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Active Shooter On The Loose…What Will You Do?

by Dave Spaulding   |  January 6th, 2012 24

In 1984, James Huberty entered a California McDonald’s with several firearms and began to kill its patrons for no reason. One of the largest mass killings in history, he shot 40 people, killing 21. No one really knew why he did it, although he was eventually deemed a nut case.


I read all I could about the incident and began to think about what would have happened if my wife and children had been in that restaurant. What did the responding officers feel as they stood back and watched? They must have felt helpless as they waited for command officers to issue an order, to take charge. What would have happened if this had been a school building?

While SWAT is an excellent response to an "active-shooter" threat, there might not always be time, and it could be up to a lone officer to act.

Unfortunately, we now know the answer to this question. Such incidents have occurred with enough frequency that law enforcement had to make changes in its response.

SWAT was thought to be the answer, but we have begun to rethink this of late. We trained officers to set up perimeters, contain the situation and wait for SWAT, but Columbine changed everything. While containment was being established, children were being slaughtered. Public outcry followed.


The next evolution was “rapid response” (better known as quad and now “T” systems) in which officers were trained by SWAT to create ad hoc entry teams before more innocents died.


I attended several of these courses, and while they were well thought out, I could not help but think, “Will these four officers from different agencies be able to come together three or four years from now and perform this action?” To be honest, I seriously doubted it.


There’s much debate regarding which response is the best, but I made my decision years ago. Right after the McDonald’s incident, I gave a great deal of thought to what I would do if faced with a “slaughter in progress” (the term “active shooter” was yet to be coined), how I would respond to the murder of children before my eyes.


I was a young officer then, and entry tactics, room clearing and movement/shooting were not as refined as they are today. At the same time, searching a building for armed hostiles was much the same then as it is now–performed very carefully.


Patrol rifles were nonexistent, but every marked cruiser had a shotgun, and I carried a box of slugs in my briefcase. Slugs were not approved by my agency at that time, but I decided that I didn’t care. I knew where they would hit at 50 yards, and I decided that when faced with a rampaging killer I would stop him–alone if necessary but preferably with another officer to act as a rear guard.


If the shotgun was not available for some reason, I would go forward with my duty sidearm and approved backup gun. I had practiced with this handgun out to 50 yards, and I knew where to hold for shots at 50 and 25 yards and shots closer.


How many of you know where to hold to take such a long shot today? With the emphasis on close combat these days, have you ever even taken a long shot with your handgun?


I decided I would use the building search tactics that were standard and well-practiced throughout Ohio thanks to Bill Groce, a forward-thinking instructor at the state training academy.


My plan? I would enter, telling my backup officer to watch our backs. I would move, slice the pie and clear hallways and rooms as I had been taught. The difference is I would compress the time it took to do this, hopefully hastening identification of the shooter’s location.


If shots were being fired, I would move in that direction rapidly, scanning in a 360-degree arc for threats. Moving toward the gunfire is not a new concept. Even we old-timers understood its importance–and necessity.


Having responded to a fire at an elementary school, I knew that frightened children might try to cling to me. All I could do was peel them off, offer a few words of comfort and go. If I arrived at the scene and the shooting had stopped–maybe a hostage crisis–I would back off and wait for SWAT. My response would depend on whether the shooting was ongoing when I arrived.


It was a simple plan really, based on existing training and known skills of the time. It’s what I had back then. Today, I have not changed my mind about my active-shooter plan. Some will think I’m crazy, but I long ago decided that children, the future of our society, are worth dying for and that I will do whatever I can to see that they become adults.


It is a personal choice and not one I made lightly. I’m not trying to push my decision on you, but this could happen to you. What will you do if you face a slaughter in progress and you’re alone?


You don’t have to be a cop; maybe you are a legally armed citizen. What would you do? Maybe you work in a rural area and are the only patrol officer for miles around, what will you do? Maybe it’s not a school, but a shopping mall or playground. What will you do? Regardless of your circumstances, it’s a good idea to decide now, to make a plan. It may save our future.

