Active Shooter Responses
– Gabe Suarez
Author’s notes: This is an article from 2005! I thought it would be appropriate since we seem to have to be retaught the same lessons over and over.
By now everyone has read or heard about the shooting in the Tacoma (Washington) Mall. If you have not, and to keep the briefing brief: The location and motivation may be different, but the song is the same one that has been played in too many places – A psycho decided to go into the mall and kill people with his rifle. This time, a CCW carrier tried to intervene, but for a number of reasons, was not successful. So since this will probably happen again, I want to discuss the dynamics and options of such a dangerous yet likely event.
I have a theory that when a critical incident happens, the police will only coincidentally be there. Professionals don’t like to be thought of as "irrelevant" at the moment of truth, so I am often taken to task for this. The truth however, is that unless the police are targeting a bad guy, in the sense of a surveillance hit squad operation of some sort, they will only be able to respond after someone advises them the killer is in action. The likelihood of an officer "just so happening" to be at the scene is not very likely.
What is likely is that there will plenty of potential victims on scene. And perhaps at least one of the potential victims is likely to be armed. Some "professionals" advise that if you are caught in such an event, you should "duck and cover", go fetal, and hope that the police can rescue you in time.
Stupid idea if you ask me! Why stupid? Please study the success rates of those who have followed that line of action.
In virtually all active shooter events from San Ysidro to Columbine, the killing takes place in minutes after the event begins, after which the bad guy will either kill himself, or take hostages. If you are one of the planned targets, you can pray for the cops to save you all you want, but they probably don’t even know about the event as you succumb to the bad guy’s gunfire.
So what are we to do? This has developed into quite a national debate with varying points of view as widely different as go fetal and wait, to run and save yourself, to attack the gunman with everything you have. The bottom line is of course that you should have a plan. So I will point out some things that perhaps will help you do just that.
First consideration is where you are in the fight. If you are the focus of the attacker…meaning he is specifically shooting at you or at a family member, all restrictions are off. Forget the legal situation, forget background, forget everything. If you do not react immediately, you will be shot.
Some have voiced concerns over legal repercussions if you take action. Well, all I can say is that in a fight for your life, thoughts of legal entanglements should be at the bottom of the list. Remember, if you are dead, legal stuff is moot.
I know a man who got stabbed several times and was lucky to live through an attack because he was so brow-beaten about getting sued and possibly prosecuted that he held fire on a man who was trying to stab him to death! His HK P7 remained in hand but unfired. Anyone who would rather be shot than get in trouble needs a check-up from the neck up.
If you are not the focus of the bad guy and you can egress, it may be a consideration. Specially if you do not know what is going on. I’ve been told by survivors of events like this that all they had was the sound of shots "around the corner". If that is all you have and there is an exit there, Take It! Grab your family members…physically by the hair if you must, and drag them out. Don’t stay…leave. You don’t know what is going on. Don’t stay to fond out. If there is doubt – get out! Specially if you are unarmed as you may be in certain liberal states.
Those are the easy situations aren’t they. Being attacked specifically has an easy response – immediate and overwhelming counter attack! Hearing a fight you are not involved in and being able to get out is also easy, you get out. But what of those other situations?
Situations such as seeing "the gunman was walking backwards firing at everyone". Situations such as perhaps hearing the sound of gun shots, but not having your family right there with you, but dispersed around the mall, shopping. The circumstances may be varied, but the end result is that you cannot morally just run away and leave those whom you are responsible for, or you choose not to leave for various personal reasons. What do you do then?
The answer may lie in how prepared you are. Most of us do not venture out of the house unarmed. Even in non-permissive environments (NPE) we are generally carrying something. So what now?
In the Tacoma incident, we read that there was a CCW armed citizen that "responded to the active shooter". There is still a great deal of fog surrounding what actually happened, but bits and pieces are coming to us from some who were there, from some of the officers who responded, and even from the CCW shooter himself (who was seriously wounded but survived).
Napoleon once said that a wise man learns from the mistakes of others. We can learn a great deal from what went wrong here can’t we?
Here are some points for you to consider.
1). A pistol will win against a rifle IF the pistolero kills the rifleman before the rifleman sees him. Much of this has to do with tactics, but that should be part of your skill set.
2). If the pistolero fails to drop the rifleman due to an inoperative pistol, a miss, or insufficient damage caused by too few pistol rounds, the rifleman will probably kill the pistolero.
3). The surest way to stop a man in his tracks (with some permanence) is with a shot to the head delivered at close range. Some folks dislike teaching head shots. I require them.
4). Verbalizing or challenging, as in "Halt – Drop The Gun" is not a good idea. In fact, its virtual suicide in a situation like this. You cannot yell and shoot well at the same time, and yelling may alert the bad guy to your location. There is evidence that this occurred in Tacoma.
5). You verbalize and challenge ONLY when you are not certain of what is going on and then ONLY from behind solid cover (if the adversary is armed with a rifle, few things qualify as cover). If you have enough to justify shooting, then shut your trap and work the trigger.
6). There is a great deal of discussions on Defensive Shooting. Shooting in a case of this magnitude is only defensive in concept. It is pro-active and aggressive deliberate and premeditated shooting.
7). Although I like and teach point shooting (in its context), pro-active shooting like this requires traditional marksmanship. Be deliberate! Watch your front sight and press carefully and repeatedly (with your mouth shut).
8). Train with photographic targets and do force on force training. Get used to the idea that you carry your gun to potentially shoot at a human attacker. The more you get comfortable with this the easier it will be. Tommy Lee Jones’ character in the movie, The Hunted, told his students that when you can kill in your mind, the physical part is easy. He’s right.
9). Consider that under some circumstances you may have to make do with a knife. I’m not saying that you will attack a rifle man with your Spyderco at 50 yards, but that in the event that he is within arm’s reach (which was the case with several of the Tacoma hostages) your knife may be the only thing between you and being killed. So learn how to kill with your knife.
10). Last, consider that there may be a reason why God (or fate if you wish) put you, armed and trained, at that very spot and place in time, with the ability to save innocents. This is the life-giving sword (or gun in this context) that some ancient warriors discussed in their writings.
What you do is your choice of course. Perhaps its just me, but I would not be able to live with the fact that I, well-armed and well-trained, and with my family in no danger, ran away from a snot nosed punk whom I could have easily dropped in his tracks, and who subsequently was free to kill innocent people due to my inaction.
Invariably, what I’ve written here will be controversial. Oh, well. I believe strongly in it. Sadly the time will come again when some psycho decides to pull an active shooter routine, or perhaps it will be an American Jihadist that didn’t go to school on bomb making day. Everything will play out as before. Innocents will die. Special Weapon Teams will deploy. And the News Vultures will come out to drool over the corpses as the politicians call for more intrusions on our rights. Unless, one of you is there, of course. Then the future is yours to write.