By Keith Gatchel
I have a fantasy where I stop a mass shooter by talking to him. I can’t be the only one.
In it, I hear the gunfire near the entrance to my office, but I don’t know what it is at first. A co-worker I never talk to yells, “Get under your desk!”, as it’s the first thing you’re supposed to do, as told to us in the workshop. I stand up from my chair.
Everyone else tells me to get down. My boss next to me grabs my sleeve, but I pull it away and keep walking. Much like my fantasy of getting mugged in a dark alley, I want a chance to stand up to someone with a gun. Whether I’d survive or not, I want to know if I could do it. “If he wants to shoot me he’d better kill me,” is what I tell myself I’d say. If the gunshot didn’t kill me, I could get maimed. In that scenario, he always shoots off my lower jaw. That’s the worst that could happen. From everyone who loves me, I’d never hear the end of it.
I turn a corner out to the tables and chairs in the foyer and see him in the other hall leading into it. I picture him wearing nothing but black clothes and a trench coat, carrying a shotgun with two other pistols, because I’ve never seen a mass shooter for real, and he sees me enter.
Chances are, at this point, I’d be shot. Let’s be real.
I’ve also fantasized about shooting him. Best case scenario, I’ve pictured it like a John Woo film, where I spin around in slow motion and pull out two .45ACP Mil-Specs from holsters behind my lower back with each hand and shoot them sideways. Doves fly up out of nowhere.
But, you guys already know why another gun probably won’t work. In my case, I’ve never even fired one before, and I don’t know the difference between a Weaver and a Chapman stance. In the videos I’ve seen of guys shooting at assailants, pretty much all the defenders are off-duty cops or ex-soldiers.
But, aside from the fact that a mass shooter might be ready and expecting me to be there, the average size of a head is 22 inches in circumference, with a side of 6 or 7 inches, the width of the human face, which is probably looking right at you. Yes, you could hit it, especially up close. Or, you could aim for the arms and shoulders, or chest, but neither of those guarantee that he doesn’t shoot you back as well. And, you could just miss entirely, giving him the shot. So, it’s both of you just firing at each other for at least a second, and you would get hit. Again, everyone you know is hiding, and annoyed that you’re out here with a gun. Imagine going into a duel with someone, but no one counts to ten before you fire.
Or, you have a standoff, with both of your guns pointed at each other. Then, be ready to hold 2.4 lbs of metal out at arm’s length for however long you think you can while watching someone else do it in front of you with death on the line.
So, you don’t have a gun. You have a knife. I’ve had that fantasy, too. For that you’d have to sneak up on him. Imagining that you do, you have to realize what it takes to stab a person. Bodies don't just go down like a henchman on TV. If you’ve ever carved a turkey, or just meat in general, you know what this entails. Assuming you go for the throat, the Adam’s apple is directly in front, composed of the thyroid cartilage made of two plates called laminae. You can try to stab up through the jaw, but expect to hit the hard palate. You could slice a disc in the back of his neck, but it’s mostly protected by vertebrae. And, again, all this implies that you can get close enough to hug him.
You think you could stab him in the back. Again, you’d need to go through his heart to kill him instantly. If he’s not dead immediately, you’re going to get shot. But, then you have to slip the blade through the rib cage, and do any of us know how to do that without practice?
Also, I assume I don’t need to cover what it takes to use piano wire.
Literally anything else could cause him to turn around and shoot you.
Plus, you’ve just killed someone. You’ve just sprung a leak into a human body. Yes, he would have shot at you first. But, you’ve just drained and dissolved the dreams and memories within a person. And it still takes more than a few seconds of you holding it to work. Imagine how he feels. The human body doesn’t want to die.
I think I’d fall on the ground with him. My clothes would be soaked with warm blood. I imagine I’d sit up with my back against the front desk. There would probably only be one shooter, it would take a few minutes for my co-workers to come out. I’d let them take care of the details after that. They’d loan me some fresh clothes and let me have a bathroom all to myself. Our office also has a shower. I’d get to leave for the day.
The cops would never arrest me. I’d have a perfect defense. I’d make the news. I’d be thought of as a hero, aside from everyone who’d still call me crazy. But, I don’t think I want the people who would call me a hero to call me a hero. Those tend to be the people who think this is how this sort of thing works, or how they would do it. Most of them have never lived it.
But, I don’t think that counts as a fantasy if I don’t ever want it to happen.
When I try to talk to him, I know I’d have to have my hands up. From what I know of the typical mass shooter is that they don’t think of their victims as people. In the moment, none of us are human. I’d have to look like a person, and connect with him. I’d just need him to hesitate, and I think he’d stop.
For whatever reason this person is doing this, it’s not because they are reasonable. But, they are broken. No one would do this if they didn’t feel like something’s wrong.
And, wouldn’t it really confirm how likable I think I am as a person?
I’d ask him what’s wrong. Chances are I’d say, “What’s up?”, but in a caring way, probably a few times. I throw in a fews “Whoa”s. I’d have to make eye contact. He’d need to think of me as a person. He’d need to know I was listening.
That would take a few seconds, with the rifle still trained on me.
I’d want to ask him what we don’t understand about him. This person has a past, or he thinks he’s starting a revolution, or maybe he has a mental disorder. There’s a very real chance he’s going through some kind of episode. But, that’s what I want to understand. What makes someone do this? I want a chance to ask the shooter directly. I don’t want to hear about it on the news, or listen to a bunch of people who don’t know him act like they do. What is this person thinking?
He tells me.
We talk for what would probably feel like hours. And, I don’t deny that at some point I’d try to identify with him, or tell him what he should do. I’d have to fight every urge I had to make it about me, and listen. I could still very easy get shot.
I’m sure he’d have a lot to tell me.
A person like this feels alone. We all have.
I’ve imagined myself as a mass shooter. I’ve gone through days and weeks where I thought nobody liked me, and in some cases with good reason. What if I did want to end my life by taking down a few people I’ve hated and then getting shot up by the cops? All these buildings, and computers, and gyms aren’t even supposed to be here anyway. None of this is even natural.
But, it all makes me safer and happier. It’s what history has done for us.
I remind myself that there’s people who’ve loved me, or will love me again. Or, there will be new ones. Or, I reach out to friends. When it’s a real problem, I say, “I’m not feeling funny”. When you reach out you don’t feel so trapped. When you put yourself out there, you just keep getting better at it. You get out of your head. If I hadn’t found the support of an artistic community, I can’t imagine I would feel the need to kill anyone. But, at some point in their lives, they thought that, too.
So, after however many hours we’d be sitting at a table talking. I assume he’s put down the gun, but it’s still in front of him. I feel like a big theme in the conversation we’d have would be that he’s got people’s attention. He’s now not alone. The world is watching. And, if he got out of this alive, everyone would listen to him. I think I could convince him that the best case scenario is for him to walk out into the parking lot, where 50 police officers have their guns drawn outside, with his hands up.
I’d get one the news for that, too. I want to say that I’d be modest and refuse any interviews. I’d maintain a mystique. Conspiracy theories would emerge. I’d be sainted for my humility after defeating evil with peace. But, it’s a fantasy. This becomes all about me. I’d be on every TV show that would have me, telling people what my views are, and what we need to change about our lives. My clear common sense insight would just spread across the world, each new idea more brilliant than the last. Everyone would listen to me. I’d be known and the guy who talked down Death. I’d be seen as the hero I’ve always wanted to be.