San Diego –– Some of my friends, knowing I come from Colorado and had been there and indirectly involved in the Columbine shootings (which I wrote about back then) have asked my reactions to the latest atrocity to happen in an Aurora theater since it too was in Colorado, in fact in the same metroplex, i.e. the greater Denver area. I think there are two issues worth dealing with. The first, how to try to make sure it doesn’t happen again, is now locked in a state of political gamesmanship to see which side can score more ideological points by spinning the very limited information coming out at glacial speed. Of course politicians and political hacks on all sides have never ever been ones to allow a lack of facts to deter their evangelical fervor to paint the other side in the most egregiously insulting and religiously demonizing terms.
I am seeing it come to bloom in full flower on Facebook where, especially from the traumatized left, this has provided a gold mine of opportunity to espouse their pretty but historically ignorant rants on how if we, the people just give up all arms and all abilities to confront a government out of control and bent on autocratic domination, not only will the enlightened and ever-benign autocrats treat us wonderfully, sort of like cherished house pets, but the bad guys and real tigers out there will, out of social guilt I guess, pull in their claws, turn in their weapons, and renounce, probably in public meetings much like AA, their use violence against the sheeple in their midst.
I think that is the ultimate in social and historical ignorance. And I think too little data has come out of this case to yet draw any definitive analysis about the shooter himself, his psychology, his ideology, his history, etc. that will not, due to unavoidable holes in the data, fail to do harm to society on one way or another if used as the basis for action. Of course that has not slowed down the ever cute cartoons and bumper sticker pronouncements being shared all over the social media.
If course, in our inceasingly parasitic and entitled society it is ALWAYS someone else’s fault and never our own. So far I have read the most inane pronouncements that the fault lies with guns per se (of course…), the internet, the evil school that was failing him in his doctoral quest, video games to which he was addicted, sex sites to which he also seems addicted, the movie in question for its display of violence (even though people were seeing it for the first time), even some form of bad potty training that left him socially unprepared for the real world.
Possibly some or all of those are factors to be considered in the final analysis. But data gathering is ongoing; much is still not known. And only a fool of galactic proportions will attempt to draw conclusions about so complex a situation when it is known that not all of the facts are disclosed… only a fool would propose legislation on incomplete information. I have been surprised at how many of my Facebook “friends” fall into that “foolish” category. Sad.
Well, I have to confess… I’ve also done and said some foolish things in my time, God knows. But I do not think of myself as a fool and so am not quite yet ready to publically publish my own analysis and prescriptions for resolutions until I have seen enough of the data forthcoming to do a proper review. The media thus far seems hesitant in its revealing of data and is selective in what it shares which I can only ascribe to the fact that the raw data seems to be leading some place they do not like. So knowing the editing of published data is in full swing, I’ll hold off a bit because it seems to me there are some real substantive holes in the data and too much contradiction usually explained by further information.
However there is another issue that can be tackled. And it is truly an important one on a personal level. What if you find yourself in the same situation somewhere. There was a time when such an event would not have been allowed to unfold very far before some audience member simply took the bad guy out. Not in California, of course, but in other places which felt comfortable with good guys having the ability to protect themselves. But that takes away some of the dependency creating control of government so here in the golden state it is no longer allowed.
Even so, perhaps there was a time in our society’s evolution when the delusion of safety from such events, the “it can’t happen to me” syndrome, had some practical merit… but no longer. The list of people who have, for whatever reason gone “postal” is growing and it has happened in the most unexpected of places which is to say… everywhere.
In the office, in schools, in theaters, in homes, in fast food restaurants, in churches, in shopping malls, we have seen some example of this play out. Until this activity is properly reviewed and we get beyond the simplistic conclusions based not on facts forming an ideology but on ideology editing and filtering the facts, it will continue, And sooner or later, no matter how low the odds, this horror show may someday come to you.
So a more immediate and vitally important question arises; one that goes to your own survival, becomes, “What then? What if it happens to you? How do you increase your chances of not begin one of the victims?”
For this, there is lots of evidence because, unfortunately there is lots of history. Like reviewing game films to analyze tactics, however, we can use that history along with some military knowledge to offer some suggestions. Unfortunately lots of people do not want to hear it. It frightens them… and it should. It paints a bleak picture requiring of them unthinkable action… and it does. It makes them question deeply held ideologies… and it does and indeed should. So they avoid it to avoid those painful reviews and thoughts. Here is an example.
