Safety and Training

Active Shooters

Gray haired man in green shirt, blue jeans and red ear protection practices his shooting skills with wooded area in the background.

Our personal defense and firearms expert takes a hard look at a difficult problem. The problem is not the lack of a plan. The problem is being willing to implement the plan. When a discussion of active shooters and mass shootings comes up, the right-minded among us want to do something and to have a plan. 

Black handled Glock 19 9mm in a black holster with a red decoration on a light gray background
A compact 9mm, such as the GLOCK 19, will meet the needs of most shooters if properly deployed (shown in a holster).
Unfortunately, each event is unique, and a plan does not fit every scenario. And a plan is not as good as having a prepared person willing to act. Often, there is some warning the event is coming, other times not. I think we are past any thoughts of relying on police to stop the event. The police have proven good at cleanup and counting bodies. We will not rehash Columbine, where the police gathered their forces while students died. Nor will we consider the actions at Virginia Tech. Witnesses saw heavily armed police pointing guns at the buildings. There was a warning that morning, with two homicides, but there was no increase in security nor did authorities lock down the campus.

Would it have made a difference? We do not know, and for each of these events, singular as they are, we need to have a willingness to take  immediate action. Since the killer picks gun-free zones, there will be victims and no police, or perhaps incidentally, there will be police. If you are unarmed, then you cannot participate in your own rescue, much less rescue anyone else.

Your options are to:

  • Prostrate yourself before the event
  • Hit him with everything you have

First, you must ask what your position is. Are you a target, the object of the monster’s rage, or are you one among many? Escape looks good if you do not know what is going on. After all, we do not wish to intercede in a gang battle. If my family is with me, nothing is more important than them. I will fight to safety, find an exit and spare their lives, if possible.

If you know what the situation is, are armed and able to act, then the situation changes. And hopefully, you will be well armed and able to respond. A .380 automatic is not useful at 25 yards. In my opinion, the sub-caliber pistols are of little use at bad-breath range. An aberrant or drugged mind makes for a body difficult to stop. You win the fight if you kill the shooter before he kills you. Simple enough.

Black compact 9mm, barrel pointed to the left on a white background
The compact 9mm is a formidable handgun in the hands of a skilled shooter.
A rapid presentation into a stable firing position and getting a solid hit with a credible caliber works against a rifle-armed shooter. If you miss, or the 9mm does not do the business, then you may be dead instead of the person shooting at you being dead. If the range is close, shooting between the eyes looks good. Head shots can actually be a problem since the lower jaw may absorb a lot of damage. The area where the base of the skull meets the spine (occipital ridge) is resistant to small-bore rounds.

You are under no requirement to warn the shooter or to tell him to stop shooting. In fact, if you yell at him, you are asking to be shot. So make sure your shot is deliberate and accurate. If you have practiced point shooting, do not fire in a crowd, but now it is too late to learn traditional marksmanship skills. If you have the arms and the skill to stop a murder—or a mass murder—you should if you are mentally prepared.

The only choice is to run, get out of the way—or die.

If you have decided to be armed, you should be adequately armed and well trained. Nothing else is morally acceptable.

Gray haired man in green shirt, blue jeans and red ear protection practices his shooting skills with wooded area in the background.
Practice hard and practice often.
I understand that there are places where you cannot be armed, and at those times, perhaps a knife is acceptable. A good knife is a respectable personal defense instrument and better than tooth and nail.

The point is—you must act. And if by acting, you save lives; then, in my opinion, morally and legally the shooter must die.

As many of you know, my background includes some study of psychology. In psychology, we wonder why the miserable individual does what he does. For self-preservation, we cannot consider the motivation, only the problem.

And the problem is the person must be stopped.

Have you been in a life-or-death situation where you had to act, or die? Known someone who has? How did you handle it? Share in the comments section.


The Mission of Cheaper Than Dirt!'s blog, The Shooter's Log, is to provide information—not opinions—to our customers and the shooting community. We want you, our readers, to be able to make informed decisions. The information provided here does not represent the views of Cheaper Than Dirt!

