The following is by TTAG reader Accur81

Newtown.  Aurora.  Columbine. This article is written in partial response to RF’s post on response to active shooter scenarios and is informed by my personal experience and the ongoing training that I have received in firearms training and active shooter scenarios. I fully realize that the armed citizen has no obligation to engage an active shooter. I also know that off-duty LEOs are discouraged from doing so. However, the following is a guide, something to think about if you were to engage an active shooter met during an escape, to assist in your family getting out, or to minimize loss of life prior to police arriving on the scene . . .

1. Preparation and Evaluation
I don’t claim to be the world’s expert on this topic, but I have responded to actual shooting incidents in a law enforcement capacity. Your state of mental preparation is important. Have you ever operated in a stressful environment? Do you have confidence in your ability to quickly make decisions when lives are on the line? Preparation is vital to responding quickly. Most regular members of the Armed Intelligentsia have probably considered how they would respond in the face of a violent encounter.

The scenario that you will respond the most quickly and effectively to is the fight that you have already won in your own mind, given decisions that you’ve already made. There are many good resources on this subject such as The Bulletproof Mind by Lt. Colonel Dave Grossman.

Physical fitness, firearm maintenance and experience with your personal firearm are your allies. On those, I’ve found TTAG to be an excellent resource.

Here’s one you may not have thought about: mind your appearance. Is today the day the days you dressed in black hooded sweatshirt? Are you sporting your cool black 5.11 tactical pants and a camouflage shirt? You clearly don’t want to be mistaken for the active shooter.

Ideally, you would be dressed in “normal clothes,” something casual or “business casual” which would allow fast movement while maintaining the concealed carry of your firearm. When out and about, I usually wear a button-down shirt, jeans, and leather shoes. My short hair and appearance allow me to look like an off-duty LEO, frankly, because I am.  Active shooter training teaches officers to distinguish their targets, but each officer or SWAT member has a different level of training and competence.

Evaluate your weapons. A snub-nosed .38 special or .380 mouse gun has far less ballistic capability than the Glocks, AR-15s, and shotguns toted by some of our most recent recent active shooters. I personally consider those firearms to be defensive only. The tactical reality is that virtually any handgun is far inferior to a long gun or AR-15 in a violent confrontation.

Handgun calibers will require multiple hits for faster incapacitation and your adversary may be wearing body armor. Still, speed and violence of action win fights. I have shot handguns, AR-15s, and shotguns extensively and would not want any of them fired in my direction regardless of how I am equipped.

2.Locate the Active Shooter
In a movie theatre, school, or public place, lives can be lost very quickly. An active shooter is typically defined as an armed person or persons in a public place with nearly unlimited access to potential victims.

When I train in emergency response, I use the fast, slow, fast philosophy. When moving to an incident, I train LEOs to travel quickly. Any speed and path of travel is legitimate, so long as it does not place the public at undue risk, damage the patrol car or cause a collision.

The armed, or potentially armed, civilian can likewise respond quickly if they are in the very near vicinity of an active shooter incident. Move quickly, on foot, and maintain your concealed carry. Notify your family and friends to move quickly back to the car, or back home as quickly as possible. If your family contacts police, ask them to describe you and the clothes that you are wearing. Tell your family to clearly advise the police that you stayed behind to try to stop the shooter and give other people time to escape.

Using cover and concealment, move fast in the opposite direction of the running.  Civilians will likely move outward from the epicenter of the event. If you are so bold, move towards the gunfire. Scan your environment. Listen. Ask those who are running what the shooter or shooters look like, and what he is wearing. Ask if there are multiple shooters. It’s likely that the shooter will be recognizable by wearing tactical gear, but slow your response enough in order to be sure of your target.

If possible, gain a tactical position of elevation and/or cover prior to contacting the shooter. Move slowly enough to know your target and what is beyond him. Every hit is a victory, and every miss is a liability. Try to engage the shooter(s) from a downward or upward angle to reduce the possibility that your rounds will strike a bystander. Fire until the threat stops, or until your ammunition is depleted. Re-holster, conceal your weapon and quickly move away from the shooter(s).

Do not attempt first aid and re-evaluate your immediate environment for additional threats. If your ammunition is gone, consider dropping your handgun in a trash can or mail box to minimize the possibility of confusion when encountering law enforcement personnel.

