The one thing we can all count on is change. It’s the only constant in life. Every day… something is going to change. We have no choice, if we’re going to live successful lives, but to adapt to the change and keep on. This is perhaps not as evident anywhere else as it is in how active shooters attack. As an Active Shooter Response Instructor with approaching 18 years of experience teaching such, I’ve done my share of studying historical active shooter attacks, doing my best to analyze tactics so that the most efficient response protocols possible can be developed and trained.
Now… let me step back a few years to share information needed for you to understand the opinion(s) I’ll share in this piece.
1966 Texas Tower attack occurs. Thanks to this and other events, SWAT teams are created starting (primarily) on the coasts of our nation and moving toward the “bread basket.” As a result of the development of SWAT teams, patrol officers are trained to respond to high risk situations by setting up a perimeter and feeding intel while SWAT responds, develops a plan and then executes. This is how we do business for 30+ years.
1999 Columbine attack occurs. Public outcry demands change. Instead of patrol officers responding and sitting safe on a perimeter, the demand I made – quite justifiably – for patrol officers to take faster action. As a result, active shooter response (ASR) protocols are developed and training begins.
Original ASR protocols involve waiting for four officers to get on scene so that an entry team can be formed and go in. During this protocol development and training delivery, it’s recognized that some officers simply won’t have the guts to run into the sound of gunshots. It is important to realize that some officers said so up front. They were honest with themselves and others. Every other officer who unequivocally said, “I’m going in. Y’all better be beside me,” was speaking hopefully. Unless that officer had faced gunfire before, s/he was speaking from a belief of what s/he’d do… not what past actions had proven would be done.
Over the course of the next few years it was recognized that many agencies didn’t have the manpower to wait for a four-man entry team to gather in any kind of decent time frame. As the example: I was approached by one officer from a county in Texas where, if they put every deputy on duty, plus the game wardens AND the reserve deputies… they could muster 22 people in uniform. The county was big enough that if they waited for four uniforms to get on scene it might be hours later. ASR demands a much faster response than that.
I thought I was being fairly progressive when I started teaching buddy-team response tactics in 2005. Get ONE other officer on scene with you and make entry. It wasn’t long thereafter where my buddy-team idea was surpassed by that of single-officer entry. With the realistic outlook of, “There’s no time to waste,” the approach became: get there, get your kit, go. Other officers can catch up. Every second spent waiting for other officers could mean more lives lost.
Those who argued against such a concept always wanted to ask: “How much time equals how many lives? At what point do we risk an officer’s life?”
Well, we have a measurable timeline for average numbers of second per casualty. Bear in mind that “casualty” means shot, not necessarily killed. BUT, that’s no excuse to delay anything. Every person shot CAN be killed or die.
In 2007, Seung Hui Cho barricaded himself into Norris Hall at Virginia Tech. His “casualty rate” was (average) one per seven seconds represented herein as 1:7. At Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School the shooting lasted, according to reports, four minutes (240 seconds) with 31 casualties – 17 dead and 14 more wounded. That’s a casualty rate of 31:240 or, after you do the simplification math, 1:8.
So, you want to know how much time costs how many lives? There’s your historically provable standard: one casualty for every seven or eight seconds of delay. That’s an ugly number. What do I mean?
Well, consider this: an Active Shooter event is reported. The 911 call received and officers dispatched. Before the 911 call ever goes out we have to assume one or more casualties. It’s not an AS event until shots are fired (for contemporary comparison purposes) so there is absolutely no way to avoid a loss of life EXCEPT THROUGH PREVENTION (remember that part). The first officer gets on scene in whatever amount of time it takes to respond. At VA Tech that was TWO MINUTES or 120 seconds. At a casualty rate of 1:8 we have the original victim (1) plus another 15 more in the two minutes of response time. The officer gets on scene. That’s time mark ZERO for arrival but we already have 16 casualties. He jumps out of his cruiser after popping his trunk and puts on his response vest and grabs his rifle. That took 10-15 seconds; another one or two casualties (we’re up to 17-18 now). He makes immediate entry, moves to the sound of shots and neutralizes the shooter.
Read that again and check my math. Folks, this means that there are only three ways we can minimize casualties in an active shooter attack:
Option 1: PREVENTION: You know… when the shooter’s intentions are communicated prior to the event, law enforcement professionals intervene and interrupt his plans. Don’t tell me that this can’t be done. Not only did the FBI have forewarning about the attack at MSD High School, but the local sheriff’s office had been in contact with the shooter no less than 39 times in the preceding year. If you want to know why this event occurred, it’s largely because the law enforcement professionals failed the community. This is not a condemnation of all law enforcement. There were well over 130 officers who responded to MSD High School and made entry without pause or concern for their own well-being. They should be congratulated and thanked. That said, any deputies or other law enforcement officials who failed to take the requisite action in accordance with their duty and oath of office should be removed from office. Their hesitation or failure to do their duty cost lives and that’s unacceptable. Period.
