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Ever since the massacre at Columbine, U.S. law enforcement officials have gradually realized that a responding officer facing what’s called an “active shooter” (a.k.a. spree killer) can’t wait for the SWAT team to arrive. The cop in question has to go in, go in alone and go in hot. The lead trainer at the Southeast Area Law Enforcement (SEALE) regional in-service academy in Bedford, OH says roger that. Ron Borsch bases his recommendation on his ongoing research into “rapid mass murder”: incidents with four or more victims during the same event and in the same location (schools, work sites, churches, malls, and other public places) within the same time frame (20 minutes or less). He’s studied nearly 40 cases, in the U.S. and abroad. Here are some of his data points, via the good folks at Force Science News . . .

• About 70% of these killing sprees were “aborted” (ended) by third-party intervention, without which the death toll undoubtedly would have been higher.

• Of the total aborts, two-thirds were by armed or unarmed civilians, initially taking action alone the overwhelming majority of the time;

• Of the remaining one-third of successful aborts, credited to law enforcement, 67% were initiated by a single officer;

• Only 1 resolution initially involved as many as 3 officers. In that instance, they responded in plainclothes without special training for such a situation. The remainder (22%) were initiated by 2 officers;

• The vast majority of successful law enforcement aborts (78%) were achieved with handguns only. “This is not to diminish the importance and growing issuance of patrol rifles,” Borsch says. “It’s merely an empowering fact that law enforcement can and has won against superior weapons used by the offender.”

You noticed that did you? Two-thirds of spree killers stopped by civilians.

While Borsch doesn’t break down the percentage of armed vs unarmed civilians who stopped mass murder, it’s obvious that an armed civilian is the best defense against a spree killer. That conclusion reflects common sense (the Johnny-on-the-spot theory) and provides ammunition for those in favor of allowing concealed carry permit holders inside schools and other “gun free” zones.

Meanwhile and in any case, according to Borsch, the evidence indicates that police have to completely rethink their strategy and training.

None of the reality-proven successes against rapid mass murderers resembled the multiple-officer formations commonly taught in conventional training circles. Clearly, rapid aggressive action by a single actor has been and is now the most effective countermeasure for the active killer . . .

Unfortunately, conventional training, such as waiting for backup and trying to organize a multi-officer ‘posse formation’ team for entry and location, gets in the way of successfully stopping the killing.

Borsch recommends a completely different approach to active shooter incidents: four officers operating SOLO (Single Officer Lifesaving Others) “hunting” in a “multi-tiered, multi-directional fashion.” He reckons a quartet of cops can cover a large facility at least four times faster than four officers in a traditional formation. But what of the chance that they’ll shoot each other? And what are the odds that a single officer will want to enter a firefight alone?

Those that suggest there could be a ‘blue-on-blue’ friendly fire problem because of lone officers acting independently miss the point. The real friendly fire challenge will be to avoid shooting panicked innocents, not conspicuously uniformed fellow officers.

With an active killer, the outcome of waiting instead of showing the courage to enter alone immediately is likely to be not only murder but multiples of murder. This goes against our mission of stopping the killing. In these situations speed has been proven to be a lifesaver.

UPDATE: Ron Borsch has emailed TTAG. Click here for the percentage of “active shooter aborts” by armed civilians.

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  1. Even with these stats, some people will still say that having armed civilians in public places is a baa-a-a-a-d idea. I wish people could be persuaded by reason.

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