I spent four years writing producing and selling law enforcement training video for the Denver Police Department. We produced a few presentations designed for the community and public as well. Those programs were designed to work, in conjunction with further input from the police department, to increase public awareness and safety. They were generally well received and we received a number of awards including one Emmy Nomination for works done in that vein.
But when we tried to interest the school systems in presentations on protecting their kids from an attack such as at Columbine, we hit a brick wall of resistance. The schools told us time and again they believed it would only traumatize the kids and make them afraid. What??? They were told about tornadoes and earthquakes. When I was a kid we were trained constantly in the “Duck and Cover” techniques in case the bad guys launched the big one. And though we knew that being vaporized in a bright flash and loud bang was a possibility. What could be more disconcerting than that? And yet the training made us feel more secure not more traumatized. We were told that it might not save all of us but it might save some of us who did it right and that gave us hope and a plan.
Do fire drills make us afraid? Do evacuation drills for earthquakes make us afraid or do that seek to minimize loss of life? In high school in Missouri we tornadoes were a reality so we learned what to do when they occured. Were we frightened of such things? Sure, we would be fools not to be. But we had a plan and a hope and were not ready to just stand there and be, like Dorothy, swept off to Oz.
But that was a long time ago and during the age of self-reliance and responsibility; it was not the current day of entitled parasites desperate to be protected and fed by others so perhaps it is different today. You readers will have to decide for yourselves where you fit on that continuum and either stop reading now to avoid any damage to your fragile, already victimized psyches or decide you do not want to become excellent at being a victim and read on.
In every such shooting situation as happened at the Aurora theater, there are at least three categories of innocent participants (other than the perpetrators themselves). There are…
- Those at point blank range who have little or no chance of survival.
- Those at mid range who have a reasonable chance of survival AND
- Those at longer ranges who have a very good chance at survival if they know what to do.
And among these categories based on relative placement to the locus of the attack, there are three types of personalities:
- Those who will panic and either freeze in place or try to run away without thought or plan.
- Those who will attempt to escape but with a plan in mind
- Those who will counter attack as if their lives were at stake, which, of course, they are.
If such a situation develops in your presence you have to understand, there are NO guarantees of survival no matter what you do or how carefully prepared you are. All you can do is change the odds from being severely against you to being more in your favor. But combat experience and history, whether in the military or on the streets shows, those odds, properly used, more often than not, make all of the difference between life and death or serious injury. Using a doorway for cover in an earthquake does not guarantee survival but it increases your odds.
We are not talking about military engagements here between opposing enemy forces but about public danger from a potential mass murderer. So for our discussion there are also several categories of possible assailants that might ever go on the attack in a more or less public place.
- A REAL assassin after a target.
- Real criminals holding you hostage or simply unintentionally catching you in a crossfire in a battle with law enforcement.
- The “pushed over the edge” semi-normal person who just looses it in rage or frustration and opens fire with some loose plan or target in mind. And
- The psycopath/sociopath who opens fire for the love of death and destruction and a complete lack of empathy for those innocent people around them.
A real assassin is typically extremely well trained, practiced, able and willing to kill, but with very narrowed focus and an interest in minimizing collateral damage. Unless you are on his or her target list you are generally pretty safe. If you are on the list then unless you can match them talent for talent you are on borrowed time anyway so get your affairs in order as soon as possible.
Except in rare cases, all of the other category of assailant is probably not out to kill a particular person. The exception is the disgruntled employee out for revenge over their manager or boss but one that person is dealt with any continued rampage puts them in the same category as the others.
Also, unless they have spent some hard prison time, most criminals, even bank robbers, are rarely calloused killers. The Dillingers, Nelsons, Barkers, Barrows, et al are of another era. Don’t be lulled into carelessness though. A holdup plan gone wrong can change their game but it was not the game intended and now they, like you, are making it up on the fly. It is certainly dangerous but it is not targeted. And, unless they are a practiced killer, they, like most humans, are hard wired somehow to avoid killing other humans. Unless pushed into it even most of the lighter weight bad guys will try to avoid it. When pushed however, with no way out, then all bets are off as to their likely actions and you have to view and react to them like any other crowd shooter including the most psychotic.
OK so what to do and not do?
If you are in the first category of freezing or panicking then you stand an incredibly high chance of being injured or killed. Here’s why. The nearly inevitable result of a group of people in a panic with minimal routes of exit are that they all bunch up as the bottle neck of an exit is jammed. That forms a mass and provides the easiest of all possible targets for the shooter. Frightened people tend to bunch up for comfort and security, huddle together in a false sense of safety in numbers and only succeed in making themselves and those near them far better targets.
