View Full Version : Active Shooters and You

1st December 2008, 06:12
Here are some pics from Mumbai, including a few of what looks like two of the shooters. Word is the guy in the clearly focussed pic is the Pakistani man Indian authorities have in custody.


This is a much discussed topic on LE and self protection forums, ranging from sound advice to the literally goofy, for armed officers and armed citizens, or the unarmed.

One of the nice points of my current position is that I spend a lot of time researching active shooter response and lessons learned. I think it will be an ongoing phenomenon, both with a lone (or a few) emotionally disturbed shooters, with lone wolf terrorist "affinity" actors, and with coordinated assaults as we saw in Mumbai. Experts have been predicting a "Beslan" style incident here Stateside, just with much smaller numbers. I believe that such an incident(s)will very much take the form of what Mumbai experienced.

Due to the international nature of E Budo membership, and with that membership perhaps having (or should be having!) more a mind toward analyzing these sorts of things, I propose to offer some discussion on the subject addressing the perspective of the "martial" citizen responding to such an event erupting in their midst wherever they may be, and whomever the suspect(s) may be.

I am drawing on a post I made at another forum here, but the information is I think important. Simply put, the cops won't be there fast enough to save the people there when it steps off...

First Things First:

DO NOT "self-respond" to the location of an active shooter from an area away from that location (in other words, you see something on CNN and jump in the car with your gun and bug out bag in order to "go hunting," or "help out"). If you do so you are part of the PROBLEM, not the solution. (BTW, a mentally disturbed individual did so at Columbine, which could have gone very badly for him.)

(If you are a medical professional responding to the TRIAGE area, by all means DO SO!)

If you are being taught to do so by any teacher, that person is mentally unbalanced. RUN rather than walk away from such an instructor.

Now that said, quick action by private citizens and LEOs (rather than waiting for the "team" to form up to go hunting) has been proven to save lives and even resolve such matters, but any armed citizen response to active shooter should begin from certain premises.

Should you happen to be on scene when such a situation occurs, certain things should come to mind:

Carry Gear:

In the vast majority of circumstances you will need to address an active shooter with what you are carrying/wearing. Running out to your rig to get your plate carrier, extra mags, blow out kit and long gun is "armed role playing." It may be news to some folks here at E-Budo but there are a number of people running around in the self defense community that ascribe to such beliefs. Most E-Budoka are probably carrying a tactical folder. Some may be carrying a pistol of some kind. Assess the situation, understand your tool, its limitations, and your limitations with it before you run to the gunfire.

Protect Your Own:

YOUR FIRST RESPONSIBILITY IS TO THE SAFETY OF YOUR OWN FAMILY. Cops are not bound to protect you individually and logistically, they can't. They will show up and try to stop suspects from shooting more people, but they can't be your personal bodygaurd.

The initial responders will NOT stop to administer aid to victims while the bad guy is still out there.

The trained martial artist should at minimum have the wherewithal to get you and yours the hell out of there. If you are not directly in the location of the shooter, you should cover your family's evacuation. Move AWAY from the sound of gunfire. Arm yourself if you carry, as unobtrusively as possible because a man running through a Mall with a gun and a family just became a hostage taker in the eyes of the untutored public - and that armed security gaurd who decides to save the day and in shooting at you misses and hits your kid in the head, or the cops who come in on your flank unnoticed by you in the bedlam. Get the family out.

Cover Other's Retreat:

Using your training to hopefully keep your head, post at an exit and provide security for others to escape. Indicate your location so that people know where to go. Lots of people will freeze and go to the ground and stay there waiting for "something" to happen, for someone else to give them permission to flee, or for someone to come and save them. Literally.

Remember, if you are armed, they may be freaked out by your gun, reassure them and tell them you are there to protect them. Call 911 on your cell phone and keep them on line, give them a description of yourself, that you are armed, and that you are evacuating people from your location. That may in fact become the staging point for the LE response, and it will cut down on the liklihood of friendly fire directed at you.

If you know police are still not on scene and everyone you can help has been helped without engaging, and you can guarantee your family will STAY safe, by all means then go hunting. Armed citizens and off duty cops have stopped or delayed active shooters long enough to get greater firepower on the scene.

If you choose to do so, understand that you take responsibility for your own life in your own hands. You may get dead, real quick. The time to realize you didn't sign up for that *stuff* isn't when the bullets are flying around you, or coming to rest inside of you.

