In Part One, I described some of the strategies a person with/without a concealed carry firearm might use in a life or death situation such as the Midnight Movie Massacre in Aurora, Colorado. I intentionally left gear out of the equation; it’s secondary to mindset. But what you carry and how you carry it is still mission critical. Let’s take a look at gear and three other issues raised by this horrific crime . . .

1. What do you carry?

Is your carry gear, even for a calm night out at the movies, adequate to handle such a situation? Somewhere between a lofty pebble and a M249 SAW, we have to find something that will get “the job” done as well as be reasonable to carry, all the while not knowing what “the job” might be . . .

This is not intended to be a discussion about caliber or weapon design, but certainly those things factor in. My point is that if you generally carry a Glock 17, or even a 1911 with spare magazine, yet sometimes you choose to go light and throw a J-Frame or .380 in your pocket instead, because it is “low-threat”…. light bulbs should be going off right about now.

What role would capacity and/or reloads play into this? We often say we do not carry a reload so much for more ammo, but as a secondary ammo source in case the first one fails. However, more ammo is seldom a bad thing. Assuming the murderer was ballisticaly protected, would a magazine filled with more or less potential “problem-solvers” be ideal?

If you have ever taken a hit from a round while wearing a vest, you know it is not a magical shield that wards off the powers of physics. The kinetic energy from the traveling mass still dumps into you, and in some regards, depending on the round, dumps substantially more energy into your body than if you were shot straight through. The vest simply protects from penetration- hopefully.

I dare say that this is one of those EXTREMEMLY rare situations where “suppressive fire” (NOT INACCURATE INDESCRIMINATE FIRE) might have been appropriate. By suppressive fire, I mean fire that is intended to suppress or dissuade enemy fire, while not necessarily having a ballistic affect on the target, though ballistic affect is always the goal.

This is not a ticket to “spray and pray,” but simply a notion that putting accurate rounds on the murderer may have made him think twice, or through pain compliance, stop or slow down (suppress) his murdering. Evidence now is suggesting he was not ballistically protected at all, so even just a few shots might have taken him out of the fight completely.

Life is a dangerous lottery of chance and preparedness. Where I can supplement my poor luck with skill, I do so, but when luck shines upon me, I always smile back and seize the righteous opportunity to prevail.

Personally, I look at bullets as potential problem solvers. Since I never know how many problems I might encounter, or how many tries it might take for me to solve the problem, I like to give myself as many chances to win the tactical lotto as possible.

Do you carry a flashlight? Would it have been useful in a room clouded with CS gas and gunfire smoke? (given we do not know the size of the room or the output of the CS…) Would you have needed it with the target presumably backlit by the movie screen? What about a laser? Good or bad idea in a smoky room? What if it were on your 5-shot J-Frame?

Have you ever been exposed to CS gas? Other than military guys, and protesting hippies, most have never encountered CS, CN, or OC products. These can seriously ruin your Christmas no matter how big and bad you are. They can be fought through, and more importantly thought through, but most do not have that experience., especially in a crowded and chaotic closed room like a movie theater.

This is something else to consider within the realm of possibility as these events bring it closer to the realm of probability.

2. Are you an asset or liability? 

This is the one where people get their feelings hurt easily. However, keep in mind that this is one of those questions like in high school, where you simply answer it in your mind to yourself. The benefit to that is no one else knows, and if you find yourself feeling you fall on the wrong side of cool with this one, there is still time to fix it.

Concealed carry permits give us ACCESS to tools. They do not give us the ABILITY to use said tools. The 2nd Amendment protects our RIGHT to tools; it does not give us the ABILITY to use said tools. The same is true for laws protecting open carry.

Much of the American male ego is centered around defense and use of firearms, as if by virtue of being male and an American, we have an inalienable knowledge on how to use a mechanical device. Intellectually we all know that is not true, but once our egos get involved, intellect generally takes a nap.

Furthermore, the environments we find ourselves fighting in today require a higher level of skill than most can pick up from shooting soda cans with Paw on the levee or watching copious amounts of YouTube videos.

