Self-Defense Tip: How to Deal with an Active Shooter

Running through the mocked up halls and rooms of SIG SAUER’s Active Shooter Response Instructor class, gun in hand, seeking to stop multiple threats as soon as possible, I started thinking about what an armed citizen should/could do if caught in the mayhem of an active shooter incident . . .

First off, it depends. There are lot and lots of what ifs. What is the location? What is the access? Is there a family member trapped? What equipment does the shooter have?  What equipment and how much ammunition does the good guy have? How skilled is the good guy? Cover and concealment available? Is the bad guy dressed in bullet resistant vest or other clothing? Are other responders on the scene? How close can a good guy get to the shooter? The questions go on and on.

For this discussion, let’s make the crime scene a “gun free” school or, as I call them, criminal empowerment zone. Let’s also make the assumption that you are near a school at the start of an incident and that you’re legally armed. You’re there to pick up your child when shots ring out. Should you go in to rescue your child?

Whether you should or should not is probably a moot point; most parents would be inside before the question could be answered. But before you rush into hell, you need to consider a few important factors . . .

– Where is the threat? Echoes inside a school can make it impossible to identify the exact location of a shooter. Or shooters.

– How will you get inside? Most schools lock their doors nowadays and if under attack, may not let in strangers. Breaking a window or glass door may be your only option.

– Will you get lost? Many shooting incidents include detonation devices to increase the carnage and terror. The resulting explosion will fill the halls with smoke and set off sprinkler systems.

– Will you be able to get to your child? Hoards of students may form human tidal waves running to escape, making progress towards your child—or the threat—near impossible.

When I asked my [police] classmates what an armed citizen should do at the scene of an active shooter, they were unanimous: be an armed observer. As far as the cops are concerned, your gun is far less important than your ability to provide strategic intelligence. And they’re worried about shooting you. As you should be, too . . .

If you draw your weapon at the scene of an active shooter you’ll most likely be mistaken for the killer and attacked; by bystanders, teachers, and even kids. You might also be shot by other armed citizens or by a School Resource Officer (SRO). And don’t forget those responding officers scouring the halls and rooms looking for someone, anyone, with a gun in their hand.

Don’t let that be you.

In a lethal attack, your first instinct may be to draw your weapon and hold it in a low ready. Bad idea. Don’t draw your gun until the very moment you need to shoot.  If you encounter a perceived threat do not shoot first and ask questions later. Scan. Assess. Decide. Make a conscious choice whether or not to engage. Remember: you, too, could shoot an innocent armed civilian or an undercover policeman.

Again, if you do decide to stop a threat, don’t draw your weapon until the last possible second that you make contact with the shooter. Then reholster immediately.

I can’t emphasize this enough. In an active shooter incident, lots of armed folks will be descending on the scene. The police’s rules of engagement mandates that stopping the threat is Job One. The cops will burst in the room and instantly dispatch any threat with no time for you to explain your innocence.

It may be safer to simply drop your weapon. Or it may not. There were two shooters at Columbine.

[Beware. Holster manufacturers sell holsters that flatten after you draw your gun. Don't buy one. And practice reholstering with your concealment clothing.]

It does not take a mass shooting to put you, the armed citizen, in jeopardy. Responding with a gun to any violence, anywhere, can place your life in danger. You shoot the store robber dead, a cop bursts in sees a body and you with a gun in your hand. It’s no different than a school shooting. Now imagine a highly trained team of cops armed with ARs working desperately to save children.

Truth be told, better them than you. But if it is you, don’t forget to save yourself.