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By Lt. Salvador Navarro (Ret), CEO  & President, Montana Tactical Firearms Instruction

With the Christmas season, thoughts tend to turn to…the tactical? Well, yes. You may be wondering how focusing on tactics and Christmas are related. Well put on your favorite flannel pajamas and your old wool slippers. Grab yourself a cup of hot chocolate or Jo, turn on the Christmas tree lights and hang on to your cold red nose, ‘cause here we go…

When you mention the word “tactics” or “tactical,” some folks relate it to the 1970’s television show S.W.A.T., or the modern day penguins of Madagascar who hijack a super tanker, disabling the entire crew by hand so they can escape New York City to live a life of ease in Antarctica eating cold sushi daily. If you haven’t watched these little tactical terrors, you might learn a few things from them.

We get the words “tactical” and “tactics” from the Greek word taktika or taktikos, meaning to arrange in order. My favorite definition for these words is provided by Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, which states, in part:

the art or skill of employing available means to accomplish an end, or a system or mode of procedure…

In essence, being “tactical” is a way of life, not an ethereal concept or happenstance occurrence. And wearing the right cargo pants or boots doesn’t have anything to do with it. Rather, it means having a plan well in advance of a dynamic critical incident and putting it into action if and when it’s needed. In law enforcement circles, this is known as “situational awareness and response” or “critical thinking.”

Let’s look at one potential scenario:

Imagine you’re at your local mall with your children doing some Christmas shopping. It doesn’t matter if it is an inside or outside type mall or what the time of day may be. The mall is jammed with shoppers. Kids crying, moms and dads are in line waiting to take pictures of their children with Santa Clause – the typical holiday season hustle and bustle.

Suddenly, you hear several loud “pops” to your left about fifteen to twenty yards away from you and your children. You look over in the direction of the noise and you see a man who is visibly angry, agitated and hostile. He’s yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs that he hates Christmas and is going to kill everyone in the mall.

He’s holding a handgun and several people have obviously been shot and are lying on the ground. The mall erupts in screams and panic as everyone begins to run in every direction. The gunman begins to fire indiscriminately into the crowd and more people begin to fall to the ground. What do you do now?

The answer may not be “what you do now” but what you could have done to prepare yourself before you even walked into the mall. Here’s a tactical thinking checklist to consider:

  • First, you have to develop a survival mindset and determine if you are willing to use a firearm in self-defense before carrying a firearm. If not, you need to consider other alternatives.
  • If you have a concealed weapons carry permit (CWP or CCW), make sure you carry your firearm, extra ammunition, a small tactical flashlight on a lanyard, along with your cell phone wherever you go.
  •  If you don’t have a concealed carry permit, locate an experienced firearms instructor who can qualify you to apply for your permit.
  • Know and understand the “use of force” and firearms laws in your area before carrying and using a firearm.
  • At the mall or store, park your car as close to an entry point as possible and make a mental note of where your car is.
  • Preferably, park near a source of light if you’ll be there after dark.
  • Scan the parking lot for anything or anyone that looks out of place. This determination is based upon your observations and the use of your five senses. Don’t dismiss the hackles going up at the back of your neck. That uneasy or queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, or that small voice is telling you that something is wrong.
  • Does everything appear normal in the lot? Are there strange looking people or cars there? Perhaps someone is wearing unseasonably warm or long sleeve clothing or trench coats in the summer? A car backed into a parking spot by the front door with the engine running, a driver at the wheel wearing a mask or cap, with the passenger door open? Are there emergency vehicles in the parking lot?
  • When entering the mall or store, approach the entry from an angle so as to see inside to insure that everything looks “normal.” Scan the area. Are people running and screaming, or are they shopping and moving about as expected?
  • Once in the mall, continue to scan the area to make sure everything is appears alright and look in all directions and at various distances so as to take in the “big picture.”
  • Make note of entrance and exit points as you move through the mall.
  • Scout out locations for cover and concealment. Cover means a place which is going to stop bullets from striking you; cement planters, curbs, heavy benches, a brick wall, etc. Concealment is something or some place that can hide you, but won’t necessarily stop bullets; a cardboard sale sign, foliage, furniture etc. Use cover and concealment to give you a tactical advantage in helping you decide if you are going to engage a threat.
  • Don’t depend on law enforcement – or anyone else for that matter – to protect or rescue you and your family during a critical dynamic incident. In general, law enforcement may have an extended response time and much can happen between the time they are dispatched and the time they arrive on scene.
  • Keep in mind that, depending on your local law enforcement agency’s training, policies and their preparedness for active shooters response, you and your family may have to wait an extended period of time before law enforcement even enters a “hot area.” How many people do you suppose can be seriously hurt or killed by a bad guy with a firearm before the police arrive, develop a cogent response and stop the BG?

We could probably expand on this list, but I want to challenge all of us to develop a proactive plan and response options to potential critical dynamic incidents. Doing so can save your life.

Thinking tactically, having an action plan, practicing with your firearm, carrying your gun wherever lawful and being aware of your surroundings will go a long way toward keeping you and your family safe. Your family, friends and even strangers are depending on your ability to think clearly during a critical incident. Remember that those who prepare survive. Those who don’t frequently won’t.

I hope that gives you a better understanding of how focusing on tactics and the Christmas season can be related. But these lessons apply all year round. The next time you head for the mall, leave your flannel pajamas, your old wool slippers, and your favorite hot beverage at home. Instead, take your newly developed tactical skills with you. They will help make sure you and your family come home safely to enjoy the fireplace and the Christmas tree.

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  1. Great post, thanks Dan.

    This post was recommended (on a computer security blog) The Truth About Violence and I found it very interesting. I may not agree with everything, but there’s definitely lots of food for thought – particularly how our gut reaction may not be the best reaction.

