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On Combat
by Lt. Col Dave Grossman (with Loren Christensen)

Chapter Two

Autopilot: “You honestly don’t know you’re doing it”
In life's small things be resolute and great
To keep thy muscle trained: know'st thou when Fate
Thy measure takes, or when she'll say to thee,
“I find thee worthy; do this deed for me”?
- James Russell Lowell
  Epigram


Dr. Artwohl’s research found that 74 percent of the officers involved in a deadly force encounter acted on automatic pilot. In other words, the actions of three out of four officers in combat were done without conscious thought.

My co-author, Loren Christensen, a career police officer and world-class martial arts instructor, with many best-selling books and video tapes on the fighting arts, says that many veteran martial artists, highly motivated individuals who have spent 30 or 40 years of their lives ingraining fighting techniques through hundreds of thousands of repetitions, often find after an explosive self-defense situation that they have no recall of what they did. Although the attacker has been reduced to a whimpering bloody pile, the martial artists cannot recall what they did because their responses were purely automatic.

One police officer told me of his powerful autopilot experience:

Let me tell you how powerful this autopilot business is. I came around the corner of this guy’s van; I’m just going to tell him to move it. I didn’t know that he’d already killed one person. You honestly don’t know you’re doing it. All of a sudden a gun appears in his hand. Then a hole appears in his chest and the guy drops. My first thought was, “Whoa, somebody shot him for me!” I actually looked over my shoulder to see who shot this guy. Then I realized I had my gun in my hand and it was me who had shot him.

Is it possible to see a gun pointed at you, draw your own weapon and shoot without conscious thought? Not only is it possible, in this case it is highly desirable. Of course, his training must be state-of-the-art so that he knows instantly that the threat is indeed a gun, and not a wallet or a cell phone.

If, however, our warriors are still using blank, man-shaped silhouettes, they are being conditioned to shoot anyone who jumps up in front of them. Or they may hesitate when a real armed opponent--complete with clothing, a face and a gun--pops up in front of them, because the target they trained with did not have these features. A far superior training tool is the photorealistic target. When one of these pops up, revealing a life-size photo of a man holding his wallet, the trainee does not shoot. When the next one pops up with a picture of a man holding a gun, the trainee reacts to the deadly threat by instantly firing. On the range, it looks like this: gun!-shoot, gun!-shoot, cell phone-don’t shoot, gun!-shoot, gun!-shoot, wallet-don’t shoot.

Warriors don’t shoot bulls eyes. Warriors don’t shoot silhouettes. Warriors shoot lawful, legitimate, deadly force threats. With this preferred method, warriors develop conditioned reflexes using superior, dynamic, realistic training to ingrain the proper response.


Whatever is drilled in during training comes out the other end in combat--no more, no less
"Whatever you would make habitual, practise it; and if you would not make a thing habitual, do not practise it, but habituate yourself to something else."
- Epictetus (1st century A.D.)
  How the Semblances of Things are to be Combated


In January 2003, I went to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, to train the 2d Marine Division. We filled up the base theater twice, each time giving a four-hour block of instruction to Marines about to deploy to Iraq. As usual, I taught them, and they taught me. One marine told me, “Colonel, my old Gunny taught me that in combat you do not rise to the occasion, you sink to the level of your training.”

We can teach warriors to perform a specific action required for survival without conscious thought but, if we are not careful, we can also teach them to do the wrong thing. Some trainers call these “bad muscle memory” or “training scars.” They are “scar tissue” in the midbrain that is counterproductive to survival. One example of this can be observed in the way police officers conducted range training with revolvers for almost a century. Because they wanted to avoid having to pick up all the spent brass afterwards, the officers would fire six shots, stop, dump their empty brass from their revolvers into their hands, place the brass in their pockets, reload, and then continue shooting. Everyone assumed that officers would never do that in a real gunfight. Can you imagine this in a real situation? “Kings X! Time out! Stop shooting so I can save my brass.” Well, it happened. After the smoke had settled in many real gunfights, officers were shocked to discover empty brass in their pockets with no memory of how it got there. On several occasions, dead cops were found with brass in their hands, dying in the middle of an administrative procedure that had been drilled into them.

Stories like this would be hard to believe if you heard them in a bar. It is “passing strange,” indeed, but after hearing about this repeatedly in personal interviews and seeing it in scholarly research, we know that it is actually happening. In biomechanics and kinesiology this is called the Law of Specificity. In other words, you cannot get stronger legs by doing push-ups, you must train your specific leg muscles to get stronger legs.

One police officer gave another example of learning to do the wrong thing. He took it upon himself to practice disarming an attacker. At every opportunity, he would have his wife, a friend or a partner hold a pistol on him so he could practice snatching it away. He would snatch the gun, hand it back and repeat several more times. One day he and his partner responded to an unwanted man in a convenience store. He went down one isle, while his partner went down another. At the end of the first aisle, he was taken by surprise when the suspect stepped around the corner and pointed a revolver at him. In the blink of an eye, the officer snatched the gun away, shocking the gunman with his speed and finesse. No doubt this criminal was surprised and confused even more when the officer handed the gun right back to him, just as he had practiced hundreds of times before. Fortunately for this officer, his partner came around the corner and shot the subject.

