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A Perspective on Guns & Killing from “A Marine and his Rifle” (Updated 2020) February 25, 2020

Posted by Chris Mark in Uncategorized.
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“I left the sky in the middle of the night
I hit the deck and I’m ready to fight.
Colt .45 and Kabar by my side
These are the tools that make men die.”

-Infantry Cadence

With the recent political debates raging and ‘gun control’ once again front and center of the Democrat candidate’s platforms, I felt it was appropriate to update and republish for 2020.   This post is not a position on gun control rather it is intended give some insight into a side of the issue few outside of specialized jobs probably recognize or acknowledge.  That of the human weapon.

There is an expression every Marine learns in Basic Training.  “The most dangerous weapon in the world is a Marine and his rifle.”  Without justifying the statement (we Marines are very good at self-promotion), the statement is insightful and applies equally to the Rangers, Airborne, SEALS, RM Commandos or any other combat troop.  The truth is that it is the combination of the Marine and his rifle that make a weapon.

Is a gun a weapon?  It certainly can be.  Can it kill without being a weapon? Certainly.  Consider a firearm used for hunting that explodes and hurts the user.  This is a safety issue in which a tool failed.  Can an insect sprayer be a weapon?  In the wrong hands, it has been used to kill many people.   On June 11, 1964 a person walked into a school in Cologne, Germany with a bug sprayer filled with gasoline.  Armed with his “flamethrower”, a mace, and a lance, he killed 9 students, then himself.  Alone, a bug sprayer is an innocuous and helpful tool.  In the hands of someone intent on killing, it becomes a deadly weapon.  This post is talking about the person that makes the gun, bug sprayer, sword, or bomb…a weapon.

I was a Marine Scout/Sniper.  I have a Combat Action Ribbon for my time as a sniper in Somalia.  While not an expert on the subject, I would say I am at least a minor authority on the subject at hand.  As a mentor told me once: “It is not easy to kill a person the first time …it is easier the second time and continues to get easier”...I would agree.

In his book “On Killing”, Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman states that until the Vietnam war, an estimated 75-80% of riflemen did not even fire their weapons in combat.  The reluctance or even inability to harm another human being in combat is well documented throughout history.  Chief US Army History S.L.A Marshall said:

“It is therefore reasonable to believe that the average and healthy individual – the man who can endure the mental and physical stresses of combat- still has such an inner and usually unrealized resistance towards killing a fellow man that he will not of his own volition take a life if it is possible to turn away from that responsibility…At the vital point he becomes a conscientious objector.” 

This is why less than 1% of fighter pilots in World War II accounted for 30-40% of all combat victories.  Most combat fighter pilots were hesitant to kill another person.

The Marine Corps, Army, and every other military unit in the World spend countless hours teaching tactics, and techniques to fight and kill the enemy.  They also spend countless hours toughening their soldiers mentally to kill, when needed.  Once inured in combat, a Marine, SEAL, Ranger or any other combat troop can act decisively and with controlled violence to accomplish their objective.

It is the mentality of a person that allows them to do harm to another person that makes a weapon.

By the Vietnam War it is estimated that 95% of riflemen fired their weapons in combat.  This is a huge change from WWII in which less than 25% fired their weapons.  What happened? Quite simply the US Military began desensitizing its soldiers to the horror of killing.  In his book War; The Lethal Custom, Gwynne Dyer states:

“Most of the language used in Parris Island to describe the joys of killing people is bloodthirsty but meaningless hyperbole, and the recruits realize even as they enjoy it.  Nevertheless, it does help to desensitize them to the suffering of an ‘enemy’, and at the same time they are being indoctrinated in the most explicit fashion (as previous generations were not) with the notion that their purpose is not just to be brave or fight well; it is to kill people.”

Marine bootcamp is filled with cadences that glorify killing.  More advanced training continues to glorify killing.  For a Marine, it is a necessary and important piece of training to ensure that the mission can be accomplished. This is also true for combat troops throughout the world.

Isreali Defense Force antiterrorist sniper trainer Chuck Cramer, tried to design a course in such a way that practicing to kill was as realistic as possible.

“I made the targets as human as possible.”  He continues: “I changed the standard firing targets to full-size anatomically correct figures because no Syrian runs around with a big white square on his chest with numbers on it.  I put closes on these targets and polyurethane heads.  I cut up a cabbage and poured catchup into it and put it back together.  I said, “When you look through that scope, I want you to see a head blowing up.””

One cannot view gun deaths lightly yet  one dimensional approach will do little to prevent recurrences.   I am not against video games, movies, or TV shows at all.  That being said, I question the perspective of a person who decries guns yet allows their 13 year old son to play Call of Duty for hours on end.

Remember my statement earlier where I said “It is not easy to kill another human being…the first time.”.  In the course of playing Call of Duty or a number of other games, players are getting the experience of killing over, and over, and over…many thousands of times.  The military has recognized the value of these games.  The graphics and reality of these games are incredible. People bleed, and die…just like in real life.  On that note, Jason Bourne, James Bond, and military movies like BlackHawk Down, and Saving Private Ryan show combat as closely as it can be shown without being there in person.  Again, watchers get to see people ‘die’ over, and over, and over again.

