The Scenario: Saturday, 1110, the local shopping mall. You and your wife are walking along the wide, main concourse of the single story mall when suddenly, you hear popping sounds. Most people aren’t reacting immediately; they don’t associate those sounds with danger, not quite yet. But you recognize them as gunfire, more specifically, pistol fire and rifle fire.
Then you see them; two young men. They’re wearing Islamic clothing, with tactical vests. Bearded, dark-skinned, they are about 25 yards away, and approaching from the opposite side of the wide, open concourse between the shops. They are walking, calmly, and saying nothing, merely shooting at people on both sides of the concourse. You see a round pierce the body of a woman about ten yards in front of you, blowing out her back. She drops, and several people behind her are sprayed with blood spatter. About that time, the screaming and panic start in earnest.
Some people don’t know what to do, and merely stand still, frozen, their faces masks of abject horror. Others sprint wildly in every possible direction, even knocking small children to the ground in their flight. As the crowd before you begins to thin, you can see multiple people, men, women and children, bleeding on the floor, some pitifully trying to crawl to some sort of safety.
The two gunmen are now within 20 yards, and the shooter with the rifle, a semi-automatic AK-clone of some kind has stopped to reload. He drops his empty magazine to the floor and pulls another out of the pouch on his vest. This is not a good sign. He doesn’t care about keeping his mags, therefore he may not expect to survive. The other, still shooting for the moment, has a semi-automatic pistol, perhaps a Beretta 92 or Taurus clone. When he reloads, he too drops his empty magazines. These observations have taken only about three seconds.
There are several large cast concrete planters and a low decorative wall between you and the shooters. They are pausing only to reload, methodically shooting everyone they can.
You are armed with a Glock 19. You have one spare magazine for a total of 31 rounds. Your wife is unarmed. Thus far, they have not targeted you or your wife, but that could change at any second. People near you have already been shot and wounded.
The range between you and the shooters is closing every second. You have concealment, and what looks like cover, but only if you move right now. You are within reasonable handgun range. You’ve carefully chosen effective hollowpoint ammunition, greatly reducing the probability of over-penetration.
It’s decision time. There are two primary paths available: run, or engage.
Run: At the very least, getting your wife to relative safety is a practical necessity. Fortunately, this can be accomplished quickly. This method also assumes you are not under direct fire and have the opportunity to reach safety in a store or other place of refuge without attracting fire by your mere flight. Running gives you the opportunity to call the police. You might even be able to remain in a place of concealment and feed the police dispatcher updated information on the killers and what they are doing.
What about mall security? Their choices are even more limited than yours. Virtually all mall security officers are badly undertrained and with the exception of various chemical sprays, are unarmed. Their uniforms and the ridiculous state trooper campaign hats many are forced to wear serve only to make it hard for them to conceal themselves while simultaneously making them easily identified targets. You can’t expect them to be any help; they’re probably far less trained, armed and prepared than you.
And what about the police? Absent a miraculous confluence of fortunate twists of fate, you can’t rely on them either. Most Americans would be absolutely horrified to discover how few officers are on duty at any time of the day or night. Since it’s Saturday morning, there will be fewer working that at high call-volume times. Their response time will be determined–when they actually get a clear and unambiguous call the lets them know what is happening–by their distance from the mall, traffic patterns, and how many officers are available. Officers can’t merely turn on their lights and sirens and blast along at warp speed. If they have an accident on the way, they have to stop, and help no one. If there is a lot of traffic, it’s going to take substantial time to get there. Keep in mind that when an officer arrives, he also has no idea where in a very large building the suspects are and what they are doing. He has to enter and maneuver into a position where he can identify and engage the killers, all of which takes time.
But here’s the best part: the police don’t have to do anything, and if you are injured or killed as a result, you can’t sue them and win. Visit my PJ Media article from 2011, which explains the issues in detail. Most Americans can be reasonably assured that their local police force would at least try to stop the killers. An officer refusing to engage under these circumstances would have been branded a coward, and likely, in every law enforcement agency in which I worked, fired for neglect of duty, but that’s not the case everywhere. Do you know how your law enforcement agencies would react? Do they consider going home every day unscathed of utmost importance, or are they willing to risk their lives for others?
Remember the factors of time and distance. In Detroit, emergency response times are nearly an hour when the police respond at all. At Sandy Hook Elementary school, despite having a number of available officers responding to a much smaller structure with a single shooter, it took the first officer just seconds less than 15 minutes to enter the building. It took the first officer to arrive at the school nine minutes to get there–to the parking lot. By the time the first officer entered the building, the killer had been dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound for nearly five minutes.
Every minute–perhaps every second–the shooters are allowed to run free, people are going to die. A fifteen-minute response time might be a reasonably expected starting point for a fast police response.
Even if the police arrive in an extraordinarily short time, most police officers are not good shots. It is entirely likely that you train more often, more effectively, and are a better shot than they. You may very well be the person most capable of saving lives at that mall.
Here’s another distressing factor: even if you are able to give a dispatcher continual updates from concealment, it’s a virtual certainly the responding officers will get each and every update late, sometimes disastrously late. I wish I had a dollar for every time I rushed around, always as much as five minutes late, in response to that sort of situation.
