5 Tips| Your Active Shooter Response

Statistically, it's unlikely you will ever have to use a concealed handgun to defend yourself. However, if you are that person, the stakes couldn't be greater. So we should focus our training on the skills required to perform under the physical and physiological effects of being in a fight for our lives.

Understanding this goal, let's look at some special challenges that are unique to an active shooter or active killing event. For clarification I mean those incidents where the attacker's goal is mass violence even if he/she is stopped before the incident by definition is considered a mass shooting.

responding to a mass shooting

Let Us Start With the Proper Self-Defense, Mindset the Concealed Carrier Should Have:

I think it is appropriate to start with the right mindset. What I mean is that ultimately how we look at training is dependant on how we look at the purpose of us carrying a handgun in the first place. Our actions are physical manifestations that first start with thoughts that originate in our minds or hearts.

For example, if you think bad things only happen in bad places, you're likely to carry your handgun at times only when you feel at risk.

Additionally, to what standard you train hinges on what your mind tells you is likely to happen in your defensive gun use. An illustration of this is when someone says something like ‘I only need to hit them with one round from my .45 handgun.' Anyone who has spent a moment of time looking at or experiencing violence will disagree with this fantasy.

Strong Defensive Mindset

Jacob recently wrote a great article on what should make up a concealed carrier's mindset. It is a good place to start.

The point is to think about the reality of deadly-force incidents and try and pluck out universal lessons to help us survive. Part of this process involves looking at the dynamics of an attack where you are the targeted person, compared to being part of a mass shooting incident.

Some of these factors overlap, and their importance in any given incident is situationally dependant. However, you should consider all these points and recognize any blind spots in your training or mindset. Look for anything you can glean from these principles to increase your probability of surviving regardless of the type of attack.

Alisha Ketter

Alisha Ketter helping pull a wounded woman to safety at the Tropicana during the mass killing in Las Vegas on Sun Oct 1, 2017. (Photo: Chase Stevens, AP)

Five Differences Between Mass Shootings and Other Gun Fights:

  1. Availability and importance of cover
  2. Ammo Capacity
  3. Body Armor
  4. The motivation and objective of the attacker
  5. The number of people involved

Availability and Importance of Cover:

A major factor in surviving a violent attack is the use of cover or concealment. This isn't speculation, and it is statistically relevant. Through looking at many violent encounters, it's estimated that you can increase your odds of surviving by %45 percent.

This is true if you are being attacked by a single attacker, or find yourself in a mass killing incident. If the attack is focused solely on you, finding cover may have to wait until the initial and proximate attack is addressed.

When someone is focused on shooting as many people as possible, the initial attack may not be directed at you. This means you may have a better chance at locating cover or concealment if appropriate. Fortunately, there are a lot of objects that provide at least some ballistic advantage in most public places. By being aware of things in your environment, that you can use for cover or concealment you may buy yourself some time to respond appropriately.

This is always a more advantageous response than having to shoot it out in the open.

If you want to learn how to use cover appropriately in a gunfight or mass shooting, we have a training program called Fighting From Cover With Unconventional Shooting Positions.

using cover in a shooting

Ammunition Capacity:

Dovetailing into the importance of using cover is the consideration of your everyday carry (EDC) handgun's capacity. Most active shooters come prepared with multiple guns or extra magazines. This is obviously so they can sustain their attack for the longest time possible. It is highly likely they will have many more rounds than you carry concealed on a daily basis. When you form your response, you need to consider the potential disparity in the number of rounds between you and the attacker(s).

How many rounds is enough? Here is an interview we did with Tim Grammins. He is a police officer who was attacked by a dude with 2 handguns. Grammins ultimately fired 33 rounds of .45 caliber hollow point ammunition striking the attacker 14 times. Here is the amazing interview: Episode 295: “Why I Carry 145 Rounds on the Job” – The Story of Tim Gramins

Is that the norm, probably not. Many incidents are ended with fewer rounds. Especially when we look at incidents where there is one attacker, focused on a quick robbery.

However, incidents of mass killings could require you to fire more than 2 or 3 rounds. The point is, that if you don't take into consideration how many rounds may be necessary to stop an attacker, you may limit your effectiveness by using your ammunition quickly or on shots that are harder to make.

how many rounds to carry

How many rounds are enough?

