How you react and respond to an active shooter situation could mean the difference between life and death. Trainer Bob Whaley critiques the current practice of “Run, Hide, Fight” and offers an alternative.

Before we go any further, I want you to take a careful look at the title of this article. This is a different look at the all-too-common mantra, “Run, Hide, Fight,” that has been promoted as the definitive response to active killer incidents. I purposely selected this title because I am unwilling to embrace yet another strategy that has failed to stop a single active killer event. You’re probably thinking, “Whoa there, big boy! The experts say to ‘Run, Hide, Fight!’ Who are you to disagree?” Frankly, I’m the guy who wants to win in a fight for my life rather than leave me or my loved ones’ fates in the hands of a maniac.

So what’s wrong with “Run, Hide, Fight” as a response plan? Well, nothing short of reality. If I run away, I get shot in the back, which is exactly what happened at Columbine, Westgate Mall and so many other incidents chronicled on real-time closed circuit TV. How about hiding? The argument goes that if they can’t find you, they can’t kill you. That works until they find you. Then, as happened in so many real-world incidents, they kill you. So, Bob, you have to admit that fighting can only be your last resort? After all, the bad guys have guns!

Yes, they have guns. And in the future, likely, bombs. So when the party kicks off, your adversary’s force capability, metaphorically speaking, is on the 100th floor of the skyscraper, whereas your force options are in the parking garage, because you’re likely in a location with a “No Guns Zone,” which is really a “Criminal Safe Zone.” If you wait to fight until the last resort, you’ll never bridge the gap. It’s my goal to take a different look at the problem and see if there is something that makes better sense from a tactical standpoint.

First, where did the idea of “Run, Hide, Fight” come from? The “experts,” of course. You might ask, which experts? The ones at the FBI, Department of Homeland Security and other government agencies of the sort—more or less academics that study violence in the classroom. So upon what evidence/information did they base their decisions? Certainly not successful management of specific real-world incidents, because this strategy just gets people killed. No, their decisions, I believe, are based on political correctness. It’s not politically correct to tell people to fight back.

We hear all the usual arguments justifying a passive response: “Somebody might get hurt,” “Good guys fighting back will only make the situation worse,” “If you fight back/use violence, you’re no better than the terrorists,” and “Citizens fighting back will make it harder and more dangerous for the police coming to save us all.” So to satisfy a cowardly agenda and make everyone equally dependent no matter how many good people die, many have championed the failed strategy of “Run, Hide, Fight.”

Let’s start applying some critical thinking to the situation. First, somebody might get hurt. Too late! Somebody’s already getting hurt. Innocent men, women and children are getting killed. If all the good guys are running and hiding, ain’t no bad guys gonna get hurt, that’s for sure!

Training from reputable sources is the only way to build the skills and mentality needed.

Next, we have the ridiculous mantra that fighting back will only make things worse. My question is, For whom? We already have some maniac walking around indiscriminately shooting innocent people. If I, or a group of my buddies, smash this guy like a bug, for whom did we make it worse? Certainly not for all the innocent people this criminal can no longer kill. So again, when someone babbles on about only making it worse when you fight back, by extension, those “experts” seem to be placing more value on the life of the killer than the victims.

How about the “If you fight back, you’re no better than the terrorist?” Yes, I am. My application of violence is limited in scope and directed to a very narrow target set. The terrorist’s actions are unfocused and applied against anyone in his line of sight—man, woman, child, young, old. I will stop when I have accomplished my mission and the terrorist is stopped. He won’t stop until he runs out of victims, ammunition, has taken his own life or has been stopped by good guys willing to take him on. It’s a simple case of good versus evil, and I know which side I’m on.

And my favorite, as a trained law enforcement officer, is that if you fight back you’ll make it more dangerous for police officers responding to the call. Really? So, I and a bunch of like-minded citizens take the initiative and smash this bug before he can carry out his plan. No one will be shooting when the coppers show up. The good guys will have accomplished their mission, so there’s no need for them to fight anymore, especially with responding police. The good guys have disabled the bad guy so he’s not shooting anymore. Just how did citizens willing to counter attack the active killer make it more dangerous for the police? Do you really think the good guys are going to go over to the other side and turn on the police when they show up because they’re willing and able to fight?

“Well, if you have a gun in your hand when the police show up, they won’t know the good guys from the bad guys.” I was a cop for over 30 years. How will I know you, the good guy with a gun, are not a bad guy with a gun? For one, you’re not the guy with the gun people are running away from. You’re not the guy with the gun with a pile of bodies lying around you, and one of these individuals is likely shooting at the cop, whereas the other is shooting at the guy who is shooting at the officer. Not too hard to figure that one out. In law enforcement, we call that a clue! Shoot at the one who’s shooting at you and figure the other person shooting at him/her is on your side. If the situation changes, the officer’s response will change. It’s called common sense coupled with a cop’s experience.

