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Sandy Hook Elementary as it once appeared

As regular readers know, I recently posted my updated, multi-part series on deterring and stopping school attacks.  It can be found by entering “school attacks, saving lives 2018” in the search bar on the upper right hand side of the SMM home page.

In that series I spoke of the current state of the art in dealing with school attacks: run, hide, and when all else fails, throw stuff at a shooter and try to rush him empty handed.  What one might consider a leader in that field of expensive fads sold to schools is “ALICE,” an acronym for “Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evaluate.”  It’s a rather tortured formulation of the type pretzled into shape rather than one that naturally and easily works.

In any case, let’s examine that concept in a bit more depth with the help of one Jeff Sanders, writing at PJ Media.  Sanders explains he has recently taken the course, and speaks with the fervor of the recently converted true believer.

This is simply some of the best training I have ever been through. And it does not involve using firearms at all. [skip]

Very, very few people will dedicate the necessary amount of time and training to be able to shoot an attacker without accidentally shooting innocent people. And even if you are armed and trained, it would be incredibly difficult to react fast enough to track down the killer and eliminate the threat. There is training, however, that uses our natural God-given abilities that even children can use — ALICE training.

Sanders tell us he is a “concealed carry instructor” and a supporter of the Second Amendment.  What he is apparently not, however, is an advocate of the most effective means of deterring and stopping school shooters.  The last paragraph makes that plain.

Any armed teacher in a building under attack is going to be much faster in response than the police.  Surely Sanders understands this?

We hear of police responding to an attack in, say, eight minutes, which is fast for such things.  But it’s a virtual certainty it took at least five minutes for a call to be made to the police, and at least another 30 seconds for a coherent radio call to be made to officers.  That eight minute figure is just the arrival time of the first officer in the school parking lot.  By the time he runs into the school—if he doesn’t hesitate to wait for other responding officers—and is able to find the shooter, another 5 minutes—and I’m very much giving the police the benefit of the doubt here–will elapse.  Which is to be preferred? Teachers, who then and there could end the attack, perhaps even before a shot is fired, or police officers who will not so much as lay eyes on an attacker for at least 18.5 minutes after the attack begins.  Oh, but there is ALICE!

But before we get into the responses, take a look at the perpetrators in many or most of these tragedies. Usually, there is one shooter (quite often deranged, too), not very well trained in firearms. The individual is using (in many cases) a handgun. A pistol is much less accurate than a rifle. And what does the shooter often do when the police show up? He shoots himself or gives up. He is shooting unarmed people who are not fighting back… so the perp is generally not the most courageous person on the block.

Generally true, thus far.

What if everyone just scattered at the first shot? Do you know how incredibly difficult it is to shoot a moving target? I don’t want predictability. I want chaos and movement. It’s pretty hard to hit numerous targets all chaotically scattering at once.

Lesson learned: MOVE! …Keep moving and you will increase your chances of survival. And if you run away, you will become a smaller target. The worst thing to do is stand still.

In school shootings, it’s impossible for everyone to know what is happening at the time of attack.  Buildings are too big.  Gunshots don’t sound anything like they do on TV, and most people in the school won’t hear them anyway.  What this means is shooters are always going to catch kids and teachers in classrooms or other confined spaces with nowhere to run or hide.  One need not be a world class marksman or tactical expert to inflict horrific damage under those conditions.

Run?  Of course, but even that is not nearly as effective as Sanders suggests.  Even if everyone was in the same space from which to scatter, they’d inevitably be turning their backs to an armed killer and running down long, straight hallways without any cover or concealment.  At any range, that’s like shooting fish in a barrel, particularly if there are many fleeing bodies.

The demolition of Sandy Hook Elementary School

Sanders delivers a partially inaccurate recitation of the Sandy Hook attack, and makes this point:

When he [the killer] came to the third room, one little boy, Jesse Lewis, yelled ‘RUN!’ and several children ran right past the killer. He was so focused on what was directly in front of him that he did not see the six children run past him. They lived. The rest died.