Whatever is drilled in during training comes out the other end in combat. In one West Coast city, officers training in defensive tactics used to practice an exercise in such a manner that it could have eventually been disastrous in a real life-and-death situation. The trainee playing the arresting officer would simulate a gun by pointing his finger at the trainee playing the suspect, and give him verbal commands to turn around, place his hands on top of his head, and so on. This came to a screeching halt when officers began reporting to the training unit that they had pointed with their fingers in real arrest situations. They must have pantomimed their firearms with convincing authority because every suspect had obeyed their commands. Not wanting to push their luck, the training unit immediately ceased having officers simulate weapons with their fingers and ordered red-handled dummy guns to be used in training.

Consider a shooting exercise introduced by the FBI and taught in police agencies for years. Officers were drilled on the firing range to draw, fire two shots, and then reholster. While it was considered good training, it was subsequently discovered in real shootings that officers were firing two shots and reholstering--even when the bad guy was still standing and presenting a deadly threat! Not surprisingly, this caused not just a few officers to panic and, in at least one case, it is believed to have resulted in an officer’s death.

Today, in most police agencies, officers are taught to draw, fire, scan and assess. Ideally, the warrior should train to shoot until the deadly threat goes away, so it is best to fire at targets that fall after they have been hit with a variable number of shots. Today, there are pneumatically controlled steel targets on which photo realistic images are attached. The shooter might fire two rounds and the target falls, or the exercise can be designed so the target is supposedly wearing body armor and remains standing even after it is shot multiple times. To knock it down, the shooter must hit it in the head. Even better, in paintball or paint bullet training, the role players are instructed not to fall until they have been hit a specific number of times.

You do not rise to the occasion in combat, you sink to the level of your training. Do not expect the combat fairy to come bonk you with the combat wand and suddenly make you capable of doing things that you never rehearsed before. It will not happen.

There must be a continual effort to develop realistic simulations training so the warrior develops a set of skills that will transfer to reality. One two-tour Vietnam veteran put it this way.

In Vietnam, I was always surprised to find I had done the right thing in tight situations. I sort of went into automatic and didn’t think about what I was doing, or even remember it later. I'm a firm believer in training, that dull, boring "If I have to do this one more time I'll scream" training that every GI hates. It lets people like me perform in combat when common sense was telling me to run like hell.

Killing on autopilot: S.L.A. Marshall was right
"There’s hope a great man’s memory may outlive his life half a year."
- Shakespeare
  Hamlet


Again, whatever you train to do comes out the other end. Self-preservation can become secondary to training. Any natural or learned resistance to killing, any sense of the sanctity of human life, any human emotions, any remorse or compassion at the moment of truth, can all be overcome and overwhelmed with training.

The subject of training to kill on autopilot, without conscious thought, was addressed extensively in On Killing. Therefore I will only recap and update the information here.

You may think that it is easy to kill, that a person only has to walk onto the battlefield and he will become a killer simply because he has been ordered to. The truth is that it is hard to get people to kill. Consider the murder rate, which is only six per 100,000 per year. Millions of people bump against each other every day, many of them depressed, angry, hostile and full of hate, but only six out of 100,000 will kill. Only four per thousand even attempt to inflict serious bodily harm and suffering (aggravated assault) in the average year. How is that?

We learned in World War II that only 15 to 20 percent of the individual riflemen fired their weapons at an exposed enemy soldier. If there was a leader present ordering soldiers to fire, then almost everyone would do so. Likewise, a crew-served weapon, with a gunner and assistant gunner fighting together, almost always fired. But when soldiers were left to their own devices, the vast majority them, on all sides, could not kill.

There was concern about the scholarship of these findings a few decades ago, shortly after the death of the key researcher in the field, Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall. But his research has since been extensively replicated and validated. I wrote an entry to the Oxford Companion to American Military History and three encyclopedia entries on this topic, all peer reviewed by leading international experts in the field.

At the end of World War II, our military leaders knew that Marshall’s findings were true and they understood that this was not a good thing. After all, a 15 percent firing rate among our riflemen is like a 15 percent literacy rate among our librarians. These veteran leaders understood that the low firing rate was a problem that had to be fixed, which is exactly what they did. Twenty years later in Vietnam the firing rate had increased to around 95 percent. There was still a lot of “spraying-and-praying” going on, but among the individuals who saw an exposed enemy soldier, the firing rate was up to 95 percent.
Some would argue that this dramatic increase in the firing rate in Vietnam was a result of the M-16 weapon and the jungle environment, but this theory does not hold up to careful evaluation, since M-1 carbines and Thompson submachine guns in the South Pacific jungles in World War II were not more likely to be fired than other individual weapons of that era. One of the most dramatic examples of the value and power of this modern, psychological revolution in training can be seen in Richard Holmes' observations of the 1982 Falklands War. The superbly trained British forces were without air or artillery superiority and were consistently outnumbered three-to-one while attacking the poorly trained but well-equipped and carefully dug-in Argentine defenders. Both sides fought with similar weapons (mostly 7.62mm NATO standard rifles) in open terrain. Superior British firing rates (which Holmes estimated to be well over 90 percent), a result of modern training techniques, has been credited as a key factor in the series of British victories in that brief but bloody war.