Option 2: IMMEDIATE INTERVENTION BY SOMEONE ON SCENE: By “on scene” I mean in the room or hallway. You want to know how to stop an active shooter? Shoot them… repeatedly. I don’t mean the School Resource Officer although that’s the third option. I mean students, faculty and staff who, armed or not, have the gumption to fight back and attack the shooter collectively. Don’t tell me what can’t be done. Imagine going into a classroom and having 30 math text books thrown at you. It’s the modern day version of being stoned. Will it save everyone? No. Will it distract the shooter and give someone the option of attacking them? Yes. Is it better than doing nothing and simply accepting being a victim? HELL YES. All the better if the someone on scene is a properly trained and equipped responsible adult (that person we call a teacher) who can use his/her own weapon (of ANY kind) to disable the shooter in an efficient fashion.
Option 3: FAST INTERVENTION BY RESPONDING SRO: So many schools today have School Resource Officers and a great many of them are true compassionate warriors. They have the necessary outlook to act as a warrior but the compassion to also relate/respond accordingly to students. Make no mistake: They are warriors FIRST and temper that with compassion second. That SRO, upon hearing shots or the report thereof, RUNS to the sound of shots and neutralizes the shooter.
Any of these three options stands a chance of reducing our casualty count to keep it below 16. The faster the response and the less willing the victim pool is, the fewer casualties we get. Now, I’m sure some folks will argue that if we could just keep the gun out of the hands of the shooter… blah blah blah. Yep, in an ideal world that would be fantastic, but it’s also utterly unrealistic.
This isn’t political. This is logic. Ban AR-15s. Go ahead. That will not have saved a single life at Virginia Tech where two handguns were used. Ban handguns? Sure. Go ahead. ALL OF THEM? How many are still going to be on the street? How many are stolen? How many are lost? How many… well, never mind. Hopefully you get the point. There is simply no way to get all guns out of the hands of potential “bad actors.” There are too many out there and, to be ugly honest, they’re too simple to make.
There ARE a couple things we can do to reduce or remove the active shooter threat. Some of them are already being done and some of them are being argued about. The arguments are largely political debates and such wastes time and energy that could be better spent on something else like… um… SAVING LIVES.
Step One: Stop teaching our students that defending themselves is wrong. Since roughly 1996 with the zero-tolerance toward violence in schools being enacted, we’ve been teaching public school children that fighting back would get them punished. That’s 21+ years now of teaching our children to accept being a victim. This has to be reversed and we need to do it immediately. It will take ten or more years before we see any positive results from this. All public schools, nationwide, need to adopt the outlook that BULLYING will receive zero tolerance but SELF DEFENSE is not only acceptable but admirable. As soon as students start realizing they can fight back – individually or as a group – bullying will drop off. I’d bet my paycheck.
Step Two: Empower every daily occupant of the schools to defend themselves as efficiently as possible. Arm teachers? Absolutely. Do you know how easy this is to do? Simply repeal the laws that prohibit teachers who are legally armed everywhere else from being armed on school grounds. These “Gun Free Zone” laws are ridiculous even if well intentioned. They actually stop off-duty police officers from being armed on school property. Teach kids to use improvised weapons? Why not? They can learn this stuff on the Internet. EMPOWER them to defend themselves and potentially save other lives. At MSD High School several students acted in a heroic fashion and saved lives. The will and spirit exists. Stop trampling it. Empower it.
Step Three: Prioritize construction and repair spending in school budgets to focus on increasing occupant safety by upgrading materials and changing designs so that a “bad actor” can be easily contained in a given space, thereby reducing access to potential victims.
Step Four: Demand accountability. This includes everyone from the student to the Sheriff and everyone else involved. There is no acceptable reason for an SRO to sit and do nothing while mass murder occurs. There is no acceptable reason for a TEAM of deputies to sit and do nothing while mass murder occurs. There is no acceptable reason for a Sheriff to have deputies who are either not trained or who are not trained to contemporary standards. There is no acceptable reason for federal agents, who have been notified of a threat, to take no action. There is no acceptable reason for the elected representatives that everyone answers to NOT to take corrective action toward those who failed.
Step Five: Get involved. Go be a part of your Board of Education advisory committee. Attend the meetings. Go get to know the principal at your children’s school(s). Let them know your expectations and what you can offer in the way of assistance. Be equally open about what you won’t accept as far as your children being taught to be victims. Every student discipline handbook my kids brought home for me to read and sign had a rule for student conduct in it that said, “Fighting is unacceptable on school grounds at any time.” I always changed that period to a comma and added, “except in self-defense.” Then my child and I both signed it. I answered to more than one principal for my outlook but they understood where I was coming from.
All of the talk about banning weapons is political grandstanding. Banning guns is unnecessary and a documented waste of time. Fifty years ago plenty of schools had rifle teams and kids who hunted with their parents had rifles/shotguns hanging in the racks in their pickup trucks in the school parking lots. What’s changed? The faith we have in our children. How much we empower them to defend themselves and others. How much we’ve protected bullies by emasculating their potential victims. How much we’ve surrendered our own responsibility for safety and defense to police and deputies.
Don’t get me wrong. I’ve been a law enforcement professional for 35 years now; a law enforcement instructor for almost 30 years and an active shooter instructor for 17+ years. I believe, from the core of my soul, that law enforcement professionals have a moral, ethical and human duty to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the innocents of our society. If we fail at that, we should be held accountable. But there is no way we can protect everyone at every moment and that simply demonstrates the reality that we… each of us… is individually ultimately responsible for our own safety. NOTHING we do as a society, family, school administrator, teacher, etc. should ever limit that.
Thanks for your time.