June 29, 2008

Monumental fuckup

This is one for the books. The French Third Marine Parachute Regiment had an open house, and part of that was a demonstration of hostage-rescuing. As part of their stage show, at one point one soldier sprayed the crowd with blanks.

Only it turned out his gun was loaded with real ammunition. 17 people were hit, 15 of them civilians. Two are in critical condition, one of those a 3 year old boy. Current reports are that all of them are expected to live.

Now I'm not a gun owner, and don't know a huge amount about this kind of thing. But I do know the #1 rule about gun handling: Treat every gun at all times as if it is loaded with live ammunition.

Stated a different way: never point your gun at someone unless you mean to kill them.

Irrespective of whether that soldier thought his rifle was loaded with blanks, he should never have fired it directly at anyone. Certainly he shouldn't have fired it at the audience.

The soldier was arrested but the news reports are falling all over themselves to make clear that he has a spotless record. Hmm...

We haven't heard the last of this. The French military is investigating.

Of course, this causes an itsy bitsy question to pop up, the unthinkable one: was this soldier from a banlieue?

That it happened is strange enough. But how in hell did this guy manage to drop 17 people before he, or someone else, noticed that something was wrong?

Think about that: 17 different people hit. He didn't do that with a 20-round magazine. If he managed that with a 30-round magazine he did really well. (Or badly.) Was he firing something fed by a belt? If so, then the ammunition was out in the open, and it would be impossible not to know that it was live rounds.

And if he was firing something with a magazine, he has to have reloaded part way through and returned to firing. During that time he didn't hear or respond to the screams and panic?

Maybe this is just a terrible mistake. But I bet it turns out he did it on purpose. Wonder who he is?

UPDATE: An entirely different question, which may seem perverse: if this guy managed to hit 17 people (whether by accident or on purpose), how is it there were no deaths? Not that I want anyone to die, mind, but if he was firing live military ammunition, why was it so unlethal? Pretty poor showing if you ask me.

Makes you wonder what kind of ammunition it was, doesn't it? (Was it 5.56x45mm NATO aka "Poodle Shooter"?) And it makes you wonder just how well it would serve in a real war where one of your soldiers was firing at enemies and truly was trying to kill them.

UPDATE: James Rummel and I have been exchanging email about this. He confirmed something else I was wondering about: it's almost inconceivable that an experienced soldier could not tell the difference in recoil between blanks and live rounds.

UPDATE: AFP has more info about the situation. The guy who did it was OPFOR; he was pretending to be a terrorist for purposes of the demonstration. And because of that he did in fact deliberately shoot at the crowd, though he did think he was shooting blanks.

The article also confirms that the weapon was a FAMAS.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste in General Anime at 06:17 PM | Comments (18) | Add Comment
Post contains 575 words, total size 4 kb.

1 Makes you wonder what kind of ammunition it was, doesn't it?

It is, indeed, the "poodleshooter."  The standard French assault rifle, which is used by their Troupes De Marine, is the FAMAS.  25 or 30 round magazine, depending.

Perhaps there were multiple people hit by individual rounds?

Posted by: Wonderduck at June 29, 2008 07:27 PM (AW3EJ)

2 Sorry for the doublepost, but if the crowd was anything like what you see at airshows here (I have no idea), the audience would be cheek-to-jowl... then the surprise wouldn't be that he hit 17 people, but that he didn't hit MORE, which makes me think that he did realize that, "Oh merde, those are REAL rounds!"

But the FAMAS fires between 900-1100 rounds/minute.  On full auto, he might be firing 18 rounds/second, a number which matches very nicely with the 17 wounded.

Still, it's mindblowing that something like this could happen.

Posted by: Wonderduck at June 29, 2008 07:34 PM (AW3EJ)

3 I'm suspecting a single long burst from an SMG, meaning he literally sprayed the crowd (and two of his fellow soldiers). A 30-round magazine full of 9mm ball ammo would easily produce that many casualties in a tightly-packed crowd of onlookers who think they're watching a harmless show.

Whatever the weapon, this tactic makes them a team I do not want rescuing me.

Why no deaths? Standard NATO-issue 9mm ball ammo, which makes a small clean hole and passes right through. If it doesn't destroy anything vital along the way, the greatest danger is bleeding out, and obviously the base medics got there quickly. Generally speaking, with prompt medical care a single wound from a handgun bullet is fatal only about 25% of the time, and they mention only one chest wound (the most serious).


Posted by: J Greely at June 29, 2008 07:42 PM (2XtN5)

4 Little to add to the others except to say that he may well have fired only 17 rounds given the likely close packing of the audience..he may well have stopped after less than a second of fire.

