Military skill training: Reacting to Gunfire

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Image: Trader Joes, TV screen grab

“Active Shooter” by Mike McMaken

The term Active Shooter was coined after the 1999 Columbine High School shooting that killed 13 people and has become the catch phrase for a wide range of shooting incidents, although the federal government definition specifies that active shooter attacks occur in a confined area. The term is overused, particularly by the media, who also tend to make celebrities out of the murderers by publicizing every aspect of their lives; encouraging copycats who want their own moment in the sun. The reality is that while true active shooter episodes are relatively rare, they can occur anywhere, so it is wise to learn how to survive them and to develop your own personal plan for doing so.

Plan and Prepare
My wife and I like to attend rock concerts and had tickets to a concert a week after the Paris concert terrorist attack that killed 89 people in November 2015. We discussed whether to go or not and decided we were going, but we also made plans and discussed our options if something were to happen. These included knowing how to access all the exits, being near the stage where we would have more time to react to a shooter coming in a back or side door, having a plan on how to get out through the backstage area, and just plain being aware of what was happening around us. Everyone should do the same thing. Know what your options are for escaping, hiding or fighting back and be prepared to do each of them depending on the circumstances.

Immediate Actions on Hearing Gunfire
It is critical to immediately drop when you hear a shot. If you remain standing you are a 100% target, if you get down on one knee your vulnerability drops to about 50%, and if you go prone your vulnerability as a target drops to 10%. Do the math. I watched an American engineer at a site outside of Baghdad step out through the gate for some obscure reason only he will ever know and begin walking around looking at the wall. Predictably, he immediately came under fire. You could see the bullets kicking up dirt near his feet, but he just stood there and stared while the guards yelled at him to get down. Fortunately for him, the shooter was a terrible shot and missed him with the three free shots he gave them before finally getting down so the guards could shoot back.

Next, try to locate where the shots are coming from so you can move away from and put something solid between yourself and the shooter. Know the difference between concealment and cover. Concealment is something that will hide you, like tall grass, a sheetrock wall, or bushes, but won’t stop a bullet. Cover, like a large tree or a concrete wall, will both hide you and protect you. By the way, a car door will not usually not stop bullets. I’ve seen even 9mm rounds go in one door, pass all the way through the car, and go out the other door. If you take cover behind a car either get behind the engine or lie down behind a wheel.

Run, Hide, Fight

Conventional wisdom in an active shooter situation is to run if you can, hide if you can’t run and fight if you have to.

If you decide to run, move in an erratic pattern and try to put solid objects between yourself and the shooter. Have a plan. Running straight down the center hallway of a mall will probably get you shot in the back. Don’t panic like so many of the Pulse Nightclub victims did, which make easy targets of them, although in all fairness the club was dim and many of the victims had probably been drinking but running in panic is never a good option. Neither is standing frozen with indecision, as I have seen happen to people who should know better. In one case in Kabul, Afghanistan a woman stood frozen on the street as gunfire erupted around her until a security detail member tackled her to the ground.

If you are going to hide, hide someplace where you won’t be easy to find and that gives you some options to either run or fight should you be found. Generally speaking, under a desk or table are not good places. A room with a locking door or where there are items you can use to barricade the door is much better. Most public restrooms are not good because they are easily accessible and have only one way out, unless it is a restroom like they have at Starbucks that has a heavy locking door.

If it comes down to having no option but to fight, then fight as if you are fighting for your life — because that is exactly what you are doing! One of the survivors of the June 28, 2018 Capital Gazette shooting in Maryland related hiding under his desk and listening to the shooter reloading his shotgun. Believe me, that guy was lucky the shooter moved on. Much better to attack the shooter while they are occupied in reloading. Even unarmed, fighting back can be successful as in the August 2015 attack on a train from Amsterdam to Paris demonstrated where passengers were able to subdue the shooter, even though several were injured.

But if you choose to fight, be decisive and committed. In that incident a Frenchman named Mark Moogalian managed to get the terrorist’s rifle away from him, but instead of ensuring the terrorist was no longer a threat Moogalian turned his back on him and was shot with the terrorist’s pistol. The shooter then simply bent down and retrieved his rifle but was subsequently overwhelmed and subdued by three Americans.

In summary, be prepared, plan for the worst, and think outside the box.

© Mike McMaken 2018