Also, consider the fact that there may be multiple attackers in a mass shooting or killing. Incidents like this are not the norm, but there are more than a few examples of people acting together to terrorize and randomly kill. Multiple attackers do not just complicate the ammunition capacity issue, but the entire strategy. However, for obvious reasons you have a set limit of rounds you have to work with. How are you going to use them most effectively given the cards you are dealt?

Body Armor:

Thankfully federal efforts to outlaw body armor for the average citizen have failed. Body armor, especially soft armor that is thin and light-weight can be purchased by anyone who wants added ballistic protection. It isn't cheap so not a lot of people have it, but some mass shooters have worn body armor during their attack. It is far less likely that someone committing a carjacking or a strong-armed robbery is going to have body armor on.

So what should we consider when it comes to body armor, and why is it important?

Body armor protects the very area we are trained to target, the high, upper-center chest. You may only realize that the attacker is wearing body armor because multiple center mass shots do not have the expected effect on their actions. This is where targeting other vital zones like the head becomes more important. These shots obviously require a higher level of skill. Understanding your skills and limitations as a shooter is important when deciding to take any shot, let alone difficult ones.

Body armor

El Cajon Police Officer, Slocumb, surviving being shot in the head.

Understanding the Motivation and Objective of a Mass Killer:

We don't need to get too psychological to understand that what motivates nearly all mass killers is a desire to kill and terrorize, not get money or things. What this means practically is that compliance is typically not a viable option survival method. Sometimes the motivation or objective of the attacker is just a wallet or object, and giving them what they want is enough to survive.

However, mass killers usually only stop when they run out of ammunition, or physically stopped by being killed, injured, or killing themselves.

Understanding the motivation and objective should help guide your response. Mass killers probably don't know you personally, but don't see your life as valuable. Just as we kill a fly without thinking about it, they take human life.

Someone is going to have to make contact with the killer, which may mean you. Waiting for the police might not be possible or wise. You may also not have enough time for the ‘perfect response' but the ‘best available' response. Here are some statistics we gathered from 238 incidents where armed concealed carriers intervened with force. What we found is that in incidents when concealed carriers intervene, they are successful 94% of the time in affecting the outcome.

The Complexity of a Responding in Crowd:

Anytime we add a variable, the situation becomes more complex. This is especially true when we add multiple victims into the mix. They may be crying out for help, and you may become focused on helping them.

mass shooting medical treatment

Being in a mass casualty incident requires understanding when it is safe to begin providing aid to those injured.

Also, in an emergency people behave in unpredictable ways.

We have to be aware that someone may run in front of our muzzle, just because they do not even perceive us to be shooting a gun.

Consider that someone may mistake us for another bad guy who is shooting the place up. This matters because there could be other concealed carriers or off-duty officers in the area. So whenever and however you can distinguish yourself as a good guy you should. Verbal announcements are probably the easiest method.

However, also consider notifying whoever is calling the police of your description and that you are not a bad guy. Or be sure to include this info if you can call 911.

multiple attackers

Consider how you move through a crowd with your handgun?

Think about how you look as you move about a crowd with your handgun. If you are running through a crowd pointing the gun at everyone you pass by, you're far more likely to be perceived as a threat.

Not only could you be misidentified as a threat, but you could also misidentify a good guy for a threat. This usually happens when we get so singularly focused and don't take data from the big picture when deciding to press the trigger. This misidentification happens with police officers as well. Identify who you are shooting before squeezing the trigger.

In Closing:

We hope that the content has caused you to think and consider some of the unique challenges that make responding to a mass shooter more complicated than other types of incidents. There isn't a universal answer on how or if you should respond. You have to decide these things on your own. The hope is to have thought about these things in a meaningful way so that if a situation presents itself, your decisions and actions can be productive and decisive.

About Matthew Maruster

I follow my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ who is the eternal co-equal Son of God. I currently live in Columbus, Ohio with my wife and daughter. I served in the Marine Corps Infantry. I was a Staff Sergeant and served as a Platoon Sergeant during combat in Iraq. After I was a police officer at a municipal agency in San Diego County. I have a Bachelors's Degree in Criminal Justice from National University. MJ Maruster Defense.


  1. Dennis Rankin on March 31, 2021 at 7:22 pm

    I am a retired LEO and still train with my Department. We do annual Active Shooter Training and use Simutions. You know when you messed up it stings some! LOL, you also know if your shots are effective!

Leave a Comment