» PICTURE YOURSELF INSIDE any very large enclosed venue, such as a mall, a movie metroplex, a large church campus or a concert or sports arena, armed as normal and either with family and friends or by yourself, doing whatever it is you would be doing in your chosen venue. Now imagine that you hear shooting in some relatively distant part of that building or complex — lots of shooting, maybe from more than one direction. For an instant, the blood might run away from your face as you make the connection … Westgate Mall, Nairobi, Kenya. Any of several places in Mumbai. The school in Beslan.
It’s here. It’s now. And you’re in it.
Being in the area of an attack by multiple well-armed gunmen who have practiced and prepared for the attack ahead of time is one of the worst of the worst-case scenarios. You with your handgun and perhaps some reloads might be forced to face off against an unknown number of rifle-armed attackers moving with purpose and intent. This is not the usual subject of our “what if?” and training exercises. At first glance, it’s survivable only by divine intervention, lottery-winning, luck or all of the above.
But take another, deeper look at this kind of attack and you can see not only the seeds of survival in it but also ways, means and methods you can develop that will enhance your ability to survive and win against the more “ordinary” kinds of attacks that we are, admittedly, more likely to face as Americans.
On your own and especially with loved ones, your primary goal is escape — not engagement.
First, understand these two realities about this kind of situation:
On your own and especially with loved ones, your primary goal is escape — not engagement. This is a hard reality that will go against some of your inclinations and might well require a very hard decision on your part. It’s called “combat triage.” To have the greatest chance of getting some out, it might be necessary for you to go past, ignore or abandon others. Trying to save everyone around you and everyone you come across could slow you down and get everyone killed. To save some, you might have to abandon others to their fates. Do what you can to get your thinking and decision-making straight about this while you have time to do that. Don’t wait until the shooting starts to work it out.
If you’re in immediate proximity to multiple gunmen at the moment they open fire, you might not have any chance. The only thing you can do if you’re at the place where it begins is take the words of Suarez International Director of Training Jack Rumbaugh to heart: “Sometimes, all you can do is give ’em the finger and die like a Viking.” Immediate action might get you out of the immediate killing area, yes. But it might also be that you can only resolve to try and take a few with you as you go screaming defiance into that infinite night. Understand this also.
Bearing these realities in mind, let’s look at what we can do to increase our chances of surviving such an extreme situation. To see that, you need to understand this one key characteristic of such attacks to date: Large groups split into smaller groups after beginning the operation. In the Mumbai and Nairobi incidents, the terrorists split into teams of two and then each team took different paths through the target area before partially (Mumbai) or completely (Nairobi) reassembling. The Westgate mall team entered through two different entrances, split again to sweep the mall and then came back together.
You have just minutes at most to either escape or find some place you can hide and fortify in hopes of holding out until law enforcement forces your attackers’ attention away from their search-and-kill mission.
Remember this, because it enables you to possibly survive the whole by defeating a part (if you cannot avoid the attackers entirely). But you must act quickly. You have just minutes at most to either escape or find some place you can hide and fortify in hopes of holding out until law enforcement (which will be more aggressive and competent in the U.S. than it was at Mumbai or Nairobi) forces your attackers’ attention away from their search-and-kill mission.
Got a close-quarters battle you can’t avoid? You will be combining two missions:1 Move Through (traverse an area that might contain hostiles) and Escape and Evade (get out without shooting if you can while being able to shoot if you must). You will be moving, perhaps with others behind and/or around you, quickly and with purpose. No careful search-and-clear, no slice-the-pie-by-degrees here. You have to flow with a combination of aggression and caution, straining your awareness for any indication of friend or foe around any corner and through any door, ready to shoot or not depending on what the next point of danger or chance encounter reveals. And you’ll have to do that until you’re either out of the danger area or in the most secure spot you can find.
Never, ever equate simple with easy.
Easy? No. Simple? In some cases, yes. But never, ever equate simple with easy.
Here are some things you should consider that will help you bring method to the madness:
- A semi-auto pistol of 9mm caliber or larger and additional magazine(s). You might really like your five-shot snubby, but please be honest about two things: It’s not a firstline weapon, and you can pack a small semi as easily as you can that snubby and a speed loader or speed-strip or two. Now ask yourself what you would rather have in the worst case to put between you, other innocents and one or more men with rifles if you can’t have a rifle of your own.
- Appropriate movement skills. You need to be able to move quickly, deliberately and quietly while being able to shoot accurately on the instant.
- The ability to shoot fast and accurately at any range. You want point-shooting and sighted-shooting skill sets, accurate rapid bursts, deliberate single shots and the ability to hit on the instant just outside of arm’s reach or from one end of an auditorium or mall center strip to the other, as needed. (That long shot could be used to disrupt the attackers’ action loops to give you additional time to get away. It might even throw off their whole plan of attack and save more lives.)
- As much ability to shoot fast and accurately with either hand from either side as you can develop. This is a key capability to being able to most efficiently and effectively move with the gun and use cover and concealment to best effectiveness. It’s also insurance against loss of one limb during movement or a fight.
- Basic CQB skill sets. Understanding cornering, third-eye, the use of lights, close-in weapon grips and holds, what is and is not cover (to you or them) and how to approach and clear different parts of a building are useful for crises other than this extreme kind of situation.
- Knowledge of first-level combat casualty care and a “blow-out kit.” You want to be able to do self-aid and to aid another. You don’t have to be an EMT or former Air Force Pararescue to keep yourself or somebody else alive. You do have to know what to do and have or be able to make the tools to do it with though.
- The right attitude, and this is most important of all. You CAN do this. You CAN survive. You CAN fight your way around or through if you have to. You CAN get your loved ones and others out. You CAN and you WILL. You might be scared, angry or both. Use those emotions to give you energy and drive, but exert your will to control and direct your actions. Set yourself to the task and do not give up until you are done or you are dead. That’s the attitude I think you should have about this or, for that matter, about pretty much any fight for life you get into.
There’s a photo that comes to mind when I think about this scenario. It’s from the Nairobi incident — a picture of a group of men with handguns, standing or kneeling, looking at something off-camera. One of the men, I think, is pointing something out to some of the others. They aren’t in uniform because they aren’t police or military. I think one was said to be former British SAS and one might have been an Israeli security specialist, but the rest were just members of a gun club (as I understand it) who were allowed to carry and who, when the attack started, got together with others and covered the escape of a number of innocents. They actually did better than the police or military units that responded later and eventually took the terrorists down as far as keeping people alive went. They were a few guys with sidearms facing homicidal jihadis with rifles.
But they held them up and saved lives. They got together, developed a plan and went to work. And they did good work — very good work — that day.
You can do what those men did if you do what they did prior to that crisis — train, think and prepare. I believe that, and I hope you do as well.
(1) Suarez International CQB – Fighting in Structures course.
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