AUTHOR’S NOTE: I wrote this article about 15 years ago. It seems appropriate to republish given recent events. In July we saw Elisjsha Dicken stop an active shooter in a mall. Prior to that we saw an armed member of a church stop a shooter with well placed shots. Historically speaking, active shooters stopped by legally armed citizens kill far fewer people than those who attack in an unarmed populated area. Whether it creates a conundrum for law enforcement or not, we need to embrace the reality that a legally armed, reasonably trained populace minimizes the damage to be done by the criminally minded. As a final thought, with the recent Supreme Court Decision in the New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, the entire country is now (essentially) a “shall issue” country. We’ll see more legally armed citizens than ever. Rather than discourage that, we need to embrace it, encourage education, encourage training and appreciate the power of a legally armed populace.
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In recent weeks, with active shooter events having occurred at a mall, a church and as children got off a school bus, I’ve seen some postings in various online forums from civilians who hold concealed carry permits asking, “How should we react to this?” The question they are asking, in general, is what they should be doing if they’re on the scene and the shooting starts. I was at first conflicted as to how to answer this question. Then, having developed an answer, I strongly prefaced it with “this is just my opinion“. There are far too many “what ifs” that come into play when considering a response to an active shooter – even for police officers who are off duty. Those “what ifs” multiply ten-fold for a civilian who is legally armed and happens to be on hand when a shooting starts. What to do?
First and foremost, it is absolutely unacceptable to get caught in public in need of a gun without one when you are legally empowered to carry one. SO… if you have a carry permit, CARRY. Of course, by encouraging any CCW permit holders to carry I’m assuming that they are competent. More on that below, but for the purposes of this article, understand I’m assuming that all CCW permit holders USE IT.
My perspective as a police officer:
Since my first and foremost duty as a police officer is to protect innocents, I believe that I also must support a person’s right and responsibility to defend themselves. With that said, if a civilian finds him or herself in the vicinity of an active shooter situation, I believe their priorities should be to:
1) Move to cover. If you can get yourself and your family out of the killzone then you can survive. It’s that simple. The bonus is that if you escape the killzone with any good information, like a description of the shooter or his/her last known location, then you’re an asset to the police.
2) Engage the shooter as necessary to protect innocent life. This is a stickler. With more states passing “Stand Your Ground” laws it’s easier to legally justify taking a position of cover and putting rounds into the bad guy. However, it is the responsibility of the CCW Permit holder / civilian responder to insure that they are in compliance with all state laws. There are also considerations about identification once law enforcement professionals start to respond.
3) Immediately holster or drop your weapon upon the arrival of police / deputies unless you are actively engaged with the bad guy. Unfortunately, for the responding police, there is no quick and easy way to tell who’s the good guy and who’s the bad guy. Two shooters are two shooters. For that very reason, I highly recommend you concentrate on seeking cover FIRST, because then when the cops show up you can drop your gun and start shouting, “I SURRENDER!” at the top of your lungs.
Of course, there are no guarantees on police response or reaction. The sight of a badge will usually slow most cops down before they start shooting, so I encourage all legally empowered CCW Permit holders to seek out such badges. These badges must NEVER say “police” or “sheriff” on them. That’s impersonating the police. That’s illegal. Bad thing. However, in various handgun-oriented magazines I’ve seen advertisements for CCW Permit Holder badges. If you can get one, make sure it’s prominently displayed as quickly as you can if the shooting starts.
My perspective as an American:
Give the growing proliferation of terrorists in the world – even if they are “only” the homegrown stupid type – gone are the days when you can expect the police to always take care of you or your family. In the end, the final responsibility for your safety and the safety of your family falls to YOU. Do what you have to do. Get your family to cover. Use your weapon to defend your position. Engage Active Shooters as necessary to protect your life and the lives of your family members. If YOU choose to extend your circle of protection to other innocents then I commend you. Before doing so you must carefully measure and be sure of what you’re trading off: ammo count; legal defensibility, etc.