The definitive U.S. military source, The United States Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC) Historical Monograph titled, “SLAM, the Influence of S.L.A. Marshall on the United States Army” strongly defends Marshall’s observations. His work was widely accepted at the end of World War II when our Army consisted of a high ratio of veteran leaders who had led us through one of the greatest wars in history. In Korea and Vietnam, Marshall was treated with the deepest respect by men in war, and he was asked repeatedly to visit, train and study.

Were all of these military leaders wrong? Did Marshall fool all of them, and then, somehow, a few people discovered the “truth”? Marshall may have padded his resume in a few small areas as to his World War I experience. He claimed that he had received a battlefield commission while he was actually an OCS graduate after the war, although he may have been assigned to an officer’s position prior to the training. He also claimed to be in an infantry unit while he was really in an engineer unit, but his unit may well have been attached to a line infantry unit. Admittedly, Marshall’s methodology does not meet rigorous modern standards, but that does not mean that he lied. Let us hope that our life’s work gets better treatment after we are dead and gone, than to have a few people question our work, and everyone thereafter simply assume that we had intentionally lied.

Basically, all that S.L.A. Marshall was saying was that some of our warriors do not shoot in combat, and more realistic targets will raise the firing rate. Marshall was the pioneer whose research and writing spurred warrior trainers to change from bulls eye targets to realistic combat simulations, and who can argue with that? We can disagree about how much of an advantage it gives us, or exactly how much of an increase in the firing rate this kind or realistic training has created, but today no one wants to go back to shooting at bulls eye targets. And every time you shoot at a silhouette, or a photo realistic target, or a video training simulator, you should take a moment to remember and thank S.L.A. Marshall.

Today the body of scientific data supporting realistic training is so powerful that there is a Federal Circuit Court decision which states that, for law enforcement firearms training to be legally sufficient, it must incorporate realistic training, to include stress, decision making, and shoot-don’t-shoot training. This is the Tuttle v. Oklahoma decision (1984, 10th Federal Circuit Court), and today many law enforcement trainers teach that a law enforcement agency is probably not in compliance with federal circuit court guidance if they are still shooting at anything other than a clear, realistic depiction of a deadly force threat. And, again, we have S.L.A. Marshall to thank for that.

Bulls eye targets don’t shoot back
"Every habit and faculty is preserved and increased by correspondent actions,—as the habit of walking, by walking; of running, by running."
- Epictetus (1st century A.D.)
  How the Semblances of Things are to be Combated


The men who fought in World War II were superb soldiers armed with excellent weapons, but they had poor combat training. The problem is that most of the time they were taught to fire at bulls eye targets, as were police officers just a few decades ago. The fundamental flaw in training for combat this way is that there are no known instances of any bulls eye targets ever attacking our warriors.

If we expect our warriors to be capable of using the weapons they have been issued, they must practice on realistic simulators that replicate what they are going to face. Men and women who served in the U.S. military since the Vietnam era were universally taught to shoot at man-shaped silhouettes that popped up in their field of view, thus ingraining in them a conditioned response. The stimulus appeared and they had a split second to respond. Stimulus-response, stimulus-response, stimulus-response. Hundreds of repetitions. When an enemy soldier popped up in front of our troops in Vietnam, the enemy was shot and killed, reflexively, without conscious thought. Stimulus-response. It was a revolution on the battlefield, and any military or law enforcement organization that does not train this way today will get their tails seriously kicked by those who do.

If you have served in the military since 1990, you have seen a transition in training. It took only the implementation of a plain, man-shaped “E-type” silhouette during the Vietnam era to dramatically improve the firing rate of our troops. But now we use a pop-up target that is a three-dimensional image of an enemy soldier. The target has a face, it wears a helmet and it is depicted holding a rifle. It is many times more realistic than the old green silhouettes, making it much easier for soldiers to transfer what they learn to reality.

This is an example of a principle called “simulator fidelity”. A simulator’s fidelity refers to the degree of realism provided by a training simulator. The higher the fidelity, the greater the transfer to reality. The realistic images on the new shooting targets depict a face, a body and hands that grip a weapon, all designed to train our soldiers and law enforcement officers to react instantly to any deadly threat that pops up in front of them. It is the same training concept used by our pilots who train extensively on state-of-the art, highly realistic flight simulators.

