On humanity, murder, manslaughter, and unintended deaths.

Costa Concordia and the duty of Captains

I spent a good portion of my youth out on the water. I attended a special high school in which we built boats in shop class and went out rowing and sailing. Our core class curriculum including a course on Piloting and getting our Safe Boating Certificate.

I also had the opportunity to crew on board a 90 ft traditional wooden Schooner (and a 60 ft ketch). Safety of the passengers was always the foremost responsibility of the crew.

Reading about the Costa Concordia incident initially filled me with frustration and anger – and still does. For a captain and crew to abandon their passengers is a most heinous crime.

There is no doubt that Captain Schettino was craven in his duties. And sadly, this seems to be the historical case when it concerns cruise liner officers.

I myself have been a member of crew on a passenger vessel that ran aground. While our incident had very minimal risk, we’d merely run afoul on a sandy bottom and we were within a mile of a Coast Guard station. We sent our runabout to drop an anchor on the deep side and push on the shallow, winching ourselves the inch or two we need to set float again.

But I’ll never forget that day, nor how infuriated the 1st mate was at the captain. Who was foremost at fault. In thinking back to this tail, it made me reflect on the whole ordeal.

The captain who ran us aground was a nice man. He was one of our relief captains. He was easy going, very friendly and never yelled. But he was not of the same caliber as our other captains. On one occasion he left the wheel unattended to chat with a passenger. And we’ve already mentioned that he ran us aground.

Thinking back on this, caused me to reflect a little further regarding Captain Schettino. I think God was just trying to remind me of my own humanity and failures, and that he still loves me inspite of myself. And I started to mourn for Captain Schettino.

I am still affirmed in my belief that he was craven and grossly negligent. But I also pity the man. He was probably the type of Captain that just liked to have fun, who enjoyed seeing his passengers have a good time. Right now, he is enduring a nightmare of a captain’s greatest fears.

Captain Schettino is on house arrest, and hopefully also under a suicide watch. He is dealing with having lost his ship, the death of passengers, accusations of marital infidelity, and the knowledge that he was craven. That’s not an easy face to wake up to and look at in the mirror every morning. It’s one of those events where you wake up every morning hoping it was just a dream. That it was all imagined…but it wasn’t, it is real.

There is a difference between negligence and cravenness versus a “goblin” of a predator. And I think I had to remember that. I have little sympathy for the man who goes out preying on others, robbing, raping, murderering his fellow beings with deliberate and conscious thought. That is wholly evil. Where as failure is not wholly evil, if anything, it’s quite human. No, it’s far from the noble and decent aspects of humanity. But it’s not the same as the evilness of a criminal predator.

This is why in our laws we have distinctions for causing the death of another human being.

We firstly, look at pre-meditated murder as being the most heinous. This is an act in which one has carefully thought out with determination the taking of another’s life either with specific deliberation or with causality of action (a armed robber engages in his activities with pre-meditated knowledge that they may kill their victim, hence being armed).

Second, we view those acts of passion. The man who comes home to see his wife with another man and in a passionate rage beats the man to death. These we understand the motivation, but convict on the failure of the individual to allow human rationality to control his base animal insticts.

Next we view gross negligence. This is where one’s actions were foolish and led to the death of others. We term this manslaughter as opposed to murder. This includes drunk driving and the events surrounding Captain Schettino. Essentially, as I view it. The deaths were unintended but also avoidable. That is the defining aspect for me.

Lastly, we have two categories. The accidental death without negligence, such as a skateboarder trying to cut through traffic and being hit and killed by a driver of a car. The determination being made that the driver could not have avoided the situation by any reasonable actions of their own. And the other being a justified act of self defense, in which the individual took the life of another in order to prevent grave harm and/or death to themselves.

So while I am angry with Captain Schettino and his negligence causing the deaths of dozens of passengers. I also feel and mourn for this man who’s life is ruined and who will never be able to look into the mirror. Because this wasn’t an evil man, just a weak one.


The Hotly Debated Magazine Disconnect Safety

What is a magazine disconnect safety?

It is a mechanism which prevents discharge of a firearm when the magazine is removed, disabling the firing mechanism.  And just like every other safety (be it lever, grip, etc), it should be considered and aid and back-up rather than relied upon for one’s well being.

