Important: I am not condoning the actions of spree shooters. This post is just an analysis of the logistical constraints on the number of fatalities and casualties resulting from such incidents.
Many of you might have noticed that spree shootings have become more common within the last decade. Many explanations for the ‘real’ reasons behind the gradual and persistent increase in such incidents have been offered, but that is not the topic of this post. Instead I will focus on another, and often ignored, aspect of spree shootings.
Most spree shooters cannot seem to kill more than 30 people.
If you don’t believe me have a look at this wiki link- especially the sections on school massacres and workplace shootings. Sure, there are exceptions like Breivik who killed 77, but that only proves the rule. So have you ever wondered why it is so hard to consistently kill more than 30 people per incident? Wonder no more..
1. The weight of guns, ammo and body armor is the first constraint on the number of people who a spree shooter can kill. The typical ‘successful’ shooter uses one semi-auto rifle and 1-2 handguns, though handguns alone are sufficient. The semi-auto rifle is usually chambered in a caliber small enough to have acceptably low recoil in a fast but aimed, semi-auto mode but large enough to reliabley kill human beings- usually 5.56×45mm or 7.62×39mm. The semi-auto pistols are typically chambered with 9×19mm though other slightly larger calibers have also been used.
The weight of 2-3 guns, multiple pre-filled magazines for each gun and body armor can quickly add up to and beyond 10-15 kg. While a shooter could theoretically carry more weight in ammo or guns, the constraints of shooting at close range inside buildings negates many of the advantages of more ammo, automatic weapons or heavier calibers. In any case, most automatic weapons are too large and ungainly to aim properly in the handheld mode- even with good trigger discipline. Their considerable recoil in the handheld mode makes accurate aiming hard, even if they are chambered for pistol calibers such as 9×19mm.
2. Most spree killers shoot their victims from less than 100 feet. At such distances the behavior of bullet projectiles is significantly different from that seen under more typical ‘war’ scenarios. Over-penetration is a very common problem and often leads to significantly less energy transfer to the tissue than anticipated. Wounds caused by bullets that just fly through the body are also easier to patch up and less deadly- as long as they miss vital organs or blood vessels. That is why semi-auto handguns (pistol rounds) are often just as deadly as semi-auto carbines (rifle rounds) in spree shootings.
Shooting at close quarters in enclosed spaces poses its own unique set of problems. The sound of gunfire can be overwhelming inside buildings, especially for semi-auto rifles. It is also not easy to control and aim guns with long barrels inside buildings. Potential victims can also barricade themselves in rooms and take cover behind furniture after the initial shots, further reducing the casualty count.
3. The next factor concerns the average number of bullets required to kill a person under such conditions. Since spree shooters are not typically firing well-aimed shots at stationary targets, the number of bullets per guaranteed fatality typically ranges between 2-5. Moreover, aiming accurately is difficult when the targets are moving, hiding or involved in other self-protective behavior. Furthermore, speedy access to good quality trauma care is quite good in most western countries and therefore only people with head-shots or injuries to vital organs are certain fatalities.
Given that not all shots hit their target, it is reasonable to assume that 5 rounds have to be expended per fatality or severe injury. Most reliable ‘high capacity’ magazines for semi-auto rifles contain less than 35 rounds. Semi-auto pistols top out at less than 20 rounds and there is a limit to how many pre-loaded magazines one person can carry. The typical spree shooter is therefore unlikely to go exceed than 300 aimed rounds before first-responders show up or he kills himself. This number in itself sets an upper limit on the number of fatalities in spree shootings.
4. Since very reliable cellphones are almost universally available, potential victims will typically contact emergency numbers within 2-3 minutes of the start of a shooting. First-responders will typically arrive within 10-15 minutes of the call. Unless the shooter has set up barricades or further diversions, he is constrained to a time frame of less than 15 minutes from the first shot. This time-frame is one of the main constraint on the number of fatalities.
It is also important to note that medical treatment of gunshot wounds has improved to the point that almost every victim who is alive upon arrival at a hospital is unlikely to die. Even those with very severe and contaminated wounds or considerable blood loss have an excellent chance of survival, especially if they are young and in good health.
In conclusion: There are several logistical constraints to the maximum number of fatalities per spree shooting incident even if the ‘lone-wolf’ spree shooter is competent, well armed and determined- the key word is ‘lone-wolf’.
What do you think? Comments?