Armed Citizen Response to an Active Shooter

surviving active shooter

A young woman who was inside the Borderline Club shooting, in Thousand Oaks, California, said, “I heard the gun shot.  I turned around and saw him shoot a couple more times and within a split second everyone yelled ‘get down’… a bunch of us that were on the dance floor ran off the dance floor and dog piled to the side.”  Now I don’t fault these young people for their actions and responses to the shooter.  It’s what we’ve been telling them to do… it’s just that it’s the wrong thing to do and it leads to even more people dying

If someone is shooting people in your immediate vicinity, why get down?  The shooter, as we know from many previous shootings will just walk along shooting people laying on the floor or hiding under tables or desks.  Getting down doesn’t stop him from shooting you.  Dog piling off to the side won’t save you.  It just gives him a mass of bodies to shoot at.  At Virginia Tech, students got down under those little college desks and waited for their turn to be shot as the shooter simply walked down the aisles shooting everyone in the room.  Is this really the best we can do?  Is this the best advice we can give our children?  Is this what our society has become?

What is the goal of the shooter?

In order to effectively deal with an active shooter, we must understand his goal.  Forget their motivation… we’ll let the media and psychologists argue over that one.  We only care about their purpose and their purpose is simple… to kill as many people as possible in the shortest amount of time.

Shooters know they have approximately 3-5 minutes before law enforcement arrives.  Shooters come prepared to make the most of those 3-5 minutes.  Can we stop people from wanting to kill us?  No, and because of that, we have very little control over the people who choose to commit mass murder.

Can we stop them from getting a gun?  No, not really.  Most of these shooters legally own the guns they use.  Even if we stopped producing all guns in the United States, there are still hundreds of millions of guns in America.  Additionally, if you were to shred the Constitution and get rid of the 2nd Amendment, you would never be able to round up and confiscate all the guns.  It’s impossible.  It may sound like a good idea to Liberals, but it’s not possible.

We live in the real world rather than one filled with unicorns and rainbows.  Mass killings happen in countries with the strictest gun control on the planet.  Just look at Mexico and see how well gun control works.  Even the European utopias, such as Norway, have mass shootings.  Here are the hard facts; we cannot prevent people from choosing to kill other people and we cannot completely prevent them from getting a gun.

We only have control over how we respond in these events.  And I mean what I just said, “in” these events rather than responding to these events.  Police respond to these events and do it very well, but if we want to stop mass shootings, the people caught in these events must stop running and hiding.

What do we know about mass murderers?

They’re cowards.  Think about it.  This is a person who takes a gun and attacks unarmed men, women and children.  They don’t call up the local SWAT team and say, “hey, let’s meet next Tuesday at 2pm and have a gun fight.”  Nope, they walk into a church, a school, a mall, a movie theater, or anywhere else where they are certain to find unarmed people and begin to shoot them.  These shooters are the ultimate cowards.  And cowards quit when someone fights back.

What makes the shooting stop?

Research and statistics show the killing stops when the shooter is attacked.  The only way the shooter stops is when another person with a gun begins to shoot at him or multiple people attack him and physically overpower him.  Many of them will kill themselves as soon as law enforcement arrives on-scene.  Often all it takes is the sound of a police siren and the shooter takes himself out.

This has recently begun to change.  More and more shooters are choosing to surrender when confronted by police and live in their infamy.  But whether the shooter commits suicide or surrenders is irrelevant.  They stop killing when confronted by the good guys with guns.

Fight or Evacuate – Reality for surviving an active shooter attack

There are only three human responses to danger; fight, flight or freeze.  We’ve been told to Run, Hide, or Fight during a shooting attack, but it’s backwards.  Probably because we’ve become a society that teaches ‘violence is never the solution’.

I included the graphic above showing this backwards thinking to “fight only as a last resort”.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Violence against the shooter is the only solution for stopping the attack.  If you are within the immediate vicinity of the shooter, you should immediately attack him.

You don’t have the time or distance to run because you can’t outrun a bullet.  Hiding won’t do any good because he already saw you.  Hiding means just waiting your turn to die.  Fighting is your only real option.

Hopefully you are never in an active shooter situation, but if you are, then I hope you decided to carry your gun that day.  Only you can make the decision of specifically what to do, but I will offer some guidelines I hope will be helpful.

For armed citizens in an active shooter situation, I recommend using what I refer to as a ‘zone defense’.  If you can effectively escape, you will need to make the decision to escape or set up a defensive position.  You must make that decision alone.  If you decide to stay, then find a place of cover and concealment and set up a defensive position.  If the shooter comes to you, shoot him.

I do not recommend going hunting for the shooter.  Every law officer within miles around is driving 100 miles an hour to get there and all they know is they are coming in looking for a person with a gun.  There will be multiple reports of the shooter and the responding officers will have no solid information about him.  They’re just coming in looking for a guy with a gun.  You don’t want to be that guy.  If you’re out hunting for the shooter, how will law enforcement know the difference between you and the bad guy?  You will most likely make the situation even more chaotic.  Set up a defensive position and wait.

