An email came through the system the other day with two pretty interesting questions concerning response to an active shooter situation. The first question asked, “How do I communicate that I am not another ‘bad guy with a gun’ to both the panicked crowd and other armed defenders?”
You can tell by the question that the person apparently already plans on actively trying to stop the active shooter. That’s a personal decision and I will not in this space make a determination if that is the correct course of action. I will say this: If you choose to engage an active shooter, many lives, including your own, will hang in the balance. Choose wisely.
The best way to communicate that you are not a bad guy with a gun is to not look or act like a bad guy with a gun. Consider the actions of most mass murderers in public places: They move around shooting people at random. To not be confused with someone acting like that, don’t act like that.
Start by looking for cover and guiding other people to cover or a means of escape. If you are clearly helping people, you will not look like a bad guy. This course of action could also give you the opportunity to escape safely. But if you choose not to escape and instead engage the murderer, you must carefully consider your next actions.
Again, I would only suggest moving toward the sound of the gunfire if you are doing so in hopes of saving a loved one. Remember, engaging the attacker means you are risking your life, not just at the hands of the attacker, but from other armed citizens and the police. If you feel you must pull your gun, make sure you do so very discreetly. Keep the gun hidden as long as you can while you direct people to safety. It may be best to keep the gun holstered while you move through the scene. Keep sending people toward safety and be alert to any other danger signs.
Remember your target requirements: Target acquisition. Target identification. Target isolation. It might be wise in a mass murder event to keep your gun holstered and observe from a position of tactical advantage until you have all three of those requirements. At that point, when you draw your gun and engage the attacker, there should be no confusion about your intentions.
The next part of the question asked, “What do I do when law enforcement officers arrive, continue to engage? Stop and lie down doesn’t seem like a good plan. How do I not get SWAT shot?”
Once again, don’t look or act like a bad guy. When police officers arrive, surrender to them. Let them take over. They will be looking for a guy with a gun who is shooting at other people. If you continue to engage the bad guy as police arrive, they will see you as a guy with a gun who is shooting at other people. They don’t have any details yet. What do you think they are going to do?
When police arrive, stop shooting, drop your gun and lie down. I say this because I assume you will be shooting from behind cover, so you will have some protection. I also assume the bad guy will continue shooting. His continued shooting and your actions of dropping your gun and hitting the floor should give a clear indication to responding officers as to who is the most immediate threat.
If officers are able to neutralize that threat, DO NOT attempt to pick up your gun. Be patient. Be compliant. It will take a while to get everything sorted out and the last thing police officers will want to see is a person reaching for a gun.
I cannot stress enough that you should attempt to escape if you can. If you choose to engage the bad guy, remember that you have lots more to think about than he does. He’s just shooting people randomly. You have a whole host of other elements that you must address in order to stay alive and keep from injuring the innocent.