Let me preface this piece by saying I classify myself as a textbook Hillbilly and the owner of multiple weapons from sidearms to shotguns to hand grenades and the occasional molotov cocktail. And now, for your edification, my reasoning – and best argument – for curtailing the ownership of anything like an Armalite AR-15.
Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, a former West Point psychology professor whose books, “On Killing” and “On Combat,” are at the vanguard of research and thought about what happens to a human in a gunfight.
When faced with extreme stress or fear, our body jacks up our heart rate. Grossman has created a scale, moving from white to yellow to red to gray to black. Actual warriors want to remain in the yellow, with the ability to get to red, where they are at their most efficient. Anything more than 145 beats per minute, however, you slip from red into gray. Unless you are a highly trained operator, like a SEAL or a Ranger, you are basically transitioning from a human to a wolf. At 175 beats per second, you are in the black: The forebrain, responsible for thought and reason, literally shuts down and turns the body over to the animalistic midbrain.
“Once your heart rate rises about 145 bpm,” Grossman writes, “there is nothing there you want.”
Navy SEALs and other special operators use a specially designed and dangerous training to make reactions hard-wired. Their training serves intentionally as a stress inoculator, including actually being tortured while being taught how to withstand capture.
Most police officers, however, are trained to shoot but not to do so under stress. Spending a lot of time on a range, shooting paper targets, does little good in a gunfight, which is why, according to a study, cops whose shooting accuracy is 90 percent on the range shoot 20-25 percent in the field. Like soldiers, most cops go on autopilot during a shootout, except in their autopilot the brain is shutting down the flow of blood to parts of itself not essential to survival. In this state, even trained cops get tunnel vision, which gets narrower the higher the heart rate. Officers in the book reported that some memories are amplified and others are completely erased. Distortions in scale and time occur. One officer reported seeing beer cans floating slowly through the air during a shootout and then saw “Federal” stamped on the bottom and realized they were the empty shell casings from his partner, who also was shooting. Officers reported killing suspects and thinking a fellow officer pulled the trigger. Or they reported firing a weapon nine times, along with four blasts from a partner’s shotgun, while hearing no shots at all.
Some cops, and most civilians, find it easy to pull a trigger accidentally, and difficult to only pull it once. For Grossman, there emerges a concept known as bilateral symmetry above 145 beats per minute. If someone grabs a fistful of shirt with their left hand while holding a gun in the other, both hands can flinch at the same time, causing the person to accidentally fire their weapon.
A civilian with a gun, even one familiar with using it, basically has no chance of being in control, or accurately determining who should be shot and who should be allowed to live. And it isn’t some liberal suggesting that, but Grossman, the person trusted by many of the most elite killers in the world. The prosecutor Rodrigue kept talking about five pounds of pressure required to pull a trigger, but Grossman says that bilateral symmetry can produce up to 25 pounds of pressure in the shooter’s hand.
In other words, Rodrigue is asking how Hayes could have accidentally pulled the trigger, while Grossman’s book asks how could he have not.