I have spent considerable time studying this issue and even more time thinking about what one should do in the event of an armed robbery or an “active shooter”. Although I have been blessed to never have been in either, I routinely think about what I would do should that unfortunate event occur. The more I think about what I would do, the more I think about how my response differs significantly from what you are told to do by government, educational, and business loss-prevention programs.
Almost all training programs teach you that if there is an active shooter: you are to run, hide and then only as a last resort should you try to fight. As I mentioned before, I work in a “Big Box” sporting goods store, and they teach that tactic as well. However, when asked by a fellow employee what I personally would do, I stated that I would immediately arm myself and prepare to take out the threat. My preconceived plan would include grabbing a handgun from the display cabinet that has a large capacity magazine, run to the ammo aisle, dump a box of the correct ammo into my pockets, then, while walking toward the shooter, load the magazine. Finally, upon seeing the robber or active shooter, I would do my best to stop the threat. The employee I was speaking with replied and said: “That is not what they teach you to do”. I responded: “No, but it is the right thing to do”.
What Would You Do?
So that is the dilemma. What do you do? During one of these conversations, I was talking to a person and asked what he would do. His response was that he would run for cover and do his best to escape the area. I asked why he chose that response, and he said “Because my job is to come home to my family every night”. No doubt that is a noble thing to do. I then found out he was a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot with several combat tours under his belt, a true American hero. So at first I was caught off guard that a military professional with combat experience would run and hide rather than stand and fight. I clearly understood his desire to come home to his family every night. For one thing, his goal to preserve his family and put their welfare first was noble; that is a duty he bears as a husband and father. Also, I recognized that he had already served his country and done his tour of duty. But this combat veteran’s anticipated reaction to a robbery or active shooter at our workplace illustrates an interesting point. You never know who might be running and who might be fighting.
So we are back to the main point. In the case of an active shooter or an armed robber, what do you do? What course of action is safest for everybody involved. I clearly understand that some of my upcoming comments are going to touch sensitive areas in some folks’ feelings, so get ready.
Breaking Down Roles
Let’s address the Active Shooter situation. First, I feel women, children and elderly should strictly adhere to the recommended methodology of running and leaving the area as quickly as possible and finding hiding place. This is where your situational awareness will save you. You must quickly identify your escape route and expeditiously move in that direction. Help others if you can along the way, but your mission should be to get out of there as quickly as you can. Run as far away as you can. Do not trust hiding, get out of there. Look what happened in Paris in the several mass shootings by terrorists in November of 2015. People thought it was safe to hide under the tables in restaurants. They just became easy targets. Run as far from the site as you can, do not stop until you can no longer hear shots being fired. Then find solid cover–the kind that can physically stop bullets or block an attacker from entering your area.
Yes, there are women that are equally trained and equipped to fight as well as any man. And if you are one of those women, then if you elect to charge the bad guy, all the more power to you. Same with any of those that may be considered elderly. Every rule has exceptions.
Men, I feel you should go after the shooter. If you are armed, then all the better, but everyone should do what they can to stop the threat. If you are unarmed, grab anything you can carry that can be used to throw at the shooter. Throw as much as you can at them in hope it will allow you or another person to get closer to the shooter to tackle him. If you have access to them, spray the shooter with pepper spray or you can blind him with spray from a fire extinguisher, use everything you can to your advantage. Surprisingly, even if you have a weapon and someone throws something at you, you will duck and try to avoid being hit by it. It is natural instinct. So throw lots of stuff, even if the things you are throwing are not very dangerous in and of themselves.
There is an old adage well known in the world of paramilitary training. It says: “action is faster than reaction.” I feel it is imperative that you go on the offensive when there is an active shooter or armed robber who appears about to start shooting or taking hostages. If you only “go on the defensive” then you have given the bad guy the advantage and increased the odds more innocent people are going to get hurt or killed.
For active shooters, there is risk in taking action, because they have already started their killing spree. Having them stop or leave on their own, peacefully, is not a likely possibility. If nothing is done, then there is a certainty that more bad things are going to happen and those injured or killed will escalate. Is there risk to your actions? No doubt! So what should your plan be in the case of an active shooter?
First, you must have very good situational awareness. You must always be aware of your surroundings and know where your exit points are located and be prepared to act when if an adverse event should occur.
Second, quickly recognize that something bad is happening and action needs to be taken. This is so important. The bad guy has made you an active participant. Lots of times when bad things are happening those people in the area fail to recognize that fact, and thus they keep going about their way and getting trapped in the bad event. The other thing that happens is that people run from the bad event with no direction or purpose. This causes chaos and endangers the lives of many. So having a plan is essential to escaping quickly, or ending the threat quickly.
Third, make sure those around you are safe and moving in a direction away from danger. Even if that means pointing them in the direction they should run and helping them get to safety quickly as possible.
Fourth, you should start moving toward the danger. No need to run to the danger if it is close. This may cause you to run right into bad situations and get hurt or killed unnecessarily. Use tactical movement, taking cover then moving to the next cover position and so forth until you can observe the shooter(s).
Fifth, take action. That might mean engaging your adversary on sight. Or it could mean observing for a few moments to plan how to attack him, where to ambush him, what weapon to use, or how to position yourself to make your attack most effective. Your “attack” could involve anything from throwing stuff at the shooter to shooting him. Whatever it is, do it when you can and when you know it will give you an advantage. Then do your best to STOP the shooter.
What about an Armed Robbery? In this case, you may wish to act differently, because not all armed robberies involve shooting, and not all robbers wish to become killers. You’ll likely have a bit more time to choose how to react to a robber than an active shooter.
The first step is the same; good situational awareness. In this case, if you are with family or friends you should be able to verbally alert them to a danger. I think all families and close friends should have a code word, such as “heads up”, to alert anyone in the group that someone in the group has seen something bad and the others need to go on a heightened state of awareness. This is very important to do if you can, but you may not have the chance to do this.
If you are commanded by the robber to do something, then do it. If you are near the robber, act as if you are no threat to him. This will give you a minute to plan your attack, your escape, or whatever you choose as the best response.
Once your plan is in place and the timing is advantageous, execute your plan, which may include throwing something at the robber, tackling them, or using your firearm to stop the threat. If it appears the robber only wants to steal some property or money and make a quick getaway, letting him go without trying to stop him may appear be the safest thing. However, you never know when the robbery is going to take the robbery to the next level by shooting someone. Just because you have a gun doesn’t mean you have to use it, but being armed gives you more options, not fewer.
Fight or Flight
Naturally these are just a few thoughts on these situations. Every case is very event-specific, and the proper response must be evaluated in light of all the circumstances. But my point is this: run & hide is not necessarily the best way to deal with an active shooter or armed robber. If action is taken, there is a good likelihood that lives will be saved. If no action is taken, the bad guys can choose to kill anyone or everyone they encounter, for whatever reason(s) that may trigger that urge in them. I am also saying that a violent counter-attack is not a course of action suited for everyone, but it should be taught and encouraged more.