Disarm and Disable

The “What If” questions for Active Shooter Defense

On a very busy Saturday morning, a lone gunman appeared in the parking lot of a Walmart store in El Paso, TX and using a semi-automatic rifle shot and killed twenty-two people in the span of just a few minutes.  The police responded and was able to take the young adult male into custody without further incident.

Less than a few hours after the Texas shooting, another lone gunman armed with a semi-automatic rifle shot and killed nine people in a Dayton, Ohio nightclub area.  Police responded within thirty seconds of the shots being fired where they shot and killed the gunman.

There are at least two common factors for most mass shootings.   The first is the chosen place for their rampage.  The shooter may have one or more specific victims on their “hit list.”  If the shooter desires to strike at many people, he/she will go to places where a large amount of people typically congregate.  Those places can be a special event (as in the Gilroy, CA Garlic festival) a music concert (as in the Las Vegas County music concert) or a business location where innocent people least expect such a horrific crime to occur. 

The second common factor is the location the shooter has selected is referred to as a “soft target.”   These are places where the shooter believes is a “gun free zone” where signage and/or policy forbids people on that premises to have a firearm in their possession.  These shooters know going in that no competent armed challenge will stop them, at least until law enforcement arrives and engages them.   

It seems that after every major active shooter case where there is a large number of casualties, our lawmakers pontificate on what can be done.  They debate mental health, the shooter’s motivation, gun control and many other topics.  The result is that no real change occurs which leaves the public no more safer than before the last shooting the spurred the last debate. 

The public is then left to their own devices as to how to best protect themselves from the time the first shots are fired until the shooter(s) is/are neutralized or the shooter has elected to stop on their own volition.  A number of tactics and techniques are available in my book “Shots Fired – Surviving an Active Shooter/Assailant is available on Amazon.com   I have another book in the works that should be published shortly, Disarm and Disable – The Active Shooter Survival guide.  In the meantime, please consider some of the following tactics should you find yourself in an active shooter scene.


  • If you are in a vehicle, always have several avenues of escape, even if you must drive over landscape or other custom curbing. 
  • If the shooter is directly in your path of escape, consider striking him/her with your vehicle as you lay sideways inside your vehicle to avoid his gunfire.
  • If you are on foot, decide if it best to go to your vehicle or if it would be quicker to escape on foot.
  •  Go in the opposite direction of the shooter.
  • Keep objects between you and the shooter.
  • Move in a perpendicular and zig zag fashion away from the shooter, making it more difficult for the shooter to track and predict your escape movements.
  • If you are around vehicles, stay low and keep one or more vehicles between you and the last know location of the shooter.
  • You should move as fast as you can.  If you have to stay low, you may need to move on your hands and feet instead of a standing position an all-out sprint.
  • If you don’t have a visual of the shooter, listen to the sounds of gunfire that will provide the shooter’s location.  The louder the gunshots may indicate he/she is closer. 
  • If you need to locate the shooter, you may be able to perform a “quick peek” of no more than two seconds.  Then put your head back into the safe location you emerged from.
  • Once the gunfire stops, determine if the shooter is experiencing a malfunction of his weapon, reloading his weapon, or transitioning to another weapon.  Any of these may be the best time to escape or take other emergency actions.
  • Notice if rounds fired from the suspect’s weapon striking surfaces around you, or if the shooter is moving closer to your location by listening to the sound from the shooter’s weapon getting louder.
  • Remember, just hiding keeps you inside the “kill zone” longer.  Escaping from the entire area allows you to get outside of the kill zone.
  • When you are in public, play the “what if” game.  Imagine a shooter in a specific location and your reactions would be if shots were being fired.  Look at your avenues of escape or the best places to ambush the shooter.
  • If you are legally armed, ensure the weapon you are carrying has the “knock down power” that will stop the shooter’s aggression.
  • Ensure that you are capable of taking “precise” shots on the shooter to stop the shooter, especially if the shooter has body armor.  Your shots may be restricted to their head or extremities.
  • Be aware the you can take lethal option on the shooter as you are now acting in the defense of others.
  • No such thing as a fair fight against an Active Shooter.  Take every opportunity to fire on the shooter’s blind spots.
  • Know that responding law enforcement will arrive anytime.  Have a plan to keep yourself from being a victim of their gunfire or being mistaken as the active shooter.
  • If you are with another person, have that person call 9-1-1 to advise the dispatcher to broadcast that you are armed and taking action against the shooter.  Have that person give the dispatcher your clothing description and the shooter’s clothing description if known.
  • If you are alone, you may need to multi-task by calling 9-1-1 to advise of your actions, your clothing description as well as the shooter’s clothing description and exact location.
  • If you are not legally armed and only if you are close enough to the shooter and are very experienced in weapons disarming techniques, use either the break in the shooting and the close proximity of the shooter to take aggressive actions.
  • If you are not familiar with the sounds of gunshots being fired inside and outside of a building, visit your local firearms ranges to notice the different sounds of different caliber weapons and environmental conditions.
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