Mass shootings are happening more and more often in America. Yesterday, there were two mass shootings within 24 hours that claimed the lives of 29 people and injured 52 more. A mass shooting in a Texas Wal-Mart took the lives of 20 people, and a shooting in a popular nightlife area in Dayton, Ohio killed 9 more. Being caught up as a victim in something like this is a hellish nightmare you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.
A synopsis of the event came from a Facebook live video. (Is it just me or do you find it strange that someone was recording a video and not running like hell?)
At the start of the video, a woman runs toward the store, past a truck that a shopping cart has run into, with a body lying on the ground beside it.
Children were holding a fundraiser at the store and some reportedly were among the casualties.
At the front of the store, victims’ bodies are shown near a table that appeared to have items for sale. The body of a man in blue jeans and a blue shirt is seen on the ground near the table, lying on his stomach, seemingly dead, as a woman rushes over to help. Near him is a woman, taking cover between a garbage can and the wall.
A person is shown lying motionless to the left of the table, under a shade covering set up over it, as a woman tries to help. Nearby, by the wall of the building, a man lies on his side in a pool of dark blood, with a bandage on his back.
A voice tells him, “Try not to move,” adding, “Stay with me, OK?”
Wailing is heard in the background, as people tend to others lying injured nearby. (source)
You have to know what to do before an event like this occurs.
One factor that allows shooters to get so many victims is that most folks don’t know what to do in such an event. Most people don’t think ahead when they’re going to Wal-Mart or enjoying an evening in a popular pedestrian area.
But these days, a person has to have a plan anywhere they go, it seems. And they also have to have a survival mindset, practicing the 3 steps of survival repeatedly until it becomes completely natural for them.
If you are in the first wave of victims, that’s just bad luck, and there isn’t much you can do about that. But if you are not in that first wave, then you have a chance to take action and survive. But you have to know what to do and be able to take those life-saving actions.
What is not important if you find yourself in the midst of a shooting
This is an unpopular opinion, but here goes.
Strictly from a survival point of view, it doesn’t matter who it is doing the shooting or whether it’s a “false flag.” If you were present during these events, it does not aid your survival to know who committed the acts of terror that occurred on 9/11, on the streets of Boston, in London, or in Paris. It doesn’t matter whether the shooting at Sandy Hook was perpetrated by a kid with behavioral issues or by operatives with an agenda. It doesn’t matter that the guy shooting up a Walmart in Texas wrote an anti-Hispanic manifesto.
If your focus is preparedness and survival, the most important thing you can be doing right now is learning from horrific events.
Whether you believe these acts are at the hands of Muslim extremists waging jihad, someone who hates Hispanic people, a guy who hates women because he can’t get a date, or a state-sponsored act of terror to clamp down and take away more freedom, the single most important thing you can take away from any of these events is a lesson in survival.
This article is not a debate about the different conspiracy theories. If you are present during a terror attack, my opinions on the culprit don’t matter and neither do yours. All that matters in those minutes or hours is surviving.
So let us try not to get bogged down in a debate over how these two shootings within 24 hours make it easy for all the 2020 candidates to pull on the heartstrings about gun control. What matters is whether you can survive in such a scenario.
Here are the things you need to do before a shooting ever happens.
First things first, even when you’re there for fun, you must be paying attention. You should always scan an area for exits and potential cover. You should pay attention to the people around you. You should understand what the baseline behavior is for your setting so that if something is not baseline, it immediately catches your attention. Let me explain this further.
We can maintain a high level of situational awareness merely by being observant. One way to develop your skills is to play something called Kim’s Game. My friend Scott, at Graywolf Survival, used to use the game to train his soldiers in situational awareness. He wrote:
Situational awareness is key to understanding your environment so you can know better both your circumstances and your options. There are myriad examples that could be given but would you notice the bulge (called printing) of someone’s ankle from a concealed weapon if you were asked to follow him to barter for goods? Would you remember enough details of the turn of a path you passed two hours ago to be able to find it again? If you were attacked, would you be able to give a good enough description of the subject and getaway vehicle to have him identified?
A higher level of situational awareness can help you in many ways, should you be unfortunate enough to be present during a mass shooting.
It can help by:
Allowing you to identify a threat before it becomes active
Allowing you to locate exits and routes to the exits
Allowing you to determine sources of cover
If you can identify a potential threat before it exists, you can sometimes prevent an attack or at the very least, you can protect yourself and your family more effectively. A book by Patrick Van Horne and Jason A. Riley describes this as being on the “left of bang”. The left of bang is a term used to describe the moments before something bad happens, when you have an inkling that something is wrong, but you just can’t put your finger on what it is.