  • guest

    I guess James was a Burger King fan then?

    • Michael Edwards

      This is not a situation to joke about. You just as well not have posted a comment.

      Mike E

  • Alex

    I've often wondered this myself. Since the 9-11 attacks. How can a few men with box cutters overtake an entire plane? I don't think I would be able to sit still and just watch in horror as it happened. I'm military trained female army veteran. I would not be able be able to stand by, but at the same time, am unable to carry a fire arm as I am a student, you cannot carry deadly weapons on school campuses, as well as you cannot carry weapons on post unless they are registered and you have to declare them every time you go on post. I am to forgetfull to be able to do this and wouldn't want to get in trouble. I would hope that my military training would kick in, and I would fight instead of flight. If this were to happen at my school, would the soldier in me help my fellow classmates? Or would the mom in me do everything to selfishly preserve myself for the sake of my children. I hope to never have to find out.

  • Guest

    I would like to think that I would do what I could to stop the "active shooter". My question is, how would the police know that I wasn't the threat? What are my chances of being shot on sight?

    • John

      It's their job to tell the difference bettween the real threat and an armed citizen.

    • Jay Pearson

      in such a situation , as soon as you gain control of the situation there are two trains of thought.. first if the result is final incapacitation of the assailant, then notify one of the other victims to let the police know that the suspect is down and out. If they are detained but still alive and therefore an active threat… make sure to tell someone to notify police that the suspect is detained, and how they are detained( by gunpoint, being straddled by 20 angry people etc. etc… If police gain entry they need to make split decisions, and if they see someone with a firearm pointed at someone else , they are trained to react. don't rely on them to take the time and make the proper assessment. And as soon as they tell you or before they tell you to put down your weapon do so!!! before it is too late

  • Tom Goodrick

    That is the major question. What could an average person with CCW who happens to be carrying do without messing up the situation? I guess the first thing to do would be to carry a cell phone as well and advise 911 of your status and situation. I do not use my CCW because I have had no training in what to do when in the vicinity of an active shooter. Maybe we need more classes.

  • Brian Kirk

    @Tom Goodrick: Tom, are you saying that you don't carry at all because of not knowing what to do in an active shooter scenario? I'm very confused by the logic there, because the chances of being around during an active shooter scenario is slim to none…you're much more likely to need that gun to just defend your person and your spouse. And the beauty of it is if you don't feel like getting involved in an active shooter scenario, then you don't have to. Like the saying goes, it's better to have it and not need it then need it and not have it. Stay safe.

  • Bruce

    I have run this Scenerio thru my mind many times myself. I am a licensed CCW, and I do train at a professionally run training facility twice monthly for 2- 3 hours. the traing covers a lot of the "suppose this would happen" scenerios. The training teaches us not only how to shoot and how to proceed, but how to retreat and cover. The big unknown in my mind is… will the responding Law enforcement give me time to declare my position or come in shooting because I have a weapon in my hand? I have thought… maybe I should holster my weapon as soon as they arrive, but if the shooter has me boxed in…..
    as the old saying goes, "Better to be Judged by 12 than carried by 6"..

    • James Gardner

      I was thinking this exactly. If I’m defending myself against a shooter the police have to assume that I’m a bad guy too if they see I have a weapon drawn. Does anyone know how to handle this type of situation?

  • 56wrecker

    If the AVERAGE person with a CCW is anything like the average cop….they will most likely just make the situation worse. They will probably shoot an innocent bystander or a hostage, just like the cops do.

  • steve

    I wish I could get a CCW ,but we live in New Jersey and that should say it all. Stay safe everyone.

    • packermilitia

      What, the Fat Man won't let his citizens carry concealed? I thought Christy was supposed to be some supreme being there.