Make no mistake about the impact of such events.  Videos, games, and movies of people dying in very realistic scenarios desensitizes a person to the horror of killing.  This has been acknowledged and embraced by the US Army in their development of specialized video games.  According to Skip Rizzo, a USC Psychologist working with the US Army on development of the video games to prepare military recruits for the horror of war before deploying:

“The rationale is you want to teach people this stuff when they’re in a state of arousal so that they’re more likely to access that learning when they’re in a similar state” 

Rizzo continues:

What we want to create is something that pulls at the hearts of people,” Rizzo said. “Maybe there’s a child lying there with the arms blown off, screaming and crying. Maybe your action kills an innocent civilian, or you see a guy next to you get shot in the eye with blood spurting out of his face.”

On September 12th, 2013 Foxnews published an article titled “Training Simulations” which articulated the connection between violent video games and mass killings. Unversity of Missouri’s Associate Professer of Psychology, Bruce Bartholow says  in the article:

“From a psychological perspective, video games are excellent teaching tools because they reward players for engaging in certain types of behavior. Unfortunately, in many popular video games, the behavior is violence.”

This is not to suggest causation rather corrolation although there is strong anecdotal evidence for causation, as well.  I am not saying that either guns, video games or movies should be outlawed.  What I am saying is that reducing violence in our society requires that we think about a multi-faceted approach that considers firearms, AND ensures that we are not creating and training the most dangerous weapon with violent movies, TV shows, and video games…that weapon being an impressionable mind that is inured to the horrors of killing another person.



1. John DeWald - December 19, 2012

Chris, I always enjoy reading your articles and comments. This one didn’t let me down, a very good read. I’ll be passing this one around. Hope to see you when you travel east to the D.C. Area. Thanks for your service and dedication.

Chris Mark - December 19, 2012

John, glad you read them! Been a long time. How is life treating you?? I will look you up when I head that way..

2. bowsprite - January 9, 2013

I have forwarded this post to Danish journalist friends who are here to explore America’s gun control issues. In their gentle ways, they say, “Go ahead! Rob my house! it is not worth losing anyone’s life for!” so according to my guests, both thieves and victims in Denmark are gunless, and life continues.

Would this sort of thinking work here? Don’t know. I DO know that in my home, i am controlling the violent games and visuals ever more vigilantly, for your remark that we are becoming inured to the horrors of killing rings very true.
Thank you.

Chris Mark - January 9, 2013

Thank you for taking the time to read and for providing insightful comments. Hopefully, the debate can move beyond simply ‘guns’ and into an understanding of the affect of games and videos..

3. Eric - January 10, 2013

Thanks for making a well reasoned and defended argument on the differences between weapons and the society that makes them seem less than the dangerous tools they are.
Semper Fi,

4. Jim Harris - January 11, 2013

@ Bowsprite: I wonder if your Danish friends are being truthful… The Danes I know are hardly pacifists — they still have a lot from their Viking ancestors.

5. Rich T. - January 11, 2013

Chris I agree with you 100%. One of the big differences between combat and video games is when you see it with your own eyes and you actually pull the trigger you have to live with it. In video games you do not. When you get to the DC area I owe you a beer or other beverage.

Chris Mark - January 11, 2013

Thank you Rich. I will certainly take you up on a free beer!

6. Dave H. S/F - January 15, 2013

Interesting perspective. Prior to the pull of the trigger, a man, in his heart, must have made his decision that what he is about to do is right before his God. It is a high calling to make the right choice.

7. Mark Winn - January 15, 2013

Great read – very moving and right on point – the debate as you pointed out is not a siloed view — its not video games , or guns, or movies. Its all of them and none of them.
Its a study of morality , its a look into whats become ok and whats not. Truth is bad people been doing bad things since Cain and Able– People are people we make good decisions and bad decisions. There is nothing wrong with Guns, or Movies , or video games when properly supervised.
Sometimes folks are just sick and we need to call that out when we can.

8. Brian Smalley - January 15, 2013

Semper Fi,

Good points. Thank you for your insightful article.

Brian Smalley

9. Gun Control & Causality; A philosophical discussion -2015 | Global Security, Privacy, & Risk Management - June 19, 2015

[…] seemingly illogical positions taken on both sides of the debate.  Last year I wrote a post titled “A Perspective on Killing from a Marine and His Rifle” in which I provide personal as well as third party information on what is required to create […]

10. A Sniper talks about Killing…and Objectivication… and prevarication…Oh My! | Global Security, Privacy, & Risk Management - October 27, 2015

[…] few years ago I wrote a post titled “A Perspective on Killing by a Marine and His Rifle”.  The post was intended to describe, in broad terms, the difficulty in taking a human life.  This […]

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