I'd not be too quick to say this was deliberate....the USAF recently flew a bunch of unsecured nukes across the country.

Don't attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity....

Posted by: The Brickmuppet at June 29, 2008 08:09 PM (QM9Py)


If you start talking about multiple wounds per bullet, then the situation makes more sense. For one thing, it explains better why the fatality rate is lower, since the second and subsequent wounds would be from bullets slowed by their first impact. It also makes the number of victims more plausible.

Still, I have to say it's a pretty poor showing for that ammunition. As I just wrote to someone, if he'd been firing .30-06 out of a BAR, there would have been a lot more deaths.

More info will come out about this in the next couple of days, though we'll probably have to dig a bit to find it. I doubt this will get much play in the MSM here. (Man, if it had been an American unit that did this, though, it would have bee on the front page of every newspaper in the world for weeks.)

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 29, 2008 09:08 PM (+rSRq)

6 I'm still having a hard time buying "accident" though, like the nukes, you just can't rule it out.

The number of failures required here is mind-blowing.
1. Elite soldier has to accidentally load wrong ammo.
2. Elite unit has to fail to perform obvious safety checks for any training mission.
3. Officers/NCO's have to fail to perform obvious extra checks for a public performance (If they're not performing extra checks, then they're idiots.  Wait, this is the French military....)
4. The one guy who managed to make it through the three failures above just happened to be the one guy who violated safety protocols by pointing his gun at the audience....
5. AND did something that would (assuming he was really firing blanks) still get him busted out of the unit, i.e.: scaring the piss out of the civilians he pointed/fired the gun at.

There are some real characters in every military, and if there aren't, the pressures inherent in such will produce them (see 213 Things Skippy Isn't Allowed To Do), so I am not going to rule it attempted murder from this side of the Atlantic... but I'd be really surprised if we ever get the full story.

Posted by: ubu at June 29, 2008 09:31 PM (n7Re7)

7 ubu-  your logic presumes that it wasn't intended for the guy to spray the audience, which would negate 4 and 5.  Granted, it'd require command ( or whoever else invented this BS ) to be *absolute morons*. . .

Posted by: metaphysician at June 29, 2008 09:37 PM (9Lztf)


As to the "pointing a gun at the audience" part, I find myself wondering about that. Suppose that some of the training mission happened inside some training building. Suppose the guy whose gun had live ammo was firing in the direction of the audience but didn't really think about it because there was a thin wall between them.

In which case he could well have emptied a clip before realizing what was going on. The bullets would pierce the wall, lose a lot of force, travel into the audience, and cause a lot of non-fatal wounds.

That gets us Ubu's #4 and #5 without requiring complete and utter idiocy.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 29, 2008 09:52 PM (+rSRq)

9 Well, to play devil's advocate to my own arguments, I am also making the assumption that the bullets were fired from the only gun that got loaded with real ammunition....

... not that it was the first such gun to be fired.  Now that's scary.

Posted by: ubu at June 29, 2008 10:03 PM (n7Re7)


If in fact the guy was firing through a wall, that would also go a long way towards explaining why there were no fatalities. The 5.56x45mm round is far from the most powerful round there is, but out of 17 people hit in normal conditions the odds favor at least one dead even with that one, and probably more than one. But if they were slowed by passing through plywood, it becomes much more plausible that no one would die.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 29, 2008 10:38 PM (+rSRq)

11 Even if the guy thought there was a "thin" wall between him and the audience, he should know that the bullets would go through it.  Even handgun rounds will penetrate several layers of sheetrock.

Plus, he broke at least two of the four rules.  I prefer the stronger formulation, "all guns are always loaded," to the one you used, Stephen.  And of course he also violated "never point a gun at something you're not willing to destroy/kill."  Shooting at a wall that wasn't, say, cinder block could easily be construed as a violation of a third rule, "be aware of your target _and what's beyond it_."

Posted by: RickC at June 30, 2008 05:31 AM (YHElv)


Wow, that's just an absurdly bad series of screw ups.

My firearms training was good enough that even having been out of competition shooting for nearly 2 decades I still can't pick up a firearm without checking to see if it's loaded. Even if I just saw someone else go through the same check before handing me the gun, I'll still pop the clip and check the chamber, it's simply part of the motion of picking up the gun.

I think what we might have here is a case of overconfidence. The soldier was so use to being the best and the brightest that he forgot the basics.