Comments (22)

  1. Bob–Great article.
    This article should be more wisely available given the recent tragedy in Las Vegas, with the ambush of 2 Metro officers while eating lunch in a local pizza parlor and the unfortunate death of a CCW holder Joseph Wilcox in a Walmart. According to police reports, Joseph confronted one of the active shooters but lost his situational awareness and failed to notice the female companion to the active shooter. She shot an killed Joseph from behind before Joseph could engage either shooters.
    I wholeheartedly agree that placed in the situation, the active shooter must die. We CCW holders have a moral obligation to protect others. But situational awareness MUST be paramount.
    Being well trained is the responsibility of every CCW holder.
    Situational awareness is the key to survival.

  2. CCW a Glock 30 with two magazines. Since I have started carrying I now scan the people wherever I am, the exits and doors and look for a possible cover if needed. Guns do not make me nervous when they are holstered, but once they clear the holster, that all changes. I look for any signs in the entrance of a business, if it says No Weapons/Guns I leave and spend my money elsewhere. The first rule in a gun fight is to have a gun and I’ll not keep mine in my car when I can legally carry in my state.

  3. The issue of litigation/liability is an important one. Even if we have the ability/mindset/training to act, is that action going to destroy us?

    It’s one thing to be confronted directly by a person intent on harming us or our families. They break in the front door, pose a legally-defensible threat to us, and we defend in a legitimate manner. It’s one thing to be legally armed at work, be confronted by one of these “active shooters,” and defend accordingly. But here’s the other side of this issue. How many of us moral, upstanding members of society- military, police or civilian- would feel morally right knowing that we had the capability, training and firepower to stop a mass-murderer and not do it when there is no direct threat to ourselves?

    Why would we not do it? Civilians, especially, would have to knowingly pursue and engage the attacker, which contradicts the standard “get away from the threat if possible and use deadly force only as a last resort” mantra that they are taught. The instincts of any first responder, or any decent, well-meaning, armed American are to help defend others in need- to protect innocent lives. But how would that action of pursuing the bad guy be perceived by the police? The media? The courts?

    Without intending to be a “hero,” every ounce of our being says, “Help them! Save lives!” Yet is it worth the effort? Would a civilian be treated as a criminal worse than the original attacker? Obviously, a civilian involved in this situation needs to act properly when the police come around- gun holstered, hands visible, et cetera, but would the trials be endless or would the civilian be thanked?

    These are questions that may depend on location, responding agencies, political character of the city, but are questions that really need to be addressed and publicly discussed in this day and age.

  4. I too ponder the question of what to do in an active shooter situation. As a retired peace officer I carry wherever it is legal to do so. I also carry spare magazines and blood clotting agents, tourniquets and pressure bandages (primarily for me and mine but if need be I will use them to the save the life of the anyone else in need, including the bad guy/girl).

    My real concern is not shooting an “active shooter” as long as I am legally justified I’ll have no problem dealing with a criminal prosecution. What gives me pause is the endless civil litigation that will inevitably follow. You don’t have the cover of your agency to cover any legal costs, saving my life and the life of my family comes first. The question is without some protection of my assets will I risk my family’s financial well being for someone else? Sad to say, but that gives me pause.

  5. I have to take exception to the author’s denigration of the .380 auto. Any gun, that you have and are capable of using, is better than no gun at all !

    While I am guilty of carrying a couple of .380s (one on the belt & one on my ankle), in SC, in hot weather, I truly do Not prefer it, as a ‘sure as shootin’ means of guaranteed self defense. Unless you’re carrying FMJ ammo, it may very well not penetrate to vital organs, in heavily muscled assailants, or in opponents wearing heavy leather jackets.

    In cooler weather, where I can carry a larger weapon, without it being noticeable, I much prefer anything that begins with a ‘.4’, as in .45ACP, .45 Colt Long or .40 cal. As our Soldiers/Marines/SEALs etc. have become aware, in our recent wars in the Middle east, a 9mm just doesn’t have the power to keep you from getting killed, when facing a mentally deranged, or drugged up assailant.