Sanders provides an amusing video, and explains people under stress develop “tunnel vision.”  They’re so focused on one thing, they don’t see others, and asserts the killer didn’t see the children that ran out.  We don’t—can’t–know that.  It’s equally likely he simply chose to ignore them to kill the others trapped in the room.

So… remember to do something, anything, to throw off the attacker’s plans. If dozens of people are running away in dozens of directions at the same time, he cannot focus on all of you.

Possible, but it’s equally possible unarmed people calling attention to themselves are going to be shot.

Sanders explain the concept of “Alert,” which is nothing more than being open to seeing and recognizing anything out of the ordinary. One might call this situational awareness, which everyone should develop.  He shows a video of kids in school, and in the background is a student who is supposed to be showing clear signs of becoming a school shooter.  This is misleading.  The actions and images of that student are, at best, ambiguous, even impossible to see from the perspective of the viewer.  The Sandy Hook killer came out of nowhere.  He was not a current student of the school, and despite years of counseling with multiple mental health professionals, no one had a clue what he had planned, including his mother who he murdered in her sleep before attacking the school.

Situational awareness?  Absolutely, but it’s not a sure fire way to identify or avoid an attack. It might, however, give an armed teacher sufficient time to identify and stop a threat before anyone is hurt.

Not all guns sound alike. A .22 sounds very different from a 12-gauge shotgun or a 9mm pistol. Educate yourself and be alert.

Lockdown: This is the ‘hide’ in ‘run/hide/fight’ that many schools and businesses use. If you cannot get out, then shelter in place. But does that mean only to lock the door? Of course not. You MUST prevent the assailant from getting in. You can move heavy pieces of furniture like a desk in front of the door, for example.

Front door, Sandy Hook Elmentary. credit: nydailynews

Sanders suggests holding doors shut with belts or lengths of cord, or similar tactics, which may have some use, if the shooter doesn’t shoot through the door or nearby panes of glass, as the Parkland, FL shooter did. If he has explosives…

If hiding and locking doors is all one has, make the best of it, but there is a better option.

Inform: If you are on the PA system, clearly communicate to the whole building what is happening. Do not use code words. Do not say ‘Code Silver’ or something cryptic like that. Say, ‘Active shooter in the building! This is not a drill. Active shooter from the entrance, approaching the south wing of the building,’ or something similar.

Good advice.  All too often, consultants tell schools to use secret squirrel codes, which only add to the confusion in a crisis.  Use clear, daily, direct language.  However, be aware that by the time a message about the position of the shooter or their direction has been broadcast, it will almost certainly be minutes outdated, or entirely wrong.

Sanders tells us to be able to tell the responding police the kind of gun(s) the shooter is using and the shooter’s direction or location. Again, by the time this is relayed to officers, it will virtually always be old news, and old news in such situations is dangerous.  No one will know more about what is happening and where than the people that work in the building every day.  They’ll also know how to get from point A to point B as quickly as possible, and any possible shortcuts.

Responding police will know none of this, but that won’t usually matter.  By the time they arrive, the killer will have killed all he pleased, shot himself, or fled.

Counter: In a previous article, I said that if you have a gun, shoot the attacker.

Yes, if you are sufficiently trained and legally carry a firearm, you certainly have that option. However, remember… you cannot miss. You are responsible for every bullet that exits your gun. You must know that in all the commotion, there is a very real likelihood that you may shoot innocent bystanders.

Very encouraging.  Indeed one does not want to miss, but when a killer is shooting everyone he can as fast as he can…  Sanders might be thought to be discouraging active, effective measures in favor of ALICE, which does not deter, and cannot stop a killer.  What’s next ALICE?

If you are not armed, and the vast majority of people reading this will not be armed in such a situation, you can still counterattack and take out the bad guy. The attacker cannot react as fast as you can react. I proved that when the ALICE instructor gave me an empty airsoft pistol and told me to point the gun at his forehead and pull the trigger as soon as I saw his hands move.

Every single time I saw his hands move, I pulled the trigger. But it was too late. He had already grabbed the gun and pushed it out of the way. I could not react fast enough to his action.