Today our young warriors are performing peacekeeping operations all over the world, and in that capacity they have precise rules of engagement, just like law enforcement officers. With the right training and realistic simulators, killing can become a conditioned, response that will save the lives of fighting men and women. It is paramount, however, that they be taught to do so only under the rules of engagement.


Violent video games and automatic pilot
"Small habits well pursued betimes
May reach the dignity of crimes."
- Hannah More
  Florio


Violent video games have been in existence for several decades now, and many kids who played them years ago are now in their mid- to upper- teens and even into their 20s--the exact age group of the average perpetrator our law enforcement officers are confronting every day out on the streets. When talking about conditioned reflexes, we must also talk about violent video games, because to understand how we can make killing a conditioned reflex--stimulus-response, stimulus- response, stimulus-response--it is important to understand how the average opponent has been trained. This topic was outlined briefly in On Killing, and more extensively in Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, co-authored with Gloria DeGaetano. Once again, I will only recap and slightly update this information here.

Does a kid playing a violent video game shoot at blank, man-shaped silhouettes? How about bulls-eye targets? No, he shoots at people--that is, vivid, realistic depictions of people. The holy grail of the video game industry is realism, and every year they get ever more realistic. The incredibly lifelike characters bleed, twitch, sweat, beg, fall, and die, all before the eyes of the very impressionable young players.

Today’s video games offer a completely different type of play than my generation engaged in as kids. When I was little and playing cops and robbers, I said, “Bang, bang, I got you, Jimmy.” Jimmy said, “No you didn’t.” So I said, “Well, bang, bang. Now I got you.” Again he argued that I didn’t. So, I smacked him with my cap gun, and after he went crying to his mother I got in big trouble. Along the way I learned one of life’s important lessons, a lesson that usually had to be taught over and over again: Jimmy is real, Sally is real, and Fido is real, and if I hurt them, I’m going to get into big trouble.

For thousands of years kids have whacked each other with wooden swords, or played “Bang, bang, I got you.” This was healthy play because as soon as someone got hurt the play stopped, and all the kids gathered around and tried to convince him not to tell momma. Today, kids are immersed in a virtual reality environment where they repeatedly blow their virtual, hyper-realistic, playmates’ heads off in explosions of blood and gore. Do they get into trouble? No. They get awarded points! This is pathological and dysfunctional play.

When kittens or puppies play they gnaw at each other’s throats. When one of them gets hurt, though, the play stops and mama walks over to see what is going on. When a player gets hurt in a basketball or a football game, the play stops and the ref hurries over to deal with the injured and the one who caused it. The purpose of healthy play is to teach the young how not to inflict serious harm upon their fellow species.

The video game industry says that the images on the screen are not real people. This is true, but puppies and kittens are not real human beings either, and we know that the way a child treats a puppy or a kitten predicts how they will treat real people. Think of a puppy as a virtual human that is used to teach kids how to interact with real people. What if you awarded a child with a cookie every time he made that puppy cry in pain? Would you consider that sick?

Our kids today have virtual playmates in the form of realistic characters that populate the video games. Many kids live in a dark, gray and depressing world, and for them the video games are more real than reality. Dr. Marshall Soules, at Malaspina University in Canada, calls this the “hyper-reality effect,” meaning that some kids “begin to think of the hyper-real as more meaningful than the thing or event it relates to.” Kids playing these games make the puppy cry, that is, they make virtual human beings die in what the child deems to be a vivid and intense reality. Then they are given a cookie, a reward. This is pathological play.

In July 2000, the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry--all of our doctors, all of our pediatricians, all of our psychologists, and all of our child psychiatrists--made a joint statement to both Houses of Congress. They said that, “Well over 1,000 studies point overwhelmingly to a causal connection between media violence and aggressive behavior in some children.” Words such as “cause” or “causal” are powerful scientific terms that are not used lightly. In this statement they also concluded that, “Preliminary studies indicate that the negative impact of interactive electronic media [violent video games] may be significantly more severe than that wrought by television, movies or music.”

That statement by our medical community was reinforced in 2001, when the National Institute for Media and the Family released their research involving a database of over 600 8th and 9th grade students from four schools. They concluded that:


...children who are least aggressive in nature but are exposed to violent video games, are more likely to get into fights than children who are very aggressive but do not play violent video games.

The study found that children who play violent video games:

-See the world as a more hostile place.
-Argue with teachers more frequently.
-Are more likely to be involved in physical fights.
-Don’t perform as well in school.

Video games as “mass murder simulators” and “marksmanship trainers”
"
I see before me the gladiator lie.
There were his young barbarians all at play,
Butchered to make a Roman holiday."

- Lord Byron
  Childe Harold's Pilgrimage


The American Sniper Association’s training periodical published the following “Training Tip” from a law enforcement sniper in the April 2000 edition.

