The active shooter or spree shooter has been a recurring problem that is all too common today. More than 100 years ago, events in Brunswick, Georgia, (the Brunswick Massacre) were a harbinger of things to come, and recently, tragic events were repeated near the original event in Georgia. Monroe Phillips, the original perpetrator, targeted those he felt had wronged him. He killed five to seven, depending on period reports, and wounded many more.
Editor’s note: This is this one expert’s “perspective” and his own opinion, offered as such.
Others simply kill for the pleasure of causing human pain and suffering. Whether a targeted event or a random event, the rampage of an active shooter is a deadly problem. Often the shooter has had months to prepare and arm with appropriate gear for this brand of mayhem. You must respond with what you have on hand.
Active-shooter incidents are fast moving and seldom involve other crimes or hostage taking. There is no reasoning with the shooter. He cannot be expected to stop shooting or drop his firearm even when faced with overwhelming odds. While some are driven for political or religious goals, many are psychotic. All are bent upon taking lives. While we must prepare to identify, stop and engage active shooters, predicting their appearance is difficult to impossible.
There are underlying causes of many of the active shootings. As an example, as long as churches continue to offer domestic counseling, attempt to dissuade people from drug use and aid battered women—all good work—there will be church shooters from those who resent the church lifting the individuals from the bonds of drugs or psychological slavery. Demented individuals will continue to attack those who achieved what they cannot.
After the first active-shooter incident that gained great notoriety, the infamous Texas Tower incident, the local police chief said everything relied upon “individual initiative.” Charles Whitman killed 14 people and wounded dozens before being stopped by a combination of the efforts of police and civilians. This is in contrast to the early debacles seen when SWAT teams alone were relied upon to address the problem of an active shooter.
Originally developed to counter such incidents, SWAT was used by agencies more and more often to serve felony warrants and fight gangs—and this is a good utilization of such well-trained, well-armed officers. However, the tactics used in felony warrant service and addressing barricaded individuals did not work well when applied to active shooters. Arriving at the scene, assembling the teams, collecting intelligence, assessing the threat and finally assaulting the building did not work well.
Columbine was one such example of people dying while a police response was anticipating a hostage-style incident. News footage from the scene has shown officers surrounding buildings and pointing their firearms at the building. Unfortunately, such tactics ensured that the primary police function will be counting bodies after the killing was done.
Tactics evolved, but unforeseen problems still dogged police response. At Virginia Tech, the first officers arrived in three minutes and immediately headed toward the sounds of gunfire—an excellent response by any standard. (University, state, and local units responded.) Since the killer used two firearms of different calibers, there was an assumption that there were two shooters. These officers, a combination of patrol and SWAT-trained officers, were met with chained and padlocked doors. However, they were able to use a shotgun to enter the building.
Teams entering opposite ends of the building cleared the structure quickly and began transporting wounded victims using the diamond formation, moving with guns drawn. The carnage seemed to indicate more than one gunman as the officers pressed on. Cho, the killer, had used chains to padlock the doors. He was prepared. Sometimes you do everything right with bold initiative and lose. As the officers closed in, Cho killed himself. Was he aware of the officers closing in? He had more than 150 rounds left; no one will ever know for certain.
When individual initiative is stressed, the police response is rapid. This occurred at Virginia Tech, after the Aurora shooting and also after the Newtown massacre. When the individual police are motivated and trained to respond quickly, the chances of stopping an active shooter are much higher. When confronted by police or simply aware of the arrival of the police, many killers stop shooting. Many kill themselves at the end of the spree. That is why a rapid response is so important in preventing innocent deaths. The recent response and reaction from police in Chattanooga, Tennessee, as an example, were exemplarily.
Active-shooter events cannot be predicted. Even when a high alert is in focus, the date, time and location cannot be foreseen. As an example, a few months ago the Pretty Girl and I visited France. We could not have known that as we flew across the Atlantic, a series of events resulted in grave threats against our first ally. The French president, undeterred, flooded the streets with paratroopers. The police presence in Paris, already strong, was evident, and highly trained motorcycle officers, able to respond quickly, were much in evidence.
When unarmed and traveling, what is the correct response to an active shooter? There is only one: Take cover, run, dart, dodge, and attempt to shield yourself. In a city with many pockmarked walls, I understand this well. (President Charles DeGaulle held the record for the most assassination attempts—more than 30—including one in which over 100 cartridges were fired.) Unless you are skilled in hand-to-hand combat and very close, your chances of disarming an active shooter are slim (the malnourished and lazy active shooter, maybe; a hardened and trained terrorist, you had best have good skills).
