Editor’s Note: While we don’t explore politics as a matter of routine, politics tends to intrude into our lives. For that reason, we selected the following story – a piece submitted by contributor Greg Moats, blending a deadly force legal battle with the upcoming mid-term elections.
The Grasshopper Joke
A plague of grasshoppers had overtaken western Kansas one year and killing grasshoppers became the main activity of the local school boys during their daily recess. One day a group of the youths decided to conduct an experiment. They took a grasshopper and measured how far it jumped when they rang a cow bell over it. They then pulled one of its legs off, rang the bell and measured the jumped distance again. They repeated the procedure by removing a second leg, then a third, fourth and fifth. Each subsequent jump was reduced proportionately until they finally pulled off the sixth and final leg. At that point when they rang the bell, the grasshopper just laid there, unable to move. They unanimously deduced that “when you pull all of the legs off of a grasshopper, it goes deaf.”
In the not-so-distant past their ridiculous conclusion would be considered humorous; today immigration reform, global warming and especially gun control issues would indicate that those Kansas farm boys grew up to become political strategists! Is the California Legislature’s regulating cow flatulence in order to reduce greenhouse gases significantly different than a deaf grasshopper conclusion?
Providence has blessed me with some truly great friends that would “do to ride the river with.” They are, to a person, students of the gun and professionally well trained (Thunder Ranch, Gunsite, Farnum, Hackathorn grads all). During a recent visit, one of those good friends and shooting companions, Billy Miller, gave me a Wall Street Journal account of Chicago PD Officer, Jason Van Dyke’s conviction for killing Laquan McDonald, a knife brandishing, non-compliant perp whose autopsy tested positive for PCP. It would be difficult to create a more Tueller-Drill-in-the-making scenario than the one that took place. Officer Van Dyke advanced on McDonald and from about 15 feet shot the suspect 16 times, emptying his 9mm in 14 to 15 seconds according to dash-cam videos. Of course, the public outcry was vociferous with presidential candidates, rap artists and even Saturday Night Live, weighing in on the shooting. The incident took place on October 20, 2014 and the conviction was handed down on October 5, 2018. Van Dyke was found guilty of second degree murder and 16 counts of aggravated battery, one for each round fired at McDonald (giving credence to Clint Smith’s adage that “every round you fire has a lawyer attached to it.”).
Was justice served or was this a miscarriage? Was the shoot “righteous” or a case of exceeded authority? I’m certainly in no position to offer a definitive opinion, and that’s not the point. The question is, what lesson or conclusion can we draw from the situation?
Surprisingly Van Dyke was found not guilty of official misconduct. I may be stretching a conclusion here, but that would seem to indicate that the decision to shoot was within the guidelines of the Chicago PD. The lessons learned from the Tueller Drill (a typical person can cover 21 feet in 1 1/2 seconds or less) come into play. Obviously the possession of a contact weapon within 21 feet is not a license to shoot, only a license to be rationally in fear of your life. Video showed that Van Dyke advanced on McDonald, not vice versa, rightly or wrongly seeming to blunt the officer’s contention of being in fear of his life. Accurate conclusion, or deaf grasshopper?
My friend Billy suggested that had Van Dyke shot well instead of copiously, the legal outcome would possibly have been different. Perhaps. Since the video appears to show that the first two shots dropped McDonald, his marksmanship doesn’t appear to be in question. The cliché-response to the question, “why did you shoot him 16 times? Because that’s all the ammunition that I had,” definitely worked to the officer’s detriment. Many have opined that under duress, the tendency is to “shoot to slide lock,” instigated by adrenaline rather than intent. If so, a 6 round revolver would have served Van Dyke far better than a 16 round autoloader. Would six rounds fired instead of 16 negate the appearance of malicious “overkill” on Van Dykes part? Would 6 counts of aggravated battery be easier to defend than 16? What conclusion can we draw? In this case a revolver would have possibly changed the litigated outcome. Are 16 rounds really a benefit to police officers, especially considering the tendency to “magazine dump” when under duress? The incident rate of “high volume” firefights may not warrant the litigious threat to the police officer. Accurate conclusion, or deaf grasshopper?
Shooting 16 rounds in 14 to 15 seconds is hardly the rate of fire of which “Bill Drills” are made, however in the world of the street cop, that’s fairly vigorous trigger-pulling. I may be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that the Chicago PD doesn’t spend range-training time working on shortening their “splits” (the time between shots). The question remains, “at Van Dyke’s rate of fire, did he have time between shots to assess his need to keep shooting?” As mentioned above, my guess is that it’s a moot point as the “shoot-to-slide-lock” syndrome possibly kicked in. My friend Billy, brought up Clint Smith’s mantra, “Don’t shoot fast, shoot good,” as well as Wyatt Earp’s “I learned to take my time in a gunfight….mentally unflustered by an urge to hurry,” indicating a deficiency on Van Dyke’s part. It begs the question, “can even accurate fire be delivered too fast for an optimum outcome?” The officer’s rate of fire could be seen, or distorted to appear to point to an enthusiastic mind set on the part of the shooter. Accurate conclusion or deaf grasshopper?
I’m guessing that most readers of “The Wire,” like myself naturally sympathize with the Police Officer and it’s certainly not my intention to cast aspersions on his actions or motives. However, there have to be lessons to learn from this shooting. Lessons learned have to be accurately deduced and facts alone don’t guarantee accuracy.
In the next few weeks, we will experience the most repulsive assault on our intellect, morals and decision making skills; the lead-up to the mid-term elections. The advertisements are ipecactic (if you have any experience with syrup of ipecac, that word makes perfect sense). When you hear outlandish assertions being bandied about, ask yourself if many aren’t deaf grasshopper conclusions.
Greg Moats was one of the original IPSC Section Coordinators appointed by Jeff Cooper shortly after its inception at the Columbia Conference. In the early 1980’s, he worked briefly for Bianchi Gunleather and wrote for American Handgunner and Guns. He served as a reserve police officer in a firearms training role and was a Marine Corps Infantry Officer in the mid-1970’s. He claims neither snake-eater nor Serpico status but is a self-proclaimed “training junkie.”