Clay Duke standing over the dead body of Bill Husfelt (the superintendent who bravely offered himself if the gunman would let his colleagues go)?

Lesson Three: Handguns are lousy man-stoppers. Watch the video closely. You can see Clay Duke fire his first shot, then he lowers the pistol and unintentionally discharges another round, obviously inadvertently,*** into the floor. He’s then hit from behind with the officer’s first two shots. Nevertheless he is able to advance on the dais and fire two more shots at close range, before he is hit a third time as he goes to the ground. Although shot to the ground, Clay Duke is still able to fire his weapon. In a portion of the video obscured by CNN, he shoots himself in the head. He might just as easily have rolled toward the security officer and sent rounds that way.

Handguns are not magical talismans; they do shoot a death beam like a Star Trek phaser. Hollywood may have you convinced that the impact of a handgun round will blow the bad guy off of his feet and  through the conveniently placed plate glass window. Certainly no television news report ever refers to any handgun used in a crime as anything but “powerful” or "large-caliber."  But the truth is that the only time handgun rounds are terminally effective is when they are placed very well. You can only count on a handgun to end a bad guy’s aggression by either disconnecting his central nervous system, or by breaking apart the structures that hold him up and allow him to act, or by causing him enough blood loss that he loses consciousness.

So, be prepared to act. Be equipped to act (not only with a weapon, but with the knowledge and will to use it). And keep shooting until the threat is neutralized.

UPDATE: From an interview with security officer Mike Jones, we learn that he had to go to his car to retrieve the weapon he used (sigh) and he hesitated to shoot Clay Duke, because his shots were going to hit the gunman in the back and he was worried about being charged with a crime (double sigh). So we have these additional lessons: There is no use in good intentions or wishful thinking. The only firearm you can use to protect yourself and others is  one you actually have. And: Life is not a 1950s movie Western. If you are justified in using lethal force, then you are justified in using lethal force. Trying to ensure a fair fight is a good way to die or get others killed.

*Which it makes it nearly certain, in the aftermath of this incident, that some politician somewhere will propose a new law to "prevent this from happening again." As if any law could.

** She’d have needed to watch her angle of fire to ensure she didn’t endanger the other board members. “Know your target and what’s beyond it,” as Col. Cooper taught us. That was likely the challenge for the security officer as well, who appears to have had the school board members directly in line with his target as well.

 *** Col. Cooper also taught "Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on the target."


  1. Be equipped? Are you suggesting we all arm up? What if I don't want guns in my house?

  2. Good thoughts. Many people believe they can buy a weapon (handgun, shotgun, etc) never practice with it and expect to hit something/somebody when their life is on the line. You need practice to be effective. Also the idea of mental preparation is a good one. What will I do if this happens or this happens is always a good exercise to go through.

  3. Patrick I'd say make your choices and take your chances.

    I don't much like paying for life insurance, and no one ever got a thrill buying a jack or learning how to change a tire. But I want my family to have some $$$ when I go, and I'd rather not have to wait for AAA if I get a flat.

    I'd submit that the natural right to self defense comes with a nondelegable duty to defend those of yours who cannot defend themselves (however you choose to define "yours"). You may disagree, which would end the discussion. If you agree, however, then you have to make a rational, fact-based choice about how you are going to discharge that duty. If your plan is to keep a phone by the bed and call 911, please read

    I'm in no position to tell any man what the "right" choice for him may be. But I can observe the world, and so I know that making SOME choice is unavoidable, and that choosing not to choose is really choosing.

  4. The day of the shooting he said he had his 38 (Likely a J-Frame), but went to his car for his 40 Glock and body armor

  5. There is a wealth of learning to be had from your synopsis, for anyone willing to absorb it, and (more important) to internalize it.