Where Did They Learn How to Shoot?

From Stanley Kubrick's film Full Metal Jacket (1987):

[A Parris Island (S.C.) marine drill instructor lectures a platoon of recruits. The instructor is standing. The recruits are seated.]

Pvt Snowball

Drill Instructor: Do any of you people know who Charles Whitman was?

[Pause. No response.]

None of you dumb asses know?

[One recruit rises.]

Private Cowboy.

Private Cowboy: Sir. He was that guy who shot all those people from that tower in Austin, Texas, Sir.

Drill Instructor: That's affirmative. Charles Whitman killed twelve people from a twenty-eight story observation tower at the University of Texas, from distances of up to four hundred yards.

Anybody know who Lee Harvey Oswald was?

[Pause. A black recruit rises.]

Private Snowball.

Private Snowball: Sir! He shot Kennedy, Sir!

Drill Instructor: That's right. And do you know how far away he was?

Private Snowball: Sir! He was pretty far. From that school suppository building, Sir!

[Laughter from the recruits.]

Drill Instructor: All right, knock it off. Two hundred and fifty feet. He was two hundred and fifty feet away and shooting at a moving target. He got off three rounds from an old Italian bolt action rifle in only six seconds. And scored two hits, including a head shot.

Do any of you people know where these individuals learned how to shoot?

[A recruit rises.]

Private Joker.

Private Joker: Sir! In the marines, Sir!

Drill Instructor: In the marines! Outstanding! Those individuals showed what one motivated marine and his rifle can do! And before you ladies leave my island, you'll all be able to do the same thing!

The foregoing scene came to mind recently when a US Army officer went berserk and shot dead thirteen people in a Fort Hood psychiatrist office. That incident, like the two mentioned in Full Metal Jacket, occurred in Texas, a state with a longstanding vibrant and thriving gun culture.

To give perspective, I've listed below some notable Texas firearms incidents from the past fifty years.

Dallas, November 22, 1963. Assassination of John F. Kennedy. Lee Harvey Oswald fired three shots at Kennedy from the sixth floor of the Texas school book depository building. Oswald had spent the years 1957 to 1959 in the Marines, where he rated as a "sharpshooter" in one of his riflery tests. His assassination weapon was an Italian Carcano 6.5mm rifle of WWI vintage.

Austin, August 1, 1966. University of Texas massacre. Charles Whitman murdered 10 people and wounded 40 others firing a rifle from a tower on the University of Texas campus. Whitman served in the Marines from 1959 to 1964. He carried the following weapons into the tower: a sawed-off shotgun, a Remington 700 6mm bolt-action hunting rifle with a 4x Leupold Scope, an M1 carbine, a Remington .35 caliber pump rifle, a .357 Magnum revolver, a 9mm German Luger, and another small caliber pistol. See interesting video commentary and song by Kinky Friedman.

Killeen, October 16, 1991. The Luby's massacre. George Jo Hennard drove a pickup truck into a Luby's Cafeteria and began shooting people inside with two handguns. He killed 23 and wounded another 20. His weapons were a Glock 17 and a Ruger P89. Hennard had served in the Navy and Merchant Marines. It is not known whether he got firearms training in those services.

Waco, February 28 - April 19, 1993. The Waco Atrocity. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) raided the Branch Davidian compound to serve warrants as part of an investigation into illegal possession of firearms. The compound was home and church to a religious cult led by David Koresh. It is not clear what happened in this raid since the public and press were kept a mile away when it was happening and forensic evidence was destroyed afterward by the government. As best anyone can ascertain, this is how it went down.

(1) Two truckloads of armed agents drove up in front of the compound's main building.

(2) Military helicopters from nearby Fort Hood, in support of the BATF mission (illegally it turns out), arrived at the compound, hovering overhead.

(3) Dogs began barking at the 80 strange men just arrived on the scene.

(4) The agents began shooting and killing the dogs, which is standard procedure in such police raids.

(5) BATF agents in a Blackhawk helicopter began firing on the compound. Bullets, possibly 50-caliber, went through the roof and walls of the main building.

(6) One of the Branch Davidians, in a panic, called 911 for help. His request was rebuffed.

(7) David Koresh, opened the front door and begged the agents to stop their assault. He was immediately struck down in a hail of bullets. He fell backwards, closing the door as he fell. His father-in-law, standing behind him, was killed.