After the incident in Littleton, Colorado, much was made of the fact that teens are using graphic video and computer games to train and condition themselves to kill. There is some truth to this. However, we do not and should not, allow them to have a monopoly on this training “tool.” Video games can be used as a unique and inexpensive method for honing your skills as well.

A new video game, “Silent Scope,” is the latest rage in the local arcades. This game puts you, the sniper, behind a scoped rifle, interacting in an unfolding scenario in which your talents are needed to help rescue the President’s daughter from terrorists. The game will help you work on observations skills, tracking and identifying targets, snap shooting, and moves. It will never replace real range time, but it is a nice variation, and it’s fun.

Violent media games are murder simulators, except when police officers and soldiers use them for training, in which case they are combat simulators. Remember that old point-and-shoot Nintendo video game called Duck Hunt? It was such a good marksmanship trainer that the United States Army bought several thousand of them. They replaced the plastic pistol with a plastic M-16, and instead of ducks popping up on the screen, the Army changed them to man-shaped silhouettes. The game was renamed the Multipurpose Arcade Combat Simulator (MACS). Of course, the troops were not fooled by the name; they just called it “the Nintendo game” since it has a big Nintendo stamp on it. By whatever name, it was a powerful and effective combat simulator for our men and women preparing for battle.

(It is interesting to note here something that when I testified before committee hearings held by both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives after the Columbine school massacre. When I said that a modified version of the “Duck Hunt” game was used by the U.S. Army, the lobbyist representing the Nintendo Corporation stood up and said that Nintendo has never sold anything to the U.S. military. No, they sold these games to a subcontractor, who then sold them to the Army.)

For the first time in human history we are dealing with a large scale epidemic of preteen and teenage mass murderers. The autopilot impact of the mass murder simulators was particularly obvious in the earliest of the school massacres. (These occurred before the frenzied national media coverage of the Jonesboro massacre established a national game in which the goal was racking up the “high score” in school massacres, with the “winner” getting his picture on the cover of Time magazine.) In the school massacres in Moses Lake, Pearl, Paducah and Jonesboro, the kids appear to have set out to kill just one person--usually a teacher or a girlfriend. But once they began, they shot every living creature in front of them until they ran out of bullets or were interrupted. Afterwards the police would ask something like, “Okay, you shot the person you were mad at, but why did you kill everyone else? Why did you kill the rest of them? Some of them were your friends.”

One kid is reported to have said: “It just felt like I had momentum.”

Why do these kids keep on shooting after they have gunned down the initial person they went after? Could it be their “training?”

When kids use these games they are not just murder simulators, but mass murder simulators. Is there a kid anywhere in the world who puts his coins into a video game machine, picks up a realistic-looking gun, shoots only one virtual person, puts it back down and then walks away? No. They are trained to kill all the virtual people, to rack up a high score.

In these school massacres the kids kept shooting for the same reason that police officers, under the old training regimen, put their spent brass into their pockets in the middle of real gunfights without conscious thought. The kids kept on killing for the same reason that police officers fired two shots and then reholster in the middle of a gunfight when the deadly threat was still in front of them. These officers responded the way they had been trained on the firing range, and the same holds true for kids trained on violent, video game, mass murder simulators.

Once a kid makes the decision to cross that tragic invisible line and shoots his girlfriend, he earns one point. That is how the video games trained him. If his girlfriend is one point, then another kid is a second point, another garners him a third point, and then he gets a fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and on and on. Once that line is crossed, they all become points and the kid wants to earn a high score, just as he does in training. The mother of the 13-year-old killer in the Jonesboro school shooting sat across our coffee table and told my wife and I, several months after the killings, that she finally told her son who he had killed that day. She said her boy laid his head on the table, and sobbed, saying, “Those were my friends.”

There are no friends in violent video games; there are only targets. Points.

Thus, by understanding how a conditioned reflex is developed in our professional warriors, we can understand what is going on in the minds of some of these killers.

We saw the killing-enabling effects of video games being intentionally applied by criminals in the “Beltway Sniper” attacks that terrorized the Washington D.C. area in the fall of 2002. Soon after the suspects were apprehended, sources close to the investigation told reporters that the killers had used video game sniper simulators to desensitize and mentally prepare themselves for their crimes. This effect is not limited to the U.S. The German media reported extensively on the influence of video games on the boy who committed a school massacre in Erfurt, Germany, resulting in 17 tragic deaths.

As video game technology gets distributed to third world nations, our military forces that are fighting terrorists and serving as peacekeepers around the world, will also face opponents who are trained with mass murder simulators provided by the video game industry. In 1999, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) invited me to Switzerland to be a member of a team of international experts studying the effects of media violence and violent video games on atrocities and war crimes around the globe. One Red Cross official told of a gang operating in one war-torn, Central African nation, in a city without electricity. The only electricity was provided by a generator, which the gang used to keep their beer cold and to operate the violent video arcade game that they used extensively as a training device to psychologically prepare them to kill and to enhance their marksmanship skills.