The shooter doesn’t have to be a good enough shot to pick off individuals, they just need to fire into the mass and as the outer layers are hit and fall away it exposes the next layer for them. If they are shooting military ball ammunition (full jacketed) or very high power rounds, or if the stray bullet simply passes through soft tissue on one individual, then each bullet may penetrate several individuals and the hit ratio makes it look like far more shots were fired than actually were.
Further, shooting at a crowd’s back or sides presents an amorphous non-human target mass and so is less likely to engage any inner prohibitions and worse, as people fall with each shot, it increases the satisfaction of the shooter and “showing them” whose boss. It may be the only time in their miserable lives they are in control of a situation and it feels good. So they keep firing until empty or the gun jams or everybody is on the floor dead or dying.
(As an aside, the Aurora shooter had purchased a cheap aftermarket drum magazine but it was not well designed and could not handle the action so it jammed long before it was out of ammunition. The shooter was so poorly trained he apparently did not know how to clear the jam.)
So rule number one is, don’t let yourself becomepart of that herd of easy targets running in complete panic into a bullet that was not even really aimed at you. If you are not willing to prepare to engage the bad guy, at the very least make sure you belong with the second group of those who seek to escape but with a plan. It does not guarantee success but starts immediately to improve your odds.
The plan starts with preparation: know where the exits really are. Are you close enough to beat the crowd or by the time you get there will you simply be part of that massed target? Is there any place that might offer hard cover (something that will stop or deflect a bullet) and you should also and always get in the habit of performing, in ANY place, what intel types refer to as “Situational Awareness.” The Aurora shooter virtually telegraphed that something was wrong when he used an exit to (apparently) take a call instead of going to the lobby or simply silencing the phone and letting it go to voice mail like most would do. And when he came back in through the emergency exit, much less now with hoody and weapons, all questions should have been answered on the spot. Time to leave!!!
I know, It is hard in a movie where the screen demands your attention. But living through the day us certainly worth some attention as well. Isn’t it? It is a sad commentary to think it is necessary. But just what is your life and the lives of people you love worth? Is it not worth a few minutes to become aware of your surroundings and keep an eye out for unusual activities?
The next thing to do, especially if you are in a crowd or crowded place, the moment the action starts, is to hit the deck and start crawling toward any cover you identified. In a theoter, use the concealment of the chairs to hide your movement. But knowing they are not bullet proof, get as fast as possible to any real cover or to an exit. Those still standing will become the targets of opportunity and distractions to the shooter’s attention. And before some prim and proper person retorts that they will not get down on that nasty, sticky theater floor with who-knows-what on it, let me make something clear to you. Nothing spilled on that floor will be as bad for your future as your own blood.
If you are standing when the action starts, run at an angle, ideally about 45 degrees from the way the gunman is facing if possible. Despite what you see in the movies, there is only about a 4% chance of a single running target at an angle being hit unless the ground is swept by true automatic fire. Whether crawling or running, keep moving until you find hard cover or an exit from the firing. There generally will remain plenty of easy targets for the shooter who will not want to waste ammunition on targets harder to hit.
Become aware of the shots fired and the duration of fire as well as how the gunman is using the weapon. For example, it looks very cool in the movies for the gangsta to hold the pistol sideways but it destroys the ability to aim and balistically become difficult to hit a target, especially a moving one. Full auto weapons, rare in these type of events, are often out of ammunition in a hurry. An UZI or Mac-10 will empty a clip in a couple of seconds. Listen for the receiver or bolt to lock open or click meaning either a need to reload or a jam. Unless the gunman is a trained shooter that will, for a few seconds, distract them and turn their attention to the weapon not to you or the targets. Now move and move fast.
But what if there is no place to run or take cover? What if the bad guy is right on top of you at point blank range and your life as well as the lives of any loves ones are now in serious risk? You have two very simple and very clear choices. Resign yourself and your loved ones to their fates and do nothing… or devote every fiber of your being into taking the SOB out.
Make no mistake, this is the second highest risk course of action (the first is just sitting or standing there and trusting to fate) but your odds are better than zero and when that is all you have, you take it and run with it or die where you sit. It is simply delusional to think that faced with a crazed killer on a rampage, your best bet is to sit quietly and smile to show them you are no threat. Get real, no one was a real threat to them before and virtually all of their human inhibitions have been somehow silenced at this point. Talking nicely to them is like talking nicely to a rattlesnake ready to strike. Neither one can really hear you nor care what you are saying. If the gunman has some intention of surviving this then anyone who has seen and can identify them is a threat and they will act accordingly our of primal self survival instincts. This is the time to let your own primal instincts take over.