  • 11M

    As a CCW holder and a Combat vet . The situation would have a lot of variables ( wife and kids with you, how many people are around you and target, good cover ) etc. etc. Alone yes would engage target and fire till neutralized as a threat (Dead). With family, would withdraw from area as safely as possible and call cops. If bad guy wanted to engage me, will draw as quickly as possible and neutralize threat. After engagement or while withdrawing from event call 911.

    Judged by 12 or carried by 6

  • William

    As a CCW holder and retired law enforcement your first concern is your self, then family, than the one in close to you. If your dead there's no one there to protect the unarmed. In this day and age it's time for everyone to be able to protect them self and loved ones. An that doesn't mean just in your home state every state should have CCW and be recipicating to others. The bad guys don't just say in one place. There was a time that I didn't carry 24 hours a day and one day on my way home from my local shooting club where I also work life changed. I stoped by the store to get milk for wife and as i was leaving a older lady was walking in and as i got in my jeep i saw her pull a gun on the cashers and two others in the store. It ended badly. Till this day my freinds and I still think what if I where still in the store would I be dead or cripled. Like the saying goes its better to be judged by 12 than carried by 6. I now carry 24 hours a day with back up and my 14 year old son trains with me to use my back up just in case. Judge if you will but I've been there and won't be unarmed again!

  • all

    The image is burned in my brain of the Va. Tech incident. Innocent people being slaughtered while the cops are hiding behind their cars with AR-15s.

  • guest

    Columbine and Va. Tech proved the need to plan, prepare & rehearse. Granted; you may be mistaken for the perpetrator, but situational awareness would be the determining factor, whether to depend on outside help. Is there such a thing, as an armed "friendly" civilian, to an adrenalin amped police officer, arriving on the scene? Hopefully, the bad guy is neutralized, immediately, before confusion can ensue…

  • trent

    i would defend my wife and kid, if they were with me… BUT, i would def make sure the fire was contained away from my child and wife, you have to have these actions programed for a what if situation! if i was by myself, alone, "I would die trying'' tosave the
    life an inocent child or adault…. because i would want some1 to do the same for my child or wife, father, mother, brother and self… atleast when i meet god, he will know how unselfish i am and how much i love my family and each and every one of you all.. god bless!

  • Anthony

    The best thing for a civilian with a ccw to do in this type scenario is be the best witness they can be. Only get involved in a shoot out as a last case scenario. In other words if you can decisively engage the shooter without creating a hostage situation or getting involved in a running gun battle do it. Remember this is no paper target you will be shooting at. If you cannot decisively engage hang back and absorb descriptive information such as tags height weight etc. if law enforcement is engaged do not approach the situation.

  • JHJ

    Where were the CCW's or officers when Gabby Giffords was shot ?
    How can a Muslim Doctor kill so many soldiers on a U.S. military base in Texas without someone having a
    gun in the area ?
    I wonder if the soldier that snapped in Afghanistan will get the same treatment as the Muslim that killed on the
    Army base ?

    • TWM

      Knowing our perverted politically correct DOJ and worse yet military P C , you know what will be the treatment. Crucify our own.

  • Joe Vet

    What would I do in this situation? Assess the situation. Get my weapons ready, making sure not to brandish it. Get family headed away from the assailant or at least to cover. If encountering the police, get down on the ground with my weapon away from me, identify myself as being a CCW holder and follow all directions given to me by the police. If at any time during the preceding the active shooter presents themselves as a viable identified target I will do my damnedest to terminate their aggressive behavior.

  • labmouse

    What is a hero: ? "I long ago decided that children, the future of our society, are worth dying for."
    Any other questions?

  • Jon Hines

    Very tough scenarios to answer when reading this article vs if you were in that shoe, feeling the stress. For example, at casual glance reading this, my answer is “Don’t be there, is the best Defense”. However, in real life “shit hits the fan” at when you’re not expecting it. Doesn’t matter the location or time. That would be hard to answer.

    From experience, I can only say it all depends on what you’ve been trained on. Great eye opener , thanks!

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