Training is important. Continued training and skills maintenance is even more important. Not only do we need the mechanical training to know HOW to shoot accurately, but also we need the legal training to know when we CAN fire accurately and the mindset training to know when we SHOULD fire accurately. Mental and emotional training is the most important.

I travel all across the country teaching and training shooters of all skill levels and experience levels, and there is but one constant: the overwhelming majority of people have an artificially and unjustified high opinion of their shooting ability…and that is when faced simply with a piece of paper under the best of environmental conditions.

We all have failure points, myself included. To think otherwise is foolish and robbing yourself the opportunity to constantly grow. Our goal in training: push that failure point to somewhere beyond the point we anticipate having to perform so that the average performance level is almost guaranteed since we have moved past it so many times in training.

Shotgun blasts, the smell of fast burning propellant, eyes burning from CS gas, the yells of children and gurgles of blood filled lungs crying out for help, eardrums pounding from the over pressure of 100 beating hearts, all while your mind is spinning while repeatedly screaming in your head: WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT THE FUCK? Suddenly you realize what can’t be happening is actually happening. Right now. To you.

Now take a head shot from an elevated position at the top of the movie seats at a distance of approximately 28 yards, at a moving target that is firing at human beings and killing them as the lighting constantly changes since the movie is still playing, and the screen is flickering in the background. Wipe the tears from your eyes and snot from your nose due to the CS and line up your sights through the smoky CS and gunpowder haze.

WAIT!

Not yet, that little 12 year old girl just ran in front of your muzzle as you took up slack on the trigger because the last shot from the murderers 12 gauge peppered her calves, and all she can see is the red exit sign above the door. Almost took her head off. SNAP OUT OF IT! She just got shot in the back while you tried to figure this out. Take the shot. The barrel is swinging your way…..

Did your NRA basic pistol course cover all that? How about your state concealed carry class?

Of course not, and neither will any other law enforcement, military, or private course. However, by training under various conditions and environments, we can attempt to put our mind in other stressful situations so that when it is in that particular one, while not inoculated to that particular set of stressors, it is at least inoculated to general stress.

Our goal is not to replicate specific scenarios, but to simulate general ones so your mind has a roadmap. It does not have the specific street address, because it has never been to that specific house, but it knows the area, the street, and which side of the road it is on…hopefully.

To further analogize the stress, I may not be able to drive your car as well as mine, but because I have driven many cars, I understand cars in general, and it is not like jumping into a boat. I have done something similar before.

The 2nd Amendment does not give you that skill or experience. It just gives you access to the physical tools to assist in solving problems. I have a guitar in my closet, but….I cannot play a note. I am a guy with a guitar. With proper training, I have the chance to become a musician.

3. What if you accidently shoot someone?

In an attempt to stop the killing, in an active gun battle, with people moving all about and rounds coming your way, one of your rounds goes left and strikes a good guy. Is that acceptable?

I say yes, that it is. Clearly we try and avoid it at all costs, but like in chapter one, collateral damages to some degree is anticipated in this kind of circumstance. We cannot throw up our hands in defeat to DEFINITE DEATH due to the POTENTIAL for POSSIBLE injury. The risk of possibly hitting an innocent is FAR outweighed by the definite risks of getting taken out by an active shooter or to allow his continual killing.

Would you not drive your child to the doctor on the off-chance you MIGHT get in an accident?

My primary question though, is are you prepared to live with that? Are you OK with knowing you killed an innocent to save other innocents? Have you come to a place within yourself where you will be able to win the internal emotional battle? Despite the public scorn and calls that “the vigilante gun-nut murderer be held accountable”, can your family survive that public exposure and stress?

Remember, in every gun battle, there are three fights you are trying to win with each shot you fire: The gunfight, the personal inner fight, and the legal fight. Keep in mind the adage “No good deed goes unpunished.”

4. What if you are unarmed? 

Think about the dynamics of what we think we know about this incident. Was there perhaps an opportunity for one or more people to see the scene for what it was and rush the murderer? I am thinking like Flight 93 on Sept 11, 2001. When faced with what can only be perceived as certain death, what is there to lose by making a run at the murderer—jump on the grenade as effectively as possible?