    I was weaned on the M1911A1 45ACP, at the tender age of 17, during my military police training course. I still vastly prefer it, to most any other handgun, that I have ever used. The newer 8 round magazines are a definite improvement, over the older, GI issue one, 7 round ones, wherein they would only place 5 rounds, to keep the spring from wearing out. (they always kept the mags loaded and in the Arms room, ready to be signed out). I recently added a .40 cal. to my collection, to fill a void that I had and much prefer to carry it, as opposed to my 9mm, even though I have to sacrifice 3 rounds, per mag., as it has greater knockdown power, than the 9mm does.
    note; While I love how my S&W M&P 9mm shoots & the 17 round mags, that it holds, you could very well Need every one of those rounds, if facing a drugged up assailant, sans a direct hit in a vital organ.

    We got to watch a video of a SC Highway Patrolman, doing drug interdiction, who was armed with a .357 revolver, get killed, AFTER firing all 6 rounds into the perpetrator, by a single, albeit, lucky shot, from the perp’s .22 cal. N. Am. Firearms mini revolver… It’s all about bullet placement, in th4e final analysis…

    All in all, Any gun, even a NAF .22 mini revolver, is far better than no gun at all. But if you have a choice, bigger is always better, when it comes to knock down power.

  6. Don’t forget that every policeman in the city is also responding to the active shooter call, save your life, be the hero, but DO NOT assume that they have a discription of the bad guy! If you are the only person standing with a gun, you will be the focus of their attentiion. Even plainclothes and off-duty officers have been shot by mistake in similar situations. If safe, re-holster get back down and ID yourself when the event has calmed down.

  7. I hope you will forgive an ignorant question but to say that a 9mm is better than a .38 seems a little incongruous to me. There are 25.4 millimeters in 1 inch. If you divide 9 by 25.4 you get .35 caliber. In other words smaller than the .38 you are saying is too small. Admittedly I don’t know if powder load or bullet shape makes the 9 mm superior or what other factors come into play but the 9 mm is kinda small.

    I agree that bigger is better and carry a XD40.

  8. Why is this term “active shooter” used? If someone is shooting…aren’t they, by the definition of action, active?

    It’s a silly term the media has come up with. Have you eve heard of an inactive shooter shooting people?

    1. When the person pulls the trigger he becomes the shooter. If he puts his weapon down and hands on his head, he’s *Still* the shooter, but Not an “active shooter”. In English “active shooter” isn’t a word: “shooter” is the pronoun and “active” is the adjective or modifier.

    2. “Active Shooter” is not a media term. It was coined within the law enforcement community to distinguish the difference between an ongoing/”in progress” event and an event that has already transpired.

      As for the video being used by HPD, it is important for us to remember the intended audience; i.e., the “average citizen”. Right, wrong, or indifferent, the “average citizen” is unarmed and generally unprepared psychologically and emotionally to deal with an active shooter scenario.

      In light of this, as a former police officer and a security professional of some forty years, I personally believe that the video conveys a simple, easy to remember message that could be extremely beneficial to the “average citizen”.

    3. Active shooter is a term Law Enforcement uses to differentiate between a man with a gun call and a man actually attempting to kill people moving through an area, as apposed to stationary or barricaded. Not silly at all, it lets responding LE know that the shooter is mobile and could be anywhere .

    4. Actually it was not the media, but rather the U.S. Department of Homeland Security that created and defined the term “active shooter”. In professional terms there are various types of shooters. One such example would be the “sharp shooter” or sniper. However, the term in no way indicates he is actually shooting at any given moment. Such designators allow incident coordinators to distinguish and direct commands to only their marksmen.

    5. Their is a classification for an action you speak of and it is Active shooter / Barricaded Suspect. This means he is in one place with no movement.
      Active shooter means he is not confined in one area / and constantly in action.

  9. With 32 years military and law enforcement experience I can say that no two situations are ever the same. We train incessantly for the most probable scenarios and adjust training needs based on current threat trends. As for real world, yes I have had several “life-or-death situations where I had to act, or die”. I have no doubt that each outcome would have been entirely different had there not been constant training and the development of muscle-memory along with it.

    But how does this benefit the average civilian that does not do this for a living? The same way military or law enforcement passes their skills along to their own family members; through word of mouth training. We may not always be able to physically find time to get the family trained up, but you can conduct verbal lessons for your family just about anywhere, at any time and still see effective results. Keep in mind even military and law enforcement training starts with verbal instruction in the classroom prior to practicing in the field. The point is that verbally learned skills are better than nothing.