If you can legally carry a knife and have training, the odds go up in your favor. This isn’t an easy stroll or a creek easily leapt over. You have the ability to affect the outcome of such an event if you act quickly and decisively. If you are armed, all the better.
Foreign Actions Worth Studying
1980: The commanding officer of the SAS troops who led the siege on the Iranian embassy in London reportedly would not proceed unless he was guaranteed his men would not be prosecuted for any outcome of the assault. Some years after the Iranian embassy operation, an SAS operator with 23 years service made a very appropriate comment: “Some of you don’t understand it’s not about the terrorists. They are a byproduct of the main objective, and that is to rescue the hostages.”
1986: Attorney General Patrick Mayhew stated that no charges would be brought against those involved in several shooting incidents in Ireland, although some of the shootings seemed “questionable.” He cited national security.
1989: The SAS ran to ground and shot dead three members of the Irish Republican army on Gibraltar.
The Terrorist Threat
When soldiers are forced into a law enforcement role, and peace officers are forced to engage in military-type operations, confusion occurs and concern is evident. During the past few decades, many have expressed concern over the militarism of police forces. By the same token, unrealistic restraints and limiting rules of engagement have resulted in needless casualties among our servicemen. Part of the rationale behind this report is to provoke debate and response. I don’t have all the answers, but I have no illusions concerning the adversary we face.
While various elements in our own country are conspiring to undermine the war effort, one fact remains clear. We can fight them over there, or we can fight them in our homes, schools and places of business. If we do not engage the enemy overseas, he will engage us here. He has already engaged our European allies and us here at home.
The first wave of terrorism involved gunfire. It can happen here and has happened at Fort Hood, Chattanooga, Texas, and San Bernardino. We have our own active-shooter problem. The adversary we face is the same adversary who attacked schools in Israel and threw young children from the rooftops. They attacked a school in Russian and inflicted dozens of deaths. While bombs and airliners have been their weapons of choice, terrorists are no strangers to gunfire.
It has been widely reported that elements of one of the recent terror plots intended to use SKS rifles to attack Fort Dix. While there are better rifles, the SKS would be quite effective against unarmed people. The ongoing battle we face involves not only radical Islamic terrorists but also the support of other radicals by enemies of the republic.
During the Wounded Knee incident a generation ago, the American Indian Movement was supplied with AK-47 rifles supplied from Libya and smuggled into the country. The Baeder Meinhoff gang in Germany was supplied with the Tokegypt, a 9mm Tokarev manufactured in Egypt. Most of the terrorists of the first wave, as it is called, including the Venezuelan-born Carlos “the Jackal” Ramirez, were supported by the Soviet Union and armed with Soviet weapons.
Today, terrorists are trained differently. As an example, during the OPEC raid a member of Carlos’ band was wounded. He cried and complained to Gaddaffi so bitterly; Gaddaffi gave him a $100,000 bonus. Today’s terrorists are more likely to be suicide attackers. An option they have used in the past includes setting fire to a school to cause the children to be evacuated, then driving by, shooting the children.
The perversity, depravity, and viciousness of our enemy are unprecedented in warfare. Terrorism by definition is the use of violence to bring about political change. But our enemy does not wish to achieve a political end. He wishes the destruction of both America and Israel. Still, terrorist is a fit description, and its negative conations are suitable.
What is our outlook? Many of our public buildings (including auditoriums, schools and churches) are open as a sieve. There is sometimes a restriction of access to a single point. These check-in points are the obvious front line of defense, but the security officers at these points are unarmed. It is at these points where a terror attack may be stopped by immediate action.
It is important to note that immediate-action drills are of the same type used to interdict an active shooter. American peace officers, like American soldiers, are recognized as the best in the world. They have a clear problem: Their training is the best, but is it relevant to the present situation? American cops are trained to take violent offenders alive when possible. We hold offenders at gunpoint and give them a chance to live. The degree of difference between allowing a bank robber to escape and allowing a terrorist to escape is a great measure. Terrorists must be shot and killed immediately upon identification.
Attempting to take a gun-wielding terrorist into custody will result in an opportunity for the terrorists to kill the officer. Terrorists seldom work alone. And how do you take a suicide bomber into custody? A reluctance to use deadly force is seen as a weakness that terrorists will exploit. A terrorist is more than a criminal. He is an enemy of the republic. He may be a citizen, as Islamic terrorists are actively recruiting in America, particularly in our prisons. Potential terrorists exist in the ranks of our protein-fed ex-con criminal class. Already, gang members in Chicago have accepted money to promote terrorists acts. The FBI thwarted that event years before 9/11.
It is simply not possible or tactically sound to issue any type of warning when confronted with a terrorist. The only response must be immediate lethal force. The officer or civilian on the spot must have his tactics down solid and his head on straight.
