I learned a great deal about police procedure at the SIG SAUER Active Shooter Instructor’s Course. If there’s one key piece of information that an armed citizen facing a gun-wielding madman in a public place needs to know it’s this: a police officer who sees you with a firearm in your hand will shoot you dead. Nobody sets up a perimeter and waits for the SWAT team anymore. No one shouts “FREEZE!” The first law enforcement officers arriving on the scene of an active shooter enter, guns drawn and attempt to neutralize the threat. I repeat: the threat is anyone with a gun. Which means two things . . .
1. Don’t engage the shooter
You don’t have to watch as a madman takes innocent life; you have the right and (one hopes) the means to stop a lethal threat. But give the opting-out option serious consideration.
Protecting the lives of your loved ones and yourself (which protects them) is your first obligation. There’s nothing wrong with running away/hiding from an active shooter. More than anything else, the arriving police need intel on the shooter or shooters. If you provide it, you’re a hero.
“I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t stop someone from taking innocent life.” Fair enough. It’s your life. Just realize that getting shot by the police is only one of the many downsides of taking on an active shooter. For example . . .
People don’t like people who shoot at them. If you engage an active shooter he’s going to engage you right back. If you have your family or friends in tow—as in near you—taking shots at the madman will draw fire towards your loved ones.
At the risk of emboldening the gun control industry, it’s also true that you might miss the madman and hit an innocent bystander. Or that another armed citizen might mistake you for the active shooter, or the active shooter’s accomplice. Or you might get shot by the accomplice. Or accomplices.
Yes, there is that. The public’s begun to assume that active shooters work alone. Cho, Loughner, Hasan, Holmes—one sicko per incident. T’ain’t necessarily so. One word: Columbine. And another: terrorists. While you can never know the whole story, a decision to shoot or not to shoot is only as good as the information it’s based on.
Bottom line: don’t rush in where angels fear to tread. Again, anyone with a gun in an active shooter scenario is a threat. You, another armed citizen, the bad guy, an undercover cop—anyone. And everyone involved is a little . . . stressed.
2. Be fast and move
If you’re going to engage an active shooter, whatever you do, don’t forget the “speed” part of “speed, surprise and violence of action” recipe for winning a gunfight.
With cops on their way, you have a small window of opportunity. Adrenalin will make it seem like an eternity between the onset of horror and the cops’ arrival, but the time available to bring your weapon to bear is measured in seconds.
Less if you’re not engaging at the very start of the incident. Less if an armed officer is already on scene.
It may seem obvious, but the closer you get to the threat the greater your chances of hitting your target. If the situation is desperate, consider moving towards the shooter. Call it commitment or craziness. Either way, you need to act decisively.
Seek cover but don’t get married to it. Odds are you’re facing a long gun of some kind. Those odds suck and the bullets coming out of the business end do so at warp speed; enough to prove that what you thought was cover was only concealment.
[NB: When the S is done H’ing the F, reholster and cover your gun soon as humanly possible. Or put the firearm down and move away (recognizing the possibility of multiple threats).]
I write this as an armchair warrior. I don’t know what I’d do if faced with an active shooter. I hope I never find out. But there’s one thing beyond dispute: it’s better to have a gun and decide not use it than to not have a gun. Period.