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How to survive a mass murder

The term active shooter is a term used by law enforcement to describe an armed assailant who attempts to murder as many people as possible in a single, violent incident often reported in the media as a mass murder. From Columbine to Virginia Tech, these types of incidents are perhaps best described as murder/suicides as the perpetrators tend to be suicidal individuals whose only motivation is killing as many people as possible before dying themselves. With so many formerly normal folks running amok in the headlines these days, this seemed like a good time to talk about how to stay alive should you find yourself in the path of wannabe mass murderer.

Active shooter incidents such as the one at Oikos University in Oakland are becoming increasingly common.
Active shooter incidents such as the one at Oikos University in Oakland are becoming increasingly common.
Jonathon Gibby/Getty Images

Awareness: One of the main reasons active shooters are able to rack up such grisly body counts is the fact that they tend to have surprise and denial on their side. After all, no one expects to find themselves on the wrong end of a maniac while eating lunch, studying at school or sitting in their cubicle at work. Yet, several active shooter episodes have occurred in each of these situations. Which brings us back to Lesson 1:

Awareness of your surroundings is absolutely essential for survival in any environment.

Unusual noises, movement, screaming and, of course, gunfire, are all indications that you need to stop worrying about whatever it is you’re doing and start reacting to whatever is causing the commotion.

Evasion: Once you realize that your area is being targeted by an active shooter, get low and start looking for something bullet resistant to take cover behind. Direct others to follow suit. Move away from the source of the commotion and start looking for an exit. Try to avoid regular traffic areas and look for windows or emergency exits. While calling 911 is a good idea at this point, hunkering down and waiting for rescue is not. While law enforcement has vastly improved their active shooter response training since Columbine, you have to realize that the very nature of these types of incidents puts first responders behind the curve. Even the fastest response by police will typically give the shooter enough of a window to cause multiple casualties. Don’t freeze and don’t wait to get rescued.

Fortify your position: If a shooter is moving through your area and you are unable to safely leave your position, make that position as hard to attack as possible. Lock the entrance and barricade it with anything heavy. Keep in mind that doors, office furniture and even vending machines are not bulletproof and will probably not stop a barrage fired through them. They will however slow down and possibly discourage the shooter from entering the room. Once the entrance is barricaded, turn off the lights, take cover behind anything that might slow down a bullet and figure out how you might fight back if the shooter makes it past your fortifications.

Fight Back: While I can not recommend proactively engaging an active shooter in combat, reality dictates that doing so might be the only alternative to being killed by one. More often than not, active shooter incidents end with the suicide of the shooter or through aggressive action by the shooter's intended victims. Ron Borsch, a 30 year law enforcement veteran and active shooter researcher determined that "...on a level playing field, the typical active killer would be a no-contest against anyone reasonably capable of defending themselves.” If you are able to, make a firearm part of your Every Day Carry Kit and train regularly.

Attempting to fight an active shooter while unarmed is not a good idea but if the options are fight or die, you might not have a better choice. One technique that can give an unarmed group a chance against an active shooter involves organizing the burliest and bravest members of a group into a sort of ambush team which is posted next to the entrance to the room. As before, the lights should be turned off and the door barricaded if possible. If the shooter gets past the barricade, the cover of darkness should allow the ambush team the opportunity to tackle and incapacitate the shooter. Keep in mind that this is a desperate, last ditch technique that should only be considered if the only other alternative is cowering under a table waiting to be executed.

While the author sincerely hopes that no one reading this ever has to use these tactics, the increasing frequency of active shooter incidents dictates that we must at least consider how we would respond to such a scenario.