Consider this: if you run, even if you remain to try to vector the police in to the site of the carnage, you’re going to be witnessing unimaginable horrors, horrors that you could have stopped, lives that you could have saved. You and your wife will likely be unharmed, but a great many people will be very harmed and very dead. I’ve no doubt that some people could live with that. I couldn’t. That said, there are certainly positive aspects to running, which will become obvious as I explore the second primary alternative this week and next.
Engage: Getting your wife to safety while engaging is entirely possible, and may very well cover her retreat. She can serve to call the police, remain concealed and provide what information she can. If you do your job, much of that will be unnecessary. In our scenario, by the time you’re able to engage, the shooters will be within easy handgun range–15 yards and probably less–and you may or may not have a clear field of fire.
But I’m armed only with a handgun and one of them has a rifle! At these ranges, it doesn’t matter. In fact, a handgun is arguably more maneuverable and faster in these circumstances. In Garland, Texas, a single policeman took down two terrorists armed with long guns with only his duty handgun.
But should you immediately start shooting, or get to cover first and then shoot? There is no absolutely right answer. It depends on the tactical situation, which changes from second to second, but in general, when under attack, solve the problem first and move second. Under many circumstances, with two shooters, both may be taken down within a few seconds. If they haven’t yet seen you, or even if they have and you can shoot them before they can bring their muzzles to bear, shoot! Or one may be taken down, you may move to cover and engage the second. Again, it depends.
What if I miss? It’s not like the movies where good guys can fire innumerable rounds without taking so much as a fraction of a second to assess their backdrop. You are, in most circumstances, responsible for every round you fire. But consider what’s happening. People are dying all around you. Will an errant round or two make things worse? What is more important: taking down the shooters immediately, or being absolutely certain of no possible mishaps?
Keep in mind that courts may take notice of this factor, that under the circumstances, shooting the killers, even if you did accidently shoot and wound or kill an innocent, was justifiable. You cannot, however, absolutely count on this. You could easily end up with an anti-gun prosecutor determined to make an example of you. One might expect police officers to be given a bit more leeway in this than citizens, but that too depends on where the event takes place and whether the terrorists are considered part of a politically protected class at the moment.
One way to minimize this problem is to take a knee and shoot on an upward angle, which will make any round that over-penetrates or that misses more likely to fly over the heads of bystanders. By this time, however, most bystanders will be in hiding, running at a distance, or hugging the floor for all they’re worth, which gives you an advantage. You might also repeatedly scream “get down.” Citizens will tend to do that; terrorists won’t.
In general however, do your best to be certain of your shots. Fortunately, with practice, and the determination to be smooth rather than fast, this is entirely possible.
Because you’ve carefully chosen your ammunition, any over-penetration problem should be minimized, but cannot ever be completely ignored. I exclusively use Hornady Critical Defense ammunition. Is it better than anything else out there? Perhaps; I can’t be certain. Of course, with any ammunition, one is trusting the testing results of the manufacturers and others using imperfect testing media, but we do what we can with what is available.
If you have learned properly, and practiced properly, you will focus on shot placement and on being as smooth as possible. Service the target.
Keep in mind that in a situation like this, there is no ambiguity. All of the criteria for the lawful use of deadly force are very obviously present. You are an innocent party with no hostile intent; you did not initiate the conflict. Not only is your life in danger, but the lives of everyone surrounding you. That danger is imminent, not hypothetical, not possible, and the danger is clearly of serious bodily injury or death. You can see the evidence of that danger littering the mall floor. By shooting back, your response is entirely proportional. Who could reasonably assert–though I’m sure some would–“Oh, why didn’t the mall cops just spray them with pepper spray?”
Shoot the killers as often as necessary to stop them. You shoot to stop, not to wound, not to warn, not to get their attention, but to stop them from doing what they were doing that caused you to realize it was necessary to shoot them in the first place. If, after being shot and dropped to the ground, they still have their weapons or are trying to access others, stop them with as many rounds as necessary! This is particularly important in a terrorist attack. If the terrorists are merely wounded, they are not less dangerous and deadly, only somewhat less mobile. But more importantly, terrorists often carry explosives in a variety of forms.
As you engage them, you notice that the handgun-wielding killer is carrying a large satchel. Is it filled with magazines? Hand grenades? A larger explosive device? Both are wearing tactical vests with many pockets. Such vests can easily contain enough explosives to kill hundreds and destroy buildings.
Make sure they are stopped. Finally. Absolutely.
And do not forget that they may not be the only terrorists present. Many people have died because they relaxed too soon.
When reasonably certain that the immediate danger is passed–terrorists often use explosives that can be detonated remotely by their handlers if their initial plan to self-detonate fails–only then should the wounded and those taking shelter be moved, and moved as quickly as possible. Get some distance and put cover between you and them.
For now, everything sounds like a successful movie plot. You have not only engaged the bad guys, you’ve stopped them. So far, you haven’t been blown into your constituent atoms. You may very well be unharmed. You’ve saved many lives and stopped a terrorist attack.
Next week, in the final article of this series, the worst is yet to come.
Disclaimer: You are responsible for knowing the law regulating the use of force wherever you live. I provide only hypothetical scenarios and general guidelines. I don’t live in your world; you do. Be prepared for it. With the Internet, it is very easy indeed to find such information.
The first three articles in this series may be found: