Another to forward from this out-of-ISP-contact and highly appalled
CASer. Let me know if this forwarding is becoming a burden! Much
The Gun Seen Round The World
A federal agent retrieves Elian Gonzalez Saturday from his great-uncle's
Miami home. (Reuters)
By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 24, 2000; Page C01
It is one of the most disturbing images of the year: a burly federal
officer, helmeted, goggled, wearing a flak jacket, battle fatigues and
shooter's gloves designed to protect the hand but permit the
prehensility of the trigger finger, confronting a screaming child and
the man who protects him.
And, of course, he has a gun.
The officer, wearing a Border Patrol patch on his vest, is holding it
one-handed by the pistol grip, his naked shooting finger indexed over
the trigger guard, the butt stock unanchored in the cup of his shoulder.
The gun looks terrifying, as it is designed to look: a black,
plastic-shrouded apparition with a bleak little snout, a curved
ammunition magazine containing 32 rounds of what are almost certainly
hollow-points, a strange bulge forward under the muzzle, which is but 15
inches from Elian Gonzalez and Donato Dalrymple.
What gun is this? Where are we now?
The gun is a German-manufactured submachine gun that goes under the
designation MP-5, a short-barreled 9mm weapon that has been famous in
action and movies since May 1980, when British SAS troopers armed with
it successfully assaulted the Iranian embassy in London, killing all but
one of the terrorists who had commandeered the building and murdered a
It is currently issued to almost all Western elite military units,
civilian SWAT and hostage rescue teams, and movie stars heroically
fighting international evil. Bruce Willis used it in the "Die Hard"
movies; James Bond has used it. The Baltimore County SWAT team used it
against Joseph Palczynski, hitting him 27 times in 42 attempts in about
three seconds. It was seen in the hands of a bearded FBI agent guarding
Tim McVeigh during his trial.
As the M-16 became the symbol of the Vietnam era, the MP-5, manufactured
by Heckler & Koch, of Oberndorf, Germany, has become the symbol of our
nervous postwar environment. It represents the condition our condition
is in, where highly trained units may have to act with surgical
precision against heavily armed opponents in highly volatile
"Operators," as SWAT officers and commandos style themselves, love it
because it is light, easy to manipulate in tight spaces, rugged and
reliable. It can fire thousands of rounds without so much as a burp. It
is easy to maintain once its few secrets have been mastered. It is also
It can be fitted with suppressors (the movies call them silencers),
shortened, lightened, mounted with a telescopic sight or an infrared one
for night operations, given a folding or collapsing stock, chambered in
more powerful calibers, hidden in a briefcase, hung invisibly in a
harness under a suit coat, configured to fire single shots, shoot two or
three-round bursts, or rip off an entire magazine in three seconds.
One of the more popular stylings is apparent on the gun in the
photograph. That bulge at the end of the muzzle is actually a flashlight
housing, in which nestles the state-of-the-art device in tactical
illumination, the Sure-Fire flashlight. Fashion dominates the tactical
world as it dominates any world, and in the past few years illumination
technology has become all the rage, under the principle that most
lethal-force encounters take place in low light, and so the operator who
can see his target--and know that if his target is illuminated, his
weapon is correctly aimed--has the advantage.
For the record, the gun is 26 inches long, with an 8.85-inch barrel. It
weighs 5.5 pounds and fires at a cyclic rate of 600 rounds per minute,
which means not that you could shoot it 600 times in a minute but that
if you had a magazine that contained 600 rounds, it would take a minute
to fire it.
MP-5s are not issued to troops or police officers routinely; they have
specific tactical uses. They are frequently used as statements of
intimidation to ensure crowd control or to dissuade aggressive action.
In this way, they represent the principle that the weapon brandished is
the weapon used, even if an actual act of firing is never consummated.
But more often MP-5s are used in killing situations, in high-risk raids,
where commandos or law enforcement officers are likely to encounter
armed opposition that must be stopped quickly and powerfully. Unlike
their movie counterparts, the authentic operators are trained to fire
short, aimed two- to three-round bursts, never to sweep a room or to
fire randomly. Indeed, much of submachine gun training is taken up with
the issue of trigger control, as shooters learn not merely to shoot
accurately but also to prevent that potentially fatal fusillade of fire.
It so happens that this writer, doing research for a novel, has taken a
course in tactical submachine gun techniques at a local range, during
which time he fired close to 2,000 rounds through an MP-5 and practiced
some of the deployment techniques of a "dynamic entry" scenario of the
type that the federal officers used Saturday morning in Miami.
Thus, what struck me most about the photograph isn't the gun itself, but
the way in which it's held. It's very close to being out of control.
These are not one-handed weapons, and except for emergency
circumstances, they are not even two-handed weapons. They recoil so
persuasively they must be secured at three points: They must be moored
against the shoulder or the center of the chest; the firing hand grips
the pistol grip and controls the trigger; and, finally, the other hand
must secure the muzzle via the foregrip or a front vertical grip. The
officer doesn't even have the weapon secured against his shoulder, as
police are taught to do. In fairness it's possible the photograph
freezes one moment when the gun was loosened from his control
(photographs will do that) and in the next second, he reclamped it into
his shoulder, lowered the muzzle and backed off.
Still, his use of the weapon certainly belies the claim that none of the
entry team ever "threatened to shoot." Whether that statement was made
verbally is immaterial. If the gun is deployed, it threatens by its very
presence, and no verbal exchange matters.
And it is also true from the photograph that the safety is off; that
means the gun is primed to fire and no mechanical device stands between
the gun and the consequences of firing except trigger pressure. But it's
equally clear from the photograph that the federal officer has been well
trained; his trigger finger is set properly above the trigger guard, so
that if he falls or trips, an involuntary spasm won't cause his finger
to tighten and the weapon to fire.
However, most self-defense experts counsel students to approach all
potentially lethal situations that way, reasoning that it is just as
quick to fire from that position as it is from a finger on the trigger.
Whether the officer had any intentions of firing cannot be concluded
from the picture. Regardless of his intentions, that's where his finger
would be. Moreover, he has trained thousands of times to move his finger
from that position to the trigger and fire; by this time, it's second
nature to him--or he has no business being on the raid.
It is also said that the gun was not "pointed" at the boy and his
guardian. However, if the officer hasn't got the gun under control, then
the issue of where it's pointed is moot. These guns recoil powerfully
when fired; they move this way and that. That is exactly why H&K now
manufactures them with burst-control devices, which limit the gun to two
or three fully automatic shots. It is impossible to see if the officer's
MP-5 had that device. The reality is that at that moment an accidental
discharge or a mistake in judgment, and the gun fires an uncontrollable
shower of bullets.
I mean no disrespect to this currently anonymous officer. In the moment
of highest intensity, things don't go according to plan, minds don't
work clearly and nobody can really control events. The discipline of
keeping his finger where it belonged may have saved lives.
But the point is larger than that: It's that these guns, which represent
the state's most extreme control over its citizens, are immensely
powerful and, in the hands of the untrained or even the poorly trained,
extremely dangerous. They are not toys and they should be used only in
dire circumstances, when it is certain that lives are at stake.
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