Many competitive shooters practice by using “dry firing” to improve the necessary body mechanics required to shoot accurately. To dry fire, you simply point an unloaded firearm at a target, cock the hammer, and pull the trigger, keeping the sight picture as steady as possible. By concentrating on the technical elements of shooting--sight picture, grip, trigger pull, arm position--you get a better idea of what you are doing right and wrong without having to go to the range. There is also a highly effective way to dry fire with laser feedback, an innovation that requires a laser to be placed into your weapon so that each time you pull the trigger, it emits a bright, visible beam. When a realistic, human target is hit, it falls. It is a dynamic and effective simulation system used in the military and law enforcement communities. It is considered state of the art training. Frighteningly, our kids have it too when they play violent video games. The marksmanship training these games provide our police officers, soldiers--and our kids--is stunning.

In Paducah, Kentucky, Michael Carneal, a 14-year-old boy, fired eight shots into a prayer circle in the large foyer in front of his school achieving a hit ratio of 8 out of 8 head shot or upper torso hits. Conversely, in the Amadou Diallo shooting, four NYPD officers fired 41 shots at an unarmed man at pointblank range, hitting him with only 19 rounds. These NYPD officers achieved less than a 50 percent hit ratio with bullets distributed from Diallo’s feet to his head. That is normal accuracy resulting from a fear induced, spray and pray response. In the summer of 1999 Buford Furrow went into a Jewish daycare center in Los Angeles and fired over 70 shots at a group of helpless children. He hit five of them. But in the Paducah school shooting Michael Carneal fired eight shots and got eight hits on eight different kids. Five of his hits were headshots, the other three were upper torso. We know that his video game training was a key factor in attaining this kind of marksmanship skills.

A student pilot can train on a flight simulator forever, but he needs at least one real flight with a copilot to help make that transition to a real aircraft. All the time the trainee spent on the simulator makes for fast learning during his transition period. The Army calls the transition from a simulator to a real weapon, “transition fire.” Michael Carneal conducted his transition fire with two clips of ammo a few days before the Paducah school slaughter.

When I train elite military and law enforcement organizations such as the FBI, Green Berets, LAPD SWAT and Texas Rangers--warriors highly trained in firearms--they are stunned when I tell them of this 14-year-old boy’s deadly accuracy in the Paducah case. Nowhere in the annals of law enforcement, military, or criminal history can we find an equivalent achievement. This unprecedented marksmanship was not done by some deranged Army Ranger (like me), it was done by a 14-year-old boy who had never fired a real pistol before stealing one and firing two clips of ammunition on a previous night. But he had been on the simulator every night for years on end.

After I testified before the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives about this, the video game industry’s lobbyists circulated a bizarre “confidential” document to legislators and reporters, attacking my work but forbidding anyone to quote them. This document was full of the kind of things you would expect lobbyists to say in defense of their industry--just like the tobacco lobbyists told us tobacco didn’t cause cancer. Their most absurd claim was that “police reports indicate that Carneal [the Paducah killer] had his eyes closed during the shooting and fired blindly.”

The police reports said no such thing. It was Carneal who said in a statement to his psychiatrist: "I don't know, it was all, like blurry and foggy, I just didn't know what was going on. I think I closed my eyes for a minute." (Emphasis added.) All of the witness statements refute this. The psychiatric and psychological evaluation of Michael Carneal, by Dr. Bebedek, Dr. Weitzel, and Dr. Clark conclude that: "Certainly his claims ... to have closed his eyes when he shot...are scarcely to be believed." But the video game industry's lobbyists told legislators and reporters that this self-serving statement by a juvenile mass murderer was a "fact" from a "police report."

Witness statements say that Carneal had a strange, calm look on his face as he held his gun up in a two-handed stance. He never fired far to his left or right. His first bullet went between his girlfriend’s eyes, and then he proceeded to put one bullet in every target that popped up on his “screen.” His own sister wrote in her statement that she started to move toward her brother to tell him to stop, but then she says that she recalled thinking to herself, “He doesn’t know who I am. He’s going to kill me,” so she started to run.

What was Carneal doing? I believe that there can be little doubt that he was playing a video game. He was in Condition Yellow, calmly putting a bullet in every target that popped up on his screen. It is not natural to put just one bullet in every target. What is natural is to shoot at a target until it drops and then, maybe, move on to another. Many video games, however, train kids to make a one-shot kill, and then before that target drops, move on to the next one, and the one after that, because the goal is to earn lots of points. Shoot them all and kill as many as you can as fast as you can. By the way, many video games give bonus points for headshots. Carneal was doing exactly what he was trained to do. Whatever we are trained to do is going to come out the other end.

Across the decades, millions of police officers put their brass in their pockets on the firing range so they would not have to pick them up when the training was over. Only a few of them got into real combat situations in which they did this, but those were enough for us to know that it was stupid to train cops this way.