As the off-duty police officer, plain-clothes officer or private citizen/CCW holder, it is incumbent on you to have a practiced plan in place to de-conflict the situation and establish a safe link-up with responding officers. Drive the conversation. For responding police, we need to understand the principles of target discrimination, especially as it applies to demeanor.

So, what about my comment that “Run, Hide, Fight” is based on cowardice? I’ll stand behind that all day. It takes guts to run to the sound of the gunfire. It takes guts to advocate your population to empower themselves to run toward the sound of the guns. But you know what you get when you advocate an active response versus a passive response? Someone no one wants to mess with.

Active killer events most often occur at soft targets. A soft target is a location where the victim pool isn’t likely to have the capacity or willingness to fight back. If your policy is to encourage violent resistance to evil, then evil will, in most cases, seek an easier target. That means the politicos have to be willing to give up control and admit they cannot protect everyone all the time and relinquish responsibility for personal safety to the individual.

A ballistic response is without question the most effective way to end an active shooter scenario.

A Better Way
There is only one response that prevents a criminal/terrorist from killing innocent people once he has decided to launch his attack, and that is an overwhelming, decisive, focused, violent counter force sufficient to kill the attacker. Until the attacker has been rendered incapable of any viable action, he can kill innocent people. So how, exactly, do I advocate you, me and the rest of the willing populace respond?

First, understand the nature of the beast. History teaches us that the individuals willing to carry out an active killing are overwhelmingly poor at their trade. Their weapon handling skills and tactical capabilities are minimal. They have been successful against helpless victim populations. They attack with bullets and bombs. The longer they are viable, the more people they kill. They are not super men. In the majority of cases, when faced with even minimal counter force, the killers run, cower, kill themselves or are killed by those with the capability to do so. If you’re aggressive and act fast, your chances of success are good. Remember two U.S. service members and their childhood friend on a train in France?

Next, understand that these events happen. The odds of being caught in an active killer event, whether it’s a terrorist incident or the result of a psychotic episode, are small…that is, until they’re 100 percent. It just may be your unlucky day. So accept what is happening and don’t talk yourself out the obvious. Orient toward the threat, prepare mentally to fight and look for an opportunity to improve your tactical situation.

active-shooter-2By orienting toward the threat I mean both physically and mentally, turn toward the source of the stimulus that has drawn your attention and begin moving toward cover so you can accurately assess the situation. Fighting is the only way you can be absolutely sure the attacker will be stopped, so start looking for opportunities to apply your fighting capability to the problem. Any moment an opportunity presents itself, strike. You might not get another chance. Mentally and physically, get ahead of your adversary in the decision-making race and stay there.

If the opportunity to strike is not immediately present, look to improve your tactical situation. That may mean bounding forward, moving from cover point to cover point until you can either ex-filtrate the area or engage and disable the attacker. If forward movement isn’t viable, break contact by moving away from the crisis point and going cover point to cover point until you can either ex-filtrate or engage the active killer. Keep this in mind: You always set to fight. That’s proactive. You have to stay ahead of your enemy’s attack capability. You’ll likely be behind the power curve when the action kicks off. You fight at any moment the opportunity presents itself because that indicates you’re within your fighting capability and by extension, the killer’s attack capability. If you don’t fight back at the first available moment, you’ll likely lose the initiative and become a casualty, and any dependents with you will be killed.

I use the terms “bounding” for moving forward and “breaking contact” for moving back. Those are military terms and reference battle drills. They’re fighting movements. You must keep your head in the game, and this game ends in life or death. Fight your way onto the target. Fight while on the target, and fight your way off the target. That’s an aggressive, proactive mindset that puts you ahead of your adversary.

Running away is passive and does nothing to negatively impact the killer’s ability to create victims. Review the video of the attack at LAX a couple years ago as an example. People ran blindly away from the sound of gunfire with no cover. Many, by habit, dragged their luggage and carried their expensive coffee as they followed the herd. They were completely dependent on the actions of others to protect them and keep the killer from pressing his advantage. Don’t be a herd animal.

If trapped in an area, don’t hide. Set an ambush. Establish the best tactical position possible, arm yourself and as soon as the killer enters your battle space, strike. If you allow him to enter your space and establish control, you and your dependents are dead. Be aggressive. Counter attack before the active killer can react. The Mumbai attacks are a perfect example to review for the result of a passive response from victims. As the terrorists penetrated multiple locations where victims were hiding, they were unopposed and killed without a single victim posing a credible counter threat.

active-shooter-proneTraining is Paramount
As I mentioned, the response concept I’m advancing here is based on an aggressive mindset that creates a proactive response, thereby putting you ahead of the criminal/terrorist response curve. But mindset alone isn’t enough. You have to have the mental, physical and equipment capability to carry out the response. One without the others will prevent you from presenting a truly viable response.