    Once is not enough. Superior training is accomplished through repetition. So I offer the following tips: Teach your family to routinely survey each restaurant, theater, mall space, or public event as they enter. Aside from active shooter scenarios, fires and earthquakes also create panic and danger. So get family in the habit of noting the locations of fire exits as well as other equipment such as extinguishers, wall mounted defibrillators, emergency ladders and whatever else could be of use in an emergency.

    When I am at restaurants I sit closest to the exits and never place my back to the bulk of the crowd so I can monitor the flow. In bathrooms I always use a stall rather than an open urinal because would-be perpetrators may attack while you are most vulnerable. A stall is an effective barrier between you and your concealed weapon when other things are in your hands (if you know what I mean).

    A word to law enforcement and military: Given our backgrounds, even off duty we have a natural tendency to obligate ourselves to counteracting any threat while in the public. However, keep in mind this obligation changes when family is with you. Secure their safety first, and then commence to mitigating ongoing threats if possible. That muscle-memory is going to kick in, and it never included family, so please don’t forget them.

    A word about training resources for civilians: Instructor based training is most effective but comes with a price tag. However, you don’t have to spend an arm and a leg to get some basic training that can be passed along to family. A simple Internet search will yield thousands of links to free video content and other resources that will guide you through training. Many are high quality freebies put out by dedicated professionals, while others are sample clips attempting to get you to make a larger purchase of their course material. Regardless, it’s free. With little effort you can piecemeal together an effective training plan for your family. Again, anything is better than nothing at all.

    Once you begin training, it’s not hard to get in the habit. Just do it. Make it become light conversation while standing in line with the family or during the consumption of that burger. Teach them to pay attention to their environment. Surprisingly it becomes as common as putting on a seatbelt. They won’t consciously think about it, they’ll just do it. Later have fun running quizzes to see who was most observant.

    It has become an increasingly dangerous world we live. It sucks that we MUST incorporate this type of training into our daily lives. However, the human brain is capable of tracking way more than we realize, so have trust that with consistent practice and training your family will adjust. Eventually it will not appear to consume our lives as much as we thought. I hope these ideas help other readers.

    1. BOB AND G MAN,

  10. I always carry the largest caliber firearm I can conceal. During very warm weather in shorts and T-shirt that is my Ruger LCP in .380 with a spare magazine, not optimal but better than nothing. IMHO, being aware of your surroundings and unfolding situations is first and foremost. I do not care to play hero by engaging an active shooter in a gunfight, and will try my best to escape. In a mall for example, running into any store and towards the rear should get you out through a delivery door and to the outside directly, or to a common hallway that leads to the outside. I would only engage the shooter if I got trapped somehow, and would try to conceal myself until the last second before opening fire. There is a great video put out by the City of Houston called “Run, Hide, Fight”. Below is a link to the video:

    1. I hope I am not the only one who finds it ironic that DHS funded this video and the shooter enters a building with a no concelealed weapons sign on the door. Go to the :59 mark in the video to see it. So based on the content of the video are we to assume that DHS thinks that there is a acceptable number of murders than can occur while waiting on the police to arrive? Perhaps if the properly licensed concealed carry holders were allowed to actually carry they would stand a better chance of stopping the shooter while wating on the police. I’m not sure about you but I would rather have my pistol than a chair or fire extinguisher.

    2. I too, noticed the sign. I like to think it is there to demonstrate to viewers that a sign on the door DOES NOT deter the armed bad guy hell bent on killing. But it probably means there are no armed “good guys” there, and who did he take out first? The uniformed and armed security officer.

    3. Ironically the Texas 30.06 sign actually does less than fail to deter. Since PC 30.06 only applies to concealed handgun license holders it ISN’T EVEN ILLEGAL for the killer to carry a shotgun past it.

      The security guard was not armed. See at 1:17.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit exceeded. Please click the reload button and complete the captcha once again.

Your discussions, feedback and comments are welcome here as long as they are relevant and insightful. Please be respectful of others. We reserve the right to edit as appropriate, delete profane, harassing, abusive and spam comments or posts, and block repeat offenders. All comments are held for moderation and will appear after approval.