What if two to three men had rushed James Holmes? Did he likely possess the skills to engage multiple targets and drive his firearm effectively with a gas mask on in a dark theater with a hundred screaming and running people? Would he have even seen them with the restrictions of vision he was also under because of the CS gas and gas mask, not to mention the physical stressors of breathing through a mask in a high stress situation?

Clearly try and find an opening, but depending on distance, obstacles, etc, an opening might exist. This is one of those times when there is a box, and your best place might be thinking outside of it.

Granted, if you have children or family with you, those factors must be taken into account. I will be the first to admit that the defensive actions I would take when I am alone will certainly be different than those I would take when I have others I am responsible for—in any situation. I am suggesting it was possibly an option, or in future incidents, be considered as one.

I want to leave you with this thought. There is no way we can prepare for all, or even most, of the possible situations we may find ourselves in. We use data from past experiences as a way to forecast what has moved from the realm of possible into the realm of probable, and then distribute our limited resources of time and assets to focus on the most probable with an eye on the possible.

Training is a necessity for anyone serious about defense, especially with a firearm. That training needs to include medical care, human interaction, legal, and firearms manipulations. We need to get out of the mindset of the “shooter”, and into the mindset of the “thinker”. Rarely is it the strongest, or the fastest, or the best equipped that wins the battle; it is almost always the smartest, the most adaptive, and the true problem solver.

Most problems we face in life are not solved with a firearm; however, for those that require it, no other tool will suffice.

[Brannon LeBouef is the CEO of  Nolatac Firearms Training. Click here for his site]

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22 Responses to Self-Defense Lessons from Aurora’s Midnight Movie Massacre Pt. 2

  1. Brannon, can you post a link to the article from where you got the image? I searched the Denver Post’s site, and I can’t find it. Thanks!

    P.S.: I saw your last name, and knew you were from LA

  2. This is an excellent post!

    In making sure the point is to THINK first, you have a better chance of winning the encounter.

    Of coarse having the right tools makes the job easier in most cases, but if you are not thinking and are running on adreniline fueled instincts, you might still win but it will be a down & dirty brutal frontal assult kind of win.

    I just wish more gun clubs & ranges offered move & shoot coarses to already TRAINED people that have shown proper gun edicate instead of timed, upright, static shooting for all.

    I still say that with the limited visability of the shooter from:

    his gas mask
    his smoke grenades
    the poor lighting from the flickering movie screen
    the running screaming moving people all around
    and the muzzle blast from the AR & the shotgun

    Myself & my wife would be behind cover taking an aimed shot at him.
    I also carry medical supplies with me everywhere I go as well as a “dew rag” because they are so versitile along with other things I may need in an emergency like a boot knife, fire starters, sewing kit, spare bullets and or clips, and other things depending on where I am going and what I am doing.

    I hope NEVER to have to fire my gun in anger but if I do, I will rather than sit there and wait to die by the hands of some nutcase.

    • There is no cover in a movie theatre. Unless you can get behind a concrete wall, rounds can find you through plastic seats, popcorn buckets, and fleeing movie patrons. There is concealment, certainly, but not cover.

      The author does an excellent tactical analysis of a worst case scenario. A high risk head shot from a handgun at 28 yards under such conditions would be extremely difficult. However, the threat may have been stopped by a single round. In this scenario, misses would be far less problematic due to the extreme danger involved an imminent loss of life.

      One of the advantages of LEO and military experience is that we have already done shooting under dangerous and sub-optimal conditions. This is not to say that LEO and military are the best movers and shooters out there, but it is certainly difficult to simulate actual emergency conditions. They don’t pepper spray and tear gas folks at IPSC and 3 – gun comps.

      That being said, I find it tragic that Holmes did not encounter armed resistance until he had perpetrated his sick plan. A CCW holder or two could have been a hero, but we have tragedy instead.

    • “I just wish more gun clubs & ranges offered move & shoot coarses to already TRAINED people that have shown proper gun edicate instead of timed, upright, static shooting for all.”