I still can't believe that anyone thought it would be remotely OK to fire even blanks at a crowd. Depending on the range a blank rife round can still spit enough hot gases at you to cause burns on exposed skin, and the cardboard or plastic plug that keeps the powder in can travel several feet with enough force to injure. (for many years I had a neat 1/4 inch circular scar on my right forearm from a friend dicking around with blanks as a teenager)  Not enough to kill granted, but getting hit in the face by any of that would make you a very unhappy camper.

Posted by: Joshua Robson at June 30, 2008 08:46 AM (kW513)


Based on the AFP report, I question the sanity of the exercise -- or the truth of the report.

Bearing in mind that the press never gets these right (and the French military might not want them to have full/correct information), the soldier was playing part of the OPFOR and was stationed in the crowd, which were the "hostages" in the excercise.   He fired a magazine of blanks at the crowd, then reached into his pocket and pulled out a magazine of live ammo and fired it. 

Note that at the point he fired blanks at the hostages, the scenario was automatically a loss -- the "hostages" were being "executed."  Yes, feces occurs in real rescues. But I have a hard time visualizing a public demonstration in which the bad guys are allowed win; I'd expect the thing to be "scripted" to a fare-the-well so that the hostages are rescued and get to go home with the "warm fuzzies"; to sleep well at night, knowing rough men are prepared to do violence to protect them.

It also defies explanation that the OPFOR would even be allowed to possess live ammo if stationed in the crowd.  Even blanks would be dangerous -- they have a charge of gunpowder, and the concussion/hot gasses can result in injury or even death.  There was some TV star back in the 80's that blew his brains out by pointing a pistol loaded with blanks at his temple and pulling the trigger -- the concussion caved the side of his skull in.

(Further note regarding lack of deaths; units firing blanks often have special muzzle flash suppressors for safety; firing real bullets through one is possible but slows the bullets, degrades the suppressor and fouls the gun.)

It's still quite possible that the facts we have are all correct and true, but "monumental fuckup" is right. Someone of General rank may well be cashiered for this--whether he had anything to do with it or not.

Posted by: ubu at June 30, 2008 09:08 AM (dhRpo)


I admit I'm not familiar with the FAMAS, so maybe it's different, but no US military weapon that I know will fire blanks without a blank firing adapter attached.  These things screw in pretty tight, and I'd be extremely surprised if you could fire a live round through one without destroying the weapon.

I see from Wikipedia that the FAMAS is blowback operated, so I'd think that it needs to have a BFA to cycle blanks.  By design, they're generally not quick to remove or replace.  This just raises more questions.

I have no trouble believing that this was a mistake: complacency kills, and it's easy to get complacent.  But there's definitely something wrong or missing with the report from the AFP.  That doesn't say much, though.  Every news report I've seen for something that I have personal knowledge of has been all kinds of messed up, and I suspect this is no different.

Posted by: CatCube at June 30, 2008 10:06 AM (lQ8F4)

15 FWIW, I cross-posted to Baen's Bar, which has a high proportion of military veterans.  The first responder indicates that the French media says the exercise had been performed several times that day;  that was either the fifth or sixth repetition.   That would seem to make a screw-up more likely.

Posted by: ubu at June 30, 2008 12:20 PM (dhRpo)


On a somewhat related note, the Europeans are also more likely than the US FAA to let air show pilots fly directly towards the crowds.  This has led to some rather bloody accidents when something goes wrong, and the high performace plane careens into the massed public.

I can remember only one time when I saw a performer at a US show flying towards the spectators.  Years ago, the Canadian Snowbirds were performing a formation corkscrew loop at Oshkosh that briefly had the full group pointing towards the crowd - and during their next show the following day the loop was dropped from their routine.

Posted by: Siergen at June 30, 2008 03:56 PM (H+VVO)

17 I think that changed after the Ramstein disaster. I don't think they allow that in Europe any more, either.

Posted by: Steven Den Beste at June 30, 2008 04:14 PM (+rSRq)

18 When I was a young waterfowl, sometime in the late 70s/early 80s, I attended an airshow at Chanute AFB in Rantoul, IL.  I remember very little of it, since it was so long ago, but I distinctly remember the arrival of the Thunderbirds.

High speed, low altitude pass, tight formation, all the usual stuff... but they came in from BEHIND THE AUDIENCE, and passed directly over us, at about a 90-degree angle to the flightline.  With afterburners.

After looking at Wikipedia, I gather that's how they always start their shows, but it was a LOT lower then than it is now.

Just begging for a disaster, I think.

Posted by: Wonderduck at June 30, 2008 06:03 PM (AW3EJ)

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