The average police officer’s firearm handling, safety and shooting skills are poor. Sadly, the news carries all the examples of this you’d ever want to read about. But you can almost understand it, given the infrequency with which the average cop has to use his weapon. Not that it’s an excuse. If you’re entrusted to protect the public and given a firearm as one of your tools for the job, you damned well ought to know how to use it as effectively and safely as possible. So when looking at the military, I would expect – as someone who’s never been there – that the extensive drills and training would result in a significantly more stringent culture of firearms safety. It turns out I’d be sorely mistaken…
According to Tom Ricks in an intro to a Foreign Policy piece by Billy Birdzell, 90 service members have been killed in Iraq alone by negligent discharges since the beginning of operations there. Something the military talks very little about. I don’t want to think about what’s happened in Afghanistan.
Birdzell, a former Marine, attributes this to what he describes and a dysfunctional culture regarding guns and training in the Military. He recounts some horrifically reckless gun handling and negligent discharge examples.
Almost as disturbing than the NDs were the responses the them by commanders. “After that, the battalion commander wanted weapons unloaded inside the compound and Condition 3 on guard towers (magazine inserted, no round in the chamber).” In Iraq. During a war.
So, rather than re-training personnel to make sure firearms safety is part of the culture, it was evidently easier to just say “screw it, everybody unload your guns.” Not an attitude I’d expect from the Marines.
Birdzell says that this all goes back to dysfunctional basic firearms training that treats troops like idiots. This, he says, results in either fear or cavalier use of guns rather than familiarity, safety and confidence in their proper use.
We’ve seen what can happen when you create huge unarmed groups of military personnel. As hard as it is to believe, based on Birzell’s account it appears that the policies that result in bases full of unarmed soldiers stem from a basic distrust of troops’ gunhandling discipline and safety skills.
Which all goes back to poor weapons training to begin with. Surely the US military can do a better job of training than this. Surely we owe at least that much to enlistees.