I have just finished reading the NRA’s response to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSDHS) shooting report. As a refresher, 17 students and staff were murdered at the school on 14 Feb. 2018. The report concentrates on the actions of law enforcement and inactions of the school. I will touch briefly on the findings of the commission report with respect to the law enforcement piece and tie it to practical actions that civilians can or might take in the event of an active shooter (now called active killer in some law enforcement circles) events.
The main criticisms were against the sheriff of Broward County, Scott Israel. Since the Columbine shooting, 20 years ago this month, the standard action for law enforcement in these situations has been for the first LEO on scene is to immediately attempt to engage the shooter to minimize casualties. During the Columbine event, law enforcement officers waited outside until sufficient backup forces arrived. This tactic has been attributed to the large number of casualties, 13 killed and 20 wounded. The immediate engagement (my term) tactic was one of the main tactical changes to come out of this event.
In the MSDHS event Sheriff Israel had earlier changed the Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to read, “If real-time intelligence exists, the sole deputy, or team of deputies may enter the area and/or structure to preserve life.” (Emphasis added). As it turned out, the Broward County deputies waited an inordinate amount of time where as the Coral Springs PD entered as soon as they got there. There were many other findings of the Commission that seriously criticized the school, but that is not a focus of this article.
Now, let’s translate that to us mere civilians. This is where my friends in law enforcement may take exception to my thoughts.
If we are confronted by a mass shooter/killer, be assured, his primary focus is to kill as many people as possible. Even if it is a targeted event, killing bystanders will not be a problem for the shooter, and they usually do not intend to leave alive. Given this parameter, what is the best way to counter the threat? Of course, we all have heard the “Run, Hide, Fight” tactic. For preservation of the individual, I would agree with this course of action/s. The best tactic may be any of these actions, depending on the situation. However, for preservation of the whole, it may be appropriate to use the “Swarm” tactic. Looking at the Arora Theater shooting, 12 people were killed and 70 were injured. There were 400 people in the theater, a perfect scenario for the Swarm tactic. In this situation, casualties would have been unavoidable, but loss of life could certainly have been minimized had the attendees used this tactic. To get the Swarm going, it takes one or two individuals to quickly enlist those around them to assist in attacking the shooter, ideally, from behind if possible.
In many venues today, guns are not allowed, but if they are and you are responsibly carrying, this is where training becomes all important. The average Concealed Handgun Permit (CHP) holder today usually has only had the requisite Basic Pistol class, and many low-budget schools don’t even take students to the range to teach them how to use the gun. These average CHP holders can cause more problems in a mass shooter event then they solve. First, they don’t have the comfort of using their gun on a regular basis. The average CHP holder only practices a maximum of three times a year. This is not enough to build the requisite muscle memory to effectively protect themselves, let alone a large venue. If you are not comfortable using your gun, you can’t properly control it.
Next, if this average CHP holder does decide to be the Good Samaritan and stop the bad guy, the odds are that he will have so much adrenalin flowing through his veins that he will never be able to get his sights on the bad guy. This is where innocent parties are in grave danger. With little training, using the sights requires the use of fine motor skills. The more training the individual has, the more using his sights becomes a gross motor skill, which is what is needed in this type of situation. Fine and gross motor skills are fully discussed in the classes mentioned below.
I strongly recommend one of the advanced courses for CHP holders along with regular dry-practice and range work. These advanced courses are, Personal Protection Outside the Home, Defensive Pistol, and Introduction to CCW and Defensive Pistol. All these courses take the student well down the road toward “unconscious competence” which is where the CHP holder needs to be to effectively use his gun in a defensive setting, whether it is a mass shooter or an individual attack.
This report only scratches the surface of Active Shooter Response. The bottom line is that if you are a responsibly armed citizen, get as much training as you can and practice, dry and live, as often as possible. The average active shooter event is over in less than five minutes. The average response time for a major call-out for the El Paso County Sheriff’s office in eastern El Paso County is 19.5 minutes, and in the city of Colorado Springs it is 9.5 minutes. We are our own First Responders and that requires training.