3.  Immediately comply with all commands of uniformed LEO and SWAT personnel. Lawyer up and STFU.
Keep perspective. It’s possible that United Flight 93 did not strike our Capital because the passengers fought back. No passengers survived that flight, but no one on the ground was killed. I consider them all heroes. Anyone who stops an active shooter can potentially save dozens of lives, and I would rather die trying to save a life than in a host of other ways.

God Bless,
Accur81

51 Responses to Thoughts on Engaging an Active Shooter

  1. I would probably not engage, assuming I had a choice, but we are all going to die sooner or later. And as the SAS say: who dares, wins.

  2. Thanks, Accur81, for a strong article and a new perspective.

    I wouldn’t hesitate to shoot a BG if that’s what it took to end the threat. That’s why I carry. I’m confident in my abilities and judgment, so if I have a shot that I can make, I’ll take it and I’ll make it. Certainly, the parameters of a makeable shot are different for a snubby as opposed to a larger handgun, but I know the difference and can act accordingly. However, any pistol against any rifle is really a fool’s errand.

    But my days of running toward the sound of gunfire — and maybe in any direction — are in the past. I’ll leave that to you younger guys. I’d retreat as carefully as possible under the circumstances, using whatever cover and concealment there might be and looking for a clear shot at the BG’s T-box or groin.

  3. If there are children involved, such as an elementary school, I’m moving to engage the hostile. I have to hope that I will allow at least one of the little ones a chance to live. And if I die in the effort. What have we lost, another OFWG.

    And I will die putting a curse on the head of every pol that left it up to an old fvck to go up against an armed madman with little more than a pocket knife and foul language.

  4. How do you engage?
    Front sight…..trigger press.
    If I go to the grave and save one child, so be it.
    The active shooter must be stopped. Even at my expense.

      • My kids have already been raised. What would I be missing out on? The chance to wind up in a nursing home?

        Leaving a child or a woman to a violent death is not the mark I want on my soul. YMMV.

        • jwm, I can buy that. If you ain’t got nothing you got nothing to lose. But what about the young guy with kids? Should he leave his kids fatherless to protect someone else’s?

        • My wife and I both have CCW’s and are children’s leaders at a large community church. As you might imagine their were tensions today as parents left their children. I promised a mother today her child would be safe with us. My wife and I would keep that promise at any cost. Are grandchildren are middle school and high school. My adult children and grandchildren will be just fine if will loose our life. I did not go to Canada as the draft dodgers did, I served. And you will not come to our church and hurt these kids . I promise!

      • An armed person which engages an active shooter will allow most probably SOME people or at least ONE person to escape.

        Yes, if you don`t stop him your kids MAY be raised by strangers. However, hopefully they will understand one day WHY and for which MORAL VALUES you decided to take the risk to die – and engaged.

        Nobody can make this difficult decision (i.e. enageing or not) for you.
        Nobody, including yourself, will know how you will react in the gravest extreme.

        • hopefully they will understand one day WHY and for which MORAL VALUES you decided to take the risk to die – and engaged

          I’m sure that will be a great comfort to them when they’re living on Welfare.

          It never ceases to amaze me that people can be so concerned about other people’s kid and so callous about their own.

      • In the case of an active shooter: “The needs of the many outweighs the needs of the one”!!!
        Like Accur my kids are grown and I have gotten to spend some time with my kids, grankids, friends and family!!
        If I were in an area where an active shooter started his spree I would run to the fight with the hope that God will guide my hands and eyes and allow me to stop the shooter before he stops me.
        @Ralph…my kids are grown and have steady jobs so no they won’t live on welfare. Besides if for instance you died stopping an active shooter I would be the first to start a fund in whatever bank was local to care for your family. And I would imagine many many on here would contribute.
        In a nutshell after 15 yrs in combat arms, 2 1/2 yrs as a team leader of a 6 man infantry team in Iraq( we all came home safe and sound), and a father and grandfather I would not be able to run from the fight!! Not in my nature or my training.
        Having been in two DGU’s and in combat I know I have the capacity to take a life when necessary even though I regret it to a smal extent.
        I hope and pray every day that I don’t ever have to again but I carry everyday just in case I do have to!!

  5. If I died confronting an active shooter, I would want my children to grow up knowing their father had courage, integrity, and died for what he believed in. How wonderful a legacy to leave.

  6. Thanks for the article. Huge thanks. Career medic and ER nurse, I’ve recently realised I react differently to life and death scenarios. Second worse thing I can imagine is having to shoot someone. Worse than that is someone shooting me or others.