Statistically speaking, 1/3 of our citizens could be legally armed. In my perfect world that means an active shooter with ten people around should have three turn and fire him up the minute he gets stupid. Don’t we all wish…
From the Warrior perspective:
NO ONE… and I mean NO ONE threatens me, my family or other innocents while I stand idly by and do nothing. Screw that. I’m not prey. I’m the predator. I don’t GET HUNTED… I GO HUNTING. This is primary before everything else.
My family has all been taught that if something bad goes down in public they are to separate themselves from me as quickly and safely as possible. My wife KNOWS I’m going TO the shots, not away from them. If my wife could legally carry then she and I would BOTH go to the shots while our son got away.
I REFUSE to simply escape. No sh*thead is going to hunt people when I’m around and can do something about it. Further, I have no intention of ever attempting an arrest unless the circumstances are strongly in favor of it. An active shooter who has been shot and is laying, gun in hand, is still a threat.
Active Shooters get neutralized (read SHOT REPEATEDLY). Obviously, if there are five of them and one of me, and they have AK-47s and I have my 1911, tactics are a huge consideration. But, and I’ve said this in my other articles, every shot they shoot at me DIDN’T GET SHOT AT AN INNOCENT OR A CHILD. I took one oath to protect and defend and another to protect and serve. Both have PROTECT in them and I will as long as I’m physically capable. All else is a secondary consideration.
That’s MY outlook as an American and a warrior. YOU have to choose YOUR outlook.
With all of the above in mind, I offer this:
Carry, carry, carry. If you can legally carry then CARRY. I can’t help but remember the story about the guy in Texas whose son died while his gun was safely stored in the glove compartment of his pickup truck. As a friend of mine is fond of saying, “The .25 in your pocket is better than the .45 in your car.” CARRY CARRY CARRY
I also have to admit my own stupidity when, walking the dogs in my own neighborhood on a beautiful afternoon, my dogs were attacked by a pit bull that had escaped the confines of his owner’s house. In less than a minute that pit bull had attacked my smaller dog, and once we got the pit of our dog, he kept circling trying to find a way to get back in to attack either my dogs or my son (who was nine at the time). I had chosen not to put on a gun because we were just going for a fifteen minute walk around the neighborhood. CARRY CARRY CARRY
Practice, practice, practice. Practice shooting. Practice communications. Practice tactics. Practice jams and reloads and wounded shooter drills. There’s a reason why carpenters and electricians and plumbers have apprentice periods. Achieving basic competence with your handgun is not sufficient. You must practice with it until handling it is second nature; deploying it is instinctive; exercising good judgment and tactics with it in your hand is just a part of who you are.
Another question asked in a forum was about the value of martial arts in such situations. Unless you are within three feet of a shooter before he starts shooting, martial arts are completely useless. Your empty hands, or the most skilled feet in the world, do not stop or deflect bullets. I’m no superman, but I’ve been doing law enforcement work in some way, shape or form for about 25 years now. I have no intention of going hands on with someone unless:
1) they are already lying in a spreading puddle of blood with no weapons in their hands, or
2) they are within five to six feet when they start their attack.
In most cases distance is our friend. The farther away we get the more we increase the chance they’ll miss us and we’ll hit them. WE ARE TRAINED – hopefully they are not. By this reasoning, all types of martial arts or other defensive tactics training is marginal at best.
Recognize that instances of active shooters are accelerating. We had a whopping seven school attacks between 1891 and 1970. Since then we’ve gone from one every three years to three each year to fourteen in ’06 and 17 or 18 in 2007. Malls are going to be popular targets as are churches and schools. Anywhere a shooter can get a large group of people to shoot randomly into with a perceived low level of threat to the shooter will become a targeted area. CARRY CARRY CARRY. Carry at least one spare magazine. Carry an effective flashlight. Get trained to use both effectively. If you regularly shop or travel with a friend who carries, cross train with them. Work out tactics. Insure you know who’s a warrior and who’s not. It makes a HUGE difference when you want to aggressively attack dependent on your backup and your “friend” is going the other direction.
As I said at the outset, this is all MY OPINION. I’d dearly love to hear the opinion of others, so share them please.