The armed response to an attack is about applying the fundamentals: Move, Communicate, Use Cover, Shooting (if necessary), and Thinking. If you’re unarmed – remember “unarmed” is a state of mind; there are always weapons at hand – the response is pretty much the same, except instead of shooting it may be necessary to use improvised weapons. These same fundamentals apply to an “Active Killer” situation. It’s important you understand these principles, and equally critical you teach them to family and friends.
Your first response to danger should be moving. You don’t need to know the exact nature or details of the danger. Something unexpected happens – you see sudden, unnatural movement in the crowd, or hear gunshots, which won’t sound like they do on the range. Move!
Moving makes you a difficult target. Dropping to the ground and curling into a ball is not the solution. You move to escape, or get to cover and the protection it provides. It may be necessary to get to your family or friends, meeting at a pre-established rally point.
Moving in a frantic crowd is difficult. You don’t want to get trampled. Fighting against the flow to go in a different direction may require moving next to the wall where traffic is lighter. Maintaining contact family members is a problem in frantic crowds. Learn the techniques, and practice them.
Communication with your family and friends is critical in order to co-ordinate your response. It’s a good idea to have code words or phrases – something that would never come up in general conversation – used to get your partners’ attentions. “When one of us says ______ that means pay attention. This is important.” Communication with law enforcement should be established as soon as possible. Understanding the commands officers issue when they arrive on scene, and what they expect you to do is crucial; you do not want them mistaking you or a family member for a threat.
Learn how to use cover. You don’t want to be close and tight, where instinct tells you it’s safe. Creating distance from cover opens up your field of view, normally gives you more room to maneuver and greatly reduces the chances of eating debris and fragmentation created when bullets ricochet off a hard surface.
Be careful about actually engaging the threat, unless it’s your job. Conditions will be less than perfect; it’s not going to be like a nice day on the range. You don’t want to complicate matters for the professionals who will be arriving to deal with the danger. And if you get injured, who is going to take care of the rest of your family?
It’s also important to understand basic trauma medicine. The ability to apply a tourniquet – to yourself or another - is a proven lifesaver. That’s assuming you have one with you. Just because you’ve been injured doesn’t mean you’re going to die. Research how much blood one can lose before passing out, then have your family watch while you pour that much fluid on the ground so they understand that injured and bleeding doesn’t mean death.
To apply these principles and skills you have to pay attention. You’re looking for questionable behavior, keep track of where the closest cover or exits are. You have to be able to make decisions, rapidly and under stress. These are all learned skills.
It’s also your responsibility to pass this knowledge on to others. Your “team,” which is likely family and friends, must have a plan. Then you’ve got to practice it, no matter how much they complain. You wouldn’t let them drive without car insurance; don’t neglect to teach them life insurance skills.
Until our existing laws are enforced there are going to be bad people doing horrible things with firearms. Accepting that violent events occur anywhere, anytime is the first step to solving the problem. You create a plan, and practice in advance. This is the key to survival. Or not – it’s up to you. Just remember that personal protection – surviving violence – is an individual responsibility.
Tiger McKee is director of Shootrite Firearms Academy, located in northern Alabama. He is the author of The Book of Two Guns, AR-15 Skills and Drills, featured on GunTalk’s DVD, “Fighting With The 1911 and has regular columns in Gun Digest and American Handgunner.