(8) The BATF agents continued their attack and the Davidians began returning fire, holding them off until nightfall, but suffering numerous casualties. At least four BATF agents were killed.

(9) The FBI, acknowledging that the BATF had bungled their raid, took over and established a siege of the compound. The FBI cut off electric power to the Davidians and harassed them 24/7 with blaring music.

(10) As the siege dragged on, the FBI became more embarrassed and enraged. Their boss, Attorney General Janet Reno, who made a career of prosecuting hapless men of phony child molestation charges based on "false memory" testimony from three-year-olds, began a diversionary public relations move. She claimed the raid was to protect the children, ignoring the fact that the federal government has no authority to enforce child molestation laws. Although legally meaningless, the campaign was a public relations success in turning opinion against the Branch Davidians. Many people still believe the Davidians brought the initial attack and siege on themselves. Probably even more believe the Davidians deserved to be murdered.

(11) On April 19 the FBI attacked the flimsy building housing the Davidians with a military tank, knocking down a wall. The FBI then fired incendiary projectiles containing poison gas (CS) into the building, igniting hay bales that had been used to keep out the wind. TV cameras a mile away showed the building in flames. The FBI denied local firetrucks access to the compound. A handful of Davidians escaped from the holocaust, but about 80 people died, including 25 children.

(12) The FBI denied independent investigators access to the compound and used bulldozers to destroy physical evidence that might be used against them in subsequent legal proceedings.

(13) The survivors were put on trial in federal court, charged with serious crimes. A jury acquitted them of the most serious charges, but Judge Walter Smith ignored their verdict and declared the Davidians guilty. Smith claimed the jurors did not follow his fifty pages of instructions. The jury forewoman angrily denounced the judge to the press.

As horrifying as the Waco atrocity was, its blowback was worse.

Timothy McVeigh, a strong believer in the right of citizens to protect themselves from murderous federal police, visited the Waco site after the incident. He seethed with rage over the injustice and prepared to take revenge on the FBI.

His revenge was the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building exactly two years after the BATF attack. His targets were FBI agents and their ninth-floor offices. The explosion killed 168 people but didn't kill or injure a single FBI employee. There was suspicion that the FBI had foreknowledge of the bombing and stayed home that day.

Although McVeigh didn't use a gun in the Oklahoma City bombing, he was carrying a holstered .45 caliber semi-automatic pistol when he was arrested only hours later. He'd received firearms training in the Army, where he'd served honorably as a sergeant in Iraq War I. He had been awarded the Bronze Star.

The Oklahoma bombing would never have occurred if the Waco atrocity had never occurred. And the Waco atrocity was all about firearms. The federal agency that regulates firearms instigated the initial assault. Its agents must have gotten firearms training when they joined up. Likewise with the FBI. But where did the Branch Davidians learn to shoot? David Koresh was known to be proficient with the military AR-15 rifle, but he never served in the military. We have to assume that he and other male Davidians learned to shoot on their own.

Kenedy County, February 11, 2006. The Dick Cheney hunting incident. The U.S. Vice President accidentally shot Harry Whittington, a 78-year-old Texas attorney and his host, with a shotgun while quail hunting. Whittington's wounds were not fatal. However, three days later he suffered a non-fatal "silent" heart attack because of a lead pellet near his heart.

Cheney did not get firearms training in the Marines or any other branch of the armed services. He chose not to serve his country during the Vietnam war, explaining that he had "other priorities." He did, however, serve four years as Secretary of Defense during the Panama War and Iraq War I and he was George W. Bush's closest adviser on Iraq War II. Perhaps if he'd put in some active duty in the Marines he would have learned a few things about firearm safety.

Fort Hood, November 5, 2009. The "Islamic terrorist" attack. Nidal Malik Hasan is accused of killing 13 and wounding 30 in a shooting rampage at a psychiatrist office on the Texas Army base. Hasan, an Army major and psychiatrist, was said to be upset over his upcoming deployment to Afghanistan. His weapon in the attack was an FN Five-seven semi-automatic pistol that he bought at a civilian gun shop. The extent of Hasan's firearms training in the army is not known; however, he demonstrated considerable proficiency in the use of his laser-sighted weapon.