Although hundreds of thousands of police officers were trained to fire two shots and automatically reholster, only a handful got into real gunfights and did that as their adversaries were still shooting at them. But that was enough for us to understand that we were teaching them to do something stupid.

Millions of kids train on violent video games every day, and only a few will go on to use the skills and conditioned reflexes that they learned in the video games to commit an unprecedented juvenile mass murder. But that should be enough for us to understand that we are doing something very foolish indeed.

In the military and in law enforcement communities, people qualify at the firing range every six months. More is better, but every six months appears to be the minimum since conditioned reflexes have a kind of “half-life” and begin to decay after just a few months. It is truly like a radioactive half-life: there is a steady decay, but there is always a little residual available to tap into. However, as long as warriors can refresh their skill at least every six months, it will be there when needed. Again, more training is better, but every six months is minimum. Kids, on the other hand, qualify on these murder simulators every day.

John Foy, the head firearms instructor and range master for the Ohio Peace Officer’s Training Academy, has developed a powerful model that helped me understand exactly what video games were doing to kids. For many decades John has tapped into some of Abraham Maslow’s work, teaching that there are four levels of mastery.

-Unconscious incompetence is the lowest level of mastery. Most American male teenagers are at a level of unconscious incompetence when it comes to driving. They are bad drivers. They don’t know it and usually they refuse to admit it. The first step in making them better drivers is to get them to admit that they need experience and practice before they can be entrusted with human lives at high speeds.

-Conscious incompetence is the next level of mastery. Most young men coming into military firearms training are convinced that they are experts with a weapon. The drill sergeant’s first job is to convince them of their ignorance. Many firearms instructors will tell you that women are easier to train because they know they need to learn, they know that they are ignorant, and they are willing to listen. They are easier to train because they are already at the level of conscious incompetence.

-Conscious competence is when you can do the right thing, but you have to think about it. That is fine for many tasks, but for life-and-death skills to be performed under stress, it is not good enough.

-Unconscious competence is the highest level of mastery. This is where, as martial artist Bruce Lee put it, you, "Learn it until you forget it." This is what autopilot is all about. This is the goal of warrior training

Many firearms instructors tell me that there are some officers in today's new generation of young recruits who walk onto their pistol ranges, hold a real pistol in their hands for the first time and, after firing a few shots to adjust themselves to the weapon, are supernatural marksmen. When asked, almost all of them say that they are avid players of the point-and-shoot arcade video games. Their video game play has permitted them to reach a level of unconscious competence, just like Michael Carneal in Paducah, Kentucky, when he hit eight-for-eight, with five head shots.

There can be no doubt that video games can teach marksmanship skills. A controlled experiment conducted by the Center for Successful Parenting, written by Tom Stoughton and published in 2002 in the Newsletter of The UNESCO International Clearinghouse On Children, Youth and Media, demonstrated that those kids who were proficient at point-and-shoot video games are significantly better shots when they pick up a real gun for the first time.

Ray Blinn, a police officer in East Providence, Rhode Island, wrote, telling me about a 15 year old police cadet who went through the qualification program on their Firearms Training Simulator--a highly realistic, state-of-the-art video simulator used by military and law enforcement agencies worldwide.

He went through five scenarios, with only one miss(just barely missing a headshot). He had multiple double taps to the heads and center mass of the suspects. Of the 100 hundred officers that went through the training, this cadet shot in the top five.

At the end I questioned him about his shooting ability. He stated that he had never shot a real gun in his life. I then asked him if he played a lot of video games and with a big smile he said, "All the time, especially the shooting ones. They’re the most fun."

Good thing he wants to be a good guy.

The tobacco industry was able to hire doctors to appear on national TV and lie for them, saying: “I’m a doctor, and I don’t believe that tobacco causes cancer.” But to the best of my knowledge the TV, movie and video game industry cannot find one single medical doctor or psychiatrist to take their money and say that their violent products are not harmful to kids. Any medical practitioner who did so might very well lose their license. However, they have found one psychology professor in Canada, Jonathan Freedman, who freely admits that his research is funded by Hollywood. Yet even he does not try to claim that video games do not teach skills.

In an interview in the on-line video game magazine, The Adrenaline Vault, Freedman is referred to as “the anti-Grossman.” (I’ve always wanted to ask them if that is anything like being the Antichrist.) He is one of those “scholars” who uses the murder rate to claim that violent crime is down to 1960’s levels, when we know that it is medical technology that is holding down the murder rate. Yet even he says,

If you go into a video arcade: it's a gun you hold, and you aim it. Gun clubs teach you to shoot more accurately, presumably. Why shouldn't this? So I think that's a silly argument. Grossman's right: of course they get better at shooting.

The “game over” effect: what made them stop
"How use doth breed a habit in a man!"
- Shakespeare
  The Two Gentleman of Verona


Let us examine one final aspect of what warrior science can teach us about the influence of video games on an up-and-coming new generation of mass murderers. What was it that made these juvenile mass murders stop shooting their classmates; what was it that turned off their autopilot?

