busy mall shopping
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By Sal Navarro

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 that plan 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 shopping. It doesn’t matter if it’s an indoor or outdoor type mall or what the time of day it may be.

It’s the usual mall scene; kids crying, teens walking in packs, people wandering with their eyes on their phones…the typical 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’s visibly angry, agitated and hostile. He’s yelling and screaming at the top of his lungs that he 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.

What do you do now?

The answer may not be “what you do now” but what you could have done in advance to prepare yourself before you even walked into the mall.

Here’s a tactical checklist to consider:

  • First, you have to develop a survival mindset and determine if you’re willing to use a firearm in self-defense before carrying one. 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 gun. Make sure it’s legal to carry where you shop.
  • At the mall or store, park your car as close to an entry point as possible and make a mental note of where it 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, the uneasy feeling in the pit of your stomach, or that small voice 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 a store, approach the entry from an angle so as to see inside to ensure that everything looks normal. Scan the area. Are people running around or are they shopping and moving about as expected?
  • Once in the mall, continue to scan the area to make sure everything looks 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 gunfire; 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 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 actually arrive on the scene.
  • Keep in mind that, depending on your local law enforcement agency’s training, policies and their preparedness for active shooter 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 police get there, develop a cogent response and finally 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. Most people never do this. They operate in condition white. Remember that those who prepare survive. Those who don’t frequently won’t.

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.


Lt. Salvatore Navarro (Ret.) is a Montana Hunters Education Instructor, an NRA Certified Firearms Instructor and PPCT Certified Defensive Tactics Instructor and Montana State Certified Firearms Instructor. He is the President and CEO of Montana Tactical Firearms Instruction, Inc.and Vanguard Security Consultants, Inc., Bozeman, Montana.

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  1. No I don’t. There are a whole lot more things much more likely that could go wrong instead such as a medical emergency.

    • Does he wear special ninjutsu boots to climb walls? Duck tape extra trauma plates to torso under his vest? Preserve the virginity of the mayor’s nephew? I’m not Todd, I just want to talk to him….

  2. So never eat or drink. Check

    Dont go anywhere you dont know everything about the surroundings. Check.

    Sounds more like being on patrol than living life.

    I carry a gun so I can live life with a small degree of security.

    Everything fun is at least a little dangerous.

    Seems like I can increase my safety factor by not taking selfies. Got that one down cold.

    Geez oh peetz…..let’s have something about actually shooting and using guns.

    This is getting sad.

    • Chill out Francis…Not everyone is as informed as you seem to be. Knowing what to do and how to do it. In the absence of a firearm saves as many lives as having a firearm does. Never put down good advice just because you may already know it.

      • No way I have most answers ….. no way I ever will.

        I try to look around when I’m out and about but you cant be on patrol all the time.

        Mainly just tired of click bait stuff and no gun stuff.

  3. Excellent advice. Seems to me that paying attention to one’s surroundings, situation awareness, ranks right up there with training. Not only training with the gun but training your family to accept commands during a bad situation because there is Not time to discuss and when every second counts it is far better to act, take action and move to cover and concealment quickly. Training with the gun and perhaps not to the same extent but some training with one’s family too. It’s all about being safe. My thanks to the author.

  4. I’ve been doing this for so long. I don’t think it had a name when I started doing it. It was just how I was raised. Growing up in the woods. Hunting for food to survive on. Taught me situational awareness. Spending time in some damn rough drinking establishments taught me to always know who and what was going on around me. Realizing it was up to me to protect not only myself but those I cared for. Taught me to always be prepared for the unexpected and be willing to do whatever was necessary to accomplish that goal. I always scope and scan the area anytime I’m outside my own home. I set with my back against a wall with entrances covered in front of me in restaurants and other businesses. I always pay attention to the entrance of strangers into any situation. Some may think this paranoid. To me it’s just who and what I am. It a dangerous world out there and the predators are always looking for a victim. Time and Age has taught me a great many things. Survival being the most important. I for one will go down fighting with all the tools at my disposal. Instead as so many victims do. Hopeless and begging/praying for their lives. Keep Your Powder Dry.

      • I agree with 38. Be aware, but try to enjoy life a little. We don’t (yet) live in a shitholian country.
        When I go to the big city EVERYONE looks strange. What am I supposed to do crab walk with my back to the wall?
        As for the mall shooter; If he/she/it is not a threat to me or mine, run like hell the other way.
        This is all good if you are an patrol in downtown Mogadishu (or Minneapolis) but not for every F’ing day. Not everyone is out to kill you. Unless you are a ‘roid out cop/spec ops type that’s paranoid to the extreme, chill and live a little less stressed out!

  5. Don’t forget you can’t have your gun out when the police arrive. You essentially have to behave like your an assassin. You can’t be caught trying to take out the bad guy nor draw any attention to yourself as an armed person. It’s likely the cops are more dangerous to you in an active shooter situation than the murderer.

    • Honestly, in a mass shooting situation I don’t think I’d hang around.

      Either leave, or put the BG(s) down then leave, let the situation get a bit sorted, contact an attorney and have him contact the cops in a way that they know who I am and why I’m coming in. I’m not going to just hang around in that situation if I can possibly avoid it.

      • Or do like I do……

        Slip out …dump your gun in a trash can with your burn phone….go to the bank and get a new passport out of the safety deposit box….. hop a train to Paris…….

        Oh wait …Jason Bourne does that …not me…

  6. All good information to think about, thank you. I just finished reading “Your Most Powerful Weapon” by Steve Tarani and currently reading “Left Of Bang” by Patrick Van Horne & Jason Riley… which cover a lot of the same awareness and tactical mindset issues for everyday life in today’s “new normal”.

