The other day I started a blog post with the main idea being that movies about war give us a false impression of what it really is like to fight in a war. The post was based on a quote from Mary Roach’s book Grunt, but it got a bit too off topic from the original contnext of the quote so I scrapped the post and re-wrote it. Today’s quote from Grunt allows me to revisit the idea in a more direct way. In the book Roach writes, “The average police officer taking a qualifying test on a shooting range scores 85 to 92 percent, [Bruce] Siddle told me, but in actual firefights hits the target only 18 percent of the time.”
In movies, the good guys never miss the target during practice. In the actual battles their accuracy is diminished, but definitely much higher than 18 percent. Their misses also usually seem to be on point, but the bad guy gets lucky by a passing car, an exceptional dodge, or some type of near-magic shield to protect themselves. For the good guys, missed shots are not so much missed shots as much as lucky blocks for the bad guy. The bad guys of course can’t hit anything and might as well not even have weapons.
The reason why I think this is important is because it presents a false sense of what it is like to be in active shooter situations. In our minds we all like to picture ourselves as the hero who can’t miss a shot and who can’t be hit by the bad guy’s bullets. In reality, trained police officers only manage to hit targets in firefights 18% of the time. Research shows that states with Stand Your Ground laws, which provide legal immunity to individuals who defend themselves with lethal force if attacked or within their own homes, have higher rates of men who die from gunshot wounds. The men who die are not the intruders or attackers, but the men who chose to stand their ground. Certainly these men thought they had a better than 18% chance of hitting their target and thought they would be the hero who couldn’t be hit by the bad guy’s bullets.
Public policy is often shaped by narrative more than fact, and our popular movies influence that narrative, even if we know the movies are impossible fictions. When we tell a narrative that assumes we can stand our ground and hit our target in a firefight, when we assume that we need concealed carry weapons so that we could protect ourselves in an active shooter situation, we are basing our narrative on a fiction of how effective we would be with a firearm. Reality suggests that untrained individuals will hit their target less than 18% of the time, if that is the hit rate of trained police. In a world that wasn’t influenced by movies, we would assume that concealed carry and stand your ground laws were pointless, because we would have a terrible chance of defending ourselves and stopping an active shooter. This is why it is important that we realize how far movies are from reality. It is important that we spend more time accurately understanding how humans respond in high stress situations, like active shooter events, and develop policies that are reasonable given the fact that trained police officers don’t hit anything when they fire their guns in active shooter situations. We can change the way the public responds to such events and possibly even the way police respond.