All humans are subject to issues of reaction time. It takes about ½ second for the average brain to react to and identify action and start the response. Action, especially direct action, is always faster than reaction. Always (well unless some physical restriction or distance makes your actions much slower than normal). So once you are committed, go for it with all of your strength and speed; let the adrenalin do its thing to help you. You must be at your most ferocious and savage if you wish to survive this close encounter; anything less shifts the odds back into the gunman’s favor.
If possible move when their reaction to you will take the most distance and time to complete, or if they are distracted by somnething else or the need to reload or clear a jam. Otherwise let surprise be on your side.
Don’t have any sense of false bravado here. You are at a major disadvantage here unless your life has had its share of training to deal with such things as bullets coming at you; even then the guy with the gun has the best odds unless you are very good and very close. If you do not have less than 10-15 feet of open ground to cover at a moment of distraction, then escape by running at angles is your best chance… when possible.
When it is not possible to run, the goals of your action are simple: If you are otherwise unarmed, control the shooter’s hands to get the weapon pointed in some other direction (or out of his hands) and then incapacitate or kill the shooter. And if another potential victim moves first, take advantage of that distraction to help them. But do not fall back into “polite society mode” just yet. This will be a true life and death struggle which you can survive only at the expense of the bad guy. Let the miscreant gunman pay the price for this rather than more innocent lives and especially more than your own. The moment you decide to be nice may be your last.
Much as adrenalin will help there is nothing that will help as much as practice and training. The good news is that most non-professionals that end up on a rampage are not well trained either; but you can’t count on it. There are good self defense courses nearly everywhere that use selected martial arts moves but designed for self protection and survival. Take one. No book, no blog, no video can ever properly prepare you for such an encounter. Better than nothing at their best by helping you think through your actions, but worse than nothing if they give you a sense of invulnerability. Take a class. Until you have actually taken a punch I guarantee you the first one to your face will stun you into inaction. And the first bullet or knife cut, even a flesh wound, will hurt so much as to debilitate you for a moment and that moment is all the bad guy will need to finish the job.
In a day and age when more and more people are giving their own survival over to the government in one way or another, who think the cavalry will be able to rush to the rescue and pull your sorry fat out of the fire, remember the old adage of the prepared: “When seconds count the police will arrive in minutes.” The only one that can save you during those first seconds… is you.
What if you are armed and trained? Then take the bad guy out. Period. End of discussion.
Learn to detect someone wearing body armor; if worn under their clothing, how does that change their appearance and basic conformation? Police are often trained to do a three shot sequence: two shots to center of mass (the so-called “double tap”) and if the target is not on its way to the ground then one more shot to the triangle area formed by the brow ridge and base of the nose is all that is needed. Personally I’ve never seen any real reason for the initial chest shots except for poor marksmanship or too long a range. A person shooting into a crowd needs to be dropped in his or her tracks.
The “double tap” to center of mass is a fatal combination but incapacitation is not necessarily instantaneous… though it serves a PR function for the police department. You have no such constraints and if you have armed yourself then you have the responsibility, in my opinion, to so well train yourself as to be capable of using your weapon with no collateral damage.
But remember, a heavy dose of adrenalin makes you stronger and faster but it also destroys fine motor skills in favor of gross motor skills. Only training and muscle patterning will allow you to predictably hit the side of the Pentagon at 10 paces. You can not be a nice guy and play Lone Ranger ro shoot the gun out of their hands, you cannot rely on a wounding shot, say, to an arm or leg, to incapacitate the shooter and bring the action to a halt, especially if they are on drugs. To try that will get you or more people shot by now enraged shooters. And finally, guns designed for easy and concealed carry are following design constraints opposed to designs to make the gun more accurate over distances. Unless you invest as much money into customizing and training with your carry gun as you might spend on a small car, you are going into battle with a barely adequate weapon and not one anyone intentionally going into a gun fight would choose. The only advantage of a concealed weapon is surprise and once that is lost the odds go back to the better armed.
The only shot guaranteed to end the encounter on the spot it to take out a brain or spinal cord. Even a heart shot may allow 5-10 seconds of return fire unless hit with a round of such shock as to shut down the central nervous system.
