Shortly after the Sandy Hook shooting, I read an Internet/keyboard commando’s comment on a Wall Street Journal opinion piece that made me think “who does this guy think he is?”
Rambo McIceVeins ProGunControl VanDamme: “[...] I would be able to cross a room in 2 seconds and get my hands on [the shooter's] throat before he had a chance to finish reloading.”
A comment in reply to that eyebrow-raising statement was, paraphrasing again: “Yeah, okay, sure Superman.”
Fun with Physics!
So to test if this was actually feasible (and since I was curious), I measured out a 30 ft (9.114 m) distance and put Evil shooter Jihadi Bear al-Mujahideen at one end (in order to show perspective in photographs).
Now Bear’s radical Imam told him that he would go straight to Bear Paradise to be pleased by 70 virgin bears if he martyred himself killing infidels in the name of Bear-Allah and his Bear-prophet (peace be upon him). So Bear shows up at your workplace/school/post office/sporting event and begins shooting people.
You’re 30 ft away and see that Bear is reloading. How fast do you need to be in order to get to him before he swaps magazines and resumes firing?
Here’s what that 30 ft looks like, from your view:
And from Bear’s:
Now, I timed myself to see how long it would take to cover the 30 ft distance running, jogging, and walking. I came up with the following numbers:
Running (almost a full sprint, average of two runs): 2.2 s
Jogging (fast jog, one run): 3.1 s
Walking (normal speed, one run): 7.1 s
Utilizing the formula for velocity (v = d/t), you get the following numbers:
Running: v = d/t = (9.144 m/2.2 s) = 4.16 m/s (1 mph/0.447 m/s) = 9.31 mph
Jogging: v = d/t = (9.144 m/3.1 s) = 2.95 m/s (1 mph/0.447 m/s) = 6.60 mph
Walk: v = d/t = (9.144 m/7.1 s) = 1.29 m/s (1 mph/0.447 m/s) = 2.88 mph
For comparison’s sake, the fastest human land speed is 27 mph (Ursain Bolt) and my top speed on a bicycle is 21 mph (straightaway, flat ground).
Now, while it seems possible that you could close that 30 ft gap in about two seconds, there are a few factors the troll commenter forgot (besides having to sprint your heart out)
First, the sound of gunfire in an enclosed space is deafening and coupled with the possible screams/yelling of others, you probably would have a hard time hearing when the shooter stopped to reload (or if he actually was reloading and not pausing his shooting momentarily).
Second, the commenter neglected to factor in adrenaline and the fight-or-flight responses kicking in. At normal pulse rate, sure, you can close a 30 ft gap in two seconds. But when there’s chaos around you and a cacophony of sound making your heart beat like it was about to burst, just focusing on even beginning would make you lose your two second window.
Hell, even when I go to the range my pulse increases and I usually jump involuntary when another person in a nearby booth fires. That’s even with expecting the loud report and slight pressure wave.
Third, training. Assuming that the shooter knows his weapons, with all the muscle memory that entails and the location of all his magazines on his person, he would be focused and practiced. Granted there might be some slow-down due to adrenaline, but not enough to where he’d be fumbling with seating a fresh magazine in his pistol or rifle.
I would have liked to see how long it actually does take to swap magazines in a pistol, but you need a second person to run the stopwatch, which I didn’t have. For video examples of speed: One, Two, Three, Four
Fourth, multiple weapons. Alright, you see the shooter reloading but what’s to stop him from drawing a secondary gun or a fighting knife to take you out and then go on with his killing? In our example with the Jihadi Bear, you can’t see from 30 ft away that Bear also has a knife (don’t believe me, check the picture).
Fifth, you’d be scared shitless. After seeing Bob from accounting getting his head blown off and that hot secretary you were going to ask out for drinks take two in the chest, you’d be cowering and hiding, praying to God that you won’t be next. I don’t care how much you claim that you “have good nerves” or would “be calm under pressure and level-headed.” Unless you’re a trained soldier/SWAT officer/spook and has been in this type of situation more than once (although even with training you still can freeze up due to fear), I call bullshit that you would “rise to the occasion.” You would be nothing more that a quivering, blubbering mound of jelly that pissed himself.
Hell, I know I’d be praying for safety/deliverance and probably doing so while hiding under a desk, scared stupid. I’m not a coward, but I’m no movie-gun wielding, headshot at 100 yards from the hip, John McClane-type hero.
Sixth, there probably isn’t enough time. While I didn’t time a magazine change, the distance closing times were done from a standing position. I’m guessing, but tack on 2 to 3 seconds to allow for you to get to your feet to move.
[Edit: I can't believe I forgot this one]
Seventh, bullet-speed beats human-speed. Self-explanatory.
Besides, these spree-shooter scenarios usually end in two ways (with significant innocent loss of life):
Death by cop
Shooter kills himself
I can’t even think of one, outside of a movie, where “office worker X disarmed and disabled spree-shooter.”
With the statistical chance that you would ever encounter a spree-type shooting in your life being pretty near zero, you would have a better chance at winning the lottery or being struck by lightning. So don’t worry about hypotheticals and things you cannot control.