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“Active Shooter”—few of us will ever fully understand the paralyzing fear that phrase can evoke. But it’s usually only law enforcement and the media who use that term. In reality the phrase is something of a half-shrieking, half-yelling, frantic verbal burst; “Somebody’s shooting!” “What’d you say?” “He’s got a gun. He’s shooting at people!”

If you are ever unlucky enough to be in close proximity when someone goes on a shooting rampage, that is about what you are going to hear. You may get more details of the situation, you may not. But now, you have to decide what to do.

It won’t matter if you are at a store or shopping mall, or church or school, your first priority will be to see to the safety of your loved ones; that’s a no-brainer. But what now?

For some of us, if our loved ones are not a part of the scenario, there arises a bit of a moral dilemma as to what to do next. “Do I stay put and observe? Do I try to help people escape? Do I try to intervene and stop the shooter? Do I run like hell and get out of there?” Some of us will wrestle with these questions. Some of us will draw our conclusion quickly and decisively, and act immediately on it. Most of us will look back on our decision and question everything about it. But bear in mind that there is only one coward in this scenario, the shooter. Whatever decision you make will be both the wrong and right one. There will be both rewards and consequences to whatever you decide. The only one of these questions I will try to address here is, “Do I try to intervene and stop the shooter?”

First of all, if the shooter is in close proximity to you and/or shooting at you, it’s kind of obvious that you should be shooting back. But, most likely, the shooter will be some distance from you, giving you the opportunity to escape or hide. But here’s the dilemma: Every time you hear him fire a shot, you know that shot is directed at someone, someone who is innocent, someone who has a family, a life. And you, being armed, have some reasonable means of preventing that life from being lost or seriously damaged. Again, what do you do? Remember, there is only one coward in this scenario, and it’s not you. So let’s say that you decide to advance and see if you can in some way intervene.

Obviously, you are going to move forward in some kind of tactically sound manner, as best you know how. But what are you going to do once you get there? That’s when it really hits you how deep is this pile of smelly stuff that you’ve gotten yourself into. Now what?

I went online and looked at the Policy & Procedures of our local Sheriff’s Office regarding an Active Shooter. Because of the Columbine shooting, many law enforcement agencies have adopted a policy that says if there are a certain number of sworn officers on site (usually three), that they can enter the site and engage the shooter and/or secure the scene. One thing that I found interesting in this P&P is that the primary purpose of these first responders is to secure the scene and ensure the safety of innocent people. If that means that they use deadly force to put the shooter down, so be it. But if they can isolate the shooter, denying him further victims, that’s good too. Then they wait for SWAT and the negotiator to arrive and take over. In other words, they don’t go into a situation like this with the goal of killing the shooter. They are happy for the first responders to just pin him down and stop him from harming anyone else. In recent history, when a rampager is met with any kind of resistance or they get pinned down somewhere, denied of further victims, they will have most often ended their own life.

The realistic likelihood of you or I being in this position is very slim, but it’s happening again and again. Since the New Life shooting in Colorado Springs, many churches, are developing armed security teams in an effort to keep their congregations safe from these kinds of attacks. But whether you are part of some security team, or part of a paid security organization, or just a civilian who can’t run away with a clear conscience, remember that you don’t have to be a hero to be a hero. And unless the shooter has you pinned down and you are in fear of your life or the lives of someone with you, you don’t even have to be a hero. However, if you commit yourself to protect, do what you say you will do.

If you find yourself in a situation like this, remember that what you are really trying to do is stop the shooter from hurting anyone else. If that means that you have to put him down, and the opportunity presents itself, then do what you have to do. But if you can pin him down somewhere and isolate him from any more victims until the professionals arrive, pin him down.

Remember too, that if you are anywhere on the scene of this active shooter, with a drawn weapon when the police arrive, you will be regarded as a shooter until they can sort things out. You may also still be brought up on charges if they can find anything that you did wrong. In some cases and some jurisdictions, you may even be charged as an aggressor, especially if you didn’t remove yourself from the situation when you had a chance. Therein lies the dilemma—you hear gunfire, and you know that with every shot you hear, a life is being changed or maybe even ended. What do you do?

Whatever you decide will be both the right decision and the wrong one. There will be both rewards and consequences, whatever you decide. Just remember, there is only one coward in this whole scenario, the shooter. Not you.

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