Individual Tactics:

Get rid of any notion that you will form up with other armed citizens, with the $12 an hour security gaurds, or with the responding LEOs, and work in a team to go find the shooter. Even if you are actually better able to do so in your other job (some of our guys here who have actually done battle with terrorists would fit in that category), you won't have your gear, you won't have worked with these particular folks (cops or not) and you may not be aware of the tremendous variables in skill levels and commitment to handle such a thing amongst the local cops. You will have some spec ops qualified people and some veteran officers who should have had their guns taken away from them a long time ago.

Certainly work on movement and communication, but even with LEOs, most of the situations resolved quickly are by the actions of one or a few individuals. Aggressively taking the fight to the shooter, putting rounds on his location to at least keep his head down will do a big favor until more guns get there that can take him out.

Remember to change your position and location regularly so long as you can make use of cover.

Other Considerations:

Assess for a bit if you can. Time is critical in these situations, but think while you act.

If you are hearing rifle fire you may want to reassess your ability to engage the bad guy(s) if you are unarmed or only carrying a revolver or a single stack pistol.

This is a serious question to ask yourself: are those other people really worth dying for?

Sometimes they are; when its a professional or moral obligation, or when its your family or other innocents (children) who cannot protect themselves, others are worth dying for.

Otherwise, I'd go back to Sun Zi and tell you not to choose a fight you can't win.

Consider not engaging but gathering intel for responders, since you have at least some ability to defend yourself. Responders need to know exactly who you are, what you are wearing, what you look like, and whether you are armed as you do this. Do not be surprised if a Dispatcher you are talking to on your mobile phone relays a message from officers that you are to get the hell out. It is wise advice.

Remember secondary shooters. They are not always obvious, one may have deployed from a different location, or be laying in wait to ambush any identified resistance.

Remember IEDs. They are frequently used during active shooter incidents. If we want to get really complex, how about an active shooter/suicide bomber?? Think outside the box when visualizing what you may face and how you would deal with it.


Once officers have responded and contacted you, (and hopefully not overreacted and shot you), OBEY ALL COMMANDS they give you. It will most likely first be to drop the gun.

Do so before you do anything else. Don't wave the gun around pointing at where the bad guy is, drop the gun immediately and tell them where the shooter is. Don't get frustrated that they are concentrating on you and missing the bad guy - every cop in the county is either pulling up on scene or busting ass to get there, so there will be more cops flooding that place while the guys hooking you are up are doing their job.

One thing that is increasingly being seen is shooters barricading and/or taking hostages (Mumbai was no different, but less obviously trained attackers have done so as well). Cho actually did a practice run of the chaining of the doors, and placed a hoax bomb threat, probably to observe he response, prior to the actual commission of his shootings at Virginia Tech.

Immediate action on the part of an armed or prepared citizen who is present could be the thing that disrupts such a plan, even to the point that it actually derails the situation and ends it or buys LE precious time in handling it.

Done with an appropriate assessment of the situation vs. "gunstore commando" fantasy - citizen action can be key in ending such an event. "Conventional" active shooter events that are ended quickly with minimal or lessened loss of life are usually ended by:

a) Individual action on the part of citizens (armed, either security or simply CCW holders who are present at the time - or in the case of Kip Kinkel at Thurston High a wrestler that tackled him followed by others piling on, ending the shooting. The wrestler took a round doing it, but is fine today. Now THAT kid, Jake Ryker, is a hero!),


b) Individual action by tactically confident officers (often SWAT experienced, but not always) who aggressively attack the threat.

I do not by any means mean to characterize Mumbai in the same vein as Thurston High, or Columbine, or Virginia Tech. Disaffected youths, no matter how much they practice and while certainly deadly are not a coordinated team attack by trained terrorists or "para-military criminals." Assessment will be critical before acting.

The best bet will be to flee if you can at all do so. But some folks can't and won't flee while defenseless people are being murdered, even if it means their own lives. A 76 year old Professor and Holocaust survivor, Liviu Librescu, sacrificed his life at Virginia Tech buying time for others to escape. This is the ultimate in warrior spirit, and budo training may give some people the foundation from which to act during such an event.

If you choose to act, at least do so smartly!

1st December 2008, 16:49
Nice presentation Kit, thanks.

2nd December 2008, 19:43
Very nice read. Informative and correct.

What is your current position? I am a school liaison officer, so I tend to read up on all the school shootings and try to learn from them.

2nd December 2008, 21:51

I am in our Special Operations division, which is a sexy sounding title for what is largely an administrative position having paperwork, research, documentation and training responsibilities for everything from SWAT to Mounted Patrol.

2nd December 2008, 22:37
My simple advice.

If you can legally carry a weapon...carry...carry everywhere you can.