The book, Left of Bang: How the Marine Corps’ Combat Hunter Program Can Save Your Life, discusses how establishing a baseline can help you to identify a threat. (I can’t recommend this book strongly enough.)
A baseline is a “normal” for your immediate environment. Once you have a baseline for behavior in a specific environment, then it’s easier to spot anomalies. According to Left of Bang, it’s the anomalies that should put you on high alert. “Anomalies are things that either do not happen and should or that do happen and shouldn’t.”
The earlier you’re aware that something is going down, the better your chances are of survival.
Know what gunfire sounds like.
A lot of people who were interviewed after the Walmart shooting said that when they first heard the shots, they didn’t realize what it was. They thought it was noise from construction or boxes being dropped. There were precious seconds when people were frozen targets while they tried to wrap their brains around what was actually happening. During an event like this, a pause of a few seconds could mean the difference between life and death. The faster you take action the more likely you are to survive.
Always have a plan.
We can’t foresee all eventualities, like this one, for example, but it helps to always have a survival mindset. It has long been a game with my kids (yeah, we’re a strange family) to identify exits and potential weapons if we sit down to eat at a restaurant or go to the movies. Something we focused on in Selco’s Urban Survival Course in Croatia was finding alternative exits in a mall, locating cover, and finding everyday items that could be used as weapons.
Knowing where to go without having to look for it in the heat of the moment will save time that could be spent acting. We also look for sources of cover.
Understand the difference between cover vs. concealment.
Every NRA course I’ve ever taken discusses the difference between cover and concealment, because in many cases when you are forced to use your own firearm, there’s another person who is ready and willing to shoot back. Concealment is enough to hide you but not enough to protect you from bullets. Cover is something sturdy enough to stop a bullet – a concrete structure like a road divider, the engine block of a car, a refrigerator, a steel door, a brick wall.
When watching the video playback of the Las Vegas shooting, many people were seeking concealment behind flimsy barriers, and that is not enough to protect yourself in a situation with a high-powered gun and a shooter spraying an area.
Separate from the crowd.
In a mass shooting, the shooter is trying to take down as many people as possible, so most likely he will aim at the crowd instead of picking off people who moved away from the bulk of the group.
One possible strategy would be, then, to get away from the crowd. You and the person/people you are with would be less alluring than a group of a hundred panicked people all huddled together where maximum harm could be achieved.
Don’t get down or play dead.
Lots of people crouched down and got as low as they could. In many situations, this would be the best bet, but not this one. The person was shooting from up high, aiming downward. Being still and crouching down wouldn’t do much to protect you from a person firing from this angle, nor would playing dead.
Action is nearly always a better choice than inaction. As well, getting down would make it more likely that you’d be trampled by a panicked crowd of people trying to get away from the area. Clark County Fire Chief Greg Cassell said after the Las Vegas shooting that some of a “wide range” of injuries included people who were trampled by the panicked crowds.
Listen for reload.
In a situation like this, there will be pauses in the shooting when the person stops to either reload or change firearms. That is your opportunity to make a dash for the exits or to take down the attacker. Don’t wait too long to make your move, because it only takes an experienced gunman a few seconds to reload a familiar gun and then your chance is gone.
There are only 3 courses of action.
Sometimes regardless of how alert and observant we are, we can’t predict when an attack is about to happen. There might be no indications in your immediate surroundings to alert yourself to the fact that something is going down. You may be blithely unaware until the moment that a perpetrator starts firing.
If you find yourself suddenly in the midst of a mass shooting, your actions should be one of the following:
1) Escape. Get as far away from the threat as possible. This is where your early observant behavior comes in handy because you’ll already know the escape routes. If you are in charge of vulnerable individuals like children, your first choice of actions should be to get them to safety if at all possible.
2) Take cover. If you can’t get away, get behind something solid and wait for your opportunity to either escape or fight back. This is something else you may have observed when doing your earlier reconnaissance.
3) Take out the threat. If you are armed (and I really hope you are) and/or trained, use your abilities to help remove the threat. But know that sometimes you can’t get a clear shot without putting other people at risk. Understand the power of your firearm and ammunition – will your bullet go through the perpetrator
The most important thing to consider here is not necessarily which action you will take. It’s that you willtake an action, not just stand there in shock. You can be a victim or you can be a warrior. Unfortunately, modern life seems to have made our survival instincts obsolete but you can overcome this with practice and study.
Keep in mind that fighting back doesn’t always mean a fancy Krav Maga move that takes down two armed men with one trick maneuver. There are many ways to fight back, and not all of them require physical prowess. Don’t let fear incapacitate you. Your brain is a weapon too.
Are you going to wait for someone to save you or are you going to save yourself? Don’t be a kamikaze, but look for your opportunity.
And there comes a point in some of these situations in which survival is unlikely. Don’t go down without a fight.