      +1

  3. i think this incident was one where military training would have paid off if audience members had been armed. if we learned nothing else in our training we learned not to add to the confusion and chaos by simply jumping up and running about. stay put, focus and think it out before acting. to my knowlege the only one that rushed the joker and actually made contact was a service member. think if that same man had been carrying a pistol. smoke, confusion and tear gas are not ideal, but some of us have been there and done that and should be, as we all should be, armed and encouraged to carry by the powers that be.

    • Absolutely. There are a lot of former military and law enforcement among us who would be assets in such situations if permitted to be appropriately equipped.

  4. You ask the question of whether accidentially shooting an innocent person while trying to engage the perpetrator is “acceptable.” You seem content with a “yes” answer to that question, bit I can tell you that Johnny Law will likely have a different answer. Depending on the politics of the situation, you could get charged with murder, or more likley, negligent homicide. I know of no jusisdiction where a “self defense” argument would help you out, for the simple reason that the person that you accidentally shot was not attacking you.

    • believe me i’m not busting your chops joe, i’m a fan of your writings here. but honest question, had you been in that theater and armed what would you have done. we’ve had plenty of time to second guess this thing, try to imagine if it was just happening and not a known event.

      • Joe’s correct, but that’s only part of the story.

        If an armed defender returns fire and hits an innocent person, the defender could be charged with a crime. On the other hand, if the defender does not return fire, his estate could be charged for a funeral. His.

        The choice might actually come down to a term of imprisonment or an eternity of dead.

        In this situation, you pick your own poison.

    • I agree with your statement 100% that “Johnny Law” would go after the citizen.

      I also believe it is wrong for “Johnny Law” to go after a citizen who did act in such a situation. In my mind a person is guilty of murder (and subject to prosecution) when they act foolishly (unsafe, negligent) or selfishly (jealous, angry, covetous) and without provocation. A citizen who is trying to stop a spree killer from killing dozens of people is not acting foolishly, selfishly nor without provocation. Unless the citizen was shooting without looking (as in hiding behind cover, sticking the gun up in the air, and shooting blindly) or killed more people than the spree killer, they deserve a pass on prosecution.

      That doesn’t mean Johnny Law should not investigate. What it does mean is that the bar should be extremely high before Johnny Law prosecutes.

  5. “If you have ever taken a hit from a round while wearing a vest, you know it is not a magical shield that wards off the powers of physics. The kinetic energy from the traveling mass still dumps into you, and in some regards, depending on the round, dumps substantially more energy into your body than if you were shot straight through.”

    I don’t know about this statement….I vividly recall the North Hollywood B of A shootout in which 2 BG’s wearing full body armor took multiple rounds from the police and barely flinched.

    • I agree. The physics principle involved is called “conservation of momentum”. The bullet has the same amount of impact as the recoil it generated in the firearm that launched it. So think about how much a handgun impacts your hands when you fire it. The bullet will generate the same amount of “impact” on the target.

      Now there is a slight caveat to this. When a bullet generates recoil in your handgun, your grip spreads that force over the entire area of the grip — which might be something like a 0.75 inch by 3 inch area (2.25 square inches). The bullet would impact a ballistic vest and concentrate its momentum into a potentially smaller (and probably circular) surface area. Even then, the amount of force per square inch isn’t going to be too radically different. My intuition tells me it would similar to a person using only their wrist (not their entire arm and shoulder) to swing a hammer at you.

      Nevertheless, it would likely get the attention of the active shooter, break the shooter’s concentration, and take them off their game. Thus, it would still be worth the effort. And if the shooter were thoughtful enough to wear a brightly colored shirt over the ballistic vest, you might be able to see your bullet impact points and “walk” the hits up to their face.

      • uncommon_sense: I promise you the impact would be more than you’re thinking. Consider this: if someone is shot, and the bullet travels through them to embed itself in the wall behind them, clearly it did not expend all of its energy on the target. That’s why hollow point rounds are effective. They’re not, despite the hype, necessarily designed to shred organs. That’s a side “benefit.” They’re designed to spread out and increase the surface area, thereby slowing the bullet down and allowing it to impart more of its kinetic energy to the target. Expand that to a vest, which is designed to stop the bullet within a couple inches at most, which by definition means you (or the vest) are taking all the kinetic energy of the bullet. The vest will absorb some of it, like the crumple zones on a car, but you’re still taking a significant hit. My Google-fu is not with me today, but I’ve seen pictures of vest tests with a clay torso underneath (so the impact impression is preserved). Those impressions have ranged from shallow depressions (like a saucer) to something big enough to put a lemon in (from large handgun calibers) to holes that would hold a healthy orange (from .223/.308 rifle calibers). Certainly enough to break ribs and potentially damage internals.