I’m sure this was the case.  I’ve practiced disarming drills that make the same point.  But what Sanders ignores are the most important factors: distance and timing.  Action is generally faster than reaction, if the people involved are at grappling distance, and if the person to be subdued doesn’t anticipate the action, but beyond that, a bullet is always going to be fastest.

Same goes for the shooter. He finally breaks through the barricade and enters the room, but as soon as he gets through the door he is hit by numerous flying objects coming at him (books, phones, coffee cups). What is his natural reaction? Flinch. Move his hands up to protect himself.

That is when you can swarm him and take him down to the ground. The instructor showed us how to do it, and we practiced it many times (sometimes without the “shooter” knowing that we were going to fight back). This tactic definitely works. Then you hold him down until the police arrive.

Sanders suffers from what I call the SPOIT delusion.  Sober Police Officers In Training, in a clean, dry well lit gym or dojo will be able to accomplish such tactics against other sober people who don’t want to get hurt, but in reality, things are usually very  different.  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve seen a brilliant striking or restraint tactic that worked perfectly in the gym fail on the street, I’d probably own Microsoft.

What do you do? Counter. Throw. Tackle. Yell. Strike. Something to disorient the shooter and throw him off… or you will most surely be shot and probably die.

Sober, rational, non-homicidal people will probably flinch and try to avoid injury.  This can’t be counted on in the real world, particularly with determined killers.  In arresting people, I’ve inflicted pain, even injuries, that would have immediately stopped a sober, rational person, but those criminals absorbed them until enough officers could monkey pile them. Had they been shooting, we would never have tried to rush them empty handed. Indeed, in the morning, they were bruised and hurting units, but that didn’t matter when they were attacking and resisting.

In a school setting, such naïve tactics are equally likely to end up with a great many people getting shot, particularly if the distance between the throwers and shooter is longer.  This is particularly true if the teacher is female and the kids are in elementary school.  If the shooter is wearing eye protection or a helmet… But they wouldn’t do that!  Do you want to bet your life on that?  Your spouse’s?  Your kid’s? If there is no other option, and you’re about to be killed, it’s better to go down fighting, but I know exactly how I’d react, and have skills most people don’t.  Even so, outside grappling distance, I’d have to be prepared to absorb some bullets to get to the attacker.  This is true even if I were close enough and the timing was wrong.

Remember SPOIT.  What motivated adults who know the rules and the timing and distances of a practice encounter can accomplish is a world of difference from what a classroom of panicked children led by a female teacher caught by surprise can do.  It is the difference between life and death.

Modern School Killer Repellent
credit: http://www.drpulse.com

Some schools have taken this dangerous advice to heart.  One school gave teachers canned veggies to be handed out to students during an attack to lob at a shooter.  Another gave teachers five gallon buckets of rocks and another gave teachers tiny little bats for the same purpose.

Jon Cacchione, overwhelmed with enthusiasm…

Think about the mindset that would leave a classroom of second graders no other option than a suicidal charge armed with rulers, pencils, cans of veggies, little rocks, or perhaps tiny bats.

As to “evacuate,” Sanders recommends getting out when possible, and doing regular drills. Reasonable advice, but what’s practiced under no stress may fall apart under stress, and killers may take advantage of those drills, as the Parkland killer did when he pulled a fire alarm, knowing kids would stream into the hallways, easy targets, running or not.

It’s not my intention to ridicule Sanders.  If a school district has decided to keep teachers disarmed, to ignore the only sure way to deter, and to stop killers when and where they attack, then ALICE might be the best of lesser tactics sure to result in some number of wounded and dead.

That’s the point.  Forcing teachers and children to face armed maniacs intent on their murder with anything less than equal or superior force is tacitly, knowingly accepting some number of wounded and dead.  Those numbers will be determined by the mercy and marksmanship of someone cruel enough to murder children.  Such monsters have no mercy, and the tactical situation in schools requires little marksmanship.

In deciding how to protect the lives of children, choose wisely.