This mechanism is hotly debated.  Two arguments are usually made against such systems.

1. It prevents hot reloads where you are firing while reloading your magazine.

2. Additional complexity provides more opportunity for things to fail.

Let me address the first item.  In most cases, for most people, this one bears little real world affect. I know very few people who are capable of dropping a magazine, firing ACCURATELY, as they grab and insert a new magazine into their firearm. First off, accuracy is reduced when multi-tasking on so many levels. Your focus is to divided preventing you from  focusing on your target. Furthermore, there is an increased possibility of causing malfunction. By inserting at just the wrong time or limp wristing.

Granted a few people out there might have the skill to do such advanced speed reloads, these people are likely in the employ of the government and in constant training and activity on a level most of us cannot fathom. For the rest of us, it is relegated to the realm of  mall ninja. Most of us won’t even be aware of when we are on our last round.  A better alternative for most of us is to practice reloading smoothly. To ensure that we are trained instinctively to reload as soon as that slide remains open. And to practice inserting our magazine, releasing the slide and re-acquiring target.  As well as considering the tactical reload during a pause in action. If you’ve fired off several rounds, and have sought cover. It might be a good time to pop in a fresh magazine and increase your firepower.


Now, let’s address the 2nd item. Increased complexity can lead to increased failure. Where as I view the first item of contention to have little merit. I view the second one to actually have merit. The more points of potential failure, the greater the risk of failure in a like system.  Remember, the law of the universe goes like this: God, Murphy, and Physics.

You can play with the latter but don’t mess with the first two.  😉

That said, does increased complexity equate to increased failure. And furthermore, does it equate to increased risk?

Yes and no. In a perfect comparison of two near identical items of similar craftsmanship. The one with more complexity will fail before the one with less complexity.  However, in evaluating a product there are a lot more factors to consider.

First off the quality of manufacture makes a significant difference. Compare a Buick with a Yugo. Which one has a higher lifespan?  Clearly the Buick has better craftsmanship and reliability.

Let’s stick to our vehicle analogy for a second example. Which vehicles last longer?  The much more simple vehicles of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s or modern cars?  While modern vehicles have become increasingly complex (as Toyota’s recent problems exemplify), there has been a general improvement in reliability and lifespan.

This brings me to two conclusions:

1. Advances in manufacturing quality can allow modern firearms with additional complexities due to safety features to perform as well and even more reliably than older designs manufactured years ago.

2. While that same advance in manufacturing might mean a simply gun would be more reliable. The additional complexities can be added so that their risk of failure within the lifespan of the firearm are very slim.

This leaves us with a final decision to decide – does that minute increase in risk of failure exceed the benefit of safety?

Let me give a few examples of the safety benefit.  It’s been touted that the magazine safety disconnect allows an individual, who is struggling to maintain control of their firearm, to render their firearm inoperative by ejecting the magazine.

It also helps reduce the risk of improper handling.  The February 23, 2010 Tactical Wire reports on a tragic loss of life of a New Jersey police officer who shot himself while trying to install a grip sleeve. He had ejected the magazine but failed to remove the round in the chamber. No one is going to deny the improper handling of the firearm that led to this tragedy. But regardless of the failure of discipline, but for a lack of a magazine safety disconnect, that officer might be alive today.

For those who believe that you are immune to such mistakes, or that you are disciplined enough not to take such a foolish action. Fine. But can you guarantee everyone around you? How about at the range. Have you never had that ‘foolish’ person sweep you with the muzzle of their gun?  Many people own guns but do not fully understand how to use them. They remove the magazine and think they have unloaded the firearm.  Do you want one of these individuals to unwittingly sweep you as they click the trigger on a firearm they think is unloaded? Do you think you can run across the range, tell them to keep the muzzle pointed downrange, before their bullet reaches you?  Or would you rather there was just one more safety to prevent foolish and uneducated individuals from making mistakes that cost lives and give firearms a bad reputation?

Consider it…

I am of the opinion, in light of the benefits both for the preservation of life and the reputation and cause of firearm owners in general – that the benefits of magazine disconnect safeties outweigh the disadvantages.

Published in: on February 25, 2010 at 4:18 pm  Comments (8)  
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