This is the fifth and final installment of my force-on-force training at Practical Firearms Training (PFT). In this scenario, we’re playing a group of gun owners standing outside a K-12 school. Upon hearing shots fired, with no police to be found, we decide to go in and stop the active shooter before he kills more children. PFT conducted the exercise in a decommission school set for demolition. The shooter used a real semi-automatic AK-47 style gun with dummy rounds. We were firing paintball guns without hearing protection. The shots would sound real.
The gun owners formed an ad hoc three-person team. One team-member leads the way (the team leader) and covering the team from the front. The other two members form a triangle formation: one either side of the team leader, one . The two trailing persons cover their side of the hall, as well as keep an eye behind the team for any danger from the rear.
Initially, I was on the rear right-side of the triangle. We entered the school on the first floor. Our team heard shots coming from the third floor. Our mission: stop the shooter as quickly as possible. It did NOT include clearing the entire building. We started climbing the steps up to the second floor.
So far, so good.
Next we climbed the steps up to the landing between the second and third floors. As soon as we started, someone with a rifle opened fire on us from the top of the third floor stairs.
We returned fire from minimal cover: the balcony above. The team leader’s paintball gun jammed. Cursing, he stepped back into cover on the second floor stairwell to fix his gun. I assumed the forward position. The remaining team members and I started up the stairwell again to the landing between the two floors.
The shooter had moved.
I arrived at the top of the landing between the second and third floors. I provided cover as my teammate came up to the landing from the second floor.
Still quiet. Suddenly, a figure came running down the stairs. I realized it was a “teacher” and moved my muzzle off of him.
As the teacher ran down the stairs, my attention focused on the third floor landing behind him. If the shooter popped up at that moment, he could have shot the fleeing teacher in the back. I locked my gun on the third floor landing, ready to open fire.
As the teacher approached me, he was saying something. I was still highly focused on getting him past us and on his way down the last two flights of stairs and out of the building. I didn’t listen to what he was saying. That was a mistake.
More shots rang out from what sounded like the far side of the third floor. My teammates and I ran up the stairs, stopping on the third floor landing.
More shots. Damn they were loud!
I peeked out of the landing door. There was a door to my left, another across the hall and one to my immediate right. I paused. I had no idea if a bad guy might be in on of those rooms. We didn’t have the time to clear all these rooms (slicing the pie); an active shooter was taking innocent lives. The shots were down the hall. I headed towards them.
My gun was out in front of me. I walked by the classroom door on my right side. I was looking down the hall towards the shooter’s location.
POP, POP, POP, POP, POP
I felt the paintballs hitting the right side of my head and on my neck. Through the blur of the paintball paint over my right eye, I could see there indeed was a SECOND bad guy, this one with an AR-15 style paintball gun standing in the back of the classroom on my right.
I did not even attempt to return fire. For me, it was was over. Those shots would have been fatal.
First, never assume that there’s one bad guy. Second, never forget to gather intel. As you probably guessed, the teacher fleeing the scene was trying to tell me there was a second shooter. By missing assuming there was only one threat and failing to gather information, I paid the ultimate price.
Third, when hunting an active shooter in an unsecured environment, you need to move past uncleared room extremely quickly. And keep moving. My mistake was walking by a classroom door. Had I run past that room and down the hall towards the sounds of the active shooter, the second bad guy would have been unable to react when he saw me flash by the door.
At least in theory. Anyway, a moving target is harder to hit and I should have taken advantage of that.
Board member Dennis O’Connor led a three-man team. Dennis’ force formed on the other side of the building and entered by that stairwell.
One member covered the stairwell, while another raced to the second floor. That member watched the stairwell as the other two team members raced to the second floor. A team member watched the stairwell as one of the team members raced to the landing between the second and third floors. That person then watched the third floor for any shooters as the other two team members raced to the landing.
Finally, two members raced to the third floor with one person on the landing continuing to provide cover. That person them joined the team on the third floor.
Dennis immediately stepped into the hall where he had been hearing shots. The bad guy with the AK stood in front of Dennis with his back turned toward the entire team. Dennis opened up on the bad guy, who didn’t have a chance to return fire.
[During Dennis’ scenario, upon hearing shots in the hall outside of my “classroom,” my “class” scattered. I chose to hide in a closet, holding the door so it could not be opened easily should someone try to open it. This was a so-so choice, as either shooter could have just killed me by shooting through that door had they found out I was inside. Hiding unarmed was a horrible experience. I’ll take a fighting chance any day!]
Dennis’ team caught the bad guy by surprise. Moving quickly increases the odds in the good guys’ favor, while moving quickly past unsecured areas minimizes the chances of being shot (as I learned the hard way). Hesitation kills.
In another drill, a person with a mentally handicapped son comes into a government office. The son becomes upset and anxious. At one point he walks out and comes back with an AR-15.
He wasn’t threatening anybody with; he was just holding it. I was unarmed. I left the room as soon as I could. I watched from another room as the scenario played out.
In the end, the two armed citizens talked the son into putting down the gun. Point taken: armed citizens can defuse a situation without resorting to deadly force. Sometimes.
In another scenario, an undercover police officer enters a waiting room to arrest a criminal. The officer and criminal are grappling for the officer’s gun.
Dennis, who was unarmed, jumped in to help the officer, wresting the gun from the bad guy’s hands. [I think this goofed up the trainers’ plans.] The officer somehow loses the gun again to the bad guy. One of the armed citizens stepped up and shot the bad guy repeatedly to stop him.
Dennis let go of the bad guy and backed off. He stood behind the bad guy, moving out of the way (as best he could) as his colleague shot the criminal.
NOTE: These scenarios involved highly trained individuals, playing both the good and bad guys. In a street encounter, an armed citizen is unlikely to encounter a bad guy with this much experience.
Joe Schmo gang banger could always get lucky. But advanced training will give a highly prepared gun owner a tactical advantage.