    • I do remember this as well, however I think these guys had on heavy duty ballistic armor, which against a smaller caliber round doesn’t hurt quite as much.

      • these 2 guys actually custom made their armor. i don’t know how thick it was or how padded it was. and they were both on drugs. the event was a “perfect storm” which happens how often?

  6. Good discussion.

    “Have you ever been exposed to CS gas? Other than military guys, and protesting hippies, most have never encountered CS, CN, or OC products.”

    Went through a tear gas chamber in Army boot camp. Pretty sure it was CS. We had to enter with our mask on, remove the mask, stand there for 30 seconds and recite our name, number, yadda yadda. then leave. Sure, it stung your eyes and was irritating, but it was NOT disabling. What I mostly remember was how it itched and stung your sweat under your clothing after you left the chamber (Georgia in July). Have not encountered OC, but this Colorado murderer did not spray directly into people’s eyes – if it came out of gas grenades, it was dispersed through the air. The point being your mindset. You can ignore that stuff and still function if you have what Col. Cooper called the “warrior mindset”. You want to get angry, get focused, and determine that you are not going to let some little sh*t make you a helpless victim.

    Keep in mind that most of these mass shooters are cowards – they don’t try pulling this stuff in biker bars or police stations or shooting ranges – they go for the “Gun Free Zones”. Any forcible resistance will slow them down and probably stop them, so shooting the punk with a .380 would NOT be pointless.

    • Yes it probably was CS. Went through it myself at Ft Benning. Was very unpleasant but not disabling. After 15 yrs in the Infantry all over the world and having been in various situations where CS was employed( think riot control in Germany in the 80’s and in urban combat).
      Even tho it is irritating as hell it is still very possible to function, think and act while dealing with the irritant.
      Combat troops are usually a little more trained to deal with that type is situation!!
      I honestly wish there had of been an armed officer or soldier in the theater that day!
      I am not wishing harm to anyone but I believe that they could have and would have made a difference, even if it did cost them injuries or even their life!!!!
      It is part of what we were trained to deal with ad I feel a soldier or LEO or civilian CCW holder beig armed in there would have ende it sooner and saved some lives and injuries!!!

    • Yes it probably was CS. Went through it myself at Ft Benning. Was very unpleasant but not disabling. After 15 yrs in the Infantry all over the world and having been in various situations where CS was employed( think riot control in Germany in the 80’s and in urban combat).
      Even tho it is irritating as hell it is still very possible to function, think and act while dealing with the irritant.
      Combat troops are usually a little more trained to deal with that type is situation!!
      I honestly wish there had of been an armed officer or soldier in the theater that day!
      I am not wishing harm to anyone but I believe that they could have and would have made a difference, even if it did cost them injuries or even their life!!!!
      It is part of what we were trained to deal with and I feel a soldier or LEO or civilian CCW holder being armed in there would have ended it sooner and saved some lives and injuries!!!

  7. This is one of the most appropriate and impressively thought provoking articles I have ever read. Thank you! I gotta look into some training with you!!

  8. “However, more ammo is seldom a bad thing.”

    I once read there are only 2 situations where you can have too much ammo; When swimming, and if you’re on fire.

  9. One thing that was talked about is situational awareness. I always share this with everyone. No matter where you are, pumping gas, eating dinner at a restaurant, or sitting in a movie theater, think of your situation and imagine an active shooter in the place. This will help you prepare for a reaction. Chances are good you won’t need it, but it is almost like looking over notes just prior to giving a small speech. You know what you are going to say, and how you would like to say it, but it is just a quick review of yourspeech. You have to be ready in all situations. Not just walking to your car late at night in a parking lot, or that left turn down the dark ally. But in places where you normally feel safe and sound. Take 10 seconds and look around and understand your surroundings.

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