Bottom line, ballistic intervention is the best way to end an active killer event. In other words, good guys with guns end the threat posed by bad guys with guns. Avoid “criminal safe zones,” and make sure those locations know why you do not patronize their establishment. Vote for politicians who support your unalienable right to self-protection. Arm yourself with a modern pistol, get your carry permit and carry all the time. Fight attempts by the emotion-driven false narrative that further restrictions on guns prevent active killer attacks and crime in general, which are used to limit your access to modern firearms. Why should you, as a law-abiding citizen and a person willing to intercede on behalf of the weak and helpless, have to protect your life, the lives of your loved ones or the lives of your fellow law-abiding citizens with equipment less capable than your enemy because proponents of gun control are over-emotional twits incapable of facing reality? We need to stand strong against this rhetoric. Drastic gun laws did not stop the attacks in Paris, Brussels, Kenya, Australia, China or any other location. Murderers will find a way to acquire a gun, bomb, knife, car or other means to inflict damage on an unarmed, helpless populace.

Training from a reputable source is critical. Just talking about skills or reading about skills or watching YouTube videos won’t get it done. You have to put in the time necessary to create the mental overlays and physical/mental balance to get the job done. Active killer response programs for civilians from providers such as Gunsite Academy or Combat Shooting and Tactics are excellent. They are skill-specific and cover everything from basic shooting skills, medical and movement to de-conflicting/link-up with police. You don’t know what you don’t know until someone points it out. Get trained.

Training is your best ally when it comes to active shooter situations.

Just once, after yet another active killer scenario unfolds, I’d like to see an American leader, instead of merely crying for the victims, making excuses for the perpetrator, or worse yet, advocating a sit in for increased gun control, start to encourage Americans to defend themselves. Rather than fostering a mentality of passivity in the face of mounting terrorist and active killer threats, what we need is an emboldened stance against such reprehensible behavior.

Unfortunately, the world we live in is one in which disgruntled students walk into a school and start killing their fellow classmates, seeking to inflict as much loss of life as possible. And as the recent Orlando shooting demonstrated, there’s now terrorist-motivated agendas behind such events, too. It’s time we advocated a response to such events that put the populace in a better position to defend itself. At the end of the day, military and law enforcement training demonstrates how an overwhelming, decisive, focused, violent counter force sufficient to kill the attacker is the best possible way to put an end to such threats. As a long string of recent events illustrates, a passive response leads to greater casualties, which is the very reason active killers seek out soft targets like gun-free zones.

September 11, 2001, was a terrible day for America. A trio of hijacked airplanes were purposefully crashed into the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon, killing thousands of Americans. The damage could have been far worse, however, as United Flight 93 was likely bound for the White House. What prevented the fourth plane from accomplishing its horrific mission? A group of courageous Americans willing to fight back. Todd Beamer, among those who led a counter attack on the hijacked cockpit, and the rest on that flight lost their lives, but their active response to a terrorist threat saved untold lives. It was not passivity, but courage in the face of great fear and evil that put an end to the horrors of that day. What a lesson for us today.

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from the Concealed Carry 2016 issue of Gun Digest the Magazine.

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  1. I’ve learned Run/Hide/Fight as it was intended, and to be honest, it doesn’t sound very different from this. That makes me wonder whether you, and the people in the videos that you’ve watched, were actually really following Run/Hide/Fight. And, let’s be realistic, in most of those cases, we’re not talking about Run/Hide/Fight at all. We’re talking about panicked fleeing, which is NOT the same thing.

    The actual Run/Hide/Fight doctrine says that you RUN when you are in a safe position to do so. I think there’s no disputing the fact that if you are in a relatively safe location, that you aren’t going to get “shot in the back” as this article naively suggests. If the active shooter is close enough to shoot you, you shouldn’t have been running at that point at all. You’re very likely in the “Fight” portion of the doctrine anyways. Sure, it’s all very easy to say that we should train everyone to run towards the sound of gunfire. That sounds very warlike and noble, but it also doesn’t make psychological sense, and it doesn’t respect the realities of the law or the common priorities of a concealed carrier.