If you are willing to act at all with a carry gun train yourself to take a very fast shot that will predictably end the encounter instantly. Or leave the damn thing at home because you will otherwise just get yourself or others killed as well as providing another weapon to the bad guys..
In the end, if you find yourself in such a situation, the odds of survival are totally in your own hands. Not the police, not the FBI, not the newsman, not the fireman, not the EMT, not the building owner or lessee… yours and yours alone. To refuse to accept that ugly fact simply, in my opinion, adds more chlorine to the gene pool and I can only hope if we are in the same situation going down when the bullets start filling the air, your panic or complete inaction will provide the distraction I need to serve my own survival. I’d really rather have your help dealing physically with the bad guy, but if you can’t or won’t help directly than will you at least give him a good distracting target of opportunity? If you wish to commit suicide by crazed gunman then that is your choice to make, but if you are going to do it anyway could you try to time it to give me, and any others willing to react, the best chance of success?
For those who have never faced death head on, I know that will sound unbelievably brutal and nasty. I hope for you a world in which you will never have to face such stuff, never come face to face with the implement of your own impending death, never have to decide between life and death for yourself or a loved one. That ought to be everyone’s goal and plan.
To be fair, in your favor are the statistics that show the vast majority of people, even including law enforcement officers, never have to face such things in their entire lives and careers. But those statistics were meaningless for the moviegoers in that theater in Aurora, on the planes during 911, in the MacDonald’s in Chula Vista a few years ago, in the schools such as Columbine, Tierra Santa, or Virginia Tech. Are you prepared for the plan to fail and those statistics to become meaningless for you or loved ones?
OK, at the start of this I mentioned the follow up part to better analyze the shootings from an political/philosophical point of view for the next part in this series. But to try to avoid being as foolish as those already leaping into the discussion with their own conclusions, let me allow a little more time for more data to be revealed about the whole circumstances of this shooting. I want to know the actual reality, not the Michael Moore style fantasy reality.
Moore’s idiot movie on Columbine showed an amazing ability to avoid the reality of the laws on the books at that time and create a perception of that place and time that bore virtually no connection to the truth. How can i say that? Good question. First of all my years working with the DPD gave me access to people to talk about it from their side; my production company’s CFO was uncle to one of the Columbine students who was there and had his best friend killed at his side and survived by following some of the advice I have given here; and, for years i shot firearms competitively in the area, shot frequently at the police range with the instructors, and was a close follower and intimately familiar with Colorado and Denver, and Federal gun laws. And i can tell you categorically that Moore’s movie was more lie than truth, more spin than fact, and so ideologically tainted as to render it a disservice to anyone seaking real answers to the real problems of public violence.
Do not base your own potential survival in such circumstances on such putrid ideological BS!.
Well, actually that is not completely candid or honest of me to say that. The truth is I am indifferent to the outcome if you want to lower your own odds of survival so long as you do not imperil those of myself, or of people I love. But don’t get behind laws and regulations based on such skewed perspectives and, in the end, make matters far worse. To do so, and only succeed in making it less safe for the innocents at the next incident makes you, in my opinion, as bad an actor as the gunmen themselves because you are contributing, albeit indirectly, to the carnage.
To stop or at least to minimize the incidents such as this needs a complex approach that encompasses review of some laws but also of the trends of our culture and society. Murder is and has been against the law for a very long time. Trying to stop murder by demonizing the tools is like trying to enforce traffic laws by demonizing the automobile.
These things do not occur in a vacuum. The important question is why do they occur and is it possible to try to stop or at least slow down the number of incidents. I actually believe we can but not by getting softer and gentler and facilitating such things. And not by making sure that the good guys, the innocent people, are rendered incapable of defending or protecting themselves.
Meantime, practice your situational awareness. What actions or things are out of place? In you classroom or office or home or wherever is there a place of safe and hard cover? Are there the materials to make yourself bullet proof? Can you turn your room or some room into a safe room if the building or campus comes under attack? Get together with colleagues and friends to discuss it and see what you can do, as a group, to prepare yourselves for such awful eventualities.
Bottom line: start taking responsibility for your own safety because when seemingly out of nowhere and for no apparent reason, the bullets start flying or bombs exploding, you are the only one you can look to increase your odds of coming out of it alive.
When I next address this in Part Two I will have anough data to try to formulate me own solutions and, if necessary, laws that I think will help the situation. But this is too important for ideologically inspire haste so bear with me. A post or two may intervene because I don’t know what will be the speed of further data disclosures on the shooting and the shooter, but I will get back to it and try my best to offer some solutions.