With the increase in mass shootings across our nation, armed citizens need to consider what action they would take, if any, should they find themselves in the proximity of an active shooting. While every situation will be different (and impossible to pre-determine), those who would consider engaging a shooter must understand the risks and take steps to prepare for such a situation.
Armed Citizens Don’t Have a Duty to Respond
First of all, it’s important for armed citizens to realize they do not have a responsibility to save the day. That duty lies with law enforcement. Officers are trained intensely and frequently in firearm tactics and active shooter response techniques. Officers are also often equipped with large-capacity, semi-automatic handguns, carbine rifles, and ballistic protective clothing that gives them the best chance for survival during an active-shooter event.
You WILL Be Outgunned
Armed citizens must understand that if they take aggressive action against a shooter, they will be out-gunned. Most concealed-carry individuals carry small- or medium-capacity firearms. Think of it this way: Who in their right mind would use their little .380 or snub-nosed .38 to go after one or more shooters who likely has multiple handguns and rifles that hold 30-round magazines?
Since being out-gunned during a shooting incident is likely, a safer alternative would be to employ the run, hide, fight strategy. If confronted by the shooter, using your weapon to fight back may be the right choice in that situation. Even in a scenario where a person is unable to run or hide, armed citizens still do not have to seek out and engage the shooter.
It’s also important to remember that when police arrive, they likely don’t know you from the shooter so follow their instructions precisely as demanded.
For armed citizens who think they would choose to actively confront a shooter, consider the following strategies and training tactics:
Practice Advanced Training Techniques
Not all armed citizens train for proficiency in self-defense methods. Instead, they merely go to the local shooting range and target practice. That’s not defensive training.
Most shooting ranges don’t have targets that move or shoot back; shooters are not allowed to quick-draw; there’s no urgency to fire rounds as quickly and accurately as possible; and there’s no stress as in a real gunfight. These are all critical skills to have when involved in an active shooter situation.
In contrast, police always train defensively and armed citizens could benefit from replicating similar training techniques. Typical exercises for officers include quick-draw responses to multiple targets, some friendly targets mixed with targets showing threats, and choices about when to use deadly force. Officers generally have two or three seconds to assess the target and take appropriate action.
Know Your Surroundings
Police train to be aware of what’s behind their target. If there is any chance of injury to an innocent person behind the bad guy, the shot should not be taken. During a shooting incident, people will panic and run in all directions. You don’t want to shoot, injure, or kill anyone running for safety. If that occurs, you will likely face liable charges. You must quickly determine, “If I miss the aggressor, will I risk injuring the good guys?” If the answer is “maybe,” take cover until you have a clear shot.
Training Tips for Armed Citizens
To endow themselves with the best chance for survival, citizens ideally should train like the police. Of course, police departments don’t generally train civilians, so armed citizens could seek out an outdoor range ideally staffed with instructors who have experience in combat and survival tactics. Alternatively, there are private companies that offer combat firearms training for civilians.
If those options aren’t available, there are things you can do on your own to better prepare for an active shooter situation. For example, while at the range practice under stress. Start at a distance where you can consistently hit the target in two seconds and gradually increase the distance until you become proficient from that distance. A
Tactics for Engaging an Active Shooter
If you find yourself in an active shooter situation and decide to take action, do it quickly but not haphazardly. Stay out of the line of fire and use cover and concealment to your advantage.
Immediately upon hearing shots fired, get behind cover and assess the situation, scanning for threats. If you do not see the threat, cautiously move toward the sounds of gunshots, while keeping your firearm concealed. It’s recommended that you draw your weapon, as long as you can keep it out of view. You want to be inconspicuous so as not to draw attention to yourself and avoid being mistaken for the active shooter.
If you identify the shooter, take cover. Your goal is to engage from the shortest distance possible, attempting to ensure accuracy based upon your skill level. Remember, the shooter is a killer, and you are shooting to neutralize the threat.
Once the shooter is down, stay behind cover and reload if needed while scanning for further threats. Always assume there could be more than one shooter. If the scene is clear, approach with caution, keeping your weapon on target and disarm the shooter. Once you deem the scene safe, holster your weapon and wait for the police. They will likely handle you as a suspect until they sort things out. That will include taking your firearm as evidence. Therefore, be sure to follow their commands closely without hesitation.
The decision to take action during an active shooter goes beyond a person’s skill level and competency with a firearm. There are also legal factors to consider. If weapons are not handled responsibly, the citizen is risking criminal and civil liability. All firearm owners should understand deadly force is authorized (legal) only in cases of self-defense. In other words, one must reasonably be in fear of his or her life, or of another person’s, or of serious injury.
Individuals who engage an active shooter must realize that their actions will be scrutinized by the justice system, the media, and the public so they must know how to navigate those situations as well. This is why concealed carry insurance (below) is critical for anyone carrying a firearm.
In summary, the above recommendations in no way cover every situation. Each incident will present diverse issues and must be handled accordingly. It is critical that armed citizens focus on advanced training tactics practiced regularly. To use a common adage within the police profession: When faced with an emergency, you will do one of two things, panic or do what you were trained to do.