    Many of us concealed carry to provide an option to protect the lives of our families. Should I endanger myself further by leaving a situation in which I have the freedom to extract to a safe location, and put myself in mortal danger simply because I happen to be carrying a gun, or have some training in how to respond to an active shooter situation? Morally, there’s a strong argument to be made either way. Legally, as any D.A. will tell you, a CCW or CHL doesn’t turn you into a deputy. If you run from a safe location into a firefight with an active shooter, either you’re going to die, or, if you win, you’ve already satisfied quite a few of the requirements to go down yourself for murder one. Going into such a situation when you do not need to means that you intended to shoot the other person; we’d call that premeditation. What happens if YOU hit an innocent while exchanging fire with the bad guy? You seem to be relying on them to be out of the area (which means that THEY were following Run/Hide/Fight while you were playing hero), or else, hopefully fighting. Which means that you might ALSO run the risk of killing one of your fellow “like-minded citizens.” You’re not a tac team. You haven’t trained together. You have no comms. Accidents happen. And if you kill an innocent, that’s still on YOU, morally and legally. Or, what happens to your family if the bad guy gets YOU? What happens if you’re exchanging fire when the police arrive, as opposed to it being over, as you ASSUME will be the case by the time they respond. Maybe it will, but maybe it won’t. Will they really know that you’re a “good guy with a gun?” Maybe, for the reasons you said. Or, maybe there will be people running away from ALL the people with guns, and it won’t be clear which one is the one shooting at civilians, because you have two guys with guns shooting at each other. Maybe NEITHER of you will be shooting at the officers, because the active shooter is shooting at the person who has been shooting at them the whole time, like ANYONE armed would do. Does it actually make sense to bring a pistol to what is likely a rifle (or bomb) fight? You said it yourself that your force levels are not even remotely comparable. Nothing in here seems to touch on why it’s a bad idea to Run IF YOU ARE IN A SAFE POSITION TO DO SO.

    What about Hide? That’s all wrong too. Hide kicks in when it’s not safe to exit the area, or you otherwise don’t know whether you’d run into the bad guy on your way out, and it doesn’t just mean hide under a desk or cower somewhere waiting for the bad guy to shoot you. It means find the most secure location that you can, or make it as secure against entry (and bullets) as you can, and take stock of your surroundings to identify anything you can do to come up with an action plan and improvise weapons if necessary. Hide is not passive, as you suggest. And it DOES take into account the difference between cover and concealment. Cover > concealment. Hide is all about securing your location to give you better odds of staying out of a fight you don’t NEED to be in, and giving you time to mentally prepare and plan to FIGHT.

    FIGHT kicks in when you’re actively engaged, or about to be. All those people getting gunned down in the back? They were RUNNING when it was time to FIGHT. They were not following Run/Hide/Fight at all. Manufactured arguments that are not relevant to the case at hand. FIGHT doesn’t mean half measures. It means YOU DO WHAT IT TAKES TO END THE THREAT. Raw ferocity goes a long ways, particularly if it’s you and a bunch of like-minded citizens, as you say.

    This argument seems to be attacking an action plan that is fundamentally different in all respects from how it’s actually trained, and worse, relies on arguments ad hominem and sloppy assumptions rather than logical arguments to make the points. That’s not to say that there’s no good points in here. But, that’s certainly not Run/Hide/Fight as I’ve seen it trained. Run/Hide/Fight REQUIRES that you make a tactical decision about the situation, and do what you can to improve your chances of surviving. To reiterate, if you’re in a position to leave the area safely, DO SO. That reduces the chances of you getting shot by the bad guy OR by the good guys inadvertently AND takes away potential victims. Columbine would have been a lot less bloody if they hadn’t tried to keep all the kids on campus. If the rooms that weren’t in line of sight or actively engaged had evacuated, the shooters would have had a lot fewer targets. If you aren’t in a position to leave, give yourself the best chance of making it so the killer doesn’t want to take the time to break into your location, especially if he doesn’t know that you are there, and come up with an action plan for when he DOES enter. When he does, take him down by whatever means you can manage. Do whatever you can to improve your tactical situation.

    As I see it, the issue isn’t with Run/Hide/Fight. It’s with people incorrectly applying Run/Hide/Fight.

  2. Very logical arguments! I was the victim of an armed robbery many years ago which is comparable but every situation IS different. I probably would not have had the opportunity–if I was armed then–to prevent the situation under the circumstances. And staring down a chrome barrelled .38 is a sobering experience. Cooperate and give him what he wants. I couldn’t run and couldn’t hide. He was there pointing. And he could have just as easily pulled the trigger with the slightest startle or movement. And I absolutely had NO WAY to counter being unarmed. And nowadays they just fire because they can get cred or “72 virgins!” Since I couldn’t run or hide, all I had to fight with was a stapler! Training, awareness, tactics and more training after adding a firearm as well as pre-planned situational awareness of what’s happening around you will save more lives than a “Gun Free Zone” will EVER achieve!

  3. maybe gun free zones are meant to be ignored by honest citizens. do we want to be dead or watch people being killed or have a misdemeanor? everyone has to make up their own mind, but i would have a hard time running while someone was killing people, and i feel naked without my gun… besides, i do not run very well anymore.