Paul Mathews
5th December 2008, 22:16
Excellent post, Kit! Thanks for sharing it with us.

5th December 2008, 23:00
I wanted to add another point to the "Assessment" section. This point is very important for both the citizen responding and the first responder.

If possible, determine whether the situation is what I have heard one FBI researdher call the "mission oriented shooter," in other words the terroristic active shooter that is most often associated with these kinds of things, a la Klebold and Harris at Columbine, Sulejman Talović at Trolley Square Mall (Utah) or Robert Hawkins in Omaha, Nebraska - or of course the Mumbai shooters;

Or whether it is a gang related or domestic violence related shooting.

There is a fundamental difference between these. The gang- and DV- shootings are "target oriented" or target specific shootings, and though there are certainly problems with potentially being in the line of fire, the goal of the shooter is not to kill as many people as possible, but rather his specific target and either commit suicide or flee. (This is not to say that a target oriented shooting might not turn into a mission oriented shooting - historically several active shooters starting back with Charles Whitman, but on down to the present day have killed a parent/parents prior to going on their shooting sprees.)

However, certainly as a civilian who feels the need to act, there is no logical basis to insert oneself into a gang shooting that happens in a public place, and little that can be done in a DV shooting after shots are already fired. Attempting to intercede/apprehend the shooter could actually make oneself a target when you would not have been to begin with.

In that instance, intelligence gathering and relaying this to first responders, whose job it is to apprehend the shooter, and doing so as surreptitiously as possible, might be a better way to go - especially if you have your family to be concerned about.

The Puget Sound area in Washington State (as I am sure others as well) has had several gang related shootings occurring at malls/schools. Several churches in recent years have had both active shooters trying to kill whomever they could and shooters targeting family members or specific individuals.

The LE response will assume the worst and deal with them simply as active shooters, but the dynamics will be quite different in a "shoot my enemy and get away" versus the "kill 'em all, let God sort 'em out" mentality.

8th December 2008, 22:18
Oregon soldier honored for bravery in Tacoma mall shooting

09:16 PM PST on Sunday, December 7, 2008

By Associated Press

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. -- An Oregon National Guard soldier has been honored for his bravery amid gunfire far from the Middle East.

Sgt. Johnny Palmer had been back from Iraq for only five days when he heard shots fired in a Tacoma, Wash., mall in November 2005.

While most people fled, Palmer and two other members of his unit went farther inside, helping guide shoppers to safety and dressing the wound of a shooting victim.

On Saturday, the Dorris, Calif., resident received the Soldier's Medal during a ceremony in Klamath Falls. The award is given to soldiers who perform heroic acts not involving enemy combat.

Palmer says he and fellow soldiers were only doing what they were trained to do.

8th December 2008, 23:19
Excellent post. As a former LEO now teaching high school my students often ask me about 'hero-scenarios' during our lock down drills. They always seem disappointed when I tell them that if the situation were for real I'd follow our lock-down protocol to the letter. I chalk it up to too much "Die Hard" and not enough punch-in-the-mouth for most of them.

That said, I do carry a tactical folder. In my vehicle I have OC and I am CCW licensed.

At the end of the day I'm going home to my kids.

11th December 2008, 19:38
[M]y students often ask me about 'hero-scenarios' during our lock down drills.

I'm assuming that these are drills based around the presence of an armed threat. Are they common in US high schools or is this something specific to your school? I'm asking in pure curiosity because it is as foreign to our (UK)school system as earthquake drills, despite a sad history of incidents of violence.

11th December 2008, 23:33
Yes, these are drills practiced in the event there is an active shooter in the building. Not that we have ever had to implement our emergency plan, but they are practiced once or twice a year much like fire drills. I work in a school of more than 1400 students, the largest high school in the state of Maine and we are really quite safe. Actually, we even have very few fistfights. But the size of the school and the times we live in dictate some form of preparedness.

12th December 2008, 09:14
An excellent and, for me, eye-opening thread. Kit's information struck me as precise and real. I'm really impressed with the distinction between armed bystander intervention and "armed role playing". Being able to give people such clear and striaghtforward info is a great thing and possibly could save lives.

I keep finding it hard to word my appreciation, since the scenarios are so far outside my experience and also it's supremely sad that such knowledge is at all necessary outside LE and the military. Nevertheless a great thread. Thanks.


PS - We've started doing lockdown drills at my high school as it happens, even though in Aus we are closer to the UK than the US in terms of gun ownership and gun laws.

13th December 2008, 04:50
Thanks, Ben.

Sadly, Australia has also had one of the more horrific active shooter events across the world: