Home > Critical Thinking, Current Affairs > Analysis of Factors Limiting Fatalities in Spree Shootings

Analysis of Factors Limiting Fatalities in Spree Shootings

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?

  1. bob
    February 2, 2013 at 8:55 pm | #1

    1.Bulk is limiting factor as well. You can’t just shove mags in your waistband. You need special gear to carry them.
    Carrying two pistols that use different magazines is a very stupid thing to do. Supposedly Lanza did this. If you are to carry two pistols, they should take the same magazines so the all your spare mags can fit both guns.
    I disagree that low-recoil rounds make sense for target acquisiton. You’re not going to be very accurate shooting at intelligent moving targets. I think in such a close range situation, hip-fire is the way to go. You don’t want to limit your visibility by aiming down your sights and are actually abe to acquire targets faster. Hip-fire aiming is only possible because of the close quarters. I think the biggest consideration when considering ammo is size. Ammo of lower calibers, like 5.56. is thinner, therefore you can carry more of it. However, 5.56 is not nearly as lethal as harder hitting rounds like 30.06 and .308. The normal use of 5.56 is midrange combat because its accuracy at longer distances. If recoil and ammo size were to be conidered, it would make much more sense to carry a SMG like the MP5. They use pistol caliber rounds, but shooting out of longer barrels give them as much power as the 5.56 with no drawbacks. In fact, at close range out of guns with same barrel length, 9mm is more lethal than 5.56. The MP5is very compact and weighs several pounds less than any rifle. The barrel can be cut shorter to further increase maneuverability. There are also proably pistols and SMGs that use interchangeable mags, giving a huge advantage.
    2. I can’t imagine how deaf you would be shooting a rifle indoors with no hearing protection. It would be physically painful.
    There is no cover that will protect you from these rounds while indoors. Rifles rounds can all shoot through cars, as well as large pistol rounds. No furniture could provide cover.
    3. There are very compact 60 round AR-15 magazines. These could be used. Pistols also can use very compact 33 round magazines. Also, the shooter can come with a 100 round drum and reload to 60 round mags.

    But that would require a lot of planning. I have wondered about the possibility of spree shooters becoming spree burners if guns are restricted.

  2. bob
    February 2, 2013 at 8:58 pm | #2

    Ignore the cutting the barrel part. I referred to a different gun at first and forgot to delete that.

  3. bob
    February 2, 2013 at 9:00 pm | #3

    Sorry. Legal MP5 variants do have longer barrels that can be sawed off.

  4. P Ray
    February 2, 2013 at 9:14 pm | #4

    The easiest way to get a high body count is a shot that hits the vital areas.
    Carrying a machete (possibly a stungun too) to perform triage then becomes a necessity.
    Your ideas spark a good discussion about whether the police are being overpaid for what they do.
    Since a regular citizen with firearm training is probably just as good at disabling someone.
    (Amadou Diallou and the many bullets it took to bring him down, indicate poor marksmanship … from policemen. Or perhaps they were trying to distribute the blame, a la “Murder on the Orient Express” – Each of the suspects stabbed Ratchett once, so that no one could know who delivered the fatal blow. )

  5. bob
    February 3, 2013 at 6:59 am | #5

    Civilian stunguns do next to nothing. I’ve let people use them on me and they barely hurt. You have to be a real huge pussy to not be able to take it. Have you ever used one of those electric massagers? I’ve seen them at the mall and some rehabs use them. They use electricity to force your muscles to contract. On their highest settings, they are equal or stronger to civilian stunguns. I agree that cops are not needed. Each department sets its own marksmanship requirements. Cops are notoriously bad shots. I’ve seen 10% hit ratios on stationary targets they murdered. It is because cops are trained to start shooting and not to stop until they run out of ammo. This means they only aim the first shot and then spray-n-pray. This is highly irresponsible, but is done because someone will not likely die or even be incapacitated by one bullet. The faster they get more bullets in them, the better. This would make sense in close-up confrontations when someone is running straight at them, but not any other. Cops also have the tendency to freak out and tend to be adrenaline junkies. They are so hyped by the time they start shooting, they’re shaking uncontrollably and unable to think properly. Basically, we put the most easily excited people in a job where you need to be the most level-headed. Of course, the older cops are, the less this is a factor. They have become tolerant to the adrenaline and have seen too much to be as easily excited. Still, anyone who has never shot a gun, but understands how to use it can achieve the same accuracy as cops do in close-range situations. Modern guns are very easy to shoot.

  6. Chrysalis
    February 3, 2013 at 3:15 pm | #6

    Sounds like Breivik did his planning extremely well. The analysis in this article indicate maybe 30-40 shot, of which a sizeable percentage survive. Breivik planned his stage area so that he’d have a lot more time, a lot more targets, and that medical assistance came too late. He even had time to kill the wounded, and let the young-looking ones live (according to his morals)
    This man worked it all out well in advance.

    • P Ray
      February 3, 2013 at 3:41 pm | #7

      It helps that he came dressed in a police uniform.
      People ran to him for help when the shooting started and he helped them into the afterlife.

  7. February 3, 2013 at 4:23 pm | #8

    If you look at these attacks, they start with the murderer(s) killing 1-2 people on their initial entry into the battlespace and then once they get a large number of unarmed victims trapped in a confined room with no way out, they conduct the majority of the killings and then kill themselves just as armed cops arrive.

    Columbine, VT, and Newtown all followed this pattern.

    I have always wondered whether the total number of casualties from 2-3 determined spree shooters working together will be significantly more than their simple arithmetic sum.

  8. February 3, 2013 at 4:25 pm | #10

    Breivik was different from Lanza and Cho in that he was not autistic and his motivation differed as well.

    Correction.. he was not ‘that’ autistic.

  9. February 4, 2013 at 12:25 am | #11

    A.D., when will you write a review of the following movie?

  10. February 6, 2013 at 4:23 am | #12

    How about an analysis of factors limiting pregnancies in raw dogging a hot bitch?

  11. February 6, 2013 at 8:51 am | #13

    • February 6, 2013 at 6:42 pm | #14

      Damn, Stoner! Where can I find me one of those? I wonder in which grocery stores they shop, what time etc. Better yet, is there a school for training contortionistas? I coudld just hang out there around let off time. Hot Damn!

      • February 6, 2013 at 8:24 pm | #15

        here’s more…

        when I was at another page, they all had names like Olga so maybe if you go to Russia….

      • February 6, 2013 at 8:35 pm | #16

        or maybe hang out at yoga studios…

        and, yeah, hanging out at yoga studios might be a good idea…

        I didn’t charge you for an E-Book or a Bootcamp and I’ll already helping you find a better quality of woman that the drunks the PUA’s sometimes (but rarely) get….

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