There is no checklist or a list of dos and don’ts that apply perfectly to every situation.  If you hear the shooting close to you and feel you can safely close that distance and end the threat, then use your best judgement and do what you feel you need to do.  I won’t say never go hunting for the shooter, but you need to understand the dynamics of the situation.

Many people who carry concealed weapons do not like it when I tell them not to go hunting for the shooter.  First of all, you’ve most likely never trained for it.  How will you tell the difference between the shooter and another CCW permit holder, or plain clothes police officer, out looking for the shooter?  How will another CCW permit holder know that you’re not the shooter?  When you come around the corner and face to face with a police officer pointing his gun at you will you have the control not to shoot or will you simply see the gun and shoot him?  Police train for this stuff all the time.  How much have you trained for it?

At the moment of truth, you will be the one there.  In critical situations, I believe in trusting the person actually on the ground, eyes on the situation, to make the best decision.  I’m not going to tell you what to do in this book.  You will have to assess the situation and make the best decision you can to end the threat.  If that means moving out of your defensive position to put shots on the shooter, then do it.  I seldom say ‘never’ or ‘always’ because it’s impossible to know beforehand exactly what will be required to bring this type of situation to an end.  Train for it and be prepared.

You know that police will be there within minutes.  Once police arrive, put your gun away.  If you’ve shot the bad guy, get behind cover and keep your gun low.  As police come into your area, lay your gun on the ground before they can see you (if possible) and don’t make any sudden movements.  Follow their commands.

We’ve seen active shooter situations ended by armed citizens around the nation.  On May 24, 2018, Juan Nazario was sitting on a park bench in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma when he suddenly heard gunshots.  He ran to his car to get his gun.

Bryan Whittle was driving down the road and saw a commotion outside a popular grill and pub.  He pulled into the parking lot to help and pulled up just yards away from an active shooter.  Whittle grabbed his gun and jumped out of his truck.

“In a matter of seconds, the two armed citizens became self-appointed protectors, moving to take up positions around the shooter, drawing their weapons and shouting for him to drop his. Time stretched and warped. There was an exchange of gunfire. The gunman was hit several times and fell. As Nazario and Whittle converged over the man to restrain him, police arrived. Unsure who was who, officers handcuffed all of the men and put them on the ground as the shooter bled out into the grass and died.” (

Local police later praised Nazario and Whittle for ending the situation, but, “also noted that armed citizens can complicate volatile situations. The first of 57 uniformed police officers arrived just a minute after the initial 911 calls and found a complex scene with multiple armed people and no clear sense of what had happened or who was responsible.”

While this situation may seem like the ‘poster child’ for concealed carry, there’s more than meets the eye.  Nazario is a former police officer.  Whittle served 20 years in the Oklahoma Air National Guard.  Both had formal weapons training.  Do you have the training for this type of situation?

Neither Nazario nor Whittle were aware of each other both moving towards the shooter.  Whittle confronted the shooter.  The shooter fired at Whittle who dove for cover behind a SUV.  Nazario came upon the scene, fired at the shooter and believed he’d hit him.  The shooter stumbled, came back up and pointed his gun at Nazario.  Whittle then fired and Nazario fired additional shots.  The shooter went down and Whittle moved forward to kick away the shooter’s gun… and became aware of Nazario for the first time.  “It was the first Whittle and Nazario knew of each other, and both made the snap decision that they were friends, not foes.”

At that moment, the first police officer arrived on-scene, yelling at both of them to get down.  Officers had no way of knowing who the bad guy was.  They had been told there were three shooters.

“The FBI examined 160 shootings between 2000 and 2013 and found that most of the violence ended when the assailant stopped shooting, committed suicide or fled. Unarmed citizens successfully restrained shooters in 21 of those incidents, according to the FBI. Two attacks stopped when off-duty officers shot and killed the attackers. Five ended in much the way the attack at Louie’s did — when armed civilians, mostly security guards, exchanged fire with the shooters.”

But it doesn’t always turn out well for the good guy.  In 2014 Joseph Wilcox pulled his gun to stop an active shooter in a Las Vegas, Nevada Walmart and was shot by a second shooter he never saw – the active shooter’s wife.

Nazario and Whittle discussed the event later and talked about how things could have ended differently.  “Bryan would have entered the front,” Nazario said. “I would have entered the back.”  There they would have been, two good guys with guns, face to face.  “He could have thought I was the shooter,” Nazario said. Or vice versa. And if Nazario had asked — and Whittle refused — to drop his weapon, Nazario said, “I would have had to take action.”

Active shooter situations are the most dynamic, chaotic self-defense situations imaginable.  You must assess the situation, how close you are to the shooter, and if you believe law enforcement is on-scene before running into the middle of an already bad situation and making it worse.

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