By Chris Wagoner:
Any time there is a discussion about gun laws, concealed carry versus open carry, and the various other issues revolving around the possession of firearms, someone will always bring up the issue that law enforcement will be confused and possibly shoot a licensed concealed carry or open carry firearms holder if involved in a mass shooting, Lone Wolf, or terrorist attack. Some of the anti-gun crowd like to use the “police won’t know who the bad guy is” argument or the “good guys with guns don’t stop bad guys with guns” line against arguments for less gun control.
If you are lucky enough to live in a state that allows concealed carry without a license — or open carry, for that matter — count yourself fortunate. If you live in a state that requires a license to exercise your Second Amendment rights, you fall within the majority of the nation. Either way if you carry a firearm and choose to do so (and what logical, realist, thinking adult wouldn’t) not many firearms classes cover what to do if you are caught up in some kind of a mass shooting or active shooter situation. So let’s try and cover a few options that you can pick from, gleaned from a few decades of training in firearms and law enforcement.
If you listen to the Federal government, they want you to run away, or hide if you can’t run away, or fight back if you can’t do either of those. If you are armed, not only do you have those choices, but a few more become available to you. As for running away, that is something you need to decide for yourself. After three decades of law enforcement and military service, I think it is so ingrained in my psyche to run in the direction of gunfire, not away from it, so I doubt that I would choose that option. Knowing that I am armed and possibly could do something to save someone’s life, not just my own, I would not feel very good afterwards had I chosen to run away. But that is a viable option for some people, and I will not hold it against you if that’s what you choose to do. But running away is not always an option. You may be trapped in a room or a building, and in order to run away you would have to expose yourself to possible harm. That is not a good choice and I would remove that option.
Hiding is an option, of course, but when armed, hiding can provide yourself the option of ambush in order to protect yourself and your space. Say there is an active shooter situation at the mall and you are in one of the smaller stores shopping. You hear the gunshots, and you decide to stay in place as you don’t know where the shots are coming from, how many shooters are involved, or what direction they are going. Thus, you find a place in the back of the store to hunker down with the other shoppers. Before you pull out your concealed carry firearm you may wish to alert those people around you that you are armed and not one of the bad guys. It would be sad if you pulled your firearm without alerting anyone, the person next to you was also a concealed carry holder and pulled his gun, and then shot you thinking that you were one of the bad guys. So before taking out your gun, it may benefit you to announce your intentions to hunker down and stay where you are and take your firearm out to protect yourself, and others, should the bad guys venture into your area.
Take up a position of cover where you can see and have a free field of fire at the entrance to your hiding area. Here is where a very short discussion on the difference between cover and concealment takes place. Cover may include anything that will stop bullets and allow you to hide behind, such as a concrete wall, steel filing cabinets full of paper, or anything that will stop bullets from going through and hitting you on the other side. Concealment is simply something that will hide you, but will not necessarily stop bullets. Hiding behind a desk or a chair or a wooden door is not cover. Hiding around the corner of most interior walls is not cover, as most interior walls are made of nothing more than plasterboard and bullets will easily go through those. Find something solid and bulletproof if you can to hide behind, if nothing is available, then concealment is your next best option. The next step is to wait, and if an armed intruder comes into your line of fire and is not wearing a police uniform and announcing themselves as police officers, you will have to make the decision whether or not they are a bad guy, while at that time and in those circumstances, decide whether you are going to shoot or not. A lot of times it’s rather easy to identify a bad guy. They’re the ones shooting at everybody, not trying to protect everybody.
The clear majority of people who carry a firearm do so for the ability to protect themselves and their families. Most of the firearms carriers I have spoken to do not necessarily want to be heroes and go confront and take the fight to a lone wolf or active shooter if they can avoid it. Most have the firearm so that if their life or the life of their loved ones is threatened, and they are there and able to, they will defend their lives. But not many have told me that they would actively go out and seek the active shooter or gunmen to try and stop him if their own life was not in immediate danger. And I have to agree with this, as most people who carry firearms have not had the tactical training or firearms handling training that is required to effectively engage and stop an active shooter. And quite frankly most people are not equipped to do so either. Multiple magazines, communications devices such as police radios, ballistic shields and uniforms to identify yourself as one of the good guys is something that most people don’t carry around in their pocket. So for the majority of people who carry a firearm I do not recommend that you try to seek out and stop a terrorist attack or mass shooting, I recommend that you protect yourself and those immediately around you if you are able to do so. Imagine the different outcome that we would’ve had in Orlando, Florida at the Pulse Nightclub had just one or two people inside been armed and able to protect themselves or others from the lunatic that opened fire. If one person with a firearm had been in one of the bathrooms that he had entered and killed people in, they may have been able to defend themselves and stopped the murderer before he could have killed more. But we will never know, because bars are one of the places in Florida where a concealed carry license holder cannot lawfully carry a firearm.