Dr. James McGee wrote the brilliant “Classroom Avenger” profile of 19 school shooters, which is used by the FBI and many other law enforcement agencies. McGee studied all aspects of these young kids, and he identified the fact that all of them had an infatuation with media violence.

Not every kid who plays a violent video game becomes a mass murderer, and not every kid with an unbuckled seatbelt is going to smash through the windshield. The vast majority of kids who ride with unbuckled seatbelts will be just fine, though not fastening it is a risk factor. Likewise, most kids who play the mass murder simulators will not commit mass murder.
But some will. Consider these case studies (which as Dr. McGee notes, are all kids infatuated with media violence), and note what made them stop.

-Pearl, Mississippi. A 17-year-old kid walks along a hallway in Pearl High School gunning down other students. The vice-principal has a .45 automatic in his car (a federal offense, though no one has ever pressed charges) and runs out to the parking lot to retrieve it. A moment later, this educator stands face-to-face with the kid, pointing his gun at the young man, and says, “Stop!” Amazingly, the kid stops. A 17-year-old crazed mass murderer with a loaded gun in his hand is ordered to stop shooting people, and he does.

-Paducah, Kentucky. A 14-year-old stands in a perfect shooting stance in the middle of a hallway shooting other students, one after the other with seemingly supernatural accuracy. He still has one round left and there are still lots of targets running and screaming all around him. But before he can shoot one more time, the principal runs up to him and demands, “Stop!” He stops. “Put the gun down,” the principal says, “You’ve done enough.” And the kid put the gun down. So, right in the middle of committing a mass murder, with the capability of killing at least one more, a simple verbal command stops the killer.

-Jonesboro, Arkansas. Two young killers empty their weapons into 15 people, reload and begin running over a hill toward their stolen van. The boys are 11 and 13 years old. As they approach the van, a police officer yells, “Police! Down on the ground. Drop the weapon. Down on the ground.” These two boys have just committed a bloody mass murder and they still have loaded weapons in their hands, but what do they do? They obey the officer and drop their weapons.

-Taber, Canada. A 15-year-old is gunning down kids in a high school when an unarmed educator approaches shouting, “Stop!” and the killer stops.

-Fort Gibson, Oklahoma. An armed 13-year-old boy walks up to a crowd of classmates waiting for the morning bell and opens fire, wounding four. A science teacher runs up to the shooter, right in the middle of his spree, and commands, “Stop,” and the kid stops.

What is going on here? We have never before seen mass murderers stop just because someone tells them to. Could it be because these killers are still kids, and their training teaches them to accept interruptions? When a kid plays a video game and his mom tells him to stop, the kid puts the game on “pause,” and then looks up to see what she wants. Kids are used to the “game over” feature, and they are used to a verbal command telling them when it is time to pause. In these cases, the dynamics of their training--and it really is training that we are talking about--is clear. The killers are reacting as they have been conditioned to react: They stop when told to.

It is important that we do not assume that all shooters will stop just because you tell them to. I believe the two killers in Littleton, Colorado, would never have stopped just because someone told them to. The killer in Springfield, Oregon, gunned down 24 kids. It was not a verbal command that stopped him, but a high school senior, an Eagle Scout and wrestler, who sucked up the killer’s bullets but still tackled the shooter and wrestled the gun away. This juvenile mass murderer, a high school freshman, curled into a ball and began sobbing, “Kill me, kill me, kill me. I wanna die.” His gun had to be wrestled out of his hand. Incidentally, he was not thoroughly searched and as soon as he was alone in the jail, he retrieved a buck knife that was strapped to his leg. He called a deputy to him, and then lunged at the man in an attempt to add one last body to his count. Never assume that all will stop on command.

Under the proper circumstances, Plan A is a verbal command. If Plan A doesn’t work, you need a Plan B. Plan B is to shoot them before they can hurt anyone else.

Never before in history have we had juveniles capable of committing mass murders like we have today. In Vietnam and in World War II, most 18-year-old kids responded with nausea and trembling after the first time they had to kill in combat. They pulled the trigger, and then watched as another human being fell at close range, gurgling and dying. Though many of these young warriors vomited after their first kill, they found that the next one was easier because they knew what to expect.

Many kids have also made their first kill--and their 101st and their 1001st--playing realistic, state-of-the-art violent video games. They have watched over and over as their “victims” bled, gurgled, twitched and begged for mercy, all the while earning points for inflicting brutal death and suffering upon their virtual playmates. Those of us whose job it is to make killing a conditioned reflex can understand the training dynamic that is at play. Never before have we seen juvenile killers like Pearl, Paducah, Jonesboro, Springfield, Columbine, and Erfurt, and all of us--adults, parents, and the video game industry--are enabling these mass murders.

Read Chapter Seven


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