  7. I think from now on a CC holder needs to think headshot. Vests are common. What will really make my day is reading about a CC holder that blew away some prick with a vest using a 460 S&W. Then the mainiacs gotta wonder, do I feel lucky today? Yes, I’m past the grief & on to anger, Randy

    • I actually tried – once – to conceal my .460 Smith (8 plus inch barrel) in a shoulder rig under a suit. It locked ridiculous. I switched to a Glock 35 before leaving the house.

      • That’s a disturbing image. Accur81 in front of his mirror doing his best Dirty Harry. Please tell me you didn’t do the “Punk” speech.

        • @jwm
          You know we could have done without that image!!! LOL!!!!
          OFWG in front of a mirror doing his best Clint Eastwood and the grankids standing behind him giggling their butts off!!!!

      • Pictures or it never happened.

        Bonus points for showing same hand-cannon in front-IWB Mexican carry. Unloaded, of course. 😉

    • Alternatively, many have suggested going for the hip/pelvis area. It’s a larger target and will immobilize a shooter.

  8. Thank you Accur81. The primary reason I carry is to stand against and hopefully stop evil if I am ever confronted with it. I would gladly put myself in harm’s way to save an innocent life.

  9. Look, we all have to die someday. Most of us will die old, suffering, and alone a in cold sterile hospital room. I would MUCH prefer dying a fast death as a hero than the alternative – even if it means exiting this life a few years/decades prior to my body and/or mind failing. You all should think about that for a few seconds and then decide if you would engage an active shooter. I know I would.

    • Count me in. I have already gone through the scenario in my head many times. I will do it without hesitation. That is what sheepdogs do. protect the flock even with the possiblity of losing their live. Ever seen a protector of the flock in action? A family dog defending their owner? No fear, only an aggressive commitment to end the threat.

      • “Now remember, when things look bad and it looks like you’re not gonna make it, then you gotta get mean. I mean plumb, mad-dog mean. ‘Cause if you lose your head and you give up, then you neither live nor win. That’s just the way it is.” — Clint Eastwood as Josey Wales

  10. This is a difficult situation, where everyone has to personally and honestly assess their own limitations. Most of the people I see at the range can’t group worth crap. In all honesty, they can’t shoot. Personally, with my old eyes, with no pressure, and with relatively slow fire, I will place 80 of 100 shots in a 3-inch or so circle at 7 yards using accurate handguns. How honest are your about your own shooting? I think that my shooting is not good enough, both for rapid fire and under stress t0 make a head shot in that scenario at 21-feet, end of story.

    Then again, when bullets start flying towards an assailant, it makes a difference. Just be certain that you don’t hit any one else….

  11. For your consideration. He had the bad guy in his sights but obeyed Rule 4 (Be sure of your target and what is beyond it). Nonetheless, if I understand the video correctly, he may have saved lives as the killer knew he was a facing armed opposition. When he got his gun running again, he used it on himself. Best outcome of a successful defensive gun use — no shots fired. http://www.kgw.com/news/Clackamas-man-armed-confronts-mall-shooter-183593571.html

  12. Some of the responses on this confuse me. The readers of this site for the most part care about their freedom, they care about having the tools and the skills to defend themselves, and they care about taking personal responsibility for their own safety.

    To say or even imply that anyone who takes up arms in defense of others, risking their life to fight evil, is a fool, is a strange contrast to this. We all know police are unlikely to be there before the shooting starts, and as much as I hate it, we won’t likely be there for several minutes. Many times the first officer there ends the threat, or the threat ends themselves on seeing the uniform, or more likely, on seeing that there is a human being ready to stop them with weapon in hand. Many times, it’s all over before the first patrol car arrives.

    Was the man who drew his weapon on the Oregon mall shooter a fool? Did he do something morally wrong, or can we answer that without knowing how many children he has, and what their ages are, how much his life insurance was worth, and how much debt was left on his mortgage?

    And if he was a fool, then what makes police any different? Are we all fools if we go in? Should we run through the checklist on the status of our children, and then wait until the shooter kills themselves, as so many of them do? Of course this is ridiculous, and of course we should go in. And we do, often alone, and I personally don’t expect or ask for any particular thanks in this. But what makes police any different?