  2. When going to the mall, I usually park as far away from the other cars as possible. One being hopefully no dings, but the main reason is, is that if I come out, and someone has parked right next to me when there were many more spots up close to the store, I start to get my SPIDEY senses tingling. Now I know that during the Christmas rush usually the parking lots are full and this sort of strategy is impossible, but during the other times of the year, it has worked great for me. Plus I always carry, and even in the No Gun Zones known as malls.

    • Agreed! I don’t care about close or far…I look for a parking spot close to an exit, or at least a curb I can hop to get out of there. I also try and park in areas that are well lit and under parked…I like to be able to see my vehicle so I know i’m not gonna get jumped when I try and get into it.

      Parking your vehicle close wont do you a whole lot of good. Sure, you may be closer to your vehicle, but that puts you closer to the threat, too. And you’ll have to unlock, climb in, start the engine…You’re a sitting duck when you do that.

      Range is your friend. Your average shooter is not going to be able to effectively engage you at the far end of the parking lot with a handgun, and sometimes not even with a rifle. The closer you are, the more danger there is. And parking lots are full of lots of wonderful cover and concealment. You can keep your head low and make it to your vehicle a lot easier, and hopefully they’ll loose sight of you completely while you do so.

    • I refuse to park in under lit and overcrowded areas. I park so that the front of the car faces the aisle, so I do not have to back out. I really want the car isolated so i can see underneathe it and inspect all sides of it before entering.

  3. Great post. I agree with always being armed. And backing into a parking spot isn’t just for BGs. It will help you get away quickly, see if someone if approaching your car, and perhaps more importantly keep you from backing over small children. I agree with carrying extra ammo. The flashlight is a good idea which I hadn’t considered – also good from escaping from a smoke filled building.

    Merry Christmas to you all and of course Happy Holidays.

  4. To your list I also recommend a solidly made knife. Size is not important, only preference and assisted open if possible. Fleeing for your life or close combat can cause you to lose your handgun and a knife does much more debilitating wounds with less training. In addition it can be invaluable for prying a stuck device, be it a stuck mag, door, breaking into your glovebox if you dropped your keys or any number of imaginable situations.

    Malls are tactically a bad place to be. Favor towards the edge of any food court or atrium type area, scan visually and be aware of the first thing you can cozy up to for cover or concealment anytime you sit or stand. There’s any number of situation dependant tips but those are my standbys.

    • I agree on a good knife being a mandatory part of EDC, and agree with many of the reasons given. However, I have to disagree with one point and say that knives make very poor weapons, especially the small ones. There aernt many targets in the human body that lie under any less than an inch below the skin, and human beings are not easy things to cut through. Muscle and fat and bone turn blades, and even when they dont…All the really vital organs are protected by the ribs and completely out of reach of a 3” blade. This is what you learn when you have actual training to use such things as weapons. I think that the statement that a knife “Does much more debilitating wounds with less training” is incredibly misleading and dangerous and I don’t want to let that stand un opposed. If knives were more effective and easier to use than firearms, people wouldn’t use handguns any more.

      Can they be pressed into use as a weapon in an emergency? Yes. Will a Benchmade do you any good when you’re being shot at? Almost certainty not.

  5. Good post but you forgot one thing. Most malls prohibit guns even if you hold a CCW permit. That puts you in a pickle because you know bad guys or crazies will ignore the sign but to carry inside puts you in legal jeopardy for criminal trespass. It’s your call on what you want to do but don’t whine if you carry, get caught by mall security and get either kicked out (if their nice) or get arrested.

  6. South Town Mall in Fort Wayne turned into a real fun house when the local German Ethnic Groups were replaced with people of a “different” background.
    The Gangs would show their colors and get into fights around the Food Court and out in the parking lot. The Gangs would shoplift and steal within the mall and would attack shoppers in the parking lot. The Gangs would attack women and small children in the mall. The Mall Security was a joke and the Guards ran like little girls.
    At one time, some of the “Gangstas” acted like they were going to target my family and I pretended I had a gun in my pocket, so they backed off. Of course, this was back in the ” May Issue” days = ” Not Issue”. I just got fed up that I and thousands of others started shopping elsewhere; and so the mall eventually closed. Later they bulldozed down the mall and turned it into a pile of rubble.
    Now those of a “different” background may totally enjoy it.
    I did notice one thing, the pawn, tobacco and liquor stores thrive in such an environment; everything else, not so much.

      • I agree with you Dr. Dave, that post does sound racist. Most criminals are usually driven into a life of crime not by their race, but because of factors like lack of education or lack of job opportunities. It’s just wrong to assume that race plays any part at all in whether or not a person will commit crimes. Racism is bad. You and I are good people, because we’re not racist. Yay us!

        • Actually, a lot of the crime at that mall was not really for financial gains. A lot of the shoplifting and theft was for low cost items or little money. A lot of the attacks on small children, women, old people were more of harrasement, hazing, theft of minor items. The Gangs wearing their Colors were actually fairly well dressed. It seemed to me that hanging out at the Mall and commiting crimes was more of something to do and the trials of being accepted into a gang.

    • There is a dead guy in Mississippi who was run over solely because he was Black. I guess you agree with Brady Campaign that a car is not a weapon so it wasn’t a hate crime?

  7. As time has gone by, the Gangs have gotten more violent. I had a Business Associate who represented our company around L.A. He was at a Gas Station and was gunned down in cold blood by a Gang Member who did not take money from anybody on the premises. The Gang Banger just shot my Business Associate so he could gain admittance into a gang.

  8. True or not, the way you put it made me cringe. This website is a fishbowl. We need to remain above reporach. Gun owners already have a reputation for racisim, that, although undeserved, is quite prevelant.


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