The gun – invented by the Chinese in the twelfth century, and, without doubt, the deadliest implement that a human being can hold in his or her hand. Bombs can, of course, wreak considerably more damage, but in a one-on-one situation, the gun is the most lethal of all weapons.
Through the centuries the gun has evolved from what was effectively a portable hand-held cannon to lethal implements of death such as automatics and self-loaders with telescopic and laser sights, accessories that allow the user to see in the dark and a wide variety of bullets that create varying degrees of damage to a target whether human, animal or inanimate. Of course, humans being what they are – greedy, cowardly and insecure – the gun is used maliciously more often than for good, although it is difficult to know where to place wars in such considerations. But there are occasions when a gun has to be used for a good reason.
Police snipers, for instance, although present at many scenes of crime, are most often used only as a last resort or when an extreme situation warrants it – namely, when lives are in danger. The FBI Standard Rules of Engagement make this clear: ‘Agents are not to use deadly force against any person except as necessary in self-defence or the defence of another when they have reason to believe they or another are in danger of death or grievous bodily harm. Whenever feasible, verbal warning should be given before deadly force is applied.’ In 1992, at Ruby Ridge, where the survivalist Weaver family was in a stand-off with the authorities, these standard rules were replaced with a more expedient set of rules that, in reality, made it open season on the Weavers. Of course, there was huge criticism of this temporary change of the rules and it served to foment even more unrest amongst the people who were supportive of the Weavers’ stand – the extremists, white supremacists and apocalyptic survivalists – and would eventually result in the deaths of 168 people at the hands of Timothy McVeigh in Oklahoma City.
Snipers and Shooters looks at four different types of shooting deaths, those caused by the random maniac, the military or police marksman, the assassin and the celebrity shooter. The gun is responsible for all of these and for tens of thousands of deaths in the United States, alone, every year. However, perhaps the slogan often rolled out by the gun lobby has at least an element of truth to it – ‘Guns don’t kill people; people kill people’.