“The main difficulty is to fire accurately when your first impulse is to bring everything you have to bear immediately.” ~Benjamin Netanyahu
Dealing With the Threat
Any personal defense shooting is divided into several parts. The first is realization. You know what is going on; you know that you or someone else is under attack. Second is the reaction. This part of the drill includes target identification. Next comes target engagement: firing at the threat and firing until the threat ceases to be one.
The sound of gunfire is the first warning. Seldom is the armed individual spotted before he opens fire. This is a difficult situation to imagine; a heavily armed shooter is going berserk and killing people with no regard for their lives, and most of the time he is on a suicide mission. The details are horrific. The average shooting of this type lasts less than 15 minutes. (Protracted events such as Columbine are more rare and outside the norm.)
Many have duration of only five to 10 minutes. Police response time has improved greatly, with the majority of incidents now encountering some type of police response, but it depends on the area. Since large groups of people are the target, most often police are nearby in urban areas. Just the same the damage is done in a few moments. Each second can mean a life.
Many times, brave individuals have faced active shooters unarmed and paid the ultimate price but saved lives in the process. If possible, you should attempt to use cover to get yourself into a position that allows you to disable the threat. And we do not mean a punch or kick as commonly taught in personal defense but a blow that disables. A chair to the cranium, a heavy tool to the forehead or a knife through the throat is what is needed. Anything less than what is needed to neutralize a deadly threat is a poor joke.
Whether or not you are armed, the first thing you must do is to find cover. You cannot aid others if you are shot. A drawn gun may well bring friendly fire upon the shooter. You do not wish to become a target before you have identified the shooter. So, find cover. Then work yourself into a position that provides an advantage over the shooter (height is an advantage, if possible).
Cover and Concealment
Cover is anything that will stop a bullet. This can be a vehicle. A large utility pole will stop most any bullet save fire from a very powerful rifle or machine gun. Many barriers and walls are proof against handgun and shotgun fire. Concealment is less effective. A rack of clothes will conceal your person but will not stop a .308 rifle bullet. Know the difference, and plan for such scenarios.
When firing, it is always best to approach from the side or flank. Range training may have taught you to face a target that is squared to you. Disregard this. If possible, get into a position in which you are able to fire from the side. This will limit the threat’s ability to quickly address your threat to him. He may not see it coming. Fire for center of mass, and fire until the threat is no longer a threat. (Center of mass is not the area between the shoulders but the center of the target you are presented. Be it the whole body, only a shoulder or a foot, aim for the center to the target.)
If the threat is squared to you, you may have to fire with the threat facing you. If you are firing at the threat and he is reacting to you, you may have saved many lives by making him stop firing. For this reason, I recommend taking a shot, even a long shot, if there is a chance of connecting as long as you are certain you will not strike an innocent person. If the threat is hit, he may be disabled. Most active shooters have little heart for facing a determined and armed individual. They will stop firing, retreat, or often enough, shoot himself rather than be captured. In these cases, the response you have given is successful.
Are You Armed or Half Armed?
A person armed with a small-caliber handgun is in the unfortunate situation of being armed with a deadly weapon but unable to defend himself well. Many active shooters carry their ammunition and spare magazines in some type of web gear. Adequate penetration is demanded. A 9mm Luger +P load such as the Black Hills Ammunition 124-grain JHP is a reasonable choice. The .38 Special 125-grain JHP +P from the same maker is a good choice. Calibers below this standard underpenetrate and do not offer sufficient wound potential against lightly clad felons, much less motivated shooters.
A pocket pistol certainly lacks the accuracy and hit potential to be effective. I value my life too much to carry such ineffective equipment. The Glock 19 is affordable, easy enough to use well with proper training and indoctrination, and fires a cartridge that may be effective with proper loadings. Those who choose to master the .357 Magnum revolver or the .45-caliber automatic will be well prepared to address an active shooter if they have practiced.
The active shooter may be moving. Firing at a moving target demands constant practice and attention to detail. Addressing multiple targets is possible as well. The life you save may be your own. Choose a service-grade firearm and ammunition, and practice. An active shooter is the worst-case scenario.
After the Shooting
If you are not personally involved in the shooting and have escaped injury, there is little to do save leave the area. If the police interview you, give them all the information you can remember. If you have interviewed and fired your firearm, be certain to quickly place the gun on the ground and kneel when the police come. Police do not get armed-citizen calls; they get “man with a gun” calls. Proceed with caution. If you are manhandled and handcuffed, it will all come out in the wash. If possible, you should collect names of witnesses, just in case, as you would with any personal defense shooting. Don’t forget to check yourself for wounds. Sometimes they go unnoticed.
Share your take on an active shooter situation in the comment section.