Dave Grossman is retired from the U.S. Army. He rose from the enlisted ranks to lieutenant colonel, having served as an infantry officer and as a professor of psychology at West Point. Today he is a lecturer and author; two of his books, On Killing and On Combat are widely read among military personnel and police officers. A particular passage from On Combat, titled “On Wolves, Sheep, and Sheepdogs,” can be said to be a distillation of much of Grossman’s writing, explaining as it does what distinguishes the protector’s mindset from those of the protected and the predator. Here is a small excerpt:
The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.
Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, “Baa.”
Last Sunday night, in Las Vegas, a wolf attacked. And as horrific as the night was, it might have been far worse had there not been so many sheepdogs present. There were hundreds of off-duty police officers (about 60 from the LAPD alone), firefighters, paramedics, and military personnel, active and retired, attending the concert, added to which were those who may not have known they were sheepdogs until the wolf came. The tales of bravery and self-sacrifice emerging from that night are many (here is another one), and there are doubtless many more that will be known only to those who experienced them.
Though as of this writing little has been revealed about the shooter, he chose as his killing place a location for which there was no effective place to counter him. When the president or some other Secret Service protectee makes an appearance outdoors, you may notice people on nearby rooftops. You may only see their heads and shoulders, but below and out of view are rifles. These are Secret Service counter-sniper teams, and while they may not be found on all the nearby rooftops, they will always occupy the highest one and any others required to meet the threat of a long-distance gunman. In the case of the Mandalay Bay, there is no high-rise to the north or west from which the police might have fired on the shooter’s position.
As the 22,000 people gathered at the Route 91 Harvest on Sunday, there were some among them who, owing to training and experience, looked around and gave a passing thought to the damage a shooter might do from the nearby Mandalay Bay hotel. And, as improbable as it may have seemed until it in fact happened, when the shooting started those people knew what to do: get to cover and assist others in doing the same. With the shooter some 400 yards away, there was simply no way for anyone at the concert to confront him, though some perhaps were looking for a way to do just that.
As for the response by the sheepdogs of the Las Vegas Metro Police, I have only praise. The worst single shooting incident I experienced involved about 20 victims, more than half of whom died on the spot. Given how chaotic that crime scene was, I can’t imagine the one that greeted the first officers to respond to Sunday’s atrocity. Still, though the scope and scale may change, the principles remain the same: contain, confront, and neutralize the threat, then attend to the wounded.
The shooting lasted about ten minutes – an eternity, certainly, to those exposed to the danger – but I can’t imagine a scenario in which the police could have reacted more quickly without having officers posted on the roof of the Mandalay Bay (they’ll be there next time). And, given the shooter’s position, at the far end of the northern wing of the hotel, even officers on the roof would have been unable to see and shoot at him. The only way to defeat him was to do what the police did: breach the door and make entry. That it took more than an hour to do so is not a poor reflection of the officers. The killer had stopped shooting, evidently taking his own life after becoming aware of the approaching police, thus changing what had been an active shooter scenario to a barricaded suspect.
I have heard and read much speculation on how the killer was able to move so many weapons and so much ammunition into his hotel room. “How could that go unnoticed?” people ask. To this I can only say, spend some time in the lobby of any large hotel in Las Vegas and tell me who looks so suspicious as to warrant a visit from the police. Any of the rifles used by the killer can be broken down, with perhaps several of them concealable in an average suitcase. And boxes of ammunition are heavy but not large. Thousands of rounds can be carried in a rolling suitcase.
The killer must have declined maid service, but this, too, would have aroused little suspicion as doing so is not uncommon. The hoteliers of Las Vegas don’t much care about what goes on behind the closed doors of their guests’ rooms as long as the casinos are full, though this now may change. But even if the shooter had, on Sunday afternoon, aroused someone’s curiosity and the police were called, what could the police have done had the shooter refused to admit them? Nothing. Any security scheme that might have detected the killer in time to stop him would be so intrusive as to be untenable, especially in Las Vegas.
As inevitably follows a mass shooting, we are now engaged in a debate over what legislative action might be taken to prevent another one from happening. That there are those who think such legislation is possible is testament to the triumph of hope over experience, for a man as bent on violence as the Las Vegas shooter was is hard to deter. Take away his “bump stocks” and even his guns, he will still find a way to kill, as was proven by the discovery of explosives in the killer’s home and car.
The wolves of the world will not be wished away or deterred by words on paper. It is up to the few of whom can be found in Congress, to keep the wolves at bay, and to confront them when they strike.