    You mention finding a good firearms instructor who can qualify you for a concealed carry permit… all good and fine if you live in a pro 2A state like Montana, or have a pro 2A sheriff in your county that will even allow you to get one. But when you’re stuck in a state like Commiefornia or live in uber liberal counties (like Los Angeles) you’re pretty much screwed. I have ZERO chance of getting a permit here in Redondo Beach, CA – so I must live without one. I hope to eventually be able to move out of this God forsaken state to a friendly 2A state like Idaho, but that’s at least 5-6 years away right now. In the meantime I will try to mentally train Left Of Bang and be prepared as best I can.

    • Today’s “new normal” is statistically safer than virtually any other point in history. Sure, live life with some awareness of your surroundings, and yeah, it’s a great idea to be prepared for bad things that could (but probably won’t) happen. But let’s not pretend the United States in 2019 is especially dangerous or deadly. The media find and hype every single instance of violence they can get their hands on, which sometimes makes it seem so, but the reality is quite different. “If it bleeds, it leads.” As it happens, this is also a useful marketing strategy for tactical trainers and wannabe operators everywhere.

      • Agreed, baring a few zip codes this is the safest place and time you could possibly be alive.

        I’ll go one further though…as a guy who EDCs a pair of pistols, 56 rounds of ammo, a flashlight, smartphone and a pair of knives, who has been well training and stays polished, who exercises good situational awareness, who has been in lethal force encounters and has some PTSDish hyper vigilance and stress resulting from it, that laundry list of crap in the op is way, way, way over the top for 99% of people in 99% of locations in the US.

        This is America, the exits are well marked with lighted signs and predictable in their locations, if the worst happens, it’s going to be an individual or at most a pair, with no plan and no skills. Your biggest threat of violence is likely a mugging or carjacking or being present for an armed robbery of a business and your biggest actual threats are all health related. You’re more likely to save your life with cardio than an op plan for going to the mall. Yes, having the right mindset, a basic action plan, tools and skills is good, but behaving as if US shopping malls are likely locations for armed combat is just silly.

  7. Taught a lot of CCW classes. One question I always asked. “Where is my weapon?” Students invariably pointed to my waist. Except for one. He said, “It’s your brain.” I said, “You’re the only person to answer that question correctly.” A firearm is only a tool.

    • Yeah ….. but it is a very important tool.

      My brain cant stop a threat 60 feet away…..unless its controlling a gun.

      Just sayin….

  8. To those that think this article is too much “thinking” for you when you’re out and about in everyday life with your family, and it’s just being “paranoid”…

    That’s the type of thinking that will find you with your pants down around your ankles and unable to react when sh*t hits the fan…

    I’ll leave you this quote in the forward from Steve Tarani’s book “Your Most Powerful Weapon”…

    “…Preparation Does Not Provoke Paranoia, It Prevents It”

    Colonel Steven P. Bucci, PhD
    Former United States Secretary of Defense
    U.S. Army Special Forces (ret)

  9. Was US Army SF during the south east asia war games. Every one WAS out to kill us. Left the Army and had a hell of a time losing this mind set. Some still sticks, but mostly not so much. I do live in the sticks and avoid large groups of people unless necessary.
    I worry less about the average person(s) than I do about the fucking .gov. And yes, I do EDC for peace of mind

    • “I worry less about the average person(s) than I do about the fucking .gov. ”

      Agree. They may not want to shoot your family in a mall but many would have no problem enslaving you to them and taking your property.

    • I particularly enjoyed the specification that an edc flashlight have a lanyard, and the bit about finding an instructor to qualify you for a ccw. I kept waiting for the requirement to carry field notes.

      • My personal favorite is all the tactical instructors teaching people to seek cover but using plywood to train them as to how to do it.

        “Seek cover, then shoot! Here, to practice use this plywood with cutouts on it to make your shooting stances awkward, it’s great cover!”

        • Damn, you mean my wife is right; all those plywood cover stations I built around, and in, the house are of no use?

        • Well…in a mall or dept store there is plenty of concealment and not much cover.

          I guess the best place would behind one of the cars on display at our mall.

          Need more cars in malls. Or maybe build some small brick walls to sit on…those would be cover.

          Sunglass Shack…..not so much.

      • I left out the doosey about remembering where you park. Who the fuck doesn’t try to remember where they parked, tactifool or not.

        • Working at a big box for the last 10yrs and eating lunch in my truck everyday, you’d be amazed how many people i see get lost in the parking lot every week. Walking around pressing their thing looking for the beep.

  10. Gee whiz. I thought this article was pretty good. Being at the top of the food chain , as humans think they are, they don’t quite have what it takes anymore. 10,000 years ago they could smell a possum a quarter mile away. Now they’ve gotta stick their nose in the container to smell if the milk is sour. Humans had better achieve their social bliss utopia because their certainly losing their animal instincts besides their physical prowes ( takes a tuff injun to kill a buffalo with a rock)

  11. Buy morale patches: Check

    Indoor range safety class: Check

    Cell phone flashlight: Check

    Watch youtube CQB videos: Check

    Carry 4 knives in hard to reach locations on body and keychain: Check

    Wear 5.11: Check

    G2G here guys.

    In all seriousness, this sentence sums it up nicely: “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.”

    Pretty straightforward to some of us, to others, it’s a concept they will never understand. The mere thought of having to hurt, let alone kill, another human is something they cannot fathom in the worst case scenario. That’s why police/military exist? Amirght? To “Protect”.


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