So you are protecting your area, and those people that were in the store with you, with your firearm, and you hear someone yelling “police” or “sheriff’s office” and they’re moving in your direction. I would highly recommend that you do not shoot at or even point your gun at the officers as they rounded a corner. If you are behind cover, you have the advantage and can re-conceal your firearm on you so as not to become involved in a shooting between you and the responding police officers. Once the police are on the scene, you should immediately inform them “I am a good guy, and licensed firearms carrier and have a firearm concealed on me!” This helps law enforcement out when they begin to escort you out, with your hands up, and they see a bulge in your shirt, they do not become overly aggressive. You have already informed them of your firearm and that way they already know what to expect. Be cooperative when they remove your firearm from you, if they choose to do so at that time, as in a situation such as an active shooter, remember that they have to make sure there are not more shooters than the one they have identified. Once you are recognized as not being one of the bad guys, you should be given your firearm back once things have settled down.
If for some reason, you were not able to re-conceal your firearm when the police enter your area and they see you holding a firearm, immediately place the firearm on the ground and raise your hands while loudly and clearly yelling that you are a “good guy” and “don’t shoot”. Remember that they have a split second to decide whether or not you are a threat to them. Do everything you can to convince them that you are not a threat. Even asking the people around you who you have been protecting to be yelling “don’t shoot” definitely can’t hurt.
Now, what if you are unable to run, and unable to hunker down and protect your hiding area? Then, you are not very fortunate, because you are within shooting distance of the bad guy who is shooting at you or others in your immediate area. What should you do? I hope that the answer is simple. If you are able to and have the training and confidence to shoot and stop the threat, you should do so. The whole idea behind carrying a firearm in the first place is to be able to respond to a threat on your life with deadly force in order to stop that threat against you. That’s the same reason that police officers carry a firearm to begin with, to stop threats to their lives or lives of the citizens they are sworn to protect. At that point, when no other option exists and you engage the attacker with gunfire, remember a couple of simple things: A moving target is harder to hit than one that is standing still, and I’m not talking about the bad guy standing still I’m talking about you. Get moving. We call it “getting off the X”, the X being that spot on the ground where you will die if you stand still and let someone shoot at you. When the gunfire starts, you should’ve already been heading for cover or concealment if it’s available. And at the same time, if you are that close to the shooter that you can effectively engage them, you should be doing so from behind cover or concealment– or better yet, both. This is when you will find out how good your training has been and how well you have prepared yourself, both mentally and in skill, to become involved in something like this. Remember that shooting at a paper target on the nice air-conditioned gun range is not the same as being shot at while you are shooting back. If all you do for your firearms training is stand still and shoot at paper bull’s-eyes, your effectiveness in this type of the situation is going to be limited, although better than nothing. At least you can return fire.
So you have engaged the gunmen with gunfire and hopefully you have either stopped the threat or forced the threat away from you. Most criminal gunmen in this type of situation do not want to become engaged in a gun fight, they were looking for unarmed and helpless targets, not targets that shoot back. If you are skilled enough and lucky enough to stop the threat and the gunmen is down, do not approach. From a safe place, keep covered with your firearm until the police arrive. When you see the police responding, again start yelling and pointing at the bad guy all the while identifying yourself as a good guy. Whatever you do, DO NOT point your gun at any of the officers or even move it in their direction. Do as they tell you immediately and without hesitation.
This is where I must add my disclaimer. My recommendations should not be considered hard and fast rules for anybody, but simply suggestions and possibilities depending upon your level of skill and training, and more importantly, your mindset. Unless you have been specifically trained in gun fighting, not target shooting, and have built up skills in moving and shooting, utilizing cover and concealment, and identification of threats while under stress you will be more likely ill-prepared to engage an active shooter. If that is the case, then you should probably choose the first option I talked about, hunkering down and using your firearm as a last resort for self-defense. But if you are unable to avoid the gunmen and must become engaged in shooting with a bad guy, do your best and make it count.
The more people that are lawfully armed and out there in public, the better chances we have of something like this happening. In Florida alone, we have 1.7 million concealed carry permit holders. In addition, there are training courses out there offered by former military, law enforcement, or qualified instructors who can help you prepare to engage in one of these types of situations. The more training you get the better your chances are at surviving something like this.
With all of this said, the question begs, ”Do good guys with guns ever really stop bad guys with guns?”, And the answer, of course, is an emphatic yes! There are cases in the news every day of citizens using firearms to protect themselves or their families, including the case I have mentioned before in Florida of the citizens saving the police officer’s life by shooting and killing the suspect that was beating the officer to death. So let me say this one last time, “Good guys with guns do and have stopped bad guys with guns.”. Let’s just hope that it becomes more common in the future. Carry on!
Chris Wagoner is an OpsLens Contributor and U.S. Army Veteran . He has been in law enforcement the last 35+ years. He specializes in LE Firearms Instruction, and is in charge of a large Police Academy in North Florida. In his spare time Chris is a freelance Military Reporter and owner/founder of the Largest Military Videos Channel on YouTube “3rdID8487”.
Disclaimer: As noted in the above article, OpsLens does not condone performing any actions outside of the law, nor do we recommend individuals respond to unfortunate incidents in a manner outside of their training and/or comfort level.