    Many times on this site, I have read comments that police are civilians, and complaining about police that seem to hold themselves apart from the public, as if there is a separate code of morality and worth that normal people cannot understand. So what makes us different? As I see it, we have a radio, a vest, and a gun, except that the vest won’t stop rifle bullets if the shooter has an AR, and the gun is almost always something legal for the civilian market. So are the vests.

    If you believe differently, that police are somehow different, that citizens without the badge should never stand up against evil when it appears in front of them, then maybe you think that police are different because it’s our job. If the reason you don’t stand against evil is that it’s not your job, then you’re giving part of the responsibility for your life to the state. And perhaps in the end, a little bit of your freedom as well.

    Don’t misunderstand, if you have done an honest assessment of your own skills, strengths, and weaknesses, and have decided the best tactic you can use to save life including your own is to retreat, then nobody should have a problem with it. I certainly don’t. Just don’t think the reason I should go in is because I was paid. No check is worth your life or mine. Stopping evil may well be.

  13. I am a retired cop and a retired soldier.

    I am well past middle age, armed every day, and more than willing to attempt to take down an active shooter. I have had an incredibly fortunate life and if I had to pick a way to check out, I couldn’t think of a better way.

    Standing up to evil is never a bad thing

  14. Since we have a LEO on the line, I’ll ask: if I’ve engaged the shooter, successfully or otherwise, and am now being overtaken by the arriving LEOs, what do I do? Throw the gun away before they see me? That seems like suspicious behavior. Are they going to be calm enough to hear me say “don’t shoot” as I put my gun down and my hands up? Or have I doomed myself as soon as I draw? I’m typically dressed like a regular suburban guy, but I’m short and have a slightly redneck-looking beard, so giving the visual impression of an off-duty cop isn’t in the cards. I’d hate to feel like I have to choose between saving kids and certain death by friendly fire — how do I avoid that?

    • There’s no easy answer on that. That’s exactly why I teach the fast/slow/fast response. The slow part is a bit of a misnomer – deliberate and under control is more like it. Smooth is fast. LEOs and SWAT need to know their target and evuate the threat. Once the threat ends, lethal force is no longer justified. Therefore, you shouldn’t get shot while attempting to lawfully intervene.

      But as everyone knows, LEOs are people, and anyone can make a mistake. The Clackamass CCWer held his fire, and potentially saved dozens of victims because he had the stones to confront the shooter.

      • Oh sorry, I needed to be more specific. I would immediately drop the gun, tell them you have a concealed carry permit, and obey verbal commands to get down, or have hands up, etc.

        • Thanks for the reply – it helps. On thinking about it more, what I’m really wondering is whether some of the other commenters here are right that the police will always and everywhere shoot anyone who appears to be armed without even trying to differentiate armed citizen from bad guy. I have a hard time believing that’s really the case, but then there are guys like Lon Horiuchi out there. On the other hand, as you say, the Clackamas CCWer didn’t get shot. Does anyone keep stats on that kind of thing?

    • Everybody “knows” what a cop looks like vis a vis mannerisms and movements. My suggestion is to LOOK LIKE A COP and not a nutjob killer. Correct two hand stance, ready position, etc. If you’re still holding a gun when the cops show up and not actively engaging the shooter ( or if you are seek cover immediately), put the gun down and prone out spread eagle. Show them you are not a threat to them and you probably won’t get shot. Expect pain though. Just keep saying the truthful version of what happened, “I saw the shooter, he’s over there. I shot him. Etc.”

  15. If my family and friends are put in harms way by a “gunman” or badguy, you bet I will be engaging him and defending myself and my loved ones. Why wouldn’t you? Doesn’t matter if the BG has a pistol or long gun.

    Training and preparedness is always a good thing. Thanks for the post.

  16. If you are off duty leo, legal ccw’er, and the threat is down, then drop the gun, be ready to be handcuffed and interviewed. Everyone at the scene will be detained. If you shot the BG you will be arrested and interviewed. Its the reality of the process. Be ready to explain your justification for use of deadly force. If you did it right you will be released but be ready for the sh!tstorm. Your life will forever change.

    By no means is this a recommendation not to carry or engage. When im off duty i carry everywhere ready to be vigilant in the face of evil.

  17. If shots started to ring out in my imediate AO, i wouldnt be able to shoot back. Getting a carry permit in NJ is a joke. i would attempt to sneak up on the SOB w/ a 5″ pocket knife and go for the throat. Knife<pistol<rifle, but never underestimate someone with a weapon and the willingness to use it.

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