Firing into crowds
April 16, 2012 9:40 AM   Subscribe

News coverage of the Arab Spring routinely has reports (with audio-gunshots) of state actors shooting at crowds of demonstrators. Often it seems like very few people are injured/killed. Is this confirmation bias on my part, are there mass casualties, or are the folks "shooting" at the crowd (ie not at the actual people) ?

Just thinking of crowd sizes and what not, it would seem that if you shoot at a crowd of demonstrators, especially with some type of automatic rifle, you would mow them down, mass casualties. I don't recall that actually happening.

Why ? Is the shooter not firing directly at the crowd ? Can people react/disperse/duck fast enough to avoid the shots ? Are the people not densely packed enough such that the bullets harmlessly pass through empty space ? Or are many people injured, but not killed ? (or are many people killed, and I'm just having confirmation bias in the news I read/hear? )

I recall the 50,000 rounds per casualty statistic from the Vietnam War, so I think the first guess (not shooting at the people) is a possible answer.
posted by k5.user to Grab Bag (6 answers total)
I suspect that the people firing on the crowd aren't taking aim at individuals but, rather, are shooting somewhat wildly in an effort to disburse the crowd. While many regimes don't have an issue with killing their own people when they are seen to be rebelling, the aim in these situations isn't necessarily to kill; disbursing the crowd is generally the primary aim.
posted by asnider at 10:02 AM on April 16, 2012

A few answers that are hopefully relevant. First, the shots may not be aimed to hit people. They might be firing overhead to get people to disperse instead of trying to hit them. Second, under stress conditions most poorly trained people tend to shoot high (or so the Army taught me), so the bullets might be going overhead anyway. Third, people who are shot don't necessarily fall down on the spot, so they might be hitting people in the crowd who are still able to run away.
posted by procrastination at 10:06 AM on April 16, 2012

Keep in mind that certain repressive regimes have taken to using birdshot against demonstrators, with the effect that:

1) Fewer people are killed (this is a side effect);
2) More people are maimed (this is the purpose of using birdshot); birdshot might take an eye where a slug would kill the victim; and
3) Some people are injured but not significantly enough to be worth reporting.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:19 AM on April 16, 2012

Two things...

1) Idiots with automatic weapons are wildly inaccurate, especially when firing from the hip and/or not really aiming. With each shot, the rifle is jumping in your hand, and with each shot pushes the barrel up. Each bullet is still deadly (see below), but the vast majority of these shots are likely sailing right over people's heads.

2) One Bullet Can Kill, but Sometimes 20 Don’t, Survivors Show
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:28 AM on April 16, 2012

Er, my comment should have said "disperse" the crowd, not "disburse." They're trying to make the crowd breakup and leave, not pay them money owed.
posted by asnider at 11:31 AM on April 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Even in the context of these repressive regimes, I suspect it's likely a fair portion of the shooting sounds you hear are riot-control / less-than